I've been reading Brene Brown's Daring Greatly, yet as always, thinking the words and walking the talk are different. Those of us that think we're good at it are often the most prone to our own versions of personal spiritual bypassing. "But look, I'm doing it over here!" This kind of emotional sleight of hand isn't the kind of magic I want to make.
I haven't been writing as much because I've been resisting being more open and vulnerable about what's actually going on for me. And hey, I've also been tired. But i'm back from Tech Shabbat and a restful weekend so here we go.
My excitement, passion, and vision for The Outwork has led me down a trap of wanting to present a coherent vision both as a brand and as the person leading it. To appear "together," especially when part of what I'm selling is private coaching. I'm reminding myself that the kind of coaching I'm offering is entirely built on vulnerability - of learning to use a daily practice of vulnerable posting about creative practice to build a Process Centered Brand. I choose to show up for my own practice.
I feel raw. As everyone has been generous to point out, I've been pouring myself out there in the last few weeks with The Outwork. I am incredibly excited, but I'm also scared and vulnerable. I'm scared that this work will take me away from my own creative practice (which is why I keep talking about it as the foundation for this work - I need it to be to believe it will be sustainable). The Elephant Collective was incredibly successful very quickly (we produced an event that grossed over $50,000 in under 6 months with no outside funding) and ultimately failed for three reasons, 1. Bad luck and timing with the City/landlord/etc. that 2. I may have prevented some of had I gone slower with the growth of the business and checked
all more of the boxes and dotted some of the Ts. And 3. I allowed myself to put myself in the office creating the world I wanted for myself for others and not choosing to play in it. I made the excuse that I didn't have time, but that's not the vulnerable truth. Sure I was a repressed transgender alcoholic - many things have changed for me and my willingness to be vulnerable about what I want - but I still have to be honest and show up.
Most importantly, I have to remember that the people I'm being honest with are the people I seek to serve - you. I need to share all of this with you. Many of you may become my "clients" but as soon as I stop considering you my friends, my fellows, my partners, my muses - my comrades in art and arms -then I've lost the vision I seek to create - a community, not a hierarchy. My own process is an example, not a model. I can only teach and lead so far as I'm able to offer myself and my systems in service as humble guide.
My last two years in recovery and now the last two months in Akimbo have been powerful learning experiences about what it means to create and participate in community. As I mentioned above, at The Elephant Collective I created a community, and then I positioned myself behind metaphorical one-way plate glass (and often a literal office window). To be a member of community, the only thing you need is to reach out generously. For years I thought I was doing something wrong, that I didn't fit in, that there was something wrong with me, but I realize not that I was actually waiting to be picked. Our participation in community is own our personal lesson in being the impresario. Especially as artists, but as humans generally, we are all founder, executive officer, janitor, assistant, and therapist (well hopefully we outsource that one) to our personal brands. All brands, all individuals, exist in community.
I've realized that my lack of belonging - in my neighborhood, in my other internet spaces, in my extended family - is all directly related to my past (and current) lack of generous outreach. If you don't say Hi to your neighbors, they won't say Hi back. If you never call your cousins, they probably won't call you. It's easy to get caught in the trap of self-righteousness for me. "Why haven't they done it?" When I'm honest, I can usually think of a time that they did, and I didn't reciprocate, or did and then didn't follow up. It's a lot of work, yes. But ultimately I have to make the choices about what communities I value and then do the work to show up. Certainly a lot easier sober.
All of that as background, I left my apartment this morning on a beautiful spring day to get a sandwich for breakfast and one of the few more hipster coffee shops near me (I'm in something of a food desert). A Caribbean man was walking behind me signing Bob Marley with a huge smile on his face, he greeted someone at their car with such genuine warmth and openness "Hey ___....respect to you!" Such a perfect condensation of what we do in community, show up and express our respect for other's process. It really struck me how much I don't do that in my own physical community. Is it because I feel like a gentrifier? Is it because I didn't when I first crawled into this apartment on my hands and knees at 6am with a roll of black trash bags to duck tape over the windows so I could go to sleep and get back to my art studio to manically work on a project to distract myself from my failing marriage, baby transness, and two week old sobriety?
Two blocks later I passed outside a building that always raises my hackles a bit and noticed fresh graffiti on the sidewalk
Des get fucked by tranys
Well that perfectly encapsulates how I was feeling. Glad to know that I'm the literal boogeyman in a neighborhood where I've been hearing gunshots every few weeks again. I've lived in cities with gun violence for many years, but it never feels more safe. Ultimately, I'm more scared of being an outsider than I am of being shot. But not "Des I hope you get shot," the worst thing you can curse someone with is having sex with someone like me. Reminds me of the movie Disclosure (a must watch if you want to understand transphobia and why the voice in my head thinks I'm disgusting some days for no particular reason - @gala if you haven't seen this I would suggest only doing so if you have a friend close and are expecting to have your heart ripped out for a while).
Sitting outside the coffee shop in the sun, a homeless man approached me and fairly kindly and respectfully asked me for money. "Hey princess." My heart lights up. I didn't dare speak for fear I'd clock myself, please (and thank you) Miss God for this moment of correct gendering after that. When I walked away 5 minutes later, he called after me "Stay beautiful Princess, you look like Madonna." What does it say about my experience of my neighborhood community that the highlight of my day is being "respectfully" catcalled by a homeless man?
My question to which I have no answer is how much of an insider I can ever be here. How much of an insider I can ever be anywhere? I felt so seen in New Orleans, home of down and out queers the world over. Yet I didn't feel seen for my drive, for the parts of me that are and will always be a professional white bitch that appreciates pumpkin spice and a good Hatha yoga class.
This is the problem with intersectional identities. Where do I go? As a white queer, trans woman with a college degree, a tech background yet low current income. I can't afford the (even slightly) more upperclass neighborhoods where people have professional backgrounds like me. I'd have to put more pressure on the Outwork and the people I wish to serve. This raises interesting questions in this context where business is conducted between people I know very directly. Would you pay $100 more per month so that I could live somewhere I feel safe? For how long? Pricing constantly plagues me with this work. My biggest concern is actually pricing too low - if I overextend myself trying to provide a valuable service to 10 people and I still can't pay my rent, my time availability left over to create more income will be limited at best and I'll have to reduce the quality of my offering. This is why slow and successive is so important.
I could move to more central Bushwick, home to many other artistic queers. But also home to heavy drinking and drugging that I've been able to separate myself from. I could move back to Manhattan and into a shoebox. I could move to a shared apartment in a nicer neighborhood, and no longer be able to produce music on studio monitors and then need to rent a separate art studio like I used to and be back at the same price per month.
In the end, it's all academic. I love the home I've built for myself here. I have a wonderful landlord. I have yet to actually fear directly for my personal safety (although the shell casings next to the car parked next to the driveway a month ago challenged that a bit). I have good subway access into the city.
Ultimately it's a choice about how I choose to direct my thinking. Do I choose to focus on the problems, or do I focus on what I'm grateful for and the opportunities I have to deepen my connection to myself and the parts of my community that I do connect with. How am I connecting to more diverse communities that represent different parts of my intersectional identity on the internet. As much as I may lament the lack of physical community that more like me, there are communities online. I have found one here. I have found others that I have largely lurked on in the past. It's my opportunity to engage. It doesn't have to be all at once.
The one-way plate glass was always an inside job, and a shoddy one at best.