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Why art is alive (discovery #2 in a series)

January 10th, 2006 · 2 Comments

The end of 2005 was a rich time of reflection for me. During the weeks in November while I was preparing my proposals for Northern Voice 2006, I read reviews from my “Making Masks” presentation at Seattle Mind Camp, as well as a post from Darren Barefoot commenting on presentation styles (and kindly referring to me). Then in early December, the video of the “Masks” version I gave at Gnomedex 5.0 became available. The past two months have been an intriguing time of considering what I’ve learned since Northern Voice 2005, when my adventures with “Making Masks” began.

When I first created “Making Masks” a year ago for Northern Voice 2005, I simply did what felt natural to me. A visual writer, I see life in images, and pictures from my own photo library seemed perfect illustrations of my stories and experiences. It never occurred to me to make slides with words. Then again, at that point in time, I could probably count the number of presentations I’d seen – and given myself – on one hand. Neither the jobs I had after graduation nor the course of study I chose in college required formal verbal reports or conference attendance. I had no idea I was doing something different, from others until I started giving the talk and hearing reactions.

As I’ve given this talk I’ve grown. I’ve grown more comfortable with the presentation, but also less comfortable with it. “Making Masks”, which I last edited in June for Gnomedex, no longer reflects exactly who I am and what I’ve learned. I’m not the same person I was when I wrote it. It’s a surreal experience to present a talk on public identity while at the same time change that identity. The more attention I’ve received, the more protective I’ve felt about my family and the less I’ve shared online from my children’s lives. Other’s opinions have also impacted mine, as I’ve discussed these ideas at multiple conferences.

Performing a personal piece has also changed my perspective on my own life. For example, after Northern Voice, one blogger commented that it seemed I was nearly in tears: that observation was true. At first it was difficult for me to mention my brother’s death and other personal issues I had written into the talk, but now as I discuss his ashes I feel more distant. Of course, part of this may be the natural healing process, as more time has passed since December when we released his ashes into the ocean. However, I wonder how discussing his death publicly has affected me.

If I could, I think I would have rewritten the talk to better reflect where I am now. Yet at the same time, I heard that people want to see what others have seen. So I left it alone after Gnomedex.

During high school, I read a magazine interview with singer Amy Grant, published at the time she chose to transition from gospel/Christian music to the top-40 pop chart (circa 1986 or so?). Although I can’t remember her exact words, I remember her frustration at the public’s resistance to her new direction. In the interview, Amy Grant said that people wanted her to be someone she wasn’t. No one seemed to understand that she as an artist and person had changed. She couldn’t go back and produce that same kind of music that she had in the past despite the demands of her audience and their dissatisfaction with her.

Darren described my presentation as theatrical. Bryan said I was reading an essay. Tim Bray praised my prose poem. Some presentations are technical. But “Making Masks” felt more like performance art to me. At one point I hired an acting coach to help me refine and improve my piece.

This past year has been my first experience in the spotlight. Or almost my first. I took drama in high school and had a small part in a play. Yet that was years ago. Spending a weekend walking onto a stage as part of an ensemble cast reciting lines from a script someone else wrote feels different from doing an autobiographical solo at a few venues for part of a year.

Having this brief and small experience with my own presentation has helped me wonder about artists who spend years touring and performing pieces from their own lives. What is it like for musicians who play songs from their past every night? Does it feel for them the way “Making Masks” now feels for me, like familiar clothes that don’t quite fit any more? Or do they become accustomed to this aspect of their profession, and learn to reminisce or remember that time of their lives as a separate self, someone who once existed but now has changed in time? How do performance artists balance who they are in the present with who they were in the past, when it all is performed in pieces in public (and often for pay)?

I feel self-conscious writing this post yet I also want to share where I am and what I’ve learned. I’m grateful for all the opportunities I’ve had this year, and all the enthusiasm for “Making Masks”. It’s been a year of gifts and surprises. Certainly I never imagined I would receive such a response to my presentation. It’s been an amazing time, one I’ll always remember. I’ve loved every minute of presenting and every discussion and comment people have given me. I’ve made new friends. I’ve seen new sides of myself and new aspects to the issues in my presentation. My eyes have been opened and my life is fuller.

At the same time, “Making Masks” now feels like a suit of clothing that no longer fits. On the one hand, I like to perform the presentation, It feels familiar. I enjoyed the invitations, and I especially enjoyed the discussions that followed. However, I feel restless with it. The person who wrote the talk is not the person I am now. I’m ready to write something new. To start a new page. To find a new role on the stage.

Thanks to everyone for encouraging me and responding to my posts and presentations. The next chapter, or at least the next page, begins here…more details to come…

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2 responses so far ↓

  • 1 Kevin Briody // Jan 11, 2006 at 8:00 am

    Julie, your Masks presentation was a wonderful thing to experience from the audience’s side of the stage. I can’t wait to see what you have in store next! Please keep creating. -Kevin

  • 2 Lucy // Jan 11, 2006 at 8:25 am

    I think the frustration of AmyGrant’s audience was not that she changed, but rather that she changed into something repulsive. I remember reading an interview with her where she said something along the lines of “I’m sure God wants me to be happy” as a justification for her leaving her husband and child to move in with her married lover who had left his family too. What!?! She thought conservative mainstream Christians would be so overwhelmed by the brilliance of her music that they would all forget her new bizarre version of morality? I don’t think so.

    While I enjoy her music, I rarely listen to it because it makes me sad that her hypocracy caused real and lasting hurt for so many people (the families wrecked by her adultery). I’m not judging her, I just don’t feel inclined to listen to her music.

    Change is not inherently bad. I suspect that your next presentation, based on personal changed after your the last presentation will be phenominal. People that loved the first one will surely appreciate the next one, in the way that you look forward to the next book in a favorite series by a fabulous author. It doesn’t destroy the previous work so much as it adds to it.

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