Today marks the last day of my residency with the Squire Foundation. I’m sad to leave but of course, this is just the beginning to whatever is coming next for me, my work and possibly my life.
All I’ve gotta say is that it has been extremely fulfilling to feel like a real artist!
This doesn’t really have a definition, because what is ‘real art’? Howeves, while I’ve been here, I shared my residency with Joan Giroux, who not only is an Associate Professor of Art and Art History at Columbia College in Chicago, but she has also been shown at the Museum of Contemporary Art Chicago, American Academy in Rome and now here in Santa Barbara at the Leigh Block Gallery with “memory marks“. Over this past month, she has been a mentor to me by showing me the process involved with what it takes to be an artist of her caliber, dedication and accomplishments. Raising sometimes at 5:30 and 6:00 am and working until 10 pm and beyond, she was a flurry of output. Inspiring.
One afternoon, I was also able to chat with Squire Foundation Community Artist Paulo Lima in his bungalow while he molded his ‘Santos’ for his next project with precision and gentle care. Inspiration Numero Dos!
To me, at this point, ‘real art’ is simply passion. And I have that. And this was proven by being here because as we know, like attracts like and iron sharpens iron. Being here helped me remember I am a real artist.
Being an artist is a constant journey and like most will lament, a struggle to honor it, nurture it, and protect it. When I write every day, as I’ve done here, magic happens. A lot of that magic shoots through my fingers into words, but it’s also the type of magic that lives inside me as a burst of stars and glitter like the Disney logo or like a 4th of July sparkler. When I write, I feel alive. More than that, I feel recharged. Tension goes away. Irritation melts. Depression disappears. I am me.
When I lived in New York back in 2001, when I was thirty-one years old, I would sometimes wake up at 6:30 am before work to write my play about love, respect and Billie Holiday. I would then rush home after work (or after happy-hour cocktails) to write at night because I was SO inspired by the story I was writing. I knew it was unique. I knew it was intriguing and I just knew it would be on stage one day. I was in acting class then and I was studying Billie as a character to present for an exercise. I researched and researched and kept finding the same info about her when all I really wanted to know was who was she on the inside? So I wrote my play about who she wasn’t. Rather, who might she be without the gardenia, without music; who was she out of the limelight? That play became House Rules which my friend and I later produced in 2009 in Los Angeles.
My passion back then came from still being naive. Now that I’ve produced plays, often on my own dime later mixed with the generosity of others, I became more apprehensive about writing and producing plays. In fact, I haven’t written a new play since at least 2010. In 2011 when Harlem’s Night Cabaret was at the $20,000 production budget mark and wasn’t even at its full glory, I didn’t know what to do. I didn’t know how to go after other money and to be fully transparent with you, when I went after that money, it came with a price I didn’t want to pay. And I stopped. When I stopped doing all that stuff, it felt like a bit of my passion died with my innocence as I learned how hard it really is to produce art. It has taken me a while to climb back to how I felt back in 2001. I’ve had some amazing shining moments, but not something that has felt as constant as this past month.
I mention all of this because, how do we find motivation to keep going?
I’m scared I will return home and I won’t honor myself. That I’ll find ways to clean under the bed when I’m supposed to be writing. That I’ll find ways to get mad at Matthew because he’s tapping away on his laptop working and I’m busy just standing there being mad. That I’ll find ways to work on other people’s projects rather than my own book or blog. That I will find ways to dishonor myself. And not live my passion.
I know I can’t not write, that’s not me. And now that I’ve started this book during my residency, it’s gonna be finished, because that IS me. I just worry that I won’t be fully me while doing it.
Whether you’re a writer or painter or butcher or baker, you’ve gotta have something in the horizon that keeps that fire burning. A baker wants to share his gluten-free banana bread. A butcher wants you to enjoy her cut of meat. The same is true for me. I love to share my work because my work is for you. The writing process and getting out what’s in me is for me, but what I’m writing is for you, to be consumed and enjoyed just as much as hot-cross buns. This is why I write this blog. It is here for me to write each and every Wednesday. But Wednesday’s come and sometimes I don’t do it. (Please pray for me that I will honor myself!!)
Here’s something more:
You never know when you’re creating art. As part of Joan’s exhibit and residency, she designed and stitched a book that were excerpts from the letters that she wrote back and forth to her friend Steven in New York while she lived in Berlin, an unsure and new artist in 1986. Did she know that in 2019, thirty years later, that she’d be weaving those private stories about fears and failure into art to be shared publicly? Probably not. But what she may have known at that time was that art was her passion, the beast within, and she had to keep feeding it, no matter how small the plate, or whither away to nothing.
Withering away is not fun. Starving yourself is not cool. Nor productive.
If you have something in your life that gives you a high but isn’t cocaine or meth, than I suggest you find a way to DO that thing in some way each and every day (or at least two times a week). There’s a reason it makes you feel good. Because it is your calling, it is your passion, it was probably what you were put on this earth to do. Like, for real, because why else would the Universe, God, Spirit, Unicorn Fairies or whomever, put this magical gift inside you?
I’m writing this manifesto to myself just as much as I am writing it to you.