Songs for the Struggling Artist


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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Teaching: You Gotta Love It
May 17, 2015, 8:31 pm
Filed under: art, education | Tags: , , ,

I can’t stop thinking about this blog post which I only half read the other day. (Sorry, I couldn’t bear to read it all the way through.) In it, the author railed against actors who moan about having to return to teaching after their acting gigs. She recommended stepping away from the kids and leaving the teaching to those who love it.

I hate this. That’s why I can’t stop thinking about it. (Voice in my head, sounding a lot like an angry Foghorn Leghorn: “Of all the. . .”) But I also don’t necessarily disagree. I mean, listen, if you can be dissuaded from teaching by a blog post, it’s probably not for you. But – I take issue with the idea that you have to LOVE teaching and LOVE kids in order to do it. You don’t. And if you’re a theatre-maker or an artist of any kind – of COURSE you’d rather be making your art and OF COURSE teaching, while better than ditch digging for day job work, is a pale comparison to the thrill of making art.

For most of us who are artists, there is literally nothing else we’d rather do than our art. Even if my day job was to read books on the beach (could this PLEASE be my day job?!) I would want to get back to art making eventually. So I take a little umbrage at the idea that we should leave the teaching only to those who love it like we love our art. Even career classroom teachers don’t tend to feel that way. My sense is that we need each and every one of you – those who love it, those who hate it and those who’d rather be art making or some combination of all of it.

When I first started teaching, I loved it almost as much as making art. I can imagine having written a post, like the one I read, 15 years ago. Teaching was exciting and thrilling and I LOVED the students I worked with. I was a Theatre Love Bomb in the classroom. But I’m a much better teacher now than I was then. I think this is, in part, due to not being concerned with love so much anymore.

There is a sense in some teaching circles that kids can sense how you feel about teaching – so that you must be projecting devotion at all times, or they’ll smell it, the way animals smell fear. This is nonsense. Kids don’t need my love. I give them my respect and my skill and I think it really and truly doesn’t matter to them how I feel about it.

I think there is often some confusion between resenting the work and resenting the people in the work and it is an important distinction. Yes, I would rather make art than teach – but there’s no money in art so I do the next most meaningful thing (for me,) I teach. And yes, sometimes I resent that. But even while I might resent that I have to return from the honeymoon of making a show to my day jobs – I don’t bring that resentment into the classroom. While I am teaching, I am entirely present to teaching. I like my students. I do my absolute best to give them all I can. I don’t blame them or resent them – even when I run into a classroom of total jerks (and I do.) But I’m allowed to wish I were doing a show instead. And classroom teachers are allowed to wish they were on a beach reading books.

Teaching is hard work. It only gets harder when there are also rules about how we’re supposed to feel about it. (see also my previous post on this subject.) And I get it, if you’re doing the thing you love passionately and someone turns up and treats that thing like it’s less than, then, of course that sucks.

But if you love teaching the way I love making art, I envy you. You have a good deal. The thing you love to do the most is the thing you get to do for a living. That is precious and fabulous and not entirely possible for most of us.

Most of the artists I know have a luminous quality – something in them is very alive – however they feel about day jobbing. I think that luminosity is a good thing to bring into a classroom. We need artists’ vibrance and drive. I think discouraging people from doing it just because it isn’t their first choice kind of sucks – but again, if a blog post (including and especially this one) is going to persuade or dissuade you one way or the other. . .ditch digging might, in fact, be a better choice. Now, ditch digging, there’s a job you better love.

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Day Jobs
October 12, 2008, 3:45 am
Filed under: business, Entries with songs attached | Tags: , , ,

A Day Job.

I need a new one. For most of the time I’ve lived in New York, I’ve worked as a teaching artist. When I first got started, it was the best day job in the world. It was in my field. It helped me clarify my art. It felt like I was doing something for the greater good. And even though the work was inconsistent, it paid pretty well. I got to the top of the food chain pretty quickly.

Then I got burned out – too many restrictions, too much unpredictability and a sense of frustration about the state of public education all added up. So I left New York, went to graduate school and got an MFA. When I came back to New York in February, I was a bit refreshed and picked up a few of my old gigs just where I left off. I had some good residencies and some lousy ones. When I taught my last last class of the school year in June, perhaps the best residency/class I’ve ever taught, I thought, “That was it. That was my last class.”

Then, all my schemes and dreams to make my life overseas work sort of fell apart (see my earlier post, “The Tyranny of a Dream” for more) so I came back to New York, fully prepared to dive back into teaching. But life seems to have other plans for me. Despite the lovely feedback I got last semester for my work, no one has ANY work for me this fall. Not one class. I don’t know whether this is because of the recession or because I fell to the bottom of the totem pole when I left New York in 2005 or because I was out of the country for most of September, but whatever the reason, I’ve got nothing. Not one stitch of work. Problem is, I can’t think of anything else I’m fit for, besides the stuff that I can actually do that I need the day job to support. And the only breaks I’ve gotten since I’ve gotten back are in ACTING of all things.

In the amazing book, Creating a Life Worth Living, Carol Lloyd offers a really fantastic practice for finding the right day job for your artistic soul. I spent a long time with that chapter and now have long lists of ideas for qualities I’d like in a day job and a long list of skills. Yet, when I look at the two together, I can not for the life of me figure out where they meet. When I talked this all over with my career counselor a few months ago and sent her the lists, she couldn’t come up with anything either. In fact, the first thing she said was , “Have you considered Arts in Education?”

I’m trying to live my life with more FLOW these days, trying to break my pattern of swimming upstream but I can’t even figure out where the river is with these issues. Every line I cast into the water just hangs there, so I keep casting lines with not even the vaguest idea of whether it makes sense to do so.

I’m looking for flow. I’m looking for the path of least resistance, I guess they call it, but I’m mostly just running in circles at the moment. Or to fling yet another metaphor around, treading water, wondering which direction I should swim in.

Any suggestions? I’m considering everything.

Here’s a song about how I’m trying to live my life these days. Listen to: water river stone




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