Thank you to Alison Morse for inviting me to participate in The Next Big Thing. Thanks also to Michele Campbell for loaning me her blog. If string theory is right and there are eleven or more parallel universes, she’s definitely living in one reality that I want: a free-spirited woman making her way in another part of the world. I can’t wait to see what creative work her adventures inspire.
I haven’t had luck finding a second writer to participate [Michele, sure you’re not working on anything?!] (OK, I’ll post something here this summer! -M), but I am thrilled that Elizabeth Jarrett Andrew accepted this mission.
Elizabeth Jarrett Andrew writes, loves, teaches and urban homesteads in South Minneapolis. When she’s not chasing her gregarious four-year-old daughter around the neighborhood or dancing with her partner Emily, she’s doing her best to support the spiritual life of writers. Her books are Swinging on the Garden Gate: A Spiritual Memoir (Skinner House Books), Writing the Sacred Journey: The Art and Practice of Spiritual Memoir (Skinner House Books), and On the Threshold: Home, Hardwood and Holiness (Westview Press). You can connect with Elizabeth at www.spiritualmemoir.com and www.elizabethjarrettandrew.com. You can find Elizabeth’s contribution to The Next Big Thing at http://www.spiritualmemoir.com/heart-and-craft/.
What is your working title of your project?
The title is Heartland, and my working subtitle is: An Unlikely Story of Marriage, Magic and the Maya.
* My trip to Jordan was remarkable. Petra is definitely a thing you need to see if you’re anywhere in the Middle East. Vast. Mountain city. With lots of Bedouins hanging out and trying to sell you stuff. I’m working on an essay about it. I don’t even know where to start blogging about it, so here is a photo of me on a horse. There are a few more pix on my tumblr blog. I post a decent number of photos there – and it’s easier to post pix and reblog – which means I’m turning into a lazy blogger, I guess.
Hannah Brencher’s mother always wrote her letters. So when she felt herself bottom into depression after college, she did what felt natural — she wrote love letters and left them for strangers to find. The act has become a global initiative, The World Needs More Love Letters, which rushes handwritten letters to those in need of a boost.
Hannah Brencher believes in the power of pen and paper, and has started a global initiative that encourages strangers to exchange love letters.
This TED speaker is so adorable – and I am a huge fan of mail. So if you want a love letter from me, send your address! I love stories, and I will tell you one with my own hands.
Hey friends! I have a whole bunch of super smart ideas to blog at you. They are simmering in the back of my brain pan at the moment and won’t let me live with the fact that thinking and the beginning of the weekend are totally incompatible. So I offer you this:
Carol Burnett and Harvey Korman were some of the most awesome sketch performance writers and actors of my childhood. I can’t tell you how much I wish I could get a complete DVD set of all the seasons of The Carol Burnett Show. Here’s a great example:
Oh, dear readers! How I have neglected you and this lonely dusty blog!
I would apologize, but . . . do I really need to? Whether or not I’m typing here doesn’t improve your digestion or bring a luminous quality to your skin. My favorite memory from Writer School applies: I learned that the world doesn’t need my book. There are plenty of books and book writers out there – the only way my book will make any difference to anyone is if I need to write it. And, then, maybe it will still only matter to me. There are even more blog writers than book writers, and personal blogs matter to their authors much much more than they mean to anyone else. It’s a big internet out there.
So now that’s established, here’s what’s up. I’ve been busy. Full-time high school teaching, late after school sessions with Yearbook twice a week, and a “let’s grab dinner tonight” social calendar filled with awesome people without whose face time and stimulating conversations I’d be completely bereft. Busy with attempts at some sort of regular spiritual practice time and feeling like a Little Dutch Boy trying to plug the leak of November darkness and dancing with SAD, often going to bed earlier than my best friend’s toddler. I’ve kept my head above water, because the alternative isn’t an option.
What all of this means: I haven’t been writing. I haven’t written anything significant to me since my show in August of 2010. I’ve been feeling terrible about that, have written a couple of little articles and short essays that haven’t been satisfying, and generally feeling like a not-writer. Imagine a 1960s era hospital waiting room with white walls, fake plants, overflowing ashtrays, and ugly orange furniture. Creatively, that’s where I’m languishing: the “I’m so busy, I can’t ever finish anything” artist doomface creative timesuck waiting room. The worst part about this room is that the cookies in the vending machine don’t taste very good and I can’t stop eating them anyway. Cookies do not offer creative satisfaction. They offer only a temporary comfort and expanding waistline. Stupid cookies taking away my skinny jean wearing abilities!
Anyway. I signed up for NaNoWriMo and was GUNGHO for two days. Then, I caught a bad cold, started feeling really sorry for myself, felt like a jerk for being behind schedule, then started to let depression* eat my face off for the past two weeks. All those anti-artist vampires started swooshing around me and I let them win. They said things like:
You can’t write. You’ve had your MFA for four years now and haven’t accomplished anything. You aren’t growing as a writer, you’re moving backwards. Plus: You’re not funny. You’re a hack. Nothing you write will ever make a difference in the world. Why would you even bother to write a novel? Who is going to read it? God, you’re such a waste of space. (blah blah blah ad nauseum.)
But the truth of what really happened is this: I got spooked. 3,470 words into a new story, I felt my heart open up and really start to fall in love with a new character – one whose story is finally not mine – and as soon as I closed my computer that morning, I was terrified that my heart was about to be broken. My last extended project, a memoir about living with an alcoholic, broke my heart. Why would this project be any different? Plus, I’m busy! Doesn’t that artist in me know there’s a LIFE to survive out here? Sweet spinning Jesus on a turn style, what do you want from me??
Then, today I read this article: If you’re busy, you’re doing something wrong. It presents research about the difference between elite/high-achieving musicians and average ones – and how the difference between the most “talented” and the “average” performers was not how much they practiced or whether or not they were “gifted” but how they structured their practice time AND the rest of their lives. Here’s a brief summary from the post:
The average players are working just as many hours as the elite players (around 50 hours a week spent on music),
but they’re not dedicating these hours to the right type of work (spending almost 3 times less hours than the elites on crucial deliberate practice),
and furthermore, they spread this work haphazardly throughout the day. So even though they’re not doing more work than the elite players, they end up sleeping less and feeling more stressed. Not to mention that they remain worse at the violin.
Therein lies the reason I feel so stunted and underperforming as an artist: I’m not writing every day. I don’t have a rigid schedule within which I do the crucial and deliberate practice of putting words on the page. Therefore I am not improving. No wonder I feel like crap about my (not)work. Then, THIS:
Also consider relaxation. The researchers asked the players to estimate how much time they dedicated each week to leisure activities — an important indicator of their subjective feeling of relaxation. By this metric, the elite players were significantly more relaxed than the average players, and the best of the best were the most relaxed of all.
Essentially, I know there’s nothing wrong with the busy life I’m living. I know that teaching eats up a lot of my time. But I could create some rigid, non-negotiable practice time to improve my skills at my creative practice. I could remove an activity or three from each week. I could practice letting my heart fall into something new and not breaking. It’d probably feel pretty good. So, you know. Let’s see what happens with that.
*For the advice-loving and suggestion giving among you, you should know that I’m doing EVERYTHING that I need to do to take care of my mental and physical health. I’m in no danger, I just like to complain sometimes.
PLUS: I’m up for LOVELINKS this month. You should totally vote for me.
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
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!