The last quarter of 2023 absolutely flew by, and left me in a daze. But really, the whole year kicked my butt.

It’s been a year of challenges—physical, emotional, mental. I’m feeling spent going into 2024. But also, I think I’ve learned a few things.

Certainly, I’ve learned some things from my incredible Artifice guests. I know I say it all the time, but I’m increasingly and perpetually grateful for every artist who agrees to share their thoughts and experiences with me. I’ve grown to absolutely cherish these conversations, and the rituals I’ve built around them.

I’m regrettably (if understandably) two full months behind on my Deep Dives. But I simply can’t let any more time go by without writing up some of my favorite lessons from these conversations.

Usually, I take a day or two at the end of each month to look over my notes from the past months’ worth of episodes, look for a common theme, and write about that. Alas, I’ve been working nonstop for months, and I’ve had absolutely nary a smidgen of time to consider my notes.

But here I am in the SLC airport, headed to New Orleans for this year’s Jazz Education Network Conference, and I’ve got some time! So, I’ll be hitting you with some real-time thoughts today. Maybe that can be just as fun as a premeditated dive…

In any case, here goes!

I loved connecting with Jordan about the meandering path art often takes. There’s something so stubborn and faithful about making art. Most of the time, it takes a long time to show itself, to make itself clear. You have to stay tuned, and stay patient.

Jordan and I agree that a lot of less-experienced artists would be surprised to know how much time most artists spend with nothing—a blank page, just thoughts and impressions—working, slowly letting the work take shape, often not seeing the shape until you’ve been working for hours, days, weeks, sometimes even years. And suddenly, it’s something.

It’s the most beautiful mystery. Such an exercise in presence and perseverance.

OPE! I’m in Denver now. #layover

Somer said a few things in our conversation that I did NOT need to look up in my notes, because her mindset-shifting wisdom burned itself into my brain the moment I heard it. I’ve been thinking about it ever since our interview this past spring.

She talked about a childhood feeling not pretty enough, not quite the right thing. Then, as an adult pursuing creativity in the form of both photography and pole dancing, she found herself wondering whether she could capture her own beauty in photography—almost teaching her own beauty to herself through experimentation and exploration.

As a pole dancer, she uses the immediate feedback of the mirror to find which movements “look so pretty on me.” I LOVE this more than I can say.

It’s such a simple shift, but a deeply profound one. FIND which movements look pretty on ME. Look for the beauty that works naturally, rather than trying to fit into something made for someone else. And of course, this gorgeous shift applies to art and being in myriad ways. Can we start from a place of – which songs are beautiful on my voice? Which visual art mediums are beautiful on my existing skills? Of course, we can always push our boundaries and comfort zones, expanding our skill sets, but starting from this place feels abundant and refreshing.

I also loved talking with Somer about her teaching philosophies, specifically about the simultaneous gift and oddity of teaching something as personal as art.

She says “if we, as teachers of the arts, honor our students properly, and see them as artists, we can’t give them all the answers. [They have to] find their path, their journey, what is going to be right on their body.”

I couldn’t agree more.

Speaking of teaching…I had the IMMENSE honor of interviewing one of my college professors, Mike Steinel, for this past season of Artifice.

I often say Mike was my favorite teacher at UNT. I think I was drawn to him because he seemed a little more familiar to me than many of my other professors.

I felt so odd at school. I felt like I was missing some of what my classmates had—like I was more meticulous than free, more conscientious than “cool.” And seeing someone like Mike in a position of belonging and authority gave me hope that there was a pathway for me.

Talking about this with Mike all these years later (twelve!) was illuminating. He shared that he’d often struggled with similar worries, but that he’d landed on a deeper principle.

[just pausing to say that I’ve arrived in NOLA, I’ve eaten a delicious “Croque Ma’Dang!” and I’m taking myself and my travel headache to bed now…]

WELLLLL…it’s now many days later, and I’m back in the airport, leaving New Orleans! However, I DID see Mike at the conference – we had a lovely lunch together, and I told him I was in the middle of writing an essay partly about him. So, that’s fun!

Yes. Where were we? Ah. Deeper principles!

Mike talked about feeling pressure to be complex, or “impressive” in a specific way, but learning later in his career to let those insecurities go. He said, “I realized that what was really in me was simpler sorts of things. [It] really opened up something in me that taught me that the ingredients do not have to be fancy in order for you to do really great work.”

I deeply appreciate this message from Mike. As you’ll know if you’ve been reading my recent essays, I’ve been discovering similar principles, but it’s wonderful to hear this concept validated by a mentor—someone who has had such a vibrant, storied, and respected career. Thank you, Mike!

I LOVED my interview with twin sisters Abby and Bryn of Finfolk Productions. It really solidified the idea in my mind that each interview is a collaboration among artists, a medium all its own. All three of us were paying SUCH close attention to one another, and what each other had to say. It felt fantastic. And Abby+Bryn had so many inspiring things to share.

The message of stubborn resilience (holler back at Jordan!) comes back with full force in this conversation.

Bryn put it this way… “You have so much wonder, and this passion, and this feeling inside you, this need to create.” It’s simply not something you can ignore!

Abby adds, “it’s so fundamentally a part of who I am…it’s that creative, imaginative reaching for the best possible thing in your life, and [asking yourself] – ‘what fuels that? what inspires that?’”

This makes so much sense to me. There’s no other way. When you feel fundamentally moved to create, you must create. You must follow that path, wherever it takes you. It’s radically individual, as every one of these artists has pointed out.

Drew elaborated on these themes, as well. We start by talking about how easy it is to feel scarcity, in today’s creative climate. There is so little attention to go around, so little support, so little room in the capitalist machine, etc.

But again, the conversation turns to finding it within ourselves to invest in our own ideas. Increasingly, I’m inclined to pour my heart into this position. Even amidst scarcity, those precious bursts of creative inspiration, those gnawing ideas, those wild hares that light up your mind and heart…they absolutely demand investment, however difficult.

Drew advises, “it requires constructing an alternate reality from the one you’re being presented.”

Of course, this can mean many things. To me, it means taking whatever little steps you can take to build a nest for your creativity, to build systems that work for and with your perfectly individual artistry. It can start with little habits, even just a mindset shift (like Somer suggested). But I agree with Drew, it becomes critical, absolutely necessary, to build a story, a reality, a safe place to land for your own expression.

Ross feels this principle in action as both a noise-music artist, and as a college seminar lecturer. He says, “you get to experience and experiment with alternative ways of organizing yourself, and organizing the world…the way that I think about things is not the way everyone else thinks about things, and the way things are set up is not the way they have to be set up…and sometimes the creative aspect is really [asking yourself] ‘what if I tweak this? what if I tweak that?,’ …that curiosity is something I feel really strongly about trying to cultivate.”

It’s almost like we’re each creating a complex Venn diagram, with ourselves in the center. Each circle might be its own medium, or any component of our lives/behavior that helps us to solve the puzzle of our own creative fulfillment.

Sarah really helped me bring this idea home—a perfect end to this season, a perfect wrap-up to all of these topics.

We talk about creativity as a personality trait, rather than a specific medium or modality. When we cultivate creativity or artistry as a way of life, we may feel inclined to think less about how we engage in any particular medium, and to consider a different sort of question, instead.

In each facet of our lives, in each activity, in each relationship, we could assume that the creativity will find a way to show up. We can ask ourselves – how might my creativity manifest itself here?

I find this perspective so freeing.

Changing gears for a moment…

Early in 2023, I put a desire into words, and into the world – I want to build a life where I can show up as my sparkliest, most vibrant self, and have that self be received and valued by those who are allowed significant space in my days.

Throughout the year, I’ve worked SO hard to show up vibrantly. I’ve been open-hearted in many new ways. I’ve been brave. I’ve been creative. I’ve been playful. I’ve been earnest. And what I’ve discovered, honestly very painfully, is that the second part of my mission is proving to be extremely difficult.

Over and over again this year, my favorite parts of myself have been rejected and discarded by people I trusted to do better. I’m still grieving and trying to recover myself, but I am coming to terms with something that feels important…

I’ve begun to realize that most people who have made me feel lesser are ultimately so very boring – just completely incapable of seeing beauty in any sort of divergence, incapable of responding with curiosity, patience, or grace. And for the first time in my life, I’ve felt disappointed in them.

This has been a revelation to me.

It doesn’t take away any of the pain of those rejections. This grief brings me to my knees, on the regular. I long for deep connections. I long to feel valued, to feel real belonging. I’ve been searching for these things for 35 years now, and I’m weary. No amount of stubborn resilience can overcome a lack of love and belonging. It’s a basic human need.

I’m still very unsure of what to do with this pain. I’m very unsure of how to continue to pick myself up and move forward again, again, again.

But. For the first time in my life, I’m able to feel some sadness in the other direction. I’m sad for everyone who has been too small to hold me, or even just to let me be. And that feels like something.

I usually feel much more hopeful this time of year. It’s usually a time full of rituals for new beginnings. But this year, my heart feels heavy, and morale feels low.

That said, I DO feel moved by the idea of weaving creativity into every facet of my life, however I can find a way to do it. I want to infuse my most beautiful and abundant creativity into every conversation, every action, every task. I’m looking for new angles, and new strings to pull on. I’m shifting my perspective as often as I’m confronted with obstacles. I’m sending out as much love as I ever have, and I’m trying to hold onto all the love that comes back. I’m learning to be more of myself.

I’ll keep you posted…



P.S. These trees…

Does this look pretty on me?