Sunday, June 22, 2014

My cheatin' heart

I have been cheating again. On my writing. At least, that's how it feels.

For the past year--that long?!--I've been digging into creativity in many different ways, through dance, costume design, event coordination, marketing, bookkeeping, organizational design, participatory leadership... yeah, there's been a lot going on.

In so much of it I feel like I've returned to monkey mind, that beginning, learning state of being open and absorbing new information. Inhaling.

It's been exhilarating, but also exhausting. I miss feeling confident, on top of my game, like I did when I was copyediting or writing poetry. So why am I not doing those things?

Somehow, sitting at my desk composing, then submitting to contests and journals, has felt lonely and alienating for some time. Whether my work is accepted or rejected, published or ignored, I find that the process feels one-sided. I still love to read poetry, but I have not done very well in making lasting connections with other poets. I've gotten to the point where striving for this contest or that journal no longer feels like enough. I've lost that lovin' feeling.

There must be other ways to apply my skills, knowledge, intuitive grasp of the written word. Other ways to put my poetry into the world that doesn't feel like shouting into the wind or pissing in the ocean.

So I'm seeking. My resume is all over the map. I'm exploring, taste-testing, seeking. Where is my calling? I thought I had found it--poetry--but now I need a new way to explore it, to share it. (Also, I need income.) It feels strange and risky to branch out in all these different directions, yes, like cheating.

But something is building. These avenues are leading to something, I can feel it. It's like composing a poem: I have the tools, and now I'm going on intuition to discover where the poem is going to take me. This time, it's on a broader scale: discovering my life's work. (Is that too big to say?) A lot of faith, trust, and hope is going into this project, and it's scary to not know. Here's hoping that soon I begin to see the pattern, the path becomes clear, and that sense of confidence returns.

Friday, June 20, 2014

Teaching Artist

Wow. I just attended a 3-day intensive workshop for teaching artists organized by a new group, the New Orleans Teaching Artist Institute. Basically, this was the first opportunity for artists from many disciplines to get together and learn techniques necessary to enhance (or begin) their teaching practice. From how to write a compelling lesson plan to classroom management techniques to opportunities for arts integration (imagine learning geography through playacting!), this workshop covered a lot.

And what's more, the workshop's leaders employed techniques formulated for multiple learning intelligences and adult audiences. We didn't just sit and listen to lectures; we were encouraged to participate, get up and use our bodies to demonstrate (human bar graph, anyone?), be active learners. With each new interactive presentation, I found myself thinking, where did they learn to do that?

Personally, I loved every minute (yes, even the parts where I had to be a machine part making a funny noise). Not only did I get to meet and be immersed with a group of 40 or 50 other artists, I learned a ton about teaching that had always seemed magical to me. I had several epiphanies: teaching is an art form, that there are myriad ways to teach (and to learn), teaching may not be right for me.

Yep, that's right. Now, I'm not sure why, but I've always had and still have this resistance to the idea of being a teacher. Artist? Check. Teacher? Uh... Especially when I see teachers who are incredible doing what it seems they are meant to be doing. Could I ever be that great? Do I have that degree of passion for sharing? For students? And if not, should I be teaching?

However, when the president of the Arts Council spoke about advocacy, I had that lightning bolt hit me: THAT'S IT! I identified with the need for developing community and systematic support for teaching artists. Suddenly, where before I felt awkward and uncertain, I thought, this is where my talents lie. Advocacy. Community. Organization. Communication.

Even my resume seemed a little less scattered when I look at it that way: I have tons of experience with organizing and leading collaborative projects, as well as in communication, but not much teaching, and when classroom opportunities presented themselves, I rarely took them. Why?

Maybe it's like being in the theater, which I did throughout high school and college--yet never took any classes or declared it my major. I wanted to be involved, but backstage. Designing costumes. Applying makeup. Organizing actors. Imagining how the whole thing would come together.

So I learned something, but not what I expected to. Here's the image in my head, a throughline that I see in each of the projects I've been involved in: imagine a spider's web. At the center, a person or small group who keeps the overall concept in focus, knows where each thread leads, and who is at which spot on those threads. Moving outward, the core committee or team focusing on their own section of the whole, and then the volunteers or members who are helping to support or feed the work or to whom the work is directed. All of these people are interconnected, and communication is what ties the whole thing together, running in all directions. I think I'd like to be at the center, helping to ensure the project as a whole stays on track, offering support and connections to the rest of the team. Does that make sense?

Which isn't to say I wouldn't take a job teaching. Who knows? Maybe actually doing it would change my mind completely.