Let Your Hands Decide For You

Hand photoThis past Saturday was my last official reading at the Seattle Public Library with the Jack Straw Writers Program that I’ve been participating in all year.

A few days before I was supposed to fly to Seattle, I came down with a sore throat that quickly transformed into a cold. Should I go? Should I stay home? I wasn’t deathly ill, I was even starting to feel better by the time the morning of my flight arrived but should I push myself to go or stay home?

To help me find clarity, I played a decision game that I had recently learned from Vicki Lind. I put my two hands in front of me and formed cups with each palm. In my left hand I put “not going” and felt how that felt. In my right hand I put “going” and felt how that felt.

I noticed that in my left hand, the “not going” felt heavy, constricted and no fun.

In my right hand, the “going” felt light, buoyant and joyful, like it just wanted to be tossed into the air.

I flew to Seattle.

I had written a new open to my memoir and read that. It didn’t matter that my voice was hoarse. Many of the writers in my group, who’ve heard me read different versions of the opening, told me how much they liked my latest draft. We went out to eat and I flew back home, exhausted but happy.

I’m still living off the good energy of our reading and astonished, once again, how encouragement from writers I admire is like jet fuel in my gas tank. The doubts and negativity that sometimes threaten to derail me, shrank to nothingness and my memoir revisions took precedence all week.

Try this exercise the next time you have a decision to make that you can’t bend your mind around. Put one decision in one hand and the other decision in the other hand. Feel the weight in each. What do you learn? What do you decide to do?

Photo Credit: <a href=”https://www.flickr.com/photos/21485466@N00/367363319/”>Amrit…</a> via <a href=”http://compfight.com”>Compfight</a> <a href=”https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nc/2.0/”>cc</a>

 

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3 Ways to Expect More From Your Art

261376319_564c41d4bf_oToday in my yoga class, our teacher began the class by asking us if we were expecting too much from our yoga practice. Like was I expecting my yoga practice to ensure that I’d never lose my temper again or feel annoyed at that person who holds the elevator for everyone — even the people outside the lobby doors.

Her question made me ask myself: am I expecting too much from my art? (Which in my case, is my writing.) Am I secretly hoping that if I have enough success from it, I’ll never feel angry or annoyed or sad again?

Or, this is scarier: am I NOT expecting enough from my art? Am I NOT expecting it’s going to make a difference to me or anyone else? Am I neglecting it? Is it running around without a winter coat, in need of a new haircut? Am I spending enough time with it? Time and care that it needs to grow and prosper? Are you?

In a Writer’s Digest webinar I took earlier this week about “How to Blog Meaningfully and Grow Your Audience” with Jane Friedman, she advised to give your blog a year. If you quit too soon, you miss out on what she called the “snowball effect.”

Am I devoting enough time to my writing so that I’ll benefit from the snowball effect of my years of writing? Are you?

I’ve been writing a memoir this year by just focusing on gathering the next snowflake. Now I’m done. In the next couple of months I’ll make minor revisions, research agents and publishers, buff my query letter and perfect my elevator speech.

The heft of the manuscript in my hand is proof of the snowball effect. Those few fluttery first pages have grown into a heavy snowball. If I threw it, it would have an impact.

Jane encouraged us to use numbers in our blogs. So, in the spirit of practicing what I learned, these are three ways you can expect more from your art practice:

  1. Pay attention to it: Show up when you say you will and stick to staying with the practice, even if it means just sitting there. Those emails can wait.
  2. Find 3 new opportunities that your art can snag for you. This could mean: schedule a reading, submit to a new publication, enter a competition. Expect your art to work hard for you.
  3. Expect that your art is going to change one person’s perspective or enlarge someone’s life. Take a look at it: is there some way you can take that painting or that essay further so it will have more of an impact?

Your art can’t make your life easy. But it will change your life if you expect enough from it.

Photo Credit: <a href=”https://www.flickr.com/photos/51316695@N00/261376319/”>east_lothian_museums</a> via <a href=”http://compfight.com”>Compfight</a> <a href=”https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nc-sa/2.0/”>cc</a>

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Guest Blog: How actor and writer Brynn Baron deals with rejection

Brynn Baron

Brynn Baron

As an actor and writer, I’ve been thinking lately about how I’ve been dealing with the failure I seem to be having at auditions and with writing submissions. Rejection is not always personal, but it’s too easy to internalize it and get stuck in a “failure loop” if you let it circle and define you, whether it’s a relationship, job interview, raise or promotion. Here are some coping mechanisms I’ve learned and how I keep on track:

1) Have an interesting life. Always plan some essential or fun activity for the hour after putting yourself “out there.” Go run an important errand, meet a friend you haven’t seen for a while, keep a promise to a child, volunteer. This keeps the audition in perspective and reminds me that life is full and complex. My identity isn’t defined by this one success or failure—I’m a busy, fascinating person with stuff to do.

2) Nobody plants an abundant garden by planting just one seed. It takes a “dandelion” mentality to make sure one’s efforts are spread out and multiplied for the strongest possible outcome. Some soil will be stony and infertile, but not all of it. By submitting projects to multiple people, being rejected on just one submission or audition or attempt at friendship loses its sting. A successful playwright friend would proudly show me her stacks of rejection letters as proof of her persistence. She gained valuable feedback and became a stronger writer as a result. Failure cues us to the fact that we’re growing and evolving into experts with each unsuccessful effort.

3) Be true to yourself. It’s better to be rejected for who you are or for a project that you’re passionate about than to be rejected for some abstract idea of what or who you think the decision maker wants. Something amazing happens when you’re authentic and personal in your work. I always tell acting students that the more personal and specific the work is, the more universally relatable it is. “You’ve got to bring your gift,” says filmmaker Blake Robbins (“The Sublime and Beautiful”), “because what if you’re the only one who has it?” Somebody somewhere needs what you have and has never experienced you before.

4) Realize that the search itself can be your successful outcome. Give yourself credit for continuing. Let go of results and just do the work. It’s the fact that you continue to try and don’t give up on what you’re passionate about—that is success, whether it’s getting work, finding an audience, or a mate. Fall in love with your own valiant life as it is at this moment.

Brynn Baron is a Portland screenwriter, producer of two short films, and a 2014 Oregon Actors Award Nominee for her film and stage work. She is a member of SAG-AFTRA and OMPA. She is constantly amazed. To learn more about Brynn, you can visit her on LinkedIn, ImDb, Facebook, @brynnbaron on Twitter, Google +, or watch her in Jacqueline Gault’s Sack Lunch.

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Who Are You Becoming?

As this “new year” begins, I’m thinking about how important it is to make your plans and goals based on who you want to become not only who you’ve been.

If you plan your year based only on what you’ve already done, then the year won’t have enough stretches in it or dreams that ignite your excitement. If you plan it including your vision of who you’re becoming, you’ll build on what you’ve done but it will include room for where you’re dreaming you want to be.

I recently applied this wisdom to my new website design. I was humming along making plans for the new site when all of a sudden it dawned on me that the site design was too narrow. It didn’t include any room for the new areas I’m reaching into. It was more about what I’d done than who I’m becoming.

So, I went back to the drawing board and now I’m in my office sticking post-its to the wall to help me re-imagine the site in a way that holds not only what’s been but what will be.

I mentioned this insight to a graphic designer friend and she said “Yeah. I understand. For me, it was not listing that I could design PowerPoint slides on my resume anymore. I could do it and I had done it, but I didn’t want to do it anymore.” So, the solutions are sometimes simple but the insight is huge.

Who are you becoming? How can you take those inklings of what’s next and have them be part of your plan? For me it was about going back to re-imagine a website design. What is it for you?

If this season has inspired you to sit down and write down your goals and dreams and the baby steps it will take to get there, are you including the vision of who you’ll be in one, two or five years from now? Of course, life will happen in the meantime, but your plans will be way more exciting to you if they include enough room to hold your ambitions. Now, my website design is not drudgery. When I focused on the author I’m becoming, the new design became more fun to imagine. It felt vital and central to manifesting my ambitions for the new year.

How are you leaving room for the buds to bloom in 2015?

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Jack Straw Writers tell “Family Secrets” at Literary Arts on October 2

I’m very excited to invite you to “Family Secrets,” the only Portland reading for this year’s Jack Straw Writers on October 2 at Literary Arts.

I’ll be reading from my new memoir How I Lost My Inheritance and I’m joined by three writers from Seattle’s Jack Straw Writers Program: Claudia Castro Luna, Loreen Lilynn Lee, and Michelle Peñaloza. Curator Felicia Gonzalez hosts.

With this reading’s “Family Secrets” theme, I can promise some raucous, hilarious and outrageous moments.

It would mean so much if you could join me that night and extend a warm welcome to these Seattle writers. Event details:

When: October 2 @ 7:00 pm – 8:30 pm

Where: Literary Arts, 925 SW Washington Street, Portland, OR 97205

You’re welcome to RSVP on the event’s Facebook page.

If you’re a writer, the deadline to apply to the 2015 Jack Straw Writers Program is October 31. I loved the program in which we published an anthology, received vocal and performance training and hosted readings throughout the Pacific Northwest. My year as a Jack Straw Writer has been a highlight of my literary life.

Building front 2013The Jack Straw Writers Program based in Washington, was created in 1997 to introduce local writers to the medium of recorded audio, to develop their presentation skills for both live and recorded readings, to encourage the creation of new literary work, and to provide new venues for the writers and their work.

On October 2, you’ll meet these writers:

Claudia Castro Luna was born in El Salvador and came to the United States in 1981. She studied French and German, earned an MA in Urban Planning from UCLA and taught Spanish to high school students in Oakland, CA. After years of putting writing on the backburner, she finally decided to get serious and earned an MFA in poetry from MillsCollege in 2012. Her poems have appeared in Milvia Street, The Womanist, andRiverbabble. She has been a featured reader for the Berkeley Poetry Festival and for KALW, an NPR affiliate in San Francisco.

Loreen Lilyn Lee grew up in three cultures: Chinese, American, and Hawaiian. Her memoir The Lava Never Sleeps: A Honolulu Memoir tells the stories “I’m not supposed to tell.” She weaves together family secrets; childhood trauma; cultural confusion; and Hawaiian history, geology, and mythology in a journey to discover her authentic self. A Seattle resident since 1986, she graduated from the University of Washington in 1994 as a working adult and began writing her personal stories.

Michelle Peñaloza grew up in Nashville, Tennessee and earned her M.F.A. from the University of Oregon. Her poetry has most recently appeared in Hobart, TriQuarterly, The Weekly Rumpus, and Hyphen Magazine. She is the recipient of the Miriam McFall Starlin Poetry Award, fellowships from Kundiman, the Richard Hugo House, and Literary Arts, as well as scholarships from the Bread Loaf Writers Conference, VONA/Voices Workshop, Vermont Studio Center, and the Napa Valley Writers’ Conference.

Gigi Rosenberg’s current project is How I Lost My Inheritance: A Mother/Daughter Memoir. She’s performed at On the Boards, been a guest commentator on Oregon Public Radio, and been published by Seal Press, Poets & Writers, Writer’s Digest, and Parenting. The author of The Artist’s Guide to Grant Writing (Watson-Guptill, 2010), Gigi lives in Portland.

Felicia Gonzalez hosts.

Felicia Gonzalez hosts.

2014 Writers Program Curator Felicia Gonzalez was born in Cuba. She believes that language and the act of speaking are not only physical, but also have a geographic presence. An alumna of Hedgebrook Writers Retreat and the Jack Straw Writers Program, her writing has received numerous awards including a 2007 Artist Trust/Washington State Arts Commission Fellowship.

 

Please let me know if you can join us in October 2. I so look forward to seeing you!

 

 

 

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I’m now Editor at ‘Professional Artist’ magazine

The August/September 2014 cover of 'Professional Artist' magazine

The August/September 2014 cover of ‘Professional Artist’ magazine.

I’m delighted to announce that I’ve been named Editor of Professional Artist, the business magazine for visual artists. Ever since I was in junior high school, I’ve wanted to edit a magazine so when this opportunity opened, I jumped at the chance.

I’ve been at it since early last month and so far, I love it. All the ideas for marketing and funding that come across my desk now have a home. I can either write about them for the magazine or assign them to one of our contributors. And now, I’m exposed to even more resources I can share with the artists I coach.

Professional Artist is based in Orlando, Florida but I can edit it from my office in downtown Portland. Since it’s part-time, I continue to coach artists, offer presentation coaching, teach workshops and work on my own creative writing projects.

I love running my own business, but one thing I always missed from the days when I had a “real job” was the social aspect of work, of working with a team towards a shared goal. I partner with artists and arts associations in the coaching and teaching that I do but it’s time-limited. After the workshop is over, we won’t talk again until the next time which could be a year away.

Now, I have colleagues – the publisher, the assistant editor of the magazine and our contributing writers. I really enjoy working with them to create the best business magazine for visual artists.

To learn more about the magazine or to purchase this issue or subscribe, visit http://bit.ly/1r8L3bV

You can still reach me at gigi@gigirosenberg.com or if you have a story idea, email me at grosenberg@professionalartistmag.com.

 

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Ask your questions, while you still can

 This story appeared in this week’s newsletter. It was so popular – I received dozens of comments about it – I decided to post it on my blog in case you missed it.

My father, the illustrator and painter, Robert Shore, sculpting in his New York City studio in the early 60s. Photo by Ken Wittenberg.

My father, the illustrator and painter, Robert Shore, sculpting in his New York City studio in the early 60s. Photo by Ken Wittenberg.

Since I last wrote, my beloved father, the illustrator and painter Robert Shore, passed away on April 30 at the age of ninety.

Over the years, my father had inscribed and given me many of the books he illustrated including Moby Dick by Herman Melville, Heart of Darkness by Joseph Conrad and The Jungle Books by Rudyard Kipling, among others.

After his death, to console myself, I decided to hunt down another copy of Moby Dick and visited biblio.com which lets you search used books by illustrator. Not only did I find a copy of the Melville classic, I found and ordered several other books my father illustrated that I never knew about.

It was bittersweet when the week after my order, packages arrived at my doorstep each day including Home is the North by Walt Morey and Bitter Victory: A History of Black Soldiers in WW I by Florette Henri among several others.

I’m happy to have these books to hold in my hand, to see my father’s name on their covers, and look at the illustrations inside that are so undeniably his. But I’m sorry I can’t ask him about each project.

On one of my last visits with my father, I told him I was writing a memoir.

“You have quite a story to tell,” he said.

“I’d like to interview you.”

“Hmmm,” he said, sounding a little wary.

“You don’t have to talk to me,” I said. “I’m going to write the memoir either way but I’d rather have your story.”

He was silent for a moment.

“What do you want to know?” he said at last.

“How did you and my mother meet?” I asked knowing he might not want to talk about the woman he’d divorced more than 50 years ago.

He paused.

“You really want me to tell you?”

“Yes, Dad.”

He told me a story that solved a deep mystery in my memoir and is now one of the final chapters.

After the interview, he was full of energy.

“Wow. I feel so much better I told you,” he said. “It’s better to let it out.”

“Thanks, Dad.” I’m sorry now that he won’t get to read it.

What questions do you want to ask while you still can? From a person, from a place, about an event? I’m glad I persevered and that my father sat for that last interview.

Before the year runs out, visit that place, talk to that person, ask your questions. You never know what gold you may find. Then, tell me what happened. I’d love to hear.

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Apply for a residency or make your own

Summer seems the perfect season to consider a residency – a time to indulge for an extended period, in a special place, just for your art.

Sometimes, a residency deadline is even more important than the next grant deadline. A residency can help you find your new direction or deepen the work you’ve already started. Building a body of work, no matter the stage of your career, is often the best next step.

Some websites list residencies all over the world – where you could be the only artist or one among many. Some residencies even provide stipends to cover some expenses. As many of you have heard me say in my workshops, you could secure a prestigious residency and then apply for a professional development grant to pay for the costs of attending like travel, childcare, and so on.

For free information on international residencies visit:

http://www.transartists.org/ or

http://www.resartis.org/en/

For residency information for a fee, visit

http://www.artistcommunities.org/

But what if you feel like a residency tomorrow or next week? Then make one for yourself!

Remember that a residency consists of two parts: time and space. So, find a time and block it out on your calendar. It could be a morning or a day. The space could be your office or your studio with the wi-fi turned off and a candle burning to remind you that this day is special.

Or you could host a day for a couple of artists to meet in your home or studio – with all your phones turned off and some guidelines for when you’ll work, when you’ll share and when you’ll eat lunch.

When I need a residency, I block out a day in my office. I don’t need to announce it to anyone. I prepare the night before so I know exactly what I’ll work on. When I arrive, I unplug wi-fi so I have fewer temptations to escape. I might buy lunch that day (so it feels more special than my usual brown bag lunch). I might use my timer and plan time for stretching so I can keep my body lose between the stillness of writing.

Find a residency by looking at these websites or make your own even if the best you can do is a mini-residency – it can make all the difference in your work.

Then, write me and tell me how it all worked out. I’d love to hear.

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Let Yourself Arrive

After you walk to the podium or step onto the stage to read or give a talk “let yourself arrive,” said Elizabeth Austen, at the performance workshop I attended last Sunday at Jack Straw Productions in Seattle.

Don’t rush, especially at the beginning, she said, because “it takes the audience a few moments to tune its ears to your voice.”

Austen is a poet, trained actress, Washington State Poet Laureate, and an inspiring, insightful performance coach. She has a knack for bringing out the best in the poets, memoirists and novelists among us – twelve writers reading in different genres, with different presentation styles, and different needs for each piece of writing. She helped us identify our natural gifts as performers and our challenges with many tips for how to “best serve the work.”

If you live in Seattle and want to see how this year’s Jack Straw Writers applied Austen’s coaching to our work, please join us on May 2, 9, or 16 at 7 pm at Jack Straw Productions. (I’m reading May 9 and would love to see you there.)

I want to share three more tips with you from Austen’s workshop that may help you when you rehearse for a talk or a reading:

  1. “You are not the work,” she said. The performer you is different than the writer you (or the artist you). The way I think about this is when I’m reading a work or giving a talk, it’s as if I’m playing me in a movie. But it’s not “me.”
  2. You’re performing (or presenting) “in service of the work,” she said. Think about what style will best serve your audience and your work. For example, you may be a shy person but your work may be large and loud. Can you stretch yourself as a performer so you can be as big as your words need you to be?
  3. “Don’t let the word ‘perform’ scare you,” she said. “To perform is to activate, to bring something to life.” That’s all and that’s everything.

What else do you know to be true for you when you perform or talk in front of an audience? What questions do you have about how to apply this wisdom to your own performances? I’d like to know. Comment here.

Elizabeth Austen (right) coaches Loreen Lilyn Lee

Elizabeth Austen (right) coaches Loreen Lilyn Lee.

Kristen Millares Young rehearses at our performance workshop.

Kristen Millares Young rehearses at our performance workshop.

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The gold to be found in rejection

Another rejection letter landed in my mailbox recently and I didn’t toss it in the recycling bin as quickly as I used to. Instead, I read it carefully. Because I’ve learned that you never know what gold you may find.

It used to be that to rid myself of the sting of “no” I would scan the letter and throw it away almost in one motion. I wanted to rid myself of that rejected feeling asap.

Then, once, as I was skimming, I read this sentence: “We encourage you to apply again next year.”

Hmmm. I thought. “I bet they say that to everyone.”

I decided to find out if they did in fact write that to everyone so I called the organization. After thanking them for reviewing my application, I  said, “I’m just wondering but did everyone receive the same rejection letter? Because mine encouraged me to apply again next year.”

“We had two rejection letters we sent,” the woman said. “So you received the better one.”

This wasn’t the acceptance I wanted but this meant a lot: it was encouragement to keep going. It was an invitation to look at my work again. It was what all artists want: an audience.

Here’s a few sentences from that last rejection I received:

We received more than 1,500 applications and can offer 40 residencies. Though your application did not advance into the final round this year, we want you to know that your work resonated with our reviewers. Sending work into the world is an act of bravery, and we appreciate the opportunity to experience your voice.

I didn’t need to call them this time.

Of course I was sorry to lose but this letter provided some gold. First, it showed me just how stiff the competition was this year. Second, it complemented my work and acknowledged my bravery. That took the sting out, and even better, propelled me back to the writing desk.

Also, I made a mental note for the next time I need to write a rejection letter: What I write can either open up a relationship or shut it down. Because of this organization’s nice letter, even though they rejected me, I still feel warmly toward them. Perhaps I’ll take a workshop with them or, when I’m feeling generous, give them a donation. In other words, they haven’t lost me.

Have you ever encountered some gold in a rejection? I’d love to hear. Comment here.

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