For the Brand New Year

December 31, 2014


I think I learned to stop hyping up New Years Eve the year that Jess and I spent the holiday in London, and I was slipped liquid meth in my drink at a private pub party. I was delivered by ambulance to Jess’ apartment and sleeping it all off by 11pm. How’s that for adventure? I’m a little more quiet about New Years Eve these days (or have spent them working in restaurants), but I still like the symbolism of a fresh start. I like the opportunity to set an intention-- to begin with a seemingly clean slate, and to think about what I’d like to invite more of into my life or clear away (sometimes more of this than anything).

Here are some of the rituals for the new year that I particularly like:

+ Taking time to clean & throw out old/unneeded crap & maybe even burning some sage if it seems needed. I sorted through my closet this week and left only the handful of items that I regularly wear. Everything else went to Savers or got saved for a clothing swap (or put in a plastic bin for next year). It feels really nice to start the new year with less clutter. 

Making a Mondo Beyondo list, which is essentially a list of really gigantic (and hopefully impractical) dreams that you'd like to accomplish-- maybe this year, maybe in this lifetime. Andrea Scher runs her Mondo Beyondo ecourse each January (this year it starts January 12) and I highly recommend it. 

+ Choosing words. My friends Betsy and Molly have the tradition of choosing 3 words for the year past and 3 for the year to come. Sometimes it feels very appropriate to ceremoniously burn the words for the year past. Last year I found myself just focusing on one word to invite into the year to come, usually based on what I think I could use more of. Last year I chose 'thrive' and the year before 'release' and both were great accompaniments to my year- something to reflect on in literal and metaphorical ways. This podcast with Elise Blaha Cripe and Ali Edwards discusses this kind of word intention. 

+ If you're a fan of processing via writing, these end-of-year prompts are good ones. 

It was a year of stretching for me-- I think they call that 'growth'? It's not to easily summarized as 'good' or 'bad', though there were certainly huge amounts of joy. I'm grateful to have to have this space to document the passing of time and the transitions I've been through in the past few years. Here's to more growth (and especially joy) in the new year.

Sugar for the Holidays

December 22, 2014

It's the week of Christmas, and I'm ever aware that while this is a time of relaxation and easeful family togetherness for many, it's also a really hard time of year for many others. The holidays unearth buried (or not so buried) family baggage and personal struggles. There's a lot of pressure to overextend and spend money you don't have and put on a good face. A lot of you have recently lost loved ones, or are still watching them struggle with illnesses. I'm so sorry. Unsurprisingly, I have no magic elixir for smoothing over the rough edges and making hard times easier. I do think it's a good time to practice lots of self care-- read that comforting book, take time for yourself, see the people that you feel best with.

I was pretty excited to discover that Sugar, the ultimate advice columnist, has a new podcast. (Actually, there were two Sugars-- Cheryl Strayed and Steve Almond-- and they share the podcast.) The first episode was a mix of background information on how the column came to be and the two Sugars dishing out advice on some pretty tough human dilemmas. I love how Strayed and Almond treat these requests for advice as sacred. They don't pretend that the questions have overly succinct answers-- they're dilemmas, after all. There is an equal admission that life is wonderfully painful and terribly beautiful; this paradox is completely valid. 

I started reading Sugar during a really hard time when there were few people I felt comfortable sharing my personal struggles with. The gift of Sugar was realizing that other people were walking around with terrible/wonderful struggles of their own, and that this didn't mean that there was something wrong with them. Maybe that sounds strange, confusing circumstance and the goodness of a person, but that's how I felt: my hard times led to a shame spiral. Tiny Beautiful Things (the compilation of Cheryl Strayed's columns) felt like a dose of grace and an affirmation of strength: you're doing great and things will get better, but for now own this story. And that's a pretty huge gift. Thanks, Sugar. 

What does that have to do with the holidays? Though I have no solution for hard, painful times, I wish you the ability to give yourself some grace and take time for your own end-of-year rituals-- whatever feels right. Comparing yourself to the family/person next to you that appears a beacon of easy circumstance is a personal disservice. Reaching out to others that are having a hard time is a gift. Trust me that there are many of these people. We're all so good at hiding our scars, but they're there. Take care of yourself. Read (or listen to) some Sugar, and eat your feelings if you need to. I hope your holidays have at least a bit of exactly what you need.

You can listen to the first episode of the Dear Sugar podcast over here

Bits

December 15, 2014


Hi! There are just 10 days until Christmas if you identify as a Christmas celebrating individual. Some things on my mind:

+ My goal for next year is to budget better for the holidays-- especially so that I can put my pennies towards many of the super options for locally made gifts (or at least gifts that support small businesses). Will someone remind me of this goal in July? Laura Brown is selling her fabulous annual calendar, and today is the last day to buy it if you want it shipped before the holiday! Today-- Monday! Get on it.

+ I'd also like to buy everyone this great print.

+ We're preparing to host a party. I love parties! Thanks to our co-host, we have an abundance of festive tunes to play-- pretty much every single pop star's Christmas album. What's a good beverage to serve? I want one with booze and one without (that's more exciting than sprite and fruit juice). This bourbon grapefruit drink is delicious, but I'd like to try something new.

+ I am pleased to be staying home in my pajamas for Christmas. I plan on watching marathon episodes of Scandal, which I originally wrote off as trashy tv. Be you not so dismissive! You could also catch up on Serial, which you're probably already listening to. I'm already mourning the last episode, set to air this Thursday.

+ Yes, I know this time of year is really busy, but I highly recommend spending a couple hours knocking out a few things you've been procrastinating for maybe, say, months. Maybe do this the week after Christmas. You'll start the new year feeling insanely good. 

+ I recently reread this book and found it to be full of stuck-ness solutions-- the awesome, deceptively simple kind. Maybe ask Santa for it? 

All I want for Christmas is for our cat to stop thinking that the downstairs bathroom is his bathroom. What about you?

December Reading

December 4, 2014


I first read The Gifts of Imperfection (which I keep giving a typo to, much to my amusement) in 2012, but I'm in need of another dose of the Brené gospel -- not a skim, a real read. So I've started into it again with the goal of covering a couple of chapters a week. It's tempting and easy to read the whole thing in one sitting, but I fear the content might go in one ear and out the other if I take that approach.

Have I mentioned that I'm suspicious of self-help books? I am. This isn't one-- it's more of an approach to life book (I've consumed the kool-aid, haven't I?). Brené Brown (well known for this TED talk on vulnerability) is a researcher. In the midst of her research she started noticing similar traits amongst a group of people she labeled "wholehearted": worthiness, rest, play, trust, faith, intuition, hope, authenticity, love, belonging, joy, gratitude and creativity. And these wholehearted people were missing some other traits: perfection, numbing, certainty, exhaustion, self-sufficiency, being cool, fitting in, judgement and scarcity. The Gifts of Imperfection takes Brené's research studies and explores what this wholehearted living thing is all about.

Here's why I think it's important: wholehearted living is all about engaging with the world from a place of worthiness-- a place of heck yes, I know I belong, rather than a shame-y place of inadequacy where you're constantly aiming for perfection in order to prove yourself (*cough, cough*). I know from personal experience that when you're trying to make your best work that this shame-y place gets in the way. Want to make great stuff and share it freely with the world? I'm fairly certain that the secret lies somewhere in the (deceptively hard to master) list of wholehearted traits. As I look to the year ahead, these are the traits I want to lean into-- the muscles I want to develop. The last couple of years have brought really amazing things to fruition in my life. I'd call many of them miracles! They didn't happen because I worked to achieve and muscle them into place. They happened from letting go and trusting and becoming more vulnerable (and getting rid of some of the counter traits in the second list above). 

Other things I've been reading:
+ Austin Kleon's Show Your Work, because I've been excited about the ideas he shares on his blog
+ Anne Lamott's Operating Instructions: a journal of my son's first year, one of the few Anne Lamott books I haven't read
+ Living and Sustaining a Creative Life: essays by 40 working artists, edited by Sharon Louden -- though I was bummed to realize about 15 essays in that all of them are written by visual artists

What are you reading? Do you want to join in the December dose of Brené Brown?

5 With: Ben McGinley

December 3, 2014

I'm really excited to share thoughts from my very own spouse for this week's 5 With. I've known Ben for 9 years, so I've been able to watch (up close and personally) as he transitioned from a career in theater (and food service!) to his very first video client, and then to working for himself full-time (just about 4 years ago). I've learned from him that the best way to learn is to do-- that learning curves are inevitable, and only time and practice will make them less agonizing. I've also been reminded of the permission theme that I keep running into. As in, no one is going to give you permission to do anything; you have to give it to yourself. I'm guessing that there were plenty of skeptical people when Ben started his little business, but today he works with some pretty dreamy clients. Want to make something happen? Start.


Describe your creative work and what drives it. How did you come to do this work?
I produce video for arts organizations, public education, and individual performing artists. There are three things that drive my work:  
  • Mission: I’m very lucky to say that 90% of my clients’ missions are ones that I can proudly stand behind. It makes me feel a part of important work, not just a hired hand.  
  • A love of being the producer and making (lots of different) things happenProducing video on this small of a scale allows me to wear many different hats, which is good for my attention span as well as my tendency towards wanting control. I worked as an educational theater actor for the better part of 15 years and grew weary of just being one of the slices of pie; I wanted to be the baker.
  • Money: There’s no getting around it: I need to make a living, and video production is how I do this. I value building a creative life and eating. Luckily, I’m part of a generation of kids who have opted towards entrepreneurializing their passions.
I’ve been making movies since I was 6. It never occurred to me until my mid twenties that I was more passionate about video than I was about live theater. I messed around with a cheap camcorder and iMovie making various short films in my off time. Eventually, someone offered to pay me to do it for them. And I loved it. Video editing, as it turns out, is a fantastic fit for the control freak. I can be anal retentive, fussy, nitpicky and my work is better as a result.

What are your biggest creative challenges?
Challenges for me come in the form of client relations or technical limitations. Though I’ve gotten very good at curating the type of client I like to work with, there have been less-than-idea circumstances that were very negative experiences. Part of it is just having needed to put in my 10,000 hours. I have much more confidence now than I did 4 years ago. As for technical challenges, I’ll spare the details, but the world of video, editing, graphics technology is vast and there are countless tutorials and workflows to be learned, implemented, altered, and mastered. Every day is a Lynda course.

How do you balance running a business with other aspects of life?
  • I know my limits: I don't thrive when I constantly work. I take breaks, big and small. I work at home, so sometimes this means taking a break to do laundry, going to work out or cooking lunch. 
  • I self-advocate: I ask for fair compensation; I over-communicate with clients and set clear boundaries; I take time off for vacations. I've learned over time that I'm the only one who will make these needs a priority.
  • Inspiration: I love movies and I love live performance. I make time to watch both regularly.
Give some advice:
My advice is to get in the driver’s seat and work. Everything I do is self-taught; I have learned and am driven by doing. And don’t let technology get in the way: every $100 problem has a $1 solution. That’s all I’ll say. Get to work.

What's inspiring you right now?
I’m inspired right now by The Verge’s video segments. They are entirely motion graphic based and have given me that old feeling of I don’t know how they did that, but I want to learn how and do it in my next project.

You can find Ben's work here and here, and read more 5 With over here. 

Work Habits for the Self-employed

December 1, 2014

It's one of our first really cold days (4 measly degrees), and this morning it was hard to shake off thoughts of skipping out on work in favor of curling up on the couch with a heating pad and some leftover pie. When you work at home there's always the temptation to break the deadline you made for yourself. Motivation has been harder than usual for me lately. I'm genuinely excited about what I'm working on-- I've just needed a little help getting into a groove. Austin Kleon wrote this, insisting that there's still a lot of the year left at the beginning of December. I agree. I want to make the most of it. Here are some ideas for refocusing when you're out of a work groove: 
  • Step away from the computer: Computers are really helpful for, say, computing. It's great to write emails and researching things and make spreadsheets. A lot of times I begin my work day by automatically sitting down at my computer when I don't necessarily need it. The computer is full of distractions that will take me down. All of a sudden I have 8 tabs open unrelated to my original search. All of a sudden I'm on Twitter. Or checking email for the 10th time-- and I'm unsure as to what I even set out to do in the first place. Today I was reminded of the importance of a separate analog workspace and a good old fashioned pad of paper and pen. 
  • Organize: My work is a combination of performance projects and writing/web content projects. And then there's the book keeping and promotional and administrative bits. I also have to schedule dental appointments and pay bills and find new health insurance, etc... This hodgepodge of tasks can leave me really scattered. This week I put everything down on paper and grouped similar tasks together: home/family, current work, future work, self care, producing, outreach... It doesn't matter what kind of categories you use, just that they make sense to you. Deadlines and billable work always gets first priority, but I try to scatter other things into a work day, too. 
  • Make space for balance and fun: If you dread your to-do list, you're doing it wrong. There should be some fun stuff on it-- otherwise what's the point of being master of your own schedule? I like to mix in coffee dates so that I'm sure to see other humans. I write this blog because I like to. I take movement/gym breaks and try to cook myself the occasional exciting lunch. I mix my favorite aspects of the job with my least favorite ones, and make sure to surround myself with sources of inspiration. 
  • Move it, move it: Taking movement breaks isn't just about physical fitness or health, it's about mental sanity and optimal brain function. I work better when I go on long walks daily or stretch every hour for a few minutes. It's icy outside, so I rely on classes and the track at the Y for exercise. Movement is also really helpful for warding off SAD. 
There's also a handful of usual work habit suggestions I give clients. They are pretty straight forward, but invaluable for me:
  • Don't work for longer than 90 minutes without a break: Your work will be better!
  • If you are dragging your feet about something, commit to doing it for just 20 minutes: A lot happens in 20 minutes, and you might end up getting into the groove once you start.
  • Limit the coffee dates: Your time is valuable, and you're the only one who can enforce this. Don't be afraid to schedule something a few weeks out if it's not directly related to billable client hours.
  • Set attainable goals: I make my to-do list at the end of the previous work day, rather than at the beginning. If I get too ambitious, I get frustrated.
  • Do your hardest work in your prime time: When do you work the most effectively? Use it wisely.
  • Give yourself structure: Most people I know crave a certain amount of structure. Even if you make your own schedule, figure out how to find some. Can you work out at the same time each day? Work on a particular project on certain days of the week? 
What are your best suggestions for getting sh*t done?

Closing Out November

November 24, 2014


Hi! What's new with you? It's very cliché to talk about time speeding by, but the snow on the ground is messing with my brain. Part of me feels like it's February and we just moved and I'm about to start working at the Walker. Also, I'm producing a show. All of this causes me to feel strange when I realize 2014 is, in fact, almost over and I'm done with all those things. I then start down the rabbit hole of deep end-of-year questions:

1) Did l make resolutions this year? Did I accomplish them? I honestly can't remember. The end of last year was really bogged down with loan officers, squirrel removal people, dentists and performance planning. Resolutions were far from my mind, though there was that whole "Thrive" thing-- more on that later.

2) Did anything really change this year? Sure. Things always change, and this year was a combination of subtle & big changes. Isn't every year? But I think I should really save these questions for January and focus on getting some sh*t done (though I'd rather bake holiday cookies). 

A couple of things relating to this blog:

+ There won't be a 5 With posted this week: There will be one next week and until I finish the project. What's that mean? I decided I'll take it to 25-- a nice, even number. It's also the number I'd have if I had actually posted one every other week for the year (the original plan). I want to finish this project, and I want to take the time to curate a varied group of people. I believe strongly that creative entrepreneurs and entrepreneurial creatives (those identifying as artists and those not) can learn a lot from one another.

+ I'm challenging myself to write more in December: This blog has long served as an accountability tool for me, and lately I've found myself feeling a little...stuck. My theory is that if I write and post frequently, especially without thinking too hard about what I'm posting, that I'll unstick. Will it work? Let's find out!

And on the non blog-related front:

+ I'm making a dance: I have a choreographic deadline of January 28 to make a short work-in-progress dance. I'm having a hard time beginning -- which is probably what makes the deadline so helpful.

+ I'm on the hunt for a me: Over the past few months I've longed to have an outside eye that can give me some tough love and point me towards the projects that will give me the most momentum. A person who will help me see clearly in areas where I'm stuck. I'm making the search for this kind of a coach a priority. Do you know someone who does this type of work?

+ It's the most wonderful time of the year! Christmas and Thanksgiving were quiet affairs last year, and this year I can't wait to bring out the Bing and put up a tree. We're throwing a holiday party in collaboration with a dear friend. What should we serve? Where do I find my ugly Christmas sweater? I'm very excited. How are you celebrating?

SCINAS | Support

November 21, 2014

[SCINAS = Self Care is Not About Smoothies, wherein I try to figure out what self care IS for me. You can read more about it here.]


Dana Nelson, Executive Director of GiveMN, spoke on a panel at Giant Steps this year. The topic of the panel was work/life balance, and she was talking about the importance of friendship and support: "Everyone needs at least three people they can lose their shit with on the phone."

I immediately zoned out of what she was saying and started counting. I am lucky to have lots of friends-- even a few handfuls of really close friends. But I would rarely think to call these people in times of crisis. At least, not until after I have the crisis semi-figured out, because what are they going to do? 

And this last statement gives away my real problem: I am a fixer, have been since childhood, and supporting and fixing are not the same thing. Support is about empathy, saying "hey, me too" or "yikes, that sucks" and "I really love you." It's not about providing a handbook for improvement; it's about being together in this awesome but messy life. I know from personal experience that this is not a burden-- it's an honor to know that my friends trust me enough to see them in a vulnerable space. 

I think that sometimes there's a confusion between social media spewing and asking for help: genuinely reaching out to another person. Social media is great in black and white situations that people can easily wrap their heads around: the loss of a loved one, advice on doctors and plumbers, directions to polling locations. Approach Facebook on a day where your depression is flaring up or that rejection notice has triggered your worst feelings of inadequacy or the holidays are bringing up all your family baggage, and expect to be disappointed. These things are more challenging for Joe Shmoe to wrap his head around -- go directly to a real live human. 

I believe that the thing that often prevents us from the reaching out is a feeling that we should really have our shit together. I know that when my life gets messy, it sometimes feels personal -- maybe I did something to cause the mess (even in times when the circumstances are entirely out of my hands). I deeply admire the people who own their challenging experiences (and feelings) with a sense of pride, as just a part of their story. They recognize that they are not alone in going through crappy times, and use these times to connect to other people.  

Like many, I've been deeply moved reading the writing of Minneapolis local Nora Purmort, recounting her husband Aaron's experience with cancer. I admire them for finding the good in the shitty, for owning with grace what's happening to them, and for reaching out-- they are so very connected to this community. Aaron has moved to hospice care, and they are fundraising to support this and their medical expenses (not to mention the toddler they are raising). If you can give them some dollars, I know they'd be appreciated. You can find out more here

Meanwhile, let's find support. Let's not wait for brain tumors or death. Let's rally around the daily things, too, and resign ourselves to not having our shit completely together. 

SCINAS | Support

[SCINAS = Self Care is Not About Smoothies, wherein I try to figure out what self care IS for me. You can read more about it here.]


Dana Nelson, Executive Director of GiveMN, spoke on a panel at Giant Steps this year. The topic of the panel was work/life balance, and she was talking about the importance of friendship and support: "Everyone needs at least three people they can lose their shit with on the phone."

I immediately zoned out of what she was saying and started counting. I am lucky to have lots of friends-- even a few handfuls of really close friends. But I would rarely think to call these people in times of crisis. At least, not until after I have the crisis semi-figured out, because what are they going to do? 

And this last statement gives away my real problem: I am a fixer, have been since childhood, and supporting and fixing are not the same thing. Support is about empathy, saying "hey, me too" or "yikes, that sucks" and "I really love you." It's not about providing a handbook for improvement; it's about being together in this awesome but messy life. I know from personal experience that this is not a burden-- it's an honor to know that my friends trust me enough to see them in a vulnerable space. 

I think that sometimes there's a confusion between social media spewing and asking for help: genuinely reaching out to another person. Social media is great in black and white situations that people can easily wrap their heads around: the loss of a loved one, advice on doctors and plumbers, directions to polling locations. Approach Facebook on a day where your depression is flaring up or that rejection notice has triggered your worst feelings of inadequacy or the holidays are bringing up all your family baggage, and expect to be disappointed. These things are more challenging for Joe Shmoe to wrap his head around -- go directly to a real live human. 

I believe that the thing that often prevents us from the reaching out is a feeling that we should really have our shit together. I know that when my life gets messy, it sometimes feels personal -- maybe I did something to cause the mess (even in times when the circumstances are entirely out of my hands). I deeply admire the people who own their challenging experiences (and feelings) with a sense of pride, as just a part of their story. They recognize that they are not alone in going through crappy times, and use these times to connect to other people.  

Like many, I've been deeply moved reading the writing of Minneapolis local Nora Purmort, recounting her husband Aaron's experience with cancer. I admire them for finding the good in the shitty, for owning with grace what's happening to them, and for reaching out-- they are so very connected to this community. Aaron has moved to hospice care, and they are fundraising to support this and their medical expenses (not to mention the toddler they are raising). If you can give them some dollars, I know they'd be appreciated. You can find out more here

Meanwhile, let's find support. Let's not wait for brain tumors or death. Let's rally around the daily things, too, and resign ourselves to not having our shit completely together. 

5 With: Taylor Baldry

November 13, 2014

I met Taylor this summer while working on Open Field, where my colleagues referred to him as an Open Field Alumni in High Standing. That basically means that he makes really cool participatory projects that we were anxious to bring to the field. This summer Taylor brought old school-style recess games, like Capture The Flag, and I've never seen a group of adults take a seemingly tame game so seriously. I mean, look at these photos. Taylor is a really talented illustrator, and his event promotion was almost as fun as the event (see below). I'm excited to share what he's making! Now let's all join Grown-up Club together. 


Describe your creative work and how you came to make it:
I value meaningful relationships and strive to create experiences that are accessible, entertaining, participatory, and promote human interaction and community involvement. My current work revolves a handful of passion projects that focus on public engagement. I produce the Pangaea Station, a quasi-educational art history web series. On Sundays I curate an experience-based oatmeal bar. I also co-founded Grown-up Club, which empowers and connects wayward adults through a monthly event series. 

I didn't always create work that was participatory; I am actually pretty introverted. This changed a few years ago after I moved back to Minneapolis after living in Japan. It found it really challenging to meet and connect with people in the digital age. 

What's your biggest creative challenge?
One of my biggest creative challenges has been accepting that I'm an artist. If someone asks what I do, I tend to mumble "I'm an artist" under my breath. I don't always own it, but if I don't, who will? So that's a pickle. 

I have always expressed myself artistically but I never thought that I could be an artist. The idea of it made me anxious. I thought that to be an artist, you have to be a superstar or else you're going to be living on the street. It took a career change and living in a foreign country for me to warm to the idea.

I still struggle with my artistic identity and I am constantly questioning myself: Am I creating work that is accessible? Am I giving myself enough credit? What are you doing with your life Taylor????


How do you balance paying your bills and making your art?
I am a part-time barista at FiveWatt Coffee. I also do freelance illustration and some commissioned art projects. A part-time job gives me some structure and piece of mind to work freely on creative work. It also gets me out of my studio (bedroom) and forces to meet new people and be social. I'm thankful for that.

I also take a lot of sabbaticals. I'll work intensely, save up some money, and then take a few months off to travel or learn something new. Sabbaticals are refreshing, and it's also fun to say that you're on sabbatical when really you're unemployed.

Give some advice:
Take an improv class. I am just wrapping up my first improv class and it's been brilliant. It's made me a better collaborator and communicator, more open to ideas, and more willing to embrace failure. If you're on tight budget, HUGE Theater allows students to trade classes by volunteering at the theater. 

Also: if you're at a party or event where you don't know anyone, stand near the snack table. Everyone will come by to snack. Snacks are a great conversation starter and you can eat them. 


What's exciting?
I'm looking forward to this winter. I'm excited to design some postcards for the oatmeal bar-- we are going to sell oatmail. I'm pumped to reboot the Pangaea Station, and have been doing some writing and pre-production for that. Grown-up Club also has some ridiculous events that we're planning for December and January. Neat! 

Find Taylor and his work here (and via the links above), and more 5 With here!

In This Space

November 11, 2014


I've referenced Lisa Congdon's talk Embrace the Abyss before, and it merits another mention. I listened to the beginning of the talk again this week, especially noting this section:

"It is at this precise moment-- the moment when we’re out of our comfort zone or going through some personal misery...those horrible moments are the moments when we’re most ready for creativity. And yet, what do we do in those uncomfortable moments? We scroll through Instagram. We get sucked into the black hole of Facebook. We go shopping. We do everything in our power not to sit with those feelings of emptiness or fear. And yet we all know that it is embracing those moments of emptiness and fear that our greatest ideas come to us. That space is the field of all possibilities. Great creativity happens in the space when we are most vulnerable." -Lisa Congdon

These words really make sense to me. 

After a rather leisurely October, I'm jumping back into the swing of #1) being my own boss lady and #2) starting new artistic projects. Building new things! This is equal parts exciting and daunting. I feel the urge to drag my feel, as I often do at the beginning of things, as if there will be some kind of safety net if I do. I'm trying to remember how much I need these things that I want to make. I need an opportunity to exercise my imagination, entertain wonder and put together strange puzzles. It seems much more comfortable to distract myself with the things Lisa describes...or spend my time worrying or writing lists...but what I actually need is the work. Like this great quote I recently read: "Nothing will make you feel better except doing the work." Amen.

It was such a gift to spend last year's miserable winter in a studio making things with great people.  It was the perfect time to be present after a really challenging year. That's one of the huge gifts of creating: presence. You can't run away from the things that make you uncomfortable.

We had our first snow this week, and I can't help but be energized by it. Here it begins! Looking out my door, there's evidence of this strange kind of transition: snow on the ground, but yellow leaves still on the trees. Not unlike the transition I'm feeling. But let's plunge in. Let's make something in this space.  

5 With: Gemma Irish

November 5, 2014

Gemma Irish wrote for Minnesota Playlist about how her day job skills have made her a better writer (read it here), and I was instantly smitten with her perspective. The advice is my favorite kind-- get out of your own way and make the work. You know, very Steven Pressfield's The War of Art. So much of the creative puzzle that Gemma shares below echoes my own-- the challenge of making the money piece work; the realization that no one else can make this happen for you but YOU. I'm so happy to share her words.


Describe your creative work:
I write plays. I love language and storytelling. I love a good fight.

I believe that the theater teaches empathy, certainly to its practitioners but also to its audiences. Because of this, I think of theater as a political tool, something that can affect change. But I also think theater can be fun, and weird, and smart, and (gasp) entertaining. All of these can co-exist.

What's your biggest creative challenge?
Getting my work out into the world. No one really cares about what you do until you make them care. That is to say, no Artistic Directors are pounding on my door begging me to let them produce my scripts. So I’m doing it myself, here and there, trying to pay people with money and not just beer and pizza. But I only have so much cash and time (and beer and pizza), and it’s a challenge.

How do you balance paying your bills and making your art?
This has been a huge struggle for me. The problem, for me at least, is that 40 hours a week is too many hours to do anything besides make theater. It’s just too much. But I need close to 40-hours-a-week worth of paycheck to pay my bills. I’m not a person who can live exclusively on beans and rice and food rescued from a dumpster. I didn’t take a poverty vow when I chose to be an artist. Maybe this is crazy, but I think I should be able to write plays AND enjoy a nice meal out once in a while. It takes skill, talent, and hard work to do what I do, and I believe I should be compensated for my time and expertise.

But until I can figure out how to make that happen, I have a corporate day job. I actually really like my job, and I’ve been there long enough that I’ve gotten a few raises, and built trust with a few key people, and was able – though some hard work and compromise and negotiation – to go down to 3 days a week at work, and still earn enough to live on. This has been literally life-changing, and I’m starting to find some balance after nearly 10 years of trying to juggle it all.

Give some advice:
Ask people out for coffee – they will probably say yes. As an introvert, I used to think I was bad at networking. (The idea of “working a room” and handing out business cards makes me nauseous.) But I’m good at knowing what I like and sending emails to the people who make it. People love talking about what they love. Literally no one has said “no” to me when I asked them to coffee – if anything, they’ve all asked me “what can I do for you?” and I’ve almost never had a ready response. Ask someone out for coffee, and then show up knowing what you want.

What's inspiring you right now?
“I am not afraid. I was born to do this.” – Joan of Arc

You can find Gemma on Twitter here, read her various Minnesota Playlist writing here, and read more mini interviews here

One Last Thing

November 3, 2014

In these three posts about connecting to creative work, I left out one crucial (to me) suggestion:

Start a Blog

Blogging has been an invaluable tool for me to #1) get moving creatively (generally, the more frequently I produce something, the more likely I am to keep making things) and #2) get clear about what I care about and want to put in the world and #3) connect my ideas & thoughts to other people. It's certainly not for everyone, but it's been helpful for me. 

Now, I don't think that blogging is the only way to get some of these same benefits. I think what's key is to find something that makes you...

1) Show up before you're ready: If I waited until a post was perfect, I'd never write anything. Writing regularly makes other creative activity less daunting. I know that it's certainly not the end of the world to put something mediocre into the world. I have to start somewhere.

2) Produce work regularly: Similar to the above-- writing regularly makes me creatively accountable, even when I don't feel like it.

3) Share your work & ideas with the world: I've connected to a lot of my current creative community through this blog. 

Maybe you hate writing. OK-- take photos instead, or post your collection of doodles. Maybe you're worried that this world doesn't need another blog? I get it. Probably ignore that. Write for you. Write to figure out who you are and what you care about on November 3, 2014, and then watch that change. I promise you'll learn something in the process. 

[You can find all of the posts on connecting to your creative work over here.]

5 With: Blake Nellis

October 29, 2014

You might remember Blake Nellis from Small Art, where he memorably wore a yellow jumpsuit and matching shades and managed to transfix us all by playing with some tape. He's present and playful, and earns audience trust even when we're not sure what he's doing (see above comment re: tape). I love that Blake stumbled into the world of dance in college, after spending years as an athlete and musician. This multidisciplinary background makes his work delightfully unpredictable.

Photo by Alex Kay Potter
Describe your current creative work and how you came to this place in your career:
I am first and foremost a movement artist-- a dancer and choreographer. Who I am, what I look like, how long my beard is, they are all part of my work somehow. I revel in making dance in the moment. This ability did not hatch overnight, but through extensive training in Jane Hawley’s Movement Fundamentals curriculum at Luther College. When I began making work in college it was largely inspired by Contact Improvisation (primarily duets). As my interests and experience have shifted, I have begun designing much more, and think about the visual shape, arc and images present in my work. I strive for a balance between being creative, virtuosic and honest. I know my proudest moments of creativity have brought unexpected connections. 

What are your biggest challenges as an artist?
I have a hard time dealing with our culture’s ignorance toward dance-making. It seems like we’re still centuries behind other art forms in the way we view dance. It baffles me that people still say things like “I didn’t get it” or “So what does that dance mean?” When was the last time someone listened to Beethoven’s 5th Symphony and asked the latter? I strive to be creative and at the same time reach out to an audience that still struggles to name what I’m doing. I hope that someday, in the not so distant future, that people will view my work with their guts or their childlike selves so that art can continue to transcend our culture rather than define something of the past.  

How do you balance paying your bills and making your art?
I’m currently Visiting Faculty at Luther College (in Decorah, IA). This regular salary allows me to continue my freelance work, project by project. This past year I’ve been working with Mathew Janczewski’s ARENA Dances, and two years before that I started with Stuart Pimsler Dance & Theater. These companies provide income, opportunity, and a training of sorts. More and more I’m finding good jobs that are enjoyable and financially viable. When I first moved to Minneapolis in 2010 I was balancing lesser paid dance gigs with child care jobs. This worked for me because the hours were somewhat flexible, and I was still able to work with people which fulfilled and inspired me. I definitely toy with the idea of getting a white collar job, even if just for a moment, to make some serious dough and then run around the world doing Contact Improvisation. Will I do that? Probably not. 

Give some advice:
  • Learn about the art forms that support your work: For example, when I’m making a dance I like to see what the lighting designer sees, and this leads to new ways of being inspired. 
  • Pinterest is great for organizing ideas and images floating around the web.  
  • Go to real people: When I need help, I get smart, talented, patient people to help me. I have found it especially inspiring to continue studying while crafting work. Good teachers inspire me: Jane Shockley, Jane Hawley, Martin Keogh to name a few.  
  • Strive to be honest: It doesn’t matter if what you make gets you rich or famous. If you’re authentic and committed, it will pay off. 
  • Follow your bliss: People are inspired by passionate people. And find ways to laugh-- at yourself and others. Laugh at the irony and the mistakes. Laugh because you get to do what you love-- this is a great privilege.  
What's next?
I’m really excited about this piece I’m working on now called “Forgiveness Lunch.”  It’s a new solo I'll show at Luther College February 20-21. I feel like I’m headed down a new road with my choreography, adding more depth to my personal narrative and integrating my personal dance technique as I continue growing and changing as a dancer. I love blurring the lines between dance, theater, story, clowning, surrealism, memories…  I’ve always found it hard to call my work “dance” because people already have an idea of what “dance” is.  But they don’t know what I’m going to do.  

You can find Blake on twitter, read more about him here, and find more 5 With interviews here

Connecting to the Work | Final 6

October 27, 2014

[Read part one here, and part two here.]

photo by Marie Ketring for Pollen Midwest
These Connecting to the Work posts are for those of you who
  • Feel like you're in a work rut: something needs to change-- it's not exciting you
  • Want to feel like you're building something you care about, but you're not sure what it is
  • Are artists, committed to a particular field, but trying to get more specific about what you work is-- or what's next for it, or what you big long-term goals are with it
This is the last handful of suggestions that I've found particularly helpful for finding movement in times of stuck-ness.

1) Adjust Your Sense of Time: This isn't an active suggestion, but I think it's worth pointing out: all of this takes time. I think many of us leave college with an artificial sense of timing set in-- the kind that was more common in our parents' generation: you leave college, maybe you go to graduate school; you get a job, you get promoted, you let time coast by so that you can eventually retire. This sounds pretty depressing to me, actually. Jobs and people and creative work evolve over time; life experience changes us and what we make. This is good! There is no possible way I could have know what I wanted to do with my life when I was 22-- I was barely an adult. Allow space for change, recognize that it's positive, and remember that there's no such thing as a wasted life experience. I'm no longer a dance teacher, but I learned a lot about being a leader and taking creative risks in that 10 years of teaching. Everything builds towards where you are now. Trust that change will happen: it's actually impossible for it not to.

2) Get an Accountability Buddy: We all need sounding boards. It's hard to get perspective on your own jumbled brain and heart. I find it's helpful to work with a buddy who isn't in your exact creative field-- that way there's no room for weird competition. It's crucial to find someone who you respect. And, if you're going with the buddy system (not paying for advice), it's important that you feel like there's an equal give/take with the person. It'll take time to find the right fit. It's worth the wait.

3) Move Before you Think: I really don't just like dance for pretty, virtuosic movement on a stage; I like how it helps us tap into a different kind of intelligence. I promise that if you take a 20 minute walk or jump around the living room to Queen (or, music of your choice) for a half hour before trying to make a big life decision, you'll think more from your gut than your brain. When I think too much from my brain, I'm bound to get stuck. When I think from my gut, the answer feels more obvious. Try combining this exercise with Morning Pages (move first, write second).

4) Ask Yourself Big QuestionsWrite down the date and answer some big questions...
  • What do I value and want time for? How can I make this happen?
  • Where do I feel stuck? Get as concrete as possible...
  • How do I want to feel? (I know, the woo-woo one, but I swear by it...)
  • What gives me energy? What takes it away? How can I incorporate more of these energy-giving things into my life?
Briefly look over your answers. Choose 3 tangible take-aways from your writing and put them somewhere visible where you can be reminded to act. Put your writing away to consult in 6 months. It's rewarding to see how things shift over time (see #1).

5) Superpowers: Ask that accountability buddy (or a trusted friend or two) what they think your superpowers are. Don't worry: you have them! What do your friends appreciate about you? What life experiences have made you feel like the best version of yourself? How can you take a little of this personal superpower and bring it into your creative/work life?

6) Make Space: If you want to invite change into your life, you'll have to make space for it. This might mean getting rid (even temporarily) of any neigh-sayers you spend time with, or making additional time by letting go of activities that you're no longer enthusiastic about. In 2011 I started canceling as many teaching gigs as possible, and sure enough this eventually led to work that better utilized my strengths. I took on projects, like this blog, that had no real connection to my career and that my more logical brain would have viewed as a waste of time. Be impractical for a while. Come up with a sentence or two to respond to well-intentioned people who want to know what you're up to. When you change course, they'll probably feel at least a little confused. Politely ignore them. You get one life, so choose what's in it wisely.

Is there anything you'd add to these lists? How did you find your creative work?

SCINAS | Comfort

October 24, 2014

Note: What the heck is SCINAS? My little mantra that Self Care is Not About Smoothies. I introduced it here.




The highlight of my week was watching Ben make this pie. It was less about the joy of having pie to eat (though I'd eat pie & whipped cream for breakfast every day if it was available), but more about the joy of making ordinary, everyday comfort. 

When I experience crappy circumstances, or just exhaustion over life's general unpredictability, I'm aware that the things in life that comfort me most are tiny, ordinary things: Ben's mimed orchestrations of the opening credits to television shows; the sight of our cats in a sunbeam; apple pie. (Actually, a long list of foods...)

A few months ago I was at a friend's house and noticed she was keeping a jar of moments of the year that she wanted to remember-- moments to hang onto and be grateful for. For me, that's the stuff of comfort. I need to make a long list of moments and things that I love. I'll add to it that thing I read on the internet; Morrissey singing My Love Life; the last episode of Six Feet Under that slayyys me; Tiny Beautiful Things; that picture from our wedding where I was crying and laughing in the same breath; the memory of the first grilling on our patio. We need the stuff of ordinary joy. Gather it around you like armor, because that's what good comfort is. 

5 With: Elizabeth Braaten Palmieri

October 22, 2014

A common theme in these 5 With interviews is make the work you want to see in the world; don't wait for permission. I see a lot of that outlook in Liz's work. We studied theater in college together, and since then her life has included a few moves, massage school & a good amount of resourcefulness in continuing to find creative opportunities-- regardless of location. Now living in Columbia, Missouri, I was excited to see that Liz  co-founded a theater company & has been writing her own work. I'm excited by the risks she's taking & the way she's dedicated to figuring out how to Make Sh*t Happen. 


Describe your current artistic work:
I am an artistic, aesthetic and entrepreneurial slut these days, working on projects that span from my roots in live theatrical performance to film, and recently, a newly formed collective of themed, curated experiences. I am the co-founder and artistic director of GreenHouse Theatre Project, a professional experimental theatre company based in Columbia, Missouri that focuses on process and creative collaboration. My other project is a short film that I wrote, produced, co-directed and performed in last summer titled Perch. It will be premiering at the Citizen Jane Film Festival in November and will make the festival rounds this upcoming year. And my latest endeavor is a collaboration with a photographer and a fiber artist. This 'curated experience' workshop will be framed by a theme and incorporate slow food, a beautiful landscape/location and documentation of the whole production. Working with passionate, talented artists who share my aesthetic is what really turns me on.  

What are your biggest creative challenges?
Keeping my self-motivation going with independent work. Self-promoting. Trusting others with my work: I tend to be protective of my writing, and don't let anyone read my works-in-progress. Much of my work comes alive in the rehearsal processes, while workshopping and playing with material, and because of this the words look flat to me on the paper. I don't know if others will get what I see in my head until we are on our feet moving with the words.

How do you balance paying your bills with making your art?
I just had a huge fundraiser for my theatre company.  It was a success, and much of that credit goes to my board-- a group of professional, left-brained, art supporting people that keep me on track.  Otherwise, money is a dirty word to me. It is necessary, as we pay all involved in our projects, but it mucks up my idea of pure art-- art created for the necessity to live. 

Aside from my performance work and teaching, I am a massage therapist. That is where my consistent income is derived. Bodywork for me goes hand-in-hand with my work as a performer, and it keeps me stable amongst the crazy, inconsistent schedule I keep with performance.

Share some advice for other artists:
  • Brainstorm & meet with other creatives: have tea & drinks together; go on long walks in the woods and throw ideas out there
  • Find mentors: if possible write them & meet with them
  • Document: write your ideas down & collect images, writings & objects that feed your ideas
  • Find inspiration-- it's everywhere: see art, listen to music, watch movies, read 
  • Be open & avoid saying 'no' to others' ideas or your own (the #1 rule of improvisation)
What's inspiring you right now?
This past year I saw an incredible documentary film, Art and Craft about a prolific art forger. The little man was a character like no one could write: quirky, scheming, schizophrenic and lonely. I fell in love with his story and connected with the film makers. I am currently working on an original piece called The con-ARTIST, a three person, experimental piece based on his story. My company will premiere it in May, 2015 at an art gallery in Columbia. 

You can find out more about Liz's work over here and read more 5 With interviews here

Connecting to the Work | 5 More

October 20, 2014


Continuing on from this post, here are 5 more suggestions for connecting to the work you want to make-- which could mean feeling less creatively stuck or figuring out what direction you want to take a career shift. Or, remembering what you want to pour yourself into in your free time. In no particular order....

1) Learn from Jealousy: As I've written before, jealously has been a great tool for helping me get clear about what I want to make and do-- and who I want to make things things with. I'm usually jealous of the people who do things with confidence and without apology. It turns out that there's nothing stopping any of us from being one of those people. Jealousy is great for helping us figure out what we want, because it's such a strong emotion. It can be a force for motivation-- and I love this podcast that discusses exactly that.

2) Let go of Assumptions: Ben and I were chatting a few months ago and he said something really great: "When you unsubscribe from the assumptions you have about what you do or what you don't do, then you can get down to work."  
I assumed that because I'd always been a choreographer and dance teacher that my career would continue in this trajectory. I had to make space for the possibility of change, which is sometimes really uncomfortable. Before Small Art, I never considered myself a curator-- I assumed I wasn't qualified. I thought that being a good choreographer meant making work in big spaces. Both of these assumptions turned out to be false. This is where I urge you to try something new, to work in a different artistic discipline, to entertain projects and ideas that you'd usually turn down. Give yourself 6 months to try some new things.

3) Say "Yes" / Make Lots: I've talked a lot about being decisive and saying "No", but if you're trying to shake things up I invite you to says lots of "Yes" instead. Avoid being choosy and judicious; forget about whether or not this thing is going to lead your career somewhere spectacular; give yourself permission to stop thinking realistically about money for a while. The key in these stuck places is to get moving, and thinking too much works against this. Make as many things as you can for 6 months, without thinking. You can reevaluate then. 

4) Make a Mondo Beyondo List: There's a theme in these suggestions: give your rational, left brain a rest, and tap into your intuition instead. 3 years ago I took an e-course from Andrea Scher called Mondo Beyondo. Though it made me a bit uncomfortable with its woo-woo/ hippie dippy nature, taking the class was actually just what I needed. A Mondo Beyondo list is a list of improbable things you want to accomplish or experience in this lifetime. It's different than a goal list: these things are supposed to be really reach-for-the-stars kind of things. There are a couple reasons I love this list:
  • It helps you cut straight to what you want, practicality aside. And half of the challenge, really, is figuring out what you want...
  • It helps you cultivate a certain amount of faith & courage: there are things that you can do to work towards these goals, but there's also plenty that's outside of your control
  • It's awesome to make a list, put a date on it, and then consult it later and see things happen (I promise, things start to happen-- it's really a little out there).
5) Commit to Morning Pages: While I admit that I've never made it all the way through Julia Cameron's The Artist's Way, I've found a lot of value in committing to her suggested Morning Pages. The exercise has you write 3 full pages at the beginning of the day, before doing anything else.  You write with a real live pen or pencil (no ipad or computer), in a steam-of-consciousness manner. The idea is just to write-- stop over-thinking or censoring yourself in any way. The goal is to get yourself moving, without worrying about where you're moving to.

I'll share a few more suggestions on this topic next week. 

Mid-October

October 17, 2014


It was been stunningly beautiful in Minneapolis this past two weeks, sunny and mild, and I've been watching the neighbor kids attack their raking with determination. (We could learn something from them.) I have put most practical things on hold in favor of an extra walk or at least napping in a sunbeam, and I'm confident that in a month or two I'll thank myself for soaking in this last big dose of vitamin D. 

I've been taking this transition time to do more things just because I want to, which I highly recommend. I've been perfecting my manual car driving because I donated my poor car, and I'm sick of being the person who stalls in front of you at lights. And I've been sorting through my bedroom and office closets, donating or throwing out loads of things. I have to admit that this makes me ridiculously happy, because man I like getting rid of things. I remembered that I have a library down the street and requested a few of these recommendations. I zoomed through 2 seasons of The Mindy Project, laughed my face off, and then started Call the Midwife at Laura's recommendation. Now I'm thinking that maybe I want to become a nurse in England and leave the car in favor of a bicycle. What do you think? 

I've been waiting for this space to catch my breath for quite a while, and it's pretty great. 

A couple things I recently read & wanted to pass on:

I really like this advice for artists from Austin Kleon.

The Jealous Curator's recommendations for affordable art.



Laurie Van Wieren shares the process (and the photos) behind 4x4=100 Choreographers Dancing Outside.

Ira Booker wrote another piece about Small Art, and so articulately captures why I love these events.

Happy mid-October.

5 With: Laura Brown

October 15, 2014

You might know Laura Brown from her entertaining twitter commentary or this popular ARTCRANK print or because I like to discuss her awesomeness a great deal. While I'm smitten with Laura's artistic style, I also just plain admire her work ethic and commitment to her career. Since we met in early 2012, I've watched her dig in and prepare for (and then apply to) graduate school, Doing the Work in the truest sense. She continues to inspire me and to teach me a lot about persistence and asking for what you want. This fall Laura moved to Austin to pursue her MFA at the University of Texas on a full scholarship. Though Minneapolis is certainly not the same without her, I'm overjoyed for her big career step. And, so happy to share her words here.

photo by Erik Hess
Describe your work and how you got to this point in your career:
I am a printmaker and book artist. My work explores human relationships and our relationship to time and space, and is driven by the process of translating ideas into visual symbols, taking them through the printing process. I always like the adventure of how the printing changes the final outcome of the original idea.

I got into printmaking in college, because I had a wonderful, enthusiastic professor who was really interested in students and would teach us anything we wanted to know. I’ve arrived at this point in my career just by not giving up. I think that being successful as an artist is really a lot about persistence. Persistence looks different for everybody, but boils down to a commitment to continuing to make things and make your work better, and to continuing to have a curiosity about the world and life. 

I first applied to graduate school right out of college and didn’t get in. I spent the years between then and now taking part in residencies, and gathering information about how people make art and artistic careers. I got involved with a supportive artist community, made more and more work, and figured out what my voice was-- what my work was, what I liked, and what my process was. I applied to grad school this time because I was ready for a more challenged, committed studio experience, and time to make work more intensively. I’m ready to build my career into something more than a part-time pursuit.

What's a current creative challenge you face?
Right now I’m in a new academic atmosphere, which is a little weird. I’m at a major point of reassessing why my work is meaningful, what I’m making work about, and why the world needs what I making. Grad school is a big opportunity, and I want to make the most of it.

How do you balance paying your bills and making art?
When I was working a full-time job with money, I didn’t have time or creativity for art. When I chucked the job, I didn’t have any money to survive. I think for the most part the solution has been to make enough to get by, to live frugally, and to commit my non-working time to making art, almost to the exclusion of any other pursuit. I’ve said ‘no’ to a lot of things to make this possible: dating, owning nice things, and having a car. It’s not a martyr thing-- I’ve made the choice, so I don’t get to complain about it. 

Now that I’m older, I do think a lot more about money and being practical, and what other things I want besides this romantic idea of making a lot of art and being a broke bohemian person. Going to grad school is a step towards hopefully becoming more financially stable, and being able to facilitate continued art making in the future. I needed more stability.

Share some advice:
  • Get clear about what you want and how you define success-- what do you want from your art making? It’s something that only you can decide: do you want to do it for fun? Do you want it as a career? 
  • Put yourself out there. You won’t get anything back unless you do: put your work out there, apply for things, ask for help. It was really helpful for me to join a cooperative studio at the Minnesota Center for Book Arts, because I found a bunch of great people who were willing to mentor me. Regardless of your art form, there’s probably a community for you to join to get mentorship, help and advice. Take advantage of this. 
  • Keep going.
What’s inspiring you?
Some of the artists I go back to time and again are Sister Corita Kent, Helen Frankenthaler, and Anna Eva Bergman. They are like visual comfort food to me. Lately I have been digging a bunch of random stuff--grad school has a way of overwhelming you with things to look at and research. I like to keep up with printeresting.org, which is a blog that covers a wide variety of print-related media. If you are in Minneapolis, you should really take a look at my friend Kjel's work in the current MCAD Jerome Emerging Artists Exhibition (up through November 9). It's colorful and funny and smart and I love it.

You can find Laura and her work over here, and read more 5 with interviews here
 

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