Songs for the Struggling Artist


The Benefits of Not Seeing
February 16, 2017, 9:07 pm
Filed under: Feldenkrais, feminism | Tags: , , , ,

Recently, I was diagnosed by an eye doctor with convergence insufficiency. This means my eyes don’t work together the way they ought. I’ve been getting headaches and this eye thing may be the culprit. When I asked my eye doctor what I could do, he suggested I wear my glasses as little as possible.

My eyesight isn’t terrible so I can get around pretty easily without my glasses – it just makes things blurry. I can see most important shapes. I just don’t see details. I can see a face a few feet in front of me but at a distance, the facial expressions disappear.

It is oddly refreshing not to see everything. It has revealed something I hadn’t realized I was doing whenever I walked around WITH my glasses. There is a way that seeing everything meant that I felt somehow responsible for things. I would note the facial expressions of every stranger that walked by and would somehow feel like I had to have a reaction – not to them necessarily – just – maintain a constant awareness of how everyone around me was feeling at all times.

I suspect that this is my female socialization in action – as well as a response to being an HSP. I think, when I can see, I cannot stop reading a room. Any room. And sometimes that is a useful skill. It comes in handy in performance and in public speaking – but this sort of hyper-vigilance can get exhausting and I suspect creates a kind of timidity in moving through the world. When I can see everyone’s faces, I can not help but move in a way that responds to them. When I take my glasses off and the faces disappear, I’m suddenly able to ignore a whole bunch of information that I don’t actually need in the moment. It allows me to move according to where I want to move rather than where I’m perceiving the group might want me to move. It is instructive. I feel as though I’m training myself to care less and less what other people think and more and more about my own needs.

But of course, there are times when seeing every detail is necessary. The are times when hyper-vigilance is required but practicing both ways of seeing has provided me with an interesting awareness of the benefits of less awareness. As a practitioner of an awareness practice, I am keenly aware of the benefits of self awareness – something I thought extended to the awareness of the world around a self. But I see now that there is a way that decreasing awareness of the outside world can increase awareness of the inside and make proceeding through the world slightly easier at times. There are benefits on both sides.

I learned from the culture to be more attuned to what was happening outside of me, than in. I learned to anticipate others’ needs. I learned to scan a crowd for safety. I can sense danger from any side. After years of living in an urban environment, I know I can sense danger or crazy coming up behind me so I don’t actually need to SEE everything. So now I’m learning how to turn the volume down on that hyper-vigilance to tune in, instead of out.

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The Phantom Limb of Art
September 30, 2015, 3:57 pm
Filed under: art, Creative Process, Feldenkrais | Tags: , , , ,

Sometimes it feels like art is a part of my body. When I’m engaging it, I feel like I’m using all of myself. The whole system works better when I’m making art. When life keeps me from it – when there’s not money to make a show – when I’m not performing – when there’s no time in the theatre or onstage or in the rehearsal room, my art starts to feel like a phantom limb that I can’t control. No can see it but me but it itches and twitches. It takes up space in my nervous system. I cannot scratch it or move it. And the rest of me keeps worrying about that missing part of me – so everything operates sub-optimally.

My legs don’t walk as well – because where is the art?
My breath is more shallow – because where is the art?

I know there are people who can give up their artist lives and happily become lawyers or teachers or ad men or whatever – but I know that I cannot. Even if I somehow found a fulfilling high paying day job – my artist phantom limb would always be calling to me.

I currently have a very meaningful day job (though not at all high paying.) I love a lot of things about it. A client came in today in pain and in tears and left all smiles and ease. That feels great. But as great as it feels, it still isn’t art. I still ache for that which there is no time or money to do.

For many years, there was no cure for the (actual phenomenon of) phantom limb. People who’d lost a leg continued to experience pain in it, decades after they’d lost it. Recently, though, scientists have been experimenting with mirror therapy, which fools the brain into thinking the good leg is the bad leg and suddenly, there’s a shift.

What is the mirror therapy for the impulse to create? Just creating, really. The only way to scratch the phantom limb of art is to make art as soon as is humanly possible.

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Stuff I haven’t told you
December 12, 2013, 10:07 pm
Filed under: art, education, Feldenkrais, theatre | Tags: , , , , , ,

I’m sorry, Readers. I’ve been blogging elsewhere and I haven’t told you. I’ve been writing about the Feldenkrais Method over on my website and not here.

So in case you feel you’ve been missing out, here are links to all of them from most recent to least recent:

Feldenkrais and Clowning

*Feldenkrais Has Made me Intolerant

Hipsway

A Whole New You

Learning Until the End: Feldenkrais for the Dying

If you’d like to stay up to date with my Feldenkrais posts, you can follow me there on Twitter: @FeldenkraisArts or Facebook

or to have posts appear in your reader, click the RSS feed button on the site.



In which I try to justify why having 5 jobs is a good idea.
November 8, 2013, 12:04 am
Filed under: art, business, education, Feldenkrais, Shakespeare, theatre | Tags: , ,

If I were to follow the advice of the literature (books, motivational speeches, business pamphlets) about how to achieve success, I would drop everything but the One Big Goal and throw everything at it until I reached the finish line. Success literature is pretty uniform in its belief that success is only achievable with all cylinders firing in one direction. I have, historically, attempted this strategy. I usually end up broke, in debt and discouraged.

This fall, I am attempting a whole new strategy, one that I’m sure every single Success Author would disapprove of. I’m not sure I approve of it myself. It seems pretty crazy, truth be told, but I’m diving in anyway.

I keep shaking my head at my own folly in attempting to start two freelance businesses while trying to maintain a third. (Not to mention a fourth and maybe fifth, additional focus.) I am now a Feldenkrais practitioner searching for clients, a freelance Shakespeare Consultant nurturing old (and new) ones and as ever, continuing to promote my theatrical work with my theatre company.
In the past few months, I’ve built two new websites and started two new Twitter accounts. Absolutely no one would advise me to do this this way. But I have to make some kind of living and none of my freelance identities is enough to support me on its own. And after over a decade of work with my theatre company, I know I can’t count on income from that source.
Additionally, I’m still picking up the odd Teaching Artist gig. I also try to write this blog regularly, so as not to lose the lovely readers I have and maintain a writing practice, both with prose, plays and on my other blog. There’s also that novel I finished a few months ago that I’d like to polish up and figure out how to put it into the world. What is that? 5 jobs? 6? All of which require my pushing them forth myself. I must be crazy.

Then, in the shower this morning, as I was wasting my precious time wondering how I could be so foolhardy, I realized that I’ve been in training for this kind of focus my whole life by virtue of the fact that I went to school. We are, most of us, trained to maintain multiple foci. Everyday, we spent an hour on English, an hour on math, an hour on social studies, an hour on Art of some kind (if we’re lucky) and an hour on science. (Or some variety of this.) Maybe we learned something else afterschool. Then we’d go home and do homework for all five of these very diverse subjects requiring very diverse skills and perspectives.

Thinking about my career as if it were the logical extension of my school career gives me permission to believe that I’m not setting myself up for failure. I’ve just got a full academic load. I don’t expect it will always be this way. I may end up going to a conservatory for one of these subjects once I graduate from this busy period but for right now, when I can’t guarantee that any of these new (or old) things will be sufficient, I need to keep up with my schoolwork in many subjects at once. It’ll be difficult, sure, but I’ve done it for years.

I think a lot of us artists are flummoxed by this difficulty of a singular focus. Would a dancer prefer to only dance? You bet. If a dancer only dances, will she survive? Odds aren’t great and no amount of “You can do it if you just work hard enough” literature will change that. Most of us cannot afford a single focus. So rather than falling for the debilitating belief that we’re doomed unless we get tunnel vision, I’m wondering if we can embrace the way we were raised and become straight A students in as many subjects as we can fit into the day.



How Feldenkrais Changed My Organization
December 10, 2012, 1:40 am
Filed under: art, business, education, Feldenkrais, theatre | Tags: , , ,

The Feldenkrais Method first began to move me in a workshop for my art. I was studying maskwork and my teacher, the incomparable John Wright, did a lesson with us at the start of every day. The lessons were inspiring and my performance work in the class felt like the best I’d ever done. I have no doubt that my progress in the art was due to the lessons we did and the attitude they inspired.

The moment that epitomized the experience for me was when John saw me struggling and touched me on the knee, saying rather ruefully, “You work so hard.”

It was the very first time I had thought to reconsider the value of struggling so much. Shifting my relationship with “work”, in the exercise, shifted my relationship to the work I was attempting in performance and it transformed me.

Since starting my training in the Feldenkrais Method in 2009, I have seen my self-organization shift and change many times. I’ve been moved again and again by the way reducing the effort, doing less and paying attention can improve everything.

I have found it impossible to not take these principles into other aspects of my life. It has had an impact on my teaching, on my relationships and my art. Last year, I began to think about how to better incorporate these ideas into my corporation (I cannot help but notice that the root of those words is rooted in the body. Corporeality is everywhere.) I began to wonder how to organize my organization in the Feldenkrais way.

I run a small off-off Broadway non-profit theatre company – emphasis on SMALL and NON-profit. I started it in 2001 and it has always been a great deal of hard work for very little reward. I felt like I was banging my head against a wall and I could barely work up the energy to imagine doing another show. With all the discouragement that comes with this sort of thing, I was very near to throwing in the towel altogether when I began to approach making theatre as if it were a Feldenkrais lesson.

I’d been toying with ideas about this for a while, but it took an experience with another theatre company to clarify it for me. I took a workshop with one of my all time favorite companies. From the moment I saw their work – a decade ago – I wanted to do what they did, discover their secrets. I’d always thought I’d give up my own work in a second to be a part of theirs. The workshop was a window on their process and it was exhilarating, illuminating and inspiring, but I discovered something; I didn’t want to do what they did.

They were interested in really rubbing up against the hard stuff, facing the difficulties in the group and those within it. They seemed to want to look closely at the walls and sometimes run into them. While watching the group struggle, I realized I had no interest in running into walls or examining the difficulties anymore. I didn’t want to focus on the problems in a group (because, as Dr. Feldenkrais said, when we focus on a problem, we get a very good problem.) I wanted to focus on what was working. I wanted to focus on where we could go and on making more and more choices instead of reinforcing our compulsions.

It seemed to me that how we work with people can be just like how we work with ourselves, that focusing on the difficulties in a collaborative environment must inevitably lead to more difficulties.  I left that workshop recommitted to my own work and with a kind of internal mandate to do things differently.

Here are some of the things we remind ourselves again and again: Reduce the Effort, Do Only what is Easy/Pleasurable, Go Slowly, Rest between Movements.

This is how they showed up my theatre/organizational practice. First, I noticed what I was already doing, where I was working too hard, where I was over-efforting. But I also noticed what was easy, what was pleasurable and I decided to make our next show using what I was learning in training. My first course of action was to find performers that I could develop this with. I thought about who was easy to work with, with whom I could feel myself and create at the highest level with pleasurable rapport. At the time, there was only one person who fit that bill, so I asked her to make something with me. We got together in a room and made lists of what we wanted in a piece and before too long, we had an idea that fed our curiosity. We then took our time putting it together. We went slowly, paying attention, unconcerned with the end result, not trying to ACHIEVE the thing, just discovering it.

I would like to pause here to say that this runs counter to almost everything we learn in theatre training. We’re taught to push, to go to our limits, to drive toward performance, to set our sights on the show and go full speed ahead. Most shows are created in bursts of intensity, a few weeks of daily rehearsal.

In contrast, we took ten months to make this show, resting when we needed to, taking time to absorb what we learned from rehearsal to rehearsal. It was the most pleasurable way of making work I have ever experienced.

Now that the show has been made, I am attempting to find ways to make the promotion of it as pleasurable as its creation. This raises a lot of questions for me. How do I imbue the drudgery of administrative tasks with the same ease and pleasure of making the art?

What I have discovered so far: I start with what’s easy. I notice what I am already doing and see if there’s a way to reduce the effort. If there is an overabundance of effort somewhere, I ask myself, “Is there a way to find a support?” Or perhaps do it just a little bit less? Or to adapt it so that I can manage it? And I am giving myself permission to go slowly, even under the gun of grant deadlines and fundraising goals. The business of making theatre has almost always been fast and furious and in slowing that process down, I have found many pleasures I had been missing in my push to drive it all forward.

I have also found myself willing and able to overcome many challenges that I had previously found insurmountable. The spirit of awareness and curiosity that the training cultivates in me has helped me do things as variable as designing marketing materials, learning new software, negotiating prices and talking with people who make me nervous. I am more and more comfortable with the things I previously thought of as stuff I couldn’t do. The differences in the process of learning how to stand my hand over my head and how to organize a tour aren’t all that different really.

In this last year of my training program, I have noticed myself thinking I should be farther along, that I should have more of the answers by now. I wonder often how I could possibly graduate in four months when there’s still so much to learn. But, when I take the time to step back and think about it, what is at the heart of the method is learning how to learn and that’s somewhere to start and a way to go forward. The process of learning will likely continue to sink in and infuse everything I do.

Finishing the training will be a beginning and a continuation, I think. It will mean following the spirit of curiosity and inquiry that is inherent in the Method, everywhere it leads, starting in the body, into the art and into the organization of my organization and beyond.

* This article was published in the Spring 2013 issue of SenseAbility

** For more information about my Feldenkrais practice, see my Website: Feldenkrais Arts



Arts in Education
July 9, 2010, 1:13 am
Filed under: art, education, Feldenkrais, theatre | Tags: , ,

I’ve just come from another Arts in Education meeting for yet another Arts in Ed organization for whom I work as a teaching artist. It wasn’t a particularly bad one as these sorts of things go. It was, on the spectrum, one of the better ones. However, I fought nausea throughout it and came home with a kind of pent up anger and anxiety that has little to do with what this particular organization/project was about and more to do with how Arts in Education works in general.

I just watched a group of well meaning people get further and further away from art just now. Myself included. We’re artists. We got into this because we’re artists and we like to teach what we do. However – it feels to me that the more we talk about goals, blueprints, standards and benchmarks of education, the more we discuss our rules and regulations, our structures and our plans, the further away we get from art. There were problems with this program tonight, lots of people had problems at their schools and the meeting exists to help us solve them. We solve them by trying to create more and more structures. We solve them by formalizing things that were organic (or organically messy.) We plan for disaster and somehow take the fun of it all. More and more I feel like I work in EDUCATION and less and less in ART. And I’m not sure I believe in EDUCATION, so I’m a little at odds with myself in these situations.

EDUCATION tends to mean looking at stuff that doesn’t work and figuring out how to improve it. For example, kids don’t know how to read, so we must teach them. Teachers don’t know how to make a rehearsal schedule so we must help them. This kid is bad at math, so he must work harder on math. This is natural, normal education. But lately I’ve been interested in practices that work in the opposite way – my current training in the Feldenkrais Method for one. Dr. Feldenkrais said something along the lines of – work on the problem and you get a very good problem. In other words, by focusing directly on the thing that doesn’t work, that thing gets very entrenched and steals an enormous amount of focus.

Along these same lines, the Strengths Movement, which has taken off in the business world, is now opening up into Education. This too speaks to educating what is already easy. That is, if I’m sucky at accounting but awesome at generating ideas, the thing to do is not to teach me to be a better accountant – but to help me improve my idea generation. This so rarely happens in education, no one even knows what in the heck it could look like.

Tonight, at this meeting, I noticed that I was the only person at the table who didn’t have any real problems at her school. It was pretty damn successful all around. But no one asked me “What did YOU do to make this successful?” We all just assumed (myself included) that I just got lucky with my situation. The fact that this has happened twice now – in two different organizations with two different programs just makes me say “hmmm.”  It might well have been the roll of the dice. I had some other programs this year that were the worst residencies I’ve ever had. Guess which program got discussed more?

Sometimes I get asked what I think at these sorts of things – and when I do, it’s usually to explain why a problem was a problem. For the most part, because I’m a freelancer with no guarantee that I’ll be working again in the fall, I don’t feel like I can say what I think at these meetings. Partly that’s because I’m in a very precarious position (a topic for another post one day, I think) but also because what I think goes so far beyond the particulars of each residency or each program or even each arts organization. I don’t know how to talk about it. This problem is too big to fix. But, there I go trying to fix the problem! And it’s a very good problem. It looms very large.




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