Songs for the Struggling Artist


Just One Song
May 31, 2018, 11:23 pm
Filed under: age, dance, Feldenkrais | Tags: , , , ,

One of my Feldenkrais clients was pretty much house-bound when I met her. She could get around her apartment with a walker but going out was really challenging for her. She used to go out dancing once a week but now she barely moved at all. Mostly she sat in her chair or propped up in her bed.

In addition to our Feldenkrais Functional Integration work together, I saw that I needed to find a way to keep her moving when I wasn’t there. I tried to give her some audio Awareness Through Movement exercises but she couldn’t really hear them so that possibility was out. I needed to help her find pleasurable movement, movement she could do. Since I knew she liked to dance, I recommended she dance in her chair once a day. We found a Beatles song on her phone and did some sit down dancing for a couple of minutes before she got tired. When I left, I gave her a prescription of dancing to one song every day. (We don’t do prescriptions in the Feldenkrais Method so I found it hilarious to use this language for dance.) I was pretty confident that this was going to help her. I know just a little bit of twisting and weight shifting would do her tremendous amount of good. And it did.

Then I realized I should prescribe myself the same thing. I love dancing and it always makes me feel better but I don’t do it as often as I might – usually because I don’t feel like I have the time to commit to a class or an extended dance session. It is very easy for a day to go by without any non-utilitarian movement – despite my firm belief in pleasurable movement as a beneficial practice. Additionally, I have been reeling from movement triggered migraines – so movement has been a bit of a landmine for me in the last couple of years. At their worst, the migraines just want me to lie very still in the dark.

But. One song, I can do. Not in the MIDDLE of a bad migraine obviously. But I can find a way to dance to at least one song once a day. Working with a client with such a limited range of motion has shown me how easy it is to lose flexibility, to lose the ability to experience movement as a pleasurable sensation. But it also shows me how much benefit there is in just moving what you can move. If you can’t move your arms, move your legs. If you can’t stand up, dance sitting down. If you can’t dance sitting up, dance lying down. Even if the only thing you can move is your eyelids, it is worth dancing those around or dancing in your imagination.

When we experience injury or pain or any movement limitations, we often shut down more than we need to. We think if we can’t dance the way we used to we can’t dance at all. But we can always dance something in some way. A finger dance? A nostril dance? I don’t know. But I do know that a little bit of dance goes a long way for the whole body.

In helping my client experience pleasurable movement again, I saw that I also helped her re-establish pathways in the brain that remember how to walk with more ease, to be able to get up off a bench unassisted, to regain balance and so on. When I saw her last week, she joyfully told me how she went out into the world four times that week. Once even, she went out unassisted. I attribute that regaining of independence to the dancing (and to the Feldenkrais, of course.)

I know the aids in the next room think crazy things are going on when they hear me singing “I Want to Hold Your Hand” but I’m working on getting her to dance with her arms while lying down, which will eventually allow her to roll herself over. Extra-daily movement like dance helps the brain understand that you want to be able to move in many directions. We have a use it or lose it brain and if we only move in our habitual paths, we lose our capacity to move in other ways. For myself, I wanted to be able to keep moving in many directions, which I do with Feldenkrais but I also knew it was possible that I would enjoy my life more if I followed my own advice and danced to one song a day.

And, of course, once I’ve started dancing, I tend to go on. One song becomes two, two become three for as long as is pleasurable or as long as I have time for. It’s an incredible mood adjuster. There have been many times that I did not want to dance because I was feeling hopeless or angry or sad. I danced anyway because it was only one song, after all – and most of the time I felt better. At least a little bit. I have a little note stuck to my computer that says “One Song” so I don’t forget to do it. Sometimes it’s late at night and I see my little note and realize I still haven’t done it. So I put my headphones in and do a late night boogie before bed.

In our time strapped world it is so hard to find time to enjoy to move our bodies, to listen to music with attention, to “indulge” in non-utilitarian tasks. We can find time for one song, though. And one song can help.

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Need some help choosing a song? This is my dance playlist. Just hit shuffle and go!

This was at a college reunion. There was a DJ and a dance floor. That stuff is super awesome and fun. But I don’t wait for that stuff to find a way to dance.

This blog is also a Podcast. You can find it on iTunes. If you’d like to listen to me read a previous blog on Anchor, click here.

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Every podcast features a song at the end. Some of those songs are now an album of Resistance Songs, an album of Love Songs and More. You can find them on Spotify, my websiteReverbNation, Deezer and iTunes

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You can help me keep dancing

by becoming my patron on Patreon.

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 (but aren’t into the commitment of Patreon) 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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Is It More Than a Thousand?
January 30, 2018, 12:43 am
Filed under: Feldenkrais, music, podcasting, Social Media | Tags: , , , ,

A podcast I’m a fan of had a Facebook group and on the show they were often talking about what a lovely group it was and how the people on it were the best, so I joined it. It was a place where women asked each other questions, where they vented about sexism they ran into and shared stories. It was a feminist space where you could sensibly participate in a conversation about vibrators without batting an eye. It was pretty cool.

As the podcast became more popular, the group got bigger. And slowly but surely the group became more and more contentious until eventually they shut the whole thing down. A lot of people were shocked but I could see it coming from a mile away. While many mourned the dissolution of their “safe space,” I’d known from the beginning that no space is truly safe on social media. I know enough about the way these companies operate to know that anything I post could become public – that anything I post is really Facebook’s property, not mine. Sometimes these kinds of groups are fun but they’re never truly safe. (This skepticism may be a property of my Gen X identity.) And something I’ve noticed about on-line spaces is that the bigger the group, the less civil people become.

I don’t know what the civility threshold is on a Facebook group – but I suspect it’s somewhere around a thousand people. Once it gets bigger, somehow someone is always going to be offended and then pile-ons ensue. It doesn’t have to be ABOUT anything in particular – it could be something small – but after a thousand people are in the room, it’s bound to happen.

This happened recently on a professional group I’m a part of (2,735 members in the group.) Someone asked for tips about how to deal with a particular brand of troll and I offered a suggestion of a metaphor which featured classical music. And before I could blink, angry comments started to spew. There was a pile-on of angry classical musicians like you would not believe. The last I checked on this post, someone had said, “I find this metaphor offensive.” Which you know, I’d understand if I’d said classical music is dog poop and anyone who plays it is stupid. But I did not say that. Nor did I intend anything of the sort. (Some of my best friends are classical musicians!) All I said was that the Alexander Technique might be said to be more like classical music and the Feldenkrais Method might be said to be more like jazz. It’s not a particularly controversial thing to say. Unless you’re in a social media group of over a thousand when everything is potentially controversial and pile-ons seem to happen all the time.

In this case, too, I noticed on this thread that two comments down from me, a man had used this same analogy – but curiously, his post received no angry responses. So…I have to assume that this issue may be gendered. It did not escape my attention that every angry response was from a woman and that none of them challenged the man who had asserted the identical metaphor.

Now – here’s what I’m wondering. Is it possible for groups of over a thousand people to be productive and civil? And what happens to large groups of women in particular? Why is this devolution of civility so common?

A misogynist might say that women are petty or get upset about nothing. And my own inner misogynist thinks that very thing about all those women who were mean to me without even knowing me!

But. If I pull back my focus and look at the big picture…I think of this situation as a plugged up sprinkler. Like, the sprinkler is full of fury and if it’s thwarted, if all of its outlets are stopped, it’ll shoot that fury out of the side of the hose or wherever it can find a crack. When I’m feeling generous, I can see these dumb responses this way, as just misplaced fury – and women sometimes shoot their anger onto other women because they’re afraid to express it to men. They’re mad at me about my classical music metaphor because they can’t go yell at Harvey Weinstein or whomever the Weinstein figure of classical music is.

Or maybe it isn’t gendered – and any group of more than a thousand is just bound to devolve into constant spats. I don’t know. It’s a new world. These are not problems we had twenty years ago.

But I’d love to read any sociological studies about groups like this. There is probably a predictable formula for when people start to behave badly. I think it might help us all to know what that formula is. As for me, since I get knots in my stomach in response to conflict, I’ve just unfollowed pretty much every large group I’ve been a part of. And I breathe a LOT more easily now.

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You can support the blog

by becoming my patron on Patreon.

Click HERE to Check out my Patreon Page

kaGh5_patreon_name_and_message*

This blog is also a Podcast. You can find it on iTunes. If you’d like to listen to me read a previous blog on Soundcloud, click here.screen-shot-2017-01-10-at-1-33-28-am

Every podcast features a song at the end. Some of those songs are now an album of Resistance Songs. You can find it on Spotify, ReverbNation, Deezer and iTunes.

*

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 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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Support this artist in seeing in and out.

Become my patron on Patreon.

Click HERE to Check out my Patreon Page

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This blog is also a Podcast. You can find it on iTunes. If you’d like to listen to me read a previous blog on Soundcloud, click here.screen-shot-2017-01-10-at-1-33-28-am

*

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 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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You can help my phantom limb by supporting me on Patreon.

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Click HERE  to Check out my Patreon Page



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




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