Soon after, you learn that most of the world doesn’t necessarily care about what you think….This is actually a good thing, because you want attention only after you’re doing really good work. There’s no pressure when you’re unknown. You can do what you want. Experiment. Do things just for the fun of it. When you’re unknown, there’s nothing to distract you from getting better. No public image to manage. No huge paycheck on the line. No stockholders. No e-mails from your agent. No hangers-on.
You’ll never get that freedom back again once people start paying you attention, and especially not once they start paying you money.
- Austin Kleon’s Steal Like an Artist: 10 Things Nobody Told You About Being Creative
I’ve been really into Austin Kleon’s book, Steal Like an Artist: 10 Things Nobody Told You About Being Creative ever since I saw it and bought it in April (at an Urban Outfitters store to my surprise and now I’ve been buying copies of it as gifts). It’s filled with my pencil underlines and post-it flags just like it was a college textbook. I wish this book existed back in 2008/2009 when I hit the ground running as an artist in the DC metro area. How the next few years may have been different. But then again, I’m not sure I would have been as open to the advice as I am now. And Austin Kleon probably would say that those years of writing, performing, and experience helped me figure out who I am today and what I want to write and do. Which, I also believe is true.
There’s a lot I’m taking away from my first reading of the book, and I’m starting with one of the more tangible pieces of advice: get yourself a calendar, keep a logbook, and use your hands (stay away from the screen). I’ve always had more of a preference for “analog” (read: paper and things you can hold) over “digital.” Even though there are numerous apps that organize your to do lists in a ton of ways, I still write them by hand, and actually do them more than the ones that have been on Toodledo and Evernote for months. So I’m excited about using my pens again before I literally forget how to write with one (that’s no exaggeration).
Given the life events in the past few months, the excerpt above really struck a chord with me. I’ve been thinking a lot about public image and what we choose to share and not share over the internet and in our personal interactions with close friends and acquaintances. I’ve been struggling with the expectation of having a clean cut image, like a highly organized desk that has no clutter. Because I thought I had to have one to sustain my own performance career and uphold Sulu DC’s reputation. Yes, it may be pretty and impressive but that image is sterile and boring and void of any fun and creativity, not to mention character. No one can get close to you then, which feels like the opposite of what an artist does: share a part of themselves and how they see the world. I’m so deathly afraid of being wrong, of making a mistake that will jeopardize the organization I built and my image along with it that it’s killed much of my creativity and self-esteem. You would have thought that Sulu DC fueled my creative juices, but it did the opposite, or to better explain it, I let it. I was the one who shut down my own creativity, who constructed walls to block others from getting too close. I wasn’t confident that people would accept my mistakes, that I would not be condemned for them for life. (I recognize that I alone am condemning myself but truly accepting it and working through it is a work in progress)
Armed with this realization, now what? Or “where to next” may be a better way to phrase the question. Where to next?
You can’t go looking for validation from external sources. Once you put your work into the world, you have no control over the way people will react to it.
- Austin Kleon’s Steal Like an Artist: 10 Things Nobody Told You About Being Creative
Distance and difference are the secret tonic of creativity. When we get home, home is still the same. But something in our mind has been changed, and that changes everything.
- Jonah Lehrer
When I told Camille, whom I met and became friends with through Sulu DC during her stint at the Smithsonian APA Center a few years ago, that I was going to resign from Sulu DC, she was at first surprised by the news, then later became excited about what this meant for me:
Though based in Hawaii, she witnessed Sulu DC in its first year, when the energy and possibilities was at its highest and continued to follow its growth (and my own) through the wonders of the interwebs. She knows all too well, like many of my close friends and mentors and to some extent the public, how intricately connected I was to the organization. Without saying it, and even before I said it out loud, she understood that making the decision to leave was also a conscious decision to renew myself, to (re)discover what I am meant to do, to find myself again and redefine my worth and identity.
One of the dangers, or let’s say ‘challenges’ to founding and running an organization is the conflation of the individual with the organization, both internally (by self) and externally (as in by others around you). I was successful in drawing the line between the individual and the organization in some ways, but also failed in many other ways. I’m confident that given time, ‘jenny c. lares’ and ‘Sulu DC’ will be perceived by others as separate, though related entities. But I’m not going to lie and say that reinvention is easy.
Some days I’m delighted at how little unread emails there are in my inbox (Finally! Right? ). Some days it makes me incredibly sad. Because it reminds me of my loss. Leaving Sulu DC is, essentially, like breaking up with your partner. Sure, it’s a mutual breakup in which both parties know it’s better to be apart than be together, but a breakup nonetheless. So here I am, grieving the loss of being in the midst of the work that I had loved and drove me crazy at times, of what I thought was going to be my career. And now I’m at a loss as to what to do and what to do next.
I could immerse myself in my new project. You know, that arts management/performance company I may have mentioned before. But I know that if I jump into it before this grieving process is well on its way I’ll end up repeating my unhealthy habits and behavior and burn out. Instead I’ve been hiding out in the house, denying my feelings and channeling tears, anger, anguish, and disappointment through a marathon of Korean dramas. That is, until today, when my subconscious led me to the bookstore to look for another copy of Steal Like An Artist: 10 Things Nobody Told You About Being Creative by Austin Kleon for a friend.
We are now past the denial phase of grieving.
I left the bookstore without the book but walked out with three others, specifically, Neil Gaiman’s ‘Make Good Art’ Speech and Daring Greatly by Brene Brown. I’m hoping that somewhere in these books, at some point while I’m reading them and numerous others, I’ll figure it out.
Sometimes the way to do what you hope to do will be clear cut, and sometimes it will be almost impossible to decide whether or not you are doing the correct thing, because you’ll have to balance your goals and hopes with feeding yourself, paying debts, finding work, settling for what you can get.
- Neil Gaiman, ‘Make Good Art’ speech
Pinay ties, Pinoy glue
Church basement, Artisphere, almaz attic, black fox basement.
I felt pretty blessed and loved last night at my last Sulu DC show as Executive Director. The team surprised me with flowers and sweet messages of thanks. At one point, Alex started spitting lyrics to Megan’s impromptu piano playing, then Steve Ma of Live Green got up to do interpretative dance (inside joke between him and Alex). What a wonderful surprise–and so fitting to have a totally unplanned, arts-infused send off!
Thank you all, for making my last show a great one. It was certainly filled with the love and sense of belonging so many of you have said Sulu DC has provided for you over the years through my leadership and vision.
This year, Sulu DC started to include a community poem in every show, passing around a loose leaf sheet of paper for everyone in the room to write a line or two. I asked if I could keep this month’s because several parts of it captured history and the feelings of the moment. Here are excerpts from last night’s Community Poem:
I feel and see my endless ancestry with gratitude, and continue my own journey with generations in my company.
I couldn’t focus because there were too
many options running through my mind–
the thought of leaving terrifies me but
staying can’t be a choice
because love isn’t a choice as much as it is water in a vase, holding whatever shape it takes
Love is community.
Love is belonging.
Love is our authentic selves coming together in this place called SULU DC.
Dear artists, supporters, and friends of Sulu DC:
I am immensely grateful for the love and support you have shown me over the years as a co-founder and Executive Director of Sulu DC, and most of all as a spoken word poet. Creating an organization from the ground up and sustaining it is no easy task but you fueled my spirit with your presence at shows, conversations on the role of art and artists in society, and faith in my vision and leadership. It’s been an incredible journey, laughing and crying with you and being inspired by the various artists showcased at our monthly program, The Sulu Series; working with Sulu DC’s volunteers and leaders; and getting to know our partner organizations. After four years, it is now time for me to get back to my own writing and performance, go to graduate school, and start other artistic projects. It is with a full heart that I step down as Executive Director at the end of April.
Sulu DC will continue to build on the foundation developed over the years thanks to Jackie Branscomb, Alex Cena, Peter DeCrescenzo, Thu Nguyen, Megan Pagado, and Joyce Yin—all are committed, talented individuals whom I trust to move Sulu DC forward and keep the light going. I hope you will show your support for them by coming to the upcoming installments of The Sulu Series: “First Drafts” on Thursday, April 25th at Black Fox Lounge at 8 pm (tickets available here) and the AAPI Heritage Month Bash with ECAASU on Friday, May 31st at U Street Music Hall. We are all excited about the next chapter in Sulu DC’s history and invite you to connect with the organization via Facebook, Twitter, and email at email@example.com.
I am looking forward to seeing what the universe has in store for me as I explore establishing my own arts social enterprise and apply to graduate schools across and outside of the US. No matter where I end up, I will always carry with me the friendships I’ve made and lessons I’ve learned during my time with Sulu DC. Thank you for your steadfast support and for filling the past four years with such meaning. I hope we will remain connected—drop me a line at firstname.lastname@example.org, read up on my new adventures on this here website, and follow me on Twitter for upcoming performances.
To say “see you soon”—not goodbye—and to ring in the new chapter of Sulu DC, we will be celebrating on H Street NE starting at the Biergarten Haus on Friday, May 3 at 10 pm. Hope to see you there!
jenny c. lares
Last night I had the honor of being on a panel with fellow UMD alums to speak about race and the work place as part of the many events celebrating Asian Pacific American Heritage Month (APAHM) this year. Dropping pearls of wisdom like it was our job, we tackled questions on the extent to which Asian Americans have a responsibility to address racial discrimination in the workplace, the kinds of involvement that are most effective, and how our involvement in student life as an undergrad prepared us for life and working with groups in different environments. Fellow panelists included Alan Lau (2007), Mike Yu (2001), and Karen Tan (2009) and moderated by Dr. James McShay, the Associate Director of Stamp Student Union and Multicultural Advocacy Programs.
With a panel consisting of a former Marine, a local county detective, a senior operations specialist for an international business, an admissions rep and artist, we all had plenty to say and multiple perspectives to share on dealing with military and police life and expectations, gender dynamics, even height dynamics (yes, the tall aura found its way into the conversation). What resonated with me the most was the last question asked of the panel: Do you find your experiences working in groups at the University of Maryland inform or compare to your experiences working in groups in the workplace? As I listened to the other panelists, I realized that since I stepped foot on campus in the Fall of 2002, I have always been involved in AAPI organizations and worked in professional settings where AAPI lives and experiences were at the heart of the organization/school. From being the APA Community Coordinator at Oberlin College, to my own art, to founding and leading Sulu DC. I don’t know why it took me this long to say out loud that the purpose of my life has been to advocate for AAPI peoples within our vast community and outside of it. I hope I’ve been doing it well.
Although this performance was from a very long time ago and I perform this piece far better now*, for those who wanted to hear the rest of the “tall aura” poem, here it is:
*can I just say how interesting it is to hear yourself perform a piece from 4 years ago? The intonation, pacing, and articulation are completely different. I can’t believe I initially performed this piece like this….
This past Thursday, after a full day of helping my friend move and prep her apt in PA, I picked up the rental SUV and embarked on my first trip as an artist road manager. Sulu DC was taking its show on the road! First stop: Rutgers University in New Brunswick, NJ.
In typical road manager fashion, I scooped up artists in our swanky (rented) 2013 Ford Edge with Florida license plates. First was Amanda Lee and Posido Vega, who magically fit 2 guitars, a bass amp, looper pedals, and bags in the trunk with room to spare. Then came Gowri K; G Yamazawa would meet us in NJ the next day from NYC. Along the way, we stopped to eat some greasy French fries and grabbed many more cups of coffee for me.
After an uneasy, restless night, we wandered the streets of New Brunswick in search of breakfast. Ironically, we ended up at a bagel place owned and operated by an Asian couple. (Support local businesses!) We rolled back in to the hotel, still looking like we had just gotten out of bed and met with some quizzical glances like we were some college students who rolled in from down the street trying to crash the place. (We’re artists who just haven’t showered yet, buddy). That aside, we checked out and picked up G, grabbed some lunch and made our way to the Rutgers Student Center.
When we arrived, 90s pop filtered into the multipurpose room from the atrium where Rutgers students were having their Block Party. Weren’t they all born in the 1990s??? (This is when all of us but G started feeling our age). After a quick sound check, students started filling the seats, and we opened the show with a little music from Blue Scholars.
When Gowri and G took to the stage, you could feel how their poetry hit home for so many students–ideas and issues of identity, relationships with parents, connections or disconnects with social movements and countries. And love. Love for self, family, your peoples. With an impromptu participation on the bass by Posido, their pieces took on another level, and, with G’s last piece about his father, almost made me cry. As if my heart wasn’t already overwhelmingly full, Amanda and Posido took over the stage and oh how Amanda’s beautiful, strong vocals filled the room and shook us to our bones. That’s the way you end a Sulu DC show.
Immediately after, students scrambled in line to chat it up with artists and buy their merch. When I was finally able to breathe a little and take in that moment, I realized how much of an impact we made on students. One even said, “I’m so glad I came to school today.” (Haha) Later on, I heard that some students had planned on leaving early but decided to stay because they were enjoying the show. And most of all, they want us back next year! Even at an event in NYC this summer.
Once all of the equipment was packed up, and books and CDs signed, the wall of exhaustion simultaneously hit all of us. Hungry, tired, and in desperate need of a drink, I threw our itinerary out the window. To hell with leaving by 8:30 pm, let’s get some sushi and BYOB! And so we did, thanks to my friend, Merz, who paved the way for us to perform at Rutgers in the first place.
Now full on sushi and good vibes from the show and company at dinner, we made our way down the NJ turnpike, through DE, past my house, past Baltimore, then finally the DC metro area. To occupy the time and keep me awake, we played an almost never ending game of name a famous person whose first name starts with the letter of the previous person’s last name. By 2 am, we were struggling with F, G, and W names. The last name we uttered as we rolled into Amanda and Posido’s neighborhood? Usher. As in Usher Raymond.
And that folks, concludes the wonderful tale of Sulu DC’s first show on the road. Keep your fingers crossed for many more to come!
That was the truth I was living in. We don’t rush ahead of the truth that we are in. Tonight I saw this video that made me cry with all these people on it sharing their truths that we’re all in different places. Right now in this room, I could be sharing something from my past or my future and some ya’ll will be like: yo, that’s where I am at right now. Today. In my life. And it will always be that way.
- beau sia @ the 1st Anniversary Show of Sulu DC
I’m back to host The Sulu Series this month! How long has it been? More than a year? (wow, really?)
We at Sulu DC are excited to bring you this show, which is co-sponsored by the National Asian Pacific American Women’s Forum (NAPAWF), the only multi-issue organization for Asian and Pacific Islander women in the nation. Featuring two of my favorite artists (and people): Michelle Myers of Yellow Rage and Gowri K, local poet and on-the-spot-haiku extraordinaire, this show is bound to empower and inspire you as we celebrate women’s lives and each other.
Saturday, March 16 at 8 pm
Emergence Community Arts Collective (ECAC) – 733 Euclid Ave NW
Tickets: $10 at the door only (cash and credit accepted)
*Space is limited so you wanna get there by 8 pm at the latest*
A little bit more about the artists….
Gowri K. a Sri Lankan Tamil American poet and lawyer. Her advocacy has addressed animal welfare, the environment, and the rights of prisoners and the criminally accused. She has co-authored two peer-reviewed scientific journal articles and her poetry has been published in Beltway Poetry Quarterly, Bourgeon, and Lantern Review. Gowri was the first Asian American to represent DC on a poetry slam team and has performed at Lincoln Center Out of Doors, the Kennedy Center’s Millennium Stage, and the Smithsonian Folklife Festival. She hosts open mics at Busboys and Poets and BloomBars, where she serves as poetry coordinator. Gowri is a communications consultant with Making It Slam and a poetry editor with Jaggery: A DesiLit Arts and Literature Journal. She tweets on-the-spot haiku @gowricurry.
Michelle Myers is a spoken word poet, community activist, and educator. She is a founding member of the spoken word poetry group Yellow Rage, a dynamic duo of Philly-based Asian American female spoken word poets; the group is best known for appearing on the first season of the critically-acclaimed HBO television series Russell Simmons Presents Def Poetry and performing in the first-ever live Def Poetry Jam show at the 2001 HBO U.S. Comedy Arts Festival in Aspen, CO. In the spring of 2011, she released her solo poetry book The SHE Book; all proceeds from the book support two projects: 1) Write the World, a program that seeks to connect children around the world to one another through the arts and letter-writing, and 2) Odanadi-U.S., an anti-trafficking organization that services women and children in India. Finally, Michelle was a featured performer in the First Person Arts’ RAW Festival; her show The SHE Project was presented at The Painted Bride Arts Center in November 2011.
There are always the simple events
of your life
that you might try to convert
- Stephen Dunn’s “Some Things I Wanted to Say to You”