Interview with Anne Ku

Anne Ku on Maui

Anne Ku on Maui

You’ve described life as “a big playground to learn and have fun.” Can you tell us a little more? Have you always had this philosophy or is it something you realized as you got older?

One of my favorite songs is Cyndi Lauper’s “Girls Just Wanna Have Fun”  — I have to remember that when I’m not enjoying myself. If it’s no longer fun, then it’s time to move on. We’re here to learn. As long as we’re learning, we’re growing. And life is the playground where we can play, experiment, make mistakes, learn and grow. This is something I’ve realized as I got older. When I was younger, I thought of life as full of new experiences to be had, but work was a big component of that. Work — defined as activity where you get compensated. Life can be defined by experiences and lessons learned. Dalai Lama’s observation of the way we separate work and play made me want to equate work with play. When I became a musician, turning my hobby into my profession, I no longer separated the two. And so, life = work = play.  Right now, in an academic environment, I’m learning as I teach.

Tell us a little bit about your life’s journey so far.

When asked “what do you want to be when you grow up,” I answered “a fairy.”  Now that may sound corny, but I think I actually fulfilled my wish. A fairy can change if she wants to. I’ve changed jobs and self-definition as many times as I’ve relocated. I have an insatiable appetite for what is new and different. I thrive on diversity. I’m very curious. I love to investigate. There was never a grand plan. Each relocation had a legitimate reason. I’ve often wondered if my life has been one of falsification. That is, to do something long enough to stop when I realize I either don’t like it or don’t want to do it. This could be due to boredom or feeling incompetent. If I can’t be the best in that field, then it’s time to move on. On the other hand, if I do become the best, then I get bored and want to move on anyway. I don’t know the answer, only that life is full of offerings — like a candy store for a child. I can’t help wanting to try. I suppose, that’s what keeps me going.

With all of your traveling and moving you seem to live the life of a vagabond. Do you have a place you call home?

Home is where the heart is, and everywhere I’ve called home, I’ve left a bit of my heart. Right now I feel very at home on Maui, but I do feel most at home in London.

You wear many hats – pianist, composer, economist, mathematician, engineer, entrepreneur and teacher. How do you prioritize? If you had to choose one thing to do for the rest of your life, what would you choose? Okay, maybe two things…

I think we all wear different hats, whether to do with what we do or what we are. Right now I’m a teacher, researcher, and grant writer. When I was living in Utrecht, I was a pianist, composer, and writer. I prioritize by what’s needed to survive and what I’m most interested in — there’s an overlap to the next thing I’m going to be doing. If there’s one thing I’d do for the rest of my life that would be to do what I haven’t done before. I daresay, the sort of books I’m reading and the path I’m on now, I want to learn to just BE and not DO.

Are you pursuing any creative activity where you are a total beginner? How do you approach learning a new activity? Do you mess around with it or do you go methodically step-by-step through the learning process?

I suppose grant writing is a creative activity. I’ve just finished my third grant on Maui (and my fourth one, if you include my duo’s trip to Spain). I identify who the experts are and ask them questions. I do a lot of research on my own. I attend seminars and read a lot.

Are you an early riser or do you burn the midnight oil?

I wish I could be an early riser. I seem to take awhile to get into the momentum. Before I know it, the day is gone but I’m not ready to stop.

I see that you practice yoga. Do you also meditate? Was it difficult for you to put on the brakes and slow down? What differences do you notice in your life now that you’ve started these practices?

I’ve been doing yoga for many years now but I still can’t “truly” meditate. I say this because my mind is very busy. When I’m trying new or difficult poses, I do focus but I wouldn’t say it is meditation. I swim daily. It frees and calms my mind. That is a form of meditation in three dimension. I hope to one day “truly” meditate.

What’s next for you, Anne?

I would love to become a published author and churn out new bestsellers. I grew up reading Barbara Cartland and Harlequin Romance Novels. Maybe one day when I can’t be as physically active or energetic as I am now, I will finally settle down and write.

Sweet sixteen in a sundress I made in Okinawa (I loved to design and make my own 100% cotton dresses!)

Sweet sixteen in a sundress I made in Okinawa (I loved to design and make my own 100% cotton dresses!)


Follow Anne’s travels, adventures and reinventions by checking in on her website. And as always, if you know someone who has a 9 to 5 job or family obligations… but still finds time to incorporate creative play into their life, please email me at catherine (at) gmail (dot) com.

Interview with Laurie McMillan

Laurie McMillan

Laurie McMillan

Some people say that in one day children laugh up to ten times more than adults. Whether or not this is true, we can all agree that laughter makes you feel good. Have you always had a sense of humor or do you make a conscious effort to bring humor to your daily life?

I have definitely always had a sense of humor; I love to be around funny people, and my husband and my two kids make me laugh on a daily basis. They all say I’m the least funny one in the family.

My dad loved to tease and joke around when I was growing up, so I’m very comfortable with silliness and physical humor. Sometimes life feels like one long to-do list, and acting like a goofball helps me break out of that daily grind. Also, as a teacher, it’s important that I make my classes entertaining so our brains are engaged. Humor is one way to make that happen.

It’s tough to say how much of a conscious effort I make to bring humor to my daily life. It’s definitely there! But it’s not something I always think about.

Tell us a little about your WinkyFace videos. I understand your original intent was to demonstrate gender trends on YouTube… but the videos seem to have taken on a life of their own. What do future do you see for them? Do you have any other videos in the works?

WinkyFace is the YouTube channel I co-developed with my colleague and friend Lindsey Wotanis. We do parodies of faculty life, parody interviews with fictional characters, and assorted behind-the-scenes videos. We have had a LOT of fun planning and producing the videos, and we have learned a lot. We didn’t plan on doing the channel forever, but we don’t have a definite endpoint in mind either. We have a lot of videos that are either scripted or brainstormed, so I see us sticking with the work for awhile still. It may be tough to let it go!

Although I do a lot of feminist research, WinkyFace was never focused on gender trends. Lindsey and I developed the channel because we saw a need for our students to learn social media, and we know that the only way we can teach our students is if we ourselves are using the media. YouTube is the ideal challenge because a) it’s possible to make money (so it will seem like a good option to students), b) it involves multimedia so we’d be learning a lot of skills all at once, and c) it involves media presence across platforms, so we would need to learn instagram and twitter if we were to do YouTube.

Learning how to YouTube successfully was our first goal, and the content was secondary.

We brainstormed a few ideas. I really wanted my kids to get involved because it would be easier for them to reach an audience on YouTube than for me to do so, and I figured they’d enjoy making some money. But they weren’t interested, so Lindsey and I decided we would do it ourselves. And we made the content fun so that we’d get a kick out of doing it!

Once we decided on a focus, we also developed a behind-the-scenes blog titled Margin Notes. That might be where you noted our interest in gender issues. Because I had already done a YouTube channel, I was familiar with the inappropriate ways people talked to me (or about me) when leaving comments on my videos. Also, Lindsey and I published research analyzing the comments on Jenna Marbles’ videos versus Ryan Higa’s. The difference is exactly what you’d expect, but it’s still overwhelming and disheartening when you see the numbers. At any rate, before we even began putting out videos, we spent some time thinking about all the dynamics, and we blogged about that sort of thing over several posts.Laurie

Do you have a daily writing regimen? Are you an early riser or do you burn the midnight oil?

I should have a [sailing <–somehow, I wrote “sailing” instead of “daily,” and now I’m thinking how lovely it would be to have a sailing writing regimen!] daily writing regimen, but I don’t.

I’m an early riser. At different times in my life, I had different habits, but now my entire household is moving between 5:00 and 6:00am. I found out that my brain tends to work better in the morning than at night when I was playing Words with Friends and Scramble. I was almost unbeatable when playing in the morning! At night, I was terrible.

But I still write at night at times anyhow, because sometimes that’s the only way to get the job done.

What is your favorite genre to read? To write? What are you reading now?

I like to read in a lot of genres, but fiction is probably #1. I recently finished The Secret History by Donna Tartt. I also reread The Joy Luck Club for my book club, and I was so glad I did. The writing is awesome, the stories are awesome. I read a lot of light fiction (mysteries, chick lit, young adult fiction, whatever). I’m not a snob in any way when it comes to reading.

This may seem nerdy, but I like to write serious research because it makes my brain work really hard. The whole process of analyzing material to really show something appeals to me, and it takes unbelievable effort to organize ideas and spell things out in a way that will make sense to readers (without them falling asleep). I learn a lot every time I do that kind of writing.

I love poetry, too–both reading it and writing it. But it’s less of an everyday habit except when it intersects with my teaching.

Recent studies have shown that as adults play helps us manage chronic pain, reduce stress, build memory, and encourage creativity. Have you found this to be true for you and for those around you?

I think these studies are right on, but I regularly turn into a big ball of stress, so I’m not at the point of fully modeling this ideal. That being said, even moments of goofiness help bring me perspective, and I certain kinds of play can be meditative. I recently started doing zentangles (a meditative practice that involves drawing patterns on small squares of paper), and that kind of play feels completely different from the shenanigans that make me laugh when working on videos. While the zentangles give me space from the rest of the world in some ways, the videos are always about engaging the world (or at least a tiny segment of it!). Both types of play make things better!


For more of Dr. Laurie McMillan’s WinkyFace fun follow here on Youtube, Facebook, her blog, or on Twitter or Instagram!

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.

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.

 

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!

Go Play Then and Now (Day 9)

The original “Go Play Project” was meant to be taken literally:

As in Go Play the piano.

My intention was to get over my fear of “not being good enough” and get rid of a sort of self-indulgent perfectionism that comes from years of being told that your work is never done. There would always be that finger that thumped a little to loudly at the end of a phrase or that introspective moment that wasn’t quite ethereal enough, or the octave passage that was ever so slightly labored. By recording one piece a week for a year I was determined to just “put it out there” warts and all. Some pieces were more polished but others were fresh and less than perfect. I suppose I was trying to capture the spontaneity that comes naturally to those lucky enough to be comfortable with the art of improvisation. .

One of the unexpected consequences was that I began to feel a little bit braver about other creative endeavors.

The idea for this month’s Go Play Project came to me out of the blue. I am not an artist. I’ve never doodled. I’m not crafty. As a kid I don’t remember coloring books. So of course I was surprised that I found myself drooling over paper and charcoal at A.C. Moore. I really don’t know what made me turn the corner on this and declare that this August was the month I’d start drawing, but whatever it was, it’s working and I’m having a blast.

With some coaching from my kids (two of them are art students) and some paper and charcoal  from A.C. Moore, I’m starting to feel at home with getting messy and drawing quickly to meet the daily deadline.

So here is Day 9: my first attempt at 15-second gesture drawing.  I captured my daughter in this pose.

Gesture Drawing

Gesture Drawing