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.
This week, I watched a video on lynda.com called “Getting Things Done,” by David Allen. This is Allen’s organization system, and he has a book about it and coaches about it, etc. Being an admin assistant, part of me actually thought, “I’m already good at getting things done. Why should I waste time watching another ‘how to get organized’ video?” What I didn’t anticipate was Allen’s approach.
The Real Purpose of Your Brain
Allen’s philosophy is that the brain is for having ideas, not for holding them. The first task he has you do is to make a list of everything that “has your attention.”
I thought this was a brilliant way to look at all the things I have to do in my life. If the request had been to simply write a to-do list, then I would’ve finished that in a few minutes. But a task requiring me to write down everything that has my attention is a different beast.
For example, my messy desk had my attention, my work-in-progress marketing plan had my attention, and spending more time with my husband had my attention.
How I Actually Got a Good Night’s Sleep
In the end, after about 90 minutes (including a few interruptions from the kids), I had a list of 200 items. I can honestly say it had been a very long time since I’d slept that well.
Of course, by the next night, once my mind was aware of a to-do list with over 200 items (more got added the next day), I didn’t sleep as well again. However, once I got those items into a to-do program, the sleep returned.
There was definitely something to this idea of moving everything that has your attention to manageable lists.
The Hard Evidence
What became evident to me, though, after writing that huge list was how much I wanted to just spend time with my family. My desire to freelance came out of my desire to show my kids that you can make a living doing what you love. Ironically, though, I haven’t been spending much time with the people I love.
Is it Really About Time Management?
The next point that really drew me to Allen’s approach is his belief that it’s not about managing time but about managing your focus.
For some reason, then, Cheryl Richardson, a life coach who publishes with Hay House, came to mind. Her philosophy is balance: she lists seven areas of life that you should try to keep somewhat in balance. If one area goes out of whack, e.g., you lose your job, it’s easier to manage that change if you have also focused time on your family, yourself, your spirituality (doesn’t need to be anything religious), and the other areas.
The approach that Allen is suggesting seems to fit that.
The God of North American Culture: Single-Minded Dedication
We often idolize the single-minded tenancity of an Olympic athlete, or the latest start-up CEO who’s slept only a few hours a night for the past year, not the human who can expertly balance the many parts of life at once.
Instead of revering the race car driver who gets all the glory, we should be revering the teacher who has over time become a surrogate parent, social worker, psychotherapist, and educational assistant all rolled into one.
Instead of the baseball star who couldn’t exist if it weren’t for a slew of unnamed people – likely included many volunteer coaches – we should be celebrating first responders who go from rushing to the home of a panicked mom whose kid is wheezing from a sudden onset of croup, to a violent break-in a moment later.
Don’t get me wrong: these athletes are incredible, and not all teachers and first responders are great. But please don’t miss my larger point: our culture reveres this extreme kind of focus more than it does the balancing act, which is what most people have to contend with.
And Back to David Allen
David Allen’s system is very simple, and I’m not going to explain all of it here (that’s what he’s for, after all). I should make it clear that I’ve only been at it for a week, including trying out a new to-do program that thankfully perfectly aligns to his approach.
But his system is also really simple.
Once I saw everything that was going on in my mind, it became clear that I needed to find a better way of managing it, and I think I have. It started with a clean desk and cleaning out my in-baskets. It continued with realizing a few items on that list would only take a few minutes each to complete. And it’s continuing now with helping me see how I can focus on each aspect of my life and still keep the balance, as precarious as it may be sometimes.
I do believe the arts are a spiritual endeavour, one that’s not always easily put into words. But when I read about cuts to the arts in schools, or run into someone who asks what the point is of studying literature or fine arts, because, hey, no one can understand that stuff, anyways, it frustrates me for two reasons.
For starters, the arts in almost any capacity feeds humans just as the sun does. It’s obvious to me and I don’t see why people don’t get it.
Second, the moment someone complains, my throat closes up because of the frustration in that first point. It’s a weird thing I have: I get frustrated, and then the words disappear into a jumble in my head I can’t quite dislodge and unpack to calmly explain my point of view to someone.
So, without delving into scientific evidence (there’s lots out there, I just don’t have time to review a chunk of it and spit it back out to you in 800-1,200 words), I’m going to tackle the question from a individual viewpoint, which, I’m learning, is a very Romantic-period way of solving such problems.
The Arts are Expression
The arts (and that includes music, dance, drama, visual arts, and everything in between and across disciplines) by definition are about expression. Not allowing a human self-expression through the arts is no different than plastering their mouth shut with duct tape.
In essence, individuality is at the heart of the arts. Many artists hope to make a living with their work, but many use it as a hobby and outlet, writing away stories no one will ever read, or strumming on a guitar for the sheer pleasure of soothing the nerves. When we always approach the arts with, “How will you make money off of this?” we miss the true value for the individual.
The Arts are Culture
Moving past the individual, we come to our culture. There are most definitely songs and paintings out there I don’t like for one reason or another, and yes, I do sometimes wonder who was paid to produce “such a horrible piece of work.” You will also have your preferences for stories, music, and concert dance.
What I feel, though, has been forgotten is that freedom in art helps underpin our democracy. It’s no coincidence that one of the first groups of people dictators try to control is artists, everyone from painters to writers to all the specialists involved in the TV and movie industries. (The other main group they try to silence tends to be academics.)
There is a dark underbelly arising in the arts, though, and I’m not entirely sure what to think of it: cultural appropriation. As I understand it, it means using another culture in your own creation. Part of me revolts at the thought that someone has a right to dictate to artists what they can and can’t do. At the same time, being someone of German heritage, my back went up when a puppet on a kids’ show was wearing a Bismarck-era military helmet, faking a German accent, and pretending to be the bad guy. (Couldn’t he at least wear lederhosen and be happy while dancing a polka?)
Whatever your view on the subject, one thing is certain: if artists didn’t use their voices to produce their work, we wouldn’t be having these discussions about culture, power, colonization, and the like. It’s because of the arts that voices are being heard on these very difficult subjects.
The Arts Belong in Schools
Because of the high emphasis on self-expression, learning the arts in school helps children find outlets for their own personality. For those who have difficulty doing so in words, they may find comfort in music, drawing, and dance. For those who feel physically awkward, channeling their energy onto paper may help them share their feelings and release that tension.
But where’s the monetary value? The economic incentive? This one always gets me.
The entertainment industry is perhaps one of the largest industries in the Western world, and people still ask where the monetary value of the arts is.
Every business needs talented people whose gifts for creating are needed for marketing, communications, and even product development. Again, you don’t get that talent by not nurturing the arts.
Every scientist needs to present findings in a way that others will understand. (The most popular scientists, in my view, seem to be the ones who can in one moment speak to other specialists in their field and in the next, to laypeople, and convey the same information in a way each audience understands.)
Art and Peace
Our world is huge, and there’s no way I can humanly know all its history. But my general impression is that artists don’t start wars. They may start disagreements, and these disagreements may turn into huge arguments, but I’m not aware of them starting wars. I believe artists, through their vocation, study the human condition (with some exceptions). They see the value of human life and honour the exchange that occurs between us when we communicate our true selves. I believe artists are often more comfortable than many of us in dealing with human emotions.
Support the Arts
So it makes no sense to me that we cut back on the arts in schools and label them as useless. I know teachers only have so much time and training, and they themselves are also only human. But I don’t think we can afford to keep cutting back on the arts – humans need to express themselves, and what is school if not a place to help kids grow into an adult, one who is ready to participate in this world as a fully realized and actualized human being? And how can this goal be fulfilled without teaching the students the many different ways they can share themselves with the world around them?
This 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.
If there’s one thing I’d wish I’d done more of, it’s pay attention in English class, specifically grade 10 English class. That’s when we studied Greek, Roman, and Norse mythology ad nauseum. Maybe it was my religious upbringing (more so in the schools than at home) or my literal-thinking mind, but I didn’t see any use in learning why Zeus gave birth to Athena through his forehead. Even when God created the Earth via the 7-day story, he at least honoured the basics of human physiology.
After studying each mythology, we’d then apply what we’d learned to any book we read, which made those books even less interesting. You’d think I would’ve rejoiced at how easy those exams could be in this kind of structure, but no, I was more bummed out by the fact that my favourite hobby was becoming increasingly boring. Couldn’t I just read for fun?
Oh, To Be 15 Again and Actually Listen to Adults
My 15-year-old mind, though, missed a golden opportunity: we were studying the timelessness of stories. I don’t know if my English teacher pointed that out to us or not, and even if he did, I may have ignored him. But what he was doing was passing on to us stories from millennia ago and showing us how they still permeate today’s stories.
What I’m learning now, though, through research for my novel, is that those mythologies, plus the little we know of the pre-Christian Celtic stories, heavily correlate to the ancient Indian stories. I also wouldn’t be surprised if there were similarities to the pantheistic Native stories, too. (Maybe someone with more knowledge here can add something below.)
Cinderella’s 1,000-Year-Old Shoe
Being a student of German, I was also fascinated by the fairy tales the Brothers Grimm collected and published. Through some courses in my undergrad and grad studies, I learned that Cinderella was likely over 1,000 years old and may have originated in China (the importance of a woman’s shoe). My memory’s a bit rusty here, so the story may even be older.
But think about this for a moment: If the stories of the Greeks, Romans, Celts, and Germanic tribes were all related to ancient Indian stories, and even something as simple as Cinderella has travelled across the world from ancient China to Walt Disney (and likely other countries, too), then these are cultural connections that easily half the world has. Whereas we may focus on the individual nature of Western culture versus the collectivist nature of Eastern culture, both share a simple story.
Passing Down the Blues
Last week, I interviewed a blues musician, Steve Strongman. He’s performing at our local roadhouse theatre, which is also a client of mine. One of his songs is called “Old School.” The song opens with these lyrics:
I used to sneak in the back door
just to see how it’s done.
I knew that if I want to find the truth,
I had to go straight to the roots.
In several online interviews and in ours, he talked about the importance of going back to your roots to find inspiration. In this case, it was the roots of the blues. One question I had for him was this: I’ve noticed in lots of blues footage that old timers, including the likes of Buddy Guy and B.B. King, often shared the stage with a much younger musician. It looked very much like a sort of mentorship to me and seemed particular to the blues. Was I right?
“That is definitely a common theme and a thread within blues,” he said. “I don’t know if it’s because blues is a niche market or largely niche-market based, but I do feel like there’s a sense among the elders of blues that they want to make sure that this music is getting passed on so that it doesn’t just fizzle out and die.”
Strongman said that the music business doesn’t see the blues as having commercial appeal. “So the only way that we can continue to pass that knowledge on is through passing it on to the younger generation. I’ve certainly been the benefit of that, meeting a lot of people that are saying, ‘You know, you’re the younger generation that are coming up, playing this, and we need to keep this very incredibly important style of music alive.’”
Listening to his new album, I’m glad he listened to his elders.
Going Back to Your Roots
The phrase often refers to a cultural history that has helped make you who you are. You may have had it shoved down your throat, or you may be on the other side of the spectrum, wishing you knew more, but everyone who had that knowledge has now passed on.
This is a spiritual feeling for me: all of these ancient stories somehow affected who we all became. I find a connection in that.
And a strength.
We walk around, pretending to be special and separate from others, yet we have this deep connection that goes back millennia. I just find that awesome, in the truest sense of that word.
And I just wish I’d paid a little more attention to my grade 10 English teacher.
The downside to being creative is that your creativity can show up when it’s perhaps not as beneficial to your day-to-day running. In my case, it happened with my online presence: two websites, a blog, and five domains (those three plus two more). Thankfully, I stopped getting creative at the social media stage: I only have four accounts there, and one I’ve almost laid dormant.
However you spend your creative life, whether it’s for fun or as a career, managing your online presence shouldn’t be time-consuming: After all, you want to spend time on your writing, dancing, music, art, etc., right? If you’re freelancing, you’d rather be earning money than frequently managing your online presence.
I’m now unifying everything into one website, and I’m trying out a new theory.
People Want to Know Me
Two months ago, I wrote about how artist and freelancing websites need to differ: an artist website needs to focus on portfolio and expertise, whereas a freelancing website needs to emphasize the services you offer (and also include your portfolio and expertise).
I still stand by those differences. But over the past six months or so, I’ve been working through some marketing advice from Kristen Lamb, a freelance and indie editor, and a book by Michael Port, a business consultant for service providers (which freelancers are).
Lamb focuses on indie authors. In her blogging workshop (excellent, by the way), she emphasized how important it is to market myself as a person, because people who share my interests are more likely to read my books. If someone is looking for a horror, then a blog about dance, life, and marketing will signal that I’m not that author.
In Book Yourself Solid, Port describes how to make your marketing fit you and how to find customers who jive with you, which is why I love his book. As a service provider, and one who does all the writing herself, I’m not interested in getting millions of hits to my websites, hundreds of calls a week, etc.; there’s only so much in my workload I can handle. Port’s promise is to help me find the right customers for me, and in his opinion, I can help that process along by being me. (I add one caveat, though: Professionalism is still important. Putting up drunken party photos of yourself is not what he means.)
Simplifying My Online Presence
Returning to my new website, that means shining a brighter (but still professional) light on who I am. That doesn’t mean I’m going to have my bio on my homepage: that won’t be effective in my case. But having my homepage reflect who I am will let me unify both sides of my writing.
But what prompted all of this? It wasn’t just the time I was spending on my websites and blog, it was feedback, and likely not the kind of feedback you’d expect for such a change.
My current copywriting website got compliments from several writers I respect, but I received almost no inquiries through it. Those who hung around the website long enough to read up on my pricing also didn’t jump off at pricing; they jumped off elsewhere. So if my website was so good, and pricing wasn’t scaring people off, why wasn’t I getting much business through it?
Design for Your Audience, Not Your Colleagues
That’s when I realized that everyone who had complimented me on my website was a writer. Save for content strategists and some marketing managers, most people looking for my services won’t be writers themselves.
In addition, I had learned through several sources (including Lamb) that Google likes websites that are frequently updated. I update my copywriting/translating website every month or two, my website dedicated to writing about dance every year or two, and yet I update my blog – which does not advertise my services directly – every week.
To add to my troubles, the two main websites overlapped when it came to my expertise in dance. Why on Earth was I maintaining two sites with similar content?
So, I’m returning to a simpler strategy, one that will let me focus more on my writing while hopefully strengthening my presence with Google and allowing me to present a full picture of myself to potential clients and readers.
Have you found ways to save time in your marketing? Share them below.
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.
Last month, an editor whose blog I’d been following for over a year offered me a free consultation, because the 20 pages I’d sent to her for feedback (paid service) showed her enough problems she wanted to give me a shout. Long story short, she said to restart a novel I’d been working on for the past two years. Ouch.
But I took her advice. The original one had grown to 92,000 words, I was on ending #7, and I had more plates in the plot’s air than a 20-year circus veteran. Even worse, I didn’t know how to make them stop spinning without breaking them. My gut feeling said to restart, but I ignored it: who wants to restart 92,000 words? I needed a kick in the ass to make it happen, and that freelance editor was it. She also helped me decide what to focus on, and something that had been right in front of my nose finally made it inside my brain. Let me explain.
Over the past three months, I’ve spent a lot of time at our local roadhouse theatre (disclaimer: also my client). I sat a few rows away from American folk and rock legend David Crosby, kids’ entertainment powerhouse The Wiggles, Canadian astronaut Chris Hadfield, National Geographic photojournalist Brian Skerry, and West End and Broadway superstar Colm Wilkinson. The main similarity was that each artist, The Wiggles included, had distilled their artistic lives into a two-hour show:
Crosby condensed his 50+ years in the music business and included songs from a newly released album.
The Wiggles song catalogue, 25 years old and growing, apparently has over 1,000 melodies in it, yet the group only performed a handful plus some from a new release.
Chris Hadfield had stories, songs, and photographs to share with us about Canada and space exploration. He even included some family history. That’s about a hundred years of stories reduced to two hours.
Brian Skerry just finished 19 years at National Geographic. He filtered that down to two hours.
Colm Wilkinson has been performing on stage since the 70s, almost as long as Crosby. He picked his favourite songs and sang for two hours.
In only two hours, they had invited me into their lives and shared something significant with me (and the other 1,000-2,000 in the theatre) that remained in my soul. Two hours. Clearly I was wasting time and words in my novel of 92,000 words.
So that begged the question: what is the true focus of my novel? I won’t answer that here, but I was giving each topic I’d raised in it equal time; I didn’t see where I could connect and layer them. My goal now is to publish a novel under 60,000 words.
This is also a question you should ask yourself about your art. I think we keep adding material because we’re either afraid of running out of something to say or too scared to dive into it more. (Feb/17 update: This blog post talks more about digging deeper.)
Some time in the early fall, I returned to my old improv group for a workshop. The topic was working with what you already have and not constantly searching for new stuff. Despite the workshop leader’s best intentions, I couldn’t home in on that skill anymore, and I wonder if I even had it to begin with.
I believe that part of what makes an artist successful is the ability to reduce an idea to its core and then explore it from there. For most artists, that will mean digging into some personal stuff, even if the piece of art isn’t about something personal. But it’s that kind of focus that will, I believe, let you connect with your audience, because you’ll give a voice to the depths of their own emotions.
Ever since I was in high school, I’d periodically heard about the latest study that proved or disproved that listening to music helped with productivity and therefore would help you study better. Mozart was the popular composer of the day (I’m not as old as Mozart, I just mean he was the most popular suggestion to make you smarter). But overall, I find I can’t listen to music while working.
For starters, I’m a dancer. Not professionally, of course, and I stopped regular training over 15 years ago. But as I recently discussed with someone on Twitter (if you can call two exchanges a discussion), once a dancer, always a dancer. I still tap dance waiting for my kids at the bus. (I try to tap discreetly – I don’t slide down the pavement, for example.) And if you could peer through the photocopier room door, you’d see me doing a few steps while I wait for the machine to do it’s job. (Although sometimes I wouldn’t mind tapping on it like Fred Astaire does in this clip, when the photocopier doesn’t do what it’s supposed to. But I wouldn’t be as nice as he is at the beginning.) I am very proud, though, of breaking one annoying habit: walking to the beat of the music of every store I walk by in a mall.
Music speaks to my body in a very strong way. When I hear music with a good beat, my hands become my feet and I’m tapping at my desk. Give me one of my geeky favourites (bring on the 80s or The Monkees), and I’m singing with my untrained voice. Writing? What writing?
I found a legitimate study (from The Psychology of Music, published in 2011) that looked at a handful of university students. The authors reported that listening to preferred music or no music made no different. The only time listening to music appeared to make a difference was when the study participant didn’t like the music.
So, what about you? Do you like to create while listening to music? Or is silence your preferred partner?
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My next reading is June 15 as part of Author Afternoons in Waterloo. Click on Events for more info. Dismiss