July 18th, 2018
3 Ways to Trust You Have Something Worth Writing About
Originally published on Medium.com
“Creativity is allowing yourself to make mistakes. Art is knowing which ones to keep.” — Scott Adams
The 18th century writer and statesman Wolfgang von Goethe once said, “All truly wise thoughts have been thought already thousands of times.”
At least that was the first half of his observation.
So then, how does one convince someone to steer themselves from a tweet, post, or text long enough to give attention to your take on the world?
It’s a tall order, no doubt, especially in a culture where detachment is as casual as Fridays.
We hear but no longer listen.
We see but don’t observe.
We communicate but real connection is too scary.
We record our lives rather than live them.
And what about those “communities” we do seek out?
How often do places masquerading as forums of fellowship end up just being a group of people who see the world as we do?
We cluster in echo chambers where the dins of our inflexible thoughts grow louder, drowning out reminders of all we don’t know.
But if we’re willing to illuminate our ignorance there is an opportunity to learn from one another and rediscover our shared humanity.
The world is well-supplied with information but starving for wisdom.
Within seconds we know the 7-day forecast in San Francisco, the elevation of Kilimanjaro, or the day the Titanic sank.
We can find out who said what about who, which restaurants to avoid, and when the new upgrade for the old toy we didn’t need to begin with hits stores.
But none of this deepens our understanding of people or what it means to fulfill a singular type of Being.
Some of the smartest people I’ve ever known wouldn’t know the first thing about being there for a friend who’s tumbled into an abyss of heartache.
And some of my wisest friends can’t put together a spreadsheet.
My point is, we all have different strengths and weaknesses, but something YOU know has the potential to improve another’s life.
That’s what the world needs now more than ever.
“Everyone is screwed up, broken, clingy, and scared, even the people who seem to have it most together. They are much more like you than you would believe, so try not to compare your insides to other people’s outsides.” — Anne Lamott
Just as you are, your neighbor is looking for someone with a quiet courage to remind them their pain, doubts, triumphs, are woven deeply into the fabric of our shared human experience.
Why not shorten the learning curve of another soul stumbling through life with all you’ve learned?
Because no matter your age, cultural background, or whether you worship a thousand gods or no gods, nobody sees the world quite like you.
As author Anne Lamott observed, “Every single thing that happened to you is yours and you get to tell it.”
Whether you realize it or not, you’ve had an experience and lived a life, however long or imperfect, someone somewhere can learn from.
The first step is believing as much.
Here are 3 Ways to Trust You Have Something Worth Writing About
Don’t Shortchange Your Skill Set or Experiences
“Use your struggle to help someone else get stronger.”
Several months back, a student of mine casually mentioned she sketched traditional Pakistani mendhi designs in her spare time. I asked if she’d mind sharing her artwork with the class before a lecture one afternoon.
After a minute, she had the class in the palm of her hand. Nearly everyone, including myself, wanted to know how we could learn more.
I considered letting her teach class that day.
Another student who’d struggled with bouts of depression after the passing of her mother, brought in a therapy dog. She told the class how her little companion had helped lift the fog of darkness her life had become.
Her vulnerability and openness won the class over, offering an unspoken solace that we don’t need to navigate through life as mere bystanders of our despondency.
The point is, what may seem old hat to you may blow someone else’s mind.
Your talents, experiences, and the struggles you came through are not just for you.
Our victories and failures don’t always make us better but they never leave us quite the same.
And though the past may be a terrible master, it is a remarkable teacher.
Find your truth and recognize your capacity to influence.
Write About What Interests You
“We should not force ourselves to change by hammering our lives into any predetermined shape.” — John O’Donohue
Several months back when I started sharing my work on Medium, I tried writing articles on entrepreneurship because that’s what I thought readers wanted.
I talked about the pitfalls, perils, and triumphs of gradually building a business from the ground up.
The trouble was, it felt inauthentic. My heart, as it always does, somehow knew it was being duped.
The truth was, I had no credibility in that space. What’s worse, I didn’t trust my knowledge came through a very different, but equally valuable lens of the world.
And the minute I stopped writing what I thought others wanted to hear, but about topics and experiences I felt worth illuminating, the whole process became much more enjoyable.
I felt liberated to do work I found meaningful without the angst of having to kowtow to the blogging gatekeepers.
Instead of being consumed with the number of claps, shares, or names added to my subscriber list, I tried to throw myself whole-heartedly into the wondrous chaos of thoughts, ideas, and desires I felt worth sharing.
Too often we misinterpret losing our zest for life with falling prey to some small interpretation of how life ought to be lived.
And because writing is just another way of Being in the world, I’ve found the same rules often apply.
Share courageously about what interests YOU.
Avoid Depending on Validation from Others
“Base yourself on what you feel, even when you alone feel it.” — Henri Michaux
It’s never been more difficult to start and finish your day without feeling wholly inadequate.
We are constantly besieged with an artillery of snapshots and ads of what beach we should be on, car we should drive, or the 3 numbers we should see when we step on a scale.
If we’re not especially conscious, life can quickly become one big mood swing.
This is why being yourself today is not as courageous as it is revolutionary.
Comparing ourselves and seeking validation from others is a natural inclination but it’s also a way of harassing our singular spirits.
As author Fabrice Midal observed, “We convince ourselves we stand out from the crowd by buying this particular car, wearing these shoes, carrying this bag, or going to this restaurant. But all we’re really doing is following the flock, contributing even more to the dictatorship of general uniformity.”
I’ve discovered the way to escape the need for testimony your writing is acceptable to the world, is by caring more about the people you help rather than the recognition you receive.
When you write about topics that matter to you, no matter how well received, the process somehow becomes its own reward.
Writing on subjects you care about also expands your imaginative intelligence and somehow does the same for others.
By the way, the second half of Wolfgang von Goethe’s observation, “All truly wise thoughts have been thought already thousands of times,” was the following:
“but to make them truly ours, we must think them over again honestly, until they take root in our personal experience.”
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May 24th, 2018
The Creative Reformation -Why The Arts Need Citizens More Than Consumers
Originally published on Medium.com
My family came to California by covered wagon in 1849, so I know a bit about pioneer spirit and have faith in the notion it is woven into the fabric of every Californian, regardless of how long they’ve lived here. It is with a trust in that spirit that I appear before you today.
Included in the background materials for the Joint Committee’s Annual Report on California’s Creative Economy, is a piece I wrote entitled “Judgement and the Ghost Ship Tragedy.” I wrote it through tears at 3AM, the night after the fire. I am a performer and writer, and a member of Actor’s Equity living in the Bay Area. Several of my friends and family members had connections to the space and those who perished. And like many in my social network who have lived in or logged numerous hours in quasi-legal live/work warehouse spaces, I naturally thought, “There but for the grace of God go I”. I was also upset about the injustice of the toll artists often pay for living in what has pointlessly if unconsciously become a culturally impoverished nation. I bemoaned the fact that being an artist in the US is staggeringly more difficult than in so many other developed countries where artists are supported and celebrated as culture makers and shapers.
I cited statistics on the arts budgets of numerous countries across the globe. South Korea, with a population of 50 million, invests around $7 billion in its artists and cultural programs. France with its 67 million citizens, spends $10 billion on arts and culture. Tiny Northern Ireland, with a population of 2 million, awards over $21 million annually for arts, theatre, and literature projects.
To be on par with those economies, California, with our population of roughly 40 million, would need to pony up $6 Billion if we use the Korean or French model, a mere $400 million if we follow Northern Ireland’s lead.
As you well know, we are nowhere close to those numbers. The NEA’s very existence is back on the chopping block, though earlier this year we were all relieved it’s anemic budget of just under $150 million actually funded for 2017. On a state level, the California Arts Commission is set to invest $15 million across the state through several different grant programs. That is a bump up from last year, but it obviously pales in comparison to the investment made by far less monied nations that don’t systematically deny artists cultural legitimacy for their indisputable and deeply valuable contribution to society. This is not a partisan issue. There have been several administrations over decades, promoting a bipartisan disregard for financially supporting the arts on a Federal level.
Thanks to the newly released 2017 Otis Report on the Creative Economy, in concert with reports from the California Arts Commission, ArtSpace, the NEA, the Bureau of Labor and Statistics and a number of generous foundations, we do have measurable proof the arts have a significant, positive impact on California’s economy. The creative economy is a massive economic driver for the Golden State, accounting for over $400 billion in total economic output — nearly 12% of our state’s gross product. We also know the arts foster skills that are universally valued across multiple disciplines like team building, listening and empathy skills, leadership and project management skills, self confidence and the ability to communicate across cultural, religious, race, class, gender, age and miraculously, even partisan divides.
A significant percentage of artists, especially those of us in smaller markets, don’t necessarily have full time employment in our chosen field, nor can we afford to take those jobs when and if available, given their typically low pay and the high cost of living in those areas where one can actually find work and others artists with whom to collaborate. That makes the work we do no less valuable to the communities where we are. Every dollar spent on a ticket for a live performance, for instance, nets the surrounding community $5 to $7 dollars for parking, restaurants, construction materials for sets, fabric to build the costumes, etc. Over time, that amount rises in step with the rise in property values that inevitably occurs when the Arts revitalize previously blighted areas.
But artists usually only see a small fraction of that initial dollar. Indeed, they are often denied and made victims of the very revitalization they served to catalyze. Artists’ annual incomes are routinely inadequate to meet even basic needs. This gives rise to a host of problems, many of which constellated so tragically in Oakland the night of the fire that cut so many talented, young lives short.
We are in the midst of what many in the Arts feel is a Reformation; a massive shift both in how we define culture and how we determine who participates in creating it. Technology has brought about an amazing democratization within our field. Equipment that was once prohibitively expensive can now be downloaded for pennies on a smartphone. Anyone with access to the internet is a potential artist, actor or author. That is in turns tremendously exciting and, for professionals watching as people leap from the bleachers to crowd the field, a bit terrifying.
But the fact we have increasing percentages of people participating in culture instead of simply passively consuming it, is not a signal of the “end of days” for the Arts. Quite the opposite! There are wonderful synergies and collaborations resulting from this lowered bar to worldwide arts distribution and the ensuing explosion it has caused in the number of hybrid amateur/professional artists. We simply need to take inspiration from that energy to shape, not shun it. We also need to foster a less passive perception of the arts in general. Polls consistently show people do want to champion public arts funding. They are more likely to turn that passive want into an active need when the narrative shifts from “art as private experiences or goods” to “art as a good that ripples through our communities”.
As much as we would like to believe our heads rule our hearts, at our core we are emotional creatures. (There is a reason why the multi-billion dollar advertising industry plays to our emotions. It works!) The Arts directly message that emotional side, communicating to us on a deeper level – across disciplines and cultural and partisan divides – because they invite us to play, to imagine, to empathize with and listen to one another’s stories without cynicism, animus and fear, and they provide us a safe space within which to do that.
They invite us to reconnect with one another, as well as our own basic humanity, to leave behind our silos and echo chambers. I cannot think of anything we need more right now, than a safe place to understand our fellow citizens with the generosity of spirit the Arts engender and inspire.
I know it represents a paradigm shift to abandon our current commodity based model of seeing the Arts as frivolous, or an extraneous luxury. But during the Great Depression, in the midst of one of this country’s darkest hours, the government turned to the Arts as a legitimate sector to help heal the damage left in the wake of the then collapsed financial system. Forty percent unemployment rates were not uncommon and there were states where more than half of homeowners hadn’t paid their property taxes in years. Yet the Arts were no luxury. They were perceived and harnessed as a survival tool.
My great uncle Moya del Pino was a PWAP (Public Works of Art Project) artist in 1934. He painted murals in Coit Tower, post offices and other public buildings in and around San Francisco. PWAP Artists received between $36 to $46.50 per week. Annual inflation between 1934 and 2017 was about 3.56% which puts Moya’s weekly salary somewhere between $695.03 to $850.50 in today’s dollars.
The PWAP gave way to the Federal Arts Project of the Works Progress Administration which continued on to hire ten thousand artists until 1943, a full two years in to WWII. The pay was less than the PWAP at $23.60 per week, but it was still a healthy amount. In today’s dollars it would have been around $400 per week.
But now, the Arts in America are perceived as some kind of weird beggar; disconnected from reality, limping around aimlessly, wearing a monocle and a tuxedo, stopping only to blow kisses into a mirror. The Arts were once rightly understood as a vehicle to inspire and uplift communities at their most vulnerable. Imagine if we had responded to the 2008 financial crisis with programs that supported, reflected and empowered our broken communities the way the WPA did. There is no need to invent the wheel, here. Look to PWAP as a beta version of the WPA for your model. Provide California artists with universal basic income. Let us be your test population.
I am asking you to take a quantum leap, like those intrepid travelers who abandoned the safety of home back in 1849. As fellow Californians, as Pioneers… Lead this nation on the path that both returns the Arts to their legitimate and rightfully dignified place in society, and propels our State confidently forward with the assurance our creatives are on board to keep the engines humming far into a bright and innovative future.
As the Otis Report has shown every year for the last decade, though artists often work outside the market-only oriented economy, we consistently and considerably contribute to it. We rely not on noblesse oblige, but on the concept that those who prosper in the market-only oriented economy while benefiting off of artists efforts, understand they have an implicit moral and civic obligation to complete the circle and support those efforts in such a way that we can do our work without having to risk our very lives in substandard spaces. As mentioned earlier, the reality is people want to complete that circle.
A 2015 poll conducted by Americans for the Arts found 87% of Americans consider the arts an important factor in quality of life. 55% of us would actually double the NEA’s budget.
The problem lies in how the conversation about supporting the Arts is framed. Instead of seeing the Arts from the perspective of citizens concerned about the vitality of their communities, the argument tends to focus on economic benefits or personal enrichment. This approach reinforces a pattern of perception that predisposes people to think of the Arts from a passive consumer perspective. Those who prosper in the market economy, whose cultures are connected, whose communities are revitalized and made desirable, whose stories are told and experiences shared, whose children are inspired and educated to the power of metaphor and abstraction, need to hear clear messaging that investing in the Arts is not just about sparking imaginations and feeding spirits or indulging in personal experiences. It’s about ensuring the health, durability and vibrancy of their own communities. We need the help of citizens, not consumers.
Basic needs. Shelter. Safety. These should never be beyond a working artist’s reach — and yet so often they are. I am asking you to abandon a broken and deeply damaging model that perceives culture as a luxury and treats artists like second class citizens. Substantially increasing support of those responsible for making the goods that create the gains, should at the very least, be worth as much to California as one tenth of 1% of the creative economy’s total $406.5 Billion in economic output — or 2% of the $16.7 billion in taxes from the creative economy. That’s roughly $400 million dollars.
A new study by the finance site GOBankingRates finds that of the 50 most populous cities in the country, San Francisco requires the most income to reach a comfort level determined by the 50–30–20 budgeting rule. Under the rule, 50% of income covers necessities, 30% covers discretionary items and 20% is for savings. If your income is sufficient to cover your cost-of-living expenses, you can live comfortably. You’d need to earn over $110k to achieve that goal in San Francisco — more than New York, Honolulu or D.C. In fact, the three largest cities in the Bay Area ranked in the top four: San Jose was second ($87,153); New York third ($86,446) and Oakland fourth ($80,438). Renters in the Marin County/San Francisco metro area will spend more than 77% of their salary, on average, to pay rent in 2017. The national average is 38.7%.
Shelter is at the very base of Maslow’s “Hierarchy of Needs”. Providing affordable, safe spaces to work and live and perform is another great starting point to support the thousands of arts jobs that make the creative economy possible; jobs that cannot be outsourced or offshored.
We need to step up and embrace arts education as critical to our core competencies.
We need to proudly sponsor professional artistic development to forge the path ahead and stay competitive as leaders on the global creative stage. And we need to lift up those who dedicate their lives to honing the skills that shape not just how we see ourselves, but how we relate to others and how our communities interconnect; those who are the beating heart of the creative economy’s success: the artists themselves.
I believe California, with its long and storied history of forward thinking innovators, inspired visionaries and universe dent makers, is poised to lead the nation with a pioneering, comprehensive policy that takes the perilously thin thread from which artists now dangle, and weaves it back into the fabric of what makes this state so golden.
May 3rd, 2018
3 Reasons Why It’s Never Too Late to Start the Work You Love
Originally published on Success.com
During my second year in drama school, my classmates and I tackled the works of William Shakespeare, Samuel Beckett, Tennessee Williams and Henrik Ibsen. Each storyteller shared a unique vision of the world. They could transport me from a drab castle in Denmark to a farm in the Mississippi Delta.
The authors, having faced even more imposing obstacles than they would put their characters through, were as inspiring as the stories themselves. But the work of one playwright in particular had such an indelible influence on my 20-something self that I still reflect on his work today. His plays were bizarre, confusing and even maddening at times. On more than one occasion, I left rehearsal in a complete daze wondering what trauma would compel a man to write such absurd stories.
I fell in love with Eugene Ionesco’s work. I grew to appreciate his sense of humor, boldness and wildly original take on the world. But mostly, I admired how the man who would go on to win numerous awards from theaters around the globe and pen a total of 34 plays did not write his first one until he was nearly 40 years old.
Today, a great deal of our stress, especially in the United States, is rooted in a distorted relationship with time. It has become the ultimate bully—poking, taunting and wrestling us into submission until we hand over the crumpled dreams that failed to meet a conventional timeline of realization. But as someone who has spent nearly a third of his life pursuing acting and now entrepreneurship, my success hinges on the belief that you’re never too old to begin work you love.
In fact, I’ve stumbled upon three ways failing to make the Forbes “30 under 30” list may actually give you a leg up.
1. Embrace that you have less time.
In the summer of 2013, I traveled to a small town in South Africa called Chintsa Village to volunteer as a teacher. After the program ended, I decided to rent a car and head over to Port Elizabeth. A few minutes into the drive, I turned on the radio in search of some tunes, but got nothing but static. Just as I was about to shut it off, I turned the dial one last time and landed on a broadcast. I was greeted by the booming voice of a South African preacher in the middle of a sermon: “Take my house. Take my car. You can even take all my money,” he said. “But please, do not take my time! Do not take my time because that I cannot replace!” Seconds later the station lost reception and mysteriously faded out. That moment changed my life.
When I returned to the states, I began to look at my time as an investment. If a project did not help me grow, forge meaningful relationships or give me personal fulfillment, it had to go. As a young man approaching true adulthood, I finally understood my time was finite. I was suddenly driven to go to war against distraction and sidestep work I considered frivolous. I also limited my associations with people who criticized more than they contributed. My life was flying by. I simply did not have the time to build a business and be around people who refused to get out of their own way and seemed fixed on taking me down with them. I learned to let go of what was not serving me. Time was now a precious currency.
2. Understand the value of patience.
Many years ago, a young man from Seoul, Korea, packed his things and set out for Paris to study filmmaking. He came from one of the rare households that could offer both the means and emotional support to make such an audacious dream possible. A few years later, his mother passed away after losing her battle with cancer. He and his family were never quite the same, but he especially shared a unique bond with her and struggled with the loss. In that loss, though, he gained clarity and the courage to admit the dream of becoming a film director was in fact never his to begin with.
With a generous loan from his aunt, he spent six months traveling throughout Korea tasting foods and experimenting with different ingredients. He learned about different cultural trends, the way food varied by province and how once regional dishes had become popular throughout the country. Not long after his culinary expedition, he opened the first of a chain of wildly successful restaurants with delicious and reasonably priced dishes. Not surprisingly, his eateries proved especially popular among college students. That man was my cousin, and he was nearly 50 when his dream was finally realized.
In the end, it was his late jump off the starting block that allowed him a clear view of the pack up ahead. While everyone around him was sprinting for the finish line, he was running a marathon. Not having the means to open his own restaurant didn’t limit him from clarifying his vision. He understood the value of the long game and the importance of staying ready.
3. Exercise a smarter kind of hustle.
Spend a few minutes on any social media platform and you’re likely to come across a hashtag followed by the words “hustle” or “grind.” From entrepreneurs to athletes, there is undoubtedly a culture of “no days off” being promoted today. And while there is no substitute for hard work, it can come at a great cost if not accompanied by a dose of self-awareness.
In my obsessive pursuit of becoming a working actor, my determination reaped many rewards, but left me depleted in the big-picture arenas of life: family, relationships and self-care. I chose solitude over camaraderie and competition instead of community. Then one cold winter morning, I met a man who’d flip everything I knew about hustling on its head. For the next several years, he schooled me on the importance of living a life and not just a career.
Every morning, come rain, sleet or snow, he would hop on the Metro North from his home in Connecticut and commute to midtown Manhattan. For the next 10 hours, he would audition, teach or take classes. Just before his late foray into acting, he abandoned the peace of mind that comes from supporting a family on a well-paying and steady job.
Each time he saw me get worked up over a blown audition or complain about not seeing the fruits of my labor, he would remind me there was more to life than being on Law & Order. He taught me you can want something without needing it; a realization that not only liberated me but also made the work more enjoyable. Not surprisingly, the minute I stopped trying to bulldoze my way to the top, I started to book more work.
Life doesn’t mean you have to live a small life, and no matter how old you are, you must approach each endeavor as if you’re just getting started.
Over the years, I saw countless plays in New York. Broadway giants like Frank Langella and Tracie Bennett left me in awe, inspiring me to push the envelope in my own work. Still, their performances paled in comparison to how this man lived his life off stage. He beamed when he spoke about his children, took the work seriously but never himself, and always responded that he was “awesome” when asked about his well-being. But the greatest lesson he imparted was that being satisfied while striving toward your dreams wasn’t a form of complacency. It simply meant joy couldn’t be postponed for some professional achievement.
Our 15-year difference in age showed me a responsible life doesn’t mean you have to live a small life, and no matter how old you are, you must approach each endeavor as if you’re just getting started.
In 2014, he booked a series regular on one of TV’s hottest shows. He was almost 50.