What did you do this year?

From left: Working on a blog post at LOOK3, my third birthday tattoo (of an archaeopteryx), practicing my wedding speech.

I finally picked up my journal a few days ago and immediately wrote this question: “Why haven’t I been writing?”

Over the more than 20 years I’ve kept a journal, this question has come up a lot. I know by now that I am constantly flowing through cycles where I will discipline myself to write every day, feel naturally compelled to write once a week, or will not write at all for months. Yet I’m still trying to figure out why this happens when it does.

If you had to choose one word to describe my work, it would probably be “writer.” I edited my high school newspaper, studied magazine journalism in college, and have written for magazines, blogs, and creative clients ever since. (And aren’t we all writers now? I must write around 100 emails, text messages, and Facebook, Twitter, and Tumblr updates a day.)

But I more often describe myself as an editor. Because, for me, writing has always been about filtering the world around me through my own thought process, then retelling it in a way that facilitates understanding. I know the root of this lies in my personal journaling — where I am most often trying to work out what’s going on inside myself by putting it on a page, and therefore examining it from a slight distance.

So, getting back to my original question, I know that I write less when I am not in extreme emotional turmoil (which I thankfully haven’t been) and when I’m not starting a new project (which often triggers a more intellectual turmoil). I also learned while traveling last year that I’m not good at writing while experiencing lots of new things (like when I quit my job and travel for five months). I seem to be able to either experience or write/process, but not both.

This brings me to another question: Am I not writing because I’m in the middle of a journey? If so, it’s one that I am unaware of (or was, until I started writing this post in my head).

After being on a very literal journey for months last year, it took a while for me to recognize the subtler journey I’ve been on this year. I started to see it when I made myself write down all the Things I’ve Done This Year:

1. Attended a 3-day silent meditation retreat
2. Helped start and facilitate a group of women creatives
3. Hosted an experimental collaboration event while visiting NYC
4. Broke up with my boyfriend
5. Moved out of our apartment
6. Lived out of a storage unit for five months
7. Moved into a new apartment
8. Built a wood canoe with my dad
9. Made a multimedia video of building a wood canoe
10. Live-blogged LOOK3 Festival of the Photograph
11. Spoke at Flash Forward Festival
12. Spoke at PartnerCon
13. Started a newsletter
14. Worked with 10+ new clients
15. Taught a class on social media for small business
16. Was a bridesmaid in two weddings
17. Taught cooking classes for my friends
18. Took a workshop on radio interviewing and became friends with The Kitchen Sisters
19. Did a video interview for the Musea Blog
20. Did a video interview for Heather Morton’s speaking tour
21. Was a remote guest speaker for John Kaplan’s social responsibility in journalism class
22. Modeled for a figure drawing class
23. Went to Mexico
24. Joined a Women’s Sacred Dance Circle
25. Went deer hunting with my dad
26. Got a tattoo

When I got to the end of this list, I thought: How could I have thought I wasn’t on a journey (or, equally silly and also something I imagined: that I hadn’t accomplished very much)? Sometimes I just have to write it down before I can see it.

Now that I’m finally settled in a new apartment, with all my things around me and an awesome roommate and a big kitchen for me to cook in, I’m feeling the calm space I need to write again. Possibly even the centeredness I need to commit to writing every day, whether I feel like it or not.

Whether or not writing functions for you as it does for me — to help clarify and process — I recommend taking some time before the end of this year to make a list of all the things you’ve done. Things you don’t do every year, things you did for the first time, things you’re proud of, things that left a mark. On January 1 our eyes will all shift forward, so now’s the time to look backwards, which is often the only way to really know where you are right now.

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What travel is isn’t what you expect

I met Matt Austin, a talented young documentary-art photographer, this October at the Flash Forward Festival in Toronto. Shortly after, we struck up an email conversation, largely in response to my posts about traveling this summer, which I was flattered to find had resonated with Matt’s own recent travels.

Below are excerpts from our discussion, as well as a series of Matt’s travel images. He will be debuting a book of new work from this trip during his solo show at Johalla Projects in Chicago on March 4. You can see photos from my travels here.

Matt and I would love to know if any of this resonates with you and what you have or haven’t learned from being on the road.


Matt

I decided last July that I was going to go on a long trip by myself around the country, leaving straight from an artist residency. I wasn’t content with things in Chicago and wanted to practice the concept of self-respect, acting on the idea that I deserve to do what I want to do with my life.

I was pretty interested in the idea of scaring the shit out of myself as a means of learning. So I decided to camp alone in a tent most of the way, though I’d never camped before. I also decided to act on my whims, buying a guitar from a pawn shop in St. Paul, MN, though never considering myself a musician. And, too, shaved my head with a beard trimmer in a hotel bathroom. Consciously taking action without any commentary is a powerful thing.

MIKI

I love the idea of learning by “scaring the shit” out of yourself. I wonder if your idea of “scary” changed during your trip. Did you initially think you’d do things that were literally scary (like bungee jumping) but ended up doing things that made you feel kind of vulnerable (like learning guitar)? I ask because one of the scariest things I did during my travels was to take my photography more seriously, and putting that up for the world to see was terrifying at times.

MATT

I think the concept of fear originated in the idea of being unfamiliar with most of the situations I was in and having no one but myself to rely on; but you’re absolutely right about that shifting. Before leaving, when I would consider what may scare me about camping or driving long distances in my unreliable car, I was mainly thinking about bears and storms and car accidents. But when I was actually in those situations, it tended to be unpredictable people that scared me the most.

Purchasing the guitar mainly came from dealing with how lonely the trip could get. I started my trip by leaving from the ACRE artist residency, an amazing intellectual community, so it didn’t take long for me to feel lonely by comparison. I’ve also never been interested in the typical tourist experience, so I thought giving myself certain tasks like buying a guitar would allow me to ask locals about where to do that and come up with an unpredictable sequence of interactions. What were some of your methods of dealing with the loneliness of solitary travels? Or did you not find yourself experiencing that kind of loneliness?

MIKI

It’s interesting that you ask about loneliness, because the fact is I spent very little time alone during my travels. I admire you for pushing yourself to do so many things you weren’t already comfortable or familiar with. Some part of me thought that’s what my “sabbatical” would be like, but as usual my planning/connecting/organizing gene took over and I ended up, as my dad said recently, “the busiest unemployed person” he knows.

I’m glad you brought this up because I haven’t really examined why my trip ended up that way. The easy answer is that, once you suddenly have a large chunk of unstructured time, it seems like everyone has somewhere you absolutely have to stop by. The most obvious answer to me is that I am just one of those people; seeing friends and family face-to-face is something I crave and thrive on, so given lots of free time, that’s automatically where I put my effort.

But I have to admit that it was also the easier thing for me to do, the less scary thing. I am a chronic over-planner, so even waiting until I was in Istanbul to buy my ticket to Berlin was flying by the seat of my pants. I guess maybe this trip was only a first step toward being more comfortable on my own without a road map.

As for things that I did learn (or was reminded) … First off, I’m a pretty good traveler. I know how to pack light, I’m organized, and I’m comfortable on all kinds of public transportation — even if I have to look like a stupid American and ask someone four times in English how to get somewhere.

Second, I LIKE HAVING A HOME. I knew this going in, so this trip was kind of a test. Not only was I leaving a job, but also an apartment and city behind. I slept on couches and in spare rooms or tents for four months straight — and it got really, really old. The idea of being on the road for months has a romantic appeal, but I realized that I enjoy travel more when I have a stable headquarters to strike out from. Does that make sense to you? Did you have trouble letting go of a “plan” and just wandering?

The most important thing I learned was: There is no substitute for seeing people in their natural environment. This was driven home most poignantly by my good friend in Berlin, who went to a relatively remote college (that I never visited) and has lived abroad for the last six years. I literally hadn’t seen her for more than a day or two at a time, not over a holiday, in eight years. Seeing a friend for 10 days straight, living their own life instead of stressed out by travel, holidays, and family, and especially seeing them in the midst of the city and friends they feel best fit them: It’s like getting to know them all over again.

MATT

It’s interesting how our approaches to travel are almost completely opposite, yet result in the similar opinion of “I am a pretty good traveler.” You could say that I’m a chronic under-planner or maybe even addicted to the concept of being “unprepared.” I used to print out directions places, but I consciously decided to stop four years ago. I prefer to get directions from local waiters or gas station cashiers. I will never use a GPS, not for experiences like this; you can hold me to that.

As far as dedication to a home, I’m not sure I have much. Over time, I have learned to love Chicago’s centralized location, which provides a good driving position to anywhere in the country. But I’m not so attached to the concept of a permanent home. When I am home, I sleep on a futon mattress on my bedroom floor that was donated to me by a friend. I had a few blankets on the floor before that. I made a dresser in my closet that is actually just a suitcase I drilled to the wall. Unscrewing those screws would be the most work I’d have to do if I decided to move, and I kind of like that. To answer your question more clearly: Letting go of any kind of plan is one of my favorite things to do.

Your writing on your blog about the difficulties of producing something while on the road really stuck with me. For example: “[T]he whole point of this traveling thing was to help me see a bunch of people and get inspired and figure out what makes me really happy and write about it all. But here’s the thing I’ve realized over the last few weeks: Having no home and no routine actually makes it damn hard to do something like writing that requires concerted creative effort. Well, shit.”

I couldn’t agree with this more! I tried writing every day of my trip and I think I lost my consistency around day 12 or 13 in Seattle. First, there was the guilt that came with not completing my goal. But then when I would find time to write again, it felt weird. I felt like I was sacrificing having new and natural experiences to pause and write about ones that had already happened.

Maybe I’m wrong, but I feel like I have a similar outlook to yours in terms of how I would like to affect people: by using myself as an example to pursue what you enjoy doing, even if it’s scary and not going to be easy. I think the candor of your blog really illuminates the growth that comes from creative vulnerability. “This doesn’t have to be one of those blogs where I have all the answers. In fact, it can’t be. I’m not an expert here. I’ve never done this before. But hopefully through my experience people can learn a little about their own,” you wrote.

I find myself expressing similar values in my artwork and in my teaching. I often remind my students of two things in our lives that will never end, ever: 1) I don’t know, and 2) I’m still learning.

Learning to listen to the stories my photos tell

I realized recently that, although I’ve been an editor in the photography industry for years, I know very little about editing photos.

Now that I’m taking my photography more seriously, and learning to tell stories with my own images, I’ve discovered (not surprisingly) that editing requires a whole new skill set — one that is very visual and emotional, which can be hard for someone who is as verbal and cerebral as I am.

My boyfriend, Peter, and I talk frequently about creativity (he’s a talented photographer and editor), and now that I have some decent images to work with, we’ve been discussing photo editing.

Because I’ve worked at publications about images themselves, I’ve never needed to use images to help tell a story. Now, since most of my photos are captured moments from my travels, I get to construct my own little narratives with them — or see what stories emerge organically from them.

I’ve gone back and forth between different edits for a month now. This one I’m posting is mostly Peter’s, but we’ve gone through and discussed it image-by-image together.

I’m curious what you think of it. Not whether it’s good, necessarily, but how it makes you feel. What it says to you. What story it tells. Now that I’m learning to see unconscious or unintended connections in my own images, I’m curious what other see there, too.

I’m bad at doing things I’m not already good at

Ok, so that title is a bit of a Catch 22, but I bet you all know what I mean. Every year past childhood it becomes more difficult to get out of our comfort zone and try something new. At least I hope I’m not the only one who feels that way…

For me, my discomfort with trying new things goes way back. I didn’t learn to swim or ride a bike until I was in middle school in part because I was scared of doing things wrong. I refused to keep going to soccer in elementary school and I quit high school track right before our first meet because I was scared of performing badly.

As part of my work this year to honor my inner child, I’m trying to do more things I’m bad at (or at least don’t excel at). More specifically, I’m trying to get over my fear of doing something wrong or badly. I’m trying to let myself do things because I enjoy them, because they help me express myself, because they are a challenge and we learn more from our mistakes than from anything. That means not doing things with the end goal of creating something “good” that other people approve of.

Of course this quickly comes to bear on my photography. I’m constantly around photographers (some of my favorite people in the world) and inevitably they ask if I shoot, if I’m a photographer too. For years I’ve been saying, “I take photographs, but I’m not a photographer.”

I know that sounds like a dodge. In fact, I got called out for it on Facebook last week by a couple good friends, which precipitated this post.

What I meant was: I have so much respect for photographers and know so many of them who are putting everything they have into making images that have a real impact on people. I make photos every once in a while — in my mind those are two vastly different things. And especially in this marketplace, the last thing photographers need is one more dilettante cutting into their pie.

Having gotten that off my chest, I also admit that I’m scared. As I’ve said before, thinking of myself as a creative, let alone an “artist,” has always been daunting. I’m only starting to get comfortable with the idea as it applies to my writing, something I’ve always been good at, always loved, and have had years of education and experience in.

But photography? Photography is none of those things for me. I took a couple classes in high school and a photojournalism class in college that impacted me deeply, but mostly because it made me realize how insanely hard it is to get something honest out of someone when you’re holding a big black box in front of your face. Add to that the fact that I’m lucky enough to call many of the most talented photographers I know friends, and the idea of admitting that I want to be a better photographer is downright terrifying.

Most new photographers think what they’re doing is pretty good, even if they know it’s not “great.” And honestly, that’s how it should be when you’re just starting out. But I KNOW I’m not that good. And I’m not fishing for compliments here, seriously.

I’ve spent years looking at images, pulling them apart, explaining their pros and cons. I capture a few nice elements sometimes, but by and large my stuff is mediocre. And that’s ok. I’m just starting. Even great photographers say they’re lucky to make one good photo a day. But god, it’s just so hard for me to share things publicly that are mediocre.

So why am I putting myself through this? Part of it is in the name of making myself vulnerable during this sabbatical I’m taking. Part of it is that I really do like taking pictures, especially when I’m traveling and want to share what I’m seeing. Part of it is the allure of getting better at something. Part of it is the simple thrill of being able to point to something and say, “See, I made that!”

But here’s the real reason I keep working at this photography thing — it helps me understand all my friends who are photographers so much better. While working at American Photo Magazine and the RESOLVE Blog, I must have interviewed hundreds of photographers. My questions were usually about creativity and family and funding, but rarely about technique or the art itself. I felt I couldn’t relate on that plane, so I didn’t try.

Now I have so many questions. I understand in such a tangible way what it means to get access, to approach someone for a portrait, to capture a true moment. I struggle to move past making photos that are simply pretty, or well composed, or explanatory. I’m trying to kill my inner overthinker and learn to make images that are reactions, that capture an honest emotion. It’s so much harder than I ever imagined.

But in the difficulty, I find a whole new world to ask my many photographer friends for help with. And, the thing that really compelled me to write this post: Peter convinced me that I might be able to help in return.

He says this “virgin” time, when you are just learning to see, finding your vision, facing your fears, is something that many artists wish they could revisit. Since I’m coming at photography from a greater base of knowledge and understanding than most new photographers, maybe I’ll be able to lend some insights into this process.

Failing all of that, taking my photography seriously and sharing it publicly will inevitably allow me to understand and relate more to the photographers I know. By the end of this sabbatical, I hope to have figured out my next career move, which most likely will involve helping photographers in some way. I know now that I can never do that fully until I have tried to make art with a camera.

All images © Miki Johnson. Taken in Istanbul and Berlin, June 2010, with a Contax 2T.

I still haven’t found what I’m looking for

“Highway #2 Los Angeles, California, USA, 2003” ©Edward Burtynsky

I’ve been wondering lately if I’m ready to write this post. The post where I tell you what I’m doing here, on this blog and with my life. You can tell from my first post that I haven’t been ready to explain myself yet. That my motivations and goals are unclear, even to myself.

Getting clear on my own motivations and goals is very important to me. I basically have three therapists right now for exactly this reason. (One is a traditional talk therapist who’ve I’ve been seeing since I lived in NYC, one is a somatic therapist in Berkeley, and one is a good friend who has started coaching people through career transitions.)

So what have all these insightful people helped me come to understand about motivations and goals? They are a moving target. Like anything else, especially things like being happy or satisfied, they are not something to attain, but something to work on every day for the rest of your life.

That’s why this explanation post is hard to write, because my ideas for what this blog should be change quite literally every few hours. Or rather, they expand. I do not abandon my original ideas for what I want this to be when I have a new one, I just pile it on top. So now I have so many goals, the idea of encapsulating them in one post is overwhelming, daunting to the point that I’ve been unable to start until just now.

Let’s try this. I’ll write down all my ideas that I can think of. Knowing myself, I’ll probably think I’ve just made things worse by the time I get to the end, but I’m promising you right now that I won’t erase any of it. Ready? Ok, here goes….

::

I love working with people. I love talking to people and hearing their stories. And photo people are some of my favorite people to talk and work with. I got to do that regularly when I was editing RESOLVE; when I quit, I started thinking of ways to incorporate that into my current sabbatical.

For the next six months I’ll be traveling around the country and a bit in Europe, mostly seeing friends and searching for the root of my own passions. Many of those friends are photo people, and since I’m very interested in the idea of creative collaboration, I decided I’d like to put together some projects with them while I’m in town.

I’ve observed the power and importance of collaboration many times in my work on RESOLVE. In The Future of Photobooks, we saw many artists joining forces, almost always from far ends of the earth, aided by new social technologies. And one of the main reasons I created the AFTER STAFF project was to help photographers who had lost the close, caring atmosphere of the newsroom feel connected to others who were going through the same thing. That project uncovered several groups that have already formed to take the place of that kind of collaborative community. I also organized a webinar for OPEN-i about collectives and the ways that teams can weather the fluctuating media landscape better than lone individuals.

Personally I’m drawn to artistic collaboration, too. I’m giving more attention to my own creative impulses these days, but because I’ve suppressed those urges for so long, because I was afraid of people’s rejection, creative endeavors are overwhelming for me. I realized that working with professional creatives in the cities I visit would help me gain confidence in my own creativity.

Listening to feedback from friends, I also realized that these questions and doubts about the creative process are common to all artists, maybe all people. So, loving to educate and help people as I do, it only makes sense that I should write about my experiences here, in the hope that people might gain some insight from them.

On top of all that, I’ve always thought in the back of my mind about writing a memoir, mostly to satisfy a deep need to have other people know me and understand me. Now that I’m no longer “editor of the liveBooks photo blog” or “senior editor of American Photo Magazine,” I feel a particular need for people to get to know me better professionally. I’ve also decided recently that I need to get better at being myself. At making decisions based on my own needs and desires instead of the expectations of other people. At being the same person in the office that I am with my friends or my family or myself.

That’s why I want this blog to be about both my professional and personal lives. Because I don’t want those things to be separate anymore. When I discover the passion that runs deep enough  to sustain me for the rest of my life, I know it will be something that flows through every aspect of my life.

::

I have trouble admitting vulnerability. I’ve heard I’m not the only one. My facade used to be very thick. I was always together, always on top of it, always OK. That works better in a professional situation than a personal one, but either way it’s unsustainable. And then I learned that it makes other people feel bad, to think I never have any problems, and that I’ll judge them for theirs. And then I learned that it actually makes me feel bad, too. Because I’ve never given people the chance to see me mess up and then decide to give me a second chance. So I’m terrified of messing up. I’m convinced that people will fire me, hate me, stop loving me if I do.

So I started admitting to people when I wasn’t OK. When I didn’t know what to do. When I knew I’d messed up. In little ways at first and then for big things. And when people didn’t condemn me for it, I was able to stop condemning myself so much. And, best of all, people felt like they could be themselves around me, that they could open up and share their own fears. And, like I said at the beginning, I love talking with people. Communicating with their honest, human center, which you can only do when you make yourself vulnerable first.

So I know that being vulnerable is also really important for this blog. I think that honesty is almost always rewarded, especially in this online world that values authenticity above almost all else (one of my favorite things about it). And I also know that another thing about making myself vulnerable is that people see I need help, instead of thinking that I never need help. And then they help me. And that feels great.

That’s why I really don’t want this blog to be about me giving anyone answers or even just sharing my own experiences. I want to share my experiences, but also ask questions, and have you respond (yes you, reading, right now). Then everyone will start responding to each other, and I can draw some major ideas out of those discussions (I like doing that 🙂 and THEN maybe some answers will arise — or at least some good ideas.

::

OK, honestly, that feels like it only scratches the surface of all the things I’ve been thinking about, but I know that’s already an overwhelming number of words, so I’m leaving off. Oh, one last thing about this blog: I know I’m going to be continuing to figure out what exactly it is as long as I’m writing it. This is just one post of many.

Patti Smith is my hero :: Here’s why

Patti Smith + Robert Mapplethorpe 4ever

I just finished reading Patti Smith’s memoir, Just Kids, about her ever-changing, ever-present friendship with Robert Mapplethorpe, and about supporting each other as they became artists. I’ve been pretty much obsessed with it and I cried through the entire last chapter, describing the end of Robert’s life. My thoughts about it are still tumbling over one another, but I thought I would share some of what made me love it so much. These are quotes from pages I turned the corner down on, almost always because they struck some chord, or simply overcame me with their beauty and insight.

“Where does it all lead? What will become of us? These were our young questions, and young answers were revealed.
It leads to each other. We become ourselves.”

“You could feel a vibration in the air, a sense of hastening. It had started with the moon, inaccessible poem that it was. Now men had walked upon it, rubber treads on a pearl of the gods. Perhaps it was an awareness of time passing, the last summer of the decade. Sometimes I just wanted to raise my hands and stop. But stop what? Maybe just growing up.”

“Remember, we are mortal, but poetry is not.”

“I was in a Beat humor. The Bibles were piled in small stacks. The Holy Barbarians. The Angry Young Men. Rummaging around I found some poems by Ray Bremser. He really got me going. Ray had that human saxophone thing. You could feel his improvisational ease the way language spilled out like linear notes. Inspired, I put on some Coltrane but nothing good happened. I was just jacking off. Truman Capote once accused Kerouac of typing, not writing. But Kerouac infused his being onto rolls of Teletype paper, banging on his machine. Me, I was typing. I leapt up frustrated.”

“We needed time to figure out what all of this meant, how we were going to come to terms and redefine what our love was called. I learned from him that often contradiction is the clearest way to truth.”

“We imagined ourselves as the Sons of Liberty with a mission to preserve, protect and project the revolutionary spirit of rock and roll. We feared that the music which had given us sustenance was in danger of spiritual starvation. We feared it losing its sense of purpose, we feared it falling into fattened hands, we feared it floundering in a mire of spectacle, finance, and vapid technical complexity. We would call forth in our minds the image of Paul Revere, riding through the American night, petitioning the people to wake up, to take up arms. We would take up arms, the arms of our generation, the electric guitar and the microphone.”

“The night, as the saying goes, was a jewel in our crown. We played as one, and the pulse and pitch of the band spiraled around me, I could feel another presence as surely as the rabbit senses the hound. He was there. I suddenly understood the nature of the electric air. Bob Dylan had entered the club. This knowledge had a strange effect on me. Instead of humbled, I felt a power, perhaps his; but I also felt my own worth and the worth of my band. It seemed for me a night of initiation, where I had to become fully myself in the presence of the one I had modeled myself after.”

“The artist seeks contact with his intuitive sense of the gods, but in order to create his work, he cannot stay in his seductive and incorporeal realm. He must return to the material world in order to do his work. It’s the artist’s responsibility to balance mystical communication and the labor of creation.”

Back home in Ohio for a week, I decide to take a walk in the woods

On the way down the hill through the dewy grass and brand-new violets I suddenly start crying. By the time I round the stand of evergreens that used to be Christmas trees, the tears are streaming down my face. Dusk is all around me, mingling with the clouds of my breath in the quickly chilling air. My parents’ love is there too, although they have stayed up in the house. I’m unemployed, suffocated by huge ambitions, terrified, and crying in the woods. I’m also overwhelmed by the beauty around me and the fact that I know deep down that this exactly what I’m supposed to be doing right now.

Photo by Miki Johnson

I listen to the fear inside but hold the line where it threatens to overtake me. I keep repeating, “There is the most fear around the things that are true,” and I try to keep breathing. When my sobs quiet, I can hear the creek below me gurgling. It is very soft but there is almost no competition of noise here. The dog is lying quietly at my feet now, and her panting and the wind shushing the branches and the leaves settling in a pile are the only other things I hear. I’m convinced this is one of the last places in the country where you literally cannot hear anything manmade, and that knowledge and the closeness of the silence slows my heart.

When I come back to myself, the ideas are rushing too fast for me to follow them. I write a few lines of a poem, make some photos with my iPhone, Tumbl a photo of the dog, when suddenly I see a bigger picture. It is precisely the ease of these creative tools at our fingertips that allows us all to think of ourselves as creatives. Yes, it does make “everyone a photographer,” but it also makes every photographer a videographer, multimedia producer, bookmaker, retoucher, and whatever else they want to try their hand at. Here is what I jot down in a note to myself on my phone:

The ability to utilize such a wide range of storytelling tools allows us to be more creative more consistently because creativity is always there, it just expresses itself in hundreds of undefined, usually unnamed forms. When you are able to let your creativity flow through the least resistant path, instead of simply the most practiced one, it quickly becomes a steady stream.

I have been reading about Patti Smith and Robert Mapplethorpe living in the Chelsea Hotel in NYC at the end of the ’60s and beginning of the ’70s and how they are friends and collaborators with playwrights (she dated Sam Sheppard and helped write Cowboy Mouth did you know that?!?!), rock legends (she alludes to giving Janis the nickname “Pearl”), visual artists, poets, actors…everyone. For that reason, she and Robert develop in several mediums simultaneously; he making drawings, collages, clothing, photos and she, paintings, jewelry, poetry, songs.

Aside from getting me thinking about the quality of work coming out of NYC at that time and the role the tight-knit community undoubtedly played in fostering it, Just Kids has made me think about what it means to be an artist, something I’ve struggled with recently.

I used to love art but never felt I was good enough to do it professionally, and the lifestyle didn’t seem to suit me so I rejected being an “artist” as an option and focused on journalism, which still felt creative to me. At college the people around me seemed too brilliant to think about competing with, and I have natural aptitude for shaping and polishing, so I focused on editing and quickly became confident with the skill as well as respected for it by my peers.

I don’t know if it’s the years of therapy and “self-affirmations” or moving to San Francisco or being close friends with artists or simply growing into myself — but this year I’m determined to make friends with my lurking creative powers. I think the incredible array of media available to me will help, and I hope to explore it with other artists as I travel in the U.S. and Europe. But I also think it’s just about paying attention and being brave. This was the second note I made in the woods.

When you give yourself permission to do things that don’t seem to require creativity, but in the purest sense of the word are CREATIVE, you start to truly see that every human being is inherently creative — the thing that sets artists apart is simply that have nurtured that creativity and learned to listen to it with the ear of an attentive parent.