Friday, December 26, 2014

Your Favorite Things

I'm off to the wonderland of Minnesota for some holidaying and vacating.  Thanks to the wonders of technology, I can still give you a final post for 2014.  I went back and looked at Creatavita's stats to find the post that was most popular.  To be honest, this post was third most popular, but Number One was the Birthday Party post, and since only three people (how sad is THAT) actually entered the contest, I'm guessing that the number of hits was due to errors that my IT department kept making.  Oh, wait, that's me.  I sure it wasn't all of you dreaming about entering and not following through you on your dreams.  That would  also be sad!

Number Two was the post about my father's death and it just doesn't seem right to post that during the holidays.

Hence, since I am the grand poohbah of Creatavita, I am choosing to repost Number Three. Interestingly enough, it's the post about New Year's resolutions, which is even more appropriate.  At the end of the post, I offer to help any of you hook up with a buddy to keep you on track in the New Year.

Still believe in making a difference.  Still offering.

Wishing all of you the very best in 2015.  Read on.

Your Favorite Post (Sort Of): New Year's Resolutions That Work

Saturday, December 6, 2014

Oh, You Shouldn't Have

And they're here. 

The holidays.

And the expectations just went through the roof. The expectations that we will all wear perfect outfits with perfect hair, the scents of perfect glowing candles in the air, laughing and singing our way through perfect weather, attending perfect parties daily, eating and drinking all the perfect food and drink we want, never gaining a perfect pound. And don't forget the perfect gifts in the perfect situation, which always involve the perfect snowfall and a bright red bow.

Enough to make me want to join in singing:

I've previously suggested that, when it comes to the holidays, there are choices.

This year, I'm suggesting there is a gift.  A gift that won't bust your budget and will return joy to both giver and receiver.


Time is a finite commodity. It is available in the very same amount to each one of us. I have 24 hours today and so do you. Every one of us will run out of it;  we just don't know when. 

We're often bad at managing our time. We spend hours scrolling through Facebook and Pinterest, but are late for rehearsal. We lay around watching Netflix, and then get anxious because the deadline for our client's website is looming. We stay out late with friends and blow the audition the next day.

This holiday season, put your credit card in a safe place, grab a piece of paper and a pencil and start to think about ways you could give your time.

Before I give you the ideas, I have some caveats:
#1 - There will be people on your list that don't really want your time OR truly need a thing. Gift-giving should be a judgment-free zone, so go ahead and buy them a thing.
#2 - Not everyone will receive your time in the way you envision. Some will never even acknowledge you gave the gift of time. This has the potential to churn up negative emotions for you, like disappointment, frustration and anger. That's yucky, but forge ahead, because the point is still to give, not to receive.
#3 - Giving time requires energy and commitment.  Be thoughtful about how much of your time you want and need to give.
#3 - If you give into the future, you have to make the commitment to follow through. But you're a self-disciplined creatavitor, so you'll make that happen.

Okay, the ideas:

Alone – Someone in your life, perhaps you, is always craving time alone. Time to write, practice, paint, compose, sleep, exercise, dream. Give this person space. Give this person permission.

Perhaps your partner is the one that gets out of bed every morning to walk the dog. You do it. Just once. Perhaps your friend has a great idea for a play, but can't give herself permission to write it down. Give her your permission. Sometimes knowing another person believes in your idea is all we need to get started. Perhaps your roommate is struggling with extra pounds and you are a fitness expert. Give them the gift of a walk to help them get started.

Write a heartfelt letter.  Put it in a big box and wrap it up.  Watch the joy unfold.  Then prepare to help dreams happen, even the simple dream of sleeping in one morning.

Assistance – We all have loved ones who live harried and stressed-out lives. Yes, they did it to themselves, but we're in a judgment-free zone today, so drop that and help out. Offer to run errands for them. Offer to cook them dinner. Offer to take their kids out of the house for an afternoon.

Many years ago, I took a friend's two boys to the movies while she sat home and caught up with life. Were the boys rambunctious? You bet. Did we have a good time? They did. They ate popcorn, punched each other, laughed, and released their exuberance with someone besides Mom or Dad. Did I do it again? Nope. But I did it once and it made a difference.

When The Teen was The Baby, cleaning the house was at the bottom of my list. Some student had the nerve to write “DUST ME” on the top of a cabinet in my studio. Yeah, why didn't you??? Couldn't you see I was taking care of a baby AND working full time, while you were gallivanting through your twenty-something existential crisis? Not helpful.

When he's not teaching people to be the singers they were meant to be or singing himself, Beloved is a fantastic woodworker. This means the basement of our house is a dust haven (see above). One Christmas, I gave him a certificate that said I would clean the basement once. And then, in September or October of the following year, I did it. He was thrilled.

Contact - someone in your life needs you.  They need you to send them a postcard once a month.  They need you to phone them and talk for 10 minutes.  They need you to send them a YouTube link of a cute dog (ahem, NOT cat) video) and tell them that you were thinking of them today.  They need you to do this for three months, for six months, for a year.

Have I ever told you about my Jewish Mother?  No?  Oh good, another post!  Here are the essential details for now.  She's 92 and lives in Lincoln, Nebraska.  Her use of the Internet is extremely limited.  So, every three weeks, I send her something.  Maybe it's a postcard from a museum we visited together in New York City.  Maybe it's an article I think she'll find interesting.  Maybe it is an email to her caretaker with YouTube links of music I think she'll enjoy.  It isn't difficult (although I'll confess to making it difficult in my mind) and I know she loves hearing from me.

Together – there are people in your life that you love to be with, but there's never enough time. Give each other the gift of time. The gift can be as simple as an afternoon walking. It could be dinner out together. It can be elaborate as a weekend away.

Beloved and I have a great set of friends who have absolutely everything. And I mean everything. At some point, the four of us agreed that we didn't need more stuff, but we craved spending time together. So now, at Christmas time, our gift to each other is a weekend away. We've visited Civil War battlefields together, the Chesapeake Bay (the weekend before Sandy; fascinating watching all of the boats being pulled out of the water), the Hudson River Valley and Savannah, Georgia. It usually takes us nine months to execute this gift, but that gives us the joys of dreaming and planning.  Extravagant? You bet and worth every penny.

Here's a really simple one.  My BYY Best Friend has been having trouble finding joy in her work this fall.  So, for the past month or so, I've been texting her once a week, asking her to send me an example of joy that she's experienced in her work.  Last night, I received the best text from her.  Not only did she relate three joyful moments, but she also thanked me for assisting her in finding the joy.  And I have to tell you, her joy has been contagious and now I text her with joyful moments.  This takes us no more than 10 minutes a week and it is making SUCH a difference for the two of us.

Someone in your life needs you to do the same thing for them.  They need it worse than they need that sweater.  Your credit card company will be disappointed, but your spiritual account will overflow.  

Try it.  Let me know what happens.

Shameless Promotion Moment:  Come to my Cabaret.  I'm part of the Coffee House Concert Series at Darlington Arts Center on January 17.  For the first time ever on the face of this planet, I will be singing and accompanying myself.  If that isn't enough, I'm planning to sing some original compositions.  Maybe these two:

And now I've scared myself, so I have to go practice.

Update:  If you've received this post via email, the video links will not work.  Please go to the blog to view them.  Thanks!

Friday, November 14, 2014

Tough Choices

Most of the conversations I have with other Creataviters seem to center on three topics - money, relationships and kids. Not necessarily in that order.

Lately the tricky merger of artist and parent has come up most frequently, so let's start there.  Merging these two passions can often feel like no matter what decision we make, we won't get it right. Some cherished part of our souls always feels neglected. I'm thinking of the artist who was contemplating a fulltime job outside of the arts because he was tired of the constant lack of income; another who was deeply conflicted about accepting a contract because of the possible impact on her family. I've never forgotten the pain I saw in a colleague's eyes a few years back as he described missing his kids' annual visit to Santa.

I'm in the final years of intensive parenting. The Teen is a senior in high school. While today it seems like our parenting approach might have worked, I can't guarantee that will be true tomorrow. The Teen has friends, he enjoys school and delightfully, he even talks to us now like we are members of the same species. This is a relatively new trend which we hope will continue. Gratefully, the Teen can also bathe and clothe himself, and he even chooses to do so. Keep this in mind, those of you that are in the midst of potty-training or have a kid who refuses to shower. Everything is temporary.

To be honest with you, I never envisioned being a parent, but when I found out I was going to become one, I wholeheartedly embraced the idea. I saw it as an opportunity to shape a life with love and attention. For a variety of reasons (my own childhood, years of interactions with stage parents – oy vey), I believed that being available for my kid was the most important thing I could do. And I was fortunate; I had skills that allowed me to put that at the top of my list and still have a career in a field that I was passionate about. I also had a husband who felt the same way and had his own fulfilling career.

From day one, I started to make decisions by answering this question: How will taking on this project impact my relationship with the Kid?

I had to keep working; we all have to eat and pay the mortgage. But I consciously chose not to take on every project that was offered. I couldn't.

I admire people who can hand their kid over to a caretaker and fly off to do a six-week stint in Europe. I really do. I admire people who can take on the role of a lifetime while their kids are under the age of 10. I couldn't do it. I didn't have enough psychological space. But what matters is that I know why, and that's what you need to know for you and your life. I knew that being available for the Kid was the most important thing for me. I was lucky; I had had a pretty nice career before I had a child, so I knew that I'd be okay if I didn't achieve more of my career goals in this lifetime. I also knew I could never forgive myself if I messed up a kid, particularly one that came from my gene pool.

I knew I was missing opportunities because there was a chance that they were coming at the wrong time in my relationship with the Kid and I was okay with that. Conversely, opportunities appeared that allowed me to be available for the Kid and fulfilled me as an artist. Maybe not as much as I wanted, but enough to keep me balanced.

I was also fully aware that I could mess my kid up even more by being around. My kid's pretty self-contained, and he's always been that way. So, I've done a lot of waiting, listening, and holding my tongue (and we all know how challenging that is for me) while calmly hanging in the parental holding pattern. He has always made it clear when I was really needed and every single time, I have been grateful. Grateful that I made the decision to be available and grateful that he could express himself.

I think the hardest part of this family and career intersection is figuring out what works for you. When it doesn't line up with what you see others doing, you can really question your decisions. I know that's hard for me. There's a little part of me that's very jealous of these people who can be parents and don't have to be available all the time. I wish I could do that. But I can't. So I haven't. The reward is that I know I'm following my gut, and my kid is doing well. He's a great human, he's healthy, he's vibrant, he's his own person. I couldn't ask for more.

Let me sum up what I'm trying to say. When it comes to parenting:

- You have to make the decision that works for you. You know in your core what matters to you. You might not believe this, but you do. Find the time to listen to yourself.

- You have to remind yourself on a regular basis that you made that decision. That's what I didn't do. Oh, I'd remind myself on the surface and that felt pretty good, but recently, I'll say in the past 8 months, I've come to realize how much I was really closing myself off to opportunities. It was like I made a secret, silent pact with myself. So secret and so silent even I didn't realize I was making it. It's okay. Now I see it. That's what matters.

- You have no idea how much time and energy you are giving to your kids right now. You really don't. You need to keep doing that. Hug them, laugh with them, cry with them, listen to them, run with them, play with them, tell them you love them. They need that. Then tell them it is time for you to sing, to write, to dance or as the Kid would say to me, "to do your things".  You need that.   Go ahead.

Tuesday, September 30, 2014

Why Travel

Here's another winner from the Creatavita Birthday Contest.  Dan Stroiman asked me to write on the importance of travel for creative people.  Gladly, Dan!

Let's start with some fun facts:

- Most of the 1.3 billion citizens of China don't know about Orange is the New Black. But 36 million of them do know about If You Are The One.

 - Indonesia, with a population of 252 million, is the world's fourth most populous country on the planet. Yet only 28% of the country's population uses the Internet (that's 71 million).  Compare that to the US, where there are 318 million people and 81% (or 257 million) use the Internet.

 - The average dinner time in the US is 6:06 pm.  But in Spain? Good luck finding a restaurant open before 8:00 pm.

180 million people not online? Dinner at 9:00 pm? That's exactly why I travel. Despite the fast pace of globalization, the world is still full of people whose lives are vastly different from mine. Living in the midst of this, even for a few days, feeds my soul in ways that a week on the Internet could never match.

I am a fervent believer in the benefits of travel for anyone, but for a creative person, travel is more than fun and rejuvenating, travel is crucial. Why?  Read on.

My first opportunity to travel internationally came when I was in my mid-twenties. I sold all of my earthly possessions and headed to Europe with one goal – to soak up the culture. This was the mid-80's and while Madonna, McDonald's and blue jeans had made it over the Atlantic, Europe still felt like a foreign place. A passing knowledge of at least one foreign language was still necessary and the currency changed at every border. I loved it. After all the hard work of putting myself through college and graduate school, life felt luxurious as I rode train after train, slept in cheap pensions, wore holes in my socks walking through museums and historical sites, and attended countless concerts and operas.

I realized the true value of my European adventures months late when a colleague at the San Antonio Music Festival said, “What happened? You sound like a real singer”. All those nights in the cheap seats of opera houses throughout Europe, whether the singing was good or bad, had put new ideas and sounds into my head, my heart and my throat, and was of much greater value than hauling my you-know-what to endless auditions that I wasn't really ready for anyway.

We Americans live life in a big way with our big houses, big cars, and big appetites. Not every other country on this planet does that. Even here within the borders of our country, there is huge variety in attitudes and cultures. If you're lucky, experiencing another culture from the inside can give you an understanding and appreciation for your life you have, and just as importantly, build empathy and respect.

Here's a story I've held onto for years. It was told to me by a doctor who generously hosted me while I was a resident artist in Bartlesville, Oklahoma. Having previously hosted a guest from India, and being a typical Oklahoman, he proudly took his guest to see some of the surprising highlights of the area (including, not one, but TWO Frank Lloyd Wright buildings). The Indian guest then asked to be taken to see where the poor people live. So the Oklahoman doctor proceeded to drive through the poorest neighborhood in Bartlesville. The Indian guest, stunned by the prosperity of the neighborhood, remarked, “Poor people don't live in homes as nice as this in India.”

You think you don't have enough because you live in the USA, the country where there is always someone who has more stuff than you. Travel anywhere else on this planet and you'll realize how much stuff you actually have. You might also realize that stuff is not really fulfilling your soul.

And then there's the empathy you develop. I once rented a bedroom in an apartment in Leipzig, Germany. The middle-aged couple who hosted me were true Germans, extremely polite and respectful, and obviously happy to have the extra income. The room was clean, the breakfast was delicious, and even though the building was probably built in the 1960's, my room was heated by a coal stove. A modern one, not a cute replica. As I fell asleep that night,I found myself thinking how strange it was that not even five years earlier, this lovely couple were a part of “the enemy” simply because they lived in Communist-ruled East Germany. A wall falls down, governments change and we're no longer enemies.

Our work, while usually deeply satisfying, requires intense concentration and energy. Being able to drop all of that and get out of the routine, while at times anxiety-producing, is good for us. It's easy to get all tied up in my First World problems (when am I going to the grocery store this week? Should I go to that audition? How many likes do I have on that Facebook post?), but travel puts my head back on straight.

Having my brain hijacked by a completely different environment is such a marvelous feeling. On most of my travels, I couldn't work if I wanted to; I'm too taken by the sights and sounds surrounding me. Although there have been times when a solution to a vexing problem has presented itself. I grab the nearest notebook or device, jot it down and continue on my merry way.

When I return from a vacation, I am aware of a freshness in my work. Failures that felt catastrophic before just don't feel as monumental. Even better, I am again reminded of the value of my work, both for myself and for the world.

Even though we love our work, getting off our hamster wheels of creating, rehearsing, auditioning, and networking is good for us. Stop the wheel. Live a different routine. Get up earlier. Take a nap. Spend the day looking and listening, not posting. There's a whole world out there, waiting for you.

There's a transformation waiting to happen deep inside of you. It will happen when you walk down a street, enter a home and step into a room. There you will stand, in the same space that one of your heroes occupied, and you'll feel it. That something indescribable, that communication of the human spirit. Like the time I stepped into the house where Oscar Hammerstein did most of his writing. I was expecting a relaxing weekend away with a little bit of history on the side. Instead, my breath was taken away. Crazy as it sounds, I could feel Hammerstein walking on this floor, standing in that room in that spot and laboring over those wonderfully optimistic lyrics of his.

And then there's St. Thomas Church, back in Leipzig, where JS Bach is buried (after having spent the last 27 years of his career).  Of course it was different when I visited in the early 1990s. Or the battlefield I explored at Shiloh, Tennessee (where, in April of 1862, 23,000 soldiers died in one day). It too was different.  Of course change had come to both places over the centuries, but that distinct feeling, that what happened in these places years ago still mattered for humanity - that was present; unseen, but unmistakable.

You cannot get these feelings through your computer. I don't care how many photos you look at or how many videos you watch on YouTube. You start to live when you get the dirt on your shoes, feel the breeze in your hair or recognize a new scent in your nose.

There isn't a specific travel moment where I can say I found myself. But I can think of many moments where I found another piece of what I call My Self. Here's the thing to remember: no matter where you go on this planet, you always take YOU along. That said, getting out of an environment in which you have lived your entire life (I'm talking to you, most of Philadelphia) will expose you to aspects of your personality, both positive and negative, that you never realized you had. So will you find yourself? Well, you've been there all along, but if going somewhere helps you arrive at that realization, then take that trip.

I think I've given you enough motivation to start dreaming and planning for your next travel adventure.  Let me know where you go.  I'm always curious to hear how you Creataviters are doing.

Monday, September 15, 2014


Way back in June, Shelly Payson was one of the winners of the Creatavita Birthday Party Contest. She asked for a post about reentering the arts. And we're off!

Let's say life is feeling pretty good right now. Let's say you feel good about your relationships, your children are thriving and your career gives you a sense of fulfillment (and pays your bills). Yet, in spite of these accomplishments, your secret yearnings are rising to the surface. They're waking you up in the middle of the night, making you check out dance classes schedules or weekend retreats honing your painting skills. Even if your career is a creative one, you still feel a tug to trying something different. While many of your friends are talking about downsizing and early retirement, you find yourself dreaming of finally having enough time for a serious avocation and maybe turning it into a second career. But how do you reenter or reconfigure at this point in your life?

Or, let's say you're in the middle of a creative career, but you're feeling weary and closing in on burnout. Even though you still feel that creative bug in your gut, you find yourself contemplating a change and checking out new opportunities.

If you've still got that bug, congratulations. You truly are a creative spirit. You are correct in acknowledging that bug. Look it in the eye. Take it out for coffee. Get to know it well. Because if it has stayed with you through everything you've been through, this bug still has something in store for you.

I don't have the definitive answer, but I do have some thoughts for you to consider:

Be open to the possibility that another form will be the way back in. You were a dancer? Maybe now is the time to explore that sculpting talent that got shoved to the back burner as you were hustling from one dance class to the next.

Take one step back and return at a lower level than you left. This is especially true if you're taking on a new creative form. Consider taking a class to get started. 10 weeks in a quality class can answer many questions. For hands-on experience, consider venues such as community theatre groups, small galleries or self-publishing.

Start small. Aim to write one short story, not the next Great American novel. Sing one song in public, not an entire solo show. You'll experience a sense of accomplishment sooner. Plus, if it turns out this is not the experience you were looking for, you won't be in too deep and moving on will be easier.

Ask. Ask. Ask.....friends and acquaintances about their experiences. Given your skill set, how do they think you might fit in? If you're thinking of returning to the arts as a profession, consider reaching out to experts in the field to ask for their perspective. There's always a respected professional out there who is more than willing to share their experiences. Seek them out and offer to pay for a consultation. Every time I have done this, I have come away with more information than I expected, as well as an affirmation of the legitimate possibilities that exist for me.

You get to say no. I've been invited to private casting calls and told by numerous trusted sources that I would be great in commercials. Guess what? Right now, I have absolutely no desire to be in commercials. In fact the thought of it makes me sigh and feel like there's a heavy weight in my chest. So I'm not checking out this field at all. You don't have to either.

If you're looking to return to the arts as a profession, keep these tips in mind:

It's still a business. If you want to enter the arts as a professional, you have to recognize that part of you has to be a business person. Know what unique skills you have to offer and where those skills are needed. These skills might not be the ones that you were hired for previously. For example, I frequently get women over, let's say 35, coming to my voice studio for audition material advice. My work usually revolves around convincing them to look for fresh, appropriate material because their days of being an ingenue are gone.

Be ready to promote. Most successful artists I know have become masters of marketing their products. Now I know that it can be a real challenge to market/promote one's own artistic creations. You can all look to me as a model of an artist who has continually had to work on marketing myself. I was brought up to be humble and I've fought with the deep roots of humility for all of my artistic career. But now, I recognize that I am an artist not because I want fame, but because I have a deep desire to express myself, and in that expression, I think I express something important for all of humanity. This is a good feeling, and it makes it a heck of a lot easier for me to put my art out into the world.

Finally, remember:

You have nothing to lose except some time and energy. Seriously, think about it. What's the worst that could happen? I find that one of the biggest perks of having been on this planet for so long is more confidence. A little rejection isn't a reflection on who I am, but rather on whether or not I have the right skill set for the job. In the meantime, I'm having a heck of a good time trying out all kinds of creative opportunities.


Keep your sense of humor. Well, that's just good advice for life.

Monday, August 11, 2014

What I'm Doing On My Summer...

Er....I wouldn't really call it a vacation, but it isn't all work either. Whatever you call it, you've probably noticed that blogging hasn't been included. For which I feel a tad, well, how about if I say sheepish? And for some reason, I couldn't find my way back to Creatavita.

Then, I put my hand into my jacket pocket and pulled out this:

Which led me to think about the small things that have peppered my summer. At first I gathered them just to show you what I've been up to. But as I was gathering them, the realization of what each item represented came to the surface.  I realized my life had been so much richer, so much more creative than I had thought.   Here I was, a tad frustrated because I thought I was spinning my wheels, but I was actually right in the middle of my usual creative life.  Life was just happening differently than I anticipated.  Gee, that's never happened before, has it?!?!

So, here's the photo.  But before we go any further, I have to acknowledge that the original idea for this photo came from Wanda Eichler's blog, From Under the Willow.  And you should know that Wanda is my sister.  One of 5.  Sisters, that is.

Blue Mask – Recognize opportunities. Two opportunities in this case. Beloved and I have been killing ourselves, trying to get The Teen to travel with us again. “Anywhere you want, anywhere on the planet”, we keep saying. “No thanks”, he says, “I'm happy right here.” So when he agreed to go to The Bahamas for a quick weekend to watch soccer (watching the World Cup in another country is a family ritual that was about to die), we changed schedules, spent too much money and went. That's Opportunity #1.

Which led to Opportunity #2, which took place in the very touristy Straw Market in Nassau, The Bahamas. The colors of this mask enchanted me immediately.  I have learned to buy when I'm enchanted. Fortunately for my wallet, I'm not easily enchanted. But I didn't buy right away. Nope. Walked around to see if other enchantments lay in my path. Marley, the artist/vendor, was surprised when I kept my word and returned to buy his creation.

Lion King program – Never hurts to ask. Two of my step-granddaughters came to visit from Minneapolis, so of course we had to take them to a Broadway show. They hadn't seen Lion King and neither had we. I was working on Sunrise at Hyde Park (see below) with Darren KatzLion King's current Resident Director. No brainer, right? See if Darren can get you backstage, right? Guess what? I was still apprehensive asking Darren for a special favor. Guess what else? I did it anyway. When he enthusiastically agreed to give us a backstage tour (and it was deluxe), once again, something that felt risky to me was warmly accepted. By the way, the show really is still a remarkable production; if you can swing the ticket price, go see it.

Rubber Duckie – Fun is important. Rubber Duckie came into my life during a fun weekend in Rehoboth Beach, Delaware with Beloved and a quartet of wonderful friends. Yes, we went to the arcade, and yes, we played Skeeball AND rode the Bumper Cars. And I won Rubber Duckie.

Tiny Shell – You never know. There we were, on Fire Island.  We were expecting nothing but the infamous Cherry Grove drag queens.  We did find the drag queens, and they were charming, but we also found an island whose rustic and beautiful nature was still intact. I don't always know what's going to be at the next stop on this journey...and that's a good thing.

Dog collar – Saying goodbye is hard. We had to put our dear miniature schnauzer, Lizzy, to sleep recently. We knew she was ill, we knew she wouldn't be with us much longer, but we didn't know she'd have to leave so soon.

Plays by George Bernard Shaw – Work is fun. I'm back to studying monologues.  I need new ones for auditions and, more importantly, I thoroughly enjoy the work. A different part of my brain and personality have to show up.  Thanks to Jen Regan, I've been diving into the marvelous plays of George Bernard Shaw. I thought his work was stuffy. Wrong again!

"To Love A Woman" lead sheet – Sometimes you surprise yourself. Sunrise At Hyde Park keeps reappearing in my life. I struggled with one of the songs, not vocally, but getting into the heart of the lyrics. Honestly, even with quite a bit of work, I still thought I was stinking up the place when we got to the performances. Apparently, I wasn't. More audience members commented on the beauty of that moment than any other moment. And, when two people whose opinions I highly respect, told me it was good, I decided to accept the moment. Maybe I wasn't feeling it because it was going through me. Maybe that's the way it's supposed to be. Maybe I should let go more often.   

Pink papers – It's easy to take skills for granted. Those pink papers are notes I took while teaching the Musical Theatre Intensive class at the Walnut St. Theatre School. This summer's class was particularly satisfying; for some reason, this group of students made me realize how much I had to offer.  That felt really good.

Journal – You're probably better than you think.  And more notes, this time from my one-day residency with Mary Martello, funded by 1812 Production's Jilline Ringle Solo Performance Program. My brain got blown up as Mary and I navigated our way through a piece I'm working on.  I'm still not ready to categorize it - as a one-woman show or a cabaret, or a something - but with Mary's ideas and endorsement of my ideas, I'm writing every day and enjoying every second.

One more photo. One more realization.

Hummingbird feeder - The simplest joys are the best.  For three summers I've been trying to attract hummingbirds to my back yard and I have finally succeeded. I've spent no more than $20 on supplies (and most of that has been for sugar), but the joy I have received from watching those cute little birds zing around has been worth thousands.

You probably don't like it when I give you an assignment, but I have to tell you – collecting these items has enriched me and made me feel so positive about my summer. Even if you don't physically collect them, I encourage you to do collect them mentally and reflect on their significance. I think you'll find you're living a more creative life, than you actually realize.

Gotta go. The hummers are hungry.

Friday, June 20, 2014

Creatavita's Second Annual Commencement Address

With a twist.

I was all set to post video of a recent commencement address (recommended by a longtime student, whose daughter happens to be up-and-coming mezzo, Emma Char) and then this happened:

Ever wished that Calvin and Hobbes creator Bill Watterson would return to the comics page?

Which reminded me about Bill Watterson's 1990 address at his alma mater, Kenyon College.

So I changed my mind.

Then late last Friday afternoon, I found the time to search for the video of said address.

No luck.  Not a single video out there of that address.  Not a single video of Bill Watterson.

Watterson is notoriously absent from the Internet, the JD Salinger of cartooning.  Still, I was surprised that I couldn't find the speech.  As I thought about it, I realized Watterson gave the address in 1990 and that meant there were no....ta da....smartphones in the crowd.  Which means there is probably only one recording of the speech, and that is probably owned by Kenyon.  Which means that Watterson only had to convince Kenyon to never upload it to the Internet.     Since he is a successful alum, I bet that wasn't difficult.  Let's hope the physical tape is stored in a vault somewhere.

I did find transcripts of the address and boy howdy, is it a good one.  But, I knew there was no way most of you would ever sit in front of a computer screen and read a commencement address. It wouldn't be top on my list and I'm the creator of the post!  So I decided to take the time to thoughtfully read Watterson's address and post the statements that jumped off the screen at me.  Of course, sometimes I have to pipe in; you'll find my comments in italics.

It's surprising how hard we'll work when the work is just for us.

I notice this all the time.  If I'm creating, whether singing, playing, composing or writing because I want to be, I'm engaged.  Completely.  Hours fly by.  I don't even get hungry.  Which is saying a lot coming from me.  You know that feeling, right?

If' I've learned one thing from being a cartoonist, it's how important playing is to creativity and happiness.

Which made me approach my work more like play, and also reminded me to play more in life.

We're not really taught how to recreate constructively.  We need to do more than find diversions; we need to restore and expand ourselves.  Our idea of relaxing is all too often to plop down in front of the television set and let its pandering idiocy liquefy our brains.  Shutting off the thought process is not rejuvenating; the mind is like a car battery - it recharges by running.

Whatever happened to hobbies?

Out in the world, you'll have to find the inner motivation to search for new ideas on your bright, creative people, you'll be called upon to generate ideas and solutions all your lives.  Letting your mind play is the best way to solve problems.

Inner motivation.  Crucial for professional creators.  Our lives are filled with initiating an idea, taking the first step, presenting our skills because we can't think of anything else we would rather do.  And there's that word play again.

If you indulge your natural curiosity and retain a sense of fun in new experience, I think you'll find it functions as a sort of shock absorber for the bumpy road ahead.  

For years I got nothing but rejection letters, and I was forced to accept a real job.

See?  You and I are NOT the only people who deal with rejection on a regular basis.  Rejection doesn't mean we aren't talented or we aren't good people.  Rejection usually means we aren't the right fit for this project at this time.  That's temporary.

I tell you all this because it's worth recognizing that there is no such thing as an overnight success.

And that can be tough to accept.

You will do well to cultivate the resources in yourself that bring you happiness outside of success or failure.  The truth is, most of us discover where we are headed when we arrive.  At that time, we turn around and say, yes, this is obviously where I was going all along.  It's a good idea to try to enjoy the scenery on the detours, because you'll probably take a few.

To endure five years of rejection to get a job requires either a faith in oneself that borders on delusion, or a love of the work.  I loved the work.

That's a good question to ask every so often.  Do I love this work?

We all have different desires and needs, but if we don't discover what we want from ourselves and what we stand for, we will live passively and unfulfilled.

We defined ourselves by our actions.  With each decision, we tell ourselves and the world who we are.  Think about what you want out of this life, and recognize that there are many kinds of success.

What do you want?  What does a typical day, say a Tuesday, look like in your successful life?  What does success look like for you?  Your unique answer is the one you must seek.

Creating a life that reflects your values and satisfies your soul is a rare achievement.  In a culture that relentlessly promotes avarice and excess as the good life, a person happy doing his own work is usually considered an eccentric, if not a subversive...Someone who takes an undemanding job because it affords him the time to pursue other interests and activities is considered a flake.  A person who abandons a career in order to stay home and raise children is considered not to be living up to his potential - as if a job title and salary are the sole measure of human worth.

Hear hear!  It takes a brave and courageous soul to choose this journey.

To invent your own life's meaning is not easy, but it's still allowed, and I think you'll be happier for the trouble.

Intriqued?  Here's the entire transcript.

Monday, June 9, 2014

And There's A Monkey On The Desk!

Yes, we had a great time at the Creatavita Birthday Party yesterday.  No, there wasn't a monkey on the desk at the party.  Or on a pedestal (musical theatre fans, what's the reference?).

As you can see from the smiling faces below, it was a small party.  Hey, Creatavita is a toddler and you don't want to overwhelm toddlers, so I kept the guest list small to begin with.  But I forgot that guests have other commitments, especially if their livelihood is in the performing arts.  Then there were the technical glitches with the contest.  Yee haw, I was really messing this one up, or so I thought.  

In the end, it was delightful.  Cynthia Heininger, the illustrator of Annie The Artist, and Jackie Lacinski, one of the BD Party contest winners, joined me at the World Headquarters for the celebration.  As you can see, we had drinks, games, food and fun!  The three of us swapped travel stories with glee, because you have to be a traveler to truly appreciate other people's mishaps and adventures.  If you tell these stories to non-travelers, they're not as funny.  Cynthia's wacky story about the monkey on the desk in a Indian hotel room was probably the best story we heard, but Jackie's story which included crying while laying down in the middle of the road also in India, came darn close.  I've not yet been to India yet.  The closest I could get was an extraordinary encounter with the Egyptian travel police.

I bought the sweet treats at Bryn Mawr's newest local business, Sweet Freedom Bakery.  I really liked the Salted Caramel cupcake (to the left, with the chocolate frosting).  The other two enjoyed the Cinnamon Sugar Cruller (bottom of the photo).  In full disclosure, I ate the Raspberry Crumb Bar after the guests left.  Very tasty.

And another plug for local business, because I believe in shopping local.  Guests received a gift bag, including gifts purchased at our fabulous independent bookstore, Main Point Books.  Main Point recently celebrated their first year anniversary.  Of course with my propensity towards celebrations, I had to attend.  I bought a few books, a few gifts and I won a prize!!

Amber and Emily of Main Point Books (I hope I got those names right) are friendly and very helpful.  Clearly, this staff LOVES books.  Check them out!

Thanks again to every single one of you that reads this blog.  As I communicate with you, whether via the Internet or in person, you help me figure out what this blog wants to be.  Here's to another year of creativity!

Tuesday, June 3, 2014


We have winners!

The Creatavita Birthday Party Contest ended last Saturday.  After a swarm of technical difficulties in the middle of the week, which the IT Department was finally able to fix, the contest blasted to the end of the week with droves of submissions.

Seriously?  I unwittingly locked down the comments portion of the post and had to figure it out.  Thanks to two followers who stuck with me, attempting to post comments and communicating when they couldn't, I fixed the problem.

And the droves of submissions?  Not really.  But some of you did, so not only will there be fun at this Sunday's party, but I have some great ideas for upcoming posts.

Our winners are:
Jackie Lacinski
Shelly Payson
Dan Stroiman

Thanks for playing!

Friday, May 23, 2014

Creatavita Birthday Party Contest

Creatavita is turning two next month.  To celebrate, we'll be having a birthday party at the Creatavita World Headquarters and three lucky readers will have the opportunity to join us!  All you have to do is submit right here on the blog one idea for an upcoming Creatavita post.  Yup, it is very possible that a visit to the world headquarters, complete with cake, fun and prizes, is in your future.

Here's the fine print:

Submit your idea right here on the blog, in the Comments section below (NOT on Facebook, NOT on Twitter, NOT on Google+, NOT via email).

One idea per comment, please. (I suddenly feel like a cereal company)

Three (three, tres, trois, drei) ideas will be chosen by the Creatavita Board of Directors (that's me, my dog and sometimes one of my BFFs).

This contest ends at 12:00 am on Saturday, May 31, 2014.

I think I'm supposed to say something like void where prohibited.  Yeah.  That sounds good.

So submit those ideas and maybe you'll be a winner.  Hey, everybody loves a winner.

Thursday, May 15, 2014

Annie The Artist

Annie The Artist
Illustrations by Cynthia Heininger

Once upon a time, there was an Artist named Annie.

Annie worked on lots of nifty arts projects. Sometimes she sang, sometimes she danced,
sometimes she taught other people how to sing and dance. Annie truly loved her work, no matter what kind of project she was working on. Sure, some projects were better than others, but Annie always made the best of the situation. She was that kind of girl.

 One of Annie's projects happened once a year, sort of like Christmas or your birthday. Annie had worked on this project for a few years and she was noticing that it was less fulfilling every year. But Annie stuck with it because she thought she could make the project work. Annie was that kind of girl.

One day, Annie became so frustrated, she yelled at the people working on the project with her. Annie doesn't like to yell. That felt yucky. Annie went home and drank a bottle of wine. That felt better. But Annie knew that wasn't the best solution. Annie was that kind of girl.

When the project ended that year, Annie knew she had to find a gracious way to let go of it. She couldn't think of a good way out, so she decided to think about it later. That was smart of Annie. She had time on her side. But, Annie forgot to remember how yucky the project felt. Oh, Annie's Gut was trying to tell her, but Annie didn't listen to her Gut. So when the time to start the project again, Annie had forgotten both of those things and she decided to do the project for one more year. Annie's gut screamed, “NO, NO, NO, NO, NO!!!!” Annie The Artist told her gut to shut up. Annie made mistakes some times. She was that kind of girl.

The time came for Annie The Artist to start working on the Once-A-Year-Not-So-Fulfilling Project (Annie thought giving the project a funny name would help her get through it. Right). Every once in a while, Annie would get that feeling in her Gut, but she ignored it. Then one day, Annie got some bad news about the project. Annie stood in the middle of her studio and did a silent scream. Then she called Mr. Producer of the Once-A-Year-Not-So-Fulfilling Project and said, “Out! I want out!” Okay, Annie's too nice to talk like that. Annie said, “I don't think I can do this project this year. There are too many difficulties. I'm sorry to tell you at such a late date. I am sure Arthur The Artist will be glad to do it for you.” Mr. Producer said, “Annie, this is bad timing. Why didn't you tell me about this sooner? We don't want Arthur The Artist, we want YOU.” Annie felt conflicted. She was that kind of girl.

Annie also felt terrible from her head to her tippy toes. She had made every mistake she could possibly make, including the worst mistake of them all – IGNORING HER GUT. But feeling terrible helped Annie put her smarts back on. Once Annie made a mistake, she could usually figure a successful way out. She was that kind of girl.

She told Mr. Producer she would think have to think about all of this and that she would get back to him. Instead of obsessing about the project, Annie decided to take a vacation from the project. She sang, she danced and she did her best to forget about it for the rest of the day. Finally! Annie was getting her act together. She was that kind of girl.

The next morning, after a good night's rest, Annie The Artist woke up, ate breakfast and went to her computer. She wrote a sensible, professional email to Mr. Producer, laying out the difficulties of the project, acknowledging her failures and laying out the circumstances she needed to go forward. She read the email once, twice, three times and then she walked away. She swept the floor and then she returned to her computer and sent the email. Annie immediately felt better. In fact, she felt so good, she went to the grocery store and she left her smartphone at home! She was that kind of girl.

By the time Annie came back, Mr. Producer had written a response. After a few more emails, Annie and he were able to find a way forward that works for everybody. But that's not the end of the story.

Annie The Artist will work on the project again this year, with better conditions. She'll let go of her mistakes and focus on creating the best project possible.  If Mr. Producer calls again next year, she'll graciously say no and tell him all about her wonderful colleague Arthur The Artist.

Annie The Artist also received a gift from this um, situation. The gift? The revelation that every creative project she takes on has to have two of the following three qualities – artistic fulfillment, personal connection and a good paycheck. Annie had received this gift before, but not wrapped up like this one. Even though she had to go through some yucky stuff to receive this gift, Annie is very grateful. She is that kind of girl.

AND, Annie The Artist was reminded, once again, to listen to her Gut.

THAT'S the end of the story.

Monday, May 5, 2014

Get On The Bus

I've waited one year to publish this post. By the end, you'll know why.

One year ago, I had one of those unbelievable life experiences. The kind that offer a look into another part of life. A part of life we don't experience very often. At least most of us. I had to wait two weeks to even start writing about this experience. I'm not really sure where to start. Hence I haven't really said much yet, have I?

Okay, I'll start.

I'm hesitant to put this experience down on paper, on a screen, to take it out of my body. It was quite powerful. I'm nervous that putting it in black and white takes away the power, the color and the depth of the experience. I'm extremely concerned that my experience will be misunderstood. And I don't know where to start.

Okay, I'll start.

I was called home to Wisconsin in the early part of May, 2013. My 92-year-old father, Rev. Stan Hayes (the Rev. part, as you can imagine, is important to this story), had suffered a heart attack. The prospects of recovery were grim. You'd think I could have easily made the decision to get there as soon as possible. I couldn't. Something told me I could wait, in fact I should wait. Something told me to be last. That's another story. For the sake of brevity, let me tell you that I got there late on the first Sunday of May. Out of the seven siblings that make up the Hayes family, I was the last.

I now know why I was the last. I had to be the last. I had to help my father leave this life and go to the next.  Oh, it's not that everybody else wasn't there to help, but my help, well, let's just say it was unique.

Now you're thinking I'm one of those crazy Christians. I'm not. It is true that I was raised in a Christian household, by a United Methodist minister and his wife. Both were believers and raised their children in the ways of American Christianity of the mid-20th-century, which was not nearly as demonstrative as American Christianity of the 21st century. For some reason, this upbringing caused a spiritual blossoming in me that embraces aspects of many religious beliefs. This belief system, if you want to call it that, probably appears to many to be wacky, paper-thin, easily blown over by anyone who has taken a basic theology or philosophy course. To others it appears to be open, warm and loving. Throughout my life, this belief system has served me extremely well, so for now I will stick with it. I'll tell you this – I am open to as many possibilities as possible. This means wacky is as possible as intellectual.

By the time I arrived in the hospital room, Dad was clearly wigged out from his morphine drip. He never opened his eyes, but I know that he recognized my presence. He was peaceful for the first couple of hours and then some respiratory distress kicked in. I didn't think the distress was out of the ordinary (“my husband breathes like that lots of night”, I said to my concerned sister. She gave me one of those older sister looks). I was wrong. Fortunately, the two other sisters who were in the room had been there for a couple of days; they recognized this level of distress as something extraordinary and called two other sisters who had gone home for some much-needed and deserved rest. They returned and the five of us took turns holding Dad's hands, wetting his lips with a cloth, holding his legs, basically the laying on of hands. The power of touch.

At one point I looked out the large window of the lovely hospital suite (modern American medicine is approaching hotel-quality experiences for the families of the ill and dying) and saw an airplane approaching. There's not a large airport within 50 miles of this particular hospital, so I thought that was odd. But even odder was this extremely clear thought that passed through my head - “That's for Dad.”

I sat for a long time with my hands on Dad's left calf, covered by a quilt lovingly made by one of my sisters (a number of them are quilters). With eyes closed, I meditated on sending good energy through my body to him. And that's when the first clear image came to me. The image of a bus. Yup. A bus.

The bus was a nice bus. Old, probably from the 1950s, but clean and felt new. White and red. The bus drove up to my left, stopped and opened its doors. Immediately I realized the bus had come for Dad and my purpose was to get him on the bus.

At this point, I need to tell you that my father was a United Methodist minister and that his salary did not always cover the expenses of having 7 children. When I was 4 or 5, Dad took an extra job driving school bus for our local school district. I loved this time, as I would go along and Dad would let ME open and close the door with the very cool, complicated handle. So when the bus showed up, this is where my mind went. “How cool. The bus has come for Dad. Interesting that it isn't a school bus. I think that's a good sign. This is one of those buses that goes long distances. He'll be more comfortable”. These thoughts went on for, well, I don't know how long. It felt like 45 minutes.

Then I realized Dad was not getting on the bus. He was standing on the pavement in front of the open door, but not getting on the bus. He wasn't scared, he wasn't belligerent, he just wasn't getting on the bus. My mind immediately flashed to What About Bob?, a 1991 Bill Murray film, where Bill, er, Bob, has trouble getting on a bus.

Did I find it absurd that my father is dying and I'm thinking of Bill Murray? You bet. I tried to clear the idea out of my mind. “Come on,” I said to myself, “this is serious business! Your father is dying! This is no time for a joke.”

And then I realized it WAS time for a joke. It WAS time to feel the light-hearted breeze of this moment. Because just like Bob, my father was having trouble getting on the bus. He needed help, and very soon, it became clear to me that he needed MY help.

Let's step back for a second and review the situation. A 92-year-old man, a respected member of communities throughout the Midwest, is dying. He is surrounded by 5 of his 7 adult children. Some of them are crying; some are praying; some are checking his medical situation. And then there's me, with my brain taken over by a zany 1991 Bill Murray movie. Oh man. The guilt for being the last one in must have me in some strange hallucinogenic state. Oh well.

What did I do? I gave into Bill, er, Bob and I mentally started to tell my father, “You have to get on the bus. You need to get on the bus. You should get on the bus. Come on Dad, get on the bus.” Finally,  just like Wing, the bus driver did for Bob, I resorted to mentally yelling at him,“Get on the bus!”.

It's okay. Dad and I had that kind of relationship. Sometimes I just had to get serious with him, like when he would complain about a cousin that he found particularly annoying. I would remind him that the cousin was ill and needed compassion and patience, even though that was difficult. Reads nicer than it did as those words came flying out of my mouth. Anyway, this was one of those times.

Did he get on the bus? Yes, he did. Did I see him get on the bus? No, I can't tell you that I did. But I did feel his spirit leave the room, around 3:00 am. His body was still alive at that point, and would stay alive until just before 6:00 am. But he got on the bus around 3:00 am.

Dad officially died. We called the rest of the family. Those who were in the area came to say goodbye. We drank coffee, we discussed preliminary details, we talked to a lovely chaplain, some of us went out for breakfast. I went back to my hotel room and felt remarkably elated. I was happy. Happy for Dad. He got on the bus and he was happy to be on the bus. He hadn't suffered much. We had all gotten there. We were there to help him go to the next place. We could plan his funeral, which would be a celebration.

There's some things you need to know about my father. Stan was born a farmer. Actually, I think he would have loved to have been a farmer, but he was the second son, so the farm went to his older brother. After his first retirement, he returned to work the farm (as well as continue to preach) with his nephew. He always gardened. He loved the green, he loved the black. Because of this, he, like most people who live and breathe farming, understood and embraced the cycle of life and death. Death was not a scary proposition when you talked to Dad. And he didn't give you all that “Jesus will be there waiting for you to wash away your sins” kind of talk. His faith was quiet, but deep. Sometimes it is time to leave this life. There is another life. It is a better life. We all get to go there.

I told you earlier he was a minister. His specialty was being with people in times of great distress. As news of his death spread, story after story came to us. Stories like:

I've never forgotten when I was 10 and my mother died and your father came to comfort my 3 siblings and me. He made a frightened child know that it was going to be okay.”

Stan came to the hospital on Christmas Day to be with my husband when he was very sick. He sat there with us when he could have been celebrating. I've never forgotten that.”

Story after story of Stan's amazing ability to be there in the scariest moments and to make people know that it was going to be okay.

Somehow, this understanding of the beauty, the necessity of death has rubbed off on me. Look, I'll be honest. I was seriously concerned when I got on that plane to see Dad for what would turn out to be the final time. I had never been in the room when another person had died. I knew there was a good chance I would be there for Dad's death. Would this wacky spirituality of mine stand up under the reality of another human dying? And not any human, but the one whose very life was passed on to me?

Yes, it did and I am filled with gratitude for my father and mother for raising me with this deep understanding. Death is not always a sad event for the person who dies, not even for those who stay behind. Yes, some deaths (like the Sandy Hook Massacre) are tragic and unjustified. For these deaths, we cry and mourn and feel the pain and loss. But for someone like Dad, having lived a marvelous life for 92 years and having been the best human he could be, going peacefully, how bad could it be? Why shouldn't he be getting on the bus and leaving? For me, that type of death is certainly not a tragedy. Am I sad? Certainly, but not as sad as I expected.

Hours later, I realized the second level of significance to the bus, one that some of you have certainly thought of already. C.S. Lewis.  The Great Divorce“Okay,” I thought. “There you go. That's where the bus came from. The logical answer is that deep in my subconscious was the memory of a brief encounter with The Great Divorce.”

Perhaps that is the logical answer. But in my wacky spirituality, I found this to be an affirmation of my experience, not a logical explanation. For those of you that are of the rational type, this has probably caused you to roll your eyes and throw whatever device you are reading this on across the room. Sorry.

I was struck then, and I am still struck, by the coming together, the weaving of threads from across the years, the randomness making sense, the awe, the beauty, the joy that I experienced during my Dad's journey. Even in the sad moments I've experienced this past year, as I realize Dad is no longer on this earth, remembering the bus has given me an odd comfort.

And now you know why I've waited a year to tell you this story.