Karen Sherman & Dance

May 29, 2014


"I make dances and that is the world in which I work. I identify as someone who makes dance but I also don’t feel that dance has to do everything for me, and also I haven’t often thought of myself as, necessarily, good at dance... Often when I am making a dance I do other things as an escape from the dance. Sometimes it’s because I want to do something else, like downtime things, or I want to do something that is more tactile and more actualized than dance because dance is so abstract. I mean it’s abstract in that it only exists when you are doing it. You have to have people, if it’s a solo, you have to have yourself, and be capable, and able, and physical up to par to rehearse, Then everybody has to to show up, on time, and you have to have a plan. I love all of that about dance, how hard it is to manifest, and how inexact it can be. Like, you are aiming for one thing and then something else happens, and that is really incredible. But, I think sometimes I crave, more static, tactile processes. So, often I am doing other things for that reason, like building stuff or making music, because it is more fun. Actually making dances, a lot of the time, isn’t very fun for me, making dance material. So I do these other things because they give me more pleasure and because I am less invested in them."

-Choreographer Karen Sherman in a great interview with Anna Marie Shogren (read it here)

I have been doing a lot of tactile things, many organized activities, and lots of practical, linear jobs. It makes me so glad that something as mysterious as the process of making a dance exists. I've been thinking a lot about how easy it is for days and days to pass without being aware of your body beyond knowing that it needs food and rest. Not at all in dance-- your body's intuition and capacity for holding experience is everything. 

2014: Thrive!

May 28, 2014


I've mentioned it before: my dear friends Molly and Betsy have the New Years tradition of picking 3 words for the year past, and 3 for the year to come. It's become a favorite ritual of mine. In January of 2013 I picked 'release.curate.choose' for the upcoming year, but it was 'release' that stayed with me, over and over and over (be careful what you wish for, you might get it).

This year I chose just one word: thrive. The idea of the word is that it's an invitation-- something you need more of, or want to dare to invite into your life. As my list of activities (moving, show producing, potential work changes) grew, I started feeling overwhelmed. I was feeling the pull of a familiar tide, the one where I spend lots of energy coping and fitting one more thing into the bucket, because I can. I can work 24/7, and fit in a few tasks before I officially start work, and a few more at the end of the day. We all can, and I think we're often encouraged to (and rewarded for that kind of behavior). But I didn't want to. I've spent many years in survival mode, thinking about how to get by, get a little sleep, and cram one more thing in. I don't find this kind of life fulfilling, and this kind of behavior is not one I care to model to the people around me. So I've been thinking about the word thrive. It's a good word.

Thrive: 
1) To prosper; be fortunate or successful.
2) To grow or develop vigorously; flourish.

I like 'thrive' because it's the kind of growth only possible if a person is REALLY honing in on their own needs. You cannot try to fit everything into your life and still thrive (I've yet to see an example). Thriving takes selection and intention and clarity: things that are hard for me. 

So, this list lover started making a list (similar to the one Clever Kate references in a post called Why My Life Doesn't Suck). I wrote down values; I wrote what I thought I needed. Things like...
  • Connection & community 
  • Creative projects & work 
  • Time to enjoy & build my home (and marriage)
  • Self-care (beyond vitamin routines-- making my needs a priority before work and client needs)
  • Shame-resilience (embracing vulnerability!)
  • Space in my schedule, quiet in my life 
I've been paying attention to which values are easy to prioritize in my life. For instance, the top three come much easily to me than the bottom three. And the last one? That's really hard. It's time to meditate, empty time, mind-wandering time, yoga time, do-nothing time. It's the time that, though it feels empty, usually results in the best creative projects. It's the time that replenishes, and there's no thrive without it.

Last night I started reading the Arianna Huffington book Thrive (apparently the word is everywhere), and was quickly reminded that when we take the time to figure out what we need in order to flourish, we absolutely set ourselves up for success in every other aspect of our life. Here's the thing: it's faster to focus on goals and achievements, and it takes more time to figure out how to work towards these things and be a functional, healthy human being at the same time. To get all metaphorical, it's like growing a tree that doesn't have proper roots: it looks really nice from the outside, and probably gets many complements on its leaves and flowers! But when the storm hits, bam, it's gone. (end metaphor)

As usual, I write these things mostly as a note to myself. It's late May, and 2014 is flying by. Last night I lay awake thinking about grant writing and fundraising for a piece. If I started now, I might be able to have something on its feet by next summer. Meanwhile, I almost always eat breakfast in the car on my way to work, and I've had very little space in my schedule of any kind. I would be pretty stoked to get to December, and find myself grant-less but rooted. It might result in fewer accolades, but I bet it would feel really good

Tuesday for Thursday

May 22, 2014



Remember Dances Made to Order? They were (RIP!) an online dance film series that focused on three choreographers from one US city each month. The challenge for the choreographers was to create a dance film in two weeks. Not just any dance film, though; those that bought tickets to view it online got to vote on the ingredients for the film.

Ben and I participated in July, 2012, but could only share the full film with those who bought tickets. But, when Dances Made to Order recently made the decision to close down their operation, they released the rights.

So, here's Tuesday. Consulting my notes, the prompts were: left behind; real/false; wabi-sabi. Regardless of the details, I loved working in an assignment-based way. It was really helpful for meeting the two week deadline and getting out of our heads. And, even though we didn't choose the the film parameters, it very much looks and feels like our work.

Credits: Performances by Charles Campbell and Megan Mayer ; dance film shooting & editing by Ben McGinley; foley and sound effects work by Mike Hallenbeck; music by The Brass Messengers

[I write about the process of making the project here and here]

Self-help Books for Creative People

May 19, 2014


The pages of amazon.com are full of books promising to change your creative career and help you build the business of your dreams! Some of them sound so life altering that I can't help but believe that all I'm missing are the magical words and theories of ________________________.  Here's the thing: there are few hours in the day (as previously discussed), and most of us benefit more by spending time making things, rather than thinking or reading about making things (I believe this strongly). BUT, it you were going to read some things, here are a handful of titles that I'm glad I have in my library.

If you need help getting out of your own way & getting shit done: Read anything by Steven Pressfield. Start with The War of Art, but also check out Do The Work and Turning Pro. Pressfield gives tough love about starting a regular artistic practice. (All of these are quick reads.) Also, read Twyla Tharp's Creative Habit. You'll instantly feel inferior, but she's also inspiring and smart.

If you're battling demons (i.e. freaking out about the vulnerability of making what you love and showing it to other people): Read Art & Fear by David Bayles and Ted Orland, and Brené Brown's The Gifts of Imperfection, both great reminders that you'll be ok, and that vulnerability is an awesome part of being alive!

If you want to learn about money: I learned some things from Suz Orman's The Money Book for the Young, Fabulous & Broke, which I found on super special at a used bookstore. I'm sure there are money books with less obnoxious titles, though. Do you have a favorite one?

If you're feeling creatively stuck: Why read Creative Block by Danielle Krysa, of course. In it 50 artists share prompts for getting moving creatively. There's also some really stunning visual art, worth the purchase of the book alone.

If you want writing assistance: Bird by Bird is the way to go, but it's as much a guide for making anything as a book on writing.

If you're trying to put together a sane (less scary) creative life: Jonathan Field's Uncertainty: Turning Fear And Doubt Into Fuel For Brilliance discusses finding anchors (like exercise and routine) to help calm the uncertainty of working for yourself.

If you want to know more about the business-plan side of starting a business: Creative, Inc discusses logos, agents, and business growth. I think it's most helpful for people who are photographers/designers/visual artists, rather than people who do more obscure things (modern dance, say). I also liked Austin Kleon's Steal Like An Artist, which shares smart thoughts on art-making and business building.

What are you favorite self-help books for creative people? How do you know when to read, and when to shut the books and get to work?

Asking As Art Practice

May 16, 2014


As of next week, I will have worked at the Walker Art Center for 3 months. It also marks just about the half-way point of my 6-months stint. What the heck do I do there?
  • I organize: I make spread sheets and lists galore in preparation for summer programs.
  • I take care of unglamorous details: I make building requests and sound permit requests; I schedule; I double check that community programs won't disrupt Walker programs.
  • I curate: I chose artists for our little music series, and I'm really proud of the line-up!
  • I encourage: I meet and email with community members and artists and help them make their programs possible. There's an exciting variety of programs-- a combination of classes and spectacle, art and games, performance and social events.
  • I promote: I get excited about things on social media, which is pretty much what I do in my everyday life. It works out!
  • ...and I ask: Do you want to come to the info session? Do you want to bring a program to Open Field? Then I wait and see what happens. It's a fun experiment! So much of this community programming has been a complete surprise-- I have no idea who these people are, where they came from, or how they heard about the program. Yet there they are wanting to dance (or hula hoop, or play in a band) on Open Field. Some people come because of the Walker name; some want to try something new; some were invited back from previous years of the program. 
Open Field has been a great fit for me because more and more of my projects have been centered around finding the place where my ask and the community's need come together. Over the past two years I've make a lot of requests:
  • Can I interview you?
  • Do you want to bring a performance to my house?
  • Do you want to attend said performance?
  • Do you want to read this blog thing I write?
  • Do you want to make (or contribute to) a project about the Wintertime?
I never expect people to say 'yes', but it's always a fun surprise when they do. I don't want the people who feel luke-warm about it-- I want the people who say YESYESYESYES- this is exactly what I've been looking for; an opportunity to do __________________.  Sometimes there is a perfect serendipity. When I put out the ask, it's not for everyone, but it is for someone. The fun is discovering who that someone is.

'Go-For-Grey' Goal Setting

May 12, 2014

photo by Bonnie Tsang
Combining a full-time job with freelancing and life-living has left me feeling a lot of awe for many of you that make it look easy. You even manage to raise little people at the same time! Like the title of that unfortunate Sarah Jessica Parker movie I survived fifteen minutes of I have to say, I don't know how she (or he) does it

Last week in a client session, we started talking about work habits. I was reminded that small, consistent amounts of work trump occasional herculean efforts, and got inspired to be more intentional about how I make this happen. My overall approach is pretty go-for-grey-- as in try it, tweak what doesn't work, and try again. There is not a set formula or magical app (or business book) that will make this a snap-your-fingers easy task. Instead, you show up and do the work.

Prioritize: Let's assume that neither you nor I can accomplish everything we want to at once. Focus on one thing, and you can add in another later on. 

Decide On What & Why: Get specific. For instance, rather than deciding that you want to grow your freelance work (a big goal), narrow it in. Maybe this means focusing on shaping up your website or work samples, or growing your audience (which breaks down to blogging, or meeting potential audience members via twitter). The 'why' factor can be a great motivator when you're making space for something in your schedule (and its always helpful to get clear on your intentions).

Break It Down: Help yourself out by breaking down big goals into smaller chunks. Rather than 'update my website', write what this really entails: 1) Choose a new photo / 2) Craft new 'about' page/ 3) Update resume/experience, etc... Then, when you get down to work, you know exactly what needs to be done.

Set Realistic Goals: 'Reasonable goals' are less ambitious than those than you might accomplish during you ultimate week of productivity. The idea is that you set goals you can meet, and your success with meeting the goals propels you into more consistency and productivity. If I set the goal of writing daily, I'm bound to fail. If I aim for an hour, 3 times a week, I'll meet my goal, get motivated by my consistent action, and often want to keep writing past my hour. 

Schedule ahead: Sit down at the beginning of the week and decide what you can make space for in your schedule. Write it in as non-negotiable. Remember that a lot can be accomplished in 20 minutes if you do it regularly.

Show Up & Do The Work: You don't have to do your best work, you just have to show up (and avoid procrastinating with social media). When I'm starting a new work habit, the first few days are often agony-- I work slowly. Just keep going.                                                                                  

Know What You Need: This system is 'go-for-grey', meaning that there are no absolutes. While I said that what you schedule should be non-negotiable (as in, you don't lose your studio time because the dishes need to be done), I have an exception clause. Are you familiar with Maslow's Hierarchy of Needs? It prioritizes things like sleep and eating over, say, creativity. There are times when working on your creative endeavor might not be what you need. For instance, I've been emotionally and physically burnt out over the last couple of weeks. Ridged writing deadlines weren't serving my life. I chose extra sleep, serial television, and family time. I have a feeling I'll be more productive in the future because I took this time. In most cases, your work will be right there where you left it waiting for you!

Tweak As Necessary: If your approach isn't working, make micro-adjustments and try again. Don't completely scratch the plan. Some people like to give themselves rewards for meeting goals; I like to think that the satisfaction of meeting the goal is rewarding enough. It feels good to get things done, right? If you fail miserably (something I don't even believe is possible), try again. Whatever happens, don't let your frustration bring you to a standstill.

Calling all you people who excel at Getting Shit Done: how do you do it? Is there an infomercial-worthy app or trick, or does it merely take lots of practice? 
 

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