Friday, September 28, 2007

I've been thinking about art and sustainability for a long time now. Ever since I made the leap into the artist's life - forgoing a steady day job, a spotless resume, "normal" social interactions, and expectations of a "normal" life (well, I gave those up awhile ago - but that's another story). In the midst of my own inquiries into how to do this work, I've run across other people who've helped me think about key aspects of sustainability. I share these insights because I believe that collectively, it is important for us to be able to develop language and believe that we can do this work.

In the March/April 2007 issue of Poets & Writers, Caitlin O'Neil wrote about "The Writer's Triangle". She states:

"The term refers to the metaphorical vortex writers get pulled into while trying to balance making a living, being committed to their literary lives, and staying connected to the world around them."

The article did not provide solutions, or many questions. But it did provide stories of other writers' experiences and considerations on what possible tensions could be pulling at the dream of a writer's life. It was nice to see writing that acknowledged the commonality of this dilemma. Here is where I'd like to turn to the two fundamental workshops that have pushed my thinking about this work.

This past summer, in my first year at Cave Canem, I had the luck of being in Aya de Leon's workshop: "How to Build a Thriving Artist's Life". In this workshop, we discussed many things, but I'd like to share the key insights from our discussion, and specifically, from what Aya brought to the table.

First and foremost, she asked us to examine our beliefs around

1) Calling ourselves artists
2) Believing we deserve compensation for our work
3) Knowing that this is our job
4) Believing and acting upon the belief that this work is emotionally, spiritually, socially and financially sustainable.

Aya also asked us to consider the structures we've built into our lives as artists. On a scale of 1-10, how have we built in:

1) a supportive environment
2) mentorship
3) time to write
4) fun/joy
5) deadlines

Lastly, she asked us to consider the ways in which social oppression affects our work as artists. How do we function as an "artist working class"? And what are the drains and the springs in our lives as artists?

On a similar note, Sharon Bridgforth has conducted numerous workshops on unblocking our voices as writers (she has the foundational workshop curriculum "Finding Voices"). In August, I attended a workshop she led at ALLGO here in Austin. She had us working in the jazz aesthetic, and asked us to make some assumptions:

1) Creative work is about courage
2) Creative work is about the individual fully being her/himself
3) The art is sacred.
4) There is a communal essence to creative work.

Within that, she asked us to consider all kinds of questions, of which I will include some of the most pointed down below:

Who are your influences?
Who are you influencing?
What has your journey been as an artist up until this point?
Who has been with you?
What did you learn growing up about being an artist?
What can you leave behind?
What messages did you receive about what you deserve?
What are your beliefs about abundance, wealth and money?
What obstacles exist for you in your work?
When did that perceived obstacle first crop up and
from whom did you learn it?
What do you need to do to be fully articulated as an artist?
What is your belief system about what artist's work is?
Where do these belief systems around art live in your body?
Where does self-doubt originate (place, people, time - be specific)?
What do you need to do to receive the gifts/support you are being given?
Do you know what it feels like to feel good or are you just functioning?
What are you grateful for?
Do you believe you deserve the life you want?
Why is your work important?
What is your definition of "good work"?
What have you not said in your work and why?

So yeah - there are many of us thinking about how to do this. The way I see it, it's fundamentally about the four foundational aspects of us as social beings:

What feeds us intellectually?
What motivates us spiritually?
What engages us socially?
What moves us emotionally?

And, how do we maintain balance between the creative world and the material real world context of social norms and financial responsibilities? yeah. These are just some of the questions and thoughts and interactions from the past year.

Soon, I'll be posting word about new and exciting developments around these questions. Amanda Johnston and I have plans up our sleeves about a publication idea. But, that's for another day.


Wednesday, September 26, 2007

Wow - some amazing upcoming events in the month of October. Here are some of the flyers:

And, Rooted:

For more information, go to my calendar.


Friday, September 21, 2007

I haven't blogged in what seems like ages. And here I am, choosing the final moments before sunset on Yom Kippur to do so. It' s just that the situation with the Jena 6 has me all riled up. Especially because last week, we paid tribue to Sekou Sundiata here in Austin. I think about what he wrote about in his short 58 years, and know that we must generate a collective creative and political response to what's happening.

Sign the petition: and if you can, send money. Watch this video, too. In case you wanted some information:

Yesterday was the first in what promises to be a series of protests as the injustice continues to unfold.


Thursday, September 06, 2007

So, for the past couple of weeks I've been working on The Book of Daniel, which despite it's biblical references is not religious in theme at all. Unless you consider rigorous inquiries into questions of immortality, race relations, war, freedom, justice, and the black gay male body a religious-spiritual act.

I was asked to stage manage the show, and as a piece of that, have had the opportunity to witness Daniel Alexander Jones in his creative process. This in and of itself is incredibly liberating and inspiring. Daniel works in the jazz aesthetic, an aesthetic I've been apprenticed under for the past couple of years - since I began to work with The Austin Project, Sharon Bridgforth and Omi Osun Olomo/Joni L Jones. He appeared with a script on August 19 and by August 24 had re-written about 95% of it, incorporating the Director - Tea Alagic - the musician Walter Kitundu and two other actors. The underlying metaphor for the piece is birds. Ravens, specifically. And the story revolves around Daniel's journey to who he is in this moment. How he's become present to his own mortality/immortality, and how the people with whom he's worked have shaped that journey. Malcolm X and Josephine Baker act as spiritual guideposts that become embodied in music and dance, respectively. And in stars. The piece opens with the question:

"What happens when a star dies?"

and goes on from there. What does happen when a star dies? Daniel is drawing on Dogon mythology, theatre culture, science and metaphysics. And in all of that, creating a universe in which we are also asked to take full responsibility and question our own relationships to history, art, culture and immortality.

The show opens tonight. As they say in theatre, "Merde."