Hello April!

March 31, 2014

Good morning! I am eating breakfast with the nervous trepidation that only a person who endured a co-spousal weekend stomach flu can understand. What a way to end March! Enough said of that.

It stuck me, while doing my good old taxes, that we are at the end of the first quarter of the year! Financial quarters aside, this means that we are 1/4 way through 2014. Did you make New Years resolutions? Is the year moving along in a hunky dory fashion for you? I didn't make resolutions, but I did choose a yearly word: thrive. How that's going is very subjective: really great in some ways, lots of "room for growth" (so diplomatic) in others. I will say: That woman Susan who writes Astrology Zone is crazily accurate! 

Anyway, today is March 31, and I can't remember March. That can't be a good sign... My goal for April is to be able to remember April! March was pretty much unpacking, adjusting, and doing our taxes. Not particularly exciting stuff to remember?

Here are some loose April hopes:
  • To be outside a lot.
  • To write in this space more often & bring back the 5-with series.
  • To practice yoga regularly, even if that means 10 minute daily chunks.
  • To cook something from this book
  • To plant something.
  • To figure out how to create a little daily quiet (maybe part of the yoga thing).
  • To see more people I love regularly.
Very reasonable hopes, yes?

On the art-front this month, we're thrilled to be hosting a performance by these awesome people at our new place.

On the business front, my Story Mapping exercises will be printed in a nice little booklet in a couple of weeks (and available for purchase!).

On the work front, the updated Open Field website launches tomorrow!

March really is the hardest month in Minnesota. If you can manage that (especially without a vacation to a tropical climate), it's all up from there. Welcome April!

It's Here! It's Now!

March 27, 2014

I've had a long-time bad habit of waiting for all of the pieces to come together before I can rest, relax, enjoy myself, and feel satisfied. I've kept waiting for the perfect moment, which I often say will happen:

-When I get a grant.
-After I quit my job.
-When I find the job.
-When my numerous commitments are over.
-When we move.
-After the show.
-When I have more money.
-When I'm more rested.
-When we get to go on vacation.

Surprise, surprise: this utopian moment of perfection never actually happens. I've rarely found a time when every single factor in my life knits together just right, without finding myself nitpicking at the details and wanting a bit more. Contentment has always been hard for me-- something I'm certainly not proud of. 

I feel very lucky that the circumstances of the last year have been helping me to learn that contentment is an inside process. It can be found in the most jagged, awful moments, when the project is in an uncertain mishmash, and when the house is half-way put together. Contentment isn't black and white, it's way-the-heck-grey; It happens right now.

It's one thing to make a blanket proclamation that YOU'RE GOING TO BE CONTENT! But what does that mean or look like? I've been thinking of three things in particular:

1) Hyper-presence: The last few months have been a great exercise in presence, because so damn much has been going on. Our transition (specifically regarding our living situation, my job, and the Small Dances process) has been going on for months. Realistically, aren't most of us always transitioning a little bit? I've made every effort to stop thinking about to the future and to stop waiting for life to feel more settled. I can enjoy our house when it's half-way through a paint project. I can spent the weekend finishing business taxes and still enjoy myself.

2) Stop the perfectionism: Part of enjoying things right now (and not later when they're perfect) involves letting go of a certain amount of control freak-dom. Transitioning to a new job has meant telling old clients that I'm running a few days behind on their project. I've realized that we can have friends over before our house looks just right, and I can write in this space without coming up with a brilliant idea for a post (or resizing the photos). I've dropped the ball on a lot of plans and on seeing a lot of friends' performances while I've been figuring out how to put daily life together, and I'm pretty sure that it's going to be ok.

3) Make micro-changes: My brain can be frustratingly black and white, and when something in life isn't working, I want to chuck it out the door and try something new. I've been thinking a lot about how most things aren't all or nothing: If I'm too busy to take a class at the YWCA, I still probably have time for a 20 minute walk; maybe I don't have the creative outlet of rehearsal, but I can start the day with morning pages; I don't work with Ben during the day anymore, but we can meet for lunch, etc, etc... Most life elements can wiggle and shift around without requiring a total change. (I think about this a lot for clients and friends who are hoping to transition from 9-5 work to self-employment-- what's the micro-change before you make the big change?)

I posted these photos because they reminded me of the in-between-ness: beautiful flowers from my friend Katie that made me so happy, even when our one-day-moved-into house was a huge mess; a photo of our newly painted teal wall (which I love!), surrounded by unpacked boxes and windex and catnip. Sounds about right. I don't want to wait for everything to lock perfectly into place-- it's unrealistic and exhausting to continually strive for. I'd so much rather teach myself comfort with the grey places, which is probably a skill that will take a lifetime to cultivate. It's a worthy challenge.

    Reluctant Spring Reading

    March 19, 2014

    Tomorrow is the first day of Spring! When I think of March, I keep remembering March of 2012 when we had patio weather by St. Patrick's Day. This is not that March. The good thing about cold/grey/snowy weather is that I can work a lot and not feel like I'm missing something great outside. Get all of your projects done in March and April, and then GO OUTSIDE!

    Speaking of projects, I read two bits of especially good stuff on the internet and wanted to share:

    #1-- Gemma Irish wrote a great piece for Minnesota Playlist about applying lessons from her day job to her writing career. She shares about how to Do.The.Work (spoiler alert: you Do.The.Work-- but lists and strategy help).

    #2-- On the Braid Creative blog, Kathleen shares her tips for deciding when to take on a project or client. This was something I recently discussed with a friend. My friend has a rule that a project or work gig must satisfy two out of three of these three P's:
    --People: Provide her with collaboration she's really excited about.
    --Pay: Compensate her really well.
    --Project: Involve a project that she has a lot of enthusiasm for, or would learn a lot from.
    How do you choose what projects to take on, and what to turn down? When I was younger, I made a point of saying yes to everything. I also had fewer life expenses at that point, and lots more energy. Now I try to avoid the projects that give me a feeling of dread in the pit of my stomach-- unless they are really short-term, and pay really well.

    Also: I'm quickly working my way through the Jealous Curator's book, and it's fantastic. Sometimes it's a huge relief reading about other people's self-doubt and challenges. Guess what? Most people have them!

    [Note: Yes! This blog has changed formats & is shifting around a bit. It will slowly get sorted out, and then the columns and photos will the same length, and you'll be able to find things more easily. Thanks for your patience.]

    Lately: Transitions

    March 13, 2014

    Winter is passing! Every day I see a little more of the Walker field peeking through the snow. My life has shifted all around in these past few months, and I'm very much still adjusting. For starters: I live in Minneapolis now (like, 10 miles from St. Paul!), in an old house with sounds that are slowly becoming familiar. I have a garage! It feels very novel to me. Also:
    • Small Dances closed on Sunday after 10 awesome performances! I'm grateful for generous hosts, enthusiastic audiences, and especially for a supportive spouse (also my sound editor, show videographer, and fill-in stage manager). I'm proud, too. I made a piece I really like, and kept the anxiety at a low (for me) level. I finished the process without swearing off future projects (although I'm looking forward to a break).
    • We've been painting, and reveling in domesticity. The seller had painted most of the house a beige/yellow blend, with some thrilling accents of lime green and purple. Top that kind of ugly! It turns out that I really like selecting paint colors-- it gets easier with practice. Choosing paint colors for a tiny house is a whole different (domestic, first world) battle, and one deserving of an entire post. We got tired of painting about 2/3 of the way through the job, and hopefully we'll finish this year...
    • I'm behind on most things. Isn't everyone during a transition? Accepting this as my current (temporary) reality is the first step towards enjoying my life, as it is, right now. Obviously I would rather write this post than throw myself into our taxes. Have you done your taxes?
    • I bought Creative Block! The Jealous Curator's new book is worth buying for the gorgeous artwork alone. There are interviews from 50 artists, as well as an idea from each on working through creative blocks. Most (all?) of the contributors are visual artists, so I'm curious about finding ways to apply their exercises to the performing arts. 
    • I wrote something for the Minnesota Do-Gooders about marketing & story sharing for non-profits. 
    • I'm searching for routine. My job is full of routine (9-5 for the first time in my life!), but the other things are still falling into place: weekends, mornings, Ben time, meal planning, old work projects I'm finishing up. All of these changes are still new, so I'm trying to embrace the messiness of change. I mean, when I started this job I didn't even know where my shampoo was packed. Now I have clean laundry! This transition will only get easier. Next week I'm going to make it to yoga!

    Connecting to Creative Work You Love

    March 10, 2014

    Gather around-- it's story time! The story goes like this: Back in early December I saw a posting that a small Twin Cities arts organization was looking for a part-time performing arts curator. Naturally, I thought "That sounds so cool, but I have so little curating experience, except for that living room series I made up", but Ben insisted I apply. This led to two really awesome interviews, complete with staff and board members and the whole shebang. It came down to myself and one another person, and in the end the job went to the other person. Despite the fact that this sounds disappointing, it was actually really wonderful. I learned three important things in the process:

    #1-- I had a dream job-- I wanted to be a curator! Until this point I didn't realize how satisfying I was finding the creation of events like Small Art, which fit perfectly into my desire to envision bigger projects and ideas involving awesome people, and then figure out how to make them happen. 

    #2-- My skills were valuable to other people. Despite the fact that I didn't get the job, it was 100% obvious to me that these potential employers were pretty taken with my background and experience- there were several comments about my huge potential. I say this less to brag, and more to point out this: like many creative people, I have a background that weaves together 80 different experiences and trainings. Sometimes it feels like I'm a jack of all trades, master of none. Sometimes it just feels good to know that your diverse background actually brings together a variety of skills that another person can hugely benefit from. It's BECAUSE of that diversity that you're valuable.

    #3-- That I was dying to collaborate with a larger group of people, even if it was part-time. Ben and I love working together, but we both crave larger collaborations, too. Ben's been lucky to work with production teams for a number of projects that he's directed, but I've worked more on my own. I spend a lot of time with my computer, or one-on-one with people. Through these interviews I realized that I wanted to have more impact than I can on my own. 

    These realizations are what led me to eventually get hired to coordinate Open Field at the Walker Art Center, a full-time job I've taken on until the end of August. Open Field (something I'll elaborate on in the future) can be described as the live event version of Learning To Love You More (one of my very favorite public art projects by Miranda July and Harrell Fletcher), if it took place in a big green area outside of a major art museum. And well, that's just downright dreamy. 

    But to get to the point of this post:
    I'm thinking a lot about how artists find creative fulfillment and make a living at the same time. I'm thinking a lot about how creative people gradually hone in on figuring out what gives them a sense of meaning and purpose, because that is HARD STUFF! These are questions I've been asking for years, especially since college, and especially in the past 3 years when I realized I didn't want to be an arts educator or traditional choreographer anymore. I expect to always be asking these questions, but I feel that the past year has led to a lot of progress in this department. I wanted to share what I've been taking note of:
    • Make Friends With Rejection! I am not an unusually lucky person, I just constantly ask people for things (jobs, opportunities, interviews, advice, more opportunities), and get used to hearing 'No' a lot. Sometimes I shrug my shoulders when I get turned down, and other times it gets really old to be constantly putting myself out there so often. Sometimes I take it really personally, and vent to my husband about being a total failure. I wouldn't have found this Walker opportunity if I hadn't been turned down from at least four other significant opportunities. I had five interviews in 30 days; I got really comfortable with applications and interviews!
    • There is No Such Thing as a Wasted Experience! All of your experiences are valuable and contribute to leading you in some kind of direction. I spent ten years as an arts educator, and I'm not actively teaching today, but it led me to getting really excited about helping other people put their creativity in action-- a skill I still use today.
    • Get Help Recognizing Your Strengths & Talking About What You Do: I am lucky to have many awesome friends. One in particular is just amazing at pointing out my strengths and having more confidence than I can that I'll find a way to put them into action. What a gift! Writing has also helped me figure out what I like and what I'm good at. Writing my Next Steps grant helped me have realizations about my art-making that I never would have put together on my own! Chip away at clarity, mostly using your gut to notice what you love (people! big ideas!) and what you dislike (coding, design, writing copy for boring organizations).
    • Make It Up: Don't wait for other people to give you permission to do something. If you don't see what you want, create it. Check out this video for more on this-- and this writing by Kate O'Reilly. Also somewhat related: fake it 'til you make it. It's the only way to learn!
    • Make Space: If you want to change the creative work you do, you'll have to make space for this change. In 2011 I quit the majority of my teaching gigs. For a while it felt stupid-- who was I to be saying no to money I needed? Gradually I replaced the gigs with other work. Last October I quit my restaurant job, and the same thing happened. Obviously I'm not an advocate of being broke or overly choosy when it comes to gainful employment, but sometimes making time and energetic space really pays off. 
    • Be Patient; Be Nice to Yourself: You'll take two steps back, you won't get it right, you'll need to adjust. It's ridiculous to me that I always expect to figure things out quickly, when this expectation is downright unreasonable. It's all about noticing and making micro-adjustments. I am a total hypocrite to say this, but enjoy the process!
    I've made a lot of friends through this little blog, and found so much creative support in one form or another. Thank you for your encouragement! It's nice to know that when I find myself at a new creative crossroads-- an inevitable part of choosing this kind of life-- that I can lean into that support again. I am incredibly grateful. 

    5 With: Wendy Ruyle

    March 4, 2014

    I like to think of this 5 With series as a creative rolodex of sorts (remember those?)-- a series of contacts for finding a new collaborator, a designer, or seeing art outside of your usual comfort zone. I first discovered Wendy Ruyle of 5 by 5 Design via her business blog. The blog combines Wendy and her business partner's writing with a group of guests (read this!), and shares a great balance of practical and inspirational advice. Wendy is co-founder of the Minnesota Do-Gooders Club, which provides a forum for non-profit professionals to discuss their industry. They're holding a Content Conference for non-profit marketers on May 15-- find out more here

    Tell us about your creative projects-- what do you make or do?
    I'm a graphic designer, so I make things (like logos, brochures, and websites) that help communicate other people's visions—products they sell, services they offer, or in the case of nonprofits, the common good they provide.

    What are the challenges (as you see them) of making a life doing what you love?
    The hardest part about being self-employed is taking a vacation. That's not limited to creative people, but it's what I find hard to do. A flexible schedule is easy—getting your hair cut in the middle of the day or taking Friday afternoon off is a snap. Leaving for two weeks, next to impossible. There's just no one to do your work while you are away. It is essential, though. You have to recharge to keep your work fresh.

    What advice do you have with regards to making a living and finding satisfaction as a creative person
    I think finding satisfaction in the everyday successes is key. I don't consider myself an artist so I don't focus too much on whether my vision is being realized, rather that the project I'm working on is successful in some way—because of me or the team I'm working with. A genuine thank you from a client or seeing an organization flourish is more reward than any award I could win. 

    As far as making a living goes, all creative people need to remember that just because they enjoy their work doesn't mean they shouldn't be paid for it. The more we each stand up for ourselves and demand our full value, the more we will all succeed.

    What do you most enjoy about your work?
    The thing I love most about my work is that I get to learn about so many other people's life work. I have to immerse myself in what they do in order to create a visual representation of it. It's really energizing to be in a position to ask any question of individuals in all walks of life.

    How do you make it happen (energetically & practically)?
    I have an amazing business partner and we keep each other accountable for all aspects of the business. We have complimentary skills that allow each of us to focus on what we do best, but keep the pulse of the other person's responsibilities. We've built a network over the years that allows us to get most of our work via word-of-mouth. (And, we work really hard and make lots of lists.)

    [You can read additional interviews here.]

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