Interview with Jenny Hill

Jenny Hill

Jenny Hill

Jenny, many of us played with hoola hoops when we were younger. How old were you when you first started out? What was it about hooping that kept you taking it to the next level?

It’s funny, but I don’t remember hula hooping at all as a child. We grew up in the woods, and our closest neighbors were about a mile or so away, so my sister and I did a lot of creative things. We created circuses, made up games in the woods, and once I tried making a pop up restaurant in my bedroom where I made my parents pay for food they had already purchased! I’m sure there was a hoop around as part of one of our circuses, but I really don’t remember playing with it as it was intended. I was 39 years old when I first picked up a hoop and was determined to keep it spinning. My sister introduced me to it by bringing a hoop making kit with her the weekend she visited for my wedding. There are a number of different things that have kept me engaged and excited about hooping. At first it was just sheer determination and the old competitive spirit of sisterhood. My sister could hoop beautifully. Why couldn’t I keep it going? I spent days out in my backyard, practicing. Eventually something clicked and my body said, “Yep. This is it.” I spent years up in my head. It felt really good to have my body speak for a change. I was always the awkward kid growing up – the one that was picked last for the team in gym class, so suddenly having a creative outlet that was also athletic and made me feel graceful instead of clumsy has kept me engaged. One of the things that continues to keep me going with hooping is the playful aspect of it. It’s a toy! So if I make a “mistake” I turn it into a new move, or I laugh it off and continue. There have been a lot of lessons with hooping.

We’ve been hearing a lot about “flow” recently when it comes to sports and the arts. It seems to me that your hooping is a great example of flow – total focus and being in the moment. Do you agree? Do you get the same feeling from your writing?

Mmm, yes, flow. I think the word gets used in a number of different ways. For me there’s the flow of linking moves together with hooping and generating a personal style. There’s a lot of talk about flow in the hooping community. Hoopers who have learned the basics and want to level up sometimes get uptight about “finding flow,” because they feel like they aren’t skilling up quickly enough. Flow happens in a sort of quiet way, I think. It’s subtle. You keep practicing at a thing you’re passionate about (writing, hooping, cooking), and suddenly and without much notice you have developed a style. My husband talks a lot about  Mise en Place. It’s a cooking term that means you have all your ingredients ready and are capable of putting together a delicious meal. I think this applies to most art. Having enough technique and craft to develop style.

Jenny Hill

Jenny Hill

Then there’s the kind of flow that happens where you are focused and in the moment, which you mentioned. That type of flow, to me, is a sort of meditative state. There are moments of this for me with hooping, especially when I am alone. I don’t feel that kind of flow while I’m teaching, or performing, or when I’m working on some off-body four hoop move. Once I’ve figured out the move and can incorporate it into the other type of flow, well then I might reach that sort of nirvana “brain shutoff”. It’s interesting now that I think of it how the two types of flow work together. It’s hard to get the meditative state of flow while you’re learning to master waist hooping, but once you get it, the brain chatter stops, and it’s a blissful place to be.

What is your typical daily routine? Do you practicing hooping every day? Are you an early-riser writer?

I’m up at 5:30, and I write for an hour. I’ve kept journals for years. If I’m working on a poem that usually happens in the morning as well. I read after that for a bit, usually until 7 a.m. Hoop practice during the spring, summer, and early fall happens in the morning as well, usually after I answer emails and make a list for the day. I spend at least an hour in practice, and it’s usually at the local park. I’ve gotten to know a lot of people in the neighborhood this way. When the winter months hit, I practice indoors.

Your life seems to be full of play and creativity. We’re learning that flow, play and creativity are important for our health as we age. What advice would you give someone who is stuck in a stressful job and busy schedule?

I had parents that encouraged creativity, and I think that made a big influence on how I live my life. My suggestion for anyone struggling with stress is to find a creative outlet that speaks to you and moonlight from your stressful job in discovery. Theatre bug? Go audition for a local theatre or offer your help backstage. Musical itch? Take lessons. Everyone has busy schedules and the key is making time for that moonlighting. It doesn’t have to be a lot. An hour a day, or a half hour if you’re really crunched. I think anything that you’re curious about is a good place to start.

Hooping has had a lot of benefits for me, some of them being an increased spatial awareness, better eye/hand coordination, an increase in self-esteem, a boost in happiness, and then all the physical bonuses too. I’m stronger now at 45 than I was at 17. I hope to keep this up for as long as I can! Creativity is good for the brain – your brain develops new neural pathways as you skill up in an art form. This is super-beneficial as you age. I just finished teacher training with the Center for Creative Aging. There are a lot of studies that show that play and creativity have positive effects on health and well being.

You’re a teacher also. Can you tell us about one or two of your most rewarding teaching experiences?

It’s endlessly rewarding. There have been many moments of discovery and magic. I once took a group of 4th grade students outside so we could focus on the sense of sound, and they closed their eyes as I read a poem about snow. It was October. When they opened their eyes, it was snowing. They begged me to read again so they’d get a snow day! There was a teenage boy who slept through class but stayed awake when I visited to write a poem about his sister. It was like he was waiting for me to arrive so he could have the permission to write it. There was a school board meeting I attended with high school students. All those men in suits were so intimidating! They held all the cards, you know? They made all the decisions. One of the students read a poem for them called “Bomb in my Bookbag.” The “bomb” was her bible. I’ll never forget her bravery. I think every moment someone puts their trust in me to share their thoughts, or to try out a hoop, or share a life story, is rewarding. Living is rewarding. Getting to know other people is one of the best things in life, in my opinion. Students are always teaching me new things.

What’s next for you? Do you have another creative project in the works?

There’s always something going on around here. There are a string of performances I’m giving in the next couple of months, so I’m rehearsing a lot. I’ve finally committed to taking an improv class with the Philadelphia Improv Theater, and I’m excited about how what I learn there will inform the other things I do. I’m teaching a Hoop Revolution class at a local yoga studio – a quieter, slower introduction to hooping, and a Hoop Yourself Fabulous series that starts next week, which is a higher energy hoop class. In the evenings, since it’s hockey season, I will be writing. One of the things I love about the later fall is that things slow down a bit and I have time to reflect on what I’ve done and where and how creative ideas overlap. Hooping and poetry do overlap, and that’s a combination that has been fascinating to me for a few years. The most interesting exploration to me so far was a group hoop/theatre performance I created called, “O, Jabberwocky.” I’m working on developing a hooping and literacy curriculum that I can take to schools. That’s next. My lists are long, and time is of the essence!


Jenny Hill is a certified hoop fitness and dance instructor as well as a poet, actor and arts educator. Visit her online at Acts of Jennius and be sure to follow her on Facebook!

If you (or someone you know) has made it a priority to incorporate creative play into daily life, I’d love to talk. Please contact me at catherine.shefski(at)gmail.com.

Learning through Play

 

My kids grew up with SimCity and all of its spinoffs. Read what the game designer, Will Wright, has to say about game play and education on the 25th birthday of his creation.

“I really think our brain is wired to consume entertainment and enjoy entertainment, precisely because of the fact that it’s inherently educational,” says Wright. “And we’ve made this artificial distinction between the two, we’ve almost kind of put a chasm there that didn’t exist … I think SimCity was just a simple example that for a lot of people started to remove the wall between the two.”

“I think that play, in a more general sense, is fundamentally one of the ways that we understand the world, the real world.”

Read the article here.

Interview with Judy Polstra

Judy Leeson Polstra

Judy Leeson Polstra (photo by Leo Reinfeld)

Judy, your life seems to epitomize the life of a creative. Do you make your living solely from your art or do you have a day job? Are you an early riser or do you burn the midnight oil? How do you balance it all?

I have an 8-5 day job with a commercial HVAC company. I coordinate monthly training classes for our 250 technicians located throughout eight states. My title is “Special Projects”, which means I report to our two VPs and the CFO, working on various projects as needed. I also oversee a small team of three men who maintain our national contracts. Fortunately, I have great bosses and the office is less than five miles from my home/studio, and wonderful benefits. It’s not a “punishing” job and does not require me to take it home.

I’ve always been a VERY early riser/early to bed, and tend to require little sleep. Often asleep by 9 p.m., I’m frequently wide awake before 2 a.m. and remain so until evening. Early morning has always been my favorite, most creative, time of day

I can’t always balance it all. Sometimes my focus is more on my music, other times, visual arts. I don’t watch much TV so most of my non-day job hours are spent either with my music or art. My husband travels frequently and I never had children (except the furry type) so my time is my own. As the Buddha said, “I can sleep when I’m dead”.

Lipstick Lover by Judy Leeson Polstra

Lipstick Lover by Judy Polstra

I see that you started your bejeweled mannequin series after the deaths of your mother and grandmother. As a self-taught artist, what was it that drew you to other mediums (cakes, furniture, painting, etc.) Do you have a favorite?

I get bored doing the same “type” of art. I find much of my inspiration at thrift stores, looking for nothing in particular. Often if something strikes me as particularly funny, odd, ugly, or beautiful (in other words, makes me react in SOME way), I’ll buy it. Sometimes I incorporate items quickly, other times not at all, and they will be donated again. Inspiration can come from anywhere!

I don’t have a favorite medium. Lately I’ve been working on “clothes”. Some could be wearable, others definitely not. All have a theme of the working against the “aging process”. I’m 49 and I’m inspired by the onslaught of infomercials telling women about everything that is “wrong” with them as they age. Grrr.

We’ve been hearing a lot about “flow” recently when it comes to the arts. How have your experienced flow in your work?

When I have an idea, I literally will not rest until it’s completed. Recent works are more inspired by the media and world events (i.e. women and the aging process as referenced above; the VA debacle and “corporations as people” as in a recent installation titled “The System”). Both of these projects have been extremely time intensive, but I cannot stop until they are completed.

Your work is full of whimsy and playfulness and fearlessness. What would you say to the person who always wanted to paint or play the piano but is bogged down by a full time job?

I have one of those full time jobs. I guess it all comes down to how badly you want to express yourself. I have had some nice sales over the years, but never enough for an income. The idea of a “starving artist” also never appealed to me.

I grew up with a sick Mother. From the time I was 7 years old, we were told she was going to die soon. (She died 32 years later.) I’ve always felt that there is never enough time, or soon I will run out of time. Growing up in an atmosphere of “imminent death” made me never take time for granted. I was carjacked at gunpoint four years ago. A relative was murdered inside his home within the same time-frame. We never know when our time here is going to end. We should not fear impermanence (hence, my “fearlessness” you mentioned) — but embrace it and CREATE. Don’t worry about the “results” or the “acclaim”. To me there is nothing sadder than to die and never have tried.

Tell us about your “Go Play Project”? Do you see any changes in your piano playing as you record each new piece? Has your study of jazz piano influenced your classical playing and your art? If so, how?

Cathy, YOU inspired the idea of “Go Play”— casual practice/performance sessions complete with mistakes, page turns, works in progress, etc. As fearless as I am in my visual art, I’m more fearful in my piano/keyboard playing. I studied classical music from the age of seven. I was never exposed to jazz or improve until the last 2 years. There was no “improv” in my classical studies. It was very serious, intense, and one was NEVER to make a mistake. With that pressure, I could barely play in front of anyone despite my advanced level of playing (Rachmaninoff preludes, Schumann, Prokofiev sonatas, Beethoven, etc.)

Studying jazz has helped me loosen all of my playing quite a bit and ENJOY it, rather than worry about the mistakes. At this point, I don’t imagine composing. Instead I love studying some of the GREAT piano jazz masters like Oscar Peterson, Art Tatum, and Fats Waller. The chords are massive, the leaps are multi-octave, and the time and key signatures are all over the keyboard. It’s a blast! (My piano coach for the last 20 years is not happy with my change in musical passion. It’s nearly cost us our relationship as mentor/student and friends. While I’m sad about the loss, I’ve had to let it go…)

As for the mistakes, they are “as the artist intended” — whether in music or the visual arts.

What’s next for you? Tell us about any upcoming shows or projects.

Armor Against The Aging Process

Armor Against The Aging Process by Judy Polstra

Musically, this month, October, I’m playing at a local Museum who is hosting a Mad-hatter Tea Party, to raise funds for breast cancer. I’ll be playing primarily stride (Fats Waller), some rag-time, and some miscellaneous jazz.

Art wise, in October, I’m in two shows in Miami and one in Fort Lauderdale. I’m applying for a grant for next year, applying to an adjunct show for Art Basel, and another show in Naples for January. (You don’t know if you don’t apply! I keep my rejection letters. You can’t take it personally, and sometimes, you get some interesting (even funny!) comments).


Judy Polstra is a self-taught artist with a passion for piano. Visit her at judypolstra.com, or follow her on Facebook, Instagram, or LinkdIn.

 If you (or someone you know) has made it a priority to incorporate creative play into daily life, I’d love to talk. Please contact me at catherine.shefski(at)gmail.com.

9 Reasons You Should Start A “Go Play Project”

1.  Your work will improve. When you make a commitment to do one thing every day (or every other day) it usually gets easier and easier. That’s not to say there will be those days when your amateur work will look or sound, well, a little too amateur, and you’ll want to chuck the whole project. But on the whole, by the end of the thirty days, six months or one year, you’ll probably feel more at ease with whatever it was you decided to put your effort into.

2.  You can make new friends. Tell the world you’re recording one piano piece every week and all of a sudden there are people all over Twitter and Soundcoud – composers, pianists, improvisors – all doing the same thing. Reach out to them. They’re happy to support you. The only person you’re in competition with is yourself.

3.  It saves you from time-sucking activities. Don’t you just hate it when you sit down to watch TV and the next thing you know hours have flown by – precious time that you’ll never get back? You might not remember what you watched, or you might have even fallen asleep. Start a project and, sure, you’ll see time fly, but at the end of the day you’ll have created something.

4. It might lead you down a different path. When I was recording my Go Play Project I started with the safe pieces. Short pieces I’d played before. Pieces I know everyone would enjoy. About eight months into the project I started seeking out pieces that spoke to me. Music I’d never been exposed to. This upped the challenge because not only did I have to learn the notes in one week, I had to immerse myself in the new style of an unfamiliar composer. In the end I moved away from my beloved Chopin, into the more mysterious world of Rachmaninoff, Scriabin, Janacek, and Medtner.

5.  It’s good for your health. When you’re so immersed in and concentrated on a project that time passes in an instant and all the background noise and chatter seems to disappear, you are said to be in a state of “flow.” Flow is likely to occur when your challenge is just slightly above your skill level. Flow leads to happiness and happiness leads to health. For an extra boost, add a higher purpose to the mix. And that higher purpose might simply be taking your project and sharing it with the world.

6.  You end up with a body of work. When you set a goal to complete 30 ink drawings for the month of InkTober, you will end up with a whole pile of drawings. You’ve made something! And no one can take that away from you. What you do with them is up to you. Post them to Tumblr or hide them in a drawer. Sell your work on Etsy. Or better yet, start another project!

7. You have a sense of urgency. Most of us have a tendency to procrastinate. And when the only person we have to answer to is ourselves, then it’s even harder to do those things we “should” do. It’s even harder to get to work on the things that may seem frivolous like those creative projects that always seem to get put on the back burner. By setting a deadline for ourselves and declaring it to the world, we quickly get down to work play!

8. There’s no room for perfectionism. When you set a goal to produce a large body of creative work in a short period of time, you don’t have time to linger over the details. Work this way and you avoid all the second-guessing that comes with perfectionism. There will be plenty of time when the project is done, to go back and work out all of the fine points.

9.  You come away with a sense of accomplishment. Perhaps this is the best reason to start a “Go Play Project.” Nothing can beat that feeling when you stand back and take a look at what you created. Whether it’s a 50,000 words of a half-baked novel, or 52 home-made piano recordings, or 30 pencil sketches of the same hand.

 

Forty Year Photo Project

1981, Cincinnati

1981, Cincinnati

1999, Brookline, MA

1999, Brookline, MA

This powerful photo series by Nicholas Nixon depicts four sisters over the course of forty years. As Susan Minot writes so eloquently in this NY Times article:

Throughout this series, we watch these women age, undergoing life’s most humbling experience. While many of us can, when pressed, name things we are grateful to Time for bestowing upon us, the lines bracketing our mouths and the loosening of our skin are not among them. So while a part of the spirit sinks at the slow appearance of these women’s jowls, another part is lifted: They are not undone by it. We detect more sorrow, perhaps, in the eyes, more weight in the once-fresh brows. But the more we study the images, the more we see that aging does not define these women. Even as the images tell us, in no uncertain terms, that this is what it looks like to grow old, this is the irrefutable truth, we also learn: This is what endurance looks like.

How often do we start a project and see it veer off into a place we least expected? Even though we don’t know these women, we can find our own story in this photo series.

The same thing happens when we complete our own ‘project’. Whether it’s a drawing a day, a month of writing, or a year of piano playing. In the end it will be about much more than ‘practice’. There will be something unexpected. An understanding, a resolution, or maybe even a revelation.

It’s InkTober

I love that October is Inktober! 31 days. 31 ink drawings.

The rules are easy and and familiar to anyone who follows the Go Play Project.

INKtober rules:

1) Make a drawing in ink (you can do a pencil under-drawing if you want).

2) Post it on tumblr (or Instagram, twitter, facebook, flickr, Pinterest or just pin it on your wall.)

3) Hashtag it with #inktober

4) Repeat (you can do it daily, like me, or go the half-marathon route and post every other day, or just do the 5K and post once a week. What ever you decide, just be consistent with it. INKtober is about growing and improving and forming positive habits, so the more you’re consistent the better.)

That’s it!

Jake Parker originally set up INKtober five years ago to give himself an excuse to draw every day. He held himself accountable by posting his drawings online while his online audience watched. Now everyone has an excuse to pull out their Micron Pens and draw. Don’t worry if you don’t get in a drawing every day. Jake says it’s the commitment that matters and if you commit to 3 times a week for the month, go for it. Set your intention and stick to it. And don’t forget to post your drawings online using the hashtag #inktober. Got it? Good. Now Go Play!

Monday Blog Round-up!

 

via Unsplash.com

via Unsplash.com

This is what “Go Play” is all about!