A part of me was resurrected in music at an open mic, 10 minutes from Baltimore’s Inner Harbor. It makes sense that music is the first orbit of my ever-growing universe of friends. More than music, I am wearing a professor hat, an entrepreneur hat, and an event planning fedora! My network is filled with community leaders, men and women in higher education, entrepreneurs, visual artists, educators, musicians. The list is endless. I also noticed a common thread in my network. We are creative professionals.
What is a creative professional? This question comes up more often than I can recall. I have faith in my profession, meaning I believe I can make a living from this work. I see results and my daily interactions are more fulfilling than I could have ever predicted. My writing, my business, my lesson plans, and my music have all evolved since I began this journey. Walk with me for a day. In Baltimore.
I went “home” to Baltimore for a mini-tour. When planning a tour, I always book a handful of BIG gigs, and then I plan the rest of my time around creative exploration, open mic hopping, and quality time with my business and creative mentors (whether they know they are or not). Many of those encounters spawn more gigs and information about cyphers, studio sessions, and special performances. I am fortunate that these meetings are with some of my favorite, and most respected, artists and friends. My two big shows were Millennial Voices at the Creative Alliance and a second installment of QueerCore at CCBC. Both shows focus on storytelling and creating safer spaces to build unity in our shared experiences. Everyday during my visit was full, and I enjoyed each scheduled appointment and surprise encounter. On some days, my aim was precise, down to the geography and day of the week. Other times, especially on the unplanned days, I’d find myself in the most perfect of scenarios.
The first show, Millennial Voices, brought together a conglomerate of soul, hip hop, and rhythm and blues performers on one stage, and acapella groups, poetry, and folk musicians on another. I played first, so I got to watch my favorite band (Brooks Long and the Mad Dog No Good) funk up the stage at the end of the night. It was a great show. I looked around the room and saw a number of fans and musicians who were related to my past life, pre QueenEarth, when I was a higher ed administrator. I used to work with many of the audience members and performers, when they were students, and I am always surprised, but not really, by how much we are all “in the building” and so much a part of this Baltimore scene. That past life was my last full time job before I jumped into my art. While backstage, I confirmed a spotlight feature at an open mic by conversing with my old friend, LOVE the poet, between her hosting obligations on the poetry stage.
Running into Shodekeh at Millennial Voices was unexpected. I see him, often, at the Creative Alliance, but this was the first time that I was in his presence and the hairs on my neck were not erect, my stomach did not fill up with butterflies. He was human, or maybe I finally ascended to my superhero form and I could stand beside him without being starstruck. Shodekeh is a Shaolin master level beatboxer. On this night, he wasn’t in the lineup. He came to watch us perform. A group of the musicians and performers took a photo outside and I got to sit next to my favorite beatboxer. But more than that, in my time in San Jose and London, I have watched him grow into an academic force that defies the rules about a “job” and what one can or cannot do with their art. He remixed the Star Spangled Banner. Somewhere between my 45 minute set with my favorite guys from the Mad Dog No Good (Dan Sam and Ian Spaceman) and Brooks Long capturing the evening with my handheld camera, Shodekeh and I decided we would spend a day together and catch up.
I woke up that morning excited about a full day of activities. I was nervous about the first item on my agenda. Shodekeh and I are were asked to be on a beatboxing track. Chuck the Madd Ox (Baltimore beatbox legend and old school B-Boy) is the mastermind behind this composition. In short, and without revealing all of Chuck’s plan, there are multiple beatboxers on one track. I am one of them. This is funny to me. I’ve been beatboxing for most of my life, but I am not the disciplined student like Shodekeh, or Chuck. I asked Shodekeh, at the Creative Alliance, if he had heard the song yet. He had not. I was scheduled to go into the studio and record the track with Mo Rece of Stinkiface Music.
I was certain that I would stumble my way through a record scratch sound, the objective of the recording session, a sound that is a staple in hip hop music. There are many ways to beatbox. I was nervous. I am not a scratcher, but Carol Dweck’s “Mindset” theory has taught me that I can do anything. I have to believe that I can, and then I can find a way.
I picked up Shodekeh, and we headed to the studio. Shodekeh has watched me perform for several years, most recently at an installment of his show Embody, a concert for the vocal arts. At first, he asked if he should leave the booth for my portion of the song, knowing that I might be uncomfortable trying to beatbox next to him. I was not. Instead, I was hoping that he could coach me through it. Rewind back to 2007, I had my first show in Baltimore with Shodekeh in the basement of the student center at my old job. That night was also the first time that I beatboxed, with someone else, on stage. “Why don’t you just sing/scratch it?” he asked. He reminded me that I was, primarily, a singer and that it would be more authentic to DO WHAT I DO, not what I think someone else wants. I sang-scratched. It was perfect. Right there, I was being coached and validated by one of my favorites. After my bit, Shodekeh got into the booth. We both had to make sure we followed the engineer’s very specific directions. It was a fun experiment.
Shodekeh also invited me to sit in on his afternoon class at Towson University. Rewind. Back in 2007, I was working a full time job and he was traveling the world with his art. We weren’t close enough to talk about the logistics of our different lifestyles, but we met on a stage on a college campus. Here we are in 2014, and upon walking into the dining hall, we said in unison, “I love working on a college campus.” Everytime I arrive on campus, no matter if it is for a semester of teaching English or with my team of QueerCore artists, walking onto a college campus always makes me feel at home. I love higher education and I am even more impressed with Shodekeh’s creative professionalism and his ability to carve a niche for himself at Towson University. If someone would’ve told him ten years ago that he would be working with Towson faculty as a beatboxer, would he have been ready? Would he have believed?
I do not know the logistics about how he got his job, but I do know this. He was found doing his art. The idea for his role in the Music department was spawned during one of his performances. Someone found Shodekeh, in his element, and creativity shot from Sho’s microphone and into the mind of a professor, sparking inspiration, making it possible for students to learn and grow alongside an unconventional teacher in the most unexpected of places. Creative professionals walk in their art, everyday. We are committed to our purposed path. Watch what I mean.
I was awestruck. At some point, I put down my pen and my camera. I observed. In class, during cool down stretches, the dance professor said, “Let your knees massage your eyebrows. I know it’s hard to breathe in this position, but you’ll find your air if you ease into it.” Imagine how many things we don’t do because they make us uncomfortable, because they haven’t even crossed our minds? What if we just did? What if we just tried? What if we had someone around to encourage us, someone who knew the struggle but overcame it and achieved that which seemed impossible? What if we could help each other find our purpose?
I bet the dancers are surprised every time they walk into class to hear Shodekeh beatbox. He doesn’t have a preset music book or song list. He watches the professor for an 8 count and then he is let loose. The professor has faith in his own choreography, in Shodekeh’s accompaniment. The students have faith in their professor’s instruction. That level of comfort can only be reached by continual practice, earned confidence, and faith. Faith is built over time, with trust and proven success. This lifestyle, lived by creative professionals, is about the outlook and drive to find “work” that fulfills our purpose. The goal requires faith. This road is not easy. For me, I stay the course because I have had enough affirming circumstances and successes to support my belief. I found affirmation during my visit to Baltimore, during Queercore at CCBC, as I hosted Acoustic Thursdays, when I converse with my editing student via Skype. Shodekeh feels it when he swipes his ID to access the music corridor. Some people feel it when they finish a project for their manager at work. Others feel it when they choreograph next week’s dance lesson. We have to make room for our dreams in our lives. We have to make time. If you want to see the results of your work, look at your actions and your circle of friends. When we live purposefully, we should not be surprised when we stand in the company of our greatest leaders and mentors.
Artists build confidence in their creative cave, in darkness, in practice. Those skills are cultivated when we encounter other artists. The bravery in practice and execution, no matter how surprising the timing and the circumstance, when one attempts to build a life around an inherent call and purpose, we are no longer working but walking in our creativity. If work is to make a living, the best artists evolve into entrepreneurs, or find a team to help them with their business. As I finish this blog, I contemplate the idea of bringing this mindset into all of the work that I do, even it it means I am working for someone else. I always share the power of choice, in every step that I take. I look for jobs that will continue to lead me down this very obvious path. With this objective, I will never waste time and be distracted from my call. I am constantly learning and evolving.
Since I’ve arrived in the UK, I start my morning with writing and reading. I find educational blogs, business manuals, writing networks. Then I walk the dog and listen to an audiobook or practice my vocals over an instrumental that I’ve composed and recorded on my cell phone. This week, I am studying Quiet Leadership and audio engineering. I also look for work, and thankfully, my trip to Baltimore afforded me time to find my niche here in London.
Today, on my 40th day in London, I met with leaders from a cultural arts/ community center. I am solidifying dates for a happy hour at a local cafe. On Thursday, I feature at the 1yr anniversary of Acoustify Thursdays, one of a series of London open mics. Next week, I will begin the steps towards teaching an online credit level English course. This work is not an accident. I am happy to praise Baltimore with the genesis of my creative professional journey. San Jose grew me well. London is making an impact. For Shodekeh and I, after years of walking this creative path, we are exactly where we are supposed to be.
As I finish out the year, I realize that this is my second time being in close quarters with a TEDtalker. The first time was with Ash Beckham. Then I got to hangout with Shodekeh. Maybe I should set some goals for 2015 😉