Thursday, December 6, 2012

Creative Break From The Holidays

Okay, I know I said I wasn't going to post any more in 2012, but this TED Talk (which has been around for almost, gasp, 4 years), is too marvelous to wait.  Thanks to my dear friend Jane Jennings for sending this.  Took me two weeks to find the time.  If you haven't watched it, find 20 minutes in your life.  If you have, watch it again.


Monday, December 3, 2012

Choose


Well, I've been on quite the unintended hiatus from Creatavita, haven't I? You can thank the 2Voices10Fingers project for that. I've been very focused on preparations for Jiu Jian Kenn's Dec. 21 arrival and the great events that will be happening while he's in the US. You can check them out here: 2Voices10Fingers Project.  

So, this won't be a news flash to any of you, but while you weren't looking, the holiday season officially arrived. Oh boy. That annual mix of joy, dread and exhaustion. The expectations are high for all of us – peace on earth, good will to men and the presents better be perfect. Every last one of them. Well, guess what darlings. I am here to throw out this radical idea - you do not have to do everything this holiday season. You do not have to buy every gift, attend every party, and keep every tradition ever known to every generation of your family or your neighborhood. Yes, I am here to say - choose the traditions that matter the most to you.

Here's my personal example. Christmas cards. Who doesn't love Christmas cards? Me too. But at some point the act of writing the annual letter or choosing the best card for each of the 179 people on our list, adding one sincere sentence to every letter or card, addressing the envelopes, and even putting on the stamps tipped from being a pleasure-filled activity to drudgery. Friends, when the act of wishing someone Merry Christmas feels like drudgery, you know you've got a problem.

So I stopped. I didn't send any Christmas cards one year. The world didn't come crashing down and there were still presents for me under the tree. So I didn't send any the next year either. That might have been the year when I sat in my office one hot August afternoon and wrote a lovely letter in place of Christmas cards. Another brilliant idea born. And although I've been known to skip a year here and there, that's what I do now - I choose another time of the year and send out a greeting. Some years a letter, some years one of those snappy photo cards I create online. Some years a Valentine, some years a Spring greeting. You know what? People seem to love receiving a truly joy-filled greeting at another time of the year. I love sending the greeting at another time of the year, when I'm not stressed to the max with holiday musts, and when I know there's a good chance my letter is the only personally-addressed envelope showing up in mailboxes around the world. And in all of the years that I've bucked tradition, I've had three people say to me “hey, where's my Christmas card?” Or “Haven't heard from you in a while. Are you still alive?” Three.

That's all I've got for you today and for the rest of this year. Don't worry, I'll be back sometime in early 2013 with more Creatavita. While I'm gone, I want you to contemplate the holiday traditions that have true meaning for you. Keep those. Then I want you to consider the ones that feel like drudgery. See if you can get rid of one or two of those. Then I want you to seek out some serenity. Because.

Monday, October 15, 2012

You Need To Know This: Persistent Patience


Today's post has been chosen by Lauren Cupples.  Like many of the featured artists in this series, I met Lauren when she took my Advanced Musical Theatre class at Walnut St. Theatre. She also studies privately with me, when she's in town. See, for the past two years, Lauren has been performing throughout the country. Florida last fall, Arkansas this summer and many shows here in the Philadelphia area. This holiday season, she'll be performing Emma in Doctor Doolittle at the Media Theatre in Media, PA
.

Lauren's another one I admire. She's smart, thoughtful and a hard worker. I'm always impressed with her ability to find auditions and then to actually GO to the auditions. We talk frequently about the why of life. Why we pursue these crazy creative careers, why we tolerate the less-than-ideal working conditions, why we are on this planet. I like this ongoing conversation because I see that Lauren has a vision for life that extends beyond the next gig.

Here's her website:  http://www.laurencupples.com/.  Lauren chose:

Persistent Patience
Persist – to continue steadfastly or firmly in some state, purpose, course of action, or the like, especially in spite of opposition, remonstrance, etc. 

 Patience – an ability or willingness to suppress restlessness or annoyance when confronted with delay.

You need both.

That was helpful, wasn't it?

I used to be the least persistent person on the planet, perhaps in the universe. I wanted it and I wanted it NOW. Giving up was easy for me. As soon as something became difficult, I'd give up. First rejection from an audition, I'd become an emotional mess, assume I had no talent and announce I was giving up. Boyfriend after boyfriend into husband would be forced to tell me I was talented, there must have been another reason, yadda yadda yadda. 

 I had a similar relationship to patience. If I couldn't lose that last five pounds, if I didn't get hired for that gig, I would become impatient and frustrated. And then I'd give up. Well. These attitudes will not work if you're living a Creatavita. Because creativity is always challenging and always takes time. Always.

In addition, neither persistence or patience are valued in our modern society. Oh sure, you'll hear the touching news story about the woman who endured for 25 years to get her college degree, but let's be honest, we don't expect that attitude of ourselves. We all know that we want it and we want it NOW. If we can't get it, we grab our marbles and go home. Patience, as in waiting your turn when in traffic, is considered to be a sign of weakness. Powerful people don't need patience. They can have what they want when they want it. Don't we all want that?

This is false power. This does not lead to a Creatavita. This leads to a heart attack.

I touched on this subject in the previous post Carry On. If you want to have a flourishing life and in particular, any type of artistic career, you are going to have to cultivate persistence and patience. You are going to have to develop the ability to get back up, to let the catty comments slide right off your back, to ignore all the seemingly positive things that happen to everyone else and not you, to somehow find a way to keep going.

In fact, the abilities to persist and to be patient have actually been found to be better indicators of success than talent or genius.

Now I have your attention, don't I?

Angela Duckworth, Assistant Professor of Psychology at the University of Pennsylvania, calls this quality “grit”. According to Dr. Duckworth, here are the two key components to grit:

  1. Sustained passion
  2. Perseverance

Interesting, huh? Darn close to my initial idea for this post.

Here's the TED Talk where Dr. Duckworth talks about her research.


It is almost 20 minutes long, but the time has come for you to get off of Facebook today anyway. Close it up and watch this instead.

I love two moments in particular. The first one happens around 2:40, when Dr. Duckworth briefly discusses the 10-Year Rule, which is the same idea as the 10,000-Hour Rule, made famous by Malcolm Gladwell in his book, Outliers. If you didn't know either of these rules, you do now. These rules tell us that to become a world-class performer in any field, you MUST put in 10 years (or 10,000 hours) of “consistent, deliberate” practice.   By the way, we're not going to discuss which number is the better number.  We're creative types, we're smart, we only need the general idea which is lots of excellent practice leads to mastery and expertise.

 That information alone should inspire you to get to work. Think about it. You now know that if you practice for a specific amount of time with mindfulness and awareness, you will become an expert. Will you have a great career? I can't promise that, no one can, but at least you'll have mastered an creative form that is the source of the greatest passion in your life.

I'll discuss my second favorite moment from Dr. Duckworth's TED Talk in a bit.

Before we move on, here's a super quick grit test  http://www.sas.upenn.edu/~duckwort/.  Go ahead, take a minute and try it out.  Interesting, huh?

As you know, Creatavita is all about finding solutions that everyone, even the bozo who drives you nuts on the morning train, can incorporate into their lives. So, get ready.  Here are some ways to cultivate persistence and patience in your life:

ACTION has always helped me. Aim to do one thing every day that leads toward your big goal. Send one email, compose one measure, practice one song, write one paragraph. When you go to bed, you'll be able to put your little head on your pillow, knowing you are one step closer than you were when you woke up.

Dr. Duckworth takes this one step further, saying we should work on our weaknesses every day. That's right, at 16:10 in the TED Talk, she actually suggests spending part of your day doing something that makes you feel uncomfortable. Man, I have to meet this woman. She is singing my song!

PRACTICE patience. Try meditation or yoga. Both are excellent ways to focus the mind and body on the present moment. Being in the present often leads to a greater mastery of patience.

HAVE A PLAN. Oh no, not the plan again. Yes, that ridiculous plan that I went on and on about in my last post will help you cultivate both patience and persistence. You will recognize that you are in this for the long haul and the only way to the end is via short steps.

GET SOME PERSPECTIVE. There are 7 billion people on this planet. Most of them call the day good if they have food in their stomach and a comfortable spot to call home. The vast majority of them don't find your frustration with not getting your book published, selling your cd or finding an agent all that compelling. This is not meant to diminish your creative work in any way. This is to encourage you to ask why. Why is this so important to you? What is this work really saying, what does it really mean? Would you miss this creative form if it was no longer in your life?

Finally, if all else fails -

TAKE A BREAK. Step away from the canvas, close the piano lid, shut off the computer, put down the pen. Go for a walk, a run, a swim. Head down to the coffee shop. Go to bed early. Talk to your partner, spouse or kids. Time, even when you feel you don't have any, is often exactly what is needed.


To close, I will do something that makes me feel uncomfortable.  I will ask you to consider making a donation to my 2Voices10Fingers project.  Today is the first day of an online fundraising campaign to produce interactive workshops and a concert here in Philadelphia in January.  Jiu Jian Kenn will be traveling here from Singapore to join me for these events.  We will be grateful for any amount you can give.  Really!  Here's the link:  


The campaign ends November 15.  Please take a look at the cool perks we are offering!  
And thank you.



Wednesday, October 10, 2012

Quick Followup


Okay, Have A Plan was helpful!  Great! One reader said this post was huge. Yes, that's a definite possibility. Another told me that she was great at planning the small events of life, but not the big events. She's afraid of disappointing herself. I've got something for her, and the rest of you that don't want to be disappointed - see below.  Yet another had a spontaneous conversation with a former colleague. They worked together at a job that was decent, but as she described to me, “it was, well, a job.” Now, 5 years later, both are thriving in careers they wanted. This realization, in conjunction with the Creatavita post, has given her the impetus to look ahead to the next 5 years. Fabulous.

Best of all, in a serendipitous moment, a friend (and reader) passed along this article. She wasn't even aware of my last post. The author of this article provides another set of exercises for planning.  She also does a great job of discussing setbacks and failures, a topic I wasn't able to cover in my previous post:


On to another subject. This summer I discovered a fabulous online resource for artists – Fractured Atlas (www.fracturedatlas.org). Fractured Atlas calls themselves an arts service organization. Where have you been all my life, Fractured Atlas?!?!?  Fractured Atlas offers the usual information about grants, but also online classes about the business aspect of being an artist, health and liability insurance, AND, a program they call Fiscal Sponsorship.  Using the Fiscal Sponsorship program, I'll be launching an online fund-raising campaign starting Monday to raise funds for 2Voices10Fingers, the global collaborative project I work on with Singaporean Jiu Jian Kenn. 

Fractured Atlas' online fundraising campaign has one big difference from Kickstarter.  Donations to Fractured Atlas projects are tax deductible.  That's the main reason I chose Fractured Atlas.  Now that I'm working with them, I am thrilled with how helpful and quick the staff has been to answer my many questions.  I've dabbled in their online webinars and classes; I learned very important information there! Others have told me they use Fractured Atlas to purchase liability insurance for performances and health insurance.

Check them out at www.fracturedatlas.org and if you choose to join, use this code: FS7146.
You'll get your first 3 months of membership for free!

Back to work on the next post. You guys are keeping me on my toes!

Friday, October 5, 2012

You Need To Know This: Have A Plan




Here we go with the first series, You Need To Know This. Yes, I changed the title already. I'm having trouble making decisions lately. Oh well.

I was also having a heck of a time deciding in what order these posts should appear. I'd read the list and get totally stuck. Couldn't move. I'd head over to Facebook to see if I could clear my brain. We all know how that works. Doesn't. Then, one day, when I was working out, the answer came to me. I love it when that happens. I stop thinking about what's bugging me and, when I least expect it, bingo - the answer.

Here's what I figured out. I wouldn't choose the order, I'd let somebody else choose the order! And who would that someone else be? Some of the very people for whom these posts matter. Other artists in my life, people I've known over the years as students or colleagues, the very people I think about as I am writing these posts.

The first post has been chosen by:


Adam Kemmerer.  Adam studied voice with me when I taught at Muhlenberg College in Allentown, Pennsylvania. Being a part of Adam's development from a quiet, almost shy young man into a “you gotta hear this guy” singer/actor was one of the highlights (so far) of my teaching career. He tried everything I suggested, including regular practice sessions (what a concept) and if it didn't work, he tried again. In the 4 years he studied with me, he never gave up. Ever. His hard work was rewarded with many leading roles while at Muhlenberg. That hard work continues to reward him now, as he pursues his career in New York City. Here, check out his website:


There's one more thing I have to tell you about Adam. He is a throwback guy, to the time when a person kept their word, and had integrity about their work and life. I've always admired that about him.  Adam chose:

Have A Plan

Spend Some Time With Your Dreams

The first thing you need to do is spend some time with Dreams #1 and #2.  Remember when you were 10 and you'd live our your dreams in your bedroom? Yes, that dream. Mine involved my sister's records, a hairbrush which thought it was a microphone and a huge audience. That's Dream #1 and it is very important. That's the one that you're probably trying to work on every day OR the one that you spend all of your time trying to ignore. If you're already working on this dream every day, keep going. If you're ignoring the dream, I have a piece of advice for you. Don't do that!!! Little kids, especially the one that resides inside of you, are extremely honest. Pay attention. You don't have to act yet, but you do have to pay attention. That dream is the essence of who you were meant to be, especially if you were also using that hairbrush as your microphone, directing the neighborhood in dramatic productions or painting on the walls.

Dream #2 is very close to Dream #1, but more pragmatic. Dream #2 possibly appeared at the same time as Dream #1, but might have appeared later, perhaps when you were in your teens. The realities of life were becoming clearer to you. Yes, you loved playing the guitar, but you also loved the volunteer work you did with special needs kids. Perhaps Dream #2 led you to your present work with autistic children. 

 When you think about your life, you feel pretty darn good. Working with special needs kids is fulfilling for you.  You've also had some amazing performing opportunities in your life, perhaps even touring with your band all over the US for a couple of years. While there are days when your work with the kids wears you out, you recognize that your passion for the guitar is still alive.  For all of this,you are grateful. 

Dream #2 should not feel like you've settled for second-best. Dream #2 should feel like you went with a strong passion, which is a variation of Dream #1.  Both of these dreams should bring you great joy and a sense that you are doing what you were meant to do with your life. 

I was going to tell you to write down your Dreams, but then I realized I have never written mine down. I don't have to. They are alive and present in my gut and in my work. If you think it will help you, take the time to write them down. Don't worry, this post will be waiting for you.


Convert Your Dreams Into A Plan

Dreaming is absolutely necessary. I can't encourage you enough to dream. Go ahead. But we also have to figure out how you're going to turn those dreams into reality. And this is the point where you are either getting ready to stop reading this post or have become immensely intrigued.

Turning dreams into reality IS terrifying. And yes, this can feel like another pointless exercise. Do it anyway. If you find even one miniscule insight into what drives you, this exercise will be worth the effort.


Write The Plan Down

Honestly, I find this to be one of the scariest exercises in life. I do. There's something about writing goals down that makes them feel more permanent, and that means I have to commit. Yikes. Your plan can be as simple as a list of goals or as intricate as working with a life coach. Here's three different approaches that I have used:
1. Strategic Plan I was in my late 20s the first time I did a Strategic Plan. It was tough and driven. I acted on it for a few months, got discouraged and stuck it in the back of the filing cabinet. That was a mistake, but that's what I did.  Some years later, I stumbled upon this Strategic Plan and was pleasantly surprised to find I had actually achieved some of my original goals.  But I couldn't use this Plan now.  It was as outdated as my Olivia Newton John hairstyle.

Flash forward to 5 years ago. While life was fulfilling in many ways, there was this occasional nudge in my gut that said, “Hey, you up there. Are you sure you are doing what you really want to be doing?” I recognized that the time had come for another Plan so I could get the nudge to stop.

I vowed to begin this Strategic Plan at the end of a weekend getaway to San Diego. I have a very strong memory of walking around the San Diego Airport, literally afraid to put my hopes and dreams for my life on paper. I remember laughing at myself as I desperately tried to find something in the airport that needed my attention more than this exercise. Me, the strong one, the doer, the one always giving out the advice could NOT put that pen to that paper.

When I did finally start writing, here are the steps I followed:
  • I divided the Plan into no more than three areas. Mine were Performing, Teaching and Personal.
  • I started by envisioning 5 years in the future and then I worked backwards. This was very important. Most of us know exactly where we want to be, but we can't see how to get there from where we are right now.
  • I chose 3-5 goals under each area for each of the 5 years.
  • I wrote it down.
  • I was prepared to spend time with the Plan. I knew I would have to draft, contemplate and edit.
  • I set a deadline. The possibility exists that you will get frustrated and want to give up. A deadline will help you finish the Plan.
2. Another Way – Okay, does that idea feel too restrained for you? Perhaps you are hyperventilating at the thought of such a clear exercise? Try this approach instead:
  • Pick a date in the future, let's say Thursday, April 15, 2017. Yes, five years out seems to be the magic number.
  • Write what that day is like in your life. Where do you live? Who do you live with? What do your clothes look like? What time do you get up? Where do you go? How do you feel? What do you eat for lunch? Where have you been?
  • You can make lists, you can write a story, you can draw pictures. Doesn't matter how, just get the vision out of your head and onto paper.
I did this exercise spontaneously one night sitting on the train, over one year after I had finished my Plan. I was astonished to find that the intersection of my personal well-being, my career and my relationships dominated my writing.  I was also delightfully surprised to find that: a) my life wasn't that far off from what I was writing and, b) the life I wrote about felt extremely possible. You know what I think happened? I think I wasn't even aware of how much had been set in motion by that next Plan.

3.Best Year Yet – I mentioned before in the Accomplishments post my work with Best Year Yet. This is yet another system of looking at where you are in your life and where you want to be. It isn't perfect, but right now, Best Year Yet is definitely helping me to stay on track. I have teamed up with a friend to do my Best Year Yet work. We send the master report at the beginning of the year and then send monthly reports to each other.


Now What?

Congratulations. Your Plan, in whatever form, is done. While creating The Plan took more time than you expected, you feel good because now you have a clearer vision of what you want out of life. You've planted seeds in your brain and in your guts. Excellent.

Put it away. Reward yourself for a job well done. You'll know when the time has come for you to reflect on your Plan again. Yes, you will.  There's only one more step for you to take.


Enlist A Buddy

Remember the mistake I mentioned way back at Strategic Plan? Getting discouraged and sticking the plan in the file cabinet? Yeah, well, you can thank me later for making that mistake so you don't have to.

I strongly encourage you to find a person in your life whom you trust with all of your dreams, desires and junk to keep you true to your Plan. Look for someone in your life who you think might be interested in working on a Plan for their life. Going through the process with someone else, having to articulate your vision to another person is exactly what you need to bring your dreams to reality. In fact, I'm willing to try to help. If you're looking for someone, comment on this post and I'll try to match you with a Buddy.

Enlisting a Buddy has changed my life. Dreams and goals that flitted by before, like this blog, are now being acted upon. The work is not always easy. My Buddy has the ability to ask me the difficult questions. She also knows when to let me slide. My Buddy gives me permission to let those old goals that no longer fit my life disappear. And don't tell me there's no time. Once you get the Plan written, the time commitment is minimal. Both my Buddy and I have extremely full lives, sometimes bursting at the seams, but that forces us to be efficient. Because we live far apart from each other, we rely on Google Docs, email and the rare phone call. If we can find the time to work on our Plans, so can YOU.

Whew!  I know that you now have quite a bit to consider, to ponder, to contemplate.  To assist you, here's a quick summary:

Spend some time with your Dreams
Convert your Dreams into a Plan
Write your Plan down
Enlist a Buddy

I'm looking forward to your comments.



Friday, September 14, 2012

Here And There

Creatavita is about to head into its first series, but before that gets started....


- I've been surprised by the number of positive responses I have received from so many of you about Creatavita.. Thank you! Please don't hesitate to suggest post topics. Go ahead, I'm as curious as you are to see where this blog will go.

- One reader told me he wasn't sure how to pronounce the name of this blog. To help, I've called in an expert:

video


- Don't forget that you can subscribe to this blog so every post comes right to your email inbox. See that signup box to the right? The one that says FOLLOW BY EMAIL?  Yes, that one. You'll get every post and never miss a moment of Creatavita.

- With the next post, I'll be starting a series entitled You Need This. This series discusses the life-altering attitudes and actions that have gotten me to a place of flourishing creativity in my work and life. I didn't learn most of these in school. I did learn them in living my life, in taking chances, in making mistakes, in being successful. These are the ideas that ran up behind me and hit me over the head. Or they grabbed me in my gut when I wasn't expecting them. Some of them brought, and continue, to bring me great joy.  Some were, and still are, painful to contemplate.  Some seem obvious to me, but when I discuss them with others, I find they aren't so obvious. Some will mean something to you immediately; some you won't understand for years. You'll need to consider all of them on your quest for a Creatavita.

I think this series will be particularly relevant for emerging professional artists, as well as those of you trying to figure out how art fits into your daily life. So, if you know anyone else who fits those categories, be sure to invite them over to Creatavita. Of course, if you're looking for reflections that might inspire your life, you'll find those in this series as well.

- Before I leave you today, I've got a favor to ask. You all know about my colleague and friend, Jiu Jian Kenn.   If you don't, check this out:  


Beautiful, isn't it?  I hear humanity.

Jiu Jian needs your help. But the help he needs is incredibly simple. He needs you to subscribe to his YouTube channel. Why? Because he's applying for a grant from his government and he needs 1,000 subscribers to be considered for the grant. I promised him Creatavita followers would help, so please take a minute, click on the link below and subscribe. With that simple action, you will help an individual artist and make the world a better place. How great is that?!?!? And, if you would consider reposting this link to your blog, Facebook page or Twitter account, that would be fantastic!


Do it!  No excuses.

Wednesday, September 5, 2012

Carry On


Did you miss me? Of course you did!

You might not have noticed, but I've been gone for 2 weeks. I didn't mean to be. I was all set to keep coming at you with more Creatavita. But life got in the way. My life. And not in a good way. I lost my mojo. And I was not happy. In fact, I felt like a fraud. How could I tell these people how to live a creative, flourishing, fulfilling, think-positive life when I was barely hanging on? Couldn't do it. Couldn't lie to you.

What did I do? I got angry, felt frustrated, definitely felt depressed. But I carried on.  Yes, I did. And that's what you need to know.

I carried on. I kept living, I kept showing up, I kept doing the tasks on my task list (okay, not all, but as many as I could). I did take a couple of days off over Labor Day Weekend. By then, all efforts to shake my fraudness were futile. The only thing I could do was live. So I did. Spontaneously.

And you know what? I started to feel better. I even sat down to write a different post than this one. About gratitude. I'll post it later because gratitude is very important to Creatavita. Very important. But I couldn't even finish that post. It didn't feel honest. I couldn't do that to myself or to you.

And that's when I realized what I needed to tell you.

I need to tell you that when the going gets tough, carry on. Keep going. Put one foot in front of the other, even though that voice inside your head is telling you to stay in bed (yes, that rhymes). Keep that vision, crazy as it feels, right in front of your eyeballs. Maybe you won't be your usual stellar fascinating self. Maybe you won't accomplish everything at your typical high-functioning level. But you'll be you and the parts of life that matter to you will happen. Eventually. That's important.

I was not always able to carry on. And there have been recent times when I have thrown up the white flag, crawled up into a ball and stayed in my bed. The ability to carry on is a trait that I have worked on over many years, and based on this last round, continue to work on. Let's call it a work in progress.

People have helped me with this. Let's call that roadside assistance. This is very important and we will be talking about it later. For now, let me tell you that The Beloved is number one, hands-down, on my list of People Who Taught Me How To Carry On. The Beloved is as durable as they come. He'll carry on until the bones are showing. And he does so with class and as much pleasure as he can muster. It's truly fascinating. I've been darn lucky to have him by my side.

So, like me, there's a good chance you're going to have to work on the carry on ability too.  You might not relish this thought.  Get over it and get to it.  If you don't have someone like The Beloved, know that I'm right here cheering you on. Seek out others who can assist you and open yourself to the possibility that you will be that assistant for someone else. Because like it or not, we're all in this together.

This ability to carry on is crucial for a Creatavita. Artists of all type must develop this skill because rejection is a huge part of the game. You have to, have to, have to figure out a way to deal with rejection and darkness because you will face it if you're going to be any kind of an artist. I said something on this topic to a former student last spring. He was bemoaning the quality of a production in which he had the title role, in the Big Apple no less. How dare he complain, right? I told him something like everyday, in all corners of this globe, people produce art in the bleakest of circumstances. Rise above and carry on.

For now, no fancy dancy videos or links to cool websites. No photos of cute cats. Merely me, telling you, carry on.

Tuesday, August 14, 2012

Vacating


Ahh, August. The month when many of us, at least here in the US, vacate. The pace of life slows down, work is left behind (ahem....), the suitcase gets packed, and the daily routine is temporarily disrupted. By the time you read this, I will have joined the masses who are on vacation this month.

Let's look at that word – vacation “A period of suspension...normal activities are suspended...freedom or release”. And I love the origin of this work (but I'm geeky that way): 1350-1400; freedom from something; see vacate, -ion)

Suspension, freedom, release, freedom from something. No wonder we quest after vacations.

There are many ways to vacate. Yes, you can take days off from work, spend oodles of money and visit an exotic location. I have done this and will continue to do it. But this is Creatavita, my friends, so we must think of another way. What if you:

Wandered around your town? Two years ago, on a Thursday afternoon in August, I left my house. While I had some ideas about what I wanted to do, I had no specific plan. Right there, no specific plan – that's a vacation for me. I took the train to Center City. From there, I meandered, through Chinatown (of course I ate),  Franklin Square (boy, has that changed), the National Constitution CenterNational Constitution Center and even took the El to Northern Liberties. Wandering around alone, with no purpose, seeing places and areas in Philadelphia that I had always intended to see. Delightful. The cost of this day? I'll say $50, but the admission to the National Constitution Center was about $20.

Changed something in your life? Vacation can also mean something changes around you. A routine, an item in your life, a habit. The Beloved and I are presently taking a vacation from our bedroom rug. This rug is a gorgeous Oriental which we both love. We had to move it out of the room this spring when we sanded the floors. The floors look fabulous with a sheen that comes not only from the finish, but from our collective sweat and grit. Plus, the summer was approaching. The deep red Oriental suddenly felt heavy and unnecessary. So we left it in the attic and plan to retrieve it in the fall. Guess what? Almost three months into this vacation, I still have a moment of bliss when I look at that beautiful floor. The cost of moving the rug? Since I was the one dragging it up the steps, about 125 calories off of my body. That would be what we call a win-win situation.

Here's another example. One of my students has been struggling with a song for the past month or so. A challenging piece both vocally and dramatically, he was always way too spent when he finished singing it. He brought the song to his lesson today and son of a gun, if that song didn't sound significantly better. I asked him what happened. He reminded me that I had told him to, get ready, “take a vacation from that song”. So he did. Didn't look at it, didn't think about it for 7 days. Time away so the music could marinate in his body and presto, chango, the song is working for him. The cost of staying away from the song? Nothing.

Stepped away from the screens? What if you didn't watch television or, gasp, didn't go on Facebook? Even for one day? What would that feel like? Like so many others in our connected society, I regularly attempt to detox from technology. It isn't easy, but I find I'm less likely to react quickly to life's little fun events after these detox sessions. The cost of stepping away from the screens? Zilch.

Said “see you later” to media? I have this article by Dr. Andrew Weill (Spontaneous Happiness and other goodies) taped to the wall above my desk. This forces me to read this quote every single day:

“Not only do we suffer from nature deficit, we are experiencing information surfeit.” 

which reminds me to turn off the noise and limit my media intake. Remember, the 24-hour news cycle needs you to pay attention so they can pay their bills. This means there is a lot of unnecessary information being thrown out at all of us, hoping we'll stay tuned. Don't. Get the information you truly need and then turn it off. The cost? Another freebie. You're welcome.

Went Outside? Most of us spend way too much side inside. Take that cup of coffee and open the door. Look up at the sky. When was the last time you actually looked up at the sky? Listen for the birds. I give you permission to stay out there as long as you want. The cost? You guessed it. Free.

Breathed? Many of you are now rolling your eyes and saying, “oh boy, here we go, now she's going all crunchy-granola on us.”. Fine. Think that way if you want. But let me tell you, as a voice teacher there's many a person out there who could benefit greatly from good-ol'-stop-thinking-and-breathe-into-your-body. Whether they choose to use that breath for singing or for living, I don't care. And while you're focusing on that breath, go ahead and imagine that you are on vacation. See if you can trick yourself into taking a break from everything around you. Another Freebie.

Freedom from something

See you later.


Sunday, August 5, 2012

Accomplishments

I accomplished a goal today.  Yes, I'm proud of myself, and yes, I'm telling you.

My article on our recent trip to Egypt was published in the Personal Journey column of the Philadelphia Inquirer Travel section.  Of course I want you to read the article, so here's the link:


But more importantly, I want you to know how this accomplishment fits into Creatavita.  I'll quickly enumerate the ways in this post and elaborate later.

#1 - Persistence, Patient Persistence.
I first had the idea to submit an article to this column back in 2006.  Yes, you read that correctly - 2006, after a wonderful experience in Turkey.  In fact, I recently threw out the paper draft of that article.  Don't worry, I saved a digital copy.  For various reasons, I didn't get to writing the article until this spring.  That's okay.  The important lesson here is that writing an article mattered to me and I stuck with it.  Being patient enough to know that the right time would come and then being persistent in finishing the article when that time came is what is important.

#2 - Have A Plan
For the last two years, with the assistance of one of my Best Friends, I've been following a program called Best Year Yet (Best Year Yet Book).  We are definitely going to discuss plans like this in a later post.  I've never found a perfect one, but there's no doubt that my present work with Best Year Yet, assisted by a Best Friend, has helped dramatically.  Writing this article was one of 10 goals (I know you hate that word) I wanted to accomplish in 2012.  Knowing that goal was sitting on that list and knowing the Best Friend would ask me about it once a month gave me incentive to stick with the plan.

#3 - Be Flexible
Wait.  Didn't I just tell you to have a plan?  Now I'm supposed to be flexible as well?  Come on!  Yes, that is correct.  A plan matters, but knowing when to change the plan matters as much.  The Turkish experience was incredible; someday I'll write that article.  But when I returned from Egypt this winter, I knew I had to change the subject and write about my Egyptian adventures.  Trusting my instinct to be flexible, to put aside the Turkish experience for the Egyptian adventure, was important.

#4 - The Beauty of Assistance
I am by nature an independent person.  Some would say stubborn.  I wouldn't disagree.  We'll discuss further.  Not my stubbornness, but the beauty of assistance.  Over the past two years, I have made a conscious decision to ask for assistance.  When it came time to write the article, I asked another Best Friend to edit.  Of course she was happy to assist.  Invaluable?  Yes indeed.  Her edits and comments gave the article a much-needed clarity.

#5 - Be Reasonable
My goal was to write a 500-word article.  My goal was not to write a book.  My goal wasn't even to have the article published, as I knew I had no control over whether or not the article would be published.  My goal was a reasonable challenge which involved nothing but my energy and my actions.

One more word about our trip to Egypt.  Phenomenal.  Okay, a few more words.  The people at Deluxe Travel organized an amazing itinerary for us.  Yes, that's a shameless plug for Mona, Mohammed, Yassar and all the other wonderful Egyptians we met.




Wednesday, August 1, 2012

One And Done


If you're a faithful follower of Creatavita, you've already noticed my obsession with time.  In my quest for a flourishing life, I am continually challenged to find time for the things that really matter.  I bet you are too.  Sometimes the biggest challenges are solved by the smallest solutions.   Such as.....



One and Done

When The Teen was born, like many first-time parents, I found the concept of time was, shall we say, altered. Entire days could go by in a flash. I found myself torn between wanting/needing to spend time with this brand new human and getting to the necessary tasks of living. If you're a parent, you know what I'm talking about. Heck, if you're a human (and I assume the vast majority of you are), you know what I'm talking about. There are these periods when the speed of life seems to enter some odd, cosmic zone where everything happens too fast.

Add to this experience the fact that I am highly organized. Some would say hyper-organized, some might even say obsessive. Let's save that for a future post. Whatever you want to call it, I admit to being a person who likes to organize my day. This quality does not go well with a baby. Not at all. I found my to-do list expanding and my anxiety level rising. Even more importantly, I KNEW these were days that would never be back, ever. One of the certainties of life is this: Babies are born and immediately start to grow. Usually up. I had to find a solution.

Don't ask me how it happened, but I decided I would zero in on one task every day. Early in the day I would ask myself, “Self, what is the one task that will make your day feel complete?” The task could be as simple as write a thank-you note, work on one measure in a piece of music, or find a song for a student. In fact, I encouraged myself to keep it simple.    And of course it wasn't simple every day.  Yes, some days the task was larger than I wanted or somehow became more complicated.  Yes, I got frustrated.  Still, on most days, once that task was done, the rest of the day was open, free, mine to enjoy. I encouraged myself to focus on what was accomplished and the time I now had to be with The Baby Who Is Now The Teen or with my work, and not on what wasn't accomplished.

Miracles. I tell you people, miracles. I began to enjoy The Teen's babyhood, my motherhood and my career.  I didn't worry that some student didn't get their lesson time scheduled immediately or that the dust was prominent on the furniture. I also found myself mentally clearer , much more realistic about how much time I actually had AND definitely more able to prioritize what was truly important.

The Teen is now, well, a teen, and couldn't care less if I spend a millisecond with him. Yet, I've returned to One And Done many times. I find it particularly helpful when my workload is heavy or during those lovely times we call the holidays.  In fact, I'm using it again as I write this; recently we've had delightful family members visits, the studio is full, there's fun summertime performances happening, and The Beloved is on the Disabled List due to rotator cuff surgery last week.  Enough activity to, well, let's just say, increase my workload.

I already know I'm not the only person on the planet to benefit from this simple solution. Two falls ago, I received a phone call from my niece. She had recently moved from clean, kind Wisconsin to gritty, hyper New York City. The tone of her voice made it obvious that she was about to crawl out of her skin. She was in a completely different environment and the prospect of being there for a prolonged period of time wasn't feeling so good at that particular moment. I could, as we all say, feel her pain. So what was my advice? You got it – One and Done. I was thrilled when she told me later that this simple approach got her through those first months in New York City, and that she, like me, still returns to One and Done frequently.

Like all new habits, incorporating One and Done into your lifestyle could possibly be challenging. We modern-day humans aren't very good at change. Don't be surprised if you actually feel more anxious initially. Give yourself a set number of days, say, one week, to try this idea out. You can always return to your previous anxious, frustrated state if this small solution doesn't work for you.

Tuesday, July 17, 2012

Emotion


Hasn't been tough to find something to talk about around Creatavita, as friends have been dropping in to talk about their lives. Lives full of events, decisions and good ol' honest-to-god emotion. For many, too much emotion. Frustration as an artistic project gets delayed again. Grief when a family member dies suddenly. Sadness as a human body ages. Anxiety as life presents too much change. So grab yourself a cold drink because the time has come to talk about

EMOTION


As a creative person, I have found the response to this abundance of emotion fascinating. You see, emotion is an artist's basic commodity. Farmers grow food, manufacturers make products, bankers provide a safe place for our money (don't go there; that's what they are supposed to do) and artists, in all of their spectacular forms, express human emotion. Here - Victor Hugo said it well, specifically about music: Music expresses that which can not be said and on which it is impossible to be silent”. As a musician, I think it was nice of Monsieur Hugo to direct our attention to music, but I'm generous enough to say we can expand that to all art forms.

I know this idea was presented to me many times throughout my education and training, but I currently credit opera director Bernard Uzan with providing the lightening-bolt moment for me. You know what I mean – that moment when a big question is finally answered and the pieces fall into place. That was the moment when I realized I wasn't crazy, that my emotions made me the artist that I was (and continue to become), and that there was tremendous value for the world in having people who are willing to turn this emotional activity into their life's work.

But here's the rub. If emotion is our commodity, this means those of us who call ourselves artists must become comfortable with experiencing all human emotions. The entire spectrum from bliss straight through normal all the way to lunacy. We must know all of these emotions well, like the back of our hand. We must know what they bring up in us, how they make us behave, how they affect our interactions with the world. We must be bold and courageous; we cannot be afraid of them. If we are afraid of experiencing our emotions, what about those poor schlubs who look to us for guidance? Yes, I'm talking about our audience, our readers, our viewers. They look to us to express the feelings they themselves didn't even know they were feeling, those feelings that had previously gone unexpressed. And you certainly know that they look to us to express the difficult feelings, don't you?

So back to the emotion flying around Creatavita this week. Here's an encounter I found truly fascinating. One person said to me, “I'm letting my emotions get the better of me.” My response? “Of course you are, you're a human. That's what humans do.” When did we decide that NOT feeling was an appropriate human response? Trust me, I've tried that road. It was not successful in many ways. I only ended up seriously depressed. I don't recommend it.

This leads me to another fascinating experience I have frequently in my studio and in my work as a faculty member at Walnut St. Theatre School.  A student will allow themselves to let go of the armor and find themselves in tears. The student then apologizes for crying. Really? Why would you apologize for feeling, particularly since you are engaging in an art form which requires you to, excuse me, express your feelings?

You can call me strange, but this is the moment when I encourage people to cry. Yes, I do. I hand them a Kleenax. I put my hand on their shoulder and I encourage them to be right where they are. You know what happens. I'll tell you anyway. 99.9999% of the time the emotion clears within minutes, the singer ends up in a better emotional place as well as feeling more confident in their ability to express themselves. The room is lighter.

Just so you all don't think I'm standing up here on my soap box all sassy-like, knowing every thing there is to know about emotions, I will confess a truth to you. I cannot sing the song “Anatevka” from Fiddler On The Roof without crying. If you don't know it, here it is:


Like Pavlov's dog, I start to tear up as soon as I hear the opening words. Yet I still sing this song, I don't avoid it. Why? Because singing this song reminds me of an emotion deep inside of myself. Something I am unable to express in any other way comes out of me.

So if you're dealing with emotion in your life or in your art, here's what I do and here's what I encourage you, no matter what your level of artistic ability, to do: Take out a blank piece of paper, grab your kid's crayons, open that sketch book, sit with your violin or at your piano, pull out that monologue that has been calling to you. Dive in. Sing, read, paint, write. Let the emotions flow. Don't judge yourself for having those emotions. Feel. Create until you can go no further (or until your 10 Minutes is up). Then leave it alone. If you feel you haven't grasped the emotion fully, repeat the experience when you can. The product does not matter, the experience matters. You might create ca-ca, you might create okayness or you might create the next Mona Lisa. Doesn't matter.

Do you know what you are doing? You are exercising your emotions, just like you exercise your muscles. As you allow yourself to exercise your emotions, a wider spectrum of your emotions will become familiar to you. The scary ones will lose their edge. They'll still be there, but you'll be able walk into that fire and right back out, with hardly a singed hair to show for your efforts.

I've gone on long enough today. If you've got 4 more minutes to spare, take a look at this video of "Emotion" by the Bee Gees and Samantha Song. I found it refreshing. Hope you will too.




Monday, July 2, 2012

Ten Minutes


I hope my previous post, Who Gets To Create? made you think. Today we're dealing with a nitty-gritty detail – finding time.




If you are like me, life is too short. When you look in your dictionary, you cannot find the word bored, as in “I'm bored”. You can find the words distracts, as in “Everything I should be doing distracts me from the things I want to be doing” or frustrated as in “I am so frustrated that I can't find enough time for my – you fill in the word -”. I fill the blank in with a variety of words, including music, relationships, writing, and especially, self.

Too many projects and not enough time to get to them, or so it seems. This is a common theme. Never fear, Creatavita is here to help.

First of all, the time has come for some good ol' attitude adjustment. This is particularly true if you have ever seriously studied an art form in your life. You learned early on in your study, that an hour a day was required to progress. Anything less was, at least for some of us, total and absolute failure. That's why we would meet each other in the hallways of our college music departments at ridiculous hours of the day, say 6:00 am or 10:30 pm, or my personal favorite time, 7:00 pm on a Friday night. I'd go to happy hour with my friends at 3:00, eat the free food (okay, I'd have a drink or two. But remember, the legal drinking age was 18 back then) and then I would, honest to God, go back to the practice rooms.

That worked in college and graduate school. But guess what. We're all grown up now, with our fancy-pants lives and the rent is due tomorrow. Gone is the luxury of hours on end spent daily communing with your favorite composer, painter or author. In order to get some artistic joy back into our lives, we're going to have to rework this outdated model.

Secondly, I hereby give you permission to lower the bar. Oh boy, I bet you weren't expecting that one. I stand by my original statement, Your Honor, lower the bar. Try this little exercise. Say to yourself, “Self, I bet you I could find 30 minutes a day to work on my novel.” If Self tightens your gut and your heart starts to race, then you have the bar too high. Lower that number until you find the number of minutes to which Self's response is: “Are you crazy? Of course I can find [X] minutes in a day to work on my children's book!”.

To give you courage, let me tell you that I am currently at 10 minutes a day. There have been times in my life when I've been at 20 and times when I've been as low as 5. By the way, the end of the road is 5 minutes. Any number lower than 5 minutes is not trying. We might have lowered the bar, but we are still trying.

Thirdly, use tools. Here's the link to an online timer.


Yes, you heard me, a timer. Use it. Some days your minutes will fly by and you'll be astonished when the timer goes off. Some days you will swear the timer is broken. Use it.

Now I know some of you are out there thinking this will never work. Gathering your materials to work for a small amount of time is pointless. You know what, if you write one good sentence, if you play one good phrase, if you sketch one tiny corner, you will have succeeded. And don't forget that being creative is a habit. Maybe today's work will be awful, but that means you'll be one day closer to the great work.

Finally, give yourself a chance. Rome wasn't built in a day and neither will this new habit. You will have to tussle with yourself, as the Musts and Shoulds rear their ugly heads. This tussle could be epic, lasting as long as one month. Stick with it. I'm pretty certain there's a day in your future when you will surprise yourself with how easily you were able to find the time for your favorite creative pursuit.

By the way, you can also use this approach for problem-solving. Let's say you are stymied by a work project or you need to finally choose a dissertation topic. How about focusing on the, ahem, situation, for a chosen amount of time daily and then forgetting about it? I know, I know, difficult to forget about it. Oftentimes, the solution appears when we're not thinking about the conundrum. Deal with the situation for, let's say, 15 minutes a day and then drop it like an old flame for the rest of the day.

Gotta go. Since I spent my 10 minutes today editing this post, I've now freed up time for another fun part of life. Today's adventure? The Teen's playing baseball in South Philly. Cheesesteaks for everyone!