Words from Humans/ 1

September 27, 2014

As part of the Small Dances process I asked friends and strangers a series of questions, and then used some of their responses for the text of the show. Here are some of my favorite answers to the question who do you admire?

I admire people who do brave things as adults. This can mean trying to change something as small as one’s own habits or as big as public policy. It can be easy to coast by and not challenge oneself to do more and be better, so when I see someone putting in the work, I feel inspired.

I admire the lovers. There are 3 specific people in my life who love so much--without fear or second thought-- and I admire them enormously.

I admire how comfortable my cat is all the time. And also, how he's convinced he can take me down.

I admire people who truly step into compassion.  I also admire people who are absolutely on fire with passion—obsessed with things that turn them on.  I think it is actually pretty rare to find a person who is equally invested in compassion and passion, but those are the ones that I admire the most. 

Myself and my wife. I really admire us for not fucking around when it comes to making it count.

Children, if they still know how to play.  And old people, who know how to age gracefully.  And play.  

I admire my boyfriend for his incredible selflessness. He is literally better than me in every way, and I'm always working to be a better person to feel worthy of spending time in his presence. I literally can not believe he chooses me.  

I admire Kevin Love because he plays basketball like he wants to kill someone every night. And people who build their own lives.

Anyone who goes after what they really want. That takes guts. 

I admire my wife for her astounding ability to conquer any creative project with determination and grace. 

Trans people of color. They have to be so brave just to be themselves, just to survive. 

The most recent person I've admired is a coworker who's very good at being compassionate and professional with our clients and colleagues. 

I admire people who just CREATE whatever it is they want to exist in the world, even if they are bad at it, even if they stir controversy. There is a list of about 7,843 artists that I admire.

I admire my mom for being strong, not hard.

Good friends who faced cancer before me and have since died with dignity and love.

I admire people who are smart, people who get things done, people who are good to other people, people who are unpretentious, people who are generous, and people who are funny. I admire people with these qualities because I think the more that people have these qualities, the better off we'd all be. But people who are all these things at once tend not to exist. 

My college advisor. She was wired the same way I'm wired, and so I always figured, heck, if SHE can be successful and happy and hold down a job, then maybe it's possible for me too. 

Both my parents for different reasons: for being brave, for not being afraid to start over, for always being honest, for working hard. 

I admire people who truly step into compassion.  I also admire people who are absolutely on fire with passion—obsessed with things that turn them on.  I think it is actually pretty rare to find a person who is equally invested in compassion and passion, but those are the ones that I admire the most. 

My Grandmother’s strength, passion and adventurous spirit.

I admire my aunt, because in a family of tight lipped, emotionally disengaged people, she was able to communicate and experience a colorful array of emotions without shame or embarrassment. 

[If you're on instagram and want more great words from humans, theater maker/director Noah Bremer-- @thanksnoahthanks-- has been posting some fantastic & wise words from his friend, Jim Domenick under the hashtag #septemberances. I'm @laurabalaurah.]

Self Care is Not About Smoothies / 1

September 26, 2014

This field of corn is whispering self care secrets... 
A few months ago I was complaining to a healthcare professional that most people don't want to hear about how well we're taking care of ourselves. "It's not cool", I insisted. "People want to hear that you're working hard!" I then detracted my statement. You know what I admire? People who take care of themselves. People who have their own backs, you know? Sometimes I even get jealous of it: it shows a massive amount of self-confidence and love.

But I'm not always sure as to what actually constitutes self care. Sometimes the idea gets blended in with juice cleanses, methods of self improvement, and a big case of the 'shoulds' (I should go on a run instead of napping, I should really meditate more....) I don't want my self care to be about control. I'd rather it be about figuring out how to listen to myself. This year I've been thinking a lot about the word 'thrive', which has given me the opportunity to frequently check-in with myself and ask: what do I need? This is a hard question to remember to even ask. Then, once you ask it, it sometimes feels daring to act on the response you hear without looking around to see who your answer might inconvenience. The thing I keep remembering is that I'm the only one who is in charge of putting ME first. It's that whole 'put the oxygen mask on yourself before the person you're assisting' metaphor thing.

My post-birthday travels gave me plenty of time for life reflection, which led to numerous impassioned scrawls in a notebook, "Self care is NOT about smoothies!" being one. I'll start with some good old contradiction: I have a blender and occasionally make smoothies, and I'm not hating on you smoothie-loving folks. (In fact, google has assured me that for many people, self care is indeed about smoothies.) I think I just like a good acronym: you can say it ski-naas OR sky-naas (rhymes with 'Linus')-- go ahead and pick. No, but really-- I do think that self care is about so much more than smoothies, though smoothies get a lot more internet space. I'm thinking about things like boundary setting, figuring out how to connect to a supportive community, wearing clothes that make us feel like our best selves, and finding the resources we need when we're sick or down or scared about a loved one. This is the kind of self care that I care about a lot and want to learn how to get better at, and this is what I hope to write about semi-frequently-- if you can deal with the bad title for the series. 

Decisions: the concrete version

September 22, 2014

After re-reading what I wrote last week on decisions, I pictured someone getting to the end of it and saying "uh, Laura? So, um...how does one make decisions?" 

Here are some concrete ways I've gone about decision making:
  • For life decisions: I find that it's helpful to make a list of my values, and see if the decision feels in line with those values: This is what's the absolute most important to me, come hell or high water.  I like this list of values that Kate O'Reilly shared here
  • For project/work decisions: When I'm trying to decide whether or not to take on a new project, I ask myself...
           -Will I still have time to make those values-y things a priority?
           -Does this fall in line with my creative mission statement/manifesto? 
           -Will it set me up to create my best work (see above) or teach me something I need to   
            know/get better at in order to create my best work?
           -Is this going to allow me to work with someone that I've been dying to work with?
           -Is this going to pay me well, helping me meet some other goal I'm working on?
           -Am I crazy passionate about this project?
           -Will this give me some helpful street cred?
           -Does my work on this project support a cause or person I care deeply about?
          (Said project needs to meet a minimum of 3 out of these 9)
  • For idea decisions: I wrote this post on How to Choose the Ideas that Push You Forward, which sums up some ways I've gone about choosing creative ideas. Sometimes, I don't need to be "pushed forward"-- I need to follow the idea that makes my heart thud the most. Which brings me to my final thought...
  • Ask yourself a few deceptively simple questions: There's lots to be gained by asking yourself the following (go on a short walk why you're mulling these over-- the movement is helpful to avoid getting too brainy about it-- bodies are smart):
         -What do I need? 
         -What do I want?
         -Am I making this decision out of some kind of fear? Is that real or made up?
         -What am I trying to do? (more big picture)
         -What's in my way/where do I feel stuck?
        -How do I want to feel?
(...which, I know, sounds hippie dippy, but can be surprisingly helpful. If you want to, for instance, feel busy and prolific, maybe you do want to take one more thing on. If you want to feel connected to people, maybe you want to choose the project that brings you into contact with more people, versus the one you do alone, etc..)

None of these are absolute rules (I'm doubtful of absolutes), but they are good starting guidelines. I've talked to others who have their own guidelines, which I love hearing about. 

How do you make decisions that leave you feeling good afterwards? 

On Decisions

September 16, 2014

About a month ago, right when I was trying to solidify what life post-Walker would look like, I got an email offering me a new creative project. At first I felt flattered and really excited, and it seemed like a no-brainer to sign on: they want me; it might be fun! But, the more I looked into it, the more I started to feel a ball of anxiety gnawing at my stomach. My old fall-back habit is to say YES to everything, just in case I might be missing out on THE OPPORTUNITY, which worked really well for me in my 20's when I had endless amounts of energy (and more time, too). But these days I have less tolerance for my quick 'yes' responses, which often lead to a ridiculously full schedule, total overwhelm, and my own best work being pushed to the back burner. As I began to realize that this project was not at all the right fit for me, I first felt strangely guilty (who am I to say 'no'?) and then...really amazing. Somehow, by saying a decided 'no' to this one thing, I felt crystal clear about a lot of other things. The lack of shoulder shrugging and "I guess so" cleared space for the things I felt really damn strongly about, and released a hold on any ambiguity that might have been taking up space around my future plans.

Decisions and Violence:
In her book A Director Prepares, theater director Anne Bogart speaks against ambiguity in a way that I love:

"Committing to a choice feels violent. It is the sensation of leaping off a high diving-board... Decisions give birth to limitations which in turn ask for a creative use of the imagination...Ideas come and go but what is important is the commitment to a choice and to its clarity and communicativeness. It's not about the right idea or even the right decision, rather it is about the quality of decisiveness."

I especially like that last bit: the quality of decisiveness over making the right decision. YES.

Bogart's reference to violence feels rather appropriate, because I can't think of a time that a decision has felt 100% warm and fuzzy: saying YES to one thing means saying NO to something else. One of my favorite essays in Cheryl Strayed's book Tiny Beautiful Things is "The Ghost Ship That Didn't Carry Us", in which Strayed gives requested advice on whether or not to have a child. It ends with these words:

"I'll never know, and neither will you of the life you don't choose. We'll only know that whatever that sister life was, it was important and beautiful and not ours. It was the ghost ship that didn't carry us. There's nothing to do but salute it from the shore." 

There's totally a place for mourning our ghost ships, even as we recognize the importance of continuing to act and choose.

Choices for You, Choices for Me:
Even more on my mind is the importance of making the decisions that feel right for us and standing by these choices. This is the hard stuff, and often the lonely stuff. I've found myself falling into comparison traps, looking around at others' choices and wondering if I'm making the right ones for myself: should I be making more art? OR should I see if a FitBit will change my life, too? (Yes, really.) It's so easy to crave the community of making the same choice as the person next to me.

I've been increasingly aware, though, of what a disservice this is to myself. It totally means second-guessing everything that I know and feel in my gut, and hugely diffusing my energy as I waffle around. I mean, DUDE, I'm 32 years old: that's old enough to know that I'm plenty type-A without attaching myself to a device that counts my steps, and to know that I value a balance of things in my life-- one of which is art-making. It's old enough to apologize less about what I do or don't do; old enough to know that life is way too finite for indecision. There's only so much room and space in the metaphorical life basket. We get to decide what we put in it, and that's pretty awesome. 

Your Creative Endeavor:
This all carries over into our creative endeavors-- one of the most important (and hardest) places to get comfortable making decisions from our gut; our own decisions. There's a lot of noise out there: lots of advice on how to make your work (books and blogs, oh my); lots of people taking different approaches than you are; lots of work that can lead you to second-guessing your own. It takes a lot of self-confidence to look inward and stay focused on your own work and goals. It's challenging to both stay open to new ideas (and resources and opinions), and recognize when they're diffusing your energy. I bring it around to priorities and urgency: what do you choose? what do you want? As that Mary Oliver poem goes, "what do you plan to do with your one wild and precious life?" Choose that first.

[Image of an image by Anthony Zinonos from The Jealous Curator's Creative Block]

Found on the Internet

September 13, 2014

If its your weekend: sit in your pajamas, listen to a podcast, and leisurely click around the wonders of the internet! (Or make some soup or mow the lawn-- more good options.)

  • My friends Betsy and Justin are starting a nonprofit community film library next year, but right now their idea is a blog. An awesome blog, where they write smarty pants, funny, spot-on observations about loving movies. Warning: it will make you want to spend the day in your pajamas watching ALL the movies. Go read it! (I love Betsy's post on how it's ok to love Rom Coms.)
  • I've shared it before but I'll share it again: online resource Artists U has a great downloadable resource for artists trying to create a balanced, sustainable (you know, non-starving) life. You can get it for free here. I like that it's one of the few aimed at performing artists. If you're a visual artist, Lisa Congdon's Art Inc is finally available, which aims at helping visual artists sell their work.
If you have a couple extra dollars, I can think of two (ok, 3) great ways to spend them:
  • My friends Paul and Nicole are spelling to raise money for Family Tree Clinic in St. Paul. Family Tree Clinic is an awesome nonprofit clinic that offers reproductive health care services and education, and they have been of great help to my (underinsured) lady parts in the past. They have an amazing and generous sliding scale system! Your donation goes straight to their programming. You can give here.
  • If you're an artist in Minnesota, you probably love and rely on Minnesota Playlist for great arts coverage and even job opportunities. They're expanding in exciting ways that you can read about here, and they need your money to do it. Give to their IndieGogo campaign-- or at least go watch the funny video that Ben shot of some local artists talking about the upcoming website changes.
And, for Twin Cities locals: Are you going to Giant Steps? It's a conference for "creative entrepreneurs and entrepreneurial creatives", and this year's event is happening October 10 in Minneapolis. I've written about my experience here and here 

Let's Make The Work

September 11, 2014

I woke up yesterday in Minneapolis to a sky full of clouds, and when Ben and I walked around our neighborhood at lunchtime I actually needed a sweater. Fall is creeping in. It might be my favorite season, but in Minnesota it's also foreshadowing of a (longa*s, cold) Winter, and thinking about that made me panic a little. I searched for my vitamin D bottle and started thinking through a list of hobbies to jump into when the days get shorter-- maybe I should get more into cooking? Last year Small Dances made the Winter fly by, and when it was over it was (nearly) Spring. And Spring was accelerated by half a dozen transitions. I realize that it can't be a longterm solution to continually distract oneself with moves and major life changes (or at least not one I'm interested in).

When I think about what consistently propels me through grey days and all, I think about The Work, which is maybe an incorrect term, because I'm not necessarily referring to paid jobs. I'm referring to the stuff of life that you're building, love and feel invested in. It's the stuff that might make you feel small (in the best way) or challenged or infinite (yes, the best work is full of contradictions). Something you chew on and put your precious time into. Something you water. It probably takes numerous forms, and might only occupy a little of your day (or week), but it's yours and you discover new parts of yourself in it-- that's the important part. It's an ongoing investigation: it teaches you something. 

The acupuncturist I sometimes see recently asked me when I feel the most like myself-- the most grounded version of me-- and I told her I'd have to get back to her on that one, because at the time I mostly just felt the stamp of my day planner on my brain: fit it in, fit it in. But as I've thought more about her question, I realized that it's obvious: it's when I'm doing The Work. It's when I'm in the studio directing, or when I'm putting together the puzzle of a project or figuring out what to write. (It's also when I'm traveling, but that gets financially tricky....) 

It's easy to think that to make space for The Work, you need a big block of time, or preferably an entire free day (or to be master of your own entire schedule), but that's simply not true. If we wait for that to start, we'll be waiting forever. Every big thing can be broken into teeny tiny chunks, and you might be amazed how 15 minutes propels you through the rest of your day. I started Small Dances with a Daily 20, which worked well for that particular project (and sure, I skipped days, but it kept me going). Ideally I try to find something that I can do in my home, without outside funding or collaborators, so I'm not dependent on those things.

And if you're not sure what The Work is, or it feels like there are too many options, stay tuned-- it's a topic for fall I plan on writing about a lot: connecting to the work you want to make. As I transition into September, finishing up a few Open Field items of business through the end of the month, while playing catch-up with my own clients and business things, I needed a reminder about scheduling priorities: let's make The Work.

[photos from recent travels]

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