All posts by amyclites

We’ll See What Happens

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The view out the back of my new home studio in Indiana.
The view out the back of my new home studio in Indiana.

When I worked through The Artist’s Way almost 3 years ago, I had an idea of what the book and 12 week program might offer me in the short term – some insight into my creative strengths and weaknesses and hopefully renewed energy for my creative pursuits.

What I wasn’t sure about was how it might affect me in the long term. What would stick? What would be cast aside, like so many other creative coats I’ve tried on over the years?

Well, here it is almost 3 years later, and I am surprised to report that what has stuck with me the most are the morning pages. I write them nearly every morning. Sometimes life gets hectic (I’m looking at you, stressful cross-country move) and I set them aside for a few days or even a few weeks. There’s a lull in the conversation between my psyche and me. I just can’t be bothered, or I’m too overwhelmed, or I’m so focused on a big project that I don’t want to sacrifice that precious morning time. Those handful of magic minutes first thing in the morning where I’m most positive, enthusiastic and ready to get down to business.

But I always pick them back up.

Mostly, they are a laundry list of what I did the previous day and what I’m hoping to accomplish on that day. I list my worries, my complaints. I think the phrase I use most often (usually several times in one sitting) is “We’ll see what happens.”

And then there are days like today, where I plunge a little deeper. I shine some light on some of the darker places. I don’t just write down that I feel kind of shitty or disappointed or tired or overwhelmed. I ask myself WHY I feel kind of shitty or disappointed or tired or overwhelmed.

This move from Los Angeles to Indiana has taken my almost complete focus for the last six months or so. I knew this would happen. Which is one of the reasons why I was so resistant to it for so long. I already feel like I’m behind in my life. Like I’m racing to catch up with everyone else. I didn’t want to get even further behind.

Now that we’ve successfully packed up all of our stuff, shipped it across the country, took our two nervous and drugged cats on a plane, lived with my parents for a month, closed on a house, moved all our stuff and the cats into the house, totally redid the plumbing, painted some rooms and have mostly unpacked, I’m starting to feel a little restless.


I suppose that’s kind of weird to feel restless after such a huge expenditure of energy. But I haven’t put any energy whatsoever into any of my creative pursuits for the last six months, and I feel it. I think that’s why I feel so shitty. I’ve been neglecting that part of myself, and it’s ready to come back out.

I’m a little overwhelmed thinking about all the pieces to pick back up again. What will I focus on? Writing? Acting? Creativity coaching? Something else? I’m hoping that as I continue to get settled, that I’ll find the focus.

In the meantime, I’ll get back into my creative routines (morning pages, weekly blog posts, sending queries out for my first novel, working on the second). I’ll start some new routines (walking on the beach, joining a local writers group, seeing theater in Chicago). I’ll see what rises to the surface, what clamors for more attention.

We’ll see what happens.





Happy Anniversary, Los Angeles. And Goodbye.

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Greetings_from_Los_Angeles,_California_(63828)It’s my ten-year anniversary of moving to Los Angeles. As I write this, it’s been exactly ten years to the day that I first rolled into town with my piss-and-vinegar cat, Mars. That day was March 15, 2007.

Today is March 15, 2017. I’ll be finishing packing up boxes to load in the trailer that’s being delivered on Friday. Shortly it will be on its way to Indiana, along with me.

I didn’t plan for such a tidy ending. It wasn’t part of some grand scheme to have my departure coincide so neatly with the anniversary of my arrival. Ah, but that’s how life is, isn’t it? Sometimes it’s middle-of-the-night, operating-on-four-hours-sleep messy (like me right now, writing this in my dark kitchen at 3 a.m. surrounded by moving boxes). Sometimes it’s clean and delivers life-changing moments with a plodding regularity.

Life is like a box of chocolates, I guess.

When I got here ten years ago, I was 31 years old. I was tired. I was depressed and lonely. I was eager to fill a void inside me that I knew could never be filled in New York.

I had spent most of those five years in New York struggling – struggling to pay my bills, struggling to find success as an actor, and, most of all, struggling to find the companionship I longed for. I had recently ended the only meaningful relationship I had during my time there, after making the realization that although my boyfriend at that time really liked me, he didn’t love me. And I couldn’t continue investing in a relationship that wasn’t ever going to be enough for me. I decided I deserved more than that, even if it meant giving up the companionship that I so desperately wanted.

It was the most grown-up, and most painful, decision I had made up to that point.

My best friend/roommate had also recently moved away, leaving me feeling adrift in an indifferent city. Though I was terrifically, monumentally unhappy in New York, I didn’t want to leave. Being a New Yorker felt like a badge of honor, some kind of special designation that announced to the world that I Was Doing Something Important With My Life. My entire identity was wrapped up in being a hardened, ready-to-take-a-punch resident of the greatest city on earth.

But I had this nagging feeling that it was time to go. I’d had the idea planted in me to move to Los Angeles by my roommate/bestie who had relocated here to work as a Production Coordinator on a TV movie.

It was ludicrous, really, the idea of moving to Los Angeles. My one experience of L.A. was when I finished grad school. Our class came to the city for 10 days to present our showcase to casting directors and agents. As expected, I was a non-entity, dead on arrival. Nobody ever thought I was Los Angeles material. Not my acting teachers, not my classmates, not the industry muckety-mucks who looked right through me as they chatted with the younger, thinner, more attractive actor standing next to me. I was told, time and again, that an actor should never move to Los Angeles unless she had a reason to go, that reason being something like already having a gig as a series regular on a TV show. Or, at the very least, a decent agent.

I didn’t have any of those things.

Still, I couldn’t shake the feeling that maybe I should go anyway. I came out to visit. My roommate/bestie engineered a pull-out-all-the-stops weekend to convince me I would like it here. I saw Ray Romano on the escalator at the Sherman Oaks Galleria. I attended the screening of my bestie’s TV movie where I chatted for 20 minutes with one of the stars of my all-time favorite movie (FYI, it’s Tommy Boy, and that star was Julie Warner who played Chris Farley’s love interest. Don’t judge.). I ate French toast at Dupar’s. I went swimming outside in November. It was fucking glorious.

Still, I resisted. But my intuition kept saying to me, “Go to Los Angeles.”

Since companionship was my number one priority, even above my career, I decided to take a peek at what dating might be like in Los Angeles. I didn’t have high hopes. I believed the stereotype that the only women who get attention here are hot and blond. Nonetheless, I joined to scout prospects.

I was surprised by the number of quality guys there appeared to be. And how many of them wanted to talk to me. I started regularly chatting online with a guy named Adam. He didn’t exactly fit the description of what I thought I wanted (he was older than me and had kids), but I genuinely liked him.

I decided to give Los Angeles a try. So I packed up my shit and drove with Mars from New York to Los Angeles over the first two weeks of March, ten years ago. I was scared. But I realized I could be scared and still do the thing that scares me anyway. I guess that’s called courage, right? To take such an enormous leap of faith?

And now, here I am, ten years later. Sitting in my darkened kitchen, a purring kitty named Venus in my lap, another named Murray happily burrowing into a bag of bubble wrap somewhere nearby (I lost Mars six years ago). My husband, Adam, is snoring in the bedroom. Yes, the same Adam. We’re leaving, and I’m sad and glad and excited and nervous and irritable and nostalgic and can’t sleep.

And I’m a little bit scared. But I’ve learned how to have courage.

When I was deciding whether or not to move to Los Angeles, somebody told me what they thought the difference is between New York and L.A. New York is flashy, and will dazzle you. It’s close and tight and you have very little personal space, but it opens your eyes to what is amazing about the world. By contrast, Los Angeles is slow and sprawling and filtered through the haze of sunlight and palm trees. But it gives you the space and time you need to find out what is amazing about you. That is the city’s gift.

I am so full up with love for this beautiful, frustrating, life-changing place. Yes, the traffic is soul-crushing. Yes, there’s crime and vandalism and violence. There’s a great divide between the haves and the have-nots. There’s not enough water and it’s too hot in the summertime in the Valley and it’s way too fucking expensive to live here.

But this is where I grew up. As silly as it sounds, Los Angeles is where I found myself. I didn’t have anything that looked like traditional success here. I did a little bit of this and a little bit of that. I didn’t make much money. But I got to know myself in a way that I don’t think could have happened anywhere else.

I’m now 41 years old. I’m still tired. But I’m not depressed and I’m definitely not lonely. I found the companionship I was looking for. Not just with my husband and those silly cats. I also found the pleasure in solitude. I made friends with myself here. I learned how to love Amy Clites. She’s pretty fucking cool. I like hanging out with her. She’s curious about the world and she has a big heart. She likes to learn and try new things. She loves to garden and make things grow. She enjoys her creativity. She wants to put good in the world. She’s ready to map her own course.

Just like when I moved to Los Angeles, my intuition has been telling me that it’s now time to leave. I could stay and continue happily on, but I don’t think that’s what I’m meant to do. I feel like I’m being called to do something else, to take this experience with me to another place. And while I’m sad to say goodbye to the dear friends I have here and to the city I have grown to love, I feel light and free and ready to set off on a new adventure.

Happy anniversary, Los Angeles. And goodbye.



2016 – A Year for Gratitude

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I know we can all (mostly) agree that 2016 did little to boost our enthusiasm, intensify our collective connection, or even to give us hope about the future.

That being said, I am a FIRM believer in the practice of gratitude. Yes, practice, because it doesn’t feel like our default setting, as humans. It’s something we must consciously repeat to turn it into habit.

So, I cannot let 2016 pass without expressing my gratitude for certain events that made my life better this year, or helped me grow (even if that growth was kind of unpleasant). This is not an exhaustive list, but those that come to mind as I sit here quietly with hubs on this rainy, last-night-of-2016 in Los Angeles.

I am grateful that my mom’s cancer scare turned out as best as it possibly could. Sometimes it’s scary to hope for the best, but sometimes life does give it to you. Honestly, this alone could have been enough to make 2016 a good year. Thank you, 2016, for keeping my mom in good health so that I may enjoy her love and company for many years to come. My heart aches for those who cannot say the same.

I am grateful for that horrible gall bladder attack that hubs had that landed him in the ER on my birthday. It was terrible to see him in such pain for so prolonged a period, but finally getting a proper diagnosis meant finally being able to deal with it. And I’m even grateful in a way for the complications that made his recovery slow-going, because it forced me to slow down and just concentrate on being with him, in the moment.

I am grateful for my own health. I’m grateful that lump turned out to be nothing serious. I came to realize in a real way this year how, really, good health trumps everything else. Without it, there really is nothing else.

I am grateful that I found within myself the courage to make a bold move in the coming year. Moving back to Indiana has been a decision I’ve been mulling for years, and 2016 was finally the year where I unpacked all my thoughts and feelings about it and decided to stop thinking and start acting. That’s scary, but I feel more confident, and more excited about the coming year because of the big changes ahead.

I am grateful that this decision to move has been entirely mutual between me and hubs, and that his enthusiasm and positivity about our move has made me more confident and positive. It’s brought us closer together, and I’m quite excited about having this adventure together.

I am grateful for the adventures I had the good fortune to experience this year: sea kayaking off the Channel Islands with hubs and my brother, an impromptu trip to Belize, seeing the “Super Bloom” in Death Valley, visiting family in Indiana. I’m grateful that I have the means and the time to do such things.

I am grateful that my stepson is making bold choices with his life. It’s inspiring. His upcoming over-winter at the South Pole has given everyone a jolt of excitement, and I’m sure it will be a profound life experience for him.

I am grateful that my stepdaughter is turning into an amazing human being, one who acts with compassion and kindness, but who is also tough and resilient. I’m lucky to be able to see this young person turn into an adult before my eyes.

I am grateful for my friendships. They add depth and richness and meaning to my life.

I am grateful that somehow I keep making this freelance thing work, because it lets me be the designer of my own day-to-day life, so that I can pay attention to all the things that are important to me that I often could not with a more conventional job.

I am grateful for all the rejection letters I got this year, because it means I am actually writing and submitting my work.

I am grateful for all my incredible collaborators throughout the year. Though I tend to gravitate towards solitary work, I do so thoroughly enjoy the creative partnerships I’ve had the good fortune to enter into this year.

I am grateful for all the great art and culture I got to be a part of this year. Art, really, is what gives my life color and meaning.

I am grateful for all the small joys of daily life – for hot coffee and foggy mornings and kitty cuddles and hot showers and a nice, crisp glass of Viognier after a long day of work.

I am grateful, even, for the darkness of 2016. I’m finding the courage within myself to enter into that darkness, and the darkness that is no doubt coming.

The funny thing is, when I start making a list like this, I find I could go on and on and on. Gratitude begets gratitude, which makes the practice of gratitude that much more important. My intention for 2017 is to carry that practice into the New Year, and build on it.

What are you grateful about in 2016?


A Call to Creative Women Over 40

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Many of you know that I’ve embarked on a journey towards becoming a certified Creativity Coach through the Creativity Coaching Association.

What the hell is that, you say?

That’s a good question, and one that I’m working to answer through this certification process and my own life experience and perspective. What I do know is that as a creative person I have faced challenges that I wasn’t sure how to address. That in my life I’ve become blocked, or bored, or hopeless, or even experienced a crisis of meaning. I’d ask myself, “What am I doing? Where am I going? Is any of this worthwhile? Am I wasting my life?”

As I get older I see I am not alone in these kinds of challenges or obstacles. I’m not the only creative person struggling to answer what seem like unanswerable questions, like, “What does this all mean?”

I happened upon the idea of coaching when I was researching ways I can expand my skill set and to use my creativity to be of service. At this point in my training I’m beginning to see not only how difficult the coaching can be, but also how valuable and rewarding – both for any potential clients and for me.

In our training, we’re encouraged to consider different ways we might specialize in our coaching. This could be exclusively offering services to writers or painters, or working with artists who have anxiety issues, or coaching creatives who struggle with marketplace problems. There are so many ways to specialize, it can be tough figuring out where to focus!

One area, though, that has come up again and again as being important to me personally and potentially valuable to others like me, is to offer coaching specifically for creative women over 40. We are a group of artists who face our own particular sets of challenges, and I’d like to be of service in this area.

If you are a creative woman over 40, I’d love to hear what some of the struggles or obstacles are that you face.

What gets in the way of having a satisfying creative life?

Where do you feel most vulnerable?

What types of struggles do you face?

What is most important to you in your life, what are your priorities?

What kind of help would be valuable to you?

What looks like success?

I’d like to begin crafting an online workshop and e-book that address specific issues related to you (and me!), so any stories or thoughts you’d like to share with me would be incredibly valuable.

Please feel free to write in the comments or send me a personal message at

Thanks, and happy creating!

It’s Time to Go

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"You Are Beautiful" sign welcoming people to the Miller Beach neighborhood of Gary, where we are planning to move. Part of the You Are Beautiful public art project
“You Are Beautiful” sign welcoming people to the Miller Beach neighborhood of Gary. Part of the You Are Beautiful public art project

I’ve been a firm believer in trusting my intuition for many years now.

Now, don’t get me wrong, it isn’t as easy as all that. There’s much hand-wringing, and forehead-rubbing, and stomachaches, and internal arguments that go on. I hear that inner voice telling me what to do. And sometimes I rationalize its arguments away. Sometimes I ignore it. Sometimes I listen to it for awhile and then get distracted by other things.

But I always end up going back to that voice. I’ve learned that it tells me what I need to know, whether I want to hear it or not. And I’ve learned (and am still learning) to trust what that voice says.

And right now that voice is telling me it’s time to go.

I know. It’s scary.

It’s been telling me this for awhile, but I haven’t been listening. Well, I’ve been listening, but I haven’t been trusting. I’ve been explaining it away. I’ve been rationalizing arguments not to go.

But I now trust that it’s time to go.

After all, I’ve chosen this life. I’ve chosen a life of creative adventure over financial security. I’ve chosen wildness over stability. I’ve chosen to satisfy my curiosity, not to stock my coffers. And because I’ve been listening to that unpredictable inner voice, that intuition, I’ve found the adventures I’m looking for. I take risks. I uproot myself and start over. I take a fresh perspective. I upend things, even when it appears they are thrumming along quite healthily.

So, now is that time. I’m uprooting, upending and relocating myself.

I am going back from whence I came.

I am moving back home.

It feels REALLY WEIRD. I’ve spent more of my life away from home than I have living there. I have loads of worries. Will I fit in? Will I even want to fit in? Will I make new friends? Will I be depressed? Will I get really fat? Will I be unhappy? Will I hate it? Will I think it’s a mistake?

Will I feel like a failure?

But, amidst all those (VERY LOUD) worries, that inner voice says, loud and clear, GO.



So, hubs and I are packing it up and moving from Los Angeles, my love affair of the last ten years, to Indiana. An hour outside Chicago. On the lakefront. In Gary.

Yes, Gary.

We are moving to Gary, Indiana.

I can’t hardly believe I’m typing that, let alone DOING it.

But that voice, loud and clear, has said “IT’S TIME.” And for some reason it’s also saying “GO TO GARY,” which, if you’re from the area, you know that’s just UNHEARD OF. Who moves to Gary?

Apparently, I do. And hubs. Even hubs trusts my intuition, which is practically screaming “GARY, INDIANA!!!!!” at me all the time now that I’m listening and trusting.

I’m in for a major course adjustment. But every other time in my life it has been exactly the thing I’ve needed. But I’ve never moved away from someplace I’ve come to love so intensely.

I love it here. I love Los Angeles. And I will miss it terribly. And the friends who have become more like family. I will miss them more than I could ever possibly express. I will miss the life I have created here.

But new adventures await. I see a world of possibility before me. My spirit, even though it is scared shitless, is also exhilarated about what the future might hold.

There’s much work to be done before the move happens. I’m exhausted just by the thought of it. But it must be done. The wheels have been set in motion, and it is time to move forward with their momentum.

More to come. So much more to come.

Where To Find Information About California / Los Angeles Judicial Candidates and Ballot Measures

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Since moving to California ten years ago, I’ve been shocked by how intense the voting process is here. We vote for seemingly everything, and often. It seems only a month a two goes by before I start receiving political flyers and a sample ballot in the mail. Again.

Most of the time, I feel totally overwhelmed. Most of the candidates and ballot measures we’re asked to weigh-on in, I know nothing about. And for a long time I’ve felt it’s been hard to get reliable information, aside from what is mailed to us with our sample ballot, so that I can make educated decisions.

Voting isn’t just a right; it’s a responsibility. I don’t take it lightly.

I don’t want to “eenie, meenie, miney, mo” my way through the ballot. And I don’t think you should, either. Of course, it’s your choice. It’s your right to vote as you please. But I think we owe it to each other to make informed decisions. These aren’t just offices or measures we’re voting on – these are things that impact people’s lives, some in a very direct way. I choose not to be cavalier about that responsibility.

Last night – a Friday night – I researched and completed my mail-in ballot. Do I know how to party, or what? Seriously, though, I spent a few hours looking for information online that would help me make decisions about each item on my ballot. I wish I found one central place where all that information is available, but I didn’t.

So I decided to put it together and share it with you. Now – this is information specific to California/Los Angeles, where I reside. But hopefully it will help to point you in the direction of where you might go online to find information about your district.

I’m not only including links that offer simplified explanations of each measure along with arguments for and against, I’m also including links to who or what the state or local Republican and Democratic parties are endorsing. Some of these ballot measures are tricky, and I find it helpful to know how my party feels about the issue. And who the hell knows anything about the judges, unless you are somehow involved in the judicial system?

If you’re voting third party – go, you maverick! I’m going to assume you know where to find the information you need, or that you’re smart enough to figure it out.

So, without further ado, here are the links that I found helpful:

California’s 17 Ballot Measure Propositions Explained (brought to you by public radio):

Voter Guide for City of Los Angeles Ballot Measures:

Los Angeles County Bar Association Evaluations of all judicial candidates:

California Democratic Party Ballot Measure Endorsements:

Los Angeles County Democratic Party Endorsements:

California Republican Party Ballot Measure Endorsements:

Los Angeles County Republican Party Endorsements:

While included in the endorsements links, I didn’t find a great source of unbiased information about the two Los Angeles County measures on the ballot. Please comment if you know of one, or if I missed anything that you think is important.

Remember – your vote counts! Take the time to educate yourself so you can make an informed decision.




Tidiness and Creativity

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The Literati Bookstore in Ann Arbor, Michigan, totally gets it.
The Literati Bookstore in Ann Arbor, Michigan, totally gets it.

There’s a polarizing topic trending in my social media feeds these days, and I don’t mean Democrat vs. Republican, pro-gun vs. anti-gun or the Great Bathroom Debate of 2016.

I’m talking about tidy vs. messy.

Normally, I don’t care too much about whether someone is a tidy person or a messy person.

OK, that’s a lie, but I’m trying.

What kind of irks me about the topic is that there’s this idea that creative types are messy while non-creative types are tidy. That might be putting it too simply, but there have been studies done and articles written about how messiness is inherently tied to creativity.

I call bullshit on that idea.

I am a tidy person. I am also a creative person. I do not think those two things are mutually exclusive.

Yet the idea persists in our culture that you cannot be tidy and be creative at the same time.

Case in point – a couple of years ago I had a smallish party at my house. As sometimes happens, a guest will bring along a friend or two.

In this particular case, my guest’s friend happened to be a rather well-known musician of the rock star variety. Very interesting, cool and friendly guy. Obviously super-creative. Accomplished. It was humbling and exciting to have him at my house in my very un-posh neighborhood.

At one point during the evening, he noticed my little workspace. I have a tiny house, and I’ve cordoned off a corner of the living room and made it my “studio.” It is very tidy. Nobody is allowed in my space. Leaving something on my desk without my permission is a punishable offense. At that time, I had a tall set of drawers next to my desk. Each drawer had been labeled with a label maker with its contents and the drawers were alphabetized.

“What’s this?” he asked me, in his perfect rock-star British accent.

“It’s my supplies,” I answered. I mean, fuck, wasn’t it obvious? They’re labeled.

He looked at me incredulously and said, “But it’s so organized. I thought you were an artist.”

The tall set of drawers in question...
The tall set of drawers in question… It looks a little messy in this picture, but I assure you, in real life it’s quite tidy compared to the rest of the house.

I won’t lie. My heart sank a little. It’s hard enough being an artist without having other artists question your credibility. And it also kind of made me a little mad. He told me how he couldn’t create unless things around him were a little chaotic. And I get that sometimes you need a little upheaval to spark the imagination and see new connections.

My mind is constantly in motion. I am always thinking of the stories I’m creating, working out plot points, figuring out the characters. Or I’m thinking about what I’m going to make for dinner with the disparate bits of this and that in the kitchen. Or I’m thinking about how I want to paint the hallway. Or I’m thinking about a craft project I’d like to do.

I’ve always got creative ideas bubbling around in my mind.

And here’s the thing – if my environment is messy, it’s distracting. I can’t fully focus on my thoughts or feelings or what I’m trying to create. A messy studio makes deep and meaningful thought almost impossible. I tame my environment so that my mind and heart have the freedom they need to explore.

So yes – I am tidy and I am creative. I can be both.

What about you? Are you a tidy creative? Or do you thrive in a messy environment?





Exploring Creativity

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creativity einstein

Woah! Where in the world have I been since April?

Sitting right here at my desk, actually, caught in a whirlwind of work. I’m afraid I had to set aside some things in order to focus and finish, and posting updates from the fray was one of the casualties.

But here we are, the first day of summer, and things have quieted down a little bit. Seems appropriate for summertime, no?

One of the things that has captured my attention these last few weeks is exploring the idea of creativity.

I’ve been thinking about its place in my life and how it affects my happiness. I’ve noticed that at times where I’m disconnected from my creative wellspring, I feel “off.” My happiness levels plunge, I feel less in tune with my internal barometer and more disconnected from the world around me.

It’s gotten me to thinking about how creativity plays into everyone’s lives, regardless of whether or not you consider yourself a creative person.

I’ve been thinking back to times when I’ve connected with other people over their similar detachment from their own creativity. Talking about it and helping each other through those times have been enormously rewarding for me.

I’ve also been thinking about ways to expand my freelancing business, looking for other opportunities that align with the skills I have and how I’d like to spend my time.

Lo and behold, I stumbled across the idea of becoming a creativity coach.

What? Does that even exist? Apparently, it does. And a person can take classes and become certified in it.

I’ve signed myself up for the introductory class, and I can tell you I am blown away already. The entire thing is conducted through email (a Google Group, to be exact), and there are about two dozen creative souls taking this course along with me.

What surprised me is that the other students are from all over the world – various places throughout the US, Canada (including the High Arctic!), the UK, Australia, Switzerland, South Korea, Greece, Cyprus, and even an aide worker in Turkey who lives about 100 miles from the border of Syria.

Reading everyone’s stories, hearing about their creative lives, where they struggle, how they want to help others with their own creative struggles, is even more inspiring than I thought it would be. I feel re-energized and excited to pursue this so that I can confidently add “creativity coaching” to my skill set as an artist.

Along with the class, we need to do 100 hours of private coaching to become certified. I’ve secured my first client (yay!) and will be looking for others who might be willing to give it a go with me. For a limited time, while I’m getting certified, I’ll be offering private coaching for FREE. If you’re interested, drop me a line either in the comments or through the “Hire Me” page on this blog.

I’m really looking forward to this adventure, and I’m excited to share with you all some of the insights from the journey. Stay tuned!

What’s On My Mind…

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Do you ever feel like you have so much on your mind that you couldn’t possibly fit one more thing in there?

Do you have those days where the happy thoughts are working overtime to try to shoulder out the unpleasant ones?

Are there days when it feels like your brain might actually explode?

Yeah, me too.

The last few weeks I’ve been re-doubling (quadrupling?) my efforts to expunge some of these negative thoughts from my head. They don’t do me any good, really, and I’m getting tired of them.

So…I did what any creative person might do and I busted out my beautiful new journal with the thick, buttery pages (that I scored at Marshall’s for $5.99!) and committed some of these negative thoughts to paper.

Sometimes, I just need to get them out, let them have their say, thank them for whatever lesson it is they’re trying to impart (mostly, I know, they are just trying to protect me, however misguided they are), and show them on their way.

I took the most unflattering picture of myself that I could, pasted it to the paper, and over the course of about two weeks, dumped whatever garbage was hanging out in the dusty corners – or, admittedly, right in the front – of my mind.

The more I wrote them down, the less weight they had. In fact, some of them seemed downright ridiculous once I wrote them 6, 8, a dozen times.

Now the whole thing seems kind of ridiculous, and makes me laugh at the absurdity of it.

And since I’m getting in the practice of sharing some of the harder stuff, so that maybe it will become easier stuff for all of us, here is that ridiculous masterpiece of the absurd:

What is on my mind...

Sometimes you just gotta confront those demons, acknowledge they exist, and politely send them on their way. Or, in this case, expose them to everybody so they diminish in power.

I highly recommend this little exercise. I’m embarrassed to show it to you, but I think that’s the point. In sharing it, I’m taking away it’s power to shame me.

So…what’s on your mind?

Talking About Hard Stuff: Student Loan Debt

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There’s a new documentary out about Nora Ephron, made by her son. It’s called Everything is Copy, which refers to her insistence that all matters of her intimate life were to be shared in her work.

I love Nora Ephron, and I’ve been thinking about that concept a lot lately, about the need to share the intimate stuff, the hard stuff.

So as of today I’m starting a new section of my blog, a dedicated place where I talk about the hard stuff.

Why? As a personal challenge, for starters. I tend to shy away from talking about the really hard stuff. I’ve got a laundry list of hard stuff I never talk about, and I don’t think it serves me, and I know it doesn’t serve my work.

I’m also doing it because people tend to respond to the hard stuff, because they have hard stuff, too, and it makes them feel less alone maybe.

So – here goes.

I had a really bad couple of hours on Friday, and in the thick of it I posted something about it on Facebook. I was surprised at the number of responses it solicited. It’s a topic that’s hard for a number of people, it seems, and it only gets harder the older we get. And that topic is…

…student loan debt.

I spent Friday afternoon on the phone with Navient trying to work out a stupid paperwork issue so that I don’t have to pay $859 a month in loan payments. It was agonizing, and a couple of times while speaking with them on the phone I actually had to stop and breathe because I was ugly crying and my throat was closing in on itself and I couldn’t get words to come out of my mouth. Frankly, I don’t think “Keith” in India really gave a shit. I mean, poor privileged white American girl who can’t pay her bills. I get it. I would call bullshit on me, too.

My husband was understandably worried about me. It’s probably not a nice thing to see your wife hunched over, her head on her desk, sobbing to Indian Keith on the phone, not making much sense. Hubs did the only thing he could think to do – he rubbed my shoulders and told me it would be OK. Which was nice, even though I didn’t believe him.

So, here’s the thing. Here’s what’s got me so upset.

As of this moment, I owe $91,762.32 on my student loans. That’s about $20,000 more than when I graduated 14 years ago.

It’s a punch in the stomach, writing that.

I hadn’t looked up the actual number in awhile, and I thought it was about $85,000. So, yeah, it’s actually $6,000 more than I thought.

What did I buy for $91,762.32? A BFA and an MFA in Acting. Go ahead and laugh. I would laugh, too, at the absurdity of spending $91,762.32 to learn how to be a fucking actor of all things if it wasn’t such a sad and sickening reality.

I’m 40. The reality is that I just don’t make any real money working in the arts. Some people do. I have many friends who do. I’m glad for them. But for whatever reasons, whether it’s the choices I made or things that I have no control over, I never landed a really great job as an actor.

Now, I’m smart. I was valedictorian of my high school graduating class and I have an advanced degree. I could work outside my industry. I could teach. I could work in sales. I could bartend. I could work as an executive assistant. I’ve done all those things, in fact.

I’ve been reading Elizabeth Gilbert’s book, Big Magic, and in it she talks about never relying on your creativity to pay the bills. She talks about the honor of having an outside job that pays the bills so that your creativity has room to breathe, that it doesn’t have the burden of responsibility placed on it.

I get that, as an idea. And I’ve tried that. For years and years and years. And you know what I found? That, at the end of the day, I was too exhausted by the hustle to have any energy left to put towards my creativity. I’m hard-working, and I’m loyal. The job I’m being paid to do will always be the one that comes first. That’s the way I was raised and it’s hard-wired into me. Compound that with living in New York and Los Angeles during those years, and suddenly the amount of money you need to just get by is exponentially higher. But you have to live there because that’s where most of the work is. And trying to have a regular job while also trying to be an actor is nearly impossible. Actors have to have spontaneously flexible schedules because sometimes you only get a half day’s notice about an audition.

All of that is exhausting, and it’s not a great environment for creativity to feel safe and welcome.

The only times I’ve ever been able to make decent payments on my student loan is when I have worked outside my industry. I remember those times. That’s when I was smoking a pack of cigarettes a day and taking blood pressure medication at 30 because I was so fucking stressed out. It’s taken me a long time to admit it, but unless I’m actively working at a creative job every day I am totally. Fucking. Miserable. It actually feels like part of my soul dies every day. There have been so many mornings where I would cry over my eggs because the thought of going to the office was so dreadful it made me feel physically ill.

What bothers me about this, is that I was allowed –  encouraged, really – to buy something, to take out a loan for something, that was probably never going to be the thing I did to pay off that loan (in fact, at least half of my classmates, maybe more, are not making a living as a working actor). Why did I borrow $91,762.32 and spend seven years of my life becoming a fucking awesome actor, if I could never hope to pay that money back by being an actor? Why was I made to feel like I was lucky to be paying so much for this education? That it was a fucking privilege to leave school with such an expensive degree?

That’s sick, and the more I think about it, the angrier I get. Normally, I’m a good sleeper. But it’s 2 a.m. on a Sunday night and I can’t sleep because I can’t stop thinking about this suffocating monkey on my back. So I’m up writing about it, because I don’t know what else to do.

My husband thinks that something is going to happen, that there are too many people like me, too many people who have crippling student loan debt, who have no hope of ever being able to pay them off, that there will be some sort of change in the future, some kind of relief. I so wish for that to be true.

But, in dark moments, I don’t believe that will ever happen. I assume I will die without ever paying this loan off. That I won’t be able to collect social security. That I will live at or near the poverty line for the rest of my life, and that I will have to work until the day I die.

Look, I made the choices that led to this. I own that. And I’m making choices now that are contributing to my debt getting bigger instead of smaller. I own that, too. I made the choice that I just can’t work another 9 to 5 office job, or worse, work in a restaurant. I’m able to make just enough money to keep myself afloat by freelancing. I write thousands of words every week for various websites. I work as a personal assistant in someone’s home. I put together pitch decks for TV shows in development. I finished my first novel and I’m looking for a literary agent. I’m co-writing a screenplay with a talented friend whose first feature is screening at the Tribeca Film Festival this week.

I act now and again when a project comes up. But I don’t pursue it full time because pursuing acting is really expensive, especially in Los Angeles. There are so many things you “have” to buy – new headshots every year, great audition clothes, regular haircuts (and colors, now that I’m getting grey hairs – can’t be old here!), casting director workshops you have to pay to attend in order to meet anyone, classes you should be taking…it’s a never-ending money-suck being an actor, and I just can’t stomach laying out that kind of cash anymore. Not when I already owe $91,762.32 for my training.

I’m actually happy doing what I’m doing. I work really hard. I’m extremely disciplined. I get up at 6:30 most mornings and am at my desk working by 8. I’m always on the lookout for new gigs, and for creative ways to make more money. And when I’m not thinking about this crippling debt, I feel pretty good. But then I remember how much I owe, and how little I make being creative, and I end up in a shame spiral, admonishing myself and feeling sorry myself at the same time. It’s a crappy place to be.

I come from a working class family. My dad was a steel worker and my mom worked in the cafeteria of my elementary school. Now she works in the floral department of a grocery store. I learned about hard work and sacrifice from them. I learned that most people work hard at jobs they don’t love. Because that’s how it is.

I have loads of shame about this debt, and that I’m still sticking to my artistic guns in the face of it. It sometimes feels self-indulgent and ego-centric and I hate myself for it. It’s safe to say I often feel tortured about being an artist in a culture that doesn’t value art. I haven’t had commercial success, and I may never have it. But I keep going because I have to, the core of who I am dictates it. All other choices make me feel awful and dead inside.

I don’t have any answers. And when I ask myself if I would do it again, if I would go to college and graduate school again, I know the answer. Yes, I would. It was transformative for me personally and as an artist. My whole experience of the world is different, richer, because of it.

But I would handle this debt differently. I wouldn’t just presume, at 25, that someday I’d book a national commercial that would pay off the debt. Because I haven’t and I probably won’t. I’d be smarter about my choices. And, frankly, I think my education should have better prepared me, prepared all of us, for what the likely reality would be. Give us some pointers on how to handle enormous debt in the most expensive cities, advice on where to find the jobs that are both actor-friendly and not soul-crushing.

I can’t go back, of course. I’ve got to figure out what to do going forward.

I do think our system needs radical change. It’s criminal how much an education costs, while the banks financing those education loans keep getting richer. But, that’s the American Way, isn’t it? The rich get richer and fuck everybody else. The banks get bailed out, but the little guys with not a cent to spare get no relief.

Alright. Well.

That’s the hard stuff I decided to tell you about today. There’s more hard stuff to talk about, and as I find the courage I’ll write about it here. It makes me feel so incredibly exposed and vulnerable and scared, but I think that means it’s worth doing.

I must be off now, for if I have any hope of being productive tomorrow (i.e. make some money to pay off my debt) I better get at least a few hours of sleep.

Be well, friends.