Children and Art

February 25, 2013

Hello dear people!

Thank you so much for your thoughts and virtual squeezes on last week's post. I had been thinking about the jealousy for a long time, and filed it under 'things I might share on a braver day.' When I posted, I was greeted by an uncomfortable nauseous feeling and the momentary thought that I might be the only one! (Ridiculous, I know.)

No need for me to worry-- I'm truly in awe of how many people came out of the woodwork and said meeee tooo! Wow! It's amazing how good it feels to not be alone on this one. Now, if all of you people could just find one another, get huggy about it, and then unite in creative ass-kicking.

(If you haven't already, go read The Jealous Curator's writing on the occasion of the site's 4th birthday. It's very in-synch with our conversation.)

Anyway, onto other things...

Did you fall for your art when you were a kid? My sister-- 11 years older-- was a ballet dancer. The real kind! She also played violin. So, I did a lot of pretend ballet and played the violin on my arm. Eventually I fell in love with singing Broadway show tunes and German lieder. Being in choir carried me through my awkward adolescent days-- the days when my Greek nose was 1/3 of the size of the rest of my face. Apparently, my nose helped with resonance (no joke).

Singing led me to theatre and modern dance. And, all of these things introduced me to great people, taught me a certain amount of discipline, and gave me a creative outlet. You guys, aren't we all so lucky to have that creative outlet, even on the days when it tortures us a little?

This brings me to my dear friend, Kristen Graves. She's a fantastic singer/songwriter! Kristen does a lot of work to help impoverished kids on the Cheyenne River Reservation in South Dakota. Last year she decided to start a guitar camp on the reservation. Her fundraising made it possible to buy 50 guitars for kids and adults of all ages. You can watch Kristen's video of their recital below. Oh, my heart!

Now Kristen and the kids are selling a song they wrote for $1 to raise money for this summer's camp. And, I think you should go buy it.

I spent a week painting houses on a reservation in South Dakota, but I've learned far more about reservation life from talking to Kristen. In a nutshell: it's harder than anything I can comprehend. There's a lot of drug and alcohol abuse, and the unemployment rate of about 75% doesn't help with this. And - just like other places- they're dealing with a lot of bullying issues in schools. In November, Kristen lost one of her dear reservation kids to suicide at the age of 12.

So, choir was a total gift for me. Maybe it was art class or drama club for you. Regardless: our creative outlets changed us for the better. Let's share that gift with others. Please help Kristen bring guitar camp back to the reservation. You can buy their song over here.


Let's talk about jealousy.

February 21, 2013

being jealous of brad leining's poetry prowess at Small Art

I have been jealous. 

In fact, when I was experiencing a Year of Unfortunate Depression, I was very jealous. People all around me were just doing things! (The nerve!) They were making action look simple. They were making art, collaborating, and writing smart things. Meanwhile, I was feeling very stuck

Even before that time, I experienced the jealousy. I applied for several grants that I didn’t get. And, when I did get grants, I was an anxious mess during my creative process because I was setting unrealistic expectations (‘I must reach the peak of amazingness before 30.' and other such helpful statements). Even though it was often subconscious, on some level I was thinking:

I'm jealous of them [fill in any number of names...]
....because they have supportive collaborators and artistic communities.
....because they got the grant.
....because they have a job that brings in a lot of money for them to make their art (or- a trust fund!).
....because their art is more accessible. or definable. 
....because it doesn’t seem like the process of making art causes them anxiety.
....because they know all the right people to make things happen. 
....because they have a great education (maybe even an MFA!) from a place where they met a lot of contacts and learned all of the Important Things.
....because they are really great at remembering dance phrases. (Ha.)

Wahhhhhhhhhhh. That’s a lot of negative crap to be holding onto, right? Here's the thing: most of this thinking actually had little or nothing to do with other people and their achievements, and everything to do my perception of reality. The encouraging thing is that my thinking has shifted, and it's made my life much more enjoyable and my creative work more satisfying. 

Here's what I learned:
1. Voice your demons to other creative humans.
When I was feeling really stuck, Ben insisted that I start asking creative people I admired out for coffee. This scared the shit out of me, so I started with Jen Scott (if you're scared of Jen Scott, you should pretty much just give up on human interaction, because she's the nicest). It was great, and it led me to interviewing a good handful of artists. These artist chats have been incredibly reassuring (we all share a lot of the same struggles!), and also informative. People have shared great resources with me! Which brings me to the second thing...

Jen recommended that I read Steven Pressfield's The War of Art, which felt like it was written just for me. There's endless good stuff in this book, but a couple points that Pressfield makes are:
  • Stop over-identifying with your art. As in, you and your art aren't the same. If it sucks, it doesn't mean you suck. Stop taking it so personally (note: taking it personally is not the same as caring).
  • Do The Work. Show up and do the best creative work you can with what you've got, every single day, without expecting a pat on the back, the end.
  • Defining yourself in terms of a hierarchy (hello comparison!) is fatal. Really. Stop it. Just do YOUR THING. There is room for everyone.
Wrapping my head around the 'there is room for everyone' thing was huge. I realized that no one else was trying to steal my Laura Holway candy. In fact, they didn't even want my candy. Huh.

3. Become a Jealous Curator.
The Jealous Curator is Danielle Krysa, a graphic designer and visual artist. She was dealing with some serious jealousy, so she started a blog that showcases the artists she's jealous of. In the process, her jealousy turned to admiration; she's really inspired by what's she's jealous of.

This is what happened when I started helping other artists make their work. Through this blog, Small Art, and my creative consulting work, I've been surrounded by a whole heap of creative badasses that inspire me every day. Nothing has made me less jealous or more excited than cheering for other people who are making their art. It's been truly amazing. And, my own artistic challenges have made me a better cheerleader. Which brings me to...

4. Empathy, baby.
The magic of going through what a buddy of mine refers to as Dark Times is that it opens up your heart to other people and their struggles. Being an artist is so damn vulnerable-- even if you practice Steven Pressfield's principles religiously. I've had so many people confide their insecurities to me this year. And, each time, it shocks me a little. Wha? But you seem so sure! Hopefully our own challenges make us kinder to one another, and in turn easier on ourselves.

6. Ask for what you want. 
I interviewed actress Candy Simmons, and she reminded me to ask for what I want. It seems simple, but it's amazing what happens when you ask-- or when you decide to start taking action. Are you feeling lonely and in need of collaboration? Ask. Want to write about dance? Ask Ira Brooker at Minnesota Playlist. Want to figure out how to show more of your dance? Ask Laurie Van Wieren. Do you want to see more of a certain kind of performance? Make it. Do you need a job that offers you more flexibility for making your art? Find it. 

I look at the above list of jealousies, and I have to laugh a little. I actually don't know anyone who has been handed a ticket to artistic security and brilliance. Do you? The people I know who make good work do it by showing up and making small brave steps that get bigger when put together. They do it by creating what they want to see more of in the world, and probably agonizing a little in the process. And, there's room for all of us to do this. 

So...are you immune to artistic jealousy? 

[Come see some people I admire enormously at Small Art-- held in my living room March 2.]

Daily 20: steps towards making a dance

February 20, 2013

{instagrams from my first two daily 20's}

We discussed it at our small business meeting last week over wine (always wine...and curry this time, too-- you should come): how do we make time for everything we're trying to do? This is a really relevant topic for most humans-- but especially artists and small business owners who don't have the typical 9-5 template for life. We could always be planning more, learning more, and working more.

I don't want to be a slave to the 'I'm so busy' headspace. It's tempting; I've been there and done that. I want to make space for what I value (which will probably always be a work-in-progress), and don't believe in 'there just isn't time'. There's time for what I want to make time for.

Which brings me to this: I really want to make a dance.

Since making I Like You-- the evening-length performance that made me so anxious that I started looking for tall buildings to jump out of-- in June of 2011, I haven't created a piece just to satisfy my own creative cravings. Meaning: I've made dances for plays, a dance film with Ben, and many create-a-plays with small children (like 'A Story About A Pet Store Under The Ocean'- particularly stellar), but I haven't made anything just on my own, just because I want to. I finally have the desire to--without traumatic I Like You flashbacks. And so, in January, I set out to make a Small Dance. I even set up a performance date in May to hold myself accountable!

Yeah, except here's the thing: life keeps happening. I started with the agreement that I'd spend at least a 2 hour chunk of time each week on my little dance. And, every f*cking week everything else seems more important. Rehearsal time gets saved for Fridays, squeezed in right before I go to serve wine and small plates to the masses (or forgotten all together).

Then I read this. 20 minutes? I have 20 minutes. You have 20 minutes. We can do a lot in 20 minutes a day.

So, I'm working on my dance for 20 minutes every day for the next month. Maybe I'll continue after that.

By the end of the week, 20 minutes a day is even more than my previous 2 hr. chunk of time. Even better: by visiting what I'm working on every day, it stays at the front of my mind. I can chew on it some more when I'm at the gym. And, sometimes 20 minutes turns to 40 minutes or an hour, and that's great too. The goal is to start-- and then to keep figuring out how to get one step closer to the end result.

I'm documenting my 20 minutes over on instagram, with more details about the actual creative process to follow.

I'm so excited to make shit.

this is romance.

February 14, 2013

Once Ben asked our friend Stephen about his plan for Valentine's Day, and his response was "everyday is Valentine's Day". It's true. Stephen and his partner of almost 30 years, Doug, show love in big, bold ways every day. I'm inspired by saps- the people who show love, appreciation, and vulnerability when it would feel safer not to.

A not-so-secret secret: love and vulnerability have little to do with flowers and candy and teddy bears (which are sortof weird for adults), or remembering to get a dinner reservation on the night everyone else in town is dining out, or even being in a romantic relationship. I mention this because I know of a lot of people who are feeling lonely, or guilty, or bummed, or pressured today. I suggest reading this Brené Brown post. She calls today 'Generosity Day.' I like it.

There is a lot expanding my heart today! Four things in particular:

1. The many people who have shown love and support to me in my most vulnerable moments. The list is long. And I don't EVER take it for granted. YOU. Thank you.

2. I got a Cooks Illustrated in the mail today. The subscription is a gift from my father-in-law. In many ways we couldn't be more different, starting with our political opinions. But, he never fails to celebrate our common ground (like our love of food), or to find an opportunity to contribute to my collection of dance books.

3. Performer extraordinaire Cynthia Hopkins' blog, where she writes about the vulnerabilities of creating her work. She's coming to town in 3 weeks with her new performance piece This Clement World. I saw a performance of hers a few years ago, at a time when I seriously wanted to quit making things. She changed my mind. I'm so grateful that she faces her demons and shares her work with the world.

4. My cats. No, I'm not joking. A secret: I don't really like cats. I got Olivia almost exactly six years ago, because I thought that caring for something regularly- other than a house plant- might make me spend more time at home and develop healthy bonds and shit. And Little was a Valentine's Day gift from Ben three years ago- a 'friend' for Olivia that she has only recently stopped hating. They are ridiculous lovers. It's impossible to be pissy about anything when you look at Little curled up in a sunbeam. And, I celebrate anything that makes me nicer and more compassionate on a daily basis.

No Ben on the list? Dude, my heart is full of that guy everyday. 

Tonight we're making homemade pizza-- probably in sweat pants. I've learned that romance sometimes mysteriously comes in the form of sweat pants. Happy Valentine's Day!

Personal Branding & Braid Creative

February 13, 2013

I'm an advocate for putting more of YOU in whatever you're doing: a dance you're creating, a workshop you're writing, a photo session you're leading. This works in two really helpful ways--

1. It helps you pinpoint and talk about what sets your creative work apart from others in similar endeavors.

2. It helps you connect to your ideal client or audience base.

When your creative work doesn't feel personal, it blends into the masses. Instead, the key is to isolate your 'weirdnesses' (a la Seth Godin) and figure out how to infuse them into whatever you're doing.

My weirdnesses usually end up onstage. {Photo of I Like You by Megan Mayer}

{Megan Mayer in our dance film Tuesday for Dances Made To Order}

Enter Kathleen Shannon and Tara Street of Braid Creative and their Personal Branding eCourse. I saw that they were offering the eCourse again (I took it several months ago), and had to give it a little shout from the rooftops, because it's really good stuff.

I don't know what you think of when you hear 'personal branding', but I wasn't sure if it was the correct fit for me. Somewhere in there I had visions of advertising, fashion bloggers, and home decorating tips (those things are fine, but not especially ME).

Don't worry: this eCourse isn't about turning you into a fashion blogger. It's about helping you identify aspects of your personality and creative expertise, so that you can find ways of making them serve your art (or business). Lessons include videos and worksheets that you can download and continue to use as references (which I frequently do). And, most helpful: lots of real life examples of how these lessons can be applied.

I've written about my experience at Giant Steps (a conference for creative entrepreneurs). The number one concern I heard from participants was 'how do I connect all of my creative endeavors together and talk about them?'. I'm a perfect example of this: I'm a choreographer and arts educator, but I offer creative consulting services to other artists, curate a performance series, and LOVE hosting parties that bring creative folks together. How do I talk about that? Do I make four different websites?

What Braid's eCourse helped me do is isolate common threads from these different endeavors and aspects of my personality. This has translated into blog content that's more in-line with who I am, and side projects (like parties full of creative people meeting one another) that support my creative mission. All of this works together to help me get specific about where I want to go in my creative business, and inch closer towards getting there. Thanks, ladies.

You can find out more over here. Registration for the eCourse runs through the end of tomorrow, February 14th. The course runs from February 15-24 (meaning, you have this time to complete the lessons).

AND, you can use the code BRAIDLOVESMCGINLEY when you check out for a discounted rate of $50 (normally $75).

So, go off and be personally branded, and may your creative endeavors sparkle and shine. Amen.

[No, I'm not compensated in any way to write this. I just really liked this class.]

Bob Ross + Modern Dance Viewing

February 12, 2013

I'm infamous among friends for my lack of pop culture awareness.

Yes: I do know about Lady Gaga, and I saw the latest Mission Impossible movie. But, most things that aired on television or in movies before 1996 are lost on me thanks to the 30 minutes of PBS my homeschooled self was technically limited to (I did manage to sneak watch some Saved By The Bell).

So, I was really grateful for the opportunity to drop the name of a pop culture icon in an article I wrote about modern dance for Minnesota Playlist. I knew that all of that PBS would come in handy. Have you seen this Bob Ross Remixed? That guy was a total delight.

[You can read the Playlist article over here. It's in response to Chris Schlichting's kickass dance Matching Drapes.]

I like your action

February 7, 2013

Tina Roth Eisenberg quoted an interview with Ricky Gervais where he said 

You should make something. You should bring something into the world that wasn't in the world before. It doesn't matter what that is. It doesn't matter if it's a table or a film or gardening — everyone should create. You should do something, then sit back and say, "I did that." 

And I completely agree. I feel grateful to live in the Twin Cities, where I'm constantly inspired by people's smart ideas and the ways they create community around them. 

A couple things that caught my eye lately: 

Performance artist Jaime Carrera has been curating a performance series in the basement of Los Amigos restaurant here in the Twin Cities. He's mixed musicians and dancers and performance artists together over the 8 nights of Outlet. And, he's showing his own work for the final night of the show-- this Saturday at 7 pm. (I wrote about a past Outlet over on Minnesota Playlist today.)

Kate O'Reilly is posting a note on instagram each day describing something she is doing for the first time. Today she's dancing in her living room for an hour! I love it.

Artist and blogger Julie Kesti has started a long-distance interview series for creative folk. Julie lives in China (but moved there from Minneapolis), and mails the questions to her participants, who then handwrite their answers. The goal? To inspire other creatives. And, I'm honored to be the first to be interviewed. You can check it out here

Writer and performer Levi Weinhagen asks a question a day on facebook, ranging from 'what's your favorite sandwich?' to 'have you ever changed careers for health-related reasons?'.  Levi is also one of the performers who's taking part in our March edition of Small Art! He'll be joined by dancer Blake Nellis and Slam Poet Toussaint Morrison. Catch it March 2, in my living room. 

This post brought to you by February

February 5, 2013

cabin taxidermy 

treat yourself right with a sriracha heart.

Last week was our annual Cabin Creative Retreat (fires! icy lake walking! small-town bar experiences!), and when I reemerged from the woods it was February. Fun!

I really liked January. I spent a lot of time mumbling my three 2013 words of intention under my breath. Specifically, 'release'. When I would tense up I would mutter 'release, b*tch' under my breath, and it was amazingly effective. Seriously, though: I actually felt a little guilty for focusing on doing less. Which is ridiculous, because all of the things that needed to get done got done. AND I enjoyed myself because I wasn't trying to accomplish All The Things In The World. This left me time for meditative walks (release! release!) and re-watching West Wing episodes, and that's important stuff.

You see, I had this magical realization that I don't actually love being constantly busy; it's overrated. I don't like waking up on Monday morning and dreading the week ahead. Even carving out a little time for myself makes life so much better. And, making time for myself usually makes for increased productivity. Point being: don't forget to make space for YOU. You'll do better work. You'll be happier! And, you're the only one who can make it a priority!

And this brings me to this new month: FEBRUARY! It's a Valentiny month of loooove, and I happen to love love. And, what better thing to practice than self-love? Seriously. My friend Laura is calling it 'Treat Yourself Right' month. It could entail lots of things.

For me, it means:
--time to read the stack of books I'm excited about, when I could be doing work.
-- prioritizing time to brainstorm the new tiny dance I'm making.
-- avoiding throwing my face into a vat of wine to decompress from an intense serving shift, when I really just need to drink some tea and go to sleep.

and, my favorite....bodywork.

This can mean stretching. Or getting a massage. Or, laying flat on a hard floor with your legs about hip-width apart (put a mat or towel under you if it's too hard), and rocking from your heels (flex and point both feet at the same time, until you have a nice rock going up all the way to your head). This is great for releasing your low back, it gets you breathing, and it gets you out of your head and into your body (essential for anyone doing creative work). Also: when I remember to check in with my body, I'm less tempted to do rude things to it (see above vat of wine comment).

So, hello February! I'd love to hear your suggestions for Treat Yourself Right month. 

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