When I was a girl, I was fearless. I was always falling out of trees, off of speeding bicycles, into muddy creeks. Once, I was bitten by an angry goose. I was knocked on the head accidentally with a baseball. A rock. And a basketball. On one hot summer evening, the rope of the tire swing broke and sent me and my best friend, Michael, hurling through the yard like a hockey puck. And then there was the morning I tumbled into my neighbor’s cactus garden. (Who knew that cacti spines came in so many size and color variations? Ouch.)
But somewhere on the way to adulthood, the youthful spirit of risk took its leave. Like so many other “responsible” adults, I succumbed to the tyranny of the regular paycheck. Although I never lived extravagantly, I traded my time for money, and money for things. Once on that spinning wheel, it’s hard to get off. Often we forget that it’s even possible to stop, reevaluate, and make radical changes to our lives. It feels too scary. Too hard and overwhelming.
This past year has forced me to stop and reconsider my options. Ten months ago, when I launched Gwarlingo, I never could have anticipated how quickly the site would grow and how enthusiastically it would be received. Some incredible opportunities have come my way as a result–I’ve made new friends, had fabulous conversations with readers (in person and online), traveled, flexed my writing, tech, and photography skills, been on the radio, been hired for new, challenging projects, and more. And every minute has been pure pleasure for me. For the first time in ages, I have no idea what surprises the day will bring when I get out of bed, and that excites me.
After thirteen remarkable years working at The MacDowell Colony, I’ve decided it’s time to take the leap into full-time self employment. The decision wasn’t easy, but I know it’s the right thing to do. Letting go of my 9-5 job (with a regular paycheck and benefits) will allow me to expand Gwarlingo and tackle some new creative projects. Is it a risk? Of course. But it’s a risk that takes me back to those free-wheeling, tree-climbing days.
While I’ll miss all of my friends at the Colony terribly, I can still be part of a creative community through Gwarlingo and through some new collaborative projects that are on the horizon.
Over 3500 artists have passed through the doors of MacDowell during my tenure there. That’s a lot of creative energy in one place. In the past few days a number of people have asked me about the experience of working at the Colony for over a decade. Here are a few of the lessons I’ve learned in my thirteen years at the nation’s oldest artist retreat…
- If you are open, receptive, and generous with others, the majority of people will be open, receptive, and generous in return.
- Reserve judgment. Forget rumors. Listen and be patient. Most people will surprise you.
- The most successful artists don’t have some mysterious gift that allows them to excel in their field. They simply work hard, work consistently, take creative risks, and don’t worry about what other people think. This is the real formula for creative success.
- It is artists who have the best bird’s eye view of our culture today–they can tell us where we’ve been and where we’re going. They have the special ability to imagine alternatives to the present.
- Artists can also view the world from a micro level. They can help us appreciate the unseen.
- Solitude is an art. Unplugging and learning to be alone with yourself is essential if you want to do your best creative work. Technology is a tool. We should control it, not the other way around. Turn off your phone, Twitter, email, etc. Do it. The withdrawal symptoms will subside, eventually.
- Being an artist is challenging in our society. It’s hard mentally, physically, and financially. It takes a village–a community of friends, fellow artists, and supporters who understand why you do the work you do and believe that it’s valuable. If you have the means, support artists and organizations, like MacDowell, who are helping artists realize their full potential. And if you’re an artist, don’t forget to leave your apartment or studio every now and then. Find a residency program, go to a reading, concert, or opening, or have fun with friends. Play and connection are just as important as hard work.
These are just a few of the lessons I’ll take with me when I go.
I have a lot of exciting ideas for growing Gwarlingo. I’m looking forward to organizing live events, providing more resources for artists on the site, and digging into much-discussed topics like money, fear, and technology and how these dovetail with the creative life.
And then there is my own creative work that’s been languishing–I have a novel to sell, stories to finish, and photographs to print.
Of course, I will also need to piece together the funding to make all of this happen. Traffic on the site continues to grow. Last month I had over 25,000 unique visitors to Gwarlingo. I expect this number to climb as I have more time to devote to the project. This opens up some new opportunities for sponsorships, which I’ll be exploring.
I’ll also be available for freelance and consulting projects. I have a large project with a nonprofit that will take part of the year, but I also look forward to working with artists who need help with grant writing, project proposals, social media, and artist statements. I have a few artists penciled into my calendar already.
My last day at The MacDowell Colony will be April 27th. Life is going to be very full until then, so please forgive me if I’m not able to post as regularly in the coming weeks. You will have more of my time and attention very soon.
Thanks to all of the staff, friends, and artists who have made my job at the Colony so memorable through the years. I also want to thank the friends, old and new, who have participated in the evolution of Gwarlingo.
We’re just getting started.
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A special thank you to Mark Glovsky for sharing these beautiful images from his found photography collection. Thanks Mark!