For the last two years, I've been a Creative Inquiry, Interdisciplinary Arts MFA student at California Institute of Integral Studies (CIIS) in San Francisco. Yes it's a mouthful. Yes I've learned a lot--about my arts practice, about what artmaking means to me, about how I want my art to converse with the world, and about how to engage in dialogue with people practicing other disciplines--inside and outside of the arts, and from diverse backgrounds.
The MFA Program at CIIS is low-residency. I live in Boise, Idaho and travel to school six weekends out of each semester. I work in theater and as a teaching artist in Boise while writing and studying for this intensive full-time program. This confuses a lot of people in both places, me in a haze right there with them most times. Others mostly get confused about me in space, while I get confused about me in time, as I try to be active in two cities while sort-of being absent in each, making and studying like a hermetic monk much of the time.
A lot of what I've learned at CIIS is about how to learn, make and teach art while living in one place and traveling out to other places, as much as all the wonderful and immense course content of each class. As I'm nearing my final cohort weekend, I've started reflecting a lot more on this experience. Here are a few things that came up when I asked myself what I've learned and discovered. While this list is nowhere near comprehensive, it's a start.
Starts are important.
Panic does not accelerate productivity.
Slowing down in my process helps me see with greater attention and focus.
There is creative power in waiting, and in not-doing.
Wandering opens up as many ideas as spaciousness.
Taking a long time on a project helps me go big with it.
I can still pump out material and experiment with several improvised pieces a day.
I'm on the path to creating a lifelong process that works well for me.
The process is about the long haul.
How I sustain, how I balance out the creative, the professional and the personal.
I have a lot to learn when it comes to balancing the personal with the creative & professional.
But I'm getting better.
We handle grief in many ways.
The ways I handle grief over time changes.
Grief is sometimes creative and sometimes not.
Opening up, taking down walls and allowing for vulnerability makes way for connection.
It's uncomfortable to be vulnerable.
The discomfort zone is where learning happens, where the magic happens.
I am already whole.
Pursuing a creative life in this country is a political act, as much as the personal is political.
Community engagement is more humanizing than politically focused work.
Socially engaged art has a chance to make real change for real people.
The biggest change art can make is in the person making it.
Great art has roots and reach.
I can only sit so long without upsetting my body and brain for the rest of the day.
I need to move, find new positions for myself and pursue stillness in order to work holistically.
If I am truly making art to live better, I have to regularly check in with the way I make art.
I am a true maniac.
It makes me glow to hear my department chair call me a maniac.
I have a large body of work and that surprises people.
I feel confused when people tell me I'm working all the time. I think they work just as much.
I know how to make massive quantity, how to write a lot and create a ton.
That muchness is an exquisite practice under my belt.
My new task is learning to understand that I can do less, and in that way do better.
I have a mountain of experience under me.
When I don't recognize what I know, I stand tip-toe on that peak, ready to fall to the bottom.
I inspire people.
It makes me look down tongue-tied when I hear my positive effects on people.
I know what I'm doing.
It's hard to admit that I know what I'm doing.
I am privileged in many ways. I am marginalized in very few, at most.
I can walk into a room recognizing the ways I'm privileged to help lift up the marginalized.
Instead of listening for contention or to interrupt, I can listen for understanding.
I can notice myself in a room and assess whether I need to step forward or back.
Reflecting is as important as planning and as acting.
At the root of everyone's work are a few core questions.
When questions drive the work, the work creates more questions.
I can investigate further to make those questions better all the time.
Finding out what drives me is asking what enrages, inspires, makes me curious, brings me joy...
I can really tap into those answers through the work to make purposeful art.
Generating material is the first and smallest part.
Then comes reworking, the redrafting, the feedback, the queering, the slowing, the rewiring...
That final five percent it takes to finish a work really does take 95% of the time
Or something like that.
All the things that play with the work take the longest time and are the most rewarding.
Art that taps into shared perversity compels me more than asking psychological motivations.
Asking "where am I?" each moment can bring deeper awareness and presence.
Noting where I am is an easy way to slip back into a conscious mindframe.
When the spinning option is available, a conscious mindframe is better.
Finding one focus at every given moment leads to groundedness.
I'm more street-smart and compassionate than I was before.
Traveling 12-20 times a year--even when it's mostly weekends--can take physical toll.
Traveling while schooling and working and creating is a lot to think about.
Then when personal life goes under big changes...whew.
School, teaching, art and aging has me grayer than I've ever been.
So far, I enjoy feeling older and grayer. It may help people take me seriously.
Me taking me seriously will help the most.
Self care and love is key to holistic artmaking, or as Maya Angelou said:
“I don't trust people who don't love themselves and tell me, 'I love you.' ... There is an African saying which is: Be careful when a naked person offers you a shirt.”
I think it'll take me five years to let my last two years of education sink in.
That's probably an under-estimate.
I have a lot more reflecting to do.
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Process notes on a work in progress (me). This mostly contains raw rough content pulled out of practice notebooks. Occasional posts also invite you into the way I work, with intermittent notes on the hows and whys on the whats I make. Less often you may also find prompts and processes I've brought to workshops, as well as surveys that help me gather material for projects. Similar earlier posts from years ago can be found on: