Purchased: The Soundfreaq

May 30, 2013

I've been searching for the perfect portable speaker for teaching and rehearsals. For a few years I used a portable Bose speaker (an older model from 15+ years ago) with an 8th inch jack, but the cord input stopped working. I then tried a $60 ihome bluetooth speaker, but the volume wasn't loud enough to be heard in rehearsals, so I sent it back.

I'm very happy with what I ended up purchasing: this Soundfreaq Sound Kick Bluetooth speaker. For a small speaker (it fits in my purse) and $100, the volume is really good (although not loud enough if I wanted a speaker for performances-- but that's a larger investment). It was great through my rehearsal process, and I think it will be loud enough to drown out the screeches of The Children when I'm putting together really earth shattering plays with them this summer (like, A Play In An Ocean Pet Store). Also: the whole cordless/Bluetooth thing is really novel to me. Like, WOW, life in 2013!

Also modeled: my fake tattoo, which is responsible for a great deal of my personal happiness this week.

Post-Performance: A Debriefing

May 28, 2013

Last Wednesday I put my ten-minute dance, Swallow, in front of an audience for the first time. It was fun! I got helpful feedback! I didn’t feel the pressure, or suffer from post-show letdown afterwards because my piece was SO MISUNDERSTOOD, and NOW IT’S GONE, AND GAHHHHH. 

When I put on my Sensible Laura hat, it seems funny that showing a ten-minute creative work without melting into extreme anxiety is an accomplishment. But it is for me. So is talking to strangers on full-voice with direct eye contact, discussing my work with confidence, and getting a grant rejection without allowing it to convince me to change career courses. When I look at past creative meltdowns (which usually turned me into a raving lunatic about two weeks to a month before the performance, and often left me with a multi-day headache), I feel a little bummed: there are so many creative processes and projects that I would have enjoyed WAY MORE if I had been able to control my anxiety and fear. That probably goes for more than just creative projects: life would have been nicer. 

What’s that quote about hindsight? Oh yeah...

[Let it be written: if you’re dealing with debilitating anxiety or other mental health challenges, please get thee to a professional. Really. Life can be way more fun. Someday soon I’ll write a full post that’s just about the magic of a good therapist.]

---Keeping The Process Moving---

Here are a few things that helped me put one foot in front of the other to meet my goal:
1. A deadline: I've made a lot of things thanks to deadlines. Otherwise I will keep tweaking and fussing and never finish anything.
2. Collaborators: I don't make dances on myself. Not only am I a performer of questionable ability, but I have absolutely no ability to edit and offer constructive feedback to myself. Having two dancers involved made the process more fun, less lonely, and more objective. 
3. A long-ish process: I started working on this dance in January. Official rehearsals started in April, and we had about 11 of them. This gave me time to think and plan and write-- but still get down to the business of making something.
3. A realistic timeline: I can slap material together in two rehearsals. A lot of people can. But I really wanted to get feedback on something I'd given significant consideration to. I have a tendency towards being ever-so-unrealistic with time. In this case I mapped out rehearsal time for setting material, revising said material, structuring, and working with sound. I needed every bit of time, and ended up scheduling one extra rehearsal (I'm glad I did). Everything takes more time than I think it will. 
4. Morning Pages: In the last six weeks of the process I tried to do some writing every morning a la The Artist's Way. This helped me clear the cobwebs and get focused (especially because I had a lot of life distractions at the time). I'm a big fan of rituals-- I'm keeping this one, dance or no dance.
5. Moving instead of analyzing: When I'm stuck, I have a tendency to think way too much. This time I improvised when stuck, often videotaping myself (as obnoxious as it is to have to look at yourself pensively moving about a small room with a flurry of strange gestures). I asked the questions What Do I Like? What's working? Rather than What The Eff Is This Mess and how can it be saved?

--- Success Markers ---

Was it a masterful piece of choreography? That's beside the point, although I did see the seeds of some things I really like. The goal for me wasn't to make a masterpiece, it was to get making things again without losing my sanity and maxing out my credit card to pay for projectors or weird sets. Good goals, hey? In addition to the whole sanity thing, I count it as a success because I have a reusable piece of material that can be performed anywhere! I can use this material to get better at talking about what I make-- and what I'm trying to move towards making. Also: the process was therapeutic, if I do say so myself. 

But most importantly: I remembered that I really, really like making things. When I put a performance together, it’s one of the few times I get to take my strange little take on life and make it real. Anything goes-- people can dance to a poem about a burrito. They did last Wednesday.

Whether you make dances or run a yoga studio or just want to gradually make your life look a little bit different, the principle is the same: Action Causes More Action. It's impossible to edit and tweak without having a first draft. I didn't think I wanted to keep making performance-- I thought it was too stressful. But working on this baby project helped me clarify what and how I want to create. It helped me remember that change is a process, that thinking is not the same as acting, and that creating can be a really positive and enriching act. 

You can read more about the baby steps to this project here:

[Photos from Ben's video of Swallow, featuring the fabulous Emily Gastineau and Ashley Rose Montondo.]                                              

Wherever You Are, There You Are

May 21, 2013

Within twelve hours of landing back in the Twin Cities, life returned to a normal pace: shoots, rehearsal, serving fancy food to fancy people. It was whiplash, and looking at the slow start to Spring around me didn't really sooth it.

Seattle was a different story. There were blooming plants everywhere I looked, and the world was an iridescent green. Pair all of that with water, dreamy morning fog, and mountains and I was fairly overwhelmed. Last week I wanted to stop Minnesotans in the street: Um, excuse me...Did you know that your quality of life could be so much better elsewhere? Those people to the west of us have mountains and green plants and an ocean with delicious fish! What are we doing here? Let's make an escape plan!

After days of rain here in the Twin Cities, my attitude is relaxing a bit. We're experiencing our own resurgence of neon green. I've worn shorts. The air smells of lilacs on my walks, which makes me breathe a little deeper. I'm forgiving Minnesota for the six months of winter.

As tempting as is to say Let's move to the northwest!, my home is here. I've lived in the Twin Cities since the fall of 2005. I thought that Minneapolis would be a pit stop on my journey elsewhere, but here I am almost eight years later. I was won over by the people, the artistic opportunities, and the close access to an airport where I can fly most places when I'm in need of some mountains or ocean. After years where we pondered relocating, it's nice to think that we might grow old right. here.

Do you have a vacation destination you like to escape to? How did you choose where you live now?

On a totally unrelated note: 
If you're an Andrew Bird fan, you should listen to his new album. It turns out it was exactly what I needed.

The day to let go

May 20, 2013

I spotted this on Rob Brezsny's facebook page:

[Image by Cameron Gray.]

Rob writes Free Will Astrology, which is pretty much the only astrology I pay attention to. I once used his horoscopes as the sound design for a dance. My favorite advice of his? Surf Colorado. I'll let you ponder that.

Anyway, my intentions for the year have been those 3 words from back in January: release, curate, choose. But heavy on the release. I have spent a lot of time questioning what is serving me: possessions, activities, relationships. I've been attempting to let things go. I can't recommend it enough. By releasing what isn't working, you invite new (more compatible) things into your life. This goes for the creative stuff, too.

Thanks Rob for the reminder. Happy Monday.

The Work Is Not You

May 15, 2013

We flew home from Seattle late Sunday night, and I got ready to dive into rehearsal the next morning. It reminded me far too much of almost exactly two years ago, when we arrived home from our Oregon honeymoon and I started into the final month of rehearsals for I Like You. Except that I Like You was over an hour long, and this little ditty I'm making is just ten minutes. Still: I felt the same creeping sense of panic. The OH-MY-GAWD-I-DONT-HAVE-ENOUGH-TIME message, combined with a certainty that I would fail and 'people' (who are these people?) would mock me out of ever making a dance again.

What can I say? Brains are strange. 

Luckily the past two years have provided me with the skills to talk myself down from the rafters. It's not that I don't care about the outcome of this dance, or the other half dozen other projects I'm working on. I do-- probably too much. But I'm now smart enough to remember in these times that the failure or success of what I'm working is not a direct reflection of how smart or capable or creative I am. If I was banking on one project to illustrate my self-worth, I'd be in trouble, which is exactly what caused me to have a anxiety-ridden creative process with I Like You. Imagine how much more comfortable we'd all be with risk if we didn't continually worry about failing? If we lower the stakes, our chance of success is so much higher.

Steven Pressfield writes about this in The War of Art (an essential read for all creative people):

The pro stands at one remove from her instrument- meaning her person, her body, her voice, her talent; the physical, mental, emotional, and psychological being she uses in her work. She does not identify with this instrument...it's simply what she has to work with. She assesses it coolly, impersonally, objectively... The professional loves her work. She is invested in it wholeheartedly. But she does not forget that the work is not her. Her artistic self contains many works and many performances. Already the next is percolating inside her. The next will be better, and the one after that better still.

I probably should consider getting this tattooed on my butt cheek, right?

SWALLOW will be performed a week from today. I'm enjoying this creative process (and my kickass dancers!) so much-- probably because it's happening without heart arrhythmia and night sweats. Who knew that staying calm could be so satisfying? 

So, whether you are making a dance or writing a neuroscience paper or teaching a yoga class, I invite you to release the pressure (YOU'RE GOING TO LOVE IT!), because the work is not you. Sweet.


May 14, 2013

Today is a GREAT day. Today Minnesota becomes the twelfth state to legalize same sex marriage!!!!!!!!!!

It's a complete understatement to say that I'm thrilled. Marriage equality means that many people dear to me will have the legal rights that I somehow automatically got because I fell in love with a man. It means that they will get to file taxes with their partners, have hospital visitation privileges, share child custody and health insurance (and dozens of legal rights that you and I take for granted), and, you know, proclaim to the world that they are in it for the long haul with their partners. Yes: it's insane to think that we still discriminate in these ways. But what I'd rather fixate on are thoughts of the amazing people who fought really hard for an end to this inequality in Minnesota. My friends and fellow community members shared stories, knocked on doors, engaged in challenging dialogue, and kept insisting on LOVE. Today is a really great day.

Two years ago today I stood on the stage of a theater with an audience of loving family and friends, and married this guy. I can tell you that he's the strangest and most magical person I've ever met! There is no one who can make me laugh harder.

That was a great day. Wedding planning wasn't my thing (I'm not into crafts), and neither was engagement (so much squealing over my $20 ring, so many dress questions), but the memory of that day makes us melt a bit whenever we talk about it. The people made the day: our community. They supported our step into this new phase of life, and loved the heck out of us. They sang for us, spun records, baked cookies, arranged flowers, ran a lighting board, decorated the theater, and cheered. It was so big and joyous that we just about lost our shit before walking out into the theater.

Today has been the biggest year; maybe next year I'll feel the same way. On the most challenging days for us as individuals and partners, I've thought of all those people. I remember during our ring warming ceremony, when our friend Kristof was playing Stand By Me, and the rings were making their way through the people. Kristof ran out of song, but there were still a lot of people for the ring to get passed to. So everyone just started singing the chorus together, over and over. It was the best.

So I'm excited to raise the roof at the weddings of dear friends, and to say we're your people and we support your love, remember this on the awesome days and the hard days!  I can't think of a better thing to celebrate than love.

Here's to Minnesota. And here's to you, Ben McGinley: I'm so grateful for this marriage thing!

[photography by the amazing Emma Freeman!]

On My Bookshelf: A Homemade Life

May 9, 2013

Yesterday Ben and I got on a plane headed for Seattle. When people ask about our Seattle plans, I usually insist that I plan on spending most of my time hanging out with Molly Wizenberg. In reality, I promise not to force our friendship, Molly.

Maybe you read Orangette. It's one of my very favorite blogs. I discovered it after reading Molly Wizenberg's book A Homemade Life in 2010. To describe A Homemade Life superficially, well, I guess it's a food book-- there are even recipes in it. But it's also much more than a food book. For starters, Molly is a kickass writer with a knack for finding just the right words to describe those seemingly mundane (but actually terribly significant) moments in life. If I had this same knack, I'd be able to tell you why this book changed my life. I can, however, tell you that I fell a bit in love with the details of Molly's life as she weaves them around food: the story of her father and his potato salad; the food she cooked for a new boyfriend in France;  pickles and poached pears (probably not together, but maybe); a mother who takes making the perfect poundcake quite seriously.

The book reminds me that food can be the backdrop to our most significant experiences, and that a good life is about the simple things-- like a slow meal of the best seafood I've ever tasted eaten next to big, light-filled windows, loud joyful music in the background, and handsome men in striped aprons shaking cocktails in the background. Ben and I ate this meal last night at The Walrus and the Carpenter. (It turns out that I like oysters!) I think I'll remember it forever. I am grateful that more and more of my life is surrounded by really delicious food, and that Ben takes such joy in perfecting a slaw, trying a new recipe, or playing with different ingredients. It might make us sound like geriatrics, but I am recognizing that good food (and the process of cooking it) is the backdrop to the slow, rich life I aim to lead.

So yes, we got on a plane to take walks in Seattle, take a ferry to an island, and eat some good seafood. Tonight we'll eat pizza at Molly's restaurant, Delancey. I didn't bring A Homemade Life on the plane (though I recently re-read parts, and remembered how great it is), but instead brought David Sedaris' book Let's Explore Diabetes With Owls. I love the strange thoughts inside that man's head. (If you haven't listened to this recent interview Terry Gross did with him, you should. It's great.)

It's time for breakfast.

Lately: April

May 6, 2013

I was one of those strange people who wasn't terribly upset that we spent so much of April with snow on the ground. It was a month of putting my head down and getting.shit.done. It's more distracting to know that I can go on a bike ride. Still, this was April 23 in Minnesota:

I'm going to make sure we get a medal or something.

In April I...

  • Switched out my part-time job for another. I'm grateful for a much healthier work environment.
  • Made my first dollar writing!
  • Tried a lot of new recipes. It's Whole30 Day 30 today! I'm so grateful that I stuck to dedicating these 30 days to resetting my body. That said: I'll wait a while to bore you with the details.
  • Dove into dance-making. I've had such a good time!
  • Bought some seeds and starter plants. We might not get to a full garden, but I at least want herbs and greens. 
  • Re-wrote my Story Mapping methodology. Over the next two months I'll make some tweaks and work with a designer to lay out the exercises in a more visual way. I'm psyched to show the results.
  • Booked performance and McGinley Motion projects that have me truly excited. 
  • Took care of myself.
Taking care of myself goes far beyond what I eat. It was both the trickiest part of the month, and the thing I'm most proud of. It meant small things like walks and taking time to write (the kind of writing no one will ever read- thankfully), listening to a self-help book on CD in the car (which makes me feel like I'm 20 years older than I am), round 3 of purging my closet (because I like getting rid of things), and seeing performance. I'm still thinking about Devon, the Open Eye solo show I wrote about for Minnesota Playlist last week. I don't think I've laughed that hard in a long time.

This month is our wedding anniversary month! I like any opportunity I can find to give love a shout-out-- because loving Ben and creating a life we love together has been the biggest adventure, and I couldn't be more grateful that I get the opportunity to risk and grow in this way. We are celebrating in Seattle this week (!) and I am going to eat all the non-Paleo food in the world. This month I'll also show this first draft of my little dance. I wanted to share this Cheryl Strayed quote, which has underscored a lot of what the dance is about for me. I know- I can't stop mentioning her. She's good stuff.

Whatever happens to you belongs to you. Make it yours. Feed it to yourself even if it feels impossible to swallow. Let it nurture you, because it will. 
(Cheryl Strayed, Tiny Beautiful Things)

Here's to May.

Fight For Joy

May 3, 2013

A year and a half ago I wrote this post about running into Ben's colleague Dave at the grocery store, and the words that Dave shared with us via his mother:

Fight For Joy!

There are weeks where joy comes really easily without effort, and there are weeks where I have to make a point of squeezing it into my life. These last two weeks were beasts that made me feel ALL THE FEELINGS, and a lot of them canceled out any evidence of good stuff. But I remembered Dave's words. It helped! When I worked to be aware, there was joy pretty much everywhere. 

For starters, we should all  listen to a little more Queen. Because seriously: HAPPINESS, PEOPLE!

But that's just the beginning. My heart was really happy when I learned that one of my oldest, dearest friends is getting married to a rad guy who is just the absolute best partner for her. Loving is such a risk and such a joy, and holds in it some of the best stuff about being a human.

Then there was grilling: Ben and I made food with our "pastor" (what I sometimes like to call our best buddy who married us), and we were so excited about the warm weather that we went to the playground.

And yes, today (May 3!) it is snowing and cloudy, but I am not fooled. Things are turning green, flowers are popping up, and birds are singing. I went on a walk yesterday and saw all the signs.

Then I made this Chicken Chili. I added cilantro, avocado, and the juice of half a lime at the end. It was downright delightful.

I also got a massage and was reminded to breathe deeply for the first time in a couple of months. AMAZING.

Oh, and then I took the ugly plastic handles off of my (also ugly) office closet, and replaced them with cheerful red ones and documented it with these somewhat blurry, grainy photos. JOY!

The only thing left to do is to watch a bunch of baby animal videos on youtube.
Tell me your happy thoughts, dear people! What is good? What's making you excited?

Thank you, Mr. Munger

May 2, 2013

In college I had many talented professors that I hugely admired-- maybe even idolized a bit! But it wasn't until after college that I found Permission Givers: people who gave me permission to be an artist by exhibiting a really huge confidence in me and my work. I first heard this term used by Kathleen. Basically, Permission Givers are the people who make us brave. They validate and encourage us to action. Permission Givers have a confidence in the overall direction we're heading-- whether we fail or succeed.

I have been truly blessed to have four major Permission Givers in my life over the past decade-- all accomplished artists themselves. These people have believed in my work, even when I put confusing half-baked shit on stage. These people have had every confidence in my abilities and my vision, and have pushed me to take bigger and bigger risks, to continue to act. I'm so grateful. I would have stopped creating long ago without them.

So I'm grieving a lot this week, because one of these very important people passed away on Tuesday. John Munger was my mentor and friend, and one of the first people to notice my enthusiastic attempts at dance making when I first moved to the Twin Cities fresh out of college. He gave me opportunities, he gave me enthusiastic greetings at arts events, and he welcomed me into the Twin Cities dance community completely. In the past week, as I've come to terms with his impending death, I've realized just how gigantic of an impact he left on me-- just how much braver he made me. His attitude was one of continual- we're artists, and this is what we do-- we make things! And this attitude filled my shoulders with confidence, even when I actually had no real certainty.

Thank you, John. I will miss your humor, your creative voice, and your warm encouragement. You truly took delight in the dance, and I will be continually inspired to let my work feed me in a similar way. I only hope that I can pass on the gifts given to me-- that I can say a resounded YES to someone else and their creative voice when they need it most. I am so very grateful.

[Photos by the remarkable Scott Pakudaitis. Thank you for capturing John so beautifully.]

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