Map Your Dreams

Originally posted on Artist Soapbox on 29 November 2018

Greetings, Soapboxers!

We’ve got a few more tricks up our sleeves before we close out this year, but I’d like to take a minute to look toward 2019 and what lies ahead.

What are your dreams for 2019?

One of the tools we use in our Creative Accountability Groups is a mind map. Mind maps are so useful for breaking down goals or projects that may otherwise seem intimidating into more manageable steps. Here’s a bonus: mind maps have other applications, as well.

Have you ever used a mind map to facilitate creative dreaming? Give it a try.

Grab a piece of paper. Write a few future dates (3 months / one year /5 years from now). Then let your imagination run wild. Ask yourself: What would you like to do by that time? Where would you like to be? How do you want your life to feel one year, five years, ten years from today?

Can you actually let yourself write down your dreams?

Will you give yourself permission to write down anything?

Does resistance show up? What does it say?

Keep in mind that you do not need to justify your list nor does your list need to be “realistic.” I put that in quotes to offer that even your most “who am I kidding / that is totally preposterous / when pigs fly” dream might, in fact, be more attainable than you think.

Want a real-life example?  Singer/songwriter Juliana Finch wrote down a list of aspirations for her music, one of which was to have a song featured on the podcast Welcome to Night Vale. That podcast showcases a different song, often by an independent artist, in each episode as its “weather report.” Juliana listed that goal on her mind map as one that might happen three years from now. I’m thrilled to share that her song “Impasse” will be the weather report on the December 1st episode. Her dream took less than a year to become reality.

Giving yourself permission to dream is the first step, and by doing that you plant a seed of creative potential. What if you watered it from time to time? What might grow?

If you would like to take your dreams and work  toward your creative goals in a supportive group atmosphere, please consider joining us for the first Creative Accountability Group of 2019! Follow this link for more information and to register.

Sweet dreams, Soapboxers!

‘Til next time,

MT

Reclaiming Creative Identity After a Loss

Originally published on Artist Soapbox on 25 October 2018

Greetings, Soapboxers!

I’m a nerd about dates. Birthdays, anniversaries. I generally love acknowledging these annual markers. A recent anniversary has me thinking about creative identity, loss and Ronnie James Dio. Well, if THAT didn’t grab you, maybe this will:

Five years ago this month, I experienced the distress of a home robbery. The most painful part for me was the loss of all my musical equipment. For the previous ten years, music was my primary creative outlet and social sphere. I played in various bands, wrote songs, designed ridiculous stage costumes and props and experienced the joy and exhilaration of playing loud, aggressive music with people I loved.

But, as anyone who has been in a band can attest, bands are also a giant pain in the ass — particularly when you’re young, loud, and snotty (as Dead Boys might say). To varying degrees at various times, you can find yourself swirling in an unhealthy mix of ego, substance (ab)use, and immaturity. As much as I loved playing music, I knew I needed a break from bands.

On the day my house was robbed, though, I felt like someone else made a choice for me. They chose to end my music career.

The person who took my gear had no idea what they had. Not only the rarity of a few of the guitars but the pieces of my identity contained within. The Ibanez I used to write my first songs. Learning my way around that Fender amp when I was so young and so green and so thrilled when I perfectly replicated the tone from “London Calling.” Working alone with the producer while my bandmates got lunch, hearing my Ric through a vintage head, opening myself up to experiment and play around with his suggestions.

Each guitar was imbued with these memories. And now they were gone. If I no longer had a guitar, could I still call myself a guitar player? I was so utterly heartbroken that for years the answer was “no.” I took the robbery as a sign: my musician days were behind me.

But nothing real can be threatened.

My first play, Yes To Nothing, borrowed heavily from my experiences in punk bands. Up until then, I thought of my music life and my theater life as existing in separate orbits. My heart stills swells with gratitude to think of all my musician friends who came out to support that play. I lost track of the number of times I heard, “Why aren’t you playing music right now?” or “We need to get you out playing again.”

At the time, the thought of being in a band again terrified me. It had been so long. I still had creative blocks around writing music. Previous bad experiences made me doubt I could find people with whom I would genuinely enjoy playing music.

Fast-forward. I found them. We’re a band. It’s all of the good stuff and basically none of the bad stuff. With their encouragement, I just bought my first guitar since the robbery. My first real reclamation of my identity as a musician.

Because, much like Cheryl Chamblee expressed in blog post 013, I am a still musician. Even if it has been a while. Even if I’m rusty. Even if I’m intimidated. I have been a musician all my life and that is never going to change. Beyond my artistic identity, music is fundamental and essential to my human identity.

I don’t think I realized how much old grief I was still carrying around from the robbery and the loss of my identity as a musician. Finding these fantastic bandmates and allowing myself to feel their support and camaraderie opened the emotional floodgates. Call me old fashioned, but for my money there’s nothing like a good ol’ uncontrollable sob fest in the car. The tears flowed, and I mean HARD, as I let go of old pains and embraced the freedom and ease and acceptance I felt with my new bandmates. [Though I was definitely crying my face off, I did note that the song on the radio was “Holy Diver” because, c’mon, that’s just hilarious.]

Soapboxers, I want to hear from you. Have your past identities or difficult experiences kept you from yourself? Have you been down too long in the midnight sea?  When did you realize you were ready to jump jump jump on the tiger?

OK, now that I think about it, hearing Dio in that moment was 100% apropos. Of course. Never doubt Dio.

‘Til next time,

MT

Writing the Perfect MONKEY

Originally published on Artist Soapbox on 30 July 2018

Greetings, Soapboxers!

Earlier this month, several friends and collaborators gathered to read and hear the latest draft of my upcoming play, YEAR OF THE MONKEY. If you’ve ever put your work-in-progress up for critique, you know it is a singularly excruciating, insecurity-stoking and necessary experience. I clawed my way to that draft and now, armed with lots of helpful notes and personal revelations, it’s time to revise.

Great. I can’t stand this part.

I knew this was coming, but I’m annoyed anyway. Why am I making such a big deal out of this? I’ve got a lot of great feedback to plow into this thing but I feel angry and scared and, honestly, I have been so frustrated over this project that I have contemplated quitting several times.

Ah, perfectionism. My old friend.

At several points along the way, this project has felt like I’m using a tweezers to build a sandcastle. Thomases, by birthright, are unapologetically verbose yet I have no access to this endless supply of words. When I sit down at the keyboard, out come the tweezers. Why? Because I want it to be “right.” Because I want it to be “good.” Because I want to turn it in and never have to do it again because it took so much out of me the first time. Because perfectionism is my beast. Perfectionism would rather stop me before I start. Perfectionism would rather I edited my work and myself into non-existence rather than pick up that bucket and fill it with sloppy, wet sand.

Cue the irony.

After the script read-thru, two different people remarked that a few of the scenes felt unnecessarily short and they could tell I was editing myself. I had been so focused on cutting away anything I deemed extraneous (exposition, talkiness – bad!) that I didn’t leave enough substance to establish some of the objectives and relationships. Their advice? Haul ass and go for it. Fill up those buckets. Save the tweezers for later.

Sloppiness and precision both have their place in the process. Doesn’t sloppy sound more fun? I’m into it! At least in theory. This might be a “both/and” right now.

I know I will get to a space where I’m having more fun, feeling loose and making a joyous mess. But I also know there’s old pain at the root of the perfectionism and I want to make space for that. Pathologizing my stuckness isn’t helping me. Berating myself for not having more fun seems a tad counter-intuitive.

Maybe I’m not exactly where I’d like to be, but I am showing up. Every day. Maybe the words aren’t flowing like wine (note to self: BUY MORE WINE), but they’re coming. As I’ve told myself a thousand times, “Show up for the work and the work will show up for you.” Ugh, that sounds so smug I want to punch myself in the face.

This is eerily familiar. Perfectionism. Resistance. Finding ways to nourish yourself. Time to walk this talk.

‘Til next time, Soapboxers.
MT

Ask WHY to Create Opportunities for Compassion

Originally posted on Artist Soapbox on 28 May 2018

Greetings, Soapboxers!

Please raise your hand if someone has ever told you, “Don’t be so hard on yourself.”

Y’all. So many times. Over and over throughout my life. This phrase confounded me and angered me. I didn’t understand it. I passed it off as a cliché. An empty platitude from someone who jusssst didn’t getttt meeeee.

Last night marked the just-over-halfway point of the inaugural ASBX Creative Accountability Group, an endeavor that Tamara and I are facilitating for artists who want to move their creative work forward. This experience has been so inspiring, so humbling and, honestly, last night got real.

In that session, something new clicked for me around the way I approach my creativity and my ‘til-now unconscious choice to brandish the whip rather than the olive branch when I felt stuck or unproductive.

I asked the group to examine the roadblocks they experience through an exercise called “The 5 Whys.” This technique was originally formalized by Toyota, as a way to trace a problem through layers of abstraction to its real root cause. Typically, the root cause points to a process that is not working well. Hmmm, process you say? I wonder if artists can relate to that…

Here’s an example:

What is the pat answer you give for why you haven’t accomplished your creative goal? All together now: “I don’t have enough time.” Let’s inspect that a bit through 5 Whys, shall we? (Monocles optional).

“I don’t have enough time.”

Why?

“Because I am scheduled within an inch of my life.”

Why?

“Because people keep asking me to do things and I keep saying yes.”

Why?

“Because I have a really hard time saying no.”

Why?

“Because I’m afraid if I say no they’ll never ask me to do anything ever again.”

Why?

“Because I am insecure in my relationships.”

DUDE I KNOW RIGHT? It was so much easier when I thought I was simply managing a ridiculous calendar. Now I have to consider how I approach my relationships?  Well, shit. Let’s all crack open our chests and shine a flashlight in, shall we?

In terms of the Creative Accountability Group, this exercise has so much to offer us in terms of having compassion for ourselves and examining what is at the root of our creative resistance. Here’s another example from the group:

“I am not prioritizing writing.”

Why?

“Because I am not excited about it.”

Why?

“Because I’m afraid people will think it’s bad.”

Why?

“Because I got a bad review last time and it really hurt.”

Why (is this a problem)?

“Because now I feel like I can’t trust my own voice.”

In this example, I can see the pain at the center of the resistance. Putting our work into the world for public consumption is a vulnerable and brave act. It all but guarantees that some people will have criticisms and critiques. If that knocks the wind out of your sails for a bit, well, ok — you’re human. It’s understandable that you could feel stuck between the ego’s desire for a product and your heart’s need for the process of healing. Uncovering the resistance to the work via the 5 Whys allows us to name it, claim it, and deal with it….with compassion.

That’s when things shifted for me around the phrase “Don’t be so hard on yourself.” Now I see the value in extending compassion inward and acknowledging the hurt or pain that has us in its grip. What we need in those moments is comfort and encouragement, not chastisement. If we take the time to care for ourselves, we’ll feel the pull of creativity before too long. It’s always there. It wants to flow through us. We can help it by making space for our feelings and clearing out debris where we can.

Is this hitting home for you? Considering joining Tamara and me for our next Creative Accountability Group, beginning July 31st. This 5-week session is open to everyone! If you’ve got a project you’d like to move forward, but could use some help and an encouraging support network, drop us a line! We’d love to see you there.

Many thanks to our gracious hosts, the NC Center for Resiliency.

‘Til next time,

MT

Artist Soapbox: Take Your Work Seriously

Originally published on Artist Soapbox on 30 April 2018

Greetings, Soapboxers!

Next week, Tamara and I are launching our first Creative Accountability Group. I can’t wait!

I’m already inspired by the statement these artists have made by signing up for this group: they have put Creative Resistance on notice.

In his book The War of Art, Steven Pressfield posits that every artist is engaged in a war against Resistance. In his definition, Resistance is any act that prefers immediate gratification over long-term growth, health or integrity. Resistance is fueled by fear and Resistance never sleeps. The battle must be fought anew every day.

Does this sound familiar? Imposter syndromeprocrastinationperfectionismcomparison — these are all forms of Resistance. The good news is: we are not powerless in this fight. Recently we’ve talked about cleaning up and bringing in beauty as resources. Today I’ll offer one more, inspired by Mr. Pressfield: Take Your Work Seriously.

Do you want to write a book? Make a web series? Learn an instrument? You do? Cool! Quick question: HOW SERIOUS ARE YOU?

Serious enough to delete some time-sucks from your phone?

Serious enough to decline a night out with friends to do your work?

Serious enough to reach out to friends/mentors for help and feedback?

Serious enough to spend time actually *doing* the work?

In this context, taking your work seriously does not mean putting unnecessary pressure on yourself to produce something “Serious.” It means you recognize the intrinsic value of your artistic endeavor and prioritize it without apology.

One of the biggest lies Resistance wants us to believe is that we don’t have enough time. Do you have 5 minutes? Sit down and do your creative work for those 5 minutes and you have overcome Resistance. Do it again and again and your work is going to add up to something. I’m a big believer in this axiom: “Show up for the work and the work will show up for you.”

This is why I’m so excited to begin our Creative Accountability Group. This is a group of people who have said, to some degree, I am serious. I am serious enough to get some help. I am serious enough to show up and put my goals out there. I am serious enough to risk feeling less-than in front of other people. I am serious and I take my creativity seriously.

Next month I’ll be sending a dispatch from the front lines. In the meantime, we’d love to hear about the ways you battle Resistance. What works for you? Leave us a comment or email us at artistsoapbox@gmail.com .

‘Til next time,

MT

The Importance of a Physical Practice

Originally posted on Artist Soapbox on 26 March 2018.

Greetings, Soapboxers!

I have really been enjoying talking to you about clearing space and bringing in nourishment to our lives. I like to think of it as the things we *get* to do for ourselves, rather than the things we *have* to do.

Today, let’s dive into another important resource for us creative types (psst: that’s all of us). In podcast episode 016, actor, singer, and director Dana Marks answered this question: “What’s something every artist should learn or practice regularly?” Her answer? “A physical practice.” Amen, Dana. I’m right there with you. Let’s get out of our heads and into our bodies.

A physical practice can take so many forms. We all enjoy different things, so find something that speaks to you, something you’ll enjoy that is realistic for you to keep up with. Personally, I fell bass-ackwards into a love of running about four years ago and it changed my life. That along with swimming and daily walks with my dogs are the cornerstones of my physical practice.

A physical practice can also encompass more than what we traditionally think of as “exercise.” About two years ago, I started practicing what I call “The Self-Care Power Half-Hour.” This routine consists of:

Meditation: 20 minutes

Yoga: 5 minutes

Breathing: 5 minutes

This practice has absolutely made a difference for me — me, the person whose picture appears next to “Monkey Mind” in the dictionary. If I can do it, so can you. The yoga series and the breathing technique I use are both said to “build internal fire” and, man, that’s what I’m looking for. After 10 minutes, I am ready to kick ass. But, like, in a zen way.

“But Mara,” you’re saying. “I hate running and 30 minutes of anything is more than I can do right now.” I hear you! Any amount of time — seriously, one minute — is a great place to start. Every morning while my bread toasts I use that 3 minutes to do some push-ups. Let me tell you why I do that specific exercise.

“Boundaries” is a new concept for me. Most of my life until very recently has been centered on other people’s needs, often to the detriment of my physical and emotional health. My therapist specifically recommended I do push-ups to have the physical, felt sensation of pushing back against something. My body needs to absorb this physicality so that it can advise my people-pleasing brain when it needs to push back.

Similarly, my other physical practices have helped me remember my body’s inherent wisdom. I spent many years disconnected from it and reconnecting has been a process. Running has helped me gain perspective on the Making Pots philosophy — it’s about practice and the process,  not the outcome. Not every run is going to be my fastest, just like not every piece of art I create is going to be a masterpiece. But I keep going and I keep learning and that’s what matters.

Soapboxers, we want to hear from you! What physical practices keep you buoyed despite creative or emotional or literal storms? Leave a comment or drop us a line at artistsoapbox@gmail.com and tell us how it’s going.

‘Til next time,

MT

Nourish Your Creative Self

Originally posted on Artist Soapbox on 26 February 2018

Howdy, Soapboxers!

When we last chatted, I talked about cleaning and tidying as being a first step toward making space for your creativity. I even challenged you to make a change in your space. How did that go?

If we think of our spaces as being a reflection of ourselves, it’s only to our benefit to stay on the tidy train as often as we can. We are going to do big work in these spaces. Work that requires a lot from us, demands that we push past our fears, wrestle with our insecurities and ultimately produce something that previously never existed. I’m reaching for the vacuum just thinking about it!

However, to thrive, our creative selves need other things too. We need inspiration. We need to be cared for. Sometimes we need beauty for the sake of beauty. Pleasure for the sake of pleasure. That’s why I started having fresh flowers in my home at all times. They make me smile on a daily basis. And if chores are a life-long given, why not add some pleasure to the experience if we can? I’ll say it: I go all-out on the $3.99 good-smelling dish soap. You wanna come at me? You’re gonna have to fight your way through this glorious honeysuckle halo that surrounds me. Sorry not sorry.

“But Mara,” I hear you saying, “when did you become a lifestyle blogger? I thought this was a series about creativity.” I’m getting there, I promise. The flowers, the dish soap — these small gestures of self-care nourish me. And when I feel nourished, I am in a better space to create, to allow myself to take risks and to be less judgmental toward myself. It’s important to me to be in that better space as often as possible, and thus I am always seeking out little ways to add more nourishment to my home and my life.

This week, bring something beautiful into your space to give your creative selves a lift.Drop us a line at artistsoapbox@gmail.com. I want to hear all about it!

Special Note: Our first ASBX Creative Accountability Group is nearly full, and the deadline is approaching. If you are considering joining us, register now!

‘Til next time,

MT

Cleaning House

Originally published on Artist Soapbox on 1/29/2018.

Greetings, fellow Soapboxers!

I closed my last blog post of 2017 by promising to shift from creativity obstructions to creativity resources. Ready? Let’s clean house.

I don’t know about you, but I find it hard to create when my space is busy and messy and uninspiring. I’ll admit it: I read “The Life Changing Magic of Tidying Up” by Marie Kondo. I did. And you know what? It ushered in some big changes in my life. So, whatever you feel about the book, I think there can be a lot of value for us in confronting the things in our space that really and truly need to go to make room for other things* that reflect beauty and joy and make us feel good.  (*sometimes empty space qualifies as an “other thing”)

I spent last Saturday night cleaning out the cabinet below my kitchen sink. Who said blogging isn’t glamorous?! While the sad under-the-sink situation never rose to “To-Do List” level importance, I gotta say — it bummed me out every single time I reached for the dish soap. Like a paper cut on my domestic soul. Last Saturday night, though, I’d had enough. I took out all the products, threw away what I didn’t need, wiped it all down, and reorganized that mother. This thing that had bummed me out for years took less than 15 minutes to rectify. Now, my clean kitchen cabinet gives me a little boost rather than dragging me down.

This is where I, much like young Ralph Macchio, realize that I haven’t been toiling pointlessly for a taskmaster who isn’t going to come through with the karate lessons. I’ve actually been learning karate THIS WHOLE TIME.  Wax on, wax off, Soapboxers. Tidying makes me feel good. Clearing space makes me feel good. It’s easier to make art — perhaps especially, difficult art — when I’m feeling good.

Take a look around your space, Soapboxers. Do you like what you see? Does it inspire you? Does it give your brain a chance to roam free or are you looking at piles of junk mail and unfolded laundry and dirty dishes and that spot on the window sill where the paint is chipped and you just. can’t. let. it. go?

This week, find a small change you can make in your space and then challenge yourself to do it. Fix that squeaky hinge. Get rid of that lamp you’ve always hated. Thin out your t-shirt drawer (MT’s note: Physician, heal thyself). Whatever it might be for you. We’re all in this together. Drop us a line at artistsoapbox@gmail.com and let us know what you did and how it made you feel.

‘Til next time!

MT