{ On Creative Courage }

October 27, 2014 § 2 Comments

How do you balance bravery with practicality? When is the right time to lean toward the first? This is something I’ve been seriously processing lately.

On the bravery side, I’ve been absorbing Fast Company (this month’s issue: “Find Your Mission”) and The Intentional, and looking at art from Hi-Fructose, and all of it makes me crazy with ambition. I want to tell beautiful stories. I want to support all my closest friends’ creative and heartfelt endeavors. Someday, I want to put everything I’ve learned and everything I’m passionate about together in a super cool magazine that everyone in the country will read. I want all my friends who want in on it to help breed compassionate culture, investigate ways people interact with the environment and each other, make readers more proud of where they’re from, and give Midwest thinkers a platform to publish their writing and art and stories.

On the practical side, I currently hold a non-related halftime job. Doing data entry. At a state agency. It’s really pretty prime. It pays better than any journalism position I’ve been offered, it’s related to the river work I do, it includes a view of bridge over the Missouri River, and I’m among good people who care about the environment (“my people” and sometimes, “future sources”). I like to say it’s a “great gig” because I can listen to podcasts, the schedule is flexible, and it’s a five-minute bike ride from my home.

So. Getting a predictable paycheck keeps me from feeling desperate. But you know what? I’m actually totally okay. I don’t live a super luxe life. My frivolous spending goes toward new music, $9 wine, Kickstarter campaigns and magazine subscriptions. My rent is ridiculously cheap, my bills aren’t unreasonable, my car is paid off (currently crumpled, but paid off) and I am one of the tiny percentage of Americans who graduated college without debt.

So if anyone’s going to take this advice on creative courage, it should be me, right? Because even though my job has a lot of perks, I find myself hope-joking that I’ll leave it soon. Recounting my frustrations would be totes unprofesh, so suffice to say that 20 hours a week is a lot to give up. That’s 20 more hours every week where I could be my own boss and therefore act as supportive and positive and enthusiastic toward myself as I can handle. I could be starting a magazine, helping run a nonprofit, or writing more stories. Longer stories! Better stories!

Taking a creative risk … requires bravery. It demands embracing risk, and fighting the good fight to face your fears of financial doom without bailing at the first sign of discomfort. The discomfort is just a test. It’s a test of your commitment and enthusiasm—a test of your endurance and how much you want it. – “You Can Have An Easy Life or An Awesome One. Choose Wisely.” by James Victore

But I’m a textbook Capricorn. We scale our mountains carefully with the intention of actually reaching the peak. So I’m spending a tremendous amount of time building foundational social networks, building knowledge, observing others, and keeping a watchful eye on funding trends and possibilities. I want to be creative, but I also want to run a good business. I want my Big Picture plans to last. I want to sustain myself in the short term so big changes can come sooner. But I also know myself, and trust myself, and trust in the universe to take care of me when I feel like it’s telling me to leap.

One thing’s for sure: reading others’ stories and words of encouragement make me feel braver. I started this blog when The Great Discontent opened its Kickstarter, and just last week I finally got around to opening the digital book they produced (thanks, iPad). For those unfamiliar with TGD, it’s a magazine of interviews on beginnings, creativity, and risk. Dangerous stuff, that TGD.

Words are powerful, and I am generously susceptible to their charm. But the people in my personal life are even more powerful. They live out creative courage every day. They’re real to me. I witness their their joys as well as their struggles. Here are a few of them:

  • Madeline, one of my very best friends, keeps a full time job and still shoots beautiful weddings and engagements, schedules models just to practice her art, and photographs her fiancee’s bands like she works for Rolling Stone or something. I’m so glad we talk almost every day, celebrating each others’ accomplishments, talking through new opportunities, keeping each other accountable to our freelance projects, and just simply getting each other. I am so glad the narrow halls of Mark Twain pushed us together six years ago and that the bond of our spirits has kept us close.
  • Madeline’s fiancee, Alec, is more than a tremendous bonus friend. He’s an inspiration in his own right. On his best days, he fronts the metal band Creaturezoid and a new, visionary project called Old Scratch. He, too, is cobbling cash together to feed his artistic desires and is doing awesome at it. I am incredibly, indescribably thrilled that he’s marrying Madeline. They’re already such a powerful couple, the fact they’re committing to making each other better every day forever is extra exciting.
  • Duncan, my romantic partner and closest confidante, masters everything he tries, and then tries something new: forestry, carpentry, running a restaurant, hanging drywall, making potatoes taste like chorizo, welding, repairing vintage motorcycles, teaching yoga, oh my gosh, so many things. Never one to criticize and always encouraging, he knows that I’m secretly plotting to take over the world and lets me do it in my own necessary isolation sometimes. Other times he speaks directly to my soul with just the dose of bravery I need to recharge.
  • Becky, who follows her spirit wherever it leads her, including researching sea turtles, working at an orphanage in Lesotho, and now studying in London. The woman works tirelessly. While she performs best in a routine, she stays open to what life presents and always makes time for her friends while she’s at it. Nothing but the highest for this lady.
  • Kelsey, my friend who left a great job at Martha Stewart to start a company supporting the Maker Movement. I don’t get to talk to Kelsey nearly as much as I used to, but I definitely admire her from afar.
  • Mallory. I remember sitting in Mallory’s tiny apartment in Columbia plotting how to inject our society with more justice and positivity. Those discussions maybe didn’t manifest in tangible action at the time, but they certainly filled my soul with courage. After working for NPR, she’s now on the clock for National Geographic and does lots of photography on the side. We recently started emailing again, and it’s so nice to think back on our revolutionary days and know that we’re both pursuing those visions in our own ways.
  • Jeanie and Bob, who have been like parents to me for almost half my life, both held pretty traditional positions in teaching and school administration, but that was never enough for them. Jeanie was one of the most creative teachers I ever had and always gave her students both practical experience and plenty of room to expand their minds. She poured countless hours into running a robotics team, doing chess club, and making sure weird kids like me had some grounding in reality while supporting our fantasies. She did this for decades, and rarely without a smile on her face. Bob started soccer programs, alternative schools, and is the biggest sweetheart I know even though he carries himself like a bulldog. Together, they’re my definition of a perfect couple that loves and supports each other every second of every day.
  • Chris, Missouri’s Teacher of the Year, who I met at the Missouri Scholars Academy this year. It was the last day of MSA, in fact, when we had our first real conversation and I realized I’d met someone very special. Later in the summer he came to visit in Jefferson City and poured out his plans for a super cool journalism program for teens, kind of like the super cool spring break program he did on the Mexico border this year, but bigger. Everything he’s done and everything he wants to do is firmly grounded in a pure teaching vision, yet it’s just crazy enough to make risks worth it. Chris, whenever you need a bus driver, I’m there.

I could go on, and probably will another time. For now, I simply want to express gratitude to everyone who lives with courage, from my closest friends to the people I only know through writing. I’m so grateful for every interaction I have that shows me there’s a better way to live. Thank you, thank you, thank you. You give me so much joy.

"Perched Precariously" by flickr user Serena Epstein

“Perched Precariously” by flickr user Serena Epstein

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{ Magazine + Art Gallery. Two Forms, Same Mission? }

October 13, 2014 § Leave a comment

Joey Los is a sculptor from Gasconade County, Missouri, who works with hot molten metal, electricity and fire. Her work will be on display and on auction at the McKittrick Farmer's Mercantile. What if there were more spaces for regional artists to show their work?

Joey Los is a sculptor from Gasconade County, Missouri, who works with hot molten metal, electricity and fire. Her work will be on display and on auction at the McKittrick Farmer’s Mercantile. What if there were more spaces for regional artists to show their work?

I’ve been thinking about how, if I want to create a magazine that elevates culture and sense of place, the book’s leverage could support other vehicles achieving the same goal. The Texas Tribune’s 60+ events/year is one example of this concept (see, “8 Lessons Learned from New Journalism Business Models”), and The Intentional hosts book swaps and writing workshops. Orion, too, runs workshops and monthly web events, posts jobs/internships, and promotes reader meet-ups. Those are just some from the top of my head.

This, coupled with thoughts from last week, has me thinking: At the Dream Magazine, if we’d employ artists and photographers anyway, why not also feature their work in galleries? Keep a small one going in the lobby of our Dream Office, and work with businesses in the distribution area to host pop-up galleries on their walls. We’d cultivate culture and support regional artists beyond the pages of the mag, and at the same time, promote our brand and raise a few extra funds (from places like, say, The Missouri Arts Council, which just announced its 2015 grants). This seems totally possible, but I’m wondering if other magazines and nonprofits are doing this. Please share links in the comments if you know of any. « Read the rest of this entry »

{ Art about staying put }

October 6, 2014 § 2 Comments

I have this friend Paige, who totally gets inside my head sometimes. She sends me articles about place and community, and it infiltrates my brain-parts and strikes me when I’m, say, walking to work through alleys in Missouri’s capital city. Like today, as I passed a half dozen beautiful German buildings with boarded-up windows.

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What can we do with that? I bet Paige would know. Most recently, she sent the following items for consideration. (She’ll send stuff to you, too, if you follow her on Twitter.)

{ Rick Lowe: communities and social context as art }

From the L.A. Times:
“You have to spend years developing relationships to be able to do something like this,” he told me at the time. “It’d be an arrogant disregard of a community to come in and think you can grasp all the complexities of a place in a short time.”

This offers a welcome antidote to the art world’s relentlessly globe-trotting ways, one in which art is made on the run from Miami to Berlin to Hong Kong. Work like Lowe’s is the opposite. It is about observing, learning, considering, and, with the help of others, working to build something new. It is about staying put. The art world could certainly use more of that.”

{ Theaster Gates: restoring homes for public art }

From Paige: “I love that this guy [^] won a grant and am excited to see what he does with it. Also, it reminds me of Theaster Gates, a wonderful Chicago artist who, according to Wikipedia, is a “Social Practice Installation Artist.” I guess Lowe could be considered that as well? Anyway, one of Gates’s most famous installations is the Dorchester Projects in south side Chicago. Check it out!”

“After making his home in a former storefront on South Dorchester Avenue, Gates purchased the neighboring two-story vacant house and initiated a design project to restore and reactivate the home as a site of community interaction and uplift. The success of this project led to the acquisition of a third building across the street, which with the support of grants will be redesigned as a space for film programming and artist residencies.” (Read more on the Preservation Nation blog.)

To keep this line of thought alive, I started a Pinterest board of “Revitalized Spaces.” Follow along, if you’re into that.

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