Preparing for a Creative Residency

Originally published on Artist Soapbox on 8 April 2019

Greetings, Soapboxers!

Spring is springing in our neck of the woods. New growth and new opportunities are on the way and, in keeping with my January intention, I am leaning into the excitement and wonder of it all (with, let’s be real, a garnish of panic).

This spring I am participating in something brand-new to me: Creative Residencies. Wondering what the heck that is? Well, that makes two of us! Broadly speaking, a residency is an opportunity to trade in the day-to-day grind for a few days or weeks of focused, intentional time to work on your creative project. Often this involves going to a remote location.

I’m excited to share that I will be participating in residencies with Drop, Forge & Tool in Hudson, NY and the Turkey Land Cove Foundation in Edgartown, MA. Why apply for a residency? In my case, I’m developing my latest play via a long-distance collaboration. My NYC-based partner thought a residency could be a fantastic opportunity for us to be in the same place at the same time and dig into the project in a deep and meaningful way.

Personally, I thought it sounded way too good to be true and thus unlikely ever to happen. In this case I am perfectly happy to have been proven wrong. In retrospect, I’m actually grateful for my initial doubt because it allowed me to approach the applications with a nothing-to-lose, go-for-it mindset rather than letting my buddies perfectionism and comparison restrain me.

The application process involved, among other things, sharing our project and goals with the organizations. They want to know how applicants will use their time and what they will have to show for it once the residency is complete. This pushed me to think more broadly about the script and the production as a whole — what needs to happen to move it closer to reality and how can we leverage this uninterrupted time to make progress towards that?

In preparation for the residencies, my partner and I drafted a long list of goals. My mind is boggling a little bit thinking about this ambitious list. But I’m excited. Our goals are rather detailed, yes, but I feel we have left ourselves plenty of room to breathe and discover and stretch and create. Will we accomplish every item? Probably not. Will we discover things we hadn’t yet considered? Almost assuredly. In this moment, I am so grateful for the residencies’ gift of the truly precious commodity of time. I know we will make good use of it.

Residencies are available throughout the country, for all sorts of endeavors. Have you participated in a residency? We’d love to hear about it. Please drop us an email at artistsoapbox@gmail.com and share your experience.

Looking forward to reporting to you from the other side of this journey!

‘Til next time,
MT

Running Toward Creativity

Originally published on Artist Soapbox on 28 January 2019

Greetings, Soapboxers!

This morning I ran a 14-mile trail race at Little River Regional Park in Durham. Running is one of the primary ways I connect with my body and is a huge resource for me. Trail running, though, requires an entirely different set of tactics. Sure, running is the common denominator, but you use different shoes, different muscles, a different gait, and a different mindset as you’re constantly negotiating rocks and tree roots and mud. These obstacles are often cleverly hidden under a carpet of leaves and pine needles. There are switchbacks and river crossings. You might fall. You probably will fall. You will most certainly get dirty.

Which brings me here. To how I’m feeling about creativity at this point in 2019. I’m on the trail. And I’m loving it.

When I’m running I don’t compare. I run my own race. Simply showing up and finishing is a victory. If other people ran faster or slower, that’s irrelevant to me. I’m also not comparing present-moment me with any other version of me. Am I in better or worse shape than I was last year? Irrelevant. I’m here today and I’m doing this thing. This serves as a good reminder for my creativity when I notice other people putting their work out into the world. Art is not a competition. Other people’s success is not my failure. I can cheer them on — and I can cheer myself on — without comparison.

About halfway through today’s race, the crowd had thinned so much that I couldn’t see any runners in front of me or behind me. I’m not a seasoned trail runner, and at times the path was very difficult to discern. In those moments, a voice came into my head. It said, “Slow down. Take the next obvious step.” In my creative pursuits, I often feel out of my depth with no clear path forward. Then Anxious Brain shows up and wants to skip to the inevitable embarrassing disaster at the end (not inevitable, but Anxious Brain hasn’t learned that). Today though, I was in the middle of the literal woods with absolutely no idea where I was. But I didn’t panic. I wasn’t lost. There was a path. Faint as it may have been. All it took was a moment of shifting my awareness… and I was back at it. Taking the next obvious step and the step after that and on and on until the finish line. I’ll remember that when I’m feeling overwhelmed by the task in front of me. Break it down and just focus on the next step.

Those miles spent running by myself also made me think of the solitary nature of creativity. Whether it’s writing, doing research, practicing music, or learning lines, much of my creative work is done in solitude. Even though I am often by myself, I know I’m never alone. We’re fortunate to have such a supportive creative community here in the Triangle. If I need some encouragement, it’s always close at hand. Just like the person on the trail today who emanated seemingly from nowhere to play music on a plastic recorder as a way of supporting the runners. He gave me a boost when I needed one. Bonus points for being random and delightfully weird.

A few months ago, I shared my latest battle with my creative frenemy, perfectionism. At that time, my approach to writing felt like using tweezers to build a sandcastle when I thought I should be slopping around buckets of sand. At that time, that’s what I was working with and my only way forward was to accept it and keep showing up anyway.

Today, I drove home covered in actual mud with a smile on my face. This is the energy I want to carry into my creative pursuits this year. So many things are coming up that I look forward to sharing with you over the next few months. I can honestly say I have no idea how any of it will go, but I’m embracing that. I’m on the trail.

‘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 still a 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

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