Beginning The Countdown

I have been fairly MIA in recent weeks.  Our training, commitments, and personal lives have simultaneously exploded into a frenzy after the realization of how much time we actually have left in the program – 6 weeks.  When I am not working on my final piece, I am cramming in as much training on my secondary apparatus and trying to take as many extra classes as possible, while still searching for contracts and planning what happens when it’s all over.

My attention was directed to work shopping my final piece in hopes of  having something presentable for the critique process, which took place two weeks ago.  I was worried I wasn’t going to make it through my piece, since every time I had tried to run it before the showing, I stopped halfway because I had either sunk too low on the chain, or simply ran out of strength.  Almost every day, I curse at myself for deciding to concentrate on a chains piece in the last 2+ months of the program.  Not only that, but I have chosen one of the more difficult ways to hang the chain as it requires a lot of brute strength, endurance, and pain tolerance, coupled with the desire to be “delicate flower” and not a hardened biker chic, and I’ve definitely pushed myself so far over my own physical limits that my body is cracking slowly.  (I took a rest day yesterday in an effort to patch those fissures, primarily the ripped callouses of my palms and punctuated bruising on my shins)

The week of routine showing/critiquing followed the Liz Lerman Process – a method of giving feedback that removes as much subjectivity as possible out of the feedback and is designed to promote thought in the artist.  For instance, rather than saying “i liked when you did transition A,” an audience member would say, “When transition A happened, I felt (insert colorful descriptor here)”.  Similarly, the artist had several questions prepped for the audience, such as “Were there any moments in the choreography that did not follow the same flow as the bulk of the piece?” or “The overall mood of the piece was intended to be angsty, does my costuming reflect that?”.  After this, the audience has a chance to ask questions, but again, removing any subjectivity/opinion/biases.  So, rather than asking “Why?” the audience would ask “What was your intention?”  At first, remembering the language was hard, and some had a more difficult time than others when it came to withholding opinions.  For me, if I really enjoyed an element of a piece, or a piece in it’s entirety, it was very challenging not to say “OH MY GOD THAT WAS FANTASTIC YOU ARE SO AMAZING!!” and remember to phrase it via Liz lingo: “This moment in the piece made me feel ecstatic, excited, nervous, and so very very proud of you!”

The process took an entire week, and was a big physical and mental drain on all of us.  Immediately following my showing, I scrapped about half of my choreography as well as my entire costume and started anew.  The piece of feedback that really struck me was this biker chic/Western vibe I was giving off, which is exactly the opposite of what I was going for.  Rather than being the dancer that manipulates the chain, I want to be the vine that grows around it, portraying a soft, yet free-willed movement that overcomes the relentless barricade of emotions.

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Still, it’s all starting to come together, and I am working on convincing myself that even as time ticks down quickly, it’s all going to fall into place as we approach show time.

The Art of Crying

Yesterday was really hard for me, but I felt some personal growth throughout the strains that I want to share.

Life is hard.  We are 3 months into this program, with 6 more to go.  I’m training and working beyond the point of exhaustion almost every single day.  But you’ve heard this before.  Basically, my life hasn’t changed much in the past 3 months.  I train, I eat, I work, I shower, I sleep, repeat.  It seems that this is going to be my routine until next summer.  Most days, I’m excited about this.

Yesterday, however, a series of events occurred that had me fighting to keep my emotions under control for much of the day.

Everyone in the program takes their training very seriously.  We each have specific things we want to gain from it – enough so that this was our homework over our holiday break.  I am not a soloist, for one.  Also, at some point in my teen years I learned I had a knack for making people laugh, and that when they laughed, I was less self-conscious.  My natural tendency is to become a clown, and this is something I enjoy doing in the air.  When I was taking a musicality class with Destiny Vinley at Aloft in Chicago, we were given scores for our improv.  I felt really awkward when I tried to be edgy or elegant, and totally relaxed when I was pretending to be awkward.  My creative process is to turn off my brain and find a flow in my movement, and I have the most fun and feel the most inspired when I’m being silly with other people.  This group I’m training with isn’t very silly, and it hit me in the morning during a conversation about our final showcase.  I became very frustrated.  I want to mess around, try new things, and maybe we create something and learn through the process, and maybe we don’t create something but we still have fun and learn from the process.  But what I see are the students working independently and offering critique and advice to each other, but no teamwork beyond that.  I want to run around the group, putting clown noses on them all and shaking them until they start to laugh.  You guys!  Loosen up!  We need it.  We’re getting too narrowly focused on our end game and not creating enough while we have the chance.  We’re constantly learning vocab and trying to recall it the next day, but not applying it to anything outside of class.

This conversation and the resulting frustration led me to feeling like I was on the outside of the group – the sad, lonely clown watching a party through the glass, knowing i can help but the door is locked.  This is going to take some serious strategics to find a sliver I can fit through.

Already feeling on the outside a bit, when I arrived at the studio, I found out about an impromptu gathering that would be happening after class – nothing major, a clothing swap – and I think I lost it.  While I was invited, work prevented me from joining.  I was angry, I was lonely, I hated everything about my situation.  I felt like I was missing out on so much because I was so focused on being able to be here – the working constantly and being a mother and trying to train hard.  I know that being a mother has set me apart from the rest of the girls in this program, that my responsibilities are heavier and my time not as spontaneous.  And, in the past, the fact that I am a mother has prevented me from participating in so much, and people stopped inviting me places because of that – I started to worry that it would happen again.

All through our first class, I was struggling to get a grip on my emotions.  The tears were right on the edge and I kept trying to blink them away.  Our next class was ballet, and that has been a struggle in itself for me, and the frustration over the fancy footwork brings me to tears, so I thought I wouldn’t be able to handle it.  In between classes, I mentioned to the teacher that I was having a hard day, and I was drained physically and feeling lonely, and I didn’t know how the class was going to affect me.  She gave me a hug, let me vent a bit, and offered encouragement and support.  From there, I sat down between two students and began to talk to one about how I have been feeling.

The personal growth is that the rational understanding of events was right there as I was allowing myself to feel upset.  I knew the bulk of emotions was coming from being tired and feeling drained.  That was making me feel disconnected.  I also know that the others in the program are feeling similar, and no one really has time or energy to get together outside of the studio.  I also felt like it was ok, if not necessary, to cry and let out all of those frustrations, that there was nothing wrong about those frustrations.

Human beings are interesting creatures when it comes to our emotions.  We have a hard time facing them, dissecting them, and coming to terms with them.  We would rather tuck them away somewhere, guarded and then forgotten.  When we finally start to open up, we are surprised by where the emotions have been hiding and the flood that accompanies their discovery.

Several times in this program, we have had students burst into tears unprovoked.  Sometimes all it took was a push against the shoulder blade to open the chest, a stretch of the spine or relaxation of the hips.  We dropped some physical wall and the deluge of tears was waiting on the other side.  I’ve spoken to several people about this – athletes, body workers, massage therapists, trying to understand why it happens.  No one really knows why – just that it happens.  A lot.  And, when it happens, YOU HAVE TO LET IT.  GIVE IN.

For me, trying to relax into my center splits has been making me feel both nauseated and inconsolably depressed.  It doesn’t hurt to stretch into it, but once I’m down and leaning forward, the pit of my stomach feels heavy, like a water balloon is sitting in my pelvis.  The more I relax my hip flexors and psoas, the more I want to cry.  And others have seen it and urged me to let go.  Relax, whimper, sob – do what your body is telling you to do, because it knows what it needs.

If you don’t let yourself cry, the emotions are going to get stored somewhere.  You can’t rationalize them into nonexistence.  You can’t push them aside and expect them to leave willingly.  Your mind puts them somewhere else until it’s ready to handle them, or until you cannot contain them anymore.  But really, you have to ride them out.  Revel in the nuances of them, the ups and downs and backwards.

What I find the most interesting is that this program has been pushing me past all of my limits, but I’m still standing, excited and inspired, albeit exhausted now and again, and I think it’s because I am not pretending to be strong.  When things get hard, I let people know.  I look for a hug and I hold on tight, squeezing out all of the stress.  When things go well, I have people to share my accomplishments with.  When my body says STOP, I am learning how to listen, and when my body says THIS IS TOO HARD, I let myself cry and feel pitiful.  And only then I can mop up the emotions, wring out the sponge, and face another day.

Don’t think of crying as something weak, selfish, or unwarranted.

Think of crying as cleaning your brushes, so you can start a new painting.

Explore Chicago: Hanging Out With Lorna’s Laces

I didn’t realize this could be an Explore Chicago post until I came face to face with that word at the top my screen that demands “Title.”  I thought about it – how do I sum about my awesome weekend in a few short words that makes you want to continue reading?  What did I really do and what do I want to share with you?  This weekend was actually a large exploration of Chicago, from it’s quaint and quirky neighborhoods to the suburbs and a vast exploration of the public transit system into the Loop, it was strange and colorful and chilly and wonderfully inspiring.  Honestly – a little terrifyingly inspiring, as strange as the concept may seem.  To sum up what I mean – I have been face to face with some amazing, beautiful, creative, and ambitious people doing fantastic things.  And I’m faced with the ability to be a part of it – and it blows my mind.  I feel like I’m standing on the edge of everything I have want to do and all that is required is to take that one last leap of faith, and to be perfectly clear – it scares the h-e-double-hockey-sticks out of me.

But, I digress.

Saturday saw a most wonderful opportunity realized.  I teamed up with the gals from Windy Knitty and we went to the dye studio of Lorna’s Laces – a most lovely, colorful, wacky little yarn dyer that is based in Ravenswood, a neighborhood here in Chicago.  Take a look at that website – go on, I can wait.  Pretty stunning, yes?  The color combinations, the quality, and if only you could feel the amazing cloud-like substance the yarn actually is – you would be head over heels and “accidentally” swiping your credit card (I may or may not speak from experience).

The coolest part, besides seeing the hole in the wall where the magic happens and standing inside hallways of beautiful, colorful, tempting skeins of super soft merino…I got to dye my own yarn.

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We started with a base.  I had a skein of superwash merino fingering weight, as did a majority of the others there.  This was her famous Solemate – ideal for sock yarn because of the 15% nylon and 30% Outlast.  It is deliciously soft and has a lovely sheen to it.

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We then picked out colors and watched Beth mix the pigments.

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She took a skein of the same base yarn and showed us what each of the colors was going to look like.  Once the 8 colors were ready, she let us have our fun.  There were 3 of us working on the tables at once, laughing our butts off as we spilled dyed across the table, played around with colors, and explored the studio.

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Seriously….color explosion everywhere.  I couldn’t help myself.

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And then we found this – a table of mill ends and one-of-a-kind skeins.  All of the samples they work with while they are trying to come up with new colorways – sitting right here on the table at ridiculously cheap prices.  I couldn’t resist.  I really couldn’t.  I keep wandering to the table, digging through the pile and finding all of these amazing little treasures.  I came away with a bag full of colorful pretties, and I have plans.

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In contract to the hanging skeins pictured above, our trial skeins hung in a row drying, but were no where near as stunning.  Granted, we all adored each others handiwork because it was a lovely surprise when they were finished.  We weren’t quite sure how everything was going to turn out, and each skein was beautiful.

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This is my Solemate.  It seems to reflect the icy chill of winter that is settling over us, with that lovely splash of color and beauty that you happen upon on those cold days.

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And then I couldn’t help myself, so I bought another base – this time a Superwash Worsted, and had another go; this time inspired by the autumn colors on the table.

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I can’t believe how lovely they turned out, and now I am racking my brain to think of suitable projects, because at this rate, my stash has an awful lot of souvenir, one-of-a-kind, once-in-a-lifetime finds that I really, simply, should not keep stuffed in plastic baggies inside of drawers.  They are meant to be admired.

Custer’s Last Stand Festival of the Arts

Today, I write to you exhausted but content.  I had a lovely weekend face painting at the 42nd annual (and my 3rd year!) Custer’s Last Stand Festival of the Arts, which takes place less than a mile from my apartment.  This is one of my favorite places to work, and so far this year is the only big festival I plan on doing.

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Ellette, of course, was the first to get painted.  I tend to make a rule with her that if I am painting her face, I get to decide what she looks like.

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Saturday morning gave us rain, but it cleared up around 1.  The morning was slow enough for me that I could afford a little more detail and attention to patrons.

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Whole families stopped by.

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Last year, this girl had me paint her face as a daisy.  This year, she wanted a rose.  I’m excited to see what she wants next year.

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My favorite requests are the ones that challenge me.  I am getting bored with butterflies, tigers, and dragons.  This girl wanted a mocking jay pin – a reference to something I completely forgot – one of those blah *games* blah shows or movies.

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Sunday was father’s day, and I had a couple of “tattoo” pieces that celebrated Dad,

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A rainbow tiger brigade came through.

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And one of my favorite pieces of the weekend – a ballerina.  This young girl and I sat talking about what kind of pose the ballerina should do.  I like the way the silhouette turned out, rather than doing it in color.  I think it makes the piece more dramatic.

One of the things about this weekend that made it worth while is that many of the kids that waited so patiently in line were there because I had painted them last year, and/or the year before, and they love my work and energy.  It really touches my heart to have met so many families that look for me time and time again.  This is why I started doing what I do, why being a children’s entertainer and teacher is important to me, and why I am trying to pursue it as a full time gig.

To all the families and friends that stopped by, waited in line, poked their head in to say hello, and especially to the people who brought me food, water, and lemonade because I was constantly surrounded by kids and paint and couldn’t move – you made my weekend fantastic!  Thank you!!

What Can You Imagine?

I have a lot of friends who are amazing and talented performers.  It is part of the reason I love what I do – I have met such interesting people along the way.  In this community I have discovered that “community” is upheld in every sense of the word.  They look out for each other, take care of and encourage each other, push each other and fully support each other, and I feel incredibly lucky to be a part of this world.

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That being said, I am branching outside of our community to ask others to become involved.  Three of my friends have a kickstarter going right now in which they are trying to improve their show substantially and take it on tour.  If I could figure out how to embed the video here, it would be up for you to see.

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So, yeah – check them out and donate what you can.  Go see a show!  Like them on Facebook! You know the drill!

imaginez3They need your help for their imaginations to take flight.

 

 

Exploring Chicago – The Art Institute

We decided this last Sunday would be our explore Chicago day, even though it was rainy, because our weekends this month are filling up quickly.

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Ellette doesn’t seem to ever get tired of the train rides.  So long as she can see the map, she is a happy trooper.  We spent much of the ride playing eye-spy.  Initially, we were going to go to the Lincoln Park zoo, because it was supposed to be relatively dry and warm.  Then, the forecast tipped to raining all day, and we thought the Garfield Park Conservatory would be fun.  But on the train, the idea for going to the Picasso exhibit presented itself and Ellette was very excited to see the artwork, so we went that route.

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I’m not the kind of person that takes pictures in art museums.  For some reason, that feels wrong – like I’m stealing from the artist or not doing their art justice.  You want to see Picasso’s work – go check it out yourself! Any photo I could have taken would not have shown the colors and textures the way they ought to be respresented.

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This little jem, however, was part of the paperweight collection and we all fawned over how beautiful and intricate it is.  It is so lifelike!

Because of this and other adventures of the weekend, there was hardly any crafting.  There will be a finished-object post coming up.  I promise!

A Lazy Crafternoon

This Sunday, I hosted a “crafternoon.”  This is a concept inspired by another blogger (and for some reason right now I can’t hyperlink to that blog).  I have been wanting to host a craft party for some time, and I finally set a date and invited people over with no real plan in mind.  The only caviat was that you had to be working on your own personal “craft” at the party – bring something creative, inspiring, helpful, etc. 

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I finished and blocked the baby skirt for Jeana and Ellette’s birthday vest.  Then, I wandered around a little aimlessly, so engaged in conversation and laughter that crafting was difficult.

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Granted, I was also distracted by my adorable goddaughter – here you see our cat Pyggy being introduced to a tiny human for the first time ever.  He was very curious.

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Jeana’s mom worked on the baby bodice for this summer’s impending Renaissance Festival.  I think her outfit is going to be irresistable!  What a lucky girl.

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Craft was defined fairly loosely, so people brought snacks to prepare (culinary crafting), music to practice, and someone even took apart my hand crank espresso machine to find out what was wrong with it (what we thought would be a $15 fix is quickly become a $200 one….hmm….)

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The kids had a blast, as well.  There were tons of projects for kids to work on – from drawing to beading and anything else they could wrap their imagination around, but they decided that playing dress-up would be the most fun.  We have the perfet house for it, too, because my fairy costumes kind of litter every room.

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A different kind of dress-up and craft took place at one point.  My friend Arielle, who is an art student, needed to do a particular type of project in which she needed a live model to sketch from.  Her theme was “urban legends” and she chose the razor blade in Halloween apples, and used Ellette as her subject.  Ellette thought it was mostly fun, until Arielle squirted her with fake costume blood.  It was a rather dark addition to the party, but we all found it interesting.  And then Ellette started glaring at all of us and we couldn’t stop laughing.

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There was some knitting, but the most yarny thing happening was Caitlin – the friend every knitter should have – who wove in the ends on my Tech Square Afghan.  I have no excuse not to finish now.  It just needs a couple of embellishments and it’s done.

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It was a wonderfully productive, inspiring day and I am so blessed to have so many amazing, talented people in my life.  I am hoping to make the crafternoons a reegular occurance, and maybe even create themes or tutorials for the future.

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