Drinking the Kool-Aid

June 27, 2014

Last night I shared in a bit of applause. Actually, it was APPLAUSE, a world record-breaking performance on Open Field of a core group of ten clappers and the numerous community members that walked in to join them over their two-hour stretch of clapping. It turns out that clapping feels really good, and clapping for a bunch of strangers as they walk and bike by feels even better. Every time I entered the event I had a permanent grin on my face.

But it wasn't just APPLAUSE that felt like magic last night, it was the mash-up of events the clapping was a part of: the spurt of energy from Capture the Flag, the clever Fluxus signage created by artist-in-residence Maria Mortati, the dozens of people sitting at the picnic tables to draw a Fluxus score or practice their cursive, the robot-like sculpture hanging out in the garden, and the music performances that closed out the night. (I especially loved sitting down next to the woman who knew the words to every Neil Young song Anonymous Choir sang and quietly sang along.) My Open Field cohorts, many whom have shared in all four seasons of the field, could probably much more articulately identify the source of last night's magic. It sounds so simple to insist that that it was just about being together, and having numerous unjuried opportunities to create something in a space big enough for us all. It was the communal feeling I've sought through my own projects, and I was delighted to find it in a big woodchipped green space with a group of (largely) strangers. Hello, Open Field-- I really like you!

So this is in-part an invitation to the summer party of odd and wonderful events (and oddly wonderful, too). Community programs are happening most Thursdays and Saturdays through August 14 (more information on the calendar here). It's also a written reminder to myself to fully enjoy this short time and the feel-goodness of being a small part of making this happen. I feel very lucky. It's such a joy to get to make things together.

Al Desko

June 24, 2014

This is the truth: I have been thinking a lot about lunch.

Working a 9-5 job for 6 months feels a little like spy work. My schedule for the past ten years has been a hodgepodge of days, weekends and evenings doing money work (teaching, nannying, serving in restaurants), and super early mornings and late nights spent doing the projects that I love (writing, choreographing, scheming), every day a little different. But my schedule right now is more or less a strict 9-5. There's plenty to love about the routine, structure and predictability (satisfying for my inner control freak), and plenty that still feels strange (all the desk time). Lately I've come to the conclusion that working a day job is a good exercise in many things, but especially in valuing small pockets of time: coffee in the patio before I leave, my quiet morning drive, lunch. Lunch has never before stuck me as an exotic or especially desired meal, but now I think it holds potential as the best meal of the day. It can be the key to properly recharging.

So I was pretty excited when Bon Appetétit wrote a whole article about the workplace lunch, aptly titled Lunch Al Desko. The goal was to present a lunch in a positive light-- moving towards creating a lunch that we're all actually excited to break for. I think that's key.

So, what do they suggest? Well you can check out the online version of the article yourself. It comes down to creating surprising, open-face sandwiches, getting inventive with salad dressings, and dreaming of possibilities for hardboiled eggs and avocados. Equally important as the ingredients is the manner in which lunch gets consumed: ideally away from a desk in an actual bowl (tupperware be gone).

The most exciting ingredients I've had in my lunch are cheese (feta, fresh mozzarella), an amazing sharp mustard a friend bought us in Germany (almost gone-- how will I survive?) that's good on pretty much everything, and avocados. Sriracha is welcome; dark chocolate with ginger becomes downright exciting. And leftovers? They can sometimes be pretty wonderful, especially if they're the kind that you don't even need to reheat (I had a great cold noodle salad).

What's the most exciting lunch you've had lately? What should I be eating, sans tupperware and away from my desk?  

Taking Time for the Big Picture

June 16, 2014

About a week ago I read this great interview that Nancy Rosenbaum did with photographer Jenn Ackerman. There's a lot to love about the interview, but one section I was particularly drawn to was where Jenn talks about taking a seven-month retreat to the Outer Banks of North Carolina with her husband to essentially figure out what they want to do with their careers and lives. They ask a lot of important questions; they write lists about what makes them happy; they wrestle with uncomfortable truths (maybe I don't actually want to be a traveling nomad). It reminded me a lot of the questions I was beginning to ask myself three years ago, when I was just starting to write in the this blog space. My questions were something like:

What if I'm tired of bring an artist? Can I just quit? If I quit, do the past 10 years that I've invested in this career just become meaningless?
What brings me joy?
Where do I see myself in 5 years and then in 10; what kind of life do I want to create?
What's been bringing me the most satisfaction?
How do I build a career?
How do I survive as an artist without burning out?

They were hard questions to ask, because I was afraid of what I might discover; I took the better part of 6 months to focus on pondering them. Now I find myself checking in every 3-6 months for a day or two (sometimes a bit more) to ask different versions of the questions. I highly recommend this: zooming out, reevaluating, interrupting the go-go-go of routine to determine whether or not its proving satisfying; finding places to make tweaks as necessary. I'm not just talking about career, but also about life. Are you liking it? Are you exhausted? Why? How can you adjust?

As I've been diving into more coaching work lately, I've realized that most creative people have this dance they do between big picture and small: zooming in to rehearse and produce and make (Get Shit Done), zooming out to do a bit of strategic planning, write about what they do, and attempt to get funding and grants so that they can take care of the making things.

Both are incredibly important, and it seems like all of us are challenged by either 1) needing more of one or the other or 2) not knowing how to move smoothly from big picture to action (thinking too much and getting paralyzed).
------- Anyway -------

It's June, and even though things like, say, work are trucking away at full speed, I feel a sense of leisure in the air. It's sit-on-the-patio-with-a-cocktail weather, and maybe that lends itself to good question asking. I also recommend pondering questions while riding a bicycle or walking or doing movement improvisation, because sometimes your body is smarter than your brain, and the answers surface more smoothly while moving instead of thinking. Good questions to ask in these big-picture moments are

1) What have I been doing or working on that's been fantastic?What has been less fantastic? (Why?) What lessons can I take away from these things?
2) What are some dreams for the future that are in the back of my head?
3) What would I like more of in my life? Less of? What action can I take towards making this happen?
4) What am I trying to do in my creative practice? (aka, your mission statement as it stands today)
5) Why am I trying to do this?
6) What do I need to feel like my daily life and creative life are balanced?

Certainly don't ponder all of those questions at once. Take some time-- maybe a couple of hours a week over the course of a month? In between, take deep breaths and remember that the stakes are only as high as you make them. This question asking can be fun; remember that the answers are helpful, regardless of where they lead you. If you get to a place where you're hitting a wall and getting frustrated, chances are you should stop and return to making. Sometimes making things (and taking action) leads us to answering these questions in a much better way. 

What kinds of big-picture questions do you ask yourself? How often do you find yourself zooming out?

The Jealous Curator Interviews Amanda Happé

June 12, 2014

"I think I might get creative blocks all the time, but I haven't thought of them that way. I frequently have nothing interesting to say. Those strike me as great times to keep creatively quiet. I think we're too hard on ourselves if we expect an uninterrupted procession of meaningful creation. Let it be. But lay in wait. Keep your ears perked and your soul soft for that new impulse, and save the guilt for when you really blow it in life."
--Amanda Happé in Creative Block

Yes-- still leisurely making my way through the Jealous Curator's fantastic Creative Block.

Small Dances ended three months ago, and just a couple of weeks ago I started feeling the impulse to get moving again. I'm not thinking about making things for audiences, but more about moving as a practice for myself, without a project or deadline in sight. The break has been much needed. For a long time I thought that breaks were a sign of weakness, and that I should just move along constantly from project to project. What would I tell people when they asked what I was working on? (Life-- I'm working on life. It's a great project, and I highly recommend it.)

In other news: the perk of buying a house in the wintertime is that the yard will be a continual surprise! The peonies are in bloom, and they are turning up everywhere.

5 With: Matthew Glover

June 11, 2014

Matthew Glover, photo by Richard Fleischman

Matthew is an ensemble member and the marketing director for the collaboratively driven Sandbox Theatre, and one of the great people I've met (at least in part) via twitter. I find his words to be a balm of reassurance-- I so identify with it all. And especially this: "Having the freedom to fail is the solution to most of my challenges." Hell yes, people-- so necessary, so hard to remember. Thanks, Matthew!

Describe your current creative work and what drives it or inspires you: 
I'm currently in the editing stages on two short films, creating copy and design for the promotion of three stage productions, and in the dream/research stages for two more plays. I've been making theater and films steadily for 15 years, but didn't get into marketing them until 2009. It was a whim, really. I'd just finished performing with Sandbox Theatre on a Fringe play, then got brought on as their marketer based almost solely on enthusiasm. I've been with the company now for 4+ years as theater-maker, marketer and head cheerleader. All of this is driven by the desire to be part of something wonderful.

What are your biggest creative challenges?
The biggest is my own ability. Everything I've done in the design realm, be it web or print, is self-taught, which can mean working 2-3 times longer than if I knew what I was doing. I'm getting better, mostly through persistence and a crap-ton of failure. Having the freedom to fail is the solution to most of my challenges. Secondly, I get tired of the hustle. Making things is that: a hustle. Nobody is obliged to give a crap whether you do what you do or not, and busting ass to get people to care can wear you down. It's a full-time job trying to promote your passion, so add a day job and a social life to that and burnout is nigh. I'm getting better at that, too, though-- saying no, focusing inward, all that. But I'm not very zen; I need the noise. That's all pretty contradictory, isn't it? We'll add that to the list: Internal Contradictions.

How do you make it all happen?
Love, hope, inspiration, the belief that art is vital-- that the act of creating, of making something is the heart of innovation and human progress. And I'm not really talking about my own stuff ... I mean, I get to play with others, I get to help them make their dreams, I get to be up close and personal with that. That's the juice. And massive piles of support. I have a cadre of gracious friends and family, a company that turns me on with everything they do, and a girlfriend who's great at making things and loves the shit out of me.

Give some advice:
I had a teacher that used to just tell me, "Keep going." I find enormous possibilities in that. Make what is honest to you now. If your honesty changes, make what reflects that.

What's next (or could be next)? 
I have a dream to run a multi-use gallery space where artists of all disciplines collide and collaborate. Like true, interdependent collaboration: seed to fruit, from-the-ground-up type stuff. Installation, film, performance... I’d love to be part of facilitating that.

Coping with Internet Overwhelm

June 9, 2014

I am not about to bash the internet. (How could I in good conscience? There's the whole blog thing, not to mention my beloved twitter and instagram...it would be downright hypocritical.)

With the whole thrive business, I am thinking a lot about habits that don't serve my quest for a tiny bit of space & calm (not total zen-- just a little calm). For instance, drinking cold press before work, when I know very well that more than half a cup of coffee is enough to make me loud and uncomfortably peppy-- like a cheerleader staring panicked at oncoming car headlights. Not good, I tell you! Too much internet consumption is another of these things.

I fall into a pit of internet-ness because...
1) I'm afraid of missing out (on your show, your smart information, that life-saving tip, those great curtains)
2) I'm searching for community
3) I'm in need of a distraction

Like I said before: this isn't an internet bash. I just get overwhelmed because there is SO MUCH INFORMATION, and I click around SO QUICKLY, and my attention span is shrinking. With twelve tabs open, I get that panic-y feeling, not too different from the cold press one. Also--

1) Creativity necessitates space, and mind wandering, and down time.
2) Inspiration is grand, but sometimes it's good to just put my energy into my own work and life, and stop admiring/getting distracted by someone else's. They'd want that, right?

Anyway, I did two things:
1) I lightened my blog/news/subscriptions down to about fifteen. No more following blogs "just incase I decide to find the perfect rug next year", etc... I went with: what am I excited/curious/fed/energized by today. If it made me tired or oddly self-conscious (should I know about Spring's new nail polish colors?), I ditched it.
2) I rekindled my love of Evernote, which is kind of like pinterest without the distraction of looking at other people's pins. I like it because it discourages the twelve-tabs-open-at-once thing-- if it's worth remembering/referencing/sharing later, I clip it.

Am I encouraging you to stop reading this blog? Maybe-- if it makes you feel tired or contributes to your overwhelm or distracts your from making your stuff. Also: I promise you won't miss much if you take a couple weeks away from Facebook. Your friends can call you to say they're engaged/pregnant/launching a show/having a good day/receiving an award, right?

How do you stay aware of and inspired by the world's internet contributions (there's lots to love!) without feeling overwhelmed? 

Lately: May

June 6, 2014

Because I spend a considerable amount of time indoors at a desk right now, Ben and I have been trying to make every second of weekend time count. Grill a steak taco! Plant some herbs! Walk around a lake! Take a night bike ride to Izzy's for ice cream! Sometimes I need a weekend from our weekend, because they are action-packed. This is the stuff we dream of all winter, though, right?

Speaking of desks-- OPEN FIELD!!!!!! In 8 days there will be other humans frolicking on the field, and I will no longer pensively gaze at the wide expanse of grass and wood chips and wonder what will one day occupy it. That one day is coming right up! I am especially looking forward to July 12, when my mentor/friend/subject of much admiration Laurie Van Wieren will be gathering 100 choreographers to perform simultaneously. I wrote about some of my other favorite upcoming acts over here this week.
PS: I am loving this work.

Also in May, HELLO MOLLY WIZENBERG!!!!!! Laura Brown and I traipsed to Wayzata for Molly's book release event at a tiny local store where the forty or so people gathered were the most excitement they'd seen in a while. Molly answered questions and is just as lovely in person as you'd hope. In the intro of the book, Molly writes about her husband's numerous creative endeavors and hobbies-- boat-making, gelato-making, a quest for the perfect espresso--all leading up to a desire to open a pizza restaurant (and her desire for him to just...stop already). I only hope to stay equally open-minded in my marriage about our mutual need to follow creative dreams, even when they make little sense. (Oh, and read Delancey-- it's lovely, and it might prevent you from opening up that restaurant you were considering.)

Speaking of marriage, in May Ben and I celebrated 3 years since that little heartfelt wedding at the Red Eye that made us both sob our eyes out and snort with laughter. I prefer to deliver proclamations of love to my spouse in person rather than on the internet, but I will say that this year Ben has been the one who has made all the awesome stuff possible for me. He's listened to all of my rehearsal ramblings and woes about various rejections, created the sound designs and documented the shows, made the meals and made sure the laundry gets done, supported me through some pretty intense emotional upheavals, and repeatedly cleaned up the constant trail I leave behind me when life gets really busy. I only hope to return the favor so that Ben can make his dreamy dreams happen, too. Also, this is really beautiful writing on marriage and gets an AMEN from me.

At the end of August my field-ing is over and I will return to working for myself full-time. In efforts to make that transition more seamless, I've been working with a handful of coaching clients during evenings and weekends. It's inspiring work for me (solo artists & business owners launching their ideas into the world!) and near to my heart-- I know all too well the challenges of working on your own, trying to get clear on a pile of ideas without getting in your own way. I'm taking July and August off from client work to focus on Open Field, but will return to it in September. If you'd like to know more about how we can work together, you can email me at LMholway[at]gmail[dot]com.

It's June 6th, but if you want we can both pretend that the month is just starting. What would you like to make & do? My thoughts are on 'thrive'. Here's some Rumi for closure. I think of this as I scan through photos of this month especially--

You wonder from room to room
Hunting for the diamond neckless
That is already around your neck

5 With: Levi Weinhagen

June 4, 2014

I read a lot of interviews where people give advice from the perspective of having figured it all out. In contrast, I don't know anyone who has figured it all out. I'm grateful that my friend Levi candidly shares that making a life doing what you love is equal parts great and hard. I admire him so much for Making It Happen, using jealousy to full advantage (my favorite method), and being both a creative powerhouse and an awesome human being. 

What do you make or do & what drives your desire to do these things?
My art practice and the personal career I’m building are all about being interested in ideas and people. It expresses itself in a lot of ways, but at it’s core I want to spend as much time as possible getting excited about people and ideas and sharing that excitement with the rest of the world.

I’m a theater maker, comedy writer, live show and event producer, a podcast producer, an interviewer, and in the last few years I’ve added an emphasis on fostering public engagement online via conversations and creative prompts.

I started performing improvisational comedy and writing sketch comedy about 15 years ago. A few years into that work I decided to go to college and get a degree in Anthropology. As a result of these two passions my work has really moved towards using comedy and performance to understand and connect with people and to help people connect with one another.

What is your biggest creative challenge?
My biggest creative challenge is myself. I am filled with self-doubt and magnificent at not letting myself focus on the thing I ostensibly want to be doing at any particular moment. Though I know logically that most creative output is going to be either pretty bad or completely terrible, and that pushing though to get at the little bits of good stuff is how it works, I still have to remind myself of this every day. 

How do you make it all happen?
I don’t know. This question is hitting me at a significant time of flux in my life and work. Less than two months ago I made the decision to leave my daytime job and put more energy into my creative work after nine years of having a 40 hours a week obligation that had little to do with it. Now I have a bit more time to do the things that matter most to me, but my financial base has changed significantly. I’m lucky to have a spouse who makes a good living, but decisions about taking on passion projects that don’t generate any income have become even more challenging. 

Mentally and emotionally the only way I’m able to keep doing work that is so much a part of me is by having a daily exercise routine that keeps me sane and gets the sad out. And I have a tremendous creative community upon which I can call at any time for support or a kick in the pants. 

My best trick for actually getting work done is to have so many projects that if I’m procrastinating on one thing or don’t feel like doing that work, I have plenty of other work to choose from. 

Give some advice:
The best advice I could ever give is to remind you that there is always someone doing what you want to do or doing things how you want to do them, so find that person and steal everything. I don’t mean steal their ideas, but steal their way of working or way of approaching the work. The best way to find these people is to figure out who makes you the most jealous. 

I’d recommend reading Seth Godin’s blog every day. He also has a bunch of great books. Poke the Box is short and particularly insightful.

I would also highly recommend reading How to be Black by Baratunde Thurston. It’s a comic memoir but it’s also much more than that. (You should also seek out and watch or read everything Baratunde has done because he is how we all should be.)

I love podcasts so my last recommendation is Bullseye with Jesse Thorn. It’s a pop culture audio program but it has tremendous depth, heart, and sincerity. 

What's next?
Co-writing Kafka Nuts, the show my theater company, Comedy Suitcase, is producing for the 2014 Minnesota Fringe Festivalco-writing a new comedy web series that won’t become a real thing until probably this winter; launching a daily creativity activation tool that’s an extension of the questions I’ve been posting on my Facebook wall for the last several years; working on a new comedy podcast about the Cosby show, and dreaming of making a comedy and culture festival in St Paul. 

You can find Levi and his work at thatlevi.com, or find him on twitter @thatlevi. Find his podcast, Pratfalls of Parenting (100 episodes strong!) over here.

[You can read more interviews here.]

Paint on a Wall

June 2, 2014

I offer you this recipe for house painting:

Decide enthusiastically on a color; buy paint & apply; realize it doesn't look anything like you expected; find a picture that reminds you of the color you'd hoped for; consider repainting; remember how much work it was; shrug & repeat.

My first attempt at interior painting was a year and a half ago. I'm not a detail-oriented person, so I got paint on the ceiling and all of the metal bathroom fixtures, and hated the color I'd chosen so much I tackled it all again. I also loved it; it was such tangible proof of progress. Painting is brilliant and awful at the same time for control freaks: you have such potential to get things right, and such potential to totally misjudge things. And then I jump into full-on self-loathing because it's a total first world woe to be squinting at a wall, wondering if there's just a touch too much lavender in the grey just applied, a thought continually dwelt upon throughout the day. (Really.) I haven't even touched upon the issue of needing to agree with a significant other on these changes, and my partner is as opinionated as I am. It reminds me of how my in-laws almost divorced over a wallpapering job; I can understand that.

One of the main perks of partial ownership of our last place was the ability to make changes, like paint colors and cabinet shelves. Is it the director in me that forms really strong opinions about most things, nay-saying a lavender bathroom with total insistence? It's probably like any creative endeavor: it's satisfying to make something happen and see a result, and see that result remind you of yourself. Maybe narcissistic, but totally legitimate.

So I share examples of painting...

In our former house:

Changing a dark, brick-red kitchen for the brightest of reds:

I might have been scared by the brightness, but Ben McGinley had a go-bold-or-go-home approach. I don't think it would work in every kitchen, but this one was spacious and open to the rest of the house. Also: lots of white cabinets to contrast.

Changing a sunroom from light yellow to a blue that actually was aqua:

red kitchen, jamaican blue sunroom, rude cat
A little too 'tropical waters' for my taste (though fun next to the red). I should have taken more notice that the color was called something along the lines of "Jamaican Blue".

Our new place
We moved from a house that was about 1500 square feet to one that is 913 square feet. I really like it! The space we have is incredibly usable, and there is loads of storage available in the basement and closets. The rooms in the lower level are open to one another, making it feel larger than the square footage suggests. But maybe loads of bright red and tropical blue don't quite have the same effect in such a small space. But also, who wants to stick with a beige and pea green living room? 

'Before' living room photos, staged by a realtor with another person's stuff & a sunset:

'After' living room photos with lots of light grey paint (Athena by Benjamin Moore) & my janky camera skills:

'Before' accent wall:

'After' accent wall (Hallowed Hush by Behr-- what a name):

The kitchen stayed this color, because it's awesome:

The main bedroom was beige:

It's now this color (Pussywillow by Sherwin Williams):

Satisfying changes, yes? It feels a bit more like us. Only two more beige rooms... (My office was also painted Athena grey, with a dark grey chalkboard wall). 

I'd love to offer some tangible painting advice, but I mostly think you should paint your home colors you love to be around, or colors that flatter other things you love (like art on your walls). We were skeptical of a color as boring as light grey, but light colors work well in tiny spaces. Other advice:

Get a sample of paint and test it before committing to an entire gallon (or half gallon) of paint. It seems like a waste of money, but colors on swatches never look the same once they are on your wall. I promise!

Consider how you want the room to feel and what activities you'll use the room for. Some love sleeping in a red bedroom. I might have trouble with that... 

This project made me think of the Karen Sherman quote I shared last week in terms of having tangible projects outside of art-making. I, too, crave balance. Though I love rehearsals and dance-making, I need the contrast of a tactile, result-driven task. I can debate colors for hours, but beyond that the act of painting is pretty cut and dry: paint put on a wall. There's something very necessary about that, in contrast to all of the debating and second-guessing involved in a lot of the other creative projects I'm involved in. Also: this is where the coffee is made, the Small Arts realized, the cat fed, the life plans discussed. These life projects have, quite unexpectedly, become my favorites.

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