Eco Shop n’ Swap Market @ Eastwood Collegiate

This amazing day includes an Eco-friendly art market in the ECI gym showcasing work from both professional artists and from our own talented student artists. Come and SHOP!

AND don’t forget to check out the awesome clothing SWAP in the cafeteria from 12-3pm. Early donation drop-off 10am.

  • One donated item = one ticket.
  • $5 entry fee for the Swap
  • Buy New items for one ticket or $2 each. Fundraising for the Arts program and ECI impact club, providing recycling program within the school and other sustainable activities.

Live music will be provided throughout the day by our talented Eastwood musicians, and a concession booth will be open selling coffee, tea and muffins.

  • Funds raised from the Eco Shop table rentals will support the Integrated Arts Program at Eastwood.
  • Funds raised from the Eco Swap will be split between the Eastwood Environment Impact Team and the Integrated Arts Program

I’ll be there, with all four books for sale. It’s the perfect place to sell stories about dance, and selling my books also supports arts programming at the high school level. Even if you don’t need to buy any books from me, come out to see what other artists–both professional and student–are doing and support the arts.

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Alejandro Álvarez Cadilla: How a Dancer Becomes a Producer

With Change on the Horizon, Cadilla Moved Towards It

Life is full of transitions, and I won’t bore you with a list of all the usual ones. But as you explore your creativity, remember that transitions can happen here, too. Bored with painting? Try writing. Need to move more? Try dancing. Need to move less? Try painting. Professional creatives go through transitions, too, and if they’re lucky, it’s by choice. For Alejandro Álvarez Cadilla, creator of the new CBC mini-series mockumentary Off Kilter, that’s what happened.

Reaching Dreams Early

Cadilla had reached the height of his professional dance career, dancing as a principal dancer for Nacho Duarto in Spain.“It was like a dream come true,” Cadilla says of getting that job back in 2004. But three years into his dream job, things began to change. Cadilla started to get a little bored with performing on stage and knew he needed something more fulfilling. Moreover, he knew he’d have to transition eventually—all dancers do—and he didn’t want to wait for his body to give up first.

Just by chance, Cadilla took a script-writing class, where he had to write and film a short autobiographical film on whatever he wanted to. Being a stage professional himself, he filmed a short on stage fright.

“I just had a crappy camcorder and I edited it on iMovie, and it did really well in film festivals,” he says. That’s when he realized he had an eye for framing and a knack for storytelling. “So I really became curious.”

Cadilla continued dancing for another year or two and opted to try acting. But even after completing one year at the Oxford School of Drama, something was still missing.

“As much as I enjoy performing—I’d been performing for so long—it wasn’t that I didn’t find it fulfilling, it’s that I was kind of tired of being on the the receiving end of someone else’s opinion as it pertains to whether I was going to get a job or not.”

The Main Difference for Cadilla Between On Stage and Off Stage

Performers are all subject to the same process: being selected isn’t just based on their ability. As aware as I was of that (and it was part of the reason I didn’t want to even attempt a professional dance career), it stared me in the face a few years ago when I took my son to see the So You Think You Can Dance tour. Suddenly, the camera wasn’t there to “smoothen things out” and each dancer’s true strengths and weaknesses shouted at me like a seller at a market.

“You can’t pitch yourself as an actor or dancer,” Cadilla says, “but it works as a writer because you pitch a project. Everyone’s looking for a good story, so that gave me much more of an outlet.”

The thing with transitions is that they don’t have to be all or nothing, and they weren’t for Cadilla. Although not all of his productions involve dance, Off Kilter is a comedy set in the dance world, and Cadilla draws heavily from his experiences.

Bringing Dance in Front of the Camera

“I wanted anything related to dance, anything that happens in the studio, I wanted it to be something that a real dancer looks at and says, ‘Okay, that’s really what happened. That’s really what they say. That’s really what they do. That’s really the workflow.’”

 If all I’d heard about the new series was that it was a dance comedy, I likely wouldn’t have tuned in. Sure, a comedy about the dance world is new, but I find almost all dance shows are about some young dancer trying to make it. For example:

  • Center Stage: 12 teens enrol in the American Ballet Academy and aspire to future dance careers.
  • Billy Elliot: a young boy from a mining town tries to get in to the Royal Ballet .
  • A Chorus Line: lots of dancers audition for a few spots in a show.

There’s Dance Academy, Save the Last Dance (the protagonist wanted to be a professional dancer until things were cut short), Black Swan (she wants the lead in Swan Lake), Dirty Dancing, Flashdance…the list goes on. Yes, there are exceptions, but that’s generally the plot line.

Off Kilter is Definitely On Topic

Alejandro Álvarez Cadilla as Milton Frank, taking a shower in "Off Kilter."Instead of giving us more of the above but just funny, Cadilla took what he had seen in the dance world and fed it into these eight short episodes. For example, you’ll see an “old” ballerina (she’s only 39) whose body is starting to break down on her, but she has to support a child at home and deal with her ex-husband’s young new girlfriend.

“I enjoyed Black Swan,” Cadilla says, “but I can tell you that there isn’t a single soloist at the American Ballet Theatre that lives at home with her mom in a pink room with teddy bears. Those women are made of hardened steel because at a company like ABT or The National [Ballet of Canada], the workload is so intense.”

And instead of focussing the show on a young dancer, Cadilla turned the lens on to an aging choreographer, played by Cadilla himself, trying to make a comeback after a plagiarism scandal in the 90s.

I found the whole take refreshingly creative.

How Does Cadilla Create?

So let’s bring this post to a close with my favourite question: Does Cadilla have any last thoughts on creativity before we finish our interview?

“One thing that’s really important for me in terms of how I create is that I always take the time to not do anything. The way that I write is that I sit down and just start writing. And I take pauses. I’ll have a cup of coffee, and I’ll think.”

Although Cadilla understands the allure and the need of social media, he’s not big on it himself.

“If we’re constantly looking for that chemical stimuli we get whenever we get a like on something, you’re never going to be able to slow down and let your own creativity develop. Because it’s a slow process. It’s something that takes the time to just sit down and ponder,” he says.

I told him how much I agreed with him. One change I made several years ago was to stop watching TV while in the kitchen, even if I was washing dishes. It lets me mull over problems I’m experiencing in my own creative projects, and, maybe more importantly, lets my brain not think about something for a change.

(I still watch something if I’m ironing, though: that one’s hard to give up.)

As you explore your creative side, don’t be afraid to try different creative outlets. Creativity flows through us from one medium to the next, and Cadilla has embraced that flow fully.

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Watching Artists Grow Up

Mike Nesmith and Micky Dolenz in concert, flnaked by lead guitarist left and Christian Nesmith right.Getting hooked on to a group part way through their career is liking getting sucked into a syndicated novel series like Nancy Drew. You get to discover what came before while you wait for what comes next.

Last night, I got to see two musicians who are now in their 70s, and who hooked me in with their kooky, psychedelic 60s TV show when I was 9 (which was in the 80s): Mike Nesmith and Micky Dolenz.

A lot of artists don’t make it as far as they have, and if theatre seats in Kitchener are any indication, the theatre didn’t sell out. It was likely about 80% full, mind you, but it didn’t sell out. (The Centre In The Square seats about 2,000.) That’s likely a long way down the audience attendance meter from the 60s, when the Monkees were selling out stadiums.

But is creativity really about that? About always filling out stadiums? Or is it about getting to a point in your life where you can be you, in all your glory and fame. Dolenz’s voice was going: you could hear it. Now, that could be age or the fact that Kitchener was late on the 16-stop tour and his voice was just giving up. I’ll leave any technical critiques to trained singers here. But I still saw Dolenz performing Dolenz so much so that I imagined that curly head he had in the 60s was just hiding under his broad-brimmed cowboy hat, and his voice sounded so much better than when he was young, as though he trusted himself more, despite the limitations.

And he sang “Goin’ Down” and “Randy Scouse Git,” two of my favourite Monkees songs.

Nesmith’s sense of humour popped up at the best times, in small doses that made you want more of him. He’s an artist who knows just when to show off and when to pull back, leaving the biggest moment when he shouted out, “Listen to the band!” and the 12-piece band behind him cranked it. Nesmith’s humour even showed in his sparkly shoes that stood on stage in stark contrast to his black outfit. I’d love to see him in a solo concert some day.

When I wrote up some of the marketing material for the concert (the theatre is one of my clients), as soon as I realized they show was being billed as “The Mike and Micky Show,” I did my best to produce advertising the reflected them as individual artists. Maybe I should’ve emphasized The Monkees banner more to fill in those last rows.

But every artist has a unique voice, and I wanted to respect that in these two. Yes, they got a spot in a boy band because they succeeded at Hollywood auditions. But they’re still loved by many because of the individual careers they’ve forged for themselves, the creative paths they set out on, and, one must admit, the teams that support them in their work, both as soloists and as The Monkees.

That means that for my creative work, and for yours, we need to find a space where the basics of our art forms meet the voices that live in our hearts and want to be heard.

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Art is Exploration: Sasha Ivanochko’s Double Bill at The Citadel

Last time, I talked about how art isn’t only about those Hollywood-movie moments of inspiration, that ideas can take time to develop. But why? What makes it so difficult to develop an idea? Montreal-based choreographer Sasha Ivanochko’s work can provide us with the answer.

Exploring Complex Ideas

It’s the exploration process. Art is exploration. Creativity, whether in art, at your job, or in your kid’s notebook doodles, is exploration. For Ivanochko, that meant spending several years developing two pieces, Mirror Staging the Seeing Place and Modern Woman in Search of Soul, showing at The Citadel in Toronto from June 6-9, 2018.

“These works are just what I’m thinking about,” she said in our phone interview.

So, what is she thinking about? Women and the stereotypes surrounding their bodies. It’s a complex, centuries-old theme that can’t be pulled apart and thrown onto a stage in a matter or hours or over a weekend. Mirror Staging took a solid two years to complete, Ivanochko told me, and she developed Modern Woman on and off over four years.

Experimenting With Exploration

Exploration #1: Mirror Staging the Seeing Place

In Mirror Staging the Seeing Place, independent dance artist Kristy Kennedy dances most of the performance facing a wall of mirrors in the dance studio. The audience, able to see themselves, of course, too, sees Kennedy’s body captured and reflected by the mirror.

Ivancohko described it as a dancer dancing, that there’s nothing theatrical about this piece. “It’s a dancer performing dance moves and also movement that a person would recognize as kind of typical behaviour of certain people,” she said.

Dancer in an angry position against a mirror. From Sasha Ivanochko's
From “Mirror Staging the Seeing Place.” Photo by Tyler Pengelly.

Exploration #2: Modern Woman in Search of Soul

The second piece performed that evening, by award-winning Toronto Dance Theatre member Alana Elmer, is Modern Woman in Search of Soul, “the angry sister” to Mirror Staging.

“It’s text-driven, and the dancer verbally solicits and kind of directs the audience to describe what the dancer is doing,” Ivanochko explained. This performance is the piece’s world première and will be live-streamed by renowned choreographer, filmmaker, and creative technologist Jacob Niedzwiecki.

As you can probably tell, these are both experimental pieces and Ivanochko is quick to point out that she’s working “with an outstanding team.” But notice that she doesn’t shy away from grand ideas like these. Even when she was turned down for funding for one of the pieces, she didn’t stop. Her application to the Quebec Arts Council was refused. “The feedback from one of the jury members at that point was that the topic was cliché. Which is appalling when you consider what’s going on now,” she said.

#metoo, Women, and Stereotypes

Both shows could not be shown at a better time. Although the #metoo movement carries sadness in it, it also carries triumph: women are speaking up about a subject that has long been pushed back to hushed corners of our society. Artists like Sasha Ivanochko are now bringing these topics to the fore.

But if you’re expecting the pieces to be loud statements about the ordeals of women, Ivanochko emphasizes they aren’t: “The dancers are really deeply embodying these ideas. So, it doesn’t come across as superficial. And, generally, with Mirror Staging, because it has been performed twice now for audiences, and we’ve done studio showings for Modern Woman, people are generally quite moved by the dancers as they allow these stereotypes to pass through their bodies.”

Pass through their bodies. I like that: it’s a way of describing that these stereotypes exist but it also acknowledges they don’t have to be permanent.

“These works aren’t for women, they aren’t for men,” she emphasizes. They are an exploration of her thoughts on the subject of stereotypes and women.

Exploring Takes Time and Patience

Which brings us back to where we started: exploration and Ivanochko’s thoughts.

Maybe you explore your personal life through writing in your journal. Or perhaps you explore different ideas in your graphic designs. Maybe your topic of exploration is relationships, and that’s why you love acting when time allows for it.

But at some point in time, you plateau, you feel as though your creativity has hit an impasse and fear won’t develop any further. That’s where I’d encourage you to explore even more.

If you’re struggling to find your creative voice, remember that professionals take years to develop theirs. Do not use that observation to knock you down, á la “I’ll never get this right.” (Was it Grover who’d smash his head into the piano in frustration?) Use it as encouragement: “I need to be patient with myself. I have a full-time job and family responsibilities, but I can do this. It’ll just take some time.”

When Ivanochko started out, she found she had too many things to say, and an early mentor told her she needed to focus. But with time, she learned to have patience and trust her instinct.

Mirror Staging and Modern Woman are the result of that trust. She ignored the feedback from one grant committee juror and continued to explore these ideas, simply because she felt compelled to.

If you’re stuck in front of your medium of choice, whether it be a piece of paper, a computer screen, a music or dance studio in your basement or elsewhere, and you’re stuck in a rut of ideas, give yourself time to explore. What do you think about the topic at the centre of your creation?

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Getting Back on Top of Your Goals

It’s Not too Late

The first quarter of 2018 is almost over. So, I’m going to ask that ominous question, the one that sounds like the monster that’s been hiding in your closet all these years, whose presence you keep denying to yourself.

How are your New Years’ goals coming along?

Ouch. Did that hurt? Did you feel an arrow fly into your stomach? Or maybe into your head as you suddenly remembered you even had New Years’ goals?

I’m certain you’re not alone, and I’ve got news for you: it’s not too late to start the pursuit again.

Review the Last 3 Months

This might be painful, but quarterly reviews clarify for you what’s going on. What’s really going on. They break the safety bubble you live in, because you’re faced with the good, the bad, the ugly, and the very ugly when you review your progress of the past three months. But keep this in mind: In my experience, the more honest I am with myself and my progress, the easier pursuing my goals becomes. Why? Because I fear less.

When you review your last few months, ask yourself these questions:

Am I where I want to be?

If so, what did I do that got me there? (And continue doing it.)

If not, what did I do that didn’t work? (And find a new way of doing it.)

Get Support to Reach Your Goals

If you’re on track with your goals, you probably don’t want to mess with things. But if you’re off track, then it may be time to get help.

Here’s what happened to me last year: For the first time during my annual review, I calculated how much the time I’d spent on marketing efforts, multiplied it by the hourly rate of what I’d earned for the year, and used the total as a measure of how much money I’d “spent” on marketing last year. I then reviewed how much new business I’d won over the year. The final figures weren’t pretty. In fact, they were pretty devastating. So, I contacted a marketing consultant to do an audit on my efforts and set me on the right path.

But that’s what I’m talking about. Even if you’re trying to lose weight, haven’t reached your word goal, or still have the same number of customers as last year, get help! Either join a group, see your doctor, find a good therapist or coach…Whatever your means allow, now’s the time to get a little assistance.

Do You Need to Re-Align?

The beauty with checking in on your goals every quarter like this is that it gives you a chance to re-align them with where you are now. Remember, you created your New Years’ goals in a certain frame of mind, at a certain time in your life, under a certain set of circumstances. If your situation has changed, you may need to adjust how you achieve your goals.

That’s okay!

What if you planned to write 1,000 words a week but the serious diagnosis of a loved one rammed you off course? It doesn’t mean you can’t write at all.

What if you wanted to quit smoking but in the meantime lost your job, leaving you with more stress than your non-smoking self can handle? That  doesn’t mean you can’t regain your footing. You adjust. (And, of course, get help so you can make it through.) Remember, every little bit helps, so don’t discount small, regular steps towards your goals. Not everything has to be achieved by leaps and bounds.

Don’t be Afraid

Looking at progress is a powerful motivator to help you move forward. It’ll help you figure out what’s gone wrong and hopefully inspire you to plan your next steps to get back on track.

They say every journey begins with a step. Take that next step now to get back on the path you dreamed for yourself this year.

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Mixing Work and Kids = Inspiring Your Creativity

I don’t know about you, but I sometimes have a hard time balancing work and kids. Next week, we celebrate Family Day in Ontario, and I realized I’ve book the day full of work duties! But the upcoming holiday has also reminded me that your family can feed your creativity and reinvigorate your brain for work.

If you’re more on the cerebral side of the spectrum, like I am, you may find communicating with kids a little hard, because you have difficulty breaking down your thought process to their level. Heck, you may even find what they do boring, because it doesn’t challenge you intellectually. I’ve been there, I’m still there, and I’m still trying to work on it.

(Granted, as hard as I try to find interest in my kids’ hobbies, I can’t develop any amount of enthusiasm for watching YouTubers play video games.)

Over the years, though, I’ve pushed myself to spend creative time with my kids, not just chore and parenting-related time, and not only does this push my brain in different directions, but it brings me closer to my children, and I find they even listen better.

See if any of these ideas work for you.

Creative Activities for Parents and Kids

Mad Libs: You buy these as pads, usually somewhere in a bookstore. They’re short texts with blanks, and you have to fill them in. The blanks are usually described as a noun, verb, adjective, or something similar. Not only will they help your kids recognize some parts of speech, you’ll likely both find yourselves in stitches as you read back the zany story you’ve both created.

Lego: This I find hard, because I’m stuck with some old inhibitions (I can’t create anything out of Lego except basic houses), and because I need to concentrate on the very foreign world the kids have created. But nothing makes my kids happier than showing off their Lego creations, and the brain drain I experience when playing with them improves my concentration.

Sewing: If you own a sewing machine,  just letting the kids (carefully!) run some fabric through it can be fun. I used to let my older son control the foot pedal when he was four or five. But certainly use your parenting judgment here. A sewing machine does have a needle, and kids’ hands are very small.

Sports: You don’t necessarily have to play a game that already exists. My husband loves making up games with our kids, and they have a blast at it. They’ve even created their own boardgames that the two play together in the evening. I’ll admit, this is less suitable for me, because I like consistency, but then again, maybe it could force me to use my brain differently.

TV: Yes, I’m going to go out on a limb and suggest you watch TV with your kids. Not only does this help you, the parent, see what they’re actually watching, but it will, again, force your brain to focus on something different. If watching YouTubers playing video games is all your kids watch, then try a movie on the weekend, with some popcorn.

Painting: Yup, show your children that they’ve probably already bested you in the arena of art. And if you are talented in art, show them one or two tips that’ll make them better. (Of course, if your kids are old enough, maybe actually painting a room might be more engaging for all of you.)

Colouring: Those adult colouring books are more than suitable for kids over the age of five. My older kid (in the junior grades) will occasionally sit in the same room with me as we both colour for ten or fifteen minutes in separate books.

Writing: My youngest loves this. He’s in the primary grades, so he still finds spelling and printing arduous. He absolutely loves to dictate a story to me as I type it out in Scrivener. I set the timer for 10 or 15 minutes (my forearms can’t handle anything longer), and he’ll easily produce 300-600 words.

Dancing: Kids don’t care how you move. If your kids is active, turn on the tunes and get dancin’!

So, those are just a few ideas of how to build in some creativity time that will help you in your profession but also connect you with your children. Do you do any of these activities already? Or other ones?

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Do You “Risk It All” for Your Dreams?

alex-wong-17997-reduced
Photo by Alex wong on Unsplash

I’ve been reading self-help books on and off for years, and I wonder how they can promise that you can “have it all.” However, I also find these inspiring, and they often get me to think about my life in much different terms, and I think I’ve finally figured out how to balance my dreams with my life.

I’m reading The Power of Intention by Wayne Dyer right now. I came across this advice:

That silent inner knowing will never leave you alone. You may try to ignore it and pretend it doesn’t exist, but in honest, alone moments of contemplative communion with yourself, you sense the emptiness waiting for you to fill it with your music. It wants you to take the risks involved, and to ignore your ego and the egos of others who tell you that an easier, safer, or more secure path is best for you. (page 152)

I love the book, but I find advice like this potentially misleading: he’s suggesting you don’t listen to your inner doubts and just take the plunge towards your dreams. For me, that would involve stopping all work and just focusing on writing fiction, which doesn’t bring in any money until you’ve developed somewhat of a following.

Tell that career decision to the bank that wants to take back your house.

Stay Safe

On the other hand, though, is the “stay safe” advice he talks of. There are varying degrees of this, at least in my experience. Here’s one side of the spectrum: An older relative of mine was once worried about the whole-grain, no-sugar diet my parents were raising me and my sister on (in the 80s and 90s, before it became trendy). The relative thought I’d have a hard time finding a husband by being on that diet. I eat sugar now, but I still prefer whole-grain baking and cooking to regular, and yet I somehow managed to find a husband AND have children with him. The relative meant well, but this is one version of the “safe” advice that Wayne Dyer is speaking of.

Here’s the other side: “You have a family to look after. Why on earth would you quit your job to become an artist?”

To which the person might respond, “Because I just know in my heart that it’s what I was meant to do.”

That last statement may be true – many of us push off what we’ve always felt to be our calling because others told us we’d never make a living with it, whatever it is.

But where are you in your life? Do you have a mortgage or rent to pay? Kids to get through university? A weekly grocery bill to feed others besides just you?

Yes, right? So, what to do?

Think of the Possibilities

Don’t be afraid of blue skies dreaming. Dream, write it down, dream some more. Many of these self-help authors are good at putting you into the right frame of mind for that. You let your mind go free with all the things you dream of, all the things you want to do and to have, and start envisioning this new version of your life.

Now, this is where I would halt the process: Before you go any further, you need to look at your life as it is now and start setting things up to work towards your dream.

You want to become a master painter? Find an appropriate painting class, sign yourself up, and squeeze in 10 minutes a day to practice.

Want to work your way up in your company? Talk to managers and ask them how they got to where they are. Then start emulating what they do. (But make it your own; as the saying goes, “Just be yourself; everyone else is taken.”)

Want to change your career? Find more responsibilities in your current job that are applicable to that career change.

I don’t want to make it sound like these ideas are easy. You may have to shift your schedule around, or risk standing out from the crowd at work…and I wonder if these are the risks Wayne Dyer is really talking about but not explaining? There are legitimate concerns surrounding any major life-changing decision, but there are also fears that hold us back, like a thick woollen blanket wrapped around you: it’s warm and cozy but immobilizing.

The trick is to differentiate the two categories.

What About Bob? Baby Steps…

I don’t know your situation, of course, but I do believe that if you want to change something for the better, you will find a way to make it happen. For me, it was deciding to forego TV after the kids were in bed and spending that time on my novel.

Would I like to spend part of each writing fiction, at a time when my brain is more functional? Yes. But I chose to have a family and a mortgage. To just drop all my streams of income to “follow my dreams” would be hugely irresponsible.

But that doesn’t make following my dreams impossible.

Don’t feel guilty or frustrated if you aren’t living your dream life. Whatever life you are living, so long as it’s generally helpful to you and others, can probably teach you something that will benefit the life you are dreaming of. But figure out what those baby steps are that can get you moving in the right direction: the real risk, in the end, may be just prying open the door.

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We are Creative Adults: Age is Irrelevant

cameras_reducedThis week’s post is short, because the week has been full of celebrations, and they’re going to continue into the weekend.

Our culture values youth, and I think it’s a great thing. Only a generation or two ago, youth were told to keep quiet at the table. Hitting a child for discipline was widespread and accepted, and in many cases, a child’s career was decided for them. I’m so happy to see how much we support our youth today, talk about children’s rights, and encourage children to find their true path in life. (Although I also wish some old practices, like teaching children to not run around in someone else’s house, would return.)

But if there’s one thing Western culture excels at, it’s the pendulum swing: whereas the older generations were once valued, the pendulum is now at the other side. A story has been making the rounds about Lyn Slater, a 63-year-old professor with *gasp* a sense of fashion. She blogs at Accidental Icon. In an interview from January, published at Today, she says, “I get a lot of emails from younger people saying … you’re making us feel like getting old is fun and cool, and that you can do whatever you want at whatever age.”

I shared her story on Facebook with one word: “Amen.”

I’ve still got a ways to go before I reach her age, but I look up to people like her and older who are breaking the stereotypes of aging. Our reverence for youth has, I think, made us blind to the grace, wisdom, knowledge, and fearlessness that can come with age. (I sometimes joke that I can’t wait to turn 70, because then I can start dancing down the street to a song in my head and people won’t think I’m crazy, just old.)

One skill I’ve finally developed with age is discipline. I’m not a Zen nun in Western culture by any stretch, but it was through discipline that I dedicated an hour to 90 minutes almost every night over the past two and a half years to work on a novel. That same discipline allowed me to start it again at an editor’s suggestion in November of last year and finish that first draft just this week.

My point isn’t to gloat, though. My point is this: Getting older lets us develop filters without blinders, and those filters are what help stay focused on goals. I’ve learned to trust myself enough that if something interrupts my writing routine, I start it up again as soon as possible. In my 20s I didn’t have that kind of discipline. I often regret that, of course, but part of growing up is learning to live with the errors of youth.

Whatever your age, it’s never too late to be bold, daring, and set large goals. And that means it’s never too late to start on your dream creative projects. Even if you have to take painting lessons first before you can start that mural in your bedroom, register for those lessons. You have the discipline to practice most days, the experience to know when it’s time to take a break, and the wisdom to know that, even if you don’t make it, what you’ve learned on the journey can be just as or even more thrilling than achieving your actual goal.

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The Importance of Saying No

Young woman with exaggerated frown, hands extended forward in a thumbs-down motion.This week’s post is a quick one: It’s about the importance of saying no.

We once had cookbook author Charmian Christie join us at our writers’ meeting (we belong to the same association), and she said something that I, granted, forgot (and therefore didn’t heed) but then saw again when I recently reviewed my notes. It was this: It’s what you say no to that defines your business, not what you accept.

Think of it like a building with a lot of corridors. When you step into the building and see four doors in front of you, each one leading down a different hallway, you have to say no to three of them to embark on your path down one of them. If you don’t make that decision right away, you end up spending time – maybe years – figuring out which one is the best choice. But eventually, you have to make that decision (even if for the simple reason of finding a toilet). Each step you take further and further down that hallway is one more no to going back.

When it comes to your art, the same rule will likely apply to much of what you do: once you choose a genre or medium, there are certain conventions you have to follow, and you’ve now defined that piece of art as belonging to that genre or being produced using that medium. So, writing a romantic comedy with a gruesome killing befitting a horror novel would likely not be in your best interests. Likewise, if you’re going to write a novel like that, you’re doing so knowing that you’re producing something that goes against convention. Either way, you’ve made a choice to go down a specific path.

Why is this important? It helps you to stay on track. I just spent about 90 minutes today, for example, working on a blog post about learning a foreign language. I ended up saying yes to a lot of ideas, and it got so unwieldy, I had to set it aside if I wanted to hit my goal of one blog post a week this year. (My deadline for this week expires in about 105 minutes.)

The same happened to the first draft of my novel: I wanted to say so much with it and achieve so many things that it became one huge, 92,000-word juggling act. I’m not done with the second draft yet, but I can tell you it’s much more focused and is receiving good feedback.

So, whether you’re planning your business or attempting a new work of art (whatever your discipline is), don’t be afraid to say no to ideas that come along: it will likely strengthen your art rather than weaken it.

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Comfort Zones: Potential Danger for Artists, Writers, Performers, and Everyone in Between

Comfort zones are those nice, cozy, warm, fuzzy parts in our mind that convince us to stay put. They have a purpose: respite. But like any spa, too much of a good thing can turn into a bad thing (and, frankly, become very expensive).

I recently interviewed a sportscaster for a magazine article, and time and again she emphasized how important it was for her to get out of her comfort zone. She was a trained dancer, but when she got accepted into a well-known musical theatre program in Canada, she spent three years singing in front of others. For her, that was terrifying. But it allowed other opportunities to flow her way.

Hindsight is 20/20, as you know. In my case, my comfort zone in dance became so strong that I even stood in the same spot in the studio as often as possible: the right front corner. I even said I’d have my ashes buried there. The building, though, has since been razed and replaced with a more modern business building. I’ll have somewhere else to inter my ashes.

With writing, it was the same: I wrote about characters I knew, either by attempting a novel for a franchise or copying TV characters from my favourite shows; created plots familiar to me from same sources of inspiration as the characters; and did not expose my heart to my readers, a necessity for creative writing. In my youth, that was a fine path to follow, because I may not have been ready to show my vulnerability back then. This was before social media, of course, but one well-intentioned piece of feedback from a teacher, friend, or parent can hurt you as much as a stranger’s public criticism of your work these days, maybe even more so. I was looking for approval, not feedback, and using my personal creations for that purpose wasn’t the best idea.

Since January 2015, I’ve been working on a novel. It started as a creative challenge to myself: write 10,000 words by December. I hit that goal by mid-February and kept going. (Now, I’m at 92,000.) I’ve submitted the first three chapters to two editors, a friend, and a family member for feedback, and yes, some of the feedback hurt. But age does something to you besides give you wrinkles: it gives you strength and confidence…if you let yourself push past your comfort zone. Their input made me stop writing and go back to character and plot development. I have some major re-working to do, but the piece will hopefully come out stronger in the end. (The feedback is dead on – we’ll see if the writer can make it work.)

Of course, the usual disclaimer: we’re talking about personal goals here, not seeing how long you can wait for a car to approach before you dart across the street without getting hit.

I think it’s wrong to assume that everyone wants to achieve huge monetary success, but I think it’s right to assume that everyone has dreams that will seem big to some and small to others. For some, being able to free their voice and speak up in front of others is a huge dream. For others, it’s normal life. For some, living off $50,000 a year while also saving money is the big goal. For others, that’s reality and they can’t fathom why someone would find that hard to accomplish.

Whatever the goal, it’ll push you. But what I’m finding is that, like my interviewee, you won’t experience the freedom that comes from reaching those goals unless you cross the boundaries of your comfort zone, even just a smidgen. (Just stay out of the path of moving vehicles.)