Wednesday, August 21, 2013

Re-Establish a Committed Creative Practice

Last week I wrote about the list of things I want to accomplish before I turn 50 eight and a half years from now.  One of items on the list is to Re-establish a Committed Creative Practice.

Wait a minute. Don't I already have that?  I mean I write regularly, I create costuming, I choreograph dance pieces.  That sounds like a "committed creative practice" right?  Well...not really.

My current creative practice, such as it is, tends be far more project oriented than it is practice oriented.  I book a date for a show and I create something for that show.  I receive a crochet commission and I create a piece for that commission.  I create costumes for specific dance performances.  While all of this is good, it is also very limiting.  Because my creating is done with a specific purpose in mind there is very little new exploration or creation for its own sake.  There have been times in my life that I have had a regular practice, hence the re-establish, however I don't know as I went into them intentionally.

What do I hope to get out of a creative practice?  Well, there are two parts really one personal and the other more practical:

1. To avoid stagnation.  I want my creative practice to be a living, growing and changing thing.  I want it to allow for exploration and growth.  I want to have a very well fed muse.

2. Documentation. I'll be applying to MFA programs about 18 months from now.  My current educational background is in business and law.  Not your typical MFA applicant at all. When I apply I want to have a well rounded portfolio that contains the best work I am capable of doing and to also show that despite not having had a lot of traditional formal training, as one who attended art school would, I still have the same dedication to my various artistic pursuits. The admissions counselors I've spoken with said that while my case is not unusual I will need go a bit further to show that I have an established practice than would someone who already had an undergraduate degree in the arts.

How will I go about establishing this practice?  Over the past week I've given it quite a bit of thought and I found that for me a creative practice must have six parts:

  1. Regular physical activity - so that my body may be strong enough to do all of the things I wish to do with it
  2. Contemplation/quiet time - meditation, staring at clouds, journaling, daydreaming...time to let my mind rest
  3. Time spent in nature -  keeping in touch with the rhythms of the world around me.  Reminding myself that I and what I create are both connected the universe
  4. Feeding the muse - seeking inspiration through the art of others, reading, visiting museums and galleries, attending theatrical shows, etc. 
  5. Collaboration - creating with other artists of the same or differing disciplines presents great opportunity to see things from new perspectives and to create art that may not otherwise come to life from the mind of only one person
  6. Practice, practice, practice... - practice, practice, practice, practice...
So there it is.  My somewhat loose plan of how to change the focus of my creative practice  to be less project based and more creation based.  Now of course I need to put it  

Wish me luck!

Wednesday, August 14, 2013

The Before 50 LIst

I've started a list.  I'm calling it the Before 50 List.  It is pretty much what it sounds like, a list of things I hope to accomplish before I turn 50.

The idea for the list came to me one sunny summer afternoon when I was sitting beneath a tall oak on a green hillside overlooking the sea.  I'm not sure what specific thought triggered the idea for the list.  Perhaps it was my in the moment enjoyment of a perfect summer afternoon and wondering why I hadn't spent more afternoons doing just this or maybe it was watching the sailboats on the water and the return of a childhood desire to learn to sail or it might have been that I had started looking into graduate schools to attend after my expected completion of my BA in just about 18 months and the realization that if I could accomplish that goal that I might be able to accomplish others.

I reached for my phone and texted a friend, "I want to learn to sail.  I want to learn to sail and I want to buy a small boat and spend my summers exploring islands off the New England coast."

"Of course I may have to wait until I finish graduate school to buy the boat but  I could learn to sail next summer..."

And so the list was born.  I picked the age of 50 because it's a nice round number and because it is the first age milestone that kind of freaks me out a little.  Thoughts of mortality have always bobbed around on the surface of my thoughts but 50 brings it home.

What is on the list so far?

Before 50 List (in no particular order)

- Learn to sail

- Earn my BA

- Attend graduate school to earn my MFA

- Buy a sailboat (a small one)

- Live for a year (at least) in a small independent space, like a yurt

- Re-establish a committed creative practice

- Hike the "Hundred Mile Wilderness" (with friends)

That is the list as it stands right now.  It doesn't seem like too much considering I've eight and half years to accomplish all of them.  I expect to add a few things to the list over the next year and it is possible too that certain things could come off the list, but in any case there it is.

I'll be sure to keep you posted on my progress.

Saturday, August 3, 2013

Behind the Scenes

Last night the troupe I manage and dance with had a performance.  As with any other show I'd spent time working on much of the behind the scenes stuff such as prepping the set list, making sure we had all the proper safety equipment in place for the fire performers, last minute social media promotion, checking in with everyone to see if they had questions, etc.  In addition, for a variety of reasons I chose to not put myself in the performance lineup for this particular show and instead just served as MC.

Before I move on with the post let me say that being the MC is something I like doing and for the the first few years that we did our street shows (which was what last night's show was) I never put myself in the lineup. Preparing for the show required a lot of my attention and I didn't often feel that I had time to prepare a solo performance in addition to everything else.  Also, the street is a bit of a chaotic venue and keeping an eye on the crowd, responding to last minute SNAFU's that crop up and just keeping track of all the performers in a space without a back stage requires focus - running the show is often all I feel capable of doing.  Finally, there is no dressing room on the street and I often find it difficult to switch between me as MC/ringmaster and me as solo dancer without a costume change.  So not being in the lineup was nothing new for me and in fact for these particular shows it was my preference for several years.

The show went very well and we drew a large crowd, my guess is 200 or so people. As with any live show there were a few bumps but all of the performers did their best; the band was lively and clear, the dancers beautiful and jingly, the comedy funny and the fire spinners bright and awe inspiring.  It was a solid show.  

After the final bow the audience began to disperse and as often happens people made their way to various performers to congratulate them and tell them what a wonderful job they did.  I stood in the middle of all of this, listening to the words of support and way-to-go's that everyone else was receiving.  It took a moment but I realized soon that no one was approaching me and I began to feel a little uncomfortable and a bit foolish.  I wanted to pout at everyone and say, "Hello.  Um...doesn't anyone know how much work went into making this happen? know who did that work?  ME!  Won't someone please come tell me what a good job I did? Um.....please? Please?"

I didn't of course and instead made my way across the square to my dad who told me I did a great job and what a wonderful show (thanks Dad).  After which I went for wings and a drink with a fellow cast member and then went home and crashed.  

Now contrary to what things might seem this post is not about me sulking over not getting enough kudos after a show (okay maybe a little but it isn't the main point).  This morning as I sat on my back porch drinking my coffee and scribbling in my journal about the prior evening it occurred to me that there isn't any reason why anyone on the audience would have any idea that I did anything other than just show up, announce the performers and go home. .  Really, how would any of them possibly know how much preparation each show takes or that I manage a troupe of 16 people? They wouldn't of course and for them the show wasn't me walking out and saying, "Ladies and Gentlemen I now introduce to you..."  It was the dancers, the music, the jugglers, the fire spinners, etc.  

And now to the real point of this post.  As I wrote those words in my journal I had the realization that this applies to so many of the people we encounter in our everyday lives.  We don't know what is going on behind the scenes with anyone really.  The people standing next to you at the bus stop, with their briefcases and shiny shoes might have had to spend ten minutes convincing themselves that today was worth getting out of bed for.  The guy who accidentally bumped you in his hurry down the sidewalk and didn't stop to apologize might be running to meet a lover who has returned after a long business trip.  The kid in his ripped jeans staring into space might be stoned out of his gourd or he might be composing poetry.  The super cheerful cashier behind the checkout counter might be thinking how it's been one year to the day since her last drink and she wonders if she will ever stop craving it.  

Whether it is someone we see every day or a stranger on the street, what we see for the most part is the outside; the show, the costume, the adopted facial expression.  We have no idea how much or how little effort it might take for that person to face each day.  We don't have a window into the troubles and joys that they may be carrying in their heart.  We don't know what keeps them awake at night or what happy thoughts might lull them into slumber.   

When I see a show that someone else has produced or directed, knowing the work it takes, I will often go out of my way to find that person to congratulate them on a job well done.  Now if I were to walk up to each person I encounter and say, "Congratulations on being alive and for making it through whatever it is that brought you to this moment today.  Good job!"  I'd likely either be thought of as anything from cutely weird to totally insane; I'd also have no time to do anything else.  However what I can do is keep in mind that just as so many in last night's audience had no idea what goes on behind the scenes of a show, I have little to no idea what is going on behind the scenes in the lives of others and perhaps by recognizing that behind that mask and costume is a person with their own unseen struggles, joys and burdens, I (all of the rest of you too) can become a more compassionate and understanding audience member in this grand show that is humanity.

And let me just say congratulations to each of you for making it to right now.  Whether you had to fight every step of the way or you danced down a path of daises I'm glad you made it here.  Good job!

Thursday, August 1, 2013


"I'm tired of working, working, working and not feeling like I'm getting ahead."

This was voiced to me by a friend last night in reference to a tight financial situation.  I could sympathize with the feeling and at the same time I thought to myself that if I was taking in the funds that he was taking in at his job I'd be able to live quite comfortably and I wouldn't be complaining so much.  At that point a little buzzer went off in my head.  It was joined by a bell, a gleaming white light bulb and a voice in my mind that said...

"Hey there little Miss Judgypants, wasn't so long a go that those words could have come from your mouth."

It was two years ago that I quit what would be considered a "good job" because I'd decided to go back to school and I wanted to make more time for my creative life.  I was miserable in the job and by the time I got home I had little to no energy to devote to creative pursuits.  I spent a lot of money on things like eating out, clothes, and Friday nights out.  I was making plenty of money but I was always broke.  

Since then I've managed to make a living by cobbling together two part time jobs, custom crochet commissions, the occasional performance gig and teaching.  Money is often very tight.  I make just enough most months to cover my expenses and there is rarely anything left over for extras like eating out, happy hour or travel.  I have not bought anything new other than the recent purchase of a much needed trash can.  "Use it up, wear it out, make do or do without," has become a bit of a mantra for living these past two years.


I have found that while I may be poor in dollars I do have a lot of something else.  Freedom.  I am able to make my own schedule for the most part and so I am able to attend the classes I'd like to attend and not the ones I have to fit in around a regular 9:00 to 5:00 work schedule.  If it wasn't for this cobbled together life of mine the money I do make now from custom crochet orders would not be coming in at all because I would not have the time available to market myself or to actually work on them.  When I am feeling stressed out I am able to get up, walk out the door and head a few blocks down to the seaside for a wonderful change in perspective.  I can meet up with friends for a walk or a picnic lunch or take myself out for those things solo. I have time to write regularly and naps are a pleasure I able to indulge in regularly.

Yes, there are times that I will kept awake at night by the thought of how I may pay my bills or finding yet another creative way to cook rice and beans, but so far it has worked out and overall I am far happier today than I was two years ago. I hope that two years from now, or ten years from now, or anytime in the future when money may flow more freely into my life that I will remember this.