tedx talk

My Own Little Corner

After college I slept on couches in Los Angeles for almost a year and did my best to get my name out there. I was simultaneously seeking work and trying to find my voice as an artist.

It was exhausting.

But there was a moment during those nine months that changed that. A piece of advice that gave me the courage to continue the somewhat absurd pursuit of art as a full-time career.

It came at a lecture given by visionary choreographer Twyla Tharp on the campus of USC. I had attended SC as a freshman theater student and, still on their mailing list, tried to catch any free events I could.

After my freshman year my father passed away and money was tight. I transferred back to Kansas to finish my BFA at Wichita State University. I'd gone from my dream school to a place near my small midwest hometown that I'd never even been to before.

I was wildly depressed and alone.

Losing my father was my first real experience with loss. It shook me to the core. A soft-spoken, intelligent, kind man, my father had always supported me in my endeavors. Even if he didn't understand them. When I left home for theater school, he never questioned it. He just smiled and wished me good luck.

He believed in me, even when I didn't believe in myself.

But with my father gone, I was struggling to believe again. I was lost and sad. Any creativity that had come in my short year at USC was gone. My desire and enthusiasm for what I did was missing. The friends I had made didn't stay in touch and the opportunities I had worked for had come and gone.

I was back to square one.

I contemplated suicide and holed up in my dorm room. I was not the confident performer I had once been. I was scared of the future and unsure of my goals.

But I knew I had to get out. I knew I had to push through and make my way. My dad had always told me that it didn't matter what I did, as long as I worked as hard as I possibly could. And so I did.

I practiced relentlessly and wrote my first show. I wrote a countdown of days on my wall, impatiently waiting to move back to southern California. And finally, the day arrived.

With nothing more than a bag of clothes and a bag of tricks, I hopped on a train and headed west. But the roadblocks kept coming.

I wasn't original. I just felt like I was one of the crowd. Just another performer that could easily be replaced. I had no idea how to stand out and how to find myself in my art. I'd been so busy studying other people's approaches that I'd failed to develop my own.

And that's when I went to hear Twyla Tharp's lecture.

Tharp had authored one of my favorite books, "The Creative Habit", which I had studied in a class while attending WSU. I was excited to soak up her knowledge as best I could, hoping she would hold the answer I was seeking.

When Twyla invited the attendees to ask questions I nervously raised my hand and asked her what advice she had for an artist who was just starting out and trying to be original. And this is what she said:

"You have to get away from all the other artists and find your own little corner somewhere. Then you sit in that corner and say 'What does my art mean to me?' If you stay there long enough, then you'll find the answer to that question. Once you do, everything else will fall into place."

It seems obvious but for a small town kid who never had a mentor growing up that was the advice I'd been seeking. It was life changing for me.

I feel like I'm just starting to come out of my own little corner. I've been asking myself every day for eight years, what does this art mean to me? Sometimes the answer is vague and too hard to decipher.

But most days I feel like the answer is right in front of me, closer than it's ever been.