Songs for the Struggling Artist


“So Others May Dream”
May 29, 2016, 11:53 pm
Filed under: art, dreams | Tags: , , , ,

My grandfather retired from the Army several years before I was born so I’d never had much of a sense of his military life. There were souvenirs and stories about it but I had very little connection to it, or interest, frankly. I grew up in the Peace Movement – going to demonstrations and hanging out at the Peace Center so the military seemed very far away from my life. Since my grandfather’s death, however, I’ve had more contact with the military than I did in all the years before and it’s given me a new appreciation for what the military does and can do.

My grandfather’s military burial at Arlington National Cemetery, for example, was one of the most compelling pieces of theatre this (lifelong) theatre maker has seen. My theatre brain has been turning over the question of how to make something that powerful and packed with meaning ever since.

My mother donated my grandfather’s ring to West Point so we were invited to the West Point Ring Melt Ceremony. We gathered at a refinery to see the donated West Point class rings melted down to become part of the class rings of the 2017 graduates. The symbolism is incredibly effective. The graduates of West Point are called The Long Gray Line and the continuity between generations was remarkable and moving to see.

At the dinner before the ceremony, I discovered that each class had a motto – a phrase that was particularly meaningful for them. I heard many mottos about honor and duty and service – all of which sounded like what I imagined the military to be. The class of 2017 – the ones who were to receive the donated rings – chose the motto, “So Others May Dream.” I found myself incredibly moved by it. I was moved in a way that took me by surprise. I think it helped me understand what all that talk about “service” in the military is all about. I have understood that I am meant to thank people for their service and that they have fought for my freedoms and so on. But it was all very abstract for me.

“So Others May Dream” touched me because I am a dreamer. My artistic practice demands that I have time and space for dreaming. This idea of serving to make space for others’ dreams made me feel what The Service really wants to be about. Or at least the class of 2017’s idea of The Service. I wondered if it was not a coincidence that the West Point magazine recently had an Arts issue and highlighted that famous Churchill response to the idea of cutting arts and culture. He reportedly said, “Then what are we fighting for?” In a world where arts can be made to feel expendable, it touches me that these cadets will fight for my right to make art and for my right to dream.

I’m not convinced that every inch of the military is this altruistic. None of the complicated messes of the Military Industrial Complex go away with this new perspective I have. But Dreaming goes a step beyond Serving which warms the cockles of this artistic heart. It also somehow gives me hope for a more compassionate military in the future – with these young leaders at the head of it, I have a little glimmer of hope. I have a much keener sense of what it means to serve and to sacrifice, having seen bits of the military in action and I’m proud now to know more about my Grandfather’s lineage in these traditions.

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This blog is also a Podcast. If you’d like to listen to it, click here.

Writing on the internet is a little bit like busking on the street. This is the part where I pass the hat. If you liked the blog and would like to give a dollar (or more!) put it in the PayPal digital hat.  https://www.paypal.me/strugglingartist



Doing ONE thing is a Privilege
May 24, 2016, 12:56 am
Filed under: art, business | Tags: , , , , ,

While listening to the Note to Self podcast the other day, I heard the guest promote an idea that I have heard promoted many times before. The expert on the show suggested that the way to achieve success is to choose one goal and only focus on that. His thesis was that multi-focus was impossible and only one goal would do.

This is a popular theme in business literature or self-help guides – pick one thing and focus on it to the exclusion of all else. And it makes me a little bit crazy. I like to follow good advice. I see the value in having a uni-focus. And yet I have tried it and it is not possible for me. I don’t think it is possible for the vast majority of American artists.

You ask me to pick one thing – I pick Art. Every time. But if I pick art to the detriment of everything else, I end up broke and in debt. Every time. I do not have the privilege of being able to devote everything to my art. I must split my focus. I have to devote PART of my attention to making a living. And I also happen to have to split that day job focus in three because neither of the three ways I make a living pays enough to actually add up to a living.

I am not multi-focused because I’m flighty and scattered. I am multi-focused because I have to be.

Sometimes people assume that because I do so many different things that I must not take them all seriously. That if I have many identities, they must all be at half-mast. (i.e. I’m not a REAL theatre artist, not a REAL Shakespeare consultant, not a REAL Feldenkrais practitioner, not a REAL writer.) And I suppose the preponderance of this belief in the ONE GOAL Philosophy is why I sometimes fear they’re right. But – my recent discovery of the multi—potentialite movement gives me some assurance that it is indeed possible to be good at many things. And that it needn’t be only out of necessity. The man who is a child psychologist and a luthier, for example, is likely not in a position wherein he NEEDS that second specialization. He can be an amazing psychologist AND an amazing luthier. I can see how those two professions might compliment one another, in fact.

Would the ONE GOAL-ers suggest that he quit one to focus on the other? Probably – but I’m not sure that would be the right thing to do.

In my case, I don’t have the privilege of quitting. The one thing it would be possible to quit without major consequence is the one thing I will never quit – never not ever. And I find ways to integrate one thing into another. It all gets into my artistic work, no matter what it is, or how.

Focusing on One Thing is a privilege that I hope that I get to experience one day. I know my work would benefit from being able to give it my full attention, all the time…but in the meantime, I find it more helpful to look to the multi-potentialite community to help me make my crazy multi-focused life work. Their strategies are the ones that will actually apply to my life as it is now rather than the one goal life I can only imagine.

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Become my patron on Patreon and, for as little as a dollar a month, you can help me reduce the side projects I have to do to continue to blog and make my art.

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Click HERE  to Check out my Patreon Page

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This Blog is also a Podcast. If you’d prefer to listen to this post, go here.

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Writing on the internet is a little bit like busking on the street. This is the part where I pass the hat. If you liked the blog and would like to give a dollar (or more!) put it in the PayPal digital hat.  https://www.paypal.me/strugglingartist



“Thank you for Your Smile”
May 16, 2016, 12:09 am
Filed under: dreams, education | Tags: , , , , ,

At the bakery, the clerk said, “Thank you for your smile. It’s refreshing.” And I thanked him for his because his was, too.

In my teens and 20s, I was thanked for my smile very often and just as often derided for it. As in, “What do you have to smile about?”

I hadn’t been smiling quite so much in the last ten years. I’m a smiler generally but I think the wattage of those smiles had been quite seriously diminished by the last decade. Having a full on smile exchange at the bakery made me realize how different those smiles had become. I had not been thanked for a smile in some time.

Something shifted back into place recently, something that allowed me to smile the way I used to – with all the shine behind it. I suspect that the catalyst for this was (weirdly) my college reunion.

In college, I was a pretty sunny kid. I strained against my super hip uber cool campus because I wanted to be around other sunny people and have some fun. Fun wasn’t really on the menu much where I went to school but I found ways to make fun and I was pretty confident that I could do anything I put my mind to, especially if I smiled while I did it.

But life can kick a person around. Particularly a person who chooses to go into the arts. Maybe especially if one goes into the arts in NYC. But it wasn’t NYC that kicked the smiling out of me. It was graduate school in Sunny California. Graduate school displaced my worldview, maimed my inner optimist and generally left me sadder and (maybe?) wiser. I was on fire in my undergrad years. Even when I was unhappy and struggling, I burned with optimism and ambition. Graduate school was like a big bucket of cold water.

I suspect that by returning to the place where I once felt unstoppable, I re-ignited my inner fire, which allowed me to smile again, which made everything better. The way that guy’s smile made me feel better, and the way my smile made his day better. It’s like I got some magic back – like I remembered what it felt like to burn bright.

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Become my patron on Patreon and, for as little as a dollar a post, you can make a big difference in this artist’s life.

Also – this blog is now a podcast that (at the moment) only my patrons will be able to hear. If you’d like to hear a podcast version, become a patron!

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Click HERE  to Check out my Patreon Page

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Writing on the internet is a little bit like busking on the street. This is the part where I pass the hat. If you liked the blog and would like to give a dollar (or more!) put it in the PayPal digital hat.  https://www.paypal.me/strugglingartist



A Tale of Two Coffee Shops

When I go home for holidays, occasionally I get a chance to visit my old hometown’s local coffee shops. There weren’t any, really, when I was growing up – but there are several to choose from now. Usually I end up at the one closest to my mom’s house but sometimes I end up Downtown and I have to find a place to write down there. My first choice is generally a place that’s been around for a long while – all my old friends go there. I’ve had friends work there. It’s the cool coffee shop. I always run into people I know there. And it is always crowded.

This is why I don’t go there when I need a place to write. Crowdedness makes the hip coffee shop impossible for my purposes. Instead, I end up at a coffee shop that is remarkably un-cool. They play “relaxing” New Age music (with bird sounds.) The walls are painted with a color palate that suggests a beach house in North Carolina. There’s a fireplace.  Like the cool coffee shop, it has original artwork for sale. The paintings though, are very conservative. They are barns and cows done in a technique I can only describe as Grandma Style. There’s just something about this place that says who it is for. And most of the customers in the shop seem to know. I heard, while I was there, conversations about the old Christian Bookstore and stories on Fox News. All told, the place feels like it’s the Republican coffee shop in town.

In my home town – I clearly BELONG at the cool coffee shop and clearly do NOT belong at the Republican coffee shop. And yet I choose to write where I do not belong. Mostly because it’s less crowded but also because it’s an interesting anthropological opportunity. It leads me to interesting questions. How did this cafe culture develop? Are they marketing themselves on Republican listservs? And how conscious are the people who create these businesses of the culture they are creating around their business? Is the un-cool coffee shop trying to be cool?

These two coffee shops in the same town draw two very different crowds. And I’m fascinated by it. I now live in New York City and I frequent many different coffee shops. None of them have this sense of a unified personality. The people who go to them vary dramatically. In a world with so much diversity, coffee shops don’t seem to create so much culture around themselves. I don’t belong in any one of them – and I belong in all of them. City living creates a kind of contradiction in belonging/not-belonging. That is, I think, part of the appeal of city life. You never belong and always do. All at once.

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This is stock footage of a coffee shop and represents none of the coffee shops mentioned in this blog post.

Become my patron on Patreon and, for as little as a dollar a post, you can make a big difference in this artist’s life.

Also – this blog is now a podcast that (at the moment) only my patrons will be able to hear. If you’d like to hear a podcast version, become a patron!

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Click HERE  to Check out my Patreon Page

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Writing on the internet is a little bit like busking on the street. This is the part where I pass the hat. If you liked the blog and would like to give a dollar (or more!) put it in the PayPal digital hat.  https://www.paypal.me/strugglingartist

 



The Selfless Teacher Story
May 6, 2016, 9:42 pm
Filed under: class, education, TV | Tags: , , , , , , ,

I watched a clip of the Ellen show in which they honored a kindergarten teacher for her dedication and generosity. On the surface, it was a touching story about a selfless dedicated classroom teacher, honored on TV and re-paid by a generous corporation. And maybe that’s all it was.

But it seemed to me that the real story was the systemic failures that we, as a country, are failing to address. The remarkable thing that this teacher does at the start of each school day is to make sure all her students have had breakfast and have clean clothes to wear – and if they don’t, she helps them get those things. That she does this on a teacher’s salary is even more remarkable. Target gave her 10K as a thank you for her service and 10k to her school. Which, I won’t deny, is very nice. But probably pales in comparison to what the school needs for its students.

Couldn’t we, as a society, pay our classroom teachers at least 10k more a year?

The salaries for teachers are vanishingly small and when they’re also supporting the impoverished students of their classrooms, it’s embarrassing for us as a first world nation.

Couldn’t we, as a society, give 10K more a year to schools that help develop the kinds of citizens we want to see in the world? Couldn’t we, as a society, give 10k more a year to fight poverty of the kind that sends millions of kids to school every day without breakfast?

I mean – it’s nice of Target to pony up 10k this one well-publicized time – and of course this teacher is remarkable and deserves to be honored – but it feels very much like a con game to me. It’s a snow job where we look at this generous woman and a generous corporation and feel good about ourselves for a bit instead of looking directly at the way we’ve structured our society. I don’t know my dystopian science fiction so well – but surely there’s a story wherein the culture sets up one person a year to help congratulate them and the whole culture rallies around them to celebrate – thereby dissipating the anger that might be brewing around the growing income disparity and poor children everywhere. Which story is that like?

Or maybe that’s just us.

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I searched for images of children in poverty and every single one of them was a child of color in a far away land. No poverty to see here in America, no sir! (ahem.)

 

Normally, at this point on the blog, I’d ask you for to contribute money to my blog by becoming a patron on Patreon. This time, though, I’d encourage you to donate any spare dollars you have to help fight poverty in America. I mean, 1 in 5 American kids are living in poverty. So – – –

There are tons of organizations that work for economic and hunger relief. Here’s an option: Fight Poverty in the USA

But, of course, poverty relief is a bandaid. Total reform would be nice. Maybe the National Center for Law and Economic Justice might be a better place to send your dollars. 

Meanwhile – we rely on Target and the Ellen show. 



Sundance was (almost) my Middle Name
May 3, 2016, 9:13 pm
Filed under: Social Media | Tags: , , , , ,

It was a different era and if I’d been born a boy, I’d have been Joshua Sundance. I’m telling you this random fact because my blog recently enjoyed a small burst of popularity on Twitter, for days, on a post that was really nothing special. I wondered if Twitter has some algorithms now that promote tweets with certain words. I wondered if simply having the word Sundance in the title of my blog post encouraged Twitter to promote it. Maybe Twitter has some deal with Sundance Festival and gives boosts to posts about it.

So this post is actually an experiment. Will Twitter promote this post the way it did my post about my rejection letter(s)?

The previous one was one of many that are part of a project to document the many rejection letters I receive – it was a post I expected NO ONE to read. Except maybe my Dad. Or my Mom. But it’s gotten dozens of views via Twitter. Posts I’m very proud of got nowhere near that kind of push. So I’m playing with the tools of social media by manipulating my own language and posts.
I’m extremely curious about how all this stuff works. I imagine you might be, too. Everyone who tries to get people’s attention on the web is curious about what makes someone click a link. Twitter is mostly a mystery to me – but now, for the first time EVER, it’s gotten me more than a view or two.

It’s a baffler.

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Become my patron on Patreon and, for as little as a dollar a post, you can make a big difference in this artist’s life.

Also – this blog is now a podcast that (at the moment) only my patrons will be able to hear. If you’d like to hear a podcast version, become a patron!

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Click HERE  to Check out my Patreon Page

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Writing on the internet is a little bit like busking on the street. This is the part where I pass the hat. If you liked the blog and would like to give a dollar (or more!) put it in the PayPal digital hat. https://www.paypal.me/strugglingartist



When You’re Winning
April 28, 2016, 9:08 pm
Filed under: art | Tags: , , , , , ,

I got some good news and I posted about it on Facebook. It generated hundreds of likes and bunches of comments. People love good news.

I love good news, too. It feels like, when I “like” someone’s good news on Facebook, that I’m saying, “I like you and I want good things to happen to you. So yay!” It is a very clear interaction in a world of mystery. Someone has some success and I get to cheer for them. When I got cheers like that, it felt great.

But getting that flurry of support also felt a little strange. I’d won an award. It was categorically good news but I was struck by how little I had to do with it. I apply for things constantly and the answer is, 99 times out of 100, “No.” The actual thing I did in this case was to continue to apply in the face of so much rejection. This is the one hundredth time I applied for something and finally someone said “Yes” and in a way, it felt like the crowds were merely getting onto the “yes” bandwagon. Someone else did something (by accepting me) and the approval from so many people was for this thing that I had almost nothing to do with. It felt strange. Like the likes weren’t for me but for the people who gave me the award.

Facebook plays a large part in this, of course. The algorithm is such that posts like my award move to the top of the posting pile. The “Good News” I included in the post, probably triggered a few algorithmic points but the many “Congratulations” boosted it even more. It’s a trend that becomes a trend because it’s trending. And so hundreds of new likes happen. And people who haven’t seen me in their feed for months or years are suddenly getting this one post. So to them, it probably seems like I’m winning all the time. Meanwhile, things I actually make (like shows, or blogs, or songs) barely get a look.

It made me wonder how we can better support one another even when we’re not winning, when the approval machine is not working in our favor. I wonder how we can support and encourage one another when we actually MAKE things, when we make a show or write a blog, story, song, play, etc. I think, in the past, I’ve thought of “liking” these sorts of posts as a kind of review – like, “I liked this show you made. I endorse it.” Or “The blog you wrote was relevant to me.” Like, a mini review via clicking. Conversely, I’d abstain from “liking” a show I hadn’t seen, a blog I hadn’t read, a song I hadn’t listened to. I’d also abstain from clicking things I wasn’t really a fan of, despite being a fan of the person. I think now, after my experience of winning for a moment, I’m going to be a lot more liberal with the like button. I want to support my fellow artists/makers/humans for the things they actually make/do and not just other people’s approval of those things.

But while I was feeling weird about my sudden Facebook “success,” I had a strong sense of gratitude for the people supporting me on Patreon. Because the folks on Patreon have my back on everything I write. They’re there for the posts that hit, the ones that strike the Facebook algorithmic fancy, and the ones that don’t. That is, they’re supportive of my MAKING things, not just the things other people approve of.

We’re pack animals in a way. We pile on to the things the pack has given approval to and let the “unliked” go it alone sometimes. I’m experimenting with how to bring our pack instincts to the act of MAKING things and not just receiving the approval and acceptance from outside ourselves. Patreon feels like a good start on that but I wonder if there are more ways we can applaud one another for what we do not just who approves of us.

Ideas?

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Join the fierce wolf pack of supporters.

Become my patron on Patreon and, for as little as a dollar a post, you can make a big difference in this artist’s life.

Also – this blog is being turned into a podcast that (at the moment) only my patrons will be able to hear. If you’d like to hear a podcast version , become a patron!

 kaGh5_patreon_name_and_message

Click HERE  to Check out my Patreon Page

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Writing on the internet is a little bit like busking on the street. This is the part where I pass the hat. If you liked the blog and would like to give a dollar (or more!) put it in the PayPal digital hat. https://www.paypal.me/strugglingartist




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