Updated: Feb 15
If there is anything an artist needs more than her craft it’s hope.
In 2019, I had one of the most challenging, disruptive, creative, stressful, life-changing years of my life. That year I created three original productions with my creative partner of MACHiNENOiSY. Each of them, feats of imagination and dedication that were years in the making and each production an irrefutable testament to our courage and commitment to reach higher.
And even though there were many other exquisite things that I experienced that year, including an incredible month long trip to the Greece, by New Years Eve of 2019, I had reached an all time low, or all time peak you could say – of existential crisis. And with all ambition drained from my body, shivering by a wood stove, in cabin on Gabriola I sat reeling inside of questions like, “how did I get here?” “How did it all go so wrong?” “How could I have given so much and feel so undervalued?” and the one worst of all, “How could I be such a masterful artist and feel so incapable of ever creating anything again?”
You see a few months before, the cooperatively run dance studio that I had been a partner in, which had begun three years previous as a dream of joint effort and support had, by Dec 2019, come to a very sad and demoralizing end.
After our attempts to rectify a protracted and untenable conflict had failed, feeling robbed of time, money, and precious optimism, I and my creative partner, as well as one of the fellow partners, broke our contracts and retreated unceremoniously from the studio we had called home - without a word of acknowledgement to our larger community. And, in the wake of that decision, I was left feeling, well… so many things…muzzled? defeated? Gutted pretty much sums it up.
Because for me, this ending was the ending to represent all endings. It was the end of my faith in — and sense of belonging to — my dance community. It was the end of a 30 year friendship and working partnership with my creative partner and, not long after, it was the end my dance company and eventually my dance career itself.
I bring this up not to point fingers or to indulge in old narratives of powerlessness but to describe how, in 2019 I came to the understand how the highs of creative achievement are not enough to sustain the heart of an artist. Because when I look back on that year (and the many years leading up to it), even though I can see the enormity of all that I achieved and take pride in it, I also see that year after year of fighting to create magic inside an ever shrinking pool of support, inside of a culture that doesn’t recognize or value artists, was a losing battle, and that in the end it was me, my family and my life energy that was bearing the cost.
Simply put, my heart was broken. And without hope, I knew I could not withstand the stress, the sleeplessness, the pressure of deadlines and the heroic amount of unpaid labor I had been tolerating up until then. I had to stop. But not only did I not know how or what to do instead, I didn't feel even remotely prepared to navigate the wasteland of all that heartbreak and come out the other side a whole person.
That’s why, as cruel as this might sound when so many people were suffering, when COVID19 hit in March of 2020, for me, it was a blessing. With the whole arts sector down and the emergency support the Canadian government was offering, it meant I had the time and space to reassess, reflect and discover what steps I needed to take to transform my life. And that is exactly what I did.
At first I naively thought that since I was an improvising artist who had spent 30-plus years practicing the art of adaptation, I should be able to ‘pivot' to a new career (as everyone was saying at the time) really quickly. But even though I had made some significant movement towards change as an online yoga teacher, when my mother had a health crisis in the fall of 2020 a whole new awareness began awakening within me, and by the time I encountered the work of Dr. Claire Zammit and Feminine Power in September 2020, I was finally ready to give up pushing against the revolving door of change and see the wide open space I’d been standing in all along.
Now, more than a year later, through the mindset shifts, spiritual practices and the loving community that the Feminine Power and the transformational coaching training provided me, I not only have the answers to the questions of “how did I get here?” and “how did it all go so wrong?” but I’ve learned to ask more powerful ones like, “What do I yearn for?” “Who am I being?” and “Who do I want to become?”
And with that, I’ve discovered, what’s even more alchemizing to the process of transformation than the answer – is the question itself.
I used to think the only thing I was any good at, whether it was on stage or on paper, was art.
I gave every ounce of myself to art. Even when I was 6-and-a-half months pregnant, nursing a newborn, or hospitalized with an undiagnosed autoimmune condition and unable to walk or talk, I showed up for dance. Even when months and years of insomnia left me feeling like a sack of bricks and a sloppy wet rag of paper (at the same time), I showed up for rehearsal. I showed up for the show. I showed up for art.
How? You might ask. The truth is I don’t really know.
Conviction? Commitment? Insanity? Probably all of those combined and more.
All I know is whatever it was that compelled me to rise from my dizzy malaise of sleeplessness and show up — when I did, I would find the energy I needed, I would find the balance. I would find myself again. Somehow, even though I didn’t know how, I knew that if I trusted the greater field of life and let go, whatever needed to be overcome would be, whatever needed to be done would be, and whatever my spirit/body could see, touch and sense would be expressed, received and would make a difference. But to do this, I believed, I needed art and I needed art to need me.
Yet what I didn’t understand at the time (well, there’s so much I didn’t understand) is that this ability to let go and open to the greater flow of life was something essential and unbreakable in me. It was not dependent on writing the grant application, receiving the funding, making the show or being the dancer in the spotlight (or on other people’s expectations of me to do so). It just was. It was and is and always will be – even after I’m gone. Because this life energy that flows through me is both of me and not me at all.
Yet in this time, with this body, this voice and this life experience, I am responsible for how I choose to use my energy. And I don’t just have one choice, I have many. I can choose again and again. I can choose to over-give and under-earn until I’m bitter and spent or, with my curiosity, resourcefulness and grit, I can choose to turn toward all the unexamined areas of my life, lift the “I’m not valued” rock, the “I’m too much” rock and the “I’m invisible” rock and nourish the rich, dark soil that's underneath.
An Artist doesn't walk into her studio, look around, point to this and that, grumble and complain about how this doesn't work and that doesn't fit and how there isn't enough time and there isn't enough money. She doesn't have the time for that. If she’s a master at what she does she knows (even if she doesn’t know she knows) that it’s not her job to criticize and notice lack - not at the moment anyhow. Her job is to lift her head, squint her eyes and spin around so she can see all the shapes and colours at once; and then, when something sparkles in the corner of her eye, her job is to sharpen her gaze, roll up her sleeves and get to work.
So that’s what I did.
Through the guidance of Dr. Claire Zammit, Feminine Power and the inter-relational women-centered coaching and leadership principles, I drew back all the energy I extended out towards my audience, collaborators and community, in my role as a dancer, choreographer, teacher and mentor, and re-purposed, reclaimed, deconstructed and reconstructed it. At times it was messy and unsettling (as the creative process always is) and it looked like everything was unraveling (because it was) – but now that I’ve been able to squeeze myself through this portal or squirm my way through this proverbial cocoon with my heart and courage restored to the power-ing, evolve-ing, grow-ing, transform-ing ‘verb’ that I truly am, that others are, that our larger world is, I am so much more awake and inspired – and so much more an artist than I ever was.
Because I have hope.
Not just because of my personal transformation but because now I understand how deeply my power and purpose are connected to yours. And I know that when we connect with the intention to evolve together, from a space of curiosity and receptivity – then anything is possible.
So even if you don't identify as an artist or don't know all the interpersonal and socio-political entanglements that can ensue from a lifetime in the arts, I know you can relate.
Because I know, if you've lived, you've struggled.
Like me, you've struggled to be heard, to be seen, to find friends, community, loved ones and purpose. You've struggled to make a living, to make a home, to create a family, to create an impact. You've struggled to feel valued, respected and to find your place at the table.
And if you've lived long enough, like me, you've also struggled – to let it all go.
So, if in the struggle to hold on and let go, you don't want to lose yourself in the process, instead you want to find yourself whole, awake, lit up and inspired
...we should talk.