Who is really in control?

Over 500 hundred artists applied for Queens Council on the Arts grants this year. Why? Because we were given more dollars from the city for our grants fund. We were able to tell everyone there was more money and more chances of getting a grant this year.

Next year, who knows? We may get the same amount or less, depending on the gods of the city budget.

More grants means more artists doing creative work in the borough for people to enjoy, something that makes communities vibrant and alive. Who doesn’t want that?

Less money means just as many artists will apply, fewer will get funded and there will be less presence of the arts in our neighborhoods. Who decides that is OK?

As artists, the only thing in your control is your commitment to show up every day and do your creative work. That is also a great gift to people whether or not it gets acknowledged with a grant. There are other ways to get your work out there, things you can do to bring people in to your world even if it is one person at a time.

It is a mistake to allow the money people decide what you can or cannot do as an artist. Their reasons have more to do with arcane inside politicking and favor swapping than with you. Create the work and invite a few people over. Start there and see what happens.

A Better Use of Your Talent

This morning I sat at my desk for 4 hours.

I would like to say that I wrote 1,000 words of perfect prose and took care of my corner of the universe with Godlike efficiency. This image comes closer to what actually happened.

It also gives you a better idea of what kinds of skills I value and that having a quirky sense of humor helps, or doesn’t, depending on what you are doing. I like to think that we have a wonderful ability to transfer and transform skills to help us get through life. For example, learning how to play all 32 Beethoven Sonatas at an early age has given me the superhuman ability to sit on hard surfaces for hours. Throw in focus and a dismal social life and voila! a budding pianist is born. This is now the secret to my ability to knock out all kinds of paperwork and projects quickly on a different kind of keyboard.

The jury is still out on how this particular skill translate into my life.

Squeezing time

For those of you with busy days and big lists of things to do, squeezing time is nothing new.

It is all because we want to have accomplished something by the end of the day that we resort to things like this. Finding 5 minute pockets of time to scribble some notes, dragging ourselves out of bed before sunrise to get an hour of creative work in before heading out to work, sitting at our desk during lunch to draw something.

This is making the most of our precious time everyday and with it comes an urgency that is often absent when you do find yourself in front of your blank canvas with time on your hands.

Do I have writers block when I know I have 25 minutes on a train? No, I have a list.

Do I have trouble coming up with the right image? No, I keep sketching until something clicks.

At the end of the day, I have created a little more than I had the day before. Over time, this will become something born of squeezed, stolen, seized and savored time.

For those of us with pursuits larger than our scheduled time slots, this is the best and only way to make a creative life.

Kits

There are a lot of people who have created an industry around preparing for disaster. They are the ones who always have extra batteries for their high beam flashlights and emergency kits in their cars. They have all of their papers filed neatly in a waterproof safebox, ready to grab at a moment’s notice. They watch the tides and track hurricane patterns. In the event of a natural catastrophe, they’re pretty OK.

There are less people concerned about preparing for success. As if success, once it happens, is something we don’t need to be concerned about. Every prodigy violinist that burns out, every literary darling who crashes and burns, every CEO who tumbles from the top is proof there should be some kind of preparation for success.

Here’s a few things you’ll need in your kit:

A sense of gratitude

A good friend or two who knew you when you were nobody

A commitment to get 8 hours of sleep every night no matter what

A willingness to look stupid

Batteries optional.

The Most Important Thing A Writer Should Never Forget

Iris Chang

This article originally appeared in Huffington Post.

She was a force.

As I looked at her 2 books, The Thread of the Silkworm and The Rape of Nanking, I felt small and foolish sitting among a pile of old photographs from my own family history.

Many people have spoken of the tenacity, brilliance and compassion that drove Iris Chang, an American author and journalist best known for her best-selling 1997 account of the Nanking Massacre, The Rape of Nanking, to achieve so much in her short life. She was a thinker, someone who dreamed big and accomplished even greater things driven by a passion to tell a story that needed to be told.

“Civilization is tissue thin,” Iris wrote. She called this the most important lesson to be learned from the tragedy of Nanking. And she believed her research produced irrevocable proof of Japanese atrocities. She wrote:

“After reading several file cabinets’ worth of documents on Japanese war crimes as well as accounts of ancient atrocities from the pantheon of world history, I would have to conclude that Japan’s behavior during World War II was less a product of dangerous people than of a dangerous government, in a vulnerable culture, in dangerous times, able to sell dangerous rationalizations to those whose human instincts told them otherwise.”

The book hit the stores at Christmas, a tough selling season for serious nonfiction. It became a surprise best-seller. A groundswell of interest in the Chinese American community had quickly spread to booksellers and the broader reading public. Newsweek ran an excerpt, and soon Iris was a familiar face on TV news shows. Reader’s Digest devoted a cover story to her.        

from SFGate

Like others who were in awe of her as a confident young woman who excelled at everything she put her mind to, I feel my attempts to write anything are futile. Especially stories that are rooted in our shared Chinese American background.

Would my stories have the ferocious yet compassionate lens on a human experience?  Could I create something as resonant for my reader?

Something that has the power to comfort the troubled, and trouble the comfortable?

It would be very easy to give up and take up knitting.  To brush off the demon who is dancing on my shoulder daring me to write my story.  To turn away from the story I have been longing to tell.

But I know I won’t because my belief in my story is as strong as Iris Chang’s belief in hers.  She knew how words could bring to life the silent narratives of people with no voice. And that we have to write them.

That is what I tell myself when I sit down to write.

I often wonder if the stars feel like this when the sun rises.

Do they think, “Oh great, now that he’s here we might as well fizzle out.  Who’s going to even see us?”

But sunrise happens everyday.  And so does sunset, which is followed by a dusk, twilight and yes, the stars.  The light of the stars at that moment has its own magic and wonder.

If any of you have ever felt like this, rekindle the passion you have for the story inside of you until it burns bright with an inner flame and tell it.

You may not be a snowflake, but you can dream of being a star.

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About the Author: Hoong Yee Lee Krakauer helps artists & creative people grow their careers with great grant writing strategies & mindsets she has developed over 15 years as an veteran grant panelist, grant maker & grant writer. Get her FREE Master Grant Strategy Worksheet and a weekly dose of insights from a grant reviewer’s point of view.

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