good at goodbyes

I started this post last week, before the whole Etsy debacle, which seems weirdly prescient now. In short, my Etsy shop is one of a handful of things I've let go over the past few years, something I've been mulling over during this most recent professional transition (not to mention all the decade stuff going around - the "best of" lists, decade edition, the me in 2009 vs me in 2019, which was coincidentally the lifespan of my Etsy shop). A lot has happened even just since my last blog post, at the beginning of this academic year (I quit Facebook, for starters, plus lunch the week I tried intermittent fasting...you get the idea), when I was still spending a lot of time mulling over my podcast and next steps, should there be any. Thing is, turns out, unlike most people, I'm pretty good at goodbyes! It's a handy skill that I'm not always proud of. But I seem to be doing a lot of it lately.

Let's back up a few years and summarize briefly. It's June, 2017. I, like many rational Americans, have had a rough few months. In addition to the political environment, my husband had spent much of that school year looking for work after the start-up he worked for, well, didn't work out. Friends with more stable jobs reacted with horror, but for those of us used to less job security, it happens. Both of the cats we'd adopted in the last century had died, within six months of each other. I was unhappy at my job and had virtually no time for creative projects, still recovering from the transition from one kid to two. I was at what I'll say now was the beginning of a midlife crisis of sorts. Like menopause, it's ongoing, which, like menopause, no one tells you about.

A long time ago, when I lived with three (significantly less tidy) roommates, I used to play this game where I'd stop taking out the garbage. You know, see how long it would take, how full the garbage would get, before someone else took it out for a change. It would overflow and eventually, I'd give in and take it out. I started to feel this way with some of my relationships, which, and granted, maybe I was being overly self-involved in that "woe is me" way, were beginning to feel very one-sided. I felt like I was always the one initiating social stuff, and outings were always more convenient for the other person. At some point I decided to apply my taking-out-the-garbage test to some of my relationships, seeing how long it would be before the other person contacted me to initiate something instead of it always being the other way around. This time, I refused to give in and take out the garbage, so to speak. Those relationships fizzled.

And then I quit my job with nothing else lined up. I announced it here, including an ambitious list of projects I hoped to tackle over the coming year (one year eventually turned into two). A few months later, after I'd actually left that job (I'd given three months' notice), I wrote more about my decision here. Toward the end of the first academic year of unemployment-by-choice, as I called it, I took stock of the previous nine or so months here. Considering I only had, at most, 20 hours per week to devote to creative projects, it was a fairly productive year.

That summer I spent all but one day out of ten solid weeks with my kids. It was the first time, over nearly ten years of parenting, outside of baby/toddler years, that I'd done that. It was not easy. I half-heartedly looked for paid work again, this one planned year of unemployment coming to an end. But with my youngest kid entering (free) Kindergarten in the fall, meaning I'd have more time and more money, it was too tempting to quit my non-working status just yet. We decided we could swing this single-income arrangement for another year. In addition to making art and writing a screenplay, I decided to pull the trigger on my "artists in offices" podcast idea, having taken a one-day workshop about podcasting (so obviously I was an expert) earlier that year. That turned out to be the primary product of my second year of unemployment-by-choice, feeling very much like a full-time (unpaid) job between about March and May earlier this year. I wrote about the podcast here (nuts and bolts kind of stuff), here (more about the content of the podcast, its title taken from a book of the same name), and here (relevant-to-the-podcast portions of Lewis Hyde's 'The Gift,' a book every creative person should read). A full wrap-up of 2018-19, not that I accomplished much else, can be found here.

One of my goals for 2019-20 was to ease back into paid work. I worked harder in my two years of not working than I did at my previous day job. But, you know, for free. I have zero regrets about leaving that gig, but I feel like working super hard for no money for two years makes one appreciate actually getting paid, even if it's for work that might not be exactly what you dreamed of doing as a kid. When I recommended Felicia Day's memoir during my first year of not working, I wrote about how, after moving to Los Angeles, Day "counterweights the frustration of acting classes and auditions with what eventually turns into a World of Warcraft obsession." I go on to write: "This is, I suspect, how many artists feel about their day jobs (and vice versa). I am not one of them." Well, it's weird, guys, but this is kinda how I feel about my current day job! It's not rocket science, but I feel like I'm doing a good job, and getting positive feedback makes me feel a little bit less defeated, creatively speaking. It's a creative industry, to be sure, but one that's pretty foreign to me (as I write in my Felicia Day memoir review, I've never been much of a gamer). And yet, the vibe at my day job makes me think of artist Theaster Gates: "to make the thing that makes the things." These are also my people.

The job itself came about rather quickly and unexpectedly when a part-time, remote opportunity came up where my husband works. One thing that was frustrating me about looking for work was that all I could find were relatively low-paying (hello non-profit art gigs), full-time positions that included commutes to/from San Francisco (or even farther). Logistically speaking, that wasn't going to work unless we hired a nanny, and on a non-profit arts salary, that was unlikely (and, I mean no judgment by this, but not an arrangement I desired). Then this opportunity came up and, after nearly three months at it, I can confidently say I'm a much better worker when given flexibility and autonomy, regardless of the work I'm tasked to do. I love working from home. My commute is getting my kids to and from school (about 80-90 minutes of my day). I have no complaints.

So what did I bid farewell to so I could do this. Well, to be honest, temporarily anyway (hopefully), my studio practice, writing my screenplay, working on my podcast. I still play the part of default parent and have a lot of time with my kids, by design. The position is part-time so theoretically I should be able to squeeze in some creative projects. But most of my non-working time (4-5 hours a day) is spent with kids; there are some after-school activities but I haven't yet opted for full-time after-care. I did manage to squeeze in a bonus episode early on, but we'll see, now that I know the job and after this holiday season, what 2020 brings in terms of this art/work/family balance.


the gift

It has been the implication of much of this book that there is an irreconcilable conflict between gift exchange and the market, and that, as a consequence, the artist in the modern world must suffer a constant tension between the gift sphere to which his work pertains and the market society which is his context.

On our final road trip of the summer, I finally finished reading through all 464 pages of Lewis Hyde's The Gift, a book I learned about via this brief episode of Jocelyn K. Glei's excellent podcast, Hurry Slowly. I wrote a long, rambling Twitter thread about it over the course of a couple of days but wanted to synthesize some of those thoughts here as the book pertains to my podcast, Artists in Offices, a podcast about how artists juggle their creative practice with their day job(s). As Zadie Smith notes, the book is "a manifesto of sorts for anyone who makes art [and] cares for it." Especially, I'd add, in a capitalistic world, since, as my podcast explores, few artists can rely on their creative practice alone for their financial livelihood.

To that end, how does one create and circulate a work of art in a capitalist economy? To begin to explore this central problem of the book, Hyde first makes a distinction between a gift and a commodity:
It is the assumption of this book that a work of art is a gift, not a commodity. Or, to state the modern case with more precision, that works of art exist simultaneously in two 'economies,' a market economy and a gift economy. Only one of these is essential, however: a work of art can survive without the market, but where there is no gift there is no art.
Okay, but if art coexists in both market and gift economies, and let's say there isn't much of a market economy at the moment for your particular gift, how will you support yourself financially so that you can make more art?
Every modern artist who has chosen to labor with a gift must sooner or later wonder how he or she is to survive in a society dominated by market exchange. And if the fruits of a gift are gifts themselves, how is the artist to nourish himself, spiritually as well as materially, in an age whose values are market values and whose commerce consists almost exclusively in the purchase and sale of commodities?
But wait, let's back up a bit to explore this distinction Hyde makes between work and labor:
Labor, because it sets its own pace, is usually accompanied by idleness, leisure, even sleep. In ancient days a seventh part of a person's time (both Sunday and the sabbatical, the seventh year) were set aside for nonwork. Nowadays when a worker or teacher gets a sabbatical, he or she may try to finish six years of unfinished chores. But first he should put his feet up and see what happens. In numerology the "7" is the number for ripening; "8" is the number for perfection, but during the seventh period what has been accomplished by the will is left alone. One of the first problems the modern world faced with the rise of industrialism was the exclusion of labor by the expansion of work [emphasis mine]. Machines don't need a Sunday. Early mill hands found themselves working a seven-day week, and had to fight for years to get back to the Sabbath...When I speak of labor, then, I intend to refer to something dictated by the course of life rather than by society, something that is often urgent but that nevertheless has its own interior rhythm, something more bound up with feeling, more interior, than work.
You're thinking about your creative practice as labor now, not work, right? This idea that our "work" as artists, perhaps more accurately considered from here on out as how we labor with it over time, ebbs and flows with the demands of life comes up in almost every episode of the podcast, again, as Hyde writes, "something that is often urgent but that nevertheless has its own interior rhythm." Even having so much more time over the past two years to work on creative projects than I've had since grad school, there is this compelling and powerful feeling that, no matter how "urgent" the idea seems, the execution of the idea will follow a timeline that's not entirely compatible with the way I approach paid work and most other aspects of my life.

So if artists are functioning in a gift economy in this way, then we can think of their "work" as "gift labor", not unlike social workers, poets, musicians, etc.:
We could - we should - reward gift labors where we value them. My point here is simply that where we do so we shall have to recognize that the pay they receive has not been 'made' the way fortunes are made in the market, that it is a gift bestowed by the group. The costs and benefits of tasks whose procedures are adversarial and whose ends are easily quantified can be expressed through a market system. The costs and rewards of gift labors cannot...artists will never 'make' money.
One benefit, of course, of artists not "making" money from their art is that the artistic practice is free from commercial influence or motivation, free to progress and develop according to its own needs and timeline. Quoting Allen Ginsburg, Hyde flirts with nihilism as he touches on this particular form of creative freedom here:
...that phase of the work in which the artist lays evaluation aside so that the gift may come forward: 'The parts that embarrass you the most are usually the most interesting poetically...most representative, most universal...The cure for that is...to write secretly...so you can actually be free to say anything you want...It means abandoning being a poet, abandoning your careerism, abandoning even the idea of writing any poetry, really abandoning, giving up as hopeless - abandoning the possibility of really expressing yourself to the nations of the world...and just settling down in the muck of your own mind...You really have to make a resolution just to write for yourself..."
Okay, but how should artists financially support themselves in order to obtain this necessary artistic freedom while preserving enough time to maintain one's creative practice? There are a few possible models. Long before Patreon, but in the same spirit, Hyde describes how Ezra Pound sought to "free" T.S. Eliot from his day job as a bank clerk in London so that he could spend more time writing. "[Pound] organized a subscription plan called 'Bel Esprit.' The idea was to find thirty people who would chip in fifty dollars each to help support Eliot."

There are other ways, of course, to support one's creative practice financially, attempting to strike a delicate balance between time, space, and money. Like Hyde writes in his conclusion, "there are second jobs that deaden the spirit, there are artists who become beholden to their patrons and those whose temperament prohibits them from selling the work at all." Not all second jobs deaden the spirit, of course, but if you're working full-time, even in a position you find mentally stimulating and creatively interesting, it can be extremely challenging to find the time you need for both creative brainstorming and artistic production. Day jobs aside, Hyde proposes an alternative model to supporting the direct, creative work of artists in his 2007 afterword. "In modern times, young artists in need of help have traditionally received support either from public coffers or from private fortunes. The question is, might there be a third path? Might not the art world itself hold wealth sufficient to support emerging artists?"

Hyde cites the example of the recording industry in 1948 creating a trust fund, where a small percentage of sales from each recording would be deposited in order to "augment the income of musicians playing live performances." This fund still exists. "As a result, the recording industry is not purely extractive; the business side itself agrees to support the cultural ecology that nurtures musicians in the first place." This almost happened with other forms of arts through the Arts Endowing the Arts Act, a legislative proposal from Senator Dodd in 1994, ultimately struck down by a substitute act, colloquially referred to as the Micky Mouse Protection Act, heavily lobbied for by Disney and others in the entertainment industry, that retroactively added 20 years to the copyright terms ("their early Micky Mouse cartoons would have entered the public domain in 2003").

Hyde ends his book on a hopeful note, pointing to the creation, in the spirit of the "third model" he points to above, of organization like Creative Capital Foundation. Seems to me, however, that there is much room for improvement and growth!

Anyway, this book (slowly - because it took me so long to finish!) blew my mind more than once. But don't take my word for it. Read it for yourself. If you're searching for another recommendation, check out this nifty graphic by Austin Kleon, from 2008. And if you haven't yet, listen to the podcast!


The 8 stages of Moana

I've been mulling over this post for a long while, dipping into a third year, as I am, of unemployment-by-choice, less "by choice" the longer I'm unemployed, but still "working" (maybe laboring?) like crazy: as a SAHM (a title I champion while also admitting reluctance in claiming), as a volunteer at my kids' schools and at the animal shelter, on my podcast, on my writing, and on my art. For zero money and not even a ton of feedback. Sigh. Prompted by this article on Etsy's weird evolution, and inspired by rereading my thoughts on wayfinding in the context of my "burning bridges" series about all the day jobs I've had over the past couple of decades (including my own Etsy business), I thought I'd finally try to articulate how I think of Moana in the context of (primarily) women and work. First, from my post on wayfinding:

I've talked with many women who identify with Moana at various stages of her narrative arc. Some have already overcome some major challenge and identify with Moana at the end of the movie, after she learns to sail and (spoiler alert) returns the heart to Te Fiti. I'm not there yet, and certainly one year ago I very much identified with Moana at the beginning of the movie, when she doesn't know exactly what she's after but she knows she's not happy with her current situation.
I guess you could say, two years after writing this, that I'm somewhere in the middle right now. Or, if we're thinking about this in terms of wayfinding versus navigating, I'm in the middle of this current cycle. I'll get to no. 8 eventually...and then something will happen that will put me right back at no. 1 or 2. Without further ado, the eight stages of Moana:

1. The unhappy girl next door.

At the beginning of the movie, Moana is unsatisfied with her current lot in life. What woman hasn't felt this way at least once in her adolescence or adult years?

2. The restless rebel.

She's determined to do things differently.

3. The defeatist.

As the song goes, despite her strong-willed determination, she loves her family and she's accepted her station. She shouldn't have to choose between what her family needs and what she wants and feels compelled to pursue.

4. The determined heroine.

Alas, she cannot deny her deep dissatisfaction with her potential future, and her strong attraction to the sea, coinciding perfectly with receiving the heart of Te Fiti.

5. Tested and discouraged.

Please note: this may happen more than once in any given "cycle."

6. The obstacle overcomer.

Atta girl. Did you start a new job? Did you exceed even your own expectations? Congrats! You're at stage 6.

7. Relishing in the reward.

Soak it up. Bask in it. You've earned it. You deserve it. Hell, like the slogan goes, you're worth it!

8. Smug sharer of life wisdom.

Yeah...so, note to those lucky enough to reach stage 8: please be sensitive to where your friends, colleagues, relatives, and acquaintances might find themselves in the Moana cycle. Having a drink with someone in the midst of stage 5? Maybe keep your success story on the DL and offer to pay for her cocktail.

What stage are you on?


what I did last year

This is a post I intended to write in May, as my second academic year of unemployment-by-choice, as I've been calling it, neared an end, an end that began with ten weeks of summer break. But in May I was furiously wrapping up the first season of the Artists in Offices podcast. Check that off the list! For now, at least.

But first, before I get into my goals for this year, a (brief) look back, as I did last year, at the half-dozen blog posts I wrote in 2018-19:
  • A recap of the first time I spent 10 weeks of summer "break" with both kids in tow 24/7. Over that long period, I managed to carve out just one afternoon alone to go to a movie I really didn't want to have to wait until it was streaming on Netflix to see.
  • A DIY version of Arby's Jamocha shake for National Chocolate Milkshake Day. I mean, why not?
  • As if my crazy cat lady status wasn't already official, I wrote a cat-themed parody, with accompanying music video, of Sophie B. Hawkins' 'Damn, I Wish I Was Your Lover'. Blog post here, in case this requires further explanation.
  • A late fall podcast status update.
  • Once the podcast launched, I wrote a fairly thorough summary of how the project went from idea to podcast, and everything in between.
  • And, over the summer, a little more about what the podcast is about.
So, yeah, the big project of the year was the podcast. But let's take a few minutes to review my original to do list after I left my last day job just shy of 2 years ago.
I'm truly, honestly still working on this, I swear. In fact, I was so inspired by my surprising ability to actually finish something big and creative that I decided, once I get caught up on all the things I neglected over summer break, that I'll work on only this in any kid-free time I have each week until it's done. Like, 100% done. Okay, maybe just the first, rough draft. But I'm still catching up. My goal is to be caught up on all the miscellaneous domestic stuff by about Labor Day weekend.
  • I need more time to make art in my cozy little backyard studio.
I feel pretty good about where I am in my studio practice after this two-year recovery period. At some point last year I declared Heavenly a necessary failure that was successful in transitioning me back into a more consistent creative routine. I've since devoted most non-audio studio time to a newer body of work collectively titled dollhouse/100 days in the dollhouse/I see things that nobody else sees (I should probably pick one title at some point...). It mostly lives on Instagram at the moment, but I'm excited to see how this project evolves over the course of the next 9 months or so. Like a fetus gestating in my studio womb. (Too much?)
  • I’m starting a podcast (and/or support network) about(/for) other artists in offices.
Done! The first season is complete, with a trailer, 10 full-length interviews, 2 bonus episodes around formal art training, and 2 bonus episodes catching up with the artists who quit their day jobs after our initial interviews. I'm currently exploring next steps. I'd like to continue the interviews, with a season devoted to parent artists, and for any creative book editors/publishers who might be reading this, I really feel like this could be a book. An authored book with contributing interviews and such, right? So call me, okay?
Uh, quite the opposite, actually, since I finally shuttered this business in December 2018, after years of limping along (the last time that income from my micro biz offset the minimal costs of running said biz was in January 2013, before my now 6 1/2 year old daughter was born). I'm still interested in design, just like I'll always be crafty and make stuff, even if I never have another art show. But running a business on Etsy just isn't what it was in the early days.
  • I’m working on a kids’ book based on the Cosmos series, starring a cuddly tardigrade as Neil deGrasse Tyson.
Zero progress made on this front. Also, do we still like Neil deGrasse Tyson? I'm not sure we do.
  • I’m planning to volunteer at the cat cafe until they just give me a job.
I no longer volunteer at Cat Town, spending all of my volunteer hours (about 4 a week, usually on one weekend afternoon) at Oakland Animal Services instead. I spend time in adoption as well as in the back of the shelter as part of both the kitten and cat "crews". If what I do as a volunteer there was a job, I'd apply in a heartbeat.
  • I’m compiling a “quit your day job” bibliography that will eventually be turned into a manuscript for a self-help book with the working title: “Little Boxes: How to get out of the office and into the studio...” (or something like that).
This has morphed a bit to focus on the podcast audience in particular, but it's still very much a work in progress. 
  • I'm going to figure out how to make hand-stitched felt phone cases for Android, minus the carpal tunnel syndrome.
Nope. Nothing. I got nothin' on this one. Not sure I ever will. When I checked in with Laura Torres, the second artist I interviewed for the podcast, who'd quit her day job for a few months to focus on her creative practice, she wrote this in her email update and it really resonated with me in terms of all the random creative/crafty stuff I think I want to do in my spare time: "When I was working a day job, I always thought I wanted to do all this other stuff. But I am realizing some of that was a sort of escapist fantasy." Same. I can't say I miss making those phone cases, so why devote precious time on that now? (And if you'd like to hear more from my follow-up conversation with Laura, check out the bonus episode here.)
  • I’m developing recipes for a cookbook called “Sweet on Oakland: Cookies Inspired by Oakland Neighborhoods".
No cookbook (yet), but I did make a few new cookies over the past year, mainly because I donated a six-month cookie subscription to my kids' school's fundraiser last fall. I still need to post recipes for the last couple I completed. Shelving this project for now to make time for all of the above.

So what's new this year? Well, if my extra debut in Season 2 of The North Pole is not the breakout role I'm fully expecting it to be (I'm kidding, of course), find another day job, basically. In a perfect world, I'd finish my screenplay and find some sort of funding for the podcast while I'm reviewing 7-figure offers on the screenplay and making sure it actually gets made into a movie. But until then, I can't not work forever. So wish me luck, friends, and stay tuned.


okay, but what is it about?

"One is a painter because one wants so-called freedom; one doesn't want to go to the office every morning."

That's artist Marcel Duchamp, of course, quoted in Artists in Offices, a book - by Judith Adler - that I finally finished reading a couple of weeks ago, a book I stumbled upon through a web search after using the hashtag #artistsinoffices to socially mediate some of my daily experiences at my last day job. I purchased the book on May 24, 2017, a couple of weeks after I decided to quit my job, about a week before I gave notice, and about three months before my last day. It's a dry read in places so it took forcing myself to read only that during a couple of recent cross-country flights. Adler is a sociologist who used CalArts as the site for a major study of arts education at the time (1970s), applying the sociology of work to art. What results is a pretty comprehensive look at the establishment of CalArts during a time of transition in how artists were trained...
"With the end of the private apprenticeship system of the workshop, it became necessary to attend schools not only for instruction, but also for access to those tools of the craft which were more costly than brushes and tubes of paint" (3).  
...and employed.
"As art teaching in the public and private schools developed into one of the few sources of steady income in the arts, certificates and degrees were sought as passports to this market" (3).
This extends, I'd imagine, to most art schools at the time and, more surprisingly, still. What I'm particularly interested in in thinking about formal art training is how these programs handle what I refer to as "professional practices". In other words, what do art programs suggest students do with an art degree now that those teaching gigs have become more scarce as the market has become more saturated with MFA degrees? Because I'll be honest, 11 years out, I'm still trying to figure out what to do with mine. Hence the podcast. How the heck do you find time (and space, and money) to make art when you have a full-time day job, a lengthy commute, other expenses, and other social and family obligations, etc.? If you went to art school, what were your motivations in doing so and how has that panned out? I didn't go into this podcast project with the intention of digging into formal training quite as much as I did, but it comes up in every interview, whether the interviewee went to art school or not. Indeed, most of the artists I talk to have dealt with the issues addressed in Adler's book from at least one, if not two or all three of these possible perspectives: student, faculty, staff.

What's striking about the book is how relevant it still is, and not just in terms of higher education, but also in terms of many of the common threads that come up over the course of the podcast, like the importance, for just one example, of personal connections. Similar to my conversations with working artists, Adler acknowledges, on page 77:
"Opportunities in the arts are often structured by informal association - friends showing their paintings together, creating theater companies, or founding quartets. Since professional reputation may depend less upon where than with whom artists play or show their work, friendship ties are useful not only in securing new positions but also in minimizing the possible career risks of taking them."
Assuming your creative portfolio includes strong work, of course, the benefit of personal connections in getting shows, residencies, teaching gigs, you name it, is undeniable. But ultimately, what I enjoyed about the book are the "whimsical ironies" of an environment that essentially contained, as Adler writes, "two distinct work cultures", and the various inconsistencies that emerge from the utopian premise of an institution that trains artists to do...what exactly?
"The substitution of the term 'community' for 'school' eased one of the major embarrassments of professional art education: its inability to assure duly certified graduates of employment in their field. Graduates of professional schools are, in a sense, products of their instructors' work, their market value implicitly providing one measure of the value of the work of educating them. Teachers in the arts must find ways to defend themselves against the demoralizing charge that - as it was phrased by one nonteaching member of the Institute's staff - 'it is hardly any service to society to churn out more unemployed people!'"
In the final pages of the book, Adler touches on the personal impetus for her study, not unlike the personal impetus for my podcast. I've yet to read an introduction to or synopsis of this book that addresses the fact that Adler, before embarking on this study, was faculty at CalArts, hired to teach in the School of Critical Studies.
"When financial cutbacks encouraged administrators to draw new clear distinction between 'artists' and dispensable 'nonartist' employees, my marginal status in this artists' community became even more pronounced, and it was at this point that I finally began this study in earnest. Fieldwork both required and legitimized a social distance that was in any case forced upon me, just as it required and helped me to transcend the feelings of mourning and anger which this enforced distance created."
For me, it's taken two years and ten interviews, plus a whole lot of reading on the topic of work more generally, to come to terms with my own feelings of resentment around the fact that, outside of my own studio practice, I'm not doing what I went to grad school to do. But the fact that I'm not teaching art at the college level is not necessarily a reflection of failure or lack of pedagogical finesse on my part (at least, let's hope, not entirely). Rather, in my opinion, it's more a reflection of the limitations of a course of professionalization which continues to wrestle with its practical application. The process for me is ongoing and I'm pretty transparent about my emotional investment in all this. As Adler writes, "my very preoccupation with trying to cleanse myself of resentment marks my observation as emotionally unfree." And there you have it: my objective, like the sociologist's, is to remain objective, which is awfully hard to do in this field. In the very least, then, I aim for and hope from others interested in these ideas increased transparency around how, as an artist, you get your work done, both within and outside of the office or wherever your day job sends you.


everything you wanted to know about my podcast, but were afraid to ask

The podcast has launched! I released the trailer and website last Monday, followed by the first five episodes, plus one bonus mini episode, on Wednesday, May 1st (May Day!). At this time, you can listen to the trailer, the first six full episodes, plus two bonus mini episodes at artistsinoffices.com or wherever you get your podcasts (subscribe on iTunes, Google Play, Stitcher, etc.). I have four more episodes to release over the next month, plus a couple of updates later this summer with the two artists who've since quit their day jobs to focus more time on their creative practice and/or move cross-country!

This may be one of the first big projects I've ever actually finished. A friend told me last week, "you're the first person I know to say they're doing a podcast and then actually do it." As a creative person who struggles to focus on one project through completion, I took that as a huge compliment. And I'm pretty happy with how it's turned out so far. Am I an expert in podcasting? Hardly. But I have learned a few things along the way. In the spirit of reflection and transparency, I wanted to jot them down here.

The idea came 3-4 years ago from using the hashtag #artistsinoffices for the occasional social media post while working at my last day job. It was perhaps the first place I worked where I was surrounded by other "artists in offices" living this dual life. The difference, since we were many, was that, for the first time in my professional career outside of teaching art, of course, I didn't feel like that other part of my life had to be kept a secret! I had this desire to tap into that community in some way - have "standing meetings" where we actually talk about our studio practice, or start a support group that meets over pancakes once a month. But the reality was we were all super busy; having that conversation in any kind of meaningful way was challenging. Add studio time and, y'know, life to a demanding, full-time job and the occasional grueling commute to and from San Francisco, even if your primary office was on the Oakland campus, and you're not left with much time to spare. In my case, with a couple of kids on top of that, there was simply no time or energy to devote to exploring this idea. Ironically, I had to quit my day job in order to pursue any kind of project about how artists juggle their studio practice with their day jobs!

I wouldn't be able to do this without the support - both financial and otherwise - of my husband, but I will say I spend at least half of the traditional work week, and all school breaks (that's 14+ weeks a year, folks), plus sick days, random days off, minimum days, field trips, etc., wrangling two young kids and managing the household (we do outsource yard work but that's about it). It's way more time than I had when working - and it's probably more time than the artists I interview have, though none of them have kids - but I didn't work on this full-time. I think now that I kind of know what I'm doing and I have my structures and systems in place, especially if I did not have kids, I could probably do this alongside a day job. Maybe.

But backing up a bit, where did I go from initial idea? Well, as with most ideas, I sat on it for a long time. When I quit my day job in August 2017, it was included in a very long list of projects I wanted to tackle that academic year. In the middle of my first year of unemployment-by-choice, I used part of a holiday gift card (one of those Visa gift cards you can use anywhere) to pay for a one-day workshop called "Podcasting: Narrative & Tech for Beginners" offered in the Grad Writing Program at CCA, taught by Julia Scott, an Oakland-based journalist who also does radio pieces for KQED and elsewhere. That was a game-changer. Podcasting now is like blogging was fifteen years ago. The impression I had was that anyone can do it. But it takes practice and financial resources to do it well. I took several pages of notes at that workshop and it propelled me to think more seriously about what my podcast would be about, who I would interview, what I would ask them, and what I needed to pull this off.

But I was also struggling at the time with the studio reboot portion of my decision to quit my day job while writing a screenplay, so I didn't act much on this idea for the rest of that school year. Then came 10 weeks of summer "break". Last fall, when the kids went back to school, I dusted off the idea and started half-heartedly reaching out to the artists I wanted to interview. Half-heartedly because I felt like I couldn't really justify spending any money on this project if I wasn't bringing in any income. Enter anonymous donor (executive producer?), who offered to buy all the equipment on my Amazon wish list - about $200 worth! It felt weird to accept this generous patronage, but it also felt foolish to turn it down. And having someone support a project financially provides for some accountability I wasn't really feeling otherwise, as much as I wanted to do it. I got to work in November, and that accountability factor - the pressure I felt to do this thing and do it well - gained momentum with each interview I completed.

From November 2018 to early March 2019 I interviewed ten artists - five here in the Bay Area, and five elsewhere. Local artists I interviewed in-person, in their studios. Artists in Northern California, Southern California, Chicago, and New York I interviewed via Skype. It was the best solution I researched for recording audio for free. The audio could certainly be better on a couple of interviews, so this is something I might look into and throw some money at moving forward, but overall I'm satisfied with the audio quality in the finished episodes.

On my end, in addition to my microphones and pop filter, I made this little DIY recording studio that I put on my desk when I'm recording an interview or tracking for finished episodes. In the workshop, we went over using Audacity, because it's free. And I'm all for free but I just couldn't get the hang of it. Since I already pay for Adobe Creative Suite each month, I downloaded Audition and did a practice faux-cast with my son about Fortnite just to kind of familiarize myself with my equipment, using Audition for sound editing, even adding in some music and sound effects, and exporting an MP3 that I could upload to SoundCloud. Music for the podcast, I should add, is provided by my friend and fellow creative person with a day job (and kids!), Mr. Neat Beats.

For hosting, I use libsyn. Their interface looks and feels adorably dated but it's fairly intuitive. And I believe they're one of the older hosting platforms, so I felt like I could trust that reputation. The couple of times I've had to reach out for customer support the response has been very quick and helpful. I submitted my trailer to iTunes about a week before launch. They warn it can take up to two weeks for your podcast to be approved (you only need one episode so it's helpful to submit even if you're not ready to launch, if you want to launch on a specific day; you don't need to go public with whatever you submit, and you can always delete or edit it after the fact). It only ended up taking a couple of days, but I just happened to submit my podcast in a period of a few days where the platform to do so was experiencing two different login bugs. That was super frustrating but in the end I was able to get it approved in time for my May 1st launch. Sharing the podcast on social media, of course, has been a part-time job ever since!

Did I miss anything? Feel free to ask questions or provide feedback in the comments. And listen to the podcast if you haven't already - leave me a rating or review on iTunes, won't you? You can follow the project on Instagram and Twitter, and join the Facebook group if you're so inclined. And, hey, if you're local and into that whole meet over pancakes idea, hit me up!


nothing to see here, move along

Not surprisingly, the busier I am, and in turn the more I theoretically have to blog about, the less I actually sit down and blog! It's hard to believe I'm already nearing the end of a second academic year of unemployment-by-choice. Here's what I've been working on:

S1:E3 #artistsinoffices Lisa Jonas Taylor in her home/studio.
Mostly, the podcast! Over a period of about four months between November and early March, I interviewed ten artists, including five here in the Bay Area and five elsewhere (Chicago, Los Angeles, New York, and Northern California). I'm in the thick of the editing process right now, with intro/outro music provided by my friend, Mr. Neat Beats.

I've been posting teaser images and quotes on Instagram plus related articles and such on Twitter and seriously cannot wait to be done, not only because I want to share these conversations with the world but because I have a few other things I'd like to wrap up before another summer of full-time mom camp (having barely survived the recent 7-day teacher strike as it is). I'm hoping to release the first half of season one by May 1st, with an episode a week to follow.

To that end, earlier today I caught up on another side project, the #sweetonoakland cookies. I donated a 6-month "subscription" to monthly 'hood cookies to my kids' school fundraiser last fall, so that's provided some motivation to keep that project going. I'm halfway through that commitment so more cookies soon, after which, barring a cookbook deal, I'll probably take a break to focus more time on other stuff.

Nothin' to see here, move along.

Other stuff primarily including my screenplay. Yes, I'm still writing it. No, it's not done yet. And no, I don't know what I'll do with it when it's done. But I will finish it. Eventually.