The Great Closet Purge Project

March 28, 2013

I aspire to have a Laura uniform: a closet with just a few basic pieces of clothing that all go together, that feel like me (I style I also aspire to that I like to call 'badass-business-comfort-with-pops--of-loud-color' style), and that have enough quality to last for a while.

When I realized that we were moving (last August), I took it as an opportunity to get rid of piles of things in our house: duplicate dishes, books we hadn't looked at since acting technique class in college, CD's we no longer listened to. It was great! And, inspired by Liz and her minimalist tendencies, I accomplished the first round of hacking into my closet.

I'm not a big shopper. But, I've gone through significant periods of thrift store madness, which had led to quite a collection of skirts that don't quite fit, polyester skorts from my age 24-28 retro 'just-pair-it-with-some-fake-pearls' phase, and stretched out, pilling shirts that I bought because they were just so cheap. Also: I had a considerable amount of gifted clothing that either was something I would never wear, or was that special array of colors that make my skin tone look vomit-y. Main point: all of this extra stuff made finding things to wear a chore, and made me feel cluttered.

So, in round 1, I weeded out anything that I knew I was never going to mend, never going to fit into, and that I hadn't worn in 6 months. I haven't missed anything I got rid of.

Disclaimer: there were 8-10 things in the laundry. And I think that this looks like fewer clothes than it actually is.

Donated: round 2

Then, a couple weeks ago, I tackled round 2. I got rid of wildly stretched out work-out t-shirts from musicals I've choreographed (sorry Guys & Dolls), saggy butted jeans, a totally not-my-style skirt, and 'but-it's-just-$10!' purses from even more thrifting adventures. There are a few things that I kept (professional-looking pants, layering t-shirts, the one dress I serve in) that I don't love, but which I don't have replacements for. Which brings me to another detail: I made a list of clothing that I'm in the market to buy-- right down to specific items and colors. I'm hoping that this prevents impulse thrift store and Target purchases. I find myself buying sweaters and t-shirts that either fall apart quickly, or don't fit quite right. Which is basically money down the toilet. I'd rather spent more money on something locally made or just of higher quality.

So, do I feel lighter having less shit? Yes. But, I'm still struck by the fact that I really always wear the same 15 things in various combinations. So-- in another month or two, I'll do another round. The Goodwill has a lot of donations coming their way. Or, maybe I'll host a clothing swap. The problem with clothing swaps, though, is the same problem I have with thrift stores: everything is cheap (or free), so it's tempting to take on things you don't actually need or completely want.

I'm aiming for this:

"If you want a golden rule that will fit everything, this is it: Have nothing in your house that you do not know to be useful or believe to be beautiful." 
--William Morris

You can read about what's left in Liz's closet over here.
And Kathleen's thoughts on having fewer things in her closet over here.

What's your rule for buying and getting rid of your things?

Tara King: Money, Collaboration + Self-employment

March 26, 2013

Tara King is 1/3 of my favorite (totally smart, amazing, and irreverent) local performance group. And, with art and money on my brain, I'm grateful to read her thoughts on creating a design business (and bravely leaving her full-time cube job!) to support her dance-making. I can't say how much I admire people who creatively solve the dilema of how to make a living while doing what they love.

Photo by Matthew Xavier

Introducing Tara King
I'm a freelance web and print designer, and also a dance choreographer and performer. As a designer, I work with artists, small businesses & non-profits to develop their web presence and branding. As a choreographer and dancer, my work has primarily been as one-third of choreographic trio Mad King Thomas, which I co-founded in 2004. We usually make dances for the stage, although occasionally they happen in galleries or by telephone (coming to The Soap Factory in May!). 

For about seven years, I also held down a full-time, non-dance day job. As my choreographic life grew, it was a tougher juggling act, and working for someone else was hard energetically. I started designing on the side, and developed my web skills. Last August I finally left my cube to pursue full-time self-employment, working at a tiny desk with a disco ball above it in my living room. It was such a scary transition it took me about three years to work up the courage (no joke).

Putting A Creative Life Together
Financially: The impetus to work for myself came from the realization that I will never support myself financially as a choreographer, and that I needed to make more dollars per hour to compensate for all the unpaid/underpaid dance hours. Right now I make it happen because I saved a bunch of cash before I left my day job. I’m still figuring out the Cash Flow Question, and aiming for some medium-sized, stable projects to replace some of the one-off jobs I’ve been doing.

Energetically: Now that I work for myself, I'm getting the sleep I need (as a night owl) for the first time in my life. I can't recommend it enough! I’ve also set up a standing desk and now I just dance all day while coding.

Practically: It's difficult juggling two jobs when they are not related to each other. For Mad King Thomas I'm travelling for 6 weeks this year, and I am so lucky to have those opportunities, but that’s six weeks when I'm away from my clients. We’ll see how it goes!

The Good Stuff
Mad King Thomas has spent the last several months working on a new experiment—the previously mentioned dances by telephone. It’s our first gallery installation and we are learning a ton about the visual/new media art world, and how we fit there. There is also a strong sense among the three of us that we have no idea what we’re doing and that the piece is going to be terrible. So it’s terrifying and exciting. 

The transition into self-employment has opened up a lot of freedom in my schedule, and I finally have time to work on my own creative personal projects. I’m writing a lot!

The Hard Stuff
Collaboration is hard. A lot of solo artists/entrepreneurs talk about the wonder and magic of it, but there are significant challenges to working with others. Ideas you LOVE die an unhappy death. It's not just about having three pairs of hands to lift the load; it’s a serious commitment and should be approached with caution. It's also totally awesome and satisfying.

Advice For Artists + Creative Entrepreneurs
Do whatever it takes to befriend money, even if this means logging one receipt a day. Do not let money freak you out; it is a tool. Also: Find a community. In that community, find the people you like and trust, and ask questions of those people (even if they seem like stupid questions). And, don't read a ton of advice, especially if it says things like, “If you don't do X, you are doomed to failure as an artist.” Screw those guys. It's not too late.

Recommended Resources
For Dancers:  
9 x 22 Dance Lab [a monthly performance series at the Bryant Lake Bowl], the DanceMN Newsletterand classes at Zenon Dance School
For Writer's: 
Natalie Goldberg’s Writing Down the Bones, Dean Young's The Art of Recklessness, and classes at The Loft Literary Center
For Design/Business:
The local Drupal community, and Mike Monteiro’s Design is a Job
Also: the Giant Steps conference. 

Photo by Megan Mayer

Find Tara
Design/           Dance/
Twitter/ @sparklingrobots                 Pinterest/ sparklingrobots

Art and Money

March 25, 2013

I’ve been thinking a lot about money. 

Money buys my health insurance. And, repairs for my janky car. It also pays for the organic food I buy, allowing me to practice preventative care so that I can minimize trips to the doctor. It pays for my YWCA membership. And my contact lenses. And my in-home office. When I make more than what covers my basic expenses, I can afford to give some away! I get donation happy on Give To The Max Day, host parties (and Small Arts!), buy season tickets to local arts companies, support community organizations, and eat at local restaurants. I can buy locally-made clothes and jewelry, instead of buying Made-In-Vietnam crap at H & M. I can pay my dancers when I make work. My friend Kathleen says that money is energy-- which I love. While I certainly don’t think money solves all (or even most) problems, I know it certainly makes some things easier (as any person who’s been without much money can attest to). 

So, I have a problem with the idea that it’s ok (and even expected) that artists are poor. 

I used to work at a restaurant adjoining a building of (mostly visual) artist studios. I would serve coffee to these talented people and listen to them talk. And, what I heard stunned me. It was a whole lot of ‘I’m doing what I love, how I want to, so it’s expected that I’m living below the poverty line. And that I’m uninsured. And that I went to the doctor about ten years ago.‘ And I think that most of this is bullshit.

The above sentiment is a combination of these attitudes:
1. I don't value my work and the talents/time/energy/money it takes to create it. AND
2. I'm not willing to adapt/change/expand my artistic vision to consider the needs of the audience I'm trying to connect it with. 

These attitudes are problematic. When we don't value our work, we give others permission to do the same. And, when we don't value our audiences, we give off an air of entitlement, biting the hand that feeds us. Every other sector has had to get creative and reinvent themselves in order to sustain growth and a future. Why shouldn't we get smarter about how to make our art work?

So, I was very relieved when I attended Giant Steps, and there was honest talk about money. There was both an admission that the relationship between artists and money is flawed, and talk about changing it. Brave New Workshop owner John Sweeney talked about expanding his audience by changing his business from an "attitude of ego to an attitude of service". And, other speakers reminded us to treat ourselves like a business-- an infrastructure that we need to invest in. 

I have an actor friend that I really respect for his ability to making a good living through his art. Obviously, he works really hard to do this. But, what I love is that he never feels BAD about asking for what he's worth. He has a mortgage to pay, and food to put on the table for his kid. Finding a way to do this isn't personal-- it's business. 

The most financially stable artists I know are people who have been open to their own reinvention and new opportunities to monetize what they do. 

Opportunities to...
Develop new skills.
Hone in on and teach a creative expertise.
Foster new collaborations.
Get creative about connections. 
Creatively package and sell what they do.

But, I think it all starts with our beliefs around money-- recognizing that money and art belong in the same sentence, and then figuring out how to get creative about making it.

I'd love to hear what you think: Do you make a living through your art? Or, would you rather keep your income and your art separate?

Here are some interesting conversations I've found about money and art:
Lightsey Darst: The Poorest Art: Dance and Money (Part 1, Part 2, Part 3)
Kathleen Shannon: Money Is Energy
                        Making Illustration Your Full Time Job

New and Improved

March 21, 2013

The layout of this blog is new and improved (I hope). I'm commemorating almost two years of posting! So, I've been working to make the various posts easier to find. Check out the 'about' section for details...  Meanwhile, I'm excited about the words of wisdom from dancer/web designer Tara King that are coming soon, and a post about my personal closet purge (my greatest excitement = getting rid of things).

Also: if you are an artist, you should probably read this article about persistance. And, if you are a human in the Northern Midwest, I remind you that it's getting warmer (!). I promise. If you're like me, you can count on a trip to the sauna at your gym as a means to defend you against the cold. If you can't rely on this, I'm sorry. You should probably cook some comfort food instead.

Thank you for reading!

Creativity: born out of downtime

March 19, 2013

The beauty of being in the car for sixteen hours is that you have to BE.IN.THE.CAR. It's you, your thoughts, some tunes, and the occasional podcast. You can't work on your finances or rehearse or go grocery shopping. Sometimes I have trouble remembering why I should make time to simply think and podcast. I get stuck in a cycle of doing and going. Interestingly enough, it was the podcast I listened to in the car that reminded me of the importance of downtime.

The podcast was an episode of On Being with Krista Tippett. It was an interview with neuropsychologist Rex Jung about the connection between creativity and the brain. And it was great!

Jung defines creativity as being both "novel and useful", and talked about how his research confirmed a suspicion of his: that creativity and intelligence are not the same thing (although there are obviously people who are both highly intelligent and highly creative). The creative brain is a "meandering brain". When we're more creative, our powerful frontal lobe actually down-regulates a bit. Creativity is dependent on our ability to let our brain make unexpected connections, and "meander". This is why Jung explains that so many creative people have their best ideas when they are going on a walk, taking a shower, or relaxing over a beer. We actually need this down time from active thinking to make these meandering connections.

This makes so much sense to me. It actually confirms my own suspicion: that my best creative ideas do not happen when I'm actively forcing them, analyzing them, or pushing them into creation. It made me think carefully about how I move from creating to analyzing, and about what kind of time I need to set aside for creativity-- not just time to actively work, but time to meander and rest.

Krista Tippett writesThis cutting-edge research is a resounding affirmation of something we know we need in the 21st century but struggle to create: downtime. It’s a call to make this possible for our children too. Again, I think we all know this. For science to demonstrate it as a necessary precondition for creativity is bracing and helpful.

Really good stuff. You can listen to Krista's Rex Jung interview over here

The Art of Travel

March 15, 2013

I am the middle child of five that span twenty years. We were raised in rural Ohio, but moved to the Upper Peninsula of Michigan just shy of my sixteenth birthday. I then moved to Minnesota for college. After my parents' divorce-- my Junior year -- my Mom remained in the Upper Peninsula, and my Dad moved to Florida. Despite really only living in Michigan for two years, I fell in love. Something about the hippies, the pace of life, and that gigantic lake...

My youngest sister is getting married in June, and I had a flight to Michigan booked for her bridal shower this weekend. Then, when my schedule for the week unexpectedly cleared up, I decided to drive instead.

Ben loves travel adventures as much as I do. Traveling with him is one of my favorite things in the world. I love the sense of possibility it gives us-- navigating unfamiliar terrain, and piecing together the best restaurants, beers, and vistas. But, I equally love traveling alone. I don’t have to compare schedules or priorities with anyone else. I never know where I’m going to end up. I follow after walks and the timeline of my stomach and desire to plant myself and read. I rest a lot.

So, it has been delightful to road trip again-- podcasts and NPR in tow, finding myself in a fabulously sketchy motel, and reuniting with dear buddies and and old family haunts that nearly seem like a dream after all the years passed. When I travel, the world feels like a playground. There is so much joy! Yesterday I found myself frolicking in front of Lake Superior, the sky perfectly blue and clear, the sun beating down. Suddenly the snow was up to my knees and I was laughing as a tried to trudge through, a squadron of noisy seagulls above me, and I thought: F*CK YES: this is it.

When I left to work in the UK I brought with me a copy of Alain De Botton’s The Art of Travel.  De Botton’s book explores a common dilemma: the reality that we often travel to escape our day-to-day realities, and yet, we bring ourselves along on the adventure; often what we attempt to avoid comes right along with us. But, despite knowing this, I am so grateful for tiny adventure. Moving outside of my daily comfort zone reminds me of what I’m passionate about, what I miss, what I’m working towards, and what I love about being alone with myself-- all valuable, for sure. And, this opportunity to immerse myself in the culture of the Upper Peninsula is a sociological experiment of the highest importance. Come visit: you’ll know what I mean.

And, as much as I love the solo adventure (and plan to keep them coming), this trip makes me even more excited for my May foodie adventure to Seattle with Ben. It’s a total treat to have your favorite person along for those this is it moments. 

Jiro Dreams of Sushi

March 13, 2013

Last weekend Ben and I finally watched Jiro Dreams of Sushi. I loved it-- no surprise with my dual fixation on documentaries and food. It tells the story of Jiro, an 85-year-old who is considered to be one of the world's top sushi chefs. His 10-seat restaurant is located in a Tokyo subway station.

The gorgeous shots of fish and rice preparation are reason enough to see the film. But, it's Jiro's perspective on work that won my heart. Yes, he dreams of sushi, and admits he has never once wished for another job. Can you imagine if everyone in the world woke up with a similar sense of calling? I'm inspired by Jiro's dedication to work-- the idea of waking up every day and feeling the desire to know more, to dive into your vocation fully. And, I feel excited to be headed in this direction.

Let's Talk About Rejection!

March 12, 2013

Post-rejection cheer.
Hi. If you are an art-maker or creative entrepreneur you know by now that you're in for a boatload of risk-taking. Fun! Risks! Except that if you are a control freak like me, risks give you a constant feeling of dread at the pit of your stomach. And, maybe a little feeling of annoyance that you're constantly drawn to taking them. My mentor, choreographer Deborah Jinza Thayer, used to say that every time you show art, it's the equivalent of asking a bunch of strangers to judge your child. Your child, that you dearly love, that is now standing nakedly on an open stage for others to objectively scrutinize...

It's. So. Vulnerable.

And, putting your work on a stage is no different than any other kind of creative vulnerability. Like, the vulnerability it takes to fully go after an opportunity, only to find out that you didn't get it.

I could have an emotional suit of armor an inch thick and still be deflated in that moment when I hear 'no'. 

No, you didn't get the grant.
No, you didn't get cast in the role.
No, you aren't the right candidate for this job.
No, the potential client doesn't think you're the right fit.
No, the opportunity isn't going to come to fruition right now.

But, I don't actually want an emotional suit of armor, because I know that vulnerability is actually really important. I know this thanks to reading lots of  BrenĂ© BrownShe is totally the shit. And, she reminded me that most great things in life come from Daring Greatly: being brave (and vulnerable!) enough to go after the role, the job, the opportunity, the business-- time and time again, even when you keep falling short. That is some amazing stuff! It's the place from which real personal growth takes place, and the place from which people all over the world have dug in and created amazing things!

Knowing how important (and what great potential!) this daring has, it's hilarious how paralyzing the word 'no' is. I heard a NO this week, and it's ripple effect was incredible. Suddenly I imagined that I needed to scratch all of my creative endeavors and start over. I began to doubt everything! I imagined a group of people sitting in a board room, talking about me and laughing and pointing!

Luckily, my smarter self started laughing at my inner demons and followed that up with a REALLY? You're going to go there?

The real challenge is to figure out how to DARE GREATLY, be totally vulnerable, and put your whole heart into something without giving it power over you. And that is really damn hard. It's really hard to stop the spiral of self-doubt and allow your smarter self to take over. And this is what I've been thinking about this week.

Because, the reality is that we're all probably going to spend our lives Daring Greatly, in one form or another. How wonderful is that? And, the vulnerability that this requires sets us up to get hurt-- to be disappointed, to sting when the buddy gets the role, to shake our fists at the list of grantees that our name is Not On. Again. But, you can be dare greatly, be vulnerable, and still stop the shame spiral by appealing to your Smarter Self. Maybe by...

Mourning that shit. I admit that I'm super bummed that I didn't get _______. I'm also really glad that I hoped so fully (risk taking!) that I'm now experiencing some major let-down. This is normal and good. I'll try to just stick to disappointedly kicking empty boxes in my house or flailing my body about modern dance style, and try to avoid taking my rage out on humans.

Looking at the lesson. Not to get all Mr. Rogers, but I bet you learned SOMETHING from your risk-taking. I did. Actually, the opportunity I did not get taught me a lot about the direction I want to point my creative life towards. Cool. I constantly ask, 'what did I learn? And, how can I micro-adjust my plans based on this?' This is really different from saying OH MY GOD I'M GOING TO QUIT ACTING BECAUSE I'M A TOTAL FAILURE! Which brings me to...

Limiting the steps backwards. The real bummer about risk taking is when you allow a disappointing outcome to push you 10 steps backwards. I was very tempted to do this earlier this week. Everything started to feel personal. It's strange how easy it is to let one negative outcome get in the way of fifty positive ones-- I always see the 'No' in florescent letters right next to the pile of 'YES'. But, step away from letting it become about YOU. You and your work are not the same. Stop the self-doubt spiral. Take a deep breath and return to doing the work. 

Are you fabulous at letting rejection roll off of you? Teach us your ways, oh wise one!

20 Minutes of Creative Action: an update

March 8, 2013

You might remember that I wanted to make a Small Dance. Specifically, I challenged myself to make a dance confined to a small-ish space (the actual performance space is 9' x 22'- not super small) that focused on movement, versus props or text or character (what my 'dances' often involve). To be honest, the biggest goal was to get myself to take creative action after a bit of a hiatus.

I had trouble getting started. So, I made a list of what I like-- text or images or ideas I have a strong response to. Lately I can't stop thinking about Brad Liening's poems, which he shared at our house in November. I'm using a couple of them as jumping off points-- and I might use them as part of the sound design.

I booked a performance date, so there's a little bit of a fire under my a*s.
And, I made a playlist of music that puts me in the headspace of the piece, but which probably won't be a part of the actual performance.

Since then I've been spending my rehearsal time improvising, generating vocabulary, video taping/watching, and starting to put together some movement phrases.

Daily 20: The Pros and Cons
The first two weeks of working for twenty minutes a day went mostly smoothly. I allowed a lot of space for what 'working' on the dance meant: reading the poems, writing, improvising, etc... Then when I was writing a grant and crunched for time, I decided that writing a grant counted as working on my dance! CHEATER! Seriously, though, the two are not the same. As artist Sister Corita Kent said

Don't try to create and analyze at the same time. 
They're different processes. 

The process of writing grants is excellent practice for talking about the work you make. But, it's not the same as making the work.

I like the Daily 20, because it makes me revisit the material often, and take consistent action. Also, I have learned that you can get a lot done in 20 minutes.

What I've disliked about the Daily 20 is that it doesn't allow for days off, and sometimes space away from a project is important. Also, there comes a point when 20 minutes isn't enough. What the project needs right now is larger chunks of time to throw material together. So, while I do have 20 minutes, I am very aware that I actually need 40 to feel like I got something accomplished.

The  Conclusion
Figure out how to get from point A to point B. Whatever gets you started and moves you forward is the right approach. This project has reminded me that creativity is largely about consistency, and making space. I get the best ideas when I'm well rested, having new experiences (seeing people and other art), away from my computer, and taking regular time to myself. That's hard to make space for. But, so worth it.

On my bookshelf: Learning To Love You More

March 5, 2013

I wanted to share some of my favorite book resources for people who make things-- books on creative process, freelancing, and even money (money!). My eye first caught a book that has forever changed the way I approach creative process. It's Learning To Love You More, by Harrell Fletcher and Miranda July.

In 2002, July & Fletcher started a web-based project offering sixty 'assignments' that could be completed by anyone: 
  • Take a picture of your parents kissing.
  • Write the phone call you wish you could have.
  • Write your life story in less than a day.
  • Write down a recent argument.
  • Take a picture of an encouraging banner.
More than 5,000 people participated from all over the world. You can still see the results of the project over here, although they're no longer accepting submissions. The book is a collection of what was submitted.

In the intro to the book, July & Fletcher write:

Sometimes it is a relief to be told what to do. We are two artists who are trying to come up with new ideas every day. But our most joyful and even profound experiences often come when we are following other people's instructions. Like a recipe, meditation practice, or familiar song, the prescriptive nature of these assignments is intended to guide people towards their own experience.

--Learning To Love You More--

The results of this project inspired me so much that I made two evening-length performance pieces based my own collection of 'assignments', which produced text, video, and movement. I still think about this project as one of the most beautiful examples I know of how everyone can and should make things.

My favorite page in the book is an inspiring banner photographed by Kaja Dutka in Poland. It reads, simply, You Will Find It. It's a picture I looked at a lot when I was in the midst of changing career directions, uncertain as to what my contribution to the universe should be. I smiled as I looked at the picture again this past week, after hours of grant writing with certainty and insistence. I recognized a sense of found-ness planted inside. 

And it was great.

March 1, 2013

While January was all RELEASE! and take a nap and watch one more episode of The Wire! (while I still mysteriously managed to get things done?), February was different. Let's just say that the best laid plans (of ease and self-care) can be faulty. And that's ok.

When Kathleen at Braid Creative asked me about balancing life and work, I said that temporary life imbalance is ok. It's been my goal to NOT PANIC when things feel chaotic, but to enjoy the ride instead. Because, chaos is usually temporary. And, it's a sign that things are moving forward. We're all usually looking to find that thing that's going to move us one step forward in our creative journey. Sometimes potential steps show themselves all at once. And, it means that you stop doing your dishes or planning your meals, and that you run out of matching socks. Whatever.

I found some socks.

I worked on this vat of homemade mustard. It goes well with most things.

I went on at least one walk. 

What did you do in February that was great? 

I had dates with people I love. My small business group, artists, old and dear friends. Even when a week left me feeling overwhelmed or uncertain about stuff, I thought back on these conversations. It's simply the best to feel buoyed by the people around you. Find a tribe and keep them close-- it's so necessary. Somehow listening to the risks other people are taking, and the challenging circumstances they're facing makes my own pale in comparison. In a really good way.

I wrote my brains out. I've really fallen in love with writing. It's a creative outlet that I don't even have to rent studio space for!

I remembered (again) that most problems can be solved by a walk. I wish I'd walked more in February, but I let that whole Minnesotan whiny the sidewalks are too icy and it's coooold thing get in the way. I'm joining my sister in a March challenge to walk every day.

I finished reading Brené Brown's The Gifts of Imperfection and Daring Greatly. Both so incredible, and worthy of their own post.

I wrote an Application of Significance, brainstormed grants, planned a Small Art, and worked on a dance. Meaning, I wrestled with my creative demons. The more I act, the less I give a shit about these demons. Perspective changes: projects begin to feel more like opportunities, and they aren't the only important thing in my world.

I saw a lot of live performance this month! Last night we went to Open Eye Figure Theatre, and laughed so hard during To The Moon!. It feels really good to laugh like that, and to see humans in the winter time.

So, a fist pump to February. Despite the lack of matching socks, I think it was pretty great.
March on, man? I'm going to start the month without an agenda. And, you know, show up. It's a remarkably released approach for a virgo.

[Photos from my instagram feed.]


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