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It’s Not Me, It’s You!

Reasons why I can’t see my friend Philippa Hughes anymore:

1. At the artist salon she hosted last night,  I made contacts with a performance artist who I hope to interview for my day job, an art consultant who I’d like to learn more about, and reconnected with an arts PR person who I’d met briefly several years ago who I think will be a good colleague in organizing some sort of regular meet-up for arts PR folks in DC.

2. After the presentation, when I was talking to Philippa, she reminded me that I’d been talking about starting a magazine for nearly a year, encouraged me that there did need to be a space focused on post-40 “late bloomers,” and offered to start the magazine with me. So today, in between getting my regular work done, I’ve been starting to think about my action plan for getting the magazine started.

3. When I arrived home from the artist salon, although it was nearly my bed time I wrote a list poem/blog post inspired by something the performance artist said and put out a call on Facebook for other poets/writers to join me in a month-long writing marathon on the subject of “place.”

4. I then stayed up until nearly midnight listening to a couple of episodes of the radio show—the Van Gogh Sessions—Philippa does with her good friend Karen Yankosky, which not only made me laugh but reminded me of how important it is to dare.

In other words, after a few hours with Philippa I was inspired and fired up!

I’m joking, of course, about not hanging out with Philippa anymore. But as I was thinking about last night’s burst of creativity, the old adage popped into my head:  “You are the company you keep.” In other words, if you want to live a more creative life, if you want to have the courage to dare when you’d rather sit on the blue couch, then you have to hang out with those who are also daring and dreaming.

I’ve been fortunate that throughout my life, I’ve had groups of creative friends around me. In Chicago, it was my writing group—the Divas—most of whom I met because I dared to sign up for a poetry workshop on the very last day that registration was open. In the last couple of years here in DC, I’ve dared to do things like go to artist salons and performance events. I’ve dared to join virtual groups, like the online writing group I do poem-a-day challenges with several times a year. I’ve dared to reach out personally to artists I’ve met professionally and with whom I’ve especially clicked. And when I saw that in January, Philippa and her friend (and now my friend, yay!) Karen were doing a blog-a-day challenge, I  invited myself to join them.

I think I’ve written before about the true meaning of networking: it’s not about finding the person who’s going to get you your next job with a big promotion and tons of perks (though that’s always nice). It’s about finding those people who are traveling down the same path as you so you can help each other—with advice, with encouragement, with support, with wisdom.

The older we get, it’s harder to meet those people. In my 40s, it feels so much more intimidating to even say “hello” to someone I don’t know at a gathering. It can be uncomfortable,  you can spend time feeling like an outsider, and it can be a little dispiriting if the coffee date with the person you met at that cool event turns out to be a dud, or if you send out e-mails to the folks you met at the event and no one even wants to have coffee. But it’s worth it.

In the poetry world, they say that if you have a folder full of rejection letters, you’re doing it right. It means that you’re engaging, you’re trying, you’re putting your work out there because there’s no chance at all of publication if it just sits in the drawer. I think the same is true when it comes to building a creative community around you. Not every interaction will be a success, but eventually, if you persist, you end up with a friend—and hopefully a group of friends—who inspires you,  challenges you, and keeps you going when it feels like the creative well is going dry. Friends who remind you of your goals, your dreams, and will do what they can to help you get to wherever it is you’ve decided to go. And that, I’ve learned, is absolutely worth the risk of rejection.

I went to hear Bill Drayton, CEO/Founder of the Ashoka Foundation, speak the other night. And he said that what’s holding us back from all being change-makers (or artists, or creative people or whatever your particular goal is) is that we just don’t give ourselves permission. So go ahead, give yourself permission to talk to that artist at that party, comment on that blog post, politely barge into that conversation because you know you have something to offer. Go ahead, I dare you!

p.s. IMHO you should sign up for the Pink Line Project mailing list so Philippa can inspire you too.

p.s.p.s. The performance artist from last night is Kathryn Cornelius. I believe she has a couple of shows up right now, and you can learn more on her website

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