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Step 1: Dream Big
Imagine Little Simone with two high pig tails and dressed in original, fantasy gowns made by her mother using the sewing machine in the kitchen of the single-wide trailer. She practiced the graceful walks of Vanna White and Kiki Shepard. Little Simone held a hair brush to her mouth like a microphone singing along to Mariah Carey on the radio. She was convinced that she could out-sing that 4th grader show-off who attempted the elusive chanteuse. Vision of Love? More like Waste.Of.My.Recess.Time.
There was not a doubt in the world that my future career would be in anything other than the arts.
It took me going to high school to learn that not all dreamers with stars in their eyes were created equally or equitably. I realized that I was poor. Like, dirt poor. Like, pretty stereotypical Mississippi poor-poor. But, at the same time, I also realized that my quite a few of my classmates thought that I was rich. Like, lived in a brick house in the suburbs with a tacky bird bath in the front yard rich. Reflecting back, I know that both of these perspectives were filtered by my involvement in the arts. I was first chair flute, but I couldn't afford private lessons to fully understand what I was doing or playing. I practiced harder. I was in the musical every year, but had to save my Christmas money to participate. I loved to dance, but joining a dance academy was not going to happen. I snuck into the studios at Mississippi State to pick up aerobic steps or hip-hop classes. What folks saw were the product and assumed I was wealthy enough to get extra help. What no one saw was the process of doing whatever it took to get a foot in the door or to keep my position.
Gonna say it now: My story isn't unique. It may actually echo a lot of other marginalized individuals' stories who have tried to make it into the professional arts. When I realized that having a job in the arts meant having to play catch-up to more affluent or privileged peers in order to be seen or taken seriously, dreaming gave way to strategy. And strategy was for survival.
The very first exercise in the first chapter of The Artist's Guide asks the following questions to help guide the participant in creating the vision of what they want to achieve.
The first question was pretty easy to do. I've used strategy to get to the next level most of my career. Careful planning. Careful study. Step-by-step process. And some luck thrown in for good measure.
The other two questions? Eh. Maybe if you'd ask me this 5 months ago, it would have been easier. I probably would have done it with a smile on my face laughing about how the things I dreamed about in my personal life were finally happening. After I had put away the big, lofty dreams of becoming an entertainer, I then slowly started killing the dreams of anyone wanting to share a life with me. I had been called "too much," "not realistic", "a gold digger", "doesn't fit in", "too serious", "too wild"...the list went on. The words and phrases said by family, not-so-great friends, boyfriends, and one particular boyfriend's mother over years became the list in which I interpreted my self-worth. I let their words minimize me into a space where I felt that I wasn't deserving of good, strong, loving relationships.
It took meeting Cole to get me to start dreaming again and even that took awhile. Once we hard started to get more serious, Cole asked me to live with him and I said, "No." I needed to get other things done in my life first and I needed to wait for other things to fall into place. A month later, he would ask again. No, I said. Another list of things. Another ask. Another no. Then one weekend we were roaming around Kansas City at night (one of our favorite activities). We took turns taking a left or a right and intentionally get lost. On our walkabout, we saw one loft rental after the next and talked about what it would be like to live in these rentals. It was easy. That's how I knew that this was the man, the person, the human being that I could allow myself to dream with because we could make it happen. And we made lists. We loved lists.
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2018 ended with me losing the love of my life.
2019 hasn't been any kinder.
In January, I was thoroughly prepared to grieve losing Cole and to do that in the healthiest way possible - creating art. But then the woo-woo universe decided to pile it on to see how well I could do by flipping my professional world upside down. I won't get into the nitty-gritty details, but to give you an idea of the breadth of external circumstances that have occurred, both my OB-GYN and my counselor said that what I'm experiencing is highly unusual and that these circumstances normally don't occur at the same time in a person's life.
My crucible has shown herself.
One prescribed me anxiety medication and the other is giving me free services as long as I need them. You can figure out who offered me what.
In an evening of extreme grief, I submitted my application to join Artist Inc. I figured that this could end up being a creative gift to myself in the future. Artist Inc. is a professional development opportunity offered by Mid-America Arts Alliance that "provides cutting-edge training seminars that address the specific daily business needs and challenges artists of all disciplines face." I was selected and started my first class this past Tuesday evening with 24 other artists. I'm the only theatre artist, which means I'm the confirmed extrovert in a room full of introverts as demonstrated by my no-shame crying when asked to the side how I'm really doing. And I tell the truth: "I'm not doing well, but I'm trying."
And when I say trying, I mean listening to my energy levels every morning and honoring the rhythms of grief. This isn't my first encounter with grief. It is the first time that I recognize the bastard fully and I'm not forcing its suppression. Grief doesn't go away, so I need to learn how to work with it. Processes are slow. Relationships take time to build. Energy needs to be conserved. Mental health needs to be discussed. And...I'm trying.
We were given the book The Artist's Guide by Jackie Battenfield for optional reading and exercises. In the first chapter alone, it is already asking the reader to take accountability of the life they want to lead. I knew that Artist Inc. would train me on becoming a stronger business-minded artist, but I didn't anticipate the amount of internal self-work needed to get there. I'm considering this a blessing in disguise to process the parts of grief that I'm trying to avoid while simultaneously placing me in the best position to thrive.
I would like to take you on this journey with me, chapter by chapter and with the exercises. I want a place to write the pain, joy, and anything else I discover during this professional development of deeply personal work. It would be super neat if you just so happen to fall in love with the craft of theatre (maybe become a patron?). I hope that by sharing perhaps we can engage in a healing dialogue or perhaps it sparks your imagination about what is possible. I preemptively thank you for bearing witness to an artist in constant, intimate learning of her human condition.
Here's to surviving our crucibles.