Who can resist a cute kid with a great hustle?

The question isn't "Do I post a photo of La Tour Eiffel" but "Which photo of La Tour Eiffel do I post?"

Dearest readers, I need your help. This spring, I’m taking a group of students to France for a 12 day trip. We’re visiting the Loire Valley, doing a six day family stay in Brittany, and visiting the major sites in Paris. It’s a great trip we’ve planned — my 8th student trip! — and we have 20 kids enrolled.

There are a number of students who want very badly to participate in this trip whose families have been hit pretty hard by the recession. Some have had to decide to skip it this year and hope France is still there when they’re in college, but a handful are going to push through and raise the necessary amount of money they need to pay their fees.

Would you deny the children a chance to see this view? Think of the CHILDREN!

 

 

I’m not trying to make miracles with this travel program. AND. Our French department has worked tirelessly to promote this trip and the importance of second (and third!) language learning and travel. Given the interest we’ve gotten in a trip that has a $3K pricetag and the fact that I teach at an inner city school that is not filled with trust fund babies, I’d say the convincing is working. Travel isn’t just for the wealthy, though sometimes it seems that way. We have a few tiny little scholarships to offer our kids, and our student travel organization has two partial scholarships to offer their spring travel programs – of which there are at least 50. Slim pickings. I want each of these students to have the experience of living with a French family and using the language they’re learning in authentic ways. I want them to experience pain au chocolat on site. I want them to know what post-climb at the top of a spiral staircase vertigo really feels like. Because friends, I tell you – there is nothing more heart-giddy-making for me than watching real live discovery on the face of a young person. Kids who travel are kids who get curious, and curious kids make curious adults who endeavor to make the world a better place.

I want my students to get out there and start working to raise funds for this trip in creative new ways. Traditional fundraising campaigns like book sales and wrapping paper and cookie dough have a terrible profit return for the amount of work that they require. Plus, we’ve been restricted from selling anything with sugar in the top 5 ingredients – school candy sales are totally verboten. AND: I believe that there’s no experience more satisfying than one you’ve busted your tail to create for yourself. I want to teach them to take initiative for their desire to do something awesome and life-changing. I want them to learn that developing a solid work ethic helps them achieve goals they haven’t even imagined yet is a great feeling that can be had over and over again. Sure it’s not a fundraising campaign to save dying hemophiliac puppies or to prevent the death of well-dressed yet socially awkward llamas in war torn countries – but they’ve got the right to ask for help.

This is a push up your sleeves and tie on your apron campaign.

So I’m getting creative. I’m holding a meeting for all of the students who’re having a hard time coming up with funds for their trip. I intend to educate them in the fine art of guerrilla fundraising. We’ll be discussing how to educate people in their family/parent’s friends/church people circle about the trip, what the trip means to them and their educational future, how much money they need by when, and what kind of work or services they’d be willing to offer. (This is where my comedy friends need to get their minds out of the gutter, because I know some of you just had a bad thought. Shame on you! These are kids!)

My role is part motivational speaker and part idea generator and part rabble rousing community organizer — because with teens, that’s the only way to light a fire under their behinds that’s hot enough to get them moving. I want each student to work their networks (not approaching strangers or being risky, of course, and always discussing their activities with their parents) with a self-created flyer that defines their goals and the work they’re willing and able to do to take this trip to France. So here’s where I need your help. So far on the list of activities they could offer, I’ve got:

  • babysitting
  • raking leaves
  • shoveling snow
  • washing windows
  • housecleaning
  • errands
You haven't lived until you've had to shuttle 20 kids around town using the Paris Metro during rush hour.

But otherwise, I’m kinda stumped. It’s fall, they’re back in school, and they need approximately 2 grand in the next four months. In your experience, what kinds of chores, tasks, or other “I’d rather someone else do this and it’s worth a contribution for the greater good” kinds of work would you hire a kid to do?

The success of any given student’s endeavor is obviously dependent on their ability to hustle and pull the heartstrings of people just like you and me. They’ve gotta let people know what they are working for, give the doe eyes, show up, do what they agreed to do with a smiley face, and say THANK YOU for the opportunity to bust their tails at the end of the job. I don’t think this is impossible – and I’m sure that if they don’t try something, they won’t raise a dime. And it’s never too early to learn a good work ethic, right?

So please – in the comments, if you’ve got a creative idea I can add to the above list, share it by the end of this weekend and I’ll pass it along to my students. Thank you so very much.

layered revelations

I started writing a novel this week, because fighting off a nasty virus wasn’t nearly enough entertainment on the day I stayed home to get well. I have no idea how to write a novel, and I’m excited to see how the process unravels.

One of my former students went to Corsica and took this photo for me.

Consider this fair warning: I’ve given myself permission to write self-indulgent posts that ring with Dear God! What have I gotten myself into this time?!? I’ve finally accepted the unpleasant parts of my creative process: The sinking feeling in my stomach that I’m the dumbest fool ever to pick up a pen, the memory slideshow of failures and regret that remind me of all the projects I’ve dumped before their desired outcomes, the conviction that just because the last project turned out alright, I must be the worst idea-have-er in the universe.

I brunched today with some of my favorite women in Minneapolis. While talking about how easy it is to freak out about creative projects, I admitted that I love the adrenaline. I do my best work when on a deadline. It’s like running all out in front of a train, just a foot ahead of it. Like jumping off the tracks at just the right time. Falling over with exhaustion. Laying in a ditch and panting and feeling my body prickle with sweat and my heart pounding and thinking, “Holy crap I almost died. That was really hard.” Like thinking after, “That was the most fun I’ve had in ages.” And immediately after that, “Let’s do it again!”

So I’m going to do NaNoWriMo this year, which will probably annoy the hell out of some of my readers and make them stop coming back, but whatever. This website is my corner of the internet where I get to twirl around in a glittery, self-interested frilly skirt and pretend that there isn’t bad news happening on every other corner of the internet. It’s a creative process blog. If you want to see me react to world events on a daily basis, follow my Twitter feed.

What will I reveal about the upcoming novel? For now, nothing beyond this little announcement that I’m writing something big and fictiony. I’ve learned that my book and essay ideas are too fragile to be shared before they’re committed to paper in some sort of complete draft. I’ve ruined my desire to write a number of essays because I talked too much about them before my fingers could excavate the story.

TRUTH: I’m relieved to have a new thing. I was getting kinda nervous that there wouldn’t be a gigantic project this winter to alternately revel in and complain about to all of my friends. Stay tuned for freakouts of the holy crap, this is hard, I never learned how to write fiction kind.

Should be fun. Hope you’ll follow along, if only to remind me when I complain that I once thought writing a novel was a great idea.

Life of Art interview: Mike Fotis

Who are you and where is “here” for you right now?

My name is Mike Fotis. I live in Minneapolis. North Minneapolis to be
exact.  I am a writer/comedian/improviser. My head is kept dry and my
belly is kept full because of my job as the Co – Director of the Brave
New Workshop’s Student Union. That fancy title means I help run our
school of improvisation.

What is your creative practice and what have you learned from it?

My creative practice is simply this. JUST DO SOMETHING. My instinct is
to not do anything until all of the answers in my head have been
answered, until I think my plan is flawless. That’s dangerous for me
because it completely stalls me. Just create something. I know that
sounds cheesy, but fuck. Don’t be perfect. That’s boring.

Where do you find inspiration?

I find inspiration from my comedian pals. I like to be around people
who are passionate about their craft. It helps me feel a little more
normal.

How do you overcome the creative barriers you encounter?

Read my post about creative practice.

How do you regenerate when feeling artistically depleted?

I get away from it. I swim. I play sports. I watch a baseball or
football game. I can’t be around art all the time.

What does success look like to you?

In some ways, I feel like I’m at the very beginning of my success. My
goal is to support myself as an artist and I’m very lucky to be doing
that. I love my job. LOVE IT. Moving forward success will mean that
I’m able to continue growing the school while still expanding my
opportunities to branch into other endeavors.

What do you want people to know about you and your work?

That comedy is hard to do. And that smart comedy doesn’t exist. There
are probably other things too.

**

I can’t tell you how glad I am that Mike was willing to answer my questions – he’s one of my favorite Twin Cities comedians and improvisers. One of his current projects is a podcast for METRO Magazine called the Mike Fotis Storytime Explosion. If you’d like to hear Mike interview me about being a teacher, click here!

 

Life of Art interview: Heather Meyer

Who are you and where is “here” for you right now? 

I am a playwright and actor and improvisor. I also work with The National Theatre for Children as a production associate creating educational comedy shows that tour around the country.

What is your creative practice and what have you learned from it?

Heather. Chicken. Cat. Comedy gold.

I work best when I have a lot of things happening. You know that saying that goes something like “if you want something done, give it to a busy person”? Well, that is how I have recently realized I work best. So I fill my time up pretty well and then give myself short deadlines to produce work. I also find that improv is like working out, it keeps a lot of gears and muscles in shape for both the actor part of me and the writer part.

 

Where do you find inspiration?

Eavesdropping on strangers.

How do you overcome the creative barriers you encounter?

Usually, I just push the cat off of my laptop.

How do you regenerate when feeling artistically depleted?

Doing other things. Like entering a cake into the MN state fair (I did not win a ribbon) or learning hula-hoop tricks. I also have a blog that I self-indulge all over the place on www.cultureofdoingthings.blogspot.com

What does success look like to you?

I like when people remember my name after I meet them.

What do you want people to know about you and your work?

Usually it’s concise and a little funny.

**

Thanks much, Heather! In case you’re not a Minnesotan, her MN Fringe show – Your Responsibility for Sex Failure – was a total hit this summer. Congrats!

Life of Art interview: Angeline LeLeux-Bajzek

Who are you and where is “here” for you right now?

My name is Angeline and I live in Tulsa, which is the place I grew up in and left as soon as I could. 20 years later, I’m back, to be closer to family. The roof stays over my head, at the moment, solely because I am married to my husband (who has a job, after nearly a year without one, hooray!) and we haven’t completely decimated our savings account. I am a piano and Alexander Technique teacher who has a few students and hopes to have more very very soon.

 What is your creative practice and what have you learned from it?

I’m a pianist and Irish fiddler, a photographer, and a blogger. The music is an essential piece

Smart girls try lots of creative things.

of who I am because it’s been part of my life since I was three. I understand that there are some people who approach their music as a beloved muse that brings them happiness and sunshine, but for me it’s more like an irritating, everpresent relative that you can’t stand half the time but love to pieces anyway. I’ve recently gotten back into photography because I like noticing the little details and patterns of the world and working with light and shadow to make them more interesting, and I blog because I am seriously worried about our food system. I’ve learned that, without discipline, nothing happens, and that I can do several things reasonably well but not one thing astoundingly well. And, that I’m okay with this. Most of the time.

 Where do you find inspiration?

This is going to sound sappy, and I am really not a fan of sap, but it’s true: My husband William (http://william.bajzek.com/) is better than I am at everything. He’s an intuitive musician with a great ear who loves to practice, he understands the mechanics of photography and the rules of artistic composition, and he writes clearly and precisely. I’ve become better at everything I do since I met him, partly by osmosis and partly because I’m just trying to keep up, but also because he’s happy to discuss any and all topics of interest, talk through points of musical interpretation, read what I write, and point me to online photo tutorials. Besides that, I go to concerts and take lessons and classes and…just try to pay attention to what’s going on around me. I rarely get inspired to practice music, though – I have to force myself to sit down and do it, and it’s been pretty spotty lately.

How do you overcome the creative barriers you encounter?

Mostly, sheer force of will (see note about practicing, above). Recently, I’ve tried writing longhand in a notebook when I don’t feel like getting anything done – something about seeing all of my lame excuses laid out on paper showcases their stupidity better than anything else.

How do you regenerate when feeling artistically depleted?

Sometimes, I do something else, as opposed to the thing that wasn’t working out right. Other times, I read a lot. Periodically, I curl into a ball and whimper. I’ve also been known to do all three at the same time. One of them usually works.

What does success look like to you?

It changes – I’ve earned (or am about to earn) money for everything creative that I do, but I can’t say I’m supporting myself at the moment, so I don’t feel terribly successful right now. On the other hand, having the ability, the funds, and the time to continue studying and trying things out looks a lot like success, from certain angles…

What do you want people to know about you and your work?

I have a lot of websites; here are some of them –

Piano and Alexander Technique: http://angeline-leleux.com

Irish music: http://castlerockduo.com

Photography portfolio: http://angeline-leleux.com/photos

Blog: http://inherfield.com

**
Thanks a million, Angeline, for your candor and enthusiasm. I know all about that curl up in a ball feeling, and I’m glad a not-me someone was willing to share what that’s like!

Life of Art interview: Elisa Korenne

Who are you and where is “here” for you right now? 

I’m a singer-songwriter, storyteller, performer, teaching artist, and writer in rural Minnesota.  My bailiwick includes rock/folk/blues music, a multi-genre variety of original songs and stories about oddballs in history (most recently, my show ‘Oy Vey’ is Jewish for ‘Uff-da’ about Jewish immigrants to the rural Upper Midwest–there were some!), and the memoir I’m writing about moving from New York City to rural west central Minnesota.

Artist with panache rocks hat with veil.

I change my email signature regularly depending on who I feel the most like on any given day.  I collect income from a hodge-podge of performances, song commissions and royalties, grants, teaching opportunities, articles, and the occasional consulting gig (in a former life, I consulted for non-profits).

What is your creative practice and what have you learned from it?

I try to devote a few solid hours each morning to creating.  This works most of the time. I’ve learned that creating is a process, an unfolding that cannot be rushed.  I’ve learned that the best work takes a lot of time—usually much longer than I want it to—and that I need to honor the process for my best work to come forth.

Where do you find inspiration?

In those weird moments when what someone says makes a firework explode in my head and I think, “There’s a song in that!”  In spending time with other artists, especially those working in other genres.  In books.  In art galleries.  In theater.  In music.  In local history museums. In storytelling. In oddballs.

How do you overcome the creative barriers you encounter?

I journal, mull, fret, and freewrite. Then I talk to friends and other artists about it until everyone is bored, especially me. Then I stop trying to fix it and just let it go, and the solution usually comes in a whoosh in some way I would never have actively figured out.

How do you regenerate when feeling artistically depleted?

I do something fun and creative, ideally something that engages me with art or nature:  I visit a museum, take a hike, swim in a lake, go to the theater, listen to different kinds of music.  Oh, and when that doesn’t work I go shopping and indulge in gourmet chocolate hazelnut tortes or the like.  Living in the country, it’s easy to find serenity in the slow pace here, so what I most need is excitement and a concentration of creativity.  That’s when I go visit the city.  Spending a few weeks every year at artist residencies in different places around the country is also reinvigorating.

What does success look like to you?

On my worst days, it looks like my name plastered all over the tabloids.  On my best days, it’s that moment when someone comes up to me after hearing a song of mine, and tells me how it changed them; how they felt understood, heard, and spoken to.

What do you want people to know about you and your work?

You’ll want to listen to my songs on repeat.  You’ll be inspired and engaged by my performances.  You’ll be enthralled and amazed by my songs and stories about oddballs.  And you should buy my albums. And my book, when it comes out.

Learn more at www.elisakorenne.com.

Here are some links to her music: Road Trance and Honest Lies

To become a fan of Elisa’s work, follow her on Facebook

**

Thanks, Elisa! As many of you know, Elisa was my director for the show I produced at the 2010 Minnesota Fringe Festival. Her creative talents are awesome and she gets bonus interview points for using the word bailiwick.

Life of Art interview: John Hayes

Many thanks to everyone who has been keeping up with these Life of Art interviews – just a few left to post! Here is the perspective of musician and poet John Hayes.

Who are you and where is “here” for you right now?

John Hayes here, & I’m in a very new “here,” as I just moved to Portland, Oregon from rural southwestern Idaho.  I’m excited to be back in an urban environment—had lived in San Francisco prior to the Idaho move, so I’ve been putting myself thru alternate urban/rural culture shock over the past 15 years.

I teach guitar to supplement my “regular” income, which is thru Social Security (disability due to a significant lung condition.)  The latter has its drawbacks certainly, but on the other hand, it is “steady.”

What is your creative practice and what have you learned from it?

I have two creative practices, & in most ways, the twain never meet.  I’ve been involved with music since childhood, but from my teens until age 40 my focus was on poetry; I went the MFA route, but never really got comfortable in the mainstream of the poetry biz.  In the mid 90s, I put poetry aside & went back to music with a will, & have been performing in several incarnations from the late 90s on.

That is one shiny guitar!

In 2008, I began writing poetry again, & have done so in fits & starts since.  But music remains my consistent creative outlet.

Where do you find inspiration?

In both poetry & music, I draw from emotion—I suppose I’m an incurable romantic!  As far as music goes, as a solo performer I play old blues from the 20s & 30s, & you have to connect with a strong emotion to put that across.  In terms of poetry, my work seems to do with “memory & desire” (to quote a famous poet.)

How do you overcome the creative barriers you encounter?

I believe I’ve learned patience over time.  With poetry, I no longer try to force things, & am satisfied to write when I feel the need & not write when I don’t.  The fact that I can always pick up a guitar & play helps!  But even with music, one goes thru “plateau” phases; you have to be committed to the technical aspects of playing while also cutting yourself some slack to grow organically as a player.

What does success look like to you?

Musically, I love to perform, & I love to connect with an audience.  The audience needn’t be big nor the venue the hippest place going, but I feel I only grow musically when I share the music with others.  Success as a poet?  I believe my answer to that would be too complicated for the scope of this interview, but it wouldn’t have to do with publications & awards.

What do you want people to know about you and your work?

Perhaps it’s not so much a question of “knowing,” but of connecting emotionally.  If I can connect emotionally with a musical or poetical audience, then I’m fulfilled.