interview: a practice of resistance

Earlier this spring, the great Hilary Jones, Founder of Girls Rock! RI invited me to be part of a panel for Ladies Rock Camp to talk about “integrating arts into your daily life.” I recently found my notes from this and thought I’d put them into a more coherent form, as a way of documenting my thinking for myself, and maybe it might be interesting to others, too. I welcome your comments and insights.

1) Can you tell us a little about your daily life and your arts life in under 2 minutes?

My full-time job is as Director of Evaluation and Learning at the Rhode Island Foundation. I consider myself a poet, mostly. I am currently nearing the end of a low-residency MFA program in Poetry at the Vermont College of Fine Arts. I am Essays Editor at The Rumpus, Poetry Editor at Cargo Literary. I play bass in the band WORKING. I am married. I have a daughter who is about to leave for her first year at Bard College later this summer, and a son finishing the third grade.

2) Why do you think it’s important to have arts as a part of your daily life?

I guess I think of art practice less as a part of my life and more as a way of living. It is a practice of attention. A practice of resistance against complacency. A practice of focus – little bits of time in my day when I am not thinking about a hundred different things. It’s a practice of focus. A practice of solitude. My creative practice keeps me curious, alert. And I like to think that because there is so much frustration and so much failure built into the process, that it maybe keeps me patient, and a bit humble, too.

3) What are your tools or strategies do you use to integrating arts into your daily life? Do you set goals for yourself and how do you stick to them? How do you create the physical and mental space to be creative? i.e. do you have a separate music or art studio / do you have “rituals” that you do to clear your mind before working on music/art?

I often do set goals, but I find that for the long-term, the practice is more important. Over the years, I have started several projects and abandoned them, picked them up again, only to discard them again. I have school deadlines that I have had to meet, and (mostly) I have. Occasionally, I’ll commit to submitting for a few deadlines to keep me focused too. But mostly right now, I’m in a generative space and so I try to follow where the work leads me.

I have little office nook – right off our living room, so it’s not private, but I only really work at my desk early in the morning or late at night, when no one else is around. I often will start a writing session with a 10-minute freewrite. Just to warm up a little. To get into the right space.

4) What are the major challenges that you’ve found in integrating arts into your daily life? How do you try to overcome those challenges?

In certain ways, I find it less challenging as I have gotten older, as my kids have gotten older. Although it doesn’t always feel this way, I have some control over my time – my early mornings, my evenings, weekends, and I like to think I’ve gotten a little better at prioritizing the things that are most important to me, including my art practice.

The overarching challenge though is that much of the way my life is set up – with my job, family responsibilities, trying to take care of a house, trying to maintain some semblance of social life – any single part of which could expand to fill all available space – carving out time to do something that might not have any real, visible, concrete “payoff” (to use a crass term), is sometimes difficult to justify. To myself, to others. 

I struggle sometimes with trying to define “success.” This is something I worry about less now, since for me, my creative practices are not directly tied to any possible financial rewards. But that may not always be true.

I try to overcome these stumbling blocks through community. It’s an overused word, I know, but it’s been very important to me to have a lot of people around who share interests, challenges, doubts, etc. I have friends who are writers and artists and they are very important to me, to my ability to keep working, to keep challenging myself. And my husband is a writer and musician, too, and we talk about these issues a lot as well. Our creative practices are a core part of of our lives – as individuals, but as a couple, as well. 

6) For those of you with children, how has your practice changed (or stayed the same) since you became a parent?

When my children were small, I didn’t really have much of a creative practice – for many reasons, of which parenting was only one small part. Now, whenever possible, I try to integrate my son (who is still young) into my practice. Sometimes, I will read my poems aloud to him as part of the revising process. Or if I have printed out sections, which I often do, I will let him help me move pages around. I guess I want a creative practice to be a normalized part of our lives. Not to be this precious, isolated thing, but as a way to live.

7) Do you think this art/life/work balance is different for men and women?

It’s hard to answer a question like this without relying on some overgeneralizations. That having been said, an important requirement of a creative practice is to take up space – physical, literal space (“a room of one’s own”) but also the time, and intellectual and emotional resources a creative practice demands. I think sometimes it can be more difficult for women to do this – to take up space, to demand these resources – amid all the various roles and responsibilities they are often juggling.

8) Can you share your most important tips for integrating arts into your daily life?

Work through the discomfort – of taking up space, of demanding time, of letting other things go. It can be uncomfortable to prioritize creative practice. But working through it, consistently, makes it easier.

Make art for your friends. Your audience might be quite small, quite specific, and that can be a very sustaining thing. Focus on the process and the ways in which it feeds you. Try to separate out commercial success, if at all possible.

Participate in a creative community as much as your time and energy allows. Write reviews. Send fan mail. Engage in conversation with other artists. Collaborate. Support each other.

Thanks to Hilary and Girls Rock! RI