Becoming a Children’s Musician in Midlife: Jeanie’s Story

After careers in horse training and film editing, Jeanie found her midlife passion in composing and performing fun songs for young children with her band Jeanie B! and the Jelly Beans!  

  

Tell us a little about your background…

I grew up in East Grand Rapids, Michigan, the youngest of five kids. We were a handful for my dear mom and dad, who are still alive and kicking at 88 and 89 years old—Mom still plays tennis twice a week and does Pilates! I want to be like her when I grow up! My parents have the fairytale marriage of 65 years and are still in love. Such a blessing and a joy to see, and for them to still have each other this late in life is amazing.

My two brothers and two sisters all still live in or around Grand Rapids. They raised 15 wonderful nieces and nephews for me and I am now a Great Aunt seven times over—with more to come! I contributed grandchildren #16 and #17! I love my big family; we love to dance and play and have a good time together. Every family has its trouble but for the most part, we get along and take care of each other emotionally and physically when needed. I feel very blessed to be part of such a big brood. I am the apple that fell from my Dad’s tree, he and I are wired the same and share the same silly sense of humor and a predisposition for puns!

I was very fortunate to spend most of my childhood on beautiful Reeds Lake in East Grand Rapids. Our house was set up on a hill that was like a ski slope down to the lake, great for sledding in the winter. And of course, the summer was spent boating and waterskiing and doing all things lake adventurous. I learned to be a very strong water skier and have enjoyed it for most of my life. Reeds was a small residential lake so I had lots of friends around the lake too. We lived near a small ski resort called Cannonsburg and I was an avid snow skier and enjoyed the sport almost daily in the winters. I attended East Grand Rapids High School and was a good student, graduating in 1977.  I was too tall for cheerleading so I played powder puff football instead! I was on the girls’ basketball team and the ski team.

My strongest interests as a child were horses and music. I started riding horses (English) when I was about six and fell in love with those majestic creatures. I had my first job mucking stalls when I was 11, started to show horses early on, and also got paid to braid horses’ manes and tails for the horse shows. I exercised and hot walked Polo ponies to make extra money to show Hunters. I was always very tall (5’10” by 8th grade), so finding horses large enough to offset the length of my legs was always a challenge. No pony riding for me! I became a very accomplished rider and had my sights set on the Olympics at one time. It takes a lot of backing and expensive horse flesh to afford that endeavor. Who knows if I ultimately had the talent but I had the desire. Upon moving to Chicago in 1981, I got a job as a stable manager and assistant trainer. I bought and sold horses for clients and trained and showed them as well as taught lots of lessons. Eventually, I focused just on show jumping horses and going on the road to show them. I had horses up until just about 7 years ago when the last of my retired show horses passed away. I stopped show jumping when my first son was born because I no longer had time and it was very dangerous. I sold my two show horses at that time and kept two retired pals until they passed. I taught my children how to ride on them and they were introduced at a very young age. We all miss our beloved Sam and Ranger.

Music was always a passion and my first form of self-expression. I started composing songs in the style of Carole King and Neil Young when I was 15. I still have my first guitar that I got when I was 12, and play it almost every day. It sits in my office next to my desk like a faithful dog, always ready and willing to please. I have written the majority of my songs on this guitar. I always say it has the songs in it just waiting for me to discover them.

After high school, I went to Michigan State University and studied Pre-Vet the first year, thinking it would parlay well with my horse interests. I realized I was more interested in showing horses than caring for sick ones, so I transferred the next year to Lake Erie College, a small private women’s college in Painesville, Ohio. I tried their equestrian science program but found that it was aimed at women who didn’t know much about riding or horses, and I was underwhelmed. I was even asked to give clinics for the other students and be a teacher’s aide, instructing in bandaging and giving shots, etc. I couldn’t justify paying them for me to be teaching, so that didn’t work out.

While I was there, however, I minored in music and started a weekly coffeehouse in an empty building on campus. It gained popularity, and in just a few months was attracting wonderful musicians from all around the area, including Cleveland. I was able to collaborate with some wonderful folk musicians and was even asked to host a radio show on a Cleveland radio station in May of 1979. I declined as I had decided to leave Lake Erie College in pursuit of a different degree and to be closer to my then-boyfriend and future husband, Jay Bonansinga.

As fate would have it, not only did I walk away from that amazing opportunity (silly ignorant young lass) at the radio station but, in the summer of 1979, I had an accident while working a summer factory job and cut off the ends of 3 fingers on my left hand, starting with my index finger. I was told in no uncertain terms I would never play the guitar again since these are the fingers that hold the strings down. Jay (harmonica) & I had just landed a great gig playing weekends at a restaurant—my first real paying music gig—and was devastated. Of course, I have learned that when I am told I can’t do something, it becomes a challenge to prove that I can. The only thing standing in most people’s way to success is the will to succeed. I am very strong willed and truly believe you can do what you put your mind to doing—and have proven it over and over again!

While I was recovering, a good friend of mine—Stuart Hartger—also a guitar player and a bit of a geek, experimented with making fake fingertips for me. He landed on a formula that I still use to this day exactly as he first made them. I make fake fingertips out of plasti-dip, the same material you would dip your tool handles in to coat them in a rubbery compound. I’ve tried other things but in the end, this works the best. I cannot play the guitar (well) without them, they are bulky and cumbersome compared to natural fingertips and of course I have absolutely no feeling through them; this limits some of what I can do on the guitar and I need to be able to hear myself play on the stage and be able to see my hand so I know that my fingers are in the right place! I have proven all the doctors wrong, not only would I play the guitar again, I’d make my living playing the damn guitar!!

After a brief stint at Hope College in Holland, Michigan, I arrived back in East Lansing at good old MSU and graduated from there with a major in TV & film and a minor in music. I promptly moved to Chicago in 1981 along with my boyfriend Jay, who was going to attend graduate school at Columbia College. We looked at Northwestern for graduate school and fell in love with Evanston, where I still live to this day.

My first full-time job in Chicago was as a receptionist at Swell Pictures. It was the late and wonderful Walt Topel’s vision of a full-service film center, where you could shoot on a soundstage and edit all in the same building. It was housed in the old Marshall Field’s carriage house on North Halsted, which is now Walt’s true love and life’s dream, The Briar Street Theater.

While I answered phones by day, I rode horses every night after work. I also played in coffee houses and small venues that were looking for live music. Jay Bonansinga and I continued our romance and married in November of 1982. He played harmonica and sang with me as well. We were The Bratch and Bono Band! We played a lot of original music and a good string of covers.

My wedding

As my interest in film increased, I gravitated towards the editing process. I was fortunate enough to talk Walt into letting me apprentice with his top editor, the amazing John Fogelson. He was hands down the most respected editor in Chicago and had trained some of the upper-tier editors around town too. He was a gruff old man (with a very soft heart) who was a task master and had no mercy, but damn he knew his trade. His nickname for me was “Nursey”! Everyone called him the film doctor, so I guess that fit! We were actually cutting film and taping it back together back in those days. He taught me all the tricks of the trade and, after two years of putting up with his gruff self, I landed the assistant editor job for Joe Sedelmaier, just as he was gearing up to shoot the now infamous “Where’s the Beef?” spot for Wendy’s. I rode that wave for three years while his career skyrocketed, keeping the film flowing through the Moviolas on a daily basis. Sedelmaier slowed down in 1986 to pursue feature films and I left to be a freelance editor.

Sidebar: Joe’s was a 9-5 shop, which is very rare in film, and allowed me to have a night job as a stable manager and assistant trainer. I taught lessons starting at 7 every evening then close up the barn. I also spent my weekends there; I bought and sold horses for clients, trained and showed them, eventually focusing on going on the road to show the show-jumping horses. I had to stop teaching when I left Sedelmaier and was swept up into the reality of the film business, which is 24/7/365. I owned a horse by then and continued to ride and show when I could.

From 1986-1989 I traveled from production company to production company with my splicer and cut whatever needed to be cut—mostly commercials at that time. And then I got into the union and was hired to work on some feature films and a TV pilot. I was working on Poltergeist III when poor little Heather O’Rourke died! What a disaster and such a heartbreaking story.

Features and TV keep a grueling schedule and I spent many nights sleeping on the cutting room floor with my good pal Treva Bachand, who was my partner in crime at that time. We kept the dailies flowing!!

After too many hours in the union world, I focused once more on advertising and rented my first office space, with a cutting room adjacent, at Zenith DB studios on La Salle St. I started a humble little business called Edit Sweet, Inc., that was just me and freelance assistance when needed. I had an old DOS computer and did my books by hand. I truly was the first female-owned editing house in Chicago among a good-old-boy network of editors, who I felt were a little too macho for my taste. As my popularity grew as an editor, I expanded and moved next door to Cutters, which was an up-and-coming premiere edit house. They had all the finishing tools I needed for my creative edits so being next door to them was a plus for me and I was a good client for them. My good friends Tim McGuire and Chris Claeys still own and operate this now international hot shop that is respected worldwide.

With Edit Sweet Staffers

I grew Edit Sweet slowly and by 1998 had 7500 square feet of custom office space at 515 N. State Street, with 25 full-time employees which boasted  8 editors including me, and about $4.5 million a year in billing. I was having the time of my life and running a fun and fair company with a feminine touch. My employees were my family and I loved them all. I tried to treat them with respect, provide an opportunity for growth, include them in profit sharing and also give back to the community with the riches that the business was creating. I owned four horses by then and had grown my music into a larger band now called Angel Paint. We were playing some clubs and I was writing original alternative rock songs about everything in life.

Angel Paint

When did you start to think about making a change in midlife?

Enter pregnancy…

I had taken on the roles of CEO, COO, CFO and all the responsibilities that go along with owning a business, which kept me at the office about 70 hours a week. Now I was about to add Mom to my titles. Kids change everything.

My beautiful Joey, my pride, was born Dec. 30, 1998; by May of 1999, I had had my heart broken by phone calls from my full-time nanny too many times, reporting all the “firsts” that I was missing at home. I retired from doing editing work myself that summer so I could keep regular office hours and be home to see my little man by dinner time and enjoy weekends at home too. I sold my two show horses and retired the two older guys at a friend’s farm. Angel Paint was put on a back burner. Life as CEO/Mom began in earnest.

With Joey

During that time, I started the LA office of Edit Sweet because one of my partners, Jim Staskauskas, moved there after divorcing the pop singer Liz Phair, who had taken their child to LA. I had always considered doing this and here was the push to do so. While I was flying to and from LA to get that underway, I found myself with baby #2 on the way. Joey was just 12 months old!! In fairness, I had to get going on #2 because I was 39 when Joey was born and had been married 16 years. The clock had stopped ticking; it was now on alarm mode!

On September 17, 2000, Bill, my joy, was born. Now I had two kids under the age of two and was a bit overwhelmed by the tug on my heart to be with these precious people, who I had brought into the world, full-time. I decided the best route would be to sell my company and started looking for buyers for my little editing empire. In the fall of 2001, I signed the papers that sold Edit Sweet to one of my competitors, Optimus. It was a hard-fought deal and they took all my employees on except two, which was not too bad considering how things like that can go.

Joey and Bill

Two days after signing the deal, 9/11 happened. The bottom fell out of commercial real estate, advertising came to a screeching halt, and editing companies started going out of business one by one. The deal I had only covered my rent for 18 months to give Optimus time to move and merge the businesses and for me to find a sublet. There were no sublets anywhere to be found and I took on the burden of $18,000/month in rent for the space, while I tried to settle with my landlord over the eight remaining years on my lease. In the end, we settled and I walked away with far less than originally foreseen. My lawyers got a good chunk and the landlord took more than I would keep.

That said, I got to stay home with my kids and find life after advertising. I had enough saved to get them through early childhood before I would have to earn any real money again. Jay was doing okay at that time too as an author, so we had enough to be comfortable.

 

What is your next act?

I am a children’s musician, composer, band leader, and music teacher. I have my own band, Jeanie B! and the Jellybeans!

Motherhood was the catalyst that got me out of the editing business but the way I moved into my next career was totally at the hand of God, the Universe, whatever you want to call it. I had ramped up my band, Angel Paint, again while I had the luxury of full-time motherhood and, while out playing a casual coffee house gig one night in 2002, I was approached by the very talented musician and songwriter Julie Frost, who had opened a little studio for kids featuring music and yoga. She and her partner, Ann McGinley (yoga guru), were at that concert and asked if I played children’s music. I told them that I wrote songs for my two kids but not publicly. They replied that my style was perfect for children’s music and they had a job opening for a music teacher with their mom & tot classes, at their studio, Happy Child. It was right down the street and just two classes a week. I said I’d give it a try and after the first day, I knew that I had found my calling. I LOVED playing for these little duffers and the moms/caregivers had a blast with me too. The hours were much more in keeping with parenting because I wasn’t playing in a club until 3 am then coming home to get woken up by my little pea pickers at 5:30 am! All the hours are kid-friendly and so are the shows and the songs. I could take my kids to work with me! My son Bill had a game he played with me where he would say “mommy sing a song about ______” and believed that I knew a song about any topic he chose. Turns out I could make them up on the spot, they rhymed and were fun and catchy, and he loved them. I thought, hmm I may be onto something here!

At age 42, this was the beginning of Jeanie B! and The Jelly Beans!

Angel Paint was made up of guys who were mostly single and had no interest in playing for kids, so I looked around and created a new band made up of kid-loving, fun-loving folks who were ready and willing to take on the knee-high audiences of the world. The first incarnation of The Jelly Beans was my husband Jay on harmonica, Lisa Crowe on bass, and Teresa Drda on drums. Being a veteran at marketing after all the years at Edit Sweet, I started by recording a CD (“I’m a Kid”) so I had a product to market and a sales tool, then set about researching where I could get paid to play for kids.

I had the luxury of the proceeds from Edit Sweet to take the time to learn and grow this business without having to have a “day job” like so many musicians do. We got some nice gigs and by 2004 were playing about 30 shows a year and I had started teaching at Creative Kids Corner in Chicago, owned by the lovely Linda Kusel. Happy Child went out of business and I was glad that Creative Kids Corner was looking for a new teacher.

I continued to write, record, and market my songs and today, I play over 100 shows a year around the Midwest and teach music in five schools, two of which are for Ravinia’s outreach program, Reach, Teach and Play. I also offer school assemblies and teacher and librarian seminars on how to use music in the classroom/storytelling environment for young children. I have now recorded five CDs of children’s music, with a new one on the way in 2017. I have taught hundreds of guitar lessons to kids of all ages and my current eldest student is 80 years old! She just composed her first song, a love song for her husband.

My school age music students range in age from 16 months to 3rd grade. I’ve also kept my hand in Angel Paint and have recorded 3 CDs of original music for adults. I have also become a songwriter for hire and have had the honor of writing multiple songs for an organization called “Songs of Love,” which is partnered with Make a Wish Foundation to create original songs for and about children who are faced with extreme medical conditions, some terminal.

To say I love what I do would be an understatement of grand proportion! I adore what I do, I am passionate about teaching young children how to sing, dance, and create music. I know it enhances their ability to learn and it unlocks their creative centers, which is essential to self-expression and self-confidence.

I sometimes forget to ask for my paycheck when I’m done with a concert because it was just so much FUN to play music and dance and sing and inspire kids and families! They say if you love what you do you’ll never work a day in your life. I don’t buy that line entirely, it’s a ton of “work” to get to the good stuff, but well worth the sweat.

I have also been available to my own children on their schedule all these years and now they are amazing teenagers and musicians themselves, who started out by my side on stage as toddlers, singing and dancing along. Now Joey is my bass player and is now attending Chicago College of Performing Arts in the music conservatory, to study jazz bass as a profession, and Bill is a drummer. They both tour with me and we rock those babies like nothing else. I have the great honor to spend time teaching my kids about the music industry and playing alongside them while encouraging people to enjoy and have fun with their own kids!  I have had the honor of playing at some fabulous venues like Lollapalooza Millennium Park, The Bandshell in Rockford’s Sinnissippi Park, Ravinia, Chicago Botanical Gardens and many, many more.

To be fair, while Joey is my bass player most of the time, the official Jelly Beans! now consists of the great Michael Krayniak on bass (and electric guitar when Joey is on bass) and the ever timely Paul Bivans on drums. They hail from many bands, including Trigger Gospel, and are the backing players in multiple bands along with my go-to guitar/mando/all-things-strings player, Andon T. Davis, who has co-produced every song I’ve ever recorded. These are some of the best players in the Midwest and I feel honored every time we share the stage. Smart performers surround themselves with players who are better than they are, so it makes them look better.

I have from time to time hired people to help me with booking shows—like my agency, Bass-Schuler Entertainment, that handles booking park district events for me—but I handle 90% of my show’s itinerary and marketing. I am the chief cook and bottle washer and carry lots of gear and drive many, many miles, and coil cables like a pro. I had always dreamed that I would make my living writing and singing my songs—ever since that missed opportunity back in Cleveland and the severed fingers and all the detours. I didn’t know it would be with children, but that is the biggest gift of all. I love kids, they love me, we speak the same language, and I am passionate about education and my educational tool of choice is music.

During this rise of Jeanie B! and The Jelly Beans, my marriage fell apart and when I felt that I could support myself and my boys alone through music, I filed for divorce in 2010. The next few years were a struggle but the Universe once again took care of me and led me to all the gigs I needed to be ok and live in a nice little bungalow with a finished basement, where all the sound gear, drums, rack of guitars, collection of basses and amps, and a million kid-friendly props live. There is always someone playing music in Jeanie’s house of happiness and, like I said, that first guitar is sitting by my side as I write this memoir, begging to show me another song that it has hidden in its cracks and grain. My trusted friend that I have held all these years and told all my secrets to. It has been bathed in my tears and rejoiced in my joy and taught me how to share all those moments in song.

How hard was it to take the plunge?

Transitioning to the music business from the film business was not a far stretch in terms of the business end. I added a new bank account to my QuickBooks and set up a new corporation, and got all that in place pretty easily. I had already been in a band playing my original music for years, so the music changed and the purpose changed, but that was all fun and great. The biggest challenge was learning about the children’s music industry and the various areas that you could specialize in and how to make a living doing it. I was confined to a small region when I started, due to having young kids at home, whereas now I travel the full Midwest and will cover the country once my kids are out of the house. I also teach a great deal and will expand that as my boys fly the nest as well.

I already knew about recording music, and knew all the studios in town, since everything I had edited required music at some point. The recording software is editing software minus the visual aspect so I totally understand the technical end of recording and creating the tracks.  I recorded my first Angel Paint CD in 2001 so had completed the process once before Jeanie B! ever stepped into the studio. Marketing is marketing; you just need to find your audience and convince them that you are worthy of the gig. Then my job is to put on a great show and leave them wanting more. These days, my marketing is more about opening up new markets to explore and expand, but the shows pretty much come to me. I never take that for granted and am always reaching out to past and potential clients and venues. I continue to write and come up with fun activities for my shows and teaching so that it’s fresh for me and I can learn about the creative process more and more. It took nearly eight years to really get enough going that I was self-sufficient and established, and now 15 years into it I still have to cultivate new clients every day! The big difference between adult audiences and kid audiences is that kids will outgrow my music so I am always cultivating new kids but I’m really trying to reach the parents!! Kids can’t ever be a fan if I don’t get the parents attention first.

How supportive were your family and friends?

By the time I started declaring that I would make a career out of this, my friends were all on board, bringing their children to my shows and giving me song ideas. It was a foregone conclusion that Jeanie B! was here to stay. My family had learned from experience that I was tenacious so they did not doubt my ability to parlay my experience into this new venture. They were very supportive and still come to as many of my shows when I’m playing near them. Who doesn’t love music? I was determined to prove that I could be a viable musician and feed my kids, even as a single mom, doing what I love and making a difference in the lives of children.

With my mom

My silly dad

What challenges did you encounter?

Every business has its challenges. That’s what drives entrepreneurs; we love a challenge and the opportunity to overcome it. Managing a band is always a challenge. I have a very busy schedule as do all my bandmates. When I book a show that requests my band, I have to make sure they are all available on that date and we have to rehearse, learn new material, and be a cohesive group.

Very often, we are all too busy to rehearse so it is not uncommon for me to send a rough recording of a new song (just me and my guitar) to my band, a chord chart with lyrics, and a request they show up a few minutes early for our sound check at the next gig to run down the song. We usually go through it three or four times (the guys have listened to it, made notes, and figured out their parts beforehand) then play it live at that show for the first time. It’s a HUGE thrill the first time I hear my band play a new song with me. I have the song in my head and hear it a certain way, then they always bring more to it and I get goosebumps. I love the thrill of playing something we just learned and making it work. We hone the songs live until they finally settle into what they want to be. I usually don’t record a new song until it’s been road tested multiple times.

The challenge of bandmates is also very real, especially when someone needs to leave the band for whatever reason. I have had folks quit and I have had to fire some too. That leaves you with gigs where you need to get someone up to speed on real quick, and auditions, and looking for that perfect player who fits all the criteria of being a Jelly Bean! It is not just being good on your instrument. You have to be fun, easygoing, love children, spontaneous, willing to play with kids all around you—including sometimes walking up to your equipment and playing with the dials—punctual, and available to play during the daytime hours. My concerts are almost exclusively original music, so you have to learn my catalog so you can play along to any song that is requested or that I call for during a performance, when I’m reading the audience. Like any business, it’s about personnel—I’m still the HR department!

My biggest challenge is time. I do everything myself, so budgeting my hours between marketing, writing, recording, accounting, performing, teaching, lesson plans, travel plans, writing contracts, and writing songs for hire and raising two kids means I am never without something to do and always behind. My website has information on it that’s way out of date but I haven’t found time to rewrite the bio, etc. It’s a more than full-time job although the time I’m actually on the stage is the minimal part of it, except in June and July, when I play two or three shows a day and make half of my yearly income in just eight weeks!

Were there times when you thought about giving up?  

Yes, I have considered giving up many times, mostly because it’s very hard work both mentally and physically. Playing a show consists of carrying heavy gear, setting it up, tearing it down, loading and reloading my van over and over again, and tons of energy on stage to engage and be present for the audience. I run and jump and dance and get down on the floor and run up into the audience throughout the show. I even gallop around like a horse for one whole song! Teaching is exhausting too and just managing young children in large or small numbers is a constant demand on your focus, energy, resources, and patience.

The fluctuating bank account can be daunting. All of us children’s musicians have tumbleweeds in September until things start to ramp up for fall festivals and the holidays, and there are times when I wonder how I’ll pay the bills. I am single and have two kids headed to college now and the uncertainty of income is stressful. Luckily, I have always managed my money prudently so am fine, but I’m far from banking what Beyoncé does!

I cannot tell you how many times I’ve thought I needed to look for a “real job” that had steady pay, benefits, paid vacation, a retirement fund, and all those perks. The truth is, what keeps me playing music full-time is that every single time I have considered quitting, someone will contact me out of the blue and tell me that one of my songs touched their lives or their children’s lives in a profound way, and thank me for doing what I do. Or I’ll get a video of a young child singing and dancing to one of my CDs and the joy that I see on their face and the faces of the parents is priceless to me. When I go to a concert and a flock of kids runs up to me calling out “Jeanie B!, Jeanie B!” and my legs get hugged like I’m Santa Claus, I can’t stop. Those kids may outgrow me someday but I’ll never outgrow them. The good news is that you can keep playing music until you fall over dead and just keep getting better and better at it. Kids don’t care how old you are, they just want to be engaged and have fun and learn. Also, and maybe most importantly, my own kids have followed my footsteps and become musicians. I am so proud that they were inspired by me and I’ll never forget one day when my boys were maybe 8 & 10, they were both taking piano lessons and Bill wanted to stop. Joey had already chosen the Bass as his instrument and he turns to Bill and says “You can quit piano but you have to choose another instrument to play because that’s what we do… we play music!” Yep!

I have been self-employed since 1986 and I know that business ebbs and flows and I’ve learned to live with that uncertainty. I am an advocate for musicians to get paid fairly and believe that people should pay for the music they download. Everyone loves music, and life would be very dull indeed without it, yet we have raised our citizenship to think that they are entitled to it for free. You cannot get a plumber to come work on your house for free and you shouldn’t expect musicians to donate their music to you when it costs a ton to make it and performing is not just about being paid for the hour you’re on stage. It’s the years leading up to it, honing your skill, writing, rehearsing, buying and setting up gear. It’s not an hourly wage; we aren’t flipping burgers here. If the mentality is that music should be free, then there won’t be any more musicians. We have to feed ourselves and our families too. If you want us to be good at what we do, you have to let us make a living doing it.

 

What have you learned about yourself through this process?

I have learned that people who follow their dreams are risk takers.

I have learned that giving back and sharing your knowledge with people who are up and coming will not be a threat to your success but will come back to you in spades. I am not in competition with other musicians, I am in harmony with them.

I have learned that, when my job gets hard and seems impossible to continue, I will be given a gift from someone, somewhere, that spurs me on.

I have also learned to be resilient, believe in myself and my abilities, challenge myself, step out of my comfort zone, and push myself to the next level.

I have learned how to take criticism as a gift and disappointment as a motivation to try harder. I have also learned that my kids are watching and see me struggle and see me succeed so they have learned about working hard for your dreams and the struggles that will include.

I have most importantly learned that I see the world differently than other people. I hear the world as a song. People will say something and I will hear a song. This may be the most important thing I have learned about myself: Songs are gifts; they come from the muse and when the muse chooses you to write a song, you honor it, immediately, at that moment, before it’s lost.

I have songs come to me at all hours of the day and night and I always have a recording device or a way to write lyrics down wherever I am. I have lost many ideas by not grabbing them and documenting them immediately, thinking they will return. They often don’t, and the muse gives them to someone else. If a song comes to me, I go to my trusted guitar and ask it to guide me in its creation. It still takes my breath away to compose and get that lightning strike out of the blue. It’s like being touched by a mystical being, silently, softly, and profoundly.

I have a dual existence when it comes to songwriting. My children’s music is reflective of children’s journeys and joys, their hunger for adventure, fun, and knowledge. My grown-up music is full of heartache and the struggle of human existence. I write love songs and songs of loss. I have written multiple songs for people who have passed and send them as condolences for family members. My work with Songs of Love has given me more opportunity to bring joy to heartache and honor a family that is struggling. The opportunity to touch lives is boundless; this is why I love what I do and feel so, so blessed that God gave me the gift to be a songwriter. I’m glad I was brave enough to accept the position.

 

Looking back, is there anything you’d have done differently?

Sure, there are always things we can look back and say “wish I’d known then what I know now…” but we didn’t, so we make our move and hope for the best.

Here are the few things I might have done differently:

I would have stayed in Cleveland to see where the music would have taken me BUT then I would have missed a fabulous film career and Edit Sweet and I would not have met my BFF Monna O’Brien who was my best client there!

I think I should have kept Edit Sweet and hired a CEO so that I could keep a hand in it but be home with my kids and still have a paycheck. However, with 9/11 knocking editing businesses down with a baseball bat, I could have lost everything.

If I have any “regret” it would be that I was reluctant to file for divorce when it was clear my marriage had run its course. As much as we would like to think we have met the love of our life and that part of our lives is all set, relationships are either for now, for a while, or forever. I took a vow and wanted to believe that I was going to be married forever. You can’t force forever. If the formula no longer serves you and your partner, the best and the hardest thing to do is call it quits. I felt that the last thing this world needed was another 50-something divorcée with young kids to raise, but that’s exactly what it needed and I could not be happier to have reunited with myself free from a troubled relationship! We are both better parents to our kids because we are divorced.

I have learned that whenever I jump off a cliff in life, my parachute opens with grace and I land on my feet. When you know in your heart that “it’s time,” trust yourself, it is. Know that what lies ahead is an awesome adventure! I have lessons that have come to me throughout my life and I embrace where I’ve been and hope that I am blessed with enough years ahead to fulfill more of my dreams and look back at a wonderful life, rich with love and music and struggles and triumphs. My dear friend Liz Stitely, who just passed away, told me that what she had learned, as her life was being cut short, was that all that matters is love. So I try to remember that every day. Love will show you the way and dreams don’t have deadlines. Never give up hope.

Skiing with my boys

What advice do you have for women seeking reinvention in midlife?

I firmly believe that we are allowed to have multiple interests in our lives and multiple passions. I have been a horse trainer, a film editor, and a musician so far. I was passionate about these endeavors and let that passion guide me. I was, of course, prudent about making it work and would go bag groceries if I had to in order to make ends meet (although I’d end up managing the store before too long, knowing me!).

Follow your dreams, learn everything you can about your desired industry, get the education and hone the skills you need, talk to others who have successfully done what you want to do and hear their story. Your path will be different but there is much to learn from those who have blazed the trail. Believe in yourself and your ability to overcome obstacles. Never get complacent; keep pushing yourself and challenging yourself.  Make friends with your banker and lawyer and other key professionals who you need along the way. Imagine your life just the way you want it to be and go for it! Just remember it may not turn out the way you imagine it but even better with all the gifts and surprises along the way. We are each powerful forces and yes, one person can make a difference; all successful people started out with a desire and learned how to turn it into a reality no matter how big or small the venture. Every journey starts with the first step.

What advice do you have for those interested in pursuing a career as a children’s musician?

I think if you’ve read everything up to this point in this article, you know what it takes. Tenacity is essential, musical ability, creativity, love of children and teaching, and a head for business and marketing. A never-ending smile and a fountain of joy inside you help along with patience, patience, patience. As my favorite songwriter Darryl Scott once said to me “music is a hell of a way to make a living, but it’s a great way to make a life”! Call me! I’m happy to help!

A great place to start is The Children’s Music Network! This international group of children’s musicians are far and above the nicest people on earth and are ready willing and able to guide you to your path of success as a children’s musician.

 

What’s next for you?

My dream “next act” would be to write songs for other artists, be a writer-for-hire, and dig deeper into my songs for grown-ups. I adore writing songs and would love to be in Nashville writing for other people and communing with the songwriting community down there with the likes of Darryl Scott and other greats. I need to get my kids out on their own first and keep Jeanie B! going forward for a good while and start to merge the two. I think I am a better songwriter with each song I pen so someday I will be worthy.

Music Education is very dear to my heart and I may get more involved in that from an administrative standpoint someday—when jumping around on the stage gets to be too much for my aging bones!

 

Connect with Jeanie Bratschie
Email: jeanieb@jeaniebmusic.com
Jeanie B! and The Jelly Beans Website
Jeanie B! and the Jelly Beans Facebook
Angel Paint Website
Angel Paint Facebook
Twitter: @JeanieBmusic

 




Becoming a Voiceover Actor: Ruth’s Story

A divorce in midlife was the final push for Ruth to commit to a full-time career as a voiceover and on-camera talent, not to mention an author of romance novels.

 

Tell us a little about your background.

I grew up on the South Side of Chicago, then in the southern suburbs, with my younger brother, sister, and parents. In junior high, I did a few plays, made chorus in 8th grade, and shared the role of Oliver in the musical “Oliver!” In high school, I was on the speech team, worked at the radio station, wrote for the newspaper, sang in varsity choir, and performed in a few plays and a musical. I loved my summer as a theater “cherub” in the National High School Institute’s program at Northwestern University.

Playing L’il Abner in high school

At the University of Michigan, Ann Arbor, I double majored in communications and economics, performed in a play or musical almost every semester, worked at the college radio stations as a DJ or news anchor, and did a stint as a justice for student government. I enjoyed living in a dorm freshman year and in my sorority (Pi Beta Phi) for three years. After graduation, I went on to earn a Master’s in TV/Radio and a law degree from Syracuse University while writing for the law school paper, singing in a symphony chorus, being the female anchor on a local cable TV comedy news show, interning at the public radio/TV stations, and ultimately working part time as a classical radio announcer.

In “Anything Goes” at University of Michigan (front and center in blue sequin dress)

I briefly followed the guy I was dating to Montgomery, Alabama, where a Top 40 station hired me as an account executive. The camaraderie and emphasis on weekly learning, along with the freedom to write and voice commercials, made it one of the best places I’ve worked. I moved back to Chicago for a job with Arbitron radio ratings, where I was on the advertiser/agency side and responsible for a ten-state region. Although that much travel—in the days before Mapquest, the internet, laptops and even the guarantee of a remote control in my hotel room—was tiring, I earned a national top performer award two years in a row.

In the early 1990s, I took a shot at full-time acting, which didn’t go very well. I think the reasons included looking too young to be a mom (the role I was often sent out for), lack of training (in the days before the internet made finding information about any career and classes so much easier), and my focus on on-camera commercial work.

When acting didn’t pan out, I used my law degree as an account manager for an online legal research service. For 13 years, I worked mainly with large law firms, training everyone from summer associates to senior partners and negotiating contracts up to seven figures in a several million dollar territory. I earned national and other top performer awards. I did keep my toes in the acting world by doing extra work in movie—my first was the parade scene in Ferris Bueller’s Day Off.

After getting married in 1994, I continued to take classes and do extra work and did a couple of community theater musicals. I devoted a lot more time to writing after buying my first laptop and completed my first novel, which I’d begun by hand in the late 1980s. I had an agent by 1996, but the book didn’t sell. I continued to write more manuscripts, which did well in contests but didn’t sell.

Will Rogers Follies in late ’90s

When did you start to think about making a change in midlife?

My divorce in the summer of 2000, at 40, seemed like a good catalyst to relaunch my acting pursuits. I was good at sales and training but didn’t enjoy it very much. I liked my clients and believed in the products I represented. But holding the same meeting multiple times a day while traveling from client to client didn’t fuel my creative dreams, although I appreciated the income and benefits.

The desire for change had been brewing for a long time. I’d wanted to be an actress since I had starring roles in grade school plays. I’d pursued acting on the side by taking classes, doing improv and the occasional paying gig, and a bunch of extra work (though paid, it isn’t really considered acting). I’d spent many evenings and weekends writing, going to my local Romance Writers of America® chapter meetings, attending conferences, entering contests, and submitting.

“The Great Gatsby”

Getting cast as a paid actor in fall of 2000, in the Lyric Opera of Chicago’s Great Gatsby, starring one of my favorite opera singers (the late Jerry Hadley), was a dream come true. I’d seen an audition notice and was cast in a part because I fit into a costume from the Metropolitan Opera! Each night before the curtain went up, as I stood center stage in my maid costume, holding up my tray of champagne glasses and the chorus started singing behind me, I had one of those moments where all was right with my world.

I continued improv training and completed the program at ComedySportz to add to iO (where I’d performed with a team) and Second City.

What is your next act?

I am a voiceover (VO) and on-camera talent. I love performing and taking on different roles and characters. I also love meeting and working with fellow creatives and finally having what I’ve always wanted to do as a career, not a hobby or avocation.

These days, you have to be able to record, edit and deliver auditions and audio files from home. So I’m the director, producer, talent and audio engineer (my least favorite part). Via self-marketing and referrals, I have some returning clients in the US and Europe that send work when they have it. I’m also on a couple of what are known as pay-to-play sites, where for an annual membership, you have access to many auditions.

On-camera, I’ve done national commercials, corporate industrials, web series, independent feature films and more. If anyone is interested, here are links to a few projects:

For The Onion’s ClickHole channel, an episode of “Witnessing History” 

A web commercial and VO for Bionic.

VO for Children’s Advocacy.

I’m also an author. I spent 20 years pursuing traditional publication (and came close numerous times) but started self-publishing fiction in 2015. So far I’ve released four romance novels and a novella set in medieval times. Up next are two humorous women’s fiction novels; the first released June 15. I’ve participated in boxed sets with other authors and give a variety of workshops for authors and actors.

I definitely work more hours than I used to, but I enjoy most of those hours more.

Tell us more about the business of voiceover acting…

The first thing you need to do VO is knowledge of both the craft (including practice) and the business. I’d taken two voice-over classes, plus I’d worked at a couple of radio stations and done some announcing and commercials.

The next thing you need is a demo. A few months after quitting my legal job, I had a commercial demo made, which I sent to my on-camera agents. Over time, I added a narration demo, then a few more for VO genres such as e-learning and telephone.

Fortunately, a VO friend helped me shop for and set up my home recording studio. The number of options and opinions on what’s “best” is daunting.

Some VO jobs come through direct bookings from my demos or auditions from talent agents, but at the moment I get most on my own. Projects include commercials (radio, TV or internet), long e-learning courses ranging from technical to corporate to informative, videos explaining how to use medication, phone messages (“we’re sorry we can’t take your call right now”) and the occasional character.

I spend a lot of time auditioning and preparing for auditions. Some ask for self-taped submissions, meaning they send the script they want you to do along with a few character specifications, then you have to learn those lines, find someone good to read the other part(s) and help with recording—which also means good sound and lighting. Fortunately, the same friend who helped with VO helps with all of that, and the editing, too. Skype auditions are becoming more popular. I prefer those or in-person opportunities because you get to meet people who can book you and start to build relationships. And I often get feedback or direction—that helps with a second take.

I book some on-camera roles via my agents, some through friends/networking, and others via Facebook, Backstage.com, and even Craigslist. Some films and web series don’t pay, but I do them if I like the role, want to work with the production team, or think I’ll get a good clip for my website and demo reels.

Filming “Heavens to Betsy”

How hard was it to take the plunge?

Giving up a regular paycheck, four weeks of paid vacation (plus personal days and holidays), and benefits like health insurance was the hardest part. Even 11 years later, holidays are a challenge because I know so many people get paid to relax/celebrate/eat/socialize while I have no auditions or work coming in, not only the actual day but often for days before or after. And I’d become friends with many co-workers and clients in my legal job, many of whom were very supportive of my creative endeavors, so leaving that camaraderie was difficult.

I finally decided, “Someday is now.” And, as it happened, my dad had passed away more than a year before I quit my job, so my most vocal critic wasn’t around. I admit that sometimes I heard his criticizing voice in my head.

Before taking the plunge, I invested in a career coach to investigate whether I could get a job I’d want to do—and be happier at—that paid as much or more as what I was making. My theory was that if I had to earn significantly less to get a job I liked more than the one I had, I might as well do what I really wanted. After some self-exploration and homework, I realized most likely I’d earn around half or less of what I was making.

Filming a commercial in 2015

I also hired designers to create acting and writing websites I thought were competitive with those of experienced talent and authors, a significant investment at the time.

Taking the plunge was exciting and scary at the same time. I thought I had as many ducks in a row as I could arrange acting-wise. I already had a bit of experience, an agent for on-camera work, and was taking voiceover classes with the plan to have a demo produced. Writing-wise, my second manuscript was a finalist in a national contest with multiple rounds of online voting along the lines of American Idol called American Title. I’d just moved into a new condo, so a lot was changing.

Finding the discipline to move forward every day when you don’t have a boss or manager and to keep going in the face of frequent rejection isn’t fun, but after more than a dozen years of sales/training jobs, I was accustomed to planning my days independently and hearing “no” a lot.

In “The Natural” — episode 2, available on Vimeo

How supportive were your family and friends?

Some thought I was brave for taking such a risk. Others couldn’t figure out what I did every day if I wasn’t booked on a project, so I started my blog “Gainfully Unemployed.”

 

What challenges did you encounter?

Initial challenges included getting potential clients to listen to my VO demo and getting those first clients to book me when I didn’t have that much experience. My sales background definitely helped with technique, persistence, and handling rejection. I didn’t enjoy researching and contacting new clients, but knew how to cold call and network, and wasn’t afraid or upset if people said no. Then people started saying that my website helped convince them to hire me and were happy with my work, so some hired me again and/or referred me.

I had to learn how to run my VO business, including setting rates (in general and for individual projects) and quoting them in a proposal, audio engineering (including editing out breaths, mouth noise, mistakes, any processing of the audio, separating and naming files as per client requests, and uploading them), invoicing, and following up on the occasional payment that didn’t arrive. All of this took a lot more time than I’d expected. There’s a lot of attention to detail as every client has different performance and file delivery specifications.

Today, the most challenging thing is having little to no control over work flow and thus my schedule. Some weeks, I might have no on-camera auditions or jobs. Crickets. It’s hard not to worry. Other weeks, the challenge is fitting everything in. Recently, I had three auditions in one week (one at a casting director’s office, one Skype, and one self-tape) for projects that would require me to work out of town the following week.

Still from the “Heavens to Betsy” trailer

I was already booked one of the days. Then, just from my headshot, I was put on “check avail” (meaning the client is interested but may not choose me) for a corporate film (known as an industrial) on two days that overlapped days for the other projects. They were interested in a third day, the one I was already booked.

As it happened, I didn’t book any of the jobs I auditioned for, and the industrial was pushed to the following month.

Usually, there’s not much notice of an in-person casting director audition. You might get called in the afternoon for the next morning’s 11:00 am audition (only on rare occasions can you request another time), and the script might not arrive until after 5:00 pm. I check my email and phone a lot because fast confirmation is expected—or they may move on to the next person.

VO scripts don’t always arrive when promised, even though I allocated time and vocal energy (you can only record so many hours a day), so I have to adjust other commitments. Others show up out of the blue. I’m free to say no to anything I haven’t accepted, but I want to be their go-to talent and I want the work, even in an already jam-packed week.

Another challenge, at times, is finding motivation each day to press on, keep submitting, keep releasing books, keep wading through rejections of various kinds (including men via dating efforts over many years), and find ways to enjoy the journey rather than focusing on outcomes of bookings and hoping for more and better gigs. As much as I enjoy acting and writing, I also enjoy binge watching, so some days I have to remind myself to move forward.

 

Were there times when you thought about giving up?

During slow times, it’s hard to trust the universe and believe that more work, auditions, and/or clients will arrive. I try not to compare myself to colleagues and friends, but when I know many who are becoming best sellers or booking more and/or better gigs, it’s hard to believe my turn will come.

There are days when I just don’t want to do any more marketing for my acting or my books, and others when I think I don’t do enough—because there’s always more to do. I have fleeting thoughts of finding a job with more predictability and regular hours.

What keeps me going is not wanting to return to corporate America. To me, that represents failure, even if by some chance after being out of that market for so long and being 11 years older I could find a comparable or better position.

Still from a video for The Onion’s ClickHole Channel

What have you learned about yourself through this process?

That’s a good question. The answer changes depending on how things are going (I know, I know… It’s supposed to be about the journey, not the outcome). In a good week, I’ve learned that by being multifaceted and persistent, I can have creative careers. When I’m not booking or getting auditions and my submissions (self-taped on-camera, VO auditions, or a submission requesting an audition—for book reviews, workshops, articles, etc.) aren’t receiving replies, I wonder if I should focus on acting or writing instead of doing both.

 

Looking back, is there anything you’d have done differently?

I would have purchased a smaller condo. I do need space for my VO recording and home office and love the location, but could have saved a lot of money over the years with a smaller place. Making time to get my place ready to sell while finding somewhere else to live keeps getting moved to next week as I add to my list of tasks.

My condo

What advice do you have for women seeking reinvention in midlife?

Believe that someday is now. So many people say, “Someday I’ll do X or Y.” But when does someday arrive? Others say, “I’ve always wanted to do Z.” Start today, right now, by figuring out what that first step is and taking it! Then take another step toward that goal every day, no matter how small. For example, if you write just one page or 250 words a day, you’ll complete 365 or 91,250 in a year. Make a list of your goals and break each goal into steps so it doesn’t seem overwhelming.

We only have one life to live, and we don’t know how long ours will be or the state of our health in retirement. Women in midlife can’t afford fear of failure or success.

 

What advice do you have for those interested in pursuing voiceover work?

Start as soon as you can. Take acting and improv classes, build your resume with student and independent films and web series. There are many more casting opportunities for these kinds of projects now than there were ten years ago because filmmaking technology has changed so much. The downside is that many don’t pay, not even expenses such as mileage or gas. Do theater if you can afford the time. Do a bit of extra work for the highest profile project near you (though it’s not counted as acting) to show you have some awareness of how to behave on set.

Nowadays, it’s easier to shoot a film or video, i.e. create your own work, just with your cell phone or a small crew, but it’s also easier for that work to get lost in the crowd rather than go viral or be seen by people who can move your career forward. But you’d still have something for your website and resume and to send to potential clients and agents.

Romance Writers of America Golden Heart Award Winner, 2011

What about for would-be authors?

Anyone can self-publish, which is both good and bad. I see posts from authors who released their book(s) but are surprised they have no or only a handful of sales. Well, with over 445,000 romance novels in the Kindle store the last time I checked, authors can’t just write great books, they have to find ways to make them discoverable. And still produce as much content as possible.

 

What resources do you recommend?

If you want to be an actor, classes can teach you how to improve your skills, how to audition for different types of roles and different kinds of projects, lingo/jargon, and set etiquette. If you don’t have reputable acting or VO schools or classes in your area, a community college might offer something.

There are VO conferences and many YouTube videos, though I haven’t watched that many myself.

Voiceover:

Edge Studio

Global Voiceover Academy

Voiceover Studio Chicago, where I had my commercial and narration demos done. VOSC also offers Voiceover Exploration sessions to help people learn more about the biz and decide if VO is for them.

A couple of pay-to-play sites (do your own due diligence before joining):

http://www.voices123.com

http://www.bodalgo.com

On-camera:

To find auditions in your area:

www.actorsaccess.com

www.castingnetworks.com

www.backstage.com

Search for student film auditions at local universities and colleges. In Chicago, DePaul, Columbia College, Northwestern University, and the School of the Art Institute frequently post auditions.

Search for Facebook groups in your area for indie films, acting, film production.

Extra work is a great way to dip your toes in the water, but in most cases doesn’t count as acting or go on your resume (except perhaps to list a few as a line item near the bottom to show you’ve been on major sets).

In Chicago, the best way is to register for each extras casting agency, then follow them and their submission instructions on Facebook. You usually need to act (no pun intended) fast, as they often get more submissions than they need.

https://www.facebook.com/extraordinarycasting/

https://www.facebook.com/ChicagoFireExtras/

https://www.facebook.com/4StarCasting/

Writing:

If you want to write romance novels, Romance Writers of America, is the place to be. Not only have I learned about the craft and industry of romance writing, I’ve made amazing friends.

On Writing: A Memoir of the Craft by Stephen King

Story: Substance, Structure, Style and the Principles of Screenwriting by Robert McKee

Techniques of the Selling Writer by Dwight Swain

GMC: Goal, Motivation and Conflict: The Building Blocks of Good Fiction by Debra Dixon

There’s so much to learn about self-publishing, and it can be a challenge to keep up with new developments and changes. I give workshops and offer coaching, and wrote Keeping Up with the Fast-Changing Self-Publishing Market.  

Gurus include:

Joanna Penn

Mark Dawson

Tim Grahl

Jane Friedman

Podcasts include:

https://selfpublishingformula.com/

http://rockingselfpublishing.com/

 

Connect with Ruth Kaufman

Email: ruthkaufmanbooks@yahoo.com

Website

Facebook Author and Actor Page

Twitter @RuthKaufman

Amazon Author Page

Goodreads

Instagram @ruthjkchi




Launching a Jewelry Company to Honor Her Son’s Memory: Elizabeth’s Story

When her son died tragically at 17, Elizabeth channeled her grief into ELLA Designs, making and selling beautiful jewelry pieces, with 50% of the profits going to bipolar research.

Tell us a little about your background…

I grew up in Oak Park, Michigan, a suburb of Detroit. I have a twin sister, Eve, who lives in Highland Park, IL and a younger sister, Joanne, who lives in Vancouver, Canada. I am married to Brian Guz, a urologist, and we live in Franklin, Michigan.

I attended the University of Michigan, where I received a BA in psychology in 1983, then continued on to graduate with an MBA in 1985 from the Ross Business school, also at the University of Michigan. I met my husband, Brian, in high school, but we didn’t start dating until we were both in college together. We married after graduate school (he went to medical school) and moved to Cleveland, where he did his Urology residency at the Cleveland Clinic for five years.

At University of Michigan

I got a job as a Product Manager at American Greetings, working on many product lines including calendars, candles, and seasonal products. It was a great job. After Brian finished his residency, we moved back home to Detroit. We had just had our first child, David, and I opted not to work; I wanted to stay at home and raise my kids. I had Michael and Lauren a few years later and was a full-time mom. We lived in an apartment in Southfield for the first year after we returned, then bought a house in Huntington Woods, where we lived for six years, and then moved to Franklin where we still live today.

I was very busy for many years with my kids. When they were all in school, I took some classes in interior design and did some private work for a while. When my middle son, Michael, was entering adolescence, he became very anxious and depressed. He had always had those tendencies, but they became worse over time. It was an extremely difficult and heartbreaking time for us; the next few years were spent trying to do what we could to help Michael. At the end of his junior year in high school, in June 2009, Michael died of a drug overdose. He was 17. We were devastated.

How did you cope with this tragedy?

Dealing with Michael’s death was extremely difficult. We are extremely close and the thing we had feared most had happened. We went to grief therapy individually and a few times as a family. We talked about Michael a lot and I made sure that my kids knew that we have to continue living and thrive because that’s what Michael would have wanted for us.

After Michael died, I found out about the Prechter Bipolar Research Fund at the University of Michigan Depression Center.  They were doing groundbreaking research in the field of bipolar disorder, which we believe Michael had. I started the Michael Guz Memorial Fund, which was a part of the Prechter Bipolar Research Fund. I also met with Wally Prechter, who started the fund in memory of her husband Heinz, an automotive executive (he invented the sunroof) who took his own life about 15 years ago after suffering from bipolar disorder. I became friends with Wally and helped out with some fundraising events. I also joined the Advisory Board of the Prechter Fund and started to help raise awareness about the disease.

With Wally Prechter

Around that time, Judith Burdick, my daughter’s grief therapist after Michael died, was making a documentary called Transforming Loss and she asked if I would be in her film. The film focuses on seven people from Michigan who dealt with the untimely deaths of family members, how they coped and were “transformed” through their loss. It is a very inspirational movie. It was also the first time I spoke candidly and openly about Michael and his suffering. It was a very difficult time for me, but also helped my grieving process. I found that many people opened up to me to share their own stories and the stories of loved ones who suffered or are suffering from similar problems.

I still wanted to do more to raise awareness and money for bipolar research. My youngest child, Lauren, was going to college soon and I needed to decide what I wanted to do with my time. I play tennis and other racket sports, work out, and play bridge and canasta, but I knew that wouldn’t be enough.

What is your next act?

I started ELLA Designs Jewelry in 2013 when I was 53. My daughter Lauren, who was a senior in high school, helped me initially before she went to college (University of Michigan) the following year. ELLA Designs donates 50% of all profits to the Heinz C. Prechter Bipolar Research Fund. Our motto is “Help Find a Cure for Bipolar Disorder, One Link at a Time.”

I find interesting pendants or chains and put them together in my own design.  Sometimes I take chains and other pieces to make earrings, or mix different chains and beads, adding a pendant to make a necklace. Other times I try to have different ways that a piece can be worn: Some of the necklaces can be worn at different lengths, wrapped and doubled, and even worn as a bracelet. Some of the pieces have magnetic connectors, which are easy to put on. Many of the magnetic bracelets can also be attached together to make chokers or longer necklaces.

Many of the pendants have meanings—scarab beetle, Buddha, crystal, etc.—so I made small written cards that explain the meaning behind the piece; I include them in the gift bag. For example, the scarab beetle means rebirth. People like to buy things that have a meaning behind them and it helps to have a little card that explains it. I have had a lot of success with my crystal necklaces and Buddhas, and I am making new things all the time and finding new items that people like. Last year, I started making leather bracelets with magnetic clasps that have sold very well and appeal to many people.

I get ideas from everywhere. Sometimes I see something in a magazine or just play with the chains and pendants in my work area and try different looks. I work upstairs in our house, where the kids’ bedrooms are, and we have a loft area where there is a TV. No one is home anymore, so I have a lot of room to myself to make a mess and experiment.

Making the jewelry is very relaxing for me. I tend to work on the jewelry in the late afternoon. It’s that time of the day that there is not a lot to do and I love going upstairs, putting on the TV, and making jewelry. If my husband has a meeting and doesn’t come home for dinner, it can be hours before I realize what time it is. I love it!

I also make many of my own jewelry displays. I buy lumber, have it cut, get steel rods, and build stands that work well with my jewelry.

We sell through holiday boutiques, luncheon events, and private home or office parties, as well as online. The website shows many of the pieces and also gives information about the Prechter Fund. Since the inception of ELLA Designs 4½ years ago, we have donated $148,000 to the fund from ELLA Designs. I believe that people have also made their own donations after hearing about the fund. I am honored to be a part of that and to bring much-needed awareness about this devastating illness. I just set up an endowment fund to help fund the stem cell research in honor of Michael’s would-be 25th birthday on March 27, 2017, and we went to see the lab and the amazing stem cell research they are doing to help find treatments and cures for bipolar disorder.

With Michael in Vancouver

In September 2015, I received the 2015 Woman of Vision award from the National Council of Jewish Women. This award honors “a woman who contributes her knowledge, resources, and skills for the betterment of the community.” I was the first recipient of the award. This year, I presented the award to the second award winner.  Jenna Bush was the guest speaker at the event; I met her and gave her some jewelry, which she wore that day and took home with her.

With Jenna Bush

My business keeps me busy and provides a great way for me to support a cause which I am passionate about. I feel a special connection to my son, Michael, by doing this and feel that it has also been an amazing way to connect with people on a personal level whom I would never have before. Strangers feel comfortable talking to me about their own struggles, and those of their loved ones, who are suffering from mental illness; I listen and try to give them hope and resources.

I am often contacted by people who have passed my name on to others who need help or somewhere to turn when they are dealing with bipolar illness. I also have handouts available about the Prechter Bipolar Research Fund when I sell the jewelry and give it to people who want information. My business cards also include information about the fund and have contact information for people who want to donate or find more about it.

I am also on the Board of Directors of Kadima, a non-profit mental health agency that provides residential and support services for children and adults with mental illness in Oakland County (Michigan).

Why jewelry? How did you get started?

I wasn’t very artistic growing up, but I loved art and my favorite courses in college were Art History. Over the years, I would make little necklaces or necklace holders for my sunglasses. When my kids had school projects, I LOVED it. I would really work hard on them and sometimes I even let them help me.  Haha…

One day, I went to a store where a jewelry designer was promoting her jewelry. It was beautiful. I went home and thought about what she was doing and thought I could do that too. I thought it would be fun if I made my own pieces to sell and donated a large portion of the profits to bipolar research. I started taking apart some of my own jewelry that I no longer wore and recreated them by putting them with different chains and making unique combinations. It was relaxing and therapeutic.

My daughter Lauren helped me at the beginning since she was still a senior in high school.  We named the company ELLA Designs using the first two letters of our first names: ELizabeth and LAuren.

With Lauren

I began buying chains and attending jewelry shows. I would even find interesting pieces when I traveled. After spending some time making my first ”collection,” we had an open house at our home, where we invited a lot of friends. It was very successful. I started making more pieces, mainly necklaces and bracelets, and selling them at local holiday boutiques, events, and private open houses in people’s homes or offices. The jewelry was very well received and people loved that 50% of all the profits go toward funding vital research for bipolar disorder.

I have tried to have a wide range of price points so everyone can afford something.  Most of the earrings are $35 and the necklaces and bracelet range from $40 to around $400, with an average price range of $100-$200. Most of the jewelry is made from base metals, but I do have some diamond pieces as well. I like to have a range of things that will appeal to all ages and budgets.

While people really like the jewelry, there is a lot of competition in the field. A big part of my success is because I donate so much of the profits to a cause that affects so many people. It is amazing to me how many people who are looking at the jewelry at an event or open house stop to tell me about their own struggles, or those of a loved one who suffers from mental illness. They want to support the cause and when they find a piece they love, it has more meaning to them because they know it is supporting something great and I think they feel my passion for what I am doing.

This has been a very life changing and interesting journey for me. I am a private person and never thought I would end up being in the public eye. When Michael died, I knew I had to be strong for my family, but I also knew I wanted to make a difference for other people who struggle with bipolar disorder. I guess things happen for a reason. I plan to continue growing ELLA Designs and raising awareness about bipolar disorder and the research, which is being done to help people live productive lives.

With my kids and Dr. Sue O’Shea, who is in charge of Prechter Bipolar Research Stem Cell Labs at University of Michigan’s Depression Center

How supportive were your family and friends?

My family and friends were extremely supportive of the business and the charity behind it. They have bought a lot of my jewelry for themselves and given pieces as gifts. Many have had open houses at their homes or offices and I get a lot of referrals from people I know. Sari Cicurel is a publicist and has helped me get a lot of press (sari.cicurel@gmail.com). I knew Sari through mutual friends and she offered her help after I began my jewelry business. A few years ago, I never even knew what a publicist did! She has been an amazing support, helping me book shows and get press attention. I have met so many great people through this and I have made many new and great friends that I would never have met if I didn’t start this business. It has been an amazing and life-changing experience.

With Brian

I have a fantastic husband, Brian, and great kids who have been extremely supportive and they are proud of me. Now that my kids are older—David just graduated medical school this May 2017 and will be starting his residency in anesthesia; Lauren just graduated this April from University of Michigan—I have a lot more time to work on my own business. I think this was the perfect time for me. I don’t think I could have done it when they were young and in the house. I was too busy being a mom. My husband and I do eat a lot of pizza these days because I don’t cook as much as I used to. Brian’s been a great support throughout this journey and he likes pizza, so it works out.

With David and Lauren

What challenges did you encounter?

The biggest challenge is that because each piece is unique, and made by me, it can be difficult to keep the pieces displayed online up to date and in stock. I can usually recreate a piece, but sometimes there are slight variations.

Another challenge is taking photos of the jewelry for the website. I am not a good photographer and often struggle with that area. Because I would rather give more money to the charity, I take the pictures myself rather than hiring a photographer. I do the best I can.

I always need people to help me sell at events. Setting up, selling, and packing things up again is hard work and time-consuming. I have been very lucky to find a great person, Lisa Clayton, who has been helping me for almost 4 years. I didn’t know her at all but met her when she was helping someone else sell at an event. Others have also offered their help. My son Michael’s best friend helps out when she can. They were very close and I have gotten to know her in a way that I never did before. She often talks about Michael and I have learned things about him through her. It has been a gift.

 

My website can be a challenge as well. That is definitely not my strength but I am learning and have help with that. I have an MBA from Michigan so I understand the business side, but the technology part is harder for me.

I am also working on improving my social media presence to reach a wider audience.  That is becoming a new focus and challenge. I met a great graphic and web designer, Jessica Rosengard, who helps me with that side of the business. She updates and maintains my website and helps promote me on Facebook and Instagram.  She has also become someone I can call anytime with a website or computer issue. We are trying to find new ways to promote the business and make people know about ELLA Designs and the cause it is supporting.

I do have an accountant who helps me once in a while with Quickbooks, but most of that I do myself. It is very important to have people that you can rely on to help, especially in the areas where I am not as knowledgeable. It is my business, but I can’t do everything myself and I have found it is vital to have people around me that can help me when I need it.

What did you learn about yourself through this process?

I feel that I have grown as a person and gained a new perspective on life. I don’t “sweat the small stuff” anymore and try to appreciate what I have. I am also a lot stronger than I thought, having dealt with one of the most heartbreaking challenges, losing a child, and coming through it the best I could. I also hope it has shown my other two children, David and Lauren, that you can survive difficult situations. Life is not easy and there are a lot of bumps in the road, but you have control of how you handle them.

 

What advice do you have for women seeking reinvention in midlife?

Don’t be afraid to try something new. It may not work out, but you will never regret trying. You WILL regret not trying. Find something you feel passionate about and make it happen.

If you’re interested in launching a jewelry business, start slowly. I did not invest a lot of money into jewelry and supplies until I had sold some pieces. I never went into debt. I was not comfortable with that and, by starting out slow, I was never in a risky financial position. It made it much easier and less scary.

What resources do you recommend to others with a family member struggling with mental illness, including bipolar disease?

University of Michigan Depression Center
www.depressioncenter.org

National Network of Depression Centers
www.nndc.org

The Balanced Mind Foundation
http://www.thebalancedmind.org/

Depression and Bipolar Support Alliance
www.DBSAlliance.org

Depression Toolkit
www.depressiontoolkit.org

International Bipolar Foundation
www.internationalbipolarfoundation.org

Michigan Mental Health Commission
www.michigan.gov/mentalhealth

Mental Health America
www.nmha.org

Canadian Mental Health Association
www.cmha.ca

National Alliance on Mental Illness
www.nami.org

National Institute of Mental Health
www.nimh.nih.gov

America’s Mental Health Channel
http://www.healthyplace.com/bipolar-disorder/menu-id-67/

Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration
http://www.samhsa.gov/

BP Magazine – Hope and Harmony for People with Bipolar
www.bphope.com

Depression and Bipolar Support Alliance online home for wellness
https://www.facingus.org/

Partnership for Workplace Mental Health – A Program of the American Psychiatric Foundation
http://www.workplacementalhealth.org/

United States Department of Veterans Affairs
http://www.mentalhealth.va.gov/

Michael’s Bar Mitzvah

What’s next for you and ELLA Designs?

Since ELLA Designs is still relatively new and growing, I am hoping to keep increasing my customer base and exposure. I am currently selling in 3 stores in Detroit and 2 in Chicago and hoping to increase that number. I’m also doing open houses in the Detroit area, and sometimes in Cleveland and Chicago. I hope to continue to grow the business and keep making a contribution toward helping increase awareness about the disease of bipolar disorder while raising much needing funding to continue research—and eventually, find a cure for this devastating disease.

 

Contact Elizabeth Guz at liz@elladesignsjewelry.com

Website

Facebook Page

Instagram




Launching a Furniture Business at 56: Lena’s Story

Moving back to the US from Greece in midlife forced Lena to rethink her career plans. She launched LAMOU, a unique online store featuring custom-printed furniture.

Tell us a little about your background…

My background is full of dynamic forces that have given form to my life and shaped who I am. I was born in Providence, R.I., to two Greek physicians who came to the United States for post-graduate studies in the mid-1950s. I am a post-war child, in the full sense of the word, especially considering that my parents witnessed World War II in Greece—the Nazi occupation and the ensuing civil war. I was schooled in New England, attending a Quaker school for girls from kindergarten through high school. It was a rigorous and empowered environment and a true prep school for life and learning.

I grew up in a bi-cultural environment—Greek and American, rather than Greek-American. My parents embraced Greek culture and exposed me and my two siblings to Greece from the time we were very young. Beginning in the early 1960s, we would travel to Greece in the summer and my memories of summers in Greece are strong, poignant, and part of who I am.

With Mom and my siblings in Greece, 1966

I received my Bachelor’s degree in Comparative Literature from Brown University in 1981, and worked at several jobs, before deciding to go back to school and get a Masters in Architecture. I graduated from the University of Pennsylvania in 1989 with a mission: architecture and design.

As women, we have to balance our professional goals with family, and that is one of the biggest challenges we all face. I ended up living and working in Greece, and married in Athens soon after graduating from Penn. It was quite an adventure being a woman architect, educator, and designer in Athens, and a constant struggle to balance professional aspirations with marriage.

Magazine feature in Greece

I have a daughter, Artemis, who is just shy of 22 and a senior at Bard College. I divorced her father when she was quite young, but decided to stay in Athens until she finished high school so that she could have two parents influencing her life. I call myself a single parent, however, as the joys and responsibilities of parenting mainly fell on me.

Although I am sometimes nostalgic for the nuclear and close family model I experienced as a child, I nevertheless feel that parenting alone is a huge accomplishment and delivers a message of strength, especially in current times where family models are becoming more and more flexible. I did, however, have the love and support of my own family to see me through the many challenges I faced as a single mother and a professional.

In my professional life, I did many different “jobs”: I designed houses and gardens, entered plenty of competitions, taught at the graduate and undergraduate level, set up a non-profit with funding from the EU with two other women architects, started a furniture design company with production in Istanbul, and continued to pursue my love of visual arts through painting and drawing.

I must admit that I would not have been able to do all of the above without the help of several women whom I employed while in Greece to help with childcare when my daughter was young. I felt these young women were very understanding of my need to create and were excellent co-parents for my daughter’s upbringing. I could not have done everything I did without the advantage of having help with childcare.

With Artemis in Greece

When did you start to think about making a change?

This is an interesting question in my case, as sometimes historical events influence a person’s choices, versus decisions that come about as a result of deep reflection. I knew that I wanted my daughter to go to college in the United States and enrolled her in an IB (International Baccalaureate) program in a private school in Athens. I had cultivated this with her from a very young age, knowing full well that her exposure to schooling in the US would be a determining factor in her life and would broaden her horizons.

When the financial crisis hit Greece in 2010, jobs dried up and I lost my salaried position as professor of architecture in a private university in Athens that was forced to close. In addition, we lost my mother to cancer at the end of 2010, and it seemed to me like the earth was shifting. I was bereaved, far from my siblings and my father, without a steady income, and witnessing the political turmoil that was happening on a daily basis in Athens as a result of the financial crisis.

With Mom and one-week-old Artemis in Greece

 

With the help of my father, I was able to see out the last two years of Artemis’ IB program in Greece, and help her navigate the college application process. I also had lots of time on my hands, and turned to painting and the visual arts full time.

My daughter’s hard work paid off: She was offered a terrific scholarship at Bard and there was no reason for me to stay in Greece anymore. My father was still alive but heartbroken (my parents had been together since medical school in Athens). With Artemis enrolled at Bard and Greece falling apart at the seams, I moved to the US, into the house where I grew up in Providence, which my father has maintained to this day. It is odd to return to one’s childhood home at 56, but my father is alive and well at 91, and having a home to return to definitely made it easier for me to take the risk of re-invention.

Our family celebrating my father’s 90th

The first few months were excruciatingly hard. What was I to do? How could I possibly translate all those years of working in Greece into something here in the States? How could I enter the workforce in my 50s and compete with all the accomplished young? How could I give up friends, familiarity, my support group, and my routines?

Life sometimes is strange and very serendipitous. Things seem to happen for a reason and the universe conspires just when we despair. The summer before I was leaving Greece, in 2013, an old and dear classmate from Penn, Ann Clark, contacted me to say she was coming to Greece, accompanying her new life partner to a medical convention, and that she was moving to Providence. I too, was about to move, and this was a huge source of comfort for me. Maybe Ann and I could figure something out together.What is your next act?

I am the co-founder of LAMOU, which I launched with Ann Clark in 2015, at age 56. It is a new concept in furniture that offers the opportunity for customers to engage in the process of design through technology. Our initial product offering is wood tables that are custom printed. Our website hosts LAMOU’s proprietary collection of designs as well as guest artist collections. In addition, we have a toolkit builder on the site: Anyone can upload a photograph, print, painting, or design and purchase their own table, flat-packed and delivered to their door.

Classic Line end tables

The name is a combination of our initials “L” for Lena, “A” for Ann and the word “mou” which in Greek means “mine.” We thought it was a fitting name for a company that is involved with personalization!

I love the idea of slowly building a community centered around participation in design. It has been wonderful to see the personalized pieces that customers are ordering and how enthusiastic they are with the process and the product. I also love the process of building LAMOU and turning it into a robust business; every day is a challenge and there are new issues to be solved and problems to address. Building a business is like solving an ever-evolving puzzle, and as such, I see it as one more design project. 

With my partner, Ann

Why did you choose this next act?  

This next act, came about after many, many, brainstorming sessions and explorations, together with Ann and on my own.

When I first returned, I was lucky enough to be offered a stint teaching as an adjunct at RISD (Rhode Island School of Design), and that helped keep me balanced through a very challenging transition. I soon realized, however, that trying to enter the academic world at my age, with all the political intrigue and insecurity that accompanies an adjunct position, would not be possible. I reached out to builders and contractors and got a few jobs—an addition here, an interior there—but again was confronted with the reality that building a reputation from scratch in the already-established architecture scene here would be close to impossible.

I joined an artist’s collaborative, which I enjoyed, and I reached out to the community here in Providence, where I did manage to win recognition for my work in juried competitions.

Solo Show, Coastal Gallery, 2016

Ann and I started meeting more and more frequently and spoke often about the trials and tribulations of being uprooted in your 50s. Ann had a successful practice in Chicago and was going back and forth the first year, trying to keep the balance between her old life and a new beginning in Providence, so she was feeling similar frustrations.

We both shared an interest in furniture design: Ann had done several pieces for private clients, and I had a design company in Athens that had received considerable attention. We also both shared a love of art and painting. We were aware of new technologies in the design industry, and we each had myriad experiences with clients wanting to participate in the design process.

All of our talks and iterations of what to do next somehow naturally evolved into the idea for LAMOU: a platform that would introduce a new concept in furniture. By combining printing technology with furniture, we would open the door for people to engage with us in a community setting. We would start with one product and slowly build the company into a new platform for participating in design.

Epic Line Persian table

How hard was it to take the plunge?

It was hard. Becoming an entrepreneur in your 50s is not an easy task, especially as a woman, and in a start-up culture dominated by youth. It takes determination and a lot of hard work. You have to relinquish your role as an “expert” and become a novice all over again. It also involves a lot of patience and flexibility: You have to listen and learn, ride out the frustrations and the insecurity, believe in your idea, and persist.

I think you prepare as best you can, but it is really in doing that you learn. Starting a business is a risk; you can have an MBA and still fail. There really is no way to prepare when you do something for the first time: You just build stone by stone and nurture your wounds along the way!

 

How supportive were your family and friends?

My daughter, my father, my sister and my brother were extremely supportive and still are.

I really did not share much of what I was doing with many friends. I think you have to be careful when you start something new. People become risk averse as they age, and you can be talked out of ideas or aspirations if you are not careful. Sometimes it is better to discuss things once you are on the way and not before.

There is an advantage to starting something new in your 50s: You are wiser and more self-confident than in your 20s, and you do not need the approval that you sought in your youth. My few dearest friends were and are extremely supportive, but I still do not discuss with them in detail about LAMOU. I sometimes feel that talking replaces action, so I am a little guarded when it comes to sharing.

With Artemis in Brooklyn

What challenges did you encounter?

There are so many I do not know where to begin. Learning how to set up an e-commerce company, how to write a business plan, how to market in a digital age, the design of the website, designing the products, sourcing and manufacturing, accounting, presenting and networking constantly, choosing the right co-workers, raising money… The list goes on and on. The most important thing is having the right partner when you start something as challenging as LAMOU. That is where a true sense of teamwork comes into play.

 

Were there times when you thought about giving up?  

Yes of course, I thought about giving up, on many occasions. There were times when I just wanted my old life back: painting from morning till night like a hermit or lecturing to students, or designing a structure. There were—and are—plenty of sleepless nights where I woke up startled and thinking about failure.

Again, I have to state here that having a strong partnership makes a huge difference when becoming an entrepreneur. Ann picks me up when I am down, and vice versa. There are times when we are both down, and those are hard, but somehow we are both equally persistent, both experienced in life’s struggles, and both stubborn. When times are rough, you have to have a fierce sense of commitment and belief to see you through.

Reviewing custom design with Ann

 What did you learn about yourself through this process?

That life is an adventure and you have to embrace it. That nothing is written in stone, and one can make changes even though change is hard. That I have stamina and have much more to learn. That the past has a way of resurfacing and influencing everything you do and who you are, and that will, perseverance, and belief can help you achieve.

 

Looking back, is there anything you’d have done differently?

I really do not believe in regrets or revisions, so no, there is not anything I would have done differently. Life is a process, and a learning one at that. So, as long as my conscience is clear, I feel I can take on many challenges.

 

What advice do you have for women seeking reinvention in midlife?

Be true to yourself and believe in yourself. Do not be scared of re-inventing yourself and do not let others sabotage you. Life is precious and we have no time to waste. Failure is just a perception: Turn your defeats into victories and let them inform you. There are many amazing women around us; trust them, seek their advice, and depend on them!

Keep an open mind and be a lifelong student. Learn to pivot, to compromise, to give things up for the sake of an idea, a goal or a dream. Rely on your own process which will constantly guide you in evolving.

Etched in Stone table

 What advice do you have for those interested in launching a new product-based business?

You need to define your market and delve into the statistics of that market. It is important to figure out the competition and decide what your advantage is—your value proposition. It’s a good idea to conduct focus groups and get “early adopters” on board who can champion your product from the get go. You also need to figure out your business model: will you sell to consumers, to businesses, or both, and what are your distribution channels? How are you solving a problem in a more competitive way than others? What is your main message and how can you capitalize on it and stick to it?

You really have to take the process step by step and learn as you go along. One thing that is important is to hire experts who can help and guide you. Professionals who care enough about clients to listen and to educate them. We have been very lucky with our team: our web developers, our design team, our attorney, and our production team. However, we did a great deal of research and vetting before deciding on whom to work with, and we cultivate these relationships.

Another piece of advice I can offer is to constantly research and find resources when you do not know how to do something. Ann and I participated in a business plan seminar, in a digital marketing seminar, and we entered the RI business plan competition. We also took—and continue to take—advantage of the budding startup community here and various networking organizations.

We had plenty of hiccups along the way and had to let certain collaborators go, either because they were not pulling their own weight or because it was not the right fit. One thing we were told by a wise businessman: “Be slow to hire and quick to fire.” I think it is important to remember this in any venture: Take the time to really interview your collaborators, and cut the relationship quickly if things are not moving forward or the relationship is creating conflict. 

My desk at LAMOU

 What resources do you recommend?

For those wishing to become entrepreneurs, I suggest reaching out to the Small Business Administration in your city or state to find out what programs they offer. We were very lucky in Rhode Island. The University of RI has a Small Business Development Center and, through their program, Ann and I were assigned an excellent business advisor who meets with us regularly with no fee. He has been very influential in helping us through thick and thin.

I would also suggest finding non-profits that specifically deal with women in business. In Rhode Island, the Center for Women in Enterprise is one resource. (SITES)

Seth Godin is an excellent resource for anyone considering starting a business, and his book The Dip: A Little Book That Teaches You When to Quit (and When to Stick)is a great read and one that anyone taking on a new challenge can relate and refer to.

Present your ideas at every opportunity to talented and knowledgeable people. We attended a meet and greet that Golden Seeds held in Boston. Golden Seeds is an angel investment company that funds women entrepreneurs. We met the Managing Director, who has continued to follow our progress and act as an unofficial advisor.

Our wonderful, brilliant, web developers and advisors are located in Athens, Greece. They have generously given us their time, their insights and their expertise. The company is called Greymatter and I highly recommend them. The beauty of living in a connected world is that you can source partners from anywhere.

Our web designers are James and Nina Lavine, two very talented RISD graduates, who helped us formulate the “look” and essence of LAMOU from the first meeting. They are incredibly talented, professional, and a joy to work with.

The experience we have had with Ted Howell, our attorney, has been so rewarding. Ted’s expertise is working with start -ups, and he has all the knowledge, patience and flexibility to execute anything an entrepreneur needs. Ted agreed to be on our board of advisors in addition to being our attorney.

Another Ted, but equally as important has been Ted Peffer at IOLabs in Providence. Ted runs an amazing print shop that caters to a demanding clientele. He was with us from day one offering all of his knowledge and guiding us through the development process.

Lamou tables at West Elm Pop Up

What’s next for you and for LAMOU? Do you think you have another next act in your future?

LAMOU is still an early-stage company so the next steps are growing and scaling the company so that we can achieve our vision of a robust online community for those who share our vision in design participation. We are hoping to add new products and are considering the idea of including actual surface treatments for the home, which can be personalized through printing technology. We want to open the design process to customers and give people as many choices as possible in designing their environments.

I definitely have another next act, and I believe it will be in the visual arts and design, as well as in community service or volunteering. I have had an adventurous life, and it is time to give back and really become active in the “political” sense by engaging with underserved communities either as an architect, a teacher, or a volunteer.

 

Contact Lena Georas at lena@lamoudesign.com

Website

Lamou Blog

Facebook Page

Instagram: #lamoudesign

Personal Instagram: #lenamoumou

Linked In: Lena Georas




Becoming a Contemporary Sacred Artist in Midlife: Amy’s Story

Grieving the loss of her brother and mother was the catalyst for Amy to leave her lucrative career in graphic design and honor her calling as an artist and healer, and activist.

 

Tell us a little about your background…

New England

I grew up in a small town in New Hampshire, the youngest of five children. Born at the end of the boomer generation in 1959. It was an era when my mother was able to be homemaker while my father provided for us through his work as a salesman. Being the baby of the family, and highly sensitive, I idolized my siblings and worked hard to please my parents. Although I was an honor student, there seemed to be an unspoken expectation that I would become a secretary, get married, and have babies like the women of my mother’s generation. That didn’t happen. I have never married and do not have children.

When I was a young teen, I started drawing the elephants and pirates from the “Draw Me” contests in the back of magazines in hopes of winning an art scholarship. I would painstakingly recreate them and show them to my mother but, sadly, she would say it was a gimmick. It wasn’t until my junior year that I took my first drawing class at our new high school. I was home.

I wanted to go to college but when my only brother Richard, the eldest child, dropped out in his senior year, my parents, who had helped him financially, were angry and my father declared to the rest of us girls: “If any of you kids wants to go to college, you’re on your own.” I was the only one at the time who wanted to go to college and didn’t know how that was going to happen.

Family reunion, 1982

Florida

In 1976, when I was finishing my junior year in high school, my parents made the startling decision to uproot us and move to Florida. I was the only one left in school, and was forced to move with them. Thankfully, a young couple who came to our house to play bridge with my parents offered to take me in for the remaining few months of my junior year. As it turned out, she was a visual artist and he, an industrial designer. I wrote to my parents and informed them that I was going to study art in college.

It was hard to leave my New England home but Florida offered educational opportunities that I couldn’t otherwise afford. I was awarded grants and waited tables while attending the local community college, completing an Associate degree in Fine Arts. After that I floundered for a few years. I was living with and engaged to a man who was ready to get married and start a family. I didn’t know what I wanted but I knew that I didn’t want that life. I was 22. Instead, I took “the road less traveled” to quote Robert Frost. A year later, I met a man who encouraged me to go back to school which I did, though the relationship eventually ended.

Early work

In 1983, I was still waiting tables and took out student loans to finance my education. I was excited to begin my Bachelor’s program in Fine Arts but, in my senior year, discovered the world of advertising. While working an internship at a local design firm, I learned the art of graphic design. Before computers, print materials were created by hand and I fell in love with the artistry of the craft. I was fed up with the restaurant scene, so this seemed an ideal path to follow.

California

After graduation, in 1986, I relocated to Southern California, where two of my sisters had settled. I was ready to get serious about a career although it was hard to leave my parents who were always nearby when I needed them between boyfriends and roommates. Two years later, they would join us in California—Mom needing to be near at least three of her “chicks.”

I didn’t plan well for the move. I had 300 bucks in my pocket along with student loans, credit card debt, a car payment, and no job—just a dream. I was financially destitute, living in a dingy studio apartment, working secretarial temp jobs, and one step away from homelessness, when I finally landed a job as a production artist at a design firm in South Pasadena. It was a high stress, fast-paced environment but I was learning a lot, working in my field, getting paid with steady raises, and had health insurance for the first time. I was 27 and on my way to “success.” So I thought. An easel with a blank canvas sat tucked in a corner of my apartment though at the time I didn’t have time to paint. Things were about to change, again.

With Richard, 1984

 When did you start to think about making a change?

The seeds for my next act were planted just two years later when I was 29. My brother Richard left home for college when I was seven but when I was sixteen, he became a mentor to me, taking notice of my early evolution as a young woman. We had always been close as a family especially during the 1980s when we were all young adults. Our family gathered yearly for Christmas or a special event, centered around my mother. I wrote often in my journals that if I had my family, I could survive anything.

On September 11, 1989 Richard died from AIDS. My mother flew to NYC and brought him back to Los Angeles that summer to care for him. Being present to his suffering and bearing witness to his death changed me. It was hard on all of us, but especially my mother. Nine months later, she died suddenly from heart failure when I was out of the country on vacation. I returned home the following day to find her gone. It was surreal and no words can really express the shock of having lost the two most significant people in my life in less than nine months. One of my best friends also died that year. Death was all around me. By the time I turned 30, money, success, all the things that I thought were important to me no longer were. I entered a very dark period in my life and was on a self-destructive path abusing alcohol and sex.

With my mother, 1990

One drunken night, I returned to my apartment, picked up a paint brush, and started painting my heart on the canvas. Around that same time, a friend recommended a therapist who I believe helped save me from what would have been an early death, too. It’s why I believe so passionately in the power of art and listening to heal the wounded heart. I was still working at the design firm since I had to pay the rent and there was no one to support me. As I slowly emerged from the darkness, I began reading philosophy and discovered The Tibetan Book of Living and Dying. I embarked on an intellectual search for the meaning of life. Reading my brother’s journals, his spirit guided me in my search to answer: Who am I? What is my purpose? Why am I here?

Oregon

Through my grieving process, I was awakening to a new way of seeing the world. I envisioned a simple life of art and service. I was sick of now meaningless deadlines and wanted to flee Southern California. My family had splintered under the weight of our grief and my father retired to San Diego. In 1993, at 33 and alone, I moved to Portland, Oregon to start my life anew. Again. I had no job. No family or friends waiting for me on the other end. It was a leap of faith but this time I had work experience and money saved so the transition wouldn’t be as traumatic as the move from Florida seven years prior. I had planned to become an art therapist and work with grieving people.

Sculpting class, 1994

These were the seeds for my midlife next act eight years later. After arriving in Portland, I began researching art therapy courses and discovered that it was too soon for me emotionally. I was still too raw with my own grief to hold space for others. Out of this early exploration, I began sculpting as a prerequisite to the art therapy program and found a new love in the clay, one that continues today. I started a freelance graphic design business and was painting on the side. To fill my call to be of service, I volunteered with the local AIDS organization offering education and outreach, followed by eight years at The Dougy Center, the National Center for Grieving Children and Families.
What is your next act?

My next act came to fruition in 2001, at 41, when I answered my soul calling to work professionally as an artist and healer. Once I stepped onto this path my life opened in new ways, most profoundly during a ten-day training with environmentalist Joanna Macy when I had a life-changing mystical experience. When I returned home, I founded Sacred Art Studio and have dedicated my life and work to the healing of the earth.

As a contemporary sacred artist and spiritual activist, I draw inspiration from all our faith traditions and the wisdom of our earth-honoring ancestors. My artwork, public installations, ceremonies, speaking, workshops, and writing are meant to inspire and awaken hearts to the sacredness of the creation, our interconnectedness in the life web, and to raise awareness of endangered species. I’ve exhibited my art around the Pacific Northwest and my work resides in many private collections. I’ve also had the joy of creating numerous paintings, mandalas, and sculptures on commission.

9/11 Painting

In 2004, I returned to school and completed my Masters Degree in Spiritual Traditions & Ethics. I’m also a certified Spiritual Director and have studied shamanism with teachers both locally and in Peru. I’ve also had the honor of being invited to speak by local communities about my art and grief journey and have presented at conferences around the interrelationship between art, religion/spirituality, and the ecological crisis.

I believe that during this evolutionary time, we are called to co-create a new collective “story” for living in reciprocity with the living earth and with each other if we are to co-create a sustainable future. My work is a contribution and a prayer toward this transformative vision. I am blessed to be doing what it is that I love and to live a life of meaning and purpose.

Speaking at Eastminster Presbyterian, 9/11, 2011

 

Why did you choose this next act?  

By the late 90s, my graphic design business had exploded and I was doing work for high-tech companies such as Intel and hp. I refer to that period as the “balls to the walls” era and was putting in 60-70 hours a week, rushing from one deadline to the next. By the time the dot.com boom crashed in 2000, I was managing several other designers and grossing over $250,000 a year. I had a big bank account but at the end of the day, I wasn’t happy. Our culture was telling me I was a “success” but I knew in my heart this wasn’t what I was meant to be doing with my life though I was still making art “on the side” and volunteering at the Dougy Center.

Around the same time as the crash, there was another loss in my life that triggered the grief that I had been unable to fully process a decade earlier. This initiated me in a deeper spiritual awakening that propelled me towards this next act. I believe it has been my soul’s evolution to follow this path. Everything, including the losses in my life, has led me to awaken to my purpose in this life. So, I don’t know that I chose it so much as I continued to answer the call of my soul and follow the path to discover where it would lead next. There really was no other option.

The Offering commission, life-size bronze, 2007

 

How hard was it to take the plunge?

I was fortunate to have substantial savings from the high-tech years, so I had the financial means to step back from any urgency to generate income and take the time to consider my next steps. At the start of 2001, I began working with a life coach who guided me and helped shape how I wanted to live this next chapter of my life as an artist and healer.

The launch for this next act was in the form of an art installation I created around the paintings and sculptures that I had been making over the years, ones that emerged through my grief. The event, Art with Heart: A Journey of Healing and Hope, that August was a powerful evening for me and for all those who attended. Friends, colleagues, one of my sisters, and even my father (who was in town from California) attended. A friend performed an expressive dance piece symbolic of my transformation through loss and attendees were then invited to plant seeds in container representing the seeds for my future. This vision included leading workshops for women in grief called Healing HeARTs. It was a profound healing to be witnessed by others and gave me courage to move forward into this next act.

 What challenges did you encounter?

It’s challenging when people, mostly strangers, question my decision as to how “practical” it was to make a living as an artist. This was true especially at the beginning when I didn’t have a large body of work and wasn’t quite clear on the direction of my work. This would change after the events of 9/11 and the training with Joanna Macy that opened my work to the larger ecological and spiritual crises of our time. Because I haven’t followed a traditional art career path by seeking gallery representation, another challenge has been getting my work seen but technology and social media have helped make it possible to reach a larger audience.

The Translator, 2014

Were there times when you thought about giving up?  What/who kept you going?

There have been times over the past 15 years, especially during the recession, that I questioned Spirit and considered going back to graphic design full time. So, it hasn’t always been easy but I piece together a modest living from various streams and live simply. When I am immersed in a painting, a commission, or holding space for people in grief, I feel that divine connection come through me and know that I am exactly where I meant to be. Also, my love for the earth as well as my grief over all that we are losing keeps me going on this path. We only have this one wild, beautiful planet and am committed to doing what I can to protect what remains.

Momento Mori: Oceans in Crisis installation

What did you learn about yourself through this process?

Great question. When I was young my father would said to me, “Amy, you won’t be successful in business (or otherwise) because you’re too sensitive.” The question is: How do we define success? I’ve learned that being an introvert, sensitive, and deep feeling is an asset to our world, not a hindrance. Without my art, I don’t know that I would still be here and am grateful for the courage and wisdom that has emerged out of my suffering. I am stronger than I knew.

 

Looking back, is there anything you’d have done differently?

No, although I wish I had the tools as a young woman to process my grief instead of numbing out but, otherwise, I feel that everything in my life has led me to where I am now.

Munay Pachanama, 2013

What advice do you have for women seeking reinvention in midlife? Or an art career?

Don’t wait to follow your heart. We only get one twirl around the dance floor of life and it is over way too soon. Go for it!

Only follow an art career if you can’t not make art. This is an all-consuming passion and often a lonely path that one is called to without guarantees of financial success. We’re all creative and I am passionate about the healing power of art. In my workshops, I encourage participants to reclaim the artist within, but an art career is not for everyone. On the other hand, if you feel the call, I say leap and trust!

in the studio with Lovers of Creation triptych

 

What resources do you recommend?

Books:

The Mission of Art by Alex Grey

Creativity: Where the Divine and Human Meet by Matthew Fox

The War of Art: Break Through the Blocks and Win Your Inner Creative Battles by Steven Pressfield

Finding Beauty in a Broken World by Terry Tempest Williams

The Mystic Heart: Discovering a Universal Spirituality in the World’s Religions by Wayne Teasdale

Blessed Unrest: How the Largest Social Movement in History Is Restoring Grace, Justice, and Beauty to the World by Paul Hawken

Websites:

Rev. Matthew Fox, founder of Creation Spirituality

Spiritual Artist Alex Grey

Joanna Macy

Animas Valley Institute

Alyson Stanfield, Art Biz Coach

 

What’s next for you? Do you think you have another next act in your future?

I’m currently working on a spiritual memoir of my journey and the role art plays in our healing and evolution. Who knows where that might lead?

 

Contact Amy Livingstone, MA at amy@sacredartstudio.net

Website

Facebook Page

Twitter

Instagram




Launching a Web Series in Midlife: Wendy’s Story

Reconnecting with an old acting friend and sharing her struggle with her sexual identity led Wendy to collaborate on the new web series, My Sister Is So Gay, just launched in January, 2017.

 

Tell us a little about your background…

I grew up in Florida, mostly. I say mostly, because at 17 right after high school, I started moving frequently. I’ve moved 35 times in my life—I’m an “army brat” of my own making! Dad and Mom were divorced when I was 13, which was more traumatic for me than I realized at the time. Probably my first big ‘shame’ adventure. I wanted so much to look and feel normal even then. That divorce, in my eyes, branded our family as “something was wrong with us.” Dad and my stepmother and Mom still live in Florida. My sister and her family moved to Colorado recently. My baby brother died in 2003 unexpectedly and this has been a great loss to our family. My mom and I are super close and, I have to say, I probably got my sense of humor from her. When we are together, we see the world the same way and always have a good laugh. She is a rock of support.

With my brother and sister

My first romantic experience with a woman was when I was 19—and she was my boss! It was 1979 and I was living in Tampa, Florida. I didn’t go to college right away after graduating from high school and I desperately needed a job. So, dressed in my favorite outfit—black floral skirt and midriff top—I headed to the mall. I’m not sure what message I was hoping to send interviewers in THAT outfit. There was a sign at an art gallery entrance that read, “Interviewing, experience needed.” Well, I had no experience in that line of work, nor any desire to work there, but I needed a job, and got hired, much to my dismay. This little decision would change the course of my life forever. During the turmoil of working in a place I hated, somehow this woman—the gallery manager—who appeared so creative, sophisticated, generous, and downright funny, became the focus of my thoughts. We went out a few times after work and both realized we had feelings for one another. We were together three years.

With my first girlfriend, 1979

After we broke up, I wanted to try being with men, but then I met another woman, older than me and completely in control (of everything) and that appealed to me at that time. We were together eight years, building a very successful home healthcare company in Miami, taking care of AIDS patients. CritiCare was the first home care company willing to take care of AIDS patients at the time. My partner was the nurse and I was the operations woman. During this time, I returned to college for a Bachelor of Arts degree in Theatre.

Working at Criticare with Tonie

I built an entire career in acting for two decades while supporting myself in healthcare with the skills I learned at CritiCare. After I graduated from college in 1988, I immediately went to work in our home healthcare business. I was too scared to really put myself out there as an actress full time, but was auditioning.

It all felt and looked normal, except for the “girlfriend” part—I had my own homophobia going on. The problem for me was that I still desired to be “normal,” whatever that means. After I landed my first commercial and then my first stage play, I was encouraged to begin the steps of leaving this relationship. I could finally see myself outside the image of who I was with her. After eight years, my girlfriend and I parted (and I sold my share of the company) and I re-connected with my best friend from high school. We moved to Los Angeles in 1993 and married in 1997, when I was 37.

My wedding, 1997

 

When did you start to think about making a change in midlife?

After acting jobs dried up in Los Angeles and my marriage crumbled, I moved back to Miami in 2001 to be close to my family. I finally felt settled and rooted in a place I loved. I was mostly happy, had found a wonderful church, Church by the Sea, lived in a condo on the ocean that I was looking to buy, and was doing part-time consulting work for physicians, helping them restructure their reimbursement strategies. My left brain was on fire!

I had semi-retired from acting. It no longer interested me. I thought, “So, this is what it’s going to look like for the next 20 years or so?” I was okay with that. But God had other plans. A friend of mine was in a play and I went to support her and because I still loved being inside of a theatre. Her play was Speaking Elephants by Terry Lawrence and it would change my life, although I would not see the significance of that for years. I was so moved by the play’s story, which told the true-life experience of two elephants, Wanda and Winky, who lived at the Detroit Zoo and were going to be moved to a sanctuary in California called The Performing Animal Welfare Society.

While sitting in the audience, something deep within me felt a kinship and a jolting compassion for the plight of captive elephants. A stirring like I had never felt before. It was like my soul found home. Stage and elephants. As soon as I got home from the play, I devoured the Internet with everything elephant and sanctuary. I was now an activist for captive elephants.

Volunteering at the Miami Zoo

I volunteered at the Miami Zoo even though it broke my heart to see them on display and behind bars at times. I just wanted to learn more about them and be close to them. I mostly picked up elephant poop because I wasn’t qualified to be a zookeeper. That was fine with me. Exhausting for a 50-something woman, but soul filling to be near them. I would make these little care packages for them and the head zookeeper would let me feed them directly.

An elephant’s trunk is amazing. That’s where they smell you and feel you and will determine if you are a threat or safe. Unfortunately, if you are a threat, there’s nothing they can do in a zoo or circus. A bullhook keeps captive elephants from responding naturally to any outside influences. I started a campaign for Nosey the elephant, who had been part of a small family circus for 25 years, after 33 animal welfare violations by the USDA against her owner brought her attention to me. The fight to have her sent to sanctuary grew into a national campaign. Representative Raymond Lesniak even got involved.

Nosey

My life felt and looked full. I never saw ACT II approaching.

Was there some event or “aha” moment that precipitated your desire for a change? 

The aha moment did come and it was sort of a burning bush. Now, even though I was “retired” from acting—mainly because jobs had all but dried up for a few years—I was reading plays at night before bed. Just to, you know, keep that pilot light burning low. My spiritual life became huge during this time at the beach. Partly because of the minister at my church, Reverend Barbara Asinger, and partly because I was struggling with my sexuality and was willing to turn to a power greater than myself for guidance with everything.

With Barbara

In 2013, at the age of 53, while casually working at my computer for one of my healthcare clients, I heard the message in my head, “This is the year of the artist.” WHAAAAT? That can’t be right. I’m done with that. Finished. Too old. Too fat. Not “bookable.” Someone once told me, when I was doubting this message and the pathway it seemed to be building, that I needed “a bigger God.” That my mind could not conceive of the abundance that my God wanted me to have. So, I learned to have faith that I was being directed this way.

I went for it with my new big God. Sold my luxury car, began to rebuild my acting website, go new headshots, printed resumes. Then a couple of my healthcare clients moved away and I decided not to fill up my time looking for new ones. But then the summer arrived and no new acting jobs and nothing that gave me any sign that this was the “year of the artist.” Still, I kept putting one foot in front of the other.

As September rolled in, a notice in the online trades caught my eye: PLAY AUDITION…. ASPIRINS AND ELEPHANTS. Elephants? Gotta seek this one out. Well, it turned out to be a play at a playhouse in Los Angeles with a playwright I had worked with before in the ‘90s. I sent a taped audition for the role. A week letter I got an email: “Welcome to Aspirins and Elephants.”

I took the role, rented my condo, sent my cats to stay temporarily with my mom, rented a room from a previous roommate in Los Angeles, and headed West again. I’ve been back here ever since.

Cast of Aspirins and Elephants

What is your next act?

I am a writer, producer, and actor, and captive elephant activist. My acting roles have ranged from a lesbian criminal on the run to a grieving mother losing her 5-year-old son in a car accident to my current role as a homophobic uptight housewife in My Sister Is So gay.

I co-wrote, co-produced and co-star in the web series called My Sister Is So Gay. We launched in January 2017 on Tello Films. Here’s the trailer. It’s the story of Seth, a proud gay man, who’s invaded by his uptight, homophobic sister, Amanda (me!). She just shows up on his doorstep (with luggage) for the first time in 20 years after catching her husband having an affair with her best friend, Katherine. But it seems to Seth that Amanda is way more upset about Katherine cheating on her than her husband. Plus, there’s Seth and Amanda’s boozy, inappropriately sexy mother, Frances, played by the iconic Loni Anderson.

How did My Sister Is So Gay come about?

It’s such a synchronistic story that really re-enforced my faith yet again. My creative partner in this show, Terry Ray, and I were in the same acting class in 1995 in Los Angeles, taught by Broadway veteran director Charles Nelson Reilly. It was a scene study class, which means you choose a partner and then you and your partner pick out a scene from a stage play and present it to the class. Terry and I were each other’s first scene partners. We worked so well together that we were scene partners a lot in his class. I just loved Terry’s sense of humor (still do—he cracks me up) and my dream was to one day do a sitcom with him. We studied together in that class for two years but the opportunity to work together in a sitcom never happened. We also did a casting director workshop together and recently Terry came across a video he had of the two of us working a scene together back in the mid ‘90s in casting director Craig Campobasso’s workshop. What a hoot!

Terry and I had remained friends over the years and we had lunch in early 2014 after I moved back to Los Angeles. We started talking about my struggle with my sexuality (he is gay) and I was sharing some funny instances of that and the conversation sort of morphed into, “Hey why don’t we write something together?” I said, “Let’s write a web series! We can play brother and sister.” To which he replied, “Yeah, we can call it, My Sister Is Gay.” The more we talked, the more ideas about the content seemed to erupt. We decided the sister shouldn’t think she’s gay at all and the brother thinks she is SO gay, hence the title, My Sister Is So Gay.

With Terry

You also have a new play. Tell us about that.

I have written a play, GOD AND SEX, that I am so proud of and just feeling crazy amazed and blessed that it will have its world premiere next year in early 2017 in Santa Monica. The story started out as my one-woman show titled “10 days” about the 10 days surrounding my wedding experience and how un-special I felt at my own wedding. When anyone would ask me how my wedding went, I would reply with this statement: “It was like driving down a deserted highway all by myself, when suddenly a cow would fling itself at my windshield, like in the movie Twister, and I would be forced to swerve off the road to avoid it.”

Over a decade later, through rewrites and getting slightly more honest about what the story needed to be about (along with some growing up), it became a two-act play named GOD AND SEX with an entirely different story-line. Another synchronistic moment came when I found out that my original writing teacher, Lisa Soland, was coming back to Los Angeles for a weekend to host a writing workshop in July 2014. I had just been cast in another play following Aspirins and Elephants, so I decided to attend her workshop prior to starting rehearsals. That’s where my writing of this show came “out of the closet.” I had been doing rewrites of it in a writing group at church by the Sea in Miami with a few like-minded people but had put it away when I moved back to Los Angeles.

With Lisa Soland

This workshop would mean sharing it more publicly. Through Lisa’s workshop, I was able to polish the narrative and really unfold the meat of the story. She always pressured me to tell the story under the story. So the story under the wedding story is: After spending many years in a lesbian relationship, Amy decides it would be easier to “be straight.” The Husband/Target is Tim, her best buddy from high school who has loved her since the day they met. Assuming marriage and living a “normal, straight life” would be as easy as it appears in the movies, Amy commits to her goal of getting married to Tim. Eager to please his parents, Tim convinces Amy to have their ceremony in his parents’ quaint but “intolerant of homosexuals” country church. Amy forges ahead with her own kind of support so she asks Karen, her former lesbian lover, to be her maid of honor. Amy and Tim’s vision of the special day seems destined to go well until important details begin to crumble. Both desperate for their individual sexual and spiritual dreams to be realized, they plow forward and cling desperately to what they think they want, but divine intervention propels change in directions neither of them could have predicted.

It is loosely based on my experience leading up to getting married in 1997 and my first year of that marriage. I reached out to the artistic directors of the Santa Monica Playhouse, husband and wife team, Evelyn Rudie and Chris DeCarlo, asking them to consider my play for production because all of the important benchmarks of that marriage happened while I was performing on their stage. In four different plays!  It seemed only perfect that it premiere there as well. The play is now running on stage in Santa Monica, through May 13, 2017:  “A bride. A groom. A maid of honor (who just happens to be her ex-lover). What could possibly go wrong?!”

With Evelyn and Chris

How hard was it to take the plunge?

Without the support of the minister of my church, I would not have trusted God the way she taught me. All the arrows seemed to be pointing in the direction of returning to Los Angeles even though it wasn’t on my radar. I basically keep making leaps of faith. How did I prepare? Like I do for all changes and challenges. I stay close to God, listen for that small and gentle voice for direction, and watch. I get messages from books, from billboards, and from different people. Mostly I try and just stay in the day.

How supportive were your family and friends?

Terrific! If it hadn’t been for my mom suggesting that she take care of my two cats, this story would not have been told. I was so nervous about their welfare and uprooting them seemed like such an awful and selfish choice. My mom already had one cat, an elderly dog, and a rescue dog so this was not going to be a breeze for her, but she still volunteered and I took her up on it. By the way, my babies have never been happier.

With my mom

What challenges did you encounter?

The first was that being back in Los Angeles brought back memories of when I lived there before. By the time I had left the city in the early 2000s, I felt pretty defeated and broken, and all those feelings came rising to the surface as soon as I landed back in town. I spoke a lot to my minister back East, my best friend, and my mom. I’m sober 10 years so my program was front and center.

Then of course there were challenges getting our web series off the ground. We finished writing it in May 2015. The role of our mother we thought would be wonderfully played by Loni Anderson. But how to get a name actress to do our little project? As it turns out, Loni was married to Burt Reynolds and he and Charles Nelson Reilly worked together often in addition to being very close friends. Terry had worked with Loni briefly on a sitcom a decade earlier and, while on the set, he had introduced himself to her. They had a conversation about Charles Nelson Reilly. So, Terry thought, I can try and reach out to her manager. He did and she accepted the role immediately! The script was sent to Sam Irvin, a veteran director and producer and he loved it and said yes right away. Next came cast members Tilky Jones (Nashville) and Debra Wilson (Mad TV). We were set to go. Loni even won a best supporting actress award at the LaWebFest 2016, “the Sundance of web festivals” as quoted by the LA Times. Then we had to work on letting people know about the show before its premiere January 29, 2017 on Tello Films.

Cast photo for My Sister Is so Gay

Were there times when you thought about giving up?  

Absolutely! While I was performing in Aspirins and Elephants, the condo that I had been renting and was hoping to buy as a foreclosure was whisked away from me and bought at auction by Fannie Mae and then they kicked me out! I had to put all my stuff in storage and suddenly I was in limbo. I thought, “What have I done?”

But God, my minister, Mom, my acting work, and my best friend kept me going. My relationship with God has blossomed. I believe that my God truly wants a wonderful, abundant, and big life for me. And my mind thinks much smaller than God’s plans. My faith has evolved and my leaps are pretty frequent now.

 

With Julie, my best friend

What advice do you have for women seeking reinvention in midlife?

What worked for me was to enlarge my spiritual life. I have too much anxiety living a creative life to not trust in something greater than myself. I still worry and get scared and wonder if I’m doing the right thing.

My path has been very non-linear (in my mind) and ultra-nontraditional. In walking a pathway that’s off the grid, so to speak, I learned to surround myself with cheerleaders—only people who think what I do is terrific and wonderful and funny and get me. That has been my saving grace. I just let people go who are not with me in a way that fulfills me and motivates me to keep taking risks. Otherwise it’s too much of a drain and I get derailed trying to either please people or get them to like me for who I am. I get just plain exhausted in the relationship. Cheerleaders fuel me and I continue learning to believe in myself.

 

With friends!

What resources do you recommend in your field?

Pam Grout

James Clear at james@dripemail2.org

Big Magic: Creative Living Beyond Fear by Elizabeth Gilbert

Even The Best Hookers Need Pimps: How to Be a Working Actor in Today’s Hollywood by Sarah Mornell

The Writer’s Motivation by Lisa Soland

Sanford Meisner on Acting by Sanford Meisner

Graphic Artist Julie Palas

 

Contact Wendy Michaels at wendymichaels6@gmail.com and mysisterissogay@yahoo.com

Website: Wendy Michaels

Website: My Sister Is So Gay

My Sister is So Gay Trailer

GOD AND SEX

Twitter: @wendy_michaels_

Facebook personal page

Facebook My Sister Is So Gay




Creating and Consulting on Public Art: Beth’s Story

After a lucrative business career in textile printing, Beth returned to her roots. She started with art classes, eventually earning a Master in Fine Arts at age 50. Today, she creates large commissioned art projects for public works, and consults on such projects as well.

Tell us a little about your background.
I grew up in New Hyde Park, NY on Long Island, in a very middle class community—we were one of the first communities right over the Queens line. My brother was two years older than me and we were great friends. It was mostly an idyllic childhood in an “Ozzie & Harriet” environment. My father worked and my mother was a stay-at-home mom. Although she was a fantastic homemaker—she cooked and sewed all of my clothes (and taught me to do both) and our friends were always welcome at our house—I could sense a longing within her. She was liberal, easygoing, and smart. Dad was the disciplinarian and very strict. Great with numbers, Mom was Dad’s bookkeeper. I think I sensed that she had no power; the power was in who held the purse strings. I was aware that I wanted power. I remember holding meetings in my bedroom where I was the “boss” and talking to my employees.

Due to the times, 1950s, and being Jewish, the subliminal (and not so subliminal) message was that the male child was important and the female child not so much. A female was expected to marry and have a family, so why invest in her? I was never encouraged to create art and never felt talented at home. However, there was a pivotal moment in first grade when I was chosen, along with a few other children, to create a mural of my family. Mrs. Pinto rolled out a large brown paper onto the floor, gave us each a six-foot section, and told us to paint. I felt special as an artist. I can still picture that painting—it was so large!

With my parents and brother, 1955

At some point, I guess my parents knew I was talented, as I do remember taking art classes as electives all through Junior High and High School, and my parents did enroll me in some art classes after school. As a teenager, I was the Assistant Art Counselor at Camp Laurel in Maine.

However, when it came time for college, my parents felt that an art curriculum was a somewhat limited education. They knew I was a very good student and suggested I go to a liberal arts college and take art classes as electives, which is what I did. When I graduated in 1970—in three years; “rushing” has always been my mantra—with a BA in Liberal Arts and a well-rounded education, I was qualified to do nothing. I was floundering and anguished as to what I would do for a career.

My dad told me to move back home to Long Island and go into New York City and find a job in “anything art.” It was great advice and led to my first job in textile design because I could type and had an art background. I was a secretary in the morning and the Studio Director put me in the studio in the afternoon to learn how to design prints for fabric.

At my design table at Wamsutta Domestics

I changed jobs seven times in eight years because each company paid me so little. One large company, Burlington Industries, gave me a $5 raise at the end of the year, so I went job hunting to get $25 more a week—I was “networking” before the term was invented! Through the connections I made, I got the idea that I should be in business for myself. I launched my own business with a partner as a print converter (converting raw goods into finished goods). My finished product was millions of yards of printed fabric. My customers were the manufacturers who needed fabric to make into garments. Their customers were the retail stores.

Twelve years later, and in business with my partner, I was married with three children, living in a 5500 square foot brownstone my husband and I renovated, with a weekend home on a lake in Pennsylvania. I made money beyond my wildest dreams, when that was never my ambition. My decisions in life have always been to do things that make me happy and feed my soul.

 

My wedding, 1977

 

When did you start to think about making a change?
I had started my business when I was 26 with a male counterpart, with whom I had incredible business chemistry: Without talking, we each knew what the other was thinking and we were extremely successful together. I was the creative end, he handled the financials, and we both sold. Twelve years later, we had close to forty employees and sales representatives in California, Dallas, and Canada.

Then my business partner met and fell in love with a woman who was still in college (a 20-year age difference). She was jealous of anyone and everyone in his life, and did not want him in business with another woman. After a difficult year working in this environment, my partner offered to buy me out, or for me to buy him out.

I was shocked, yet I realized how unhappy I was on this work treadmill. I was running a huge business, my stepdaughter had moved in with us, I had three young children, three nannies (one live-in, one come-and-go, and one for weekends at the lake house).

1987 in Central Park with my kids

I agonized at first, as my work was my identity and my income was needed to maintain our family’s lavish lifestyle. But when I pondered my situation, I realized I was just not interested in designing one more print on a piece of fabric. I had a yearning to be with my three small children full time (ages eight, six, and three at the time) and my soul needed to be nourished with art that was mine—not commercial. There was a hole in my heart; something felt incomplete and unused.

In 1989, at the age of 39, I took the buyout and received several offers to go back into business with new partners. I told my husband that I needed a year off, just to be a mother and to make art. I told all interested business people to call me in a year if they were still interested. I enrolled in the Art Students League of New York on 57th Street, where I went for a few hours each morning while my two boys were in school. I learned lithography then switched to oil painting from a live model. I picked the boys up from school each day and spent time with them and my infant daughter.

We still went to Pennsylvania each weekend, but I was enjoying New York City in a brand new way—even though I had lived there almost 20 years. I now could “smell the roses” and go to any event, museum, gallery, park. I finally had the energy to partake of all the incredible things New Your City has to offer. It was wonderful! I think I saw Broadway matinee shows for half price every Wednesday afternoon for a year.

The Best Thing You Can Give Your Child Is Time — Mural I designed and donated to my kids’ elementary school, 1999

 

What is your next act?
I am an artist and art consultant, based out of Coral Springs, Florida.

I love anything art. I create fine art in many mediums out of my garage studio. I am curious about new mediums and often take classes and travel to take workshops. Throughout the years, I have learned to work in glass, photography, woodworking, welding, and have created artwork in all of these mediums.  I have always been a painter and am proficient in several mediums: watercolor, oils, and acrylics.  I love to draw: pastels, oil pastels, and colored pencils. I am always making art, and often combine mediums. I have exhibited my art in galleries as well as the Museum of Art in Ft. Lauderdale.

My current focus is on creating public art works. When I apply for a public art project, the budget and medium are pretty much known. Extensive research goes into winning the commission in a very competitive field. I liken it to being an actor: If an actor is to play the role of a doctor, they will often shadow a real-life physician. The same process is true for me; I have to research a particular part of the country, and specifically the city where I am a finalist, then come up with a specific idea based on what I’ve learned.

In a project at the University of Central Florida in Orlando, for example, I was a finalist for a $20,000 budget for a new building called the Morgridge International Reading Center. Inspired by a group of laboratory scientists studying slices of the brain, they infused slides with colors and photographed them. The resulting images appear like brilliant, incandescent, abstract paintings. I created stained and fused glass to interpret the slide of the hippocampus, responsible for memory—vital to the ability to read.

I now have a public art portfolio consisting of ceramic wall projects, freestanding metal sculpture, and glass art (both stained glass for clerestory windows and a wall mural of slumped and fused glass). I have created bronze medallions, terrazzo floors, vinyl floors for two lobbies, and two outdoor plaza floors.

I just completed a 27-foot high by 14-foot wide glass tile mural for the new headquarters of Hacienda Development Corporation in Portland, Oregon. I worked on the mural on Hardie backer board in my studio, then shipped it to Oregon. I hired an installer in Portland and worked along with him. At the same time, I was recommended to a local developer in Florida, who needed a sculpture in a fountain for a new apartment complex he was building. I created a freestanding sculpture out of powder-coated aluminum. I could do both projects at the same time because I designed a model of the sculpture to scale and hired a metal fabricator to construct it. This freed up my time to create my glass tile sculpture in my studio.

 

“Celestial Dawn” wall mural, Portland OR

I have just won a commission in Charlotte, NC for a library renovation. They are building an extension and designed a second floor outdoor terrace. The call for artists listed a $51,000 budget for an artist-designed outdoor floor with artist-designed seating. I applied and became a semi-finalist. The Cultural Division flew me down and set me up in a beautiful hotel. I gave a 20-minute Powerpoint presentation to a selection panel and I won the commission!

I know I have earned my dues at this point, but with every project I get, I almost feel it is a miracle. And to use a cliché, “I feel so blessed,” because I get to be doing work that I love.

My art consulting consists of competing for contracts from municipalities. I am the Public Art Consultant, since 2008, along with a male partner, for the City of Lauderhill and the City of Tamarac, both in Florida. Public Art and Public Art Consulting are funded by a separate ordinance that a city decides to adopt. They usually consist of 2% (or less) of the construction budget for Capital Improvement Projects that a city has funded. The money is placed in a separate fund and earmarked for art only.

I find the consulting work by “calls for artists” and networking. These jobs are very competitive and include a comprehensive submission application. As the consultant, I am the person responsible for placing calls for artists and artwork for the cities I work for. For example, when Lauderhill was planning to build a new City Hall, meetings were set up all day long for me to meet with the Architect, Engineer, Landscape Architect, and Interior designer. We looked over the shop drawings for the buildings and in my role, I get to decide where I think art should be placed, and then determine a budget.

For instance, a double-height lobby was being built and I thought a suspended sculpture with lighting would be dramatic. Below the sculpture, I suggested a terrazzo artist-designed floor would be a great plus. Out of the $150,000 budgeted for art at City Hall, I allotted $35,000 for the ceiling sculpture, 15,000 for the terrazzo floor, and $17,500 for two painted murals.

Terrazzo floor, Lauderhill City Hall

I love the challenge of public art consulting, which allows me to use my expertise along with my people skills. I would love to get more consultant positions, whether in Florida or out of town. I enjoy lecturing on the side as well, being the juror of art festivals, and I have been a Gallery Director twice, which was also amazing.

I love the flexibility to control my schedule so that I can travel with my husband and grown children. When my husband retired two years ago, we took off in the car for two months—with no itinerary! Elvis was on my bucket list, so we went to Memphis. We realized that Anywhere USA has something interesting to see, whether it is an art museum, gallery, or museum—like Kentucky Derby Museum (Louisville) and Martin Luther King Museum (Memphis). Hotwire always got us into a hotel at the last minute at a reduced rate and Yelp got us unusual restaurants with good food and moderate prices.

I have never enjoyed time with my husband more. We have been together 41 years, and I thoroughly enjoyed being with him, driving from city to city. It was a very peaceful adventure, and I realized I was happier now than when I was pursuing achievement. It was an interesting epiphany.

“Lotus” sculpture for new apartment complex in Wilton Manors, FL

 

How did you become an artist and art consultant?
In 1990, when we first moved to Florida, I focused on learning and experiencing new art mediums. Every day, I attended a different college or art guild (a guild is an organization formed by local artists to work together as a group), either because it fit into my schedule, or because I was intrigued. Monday was stone sculpture, Tuesday and Thursday was clay, Wednesday was outdoor landscape painting, and Friday was indoor painting form a live model. The experience was totally nourishing and it worked well with mothering.

After the first year, I was a “jack of all trades, master of none” and realized I had an innate ability to envision three-dimensional space, which translates into sculpture. As a result, I focused only on clay sculpture for the next few years at Broward Community College (BCC), and created a series of over 30 abstract heads. This process led me to start exhibiting in galleries and selling the work. From heads, I began a series of 7 foot glazed ceramic totem like sculptures. Again, I met with success at galleries, and was exhibiting my work, which added to the legitimacy of my resume.

“Two Faced”

There was a great group of serious “older” people like myself at BCC, who either worked at a day job, were raising children like myself, or had retired and were pursuing their passion. This college had an active clay guild, which held events and exhibits. Through the guild, I learned of a national conference held every year in a different City, called NCECA (National Council on Education for Ceramic Arts). When I attended my first conference in New Orleans, I was in ecstasy sitting among hundreds of artists, all following their enthusiasm.

After attending ceramic classes for the first few years at BCC, my professors suggested I take a sculpture class at Florida Atlantic University, a 4-year University in Boca Raton, as they felt I should be working in sculpture materials other than just clay. I followed their advice and was convinced to apply for the BFA (Bachelor in Fine Arts) program, as I only needed 30 additional credits—since I had earned my BA in Liberal Arts—and the required Art History classes would add to my art education. I was nervous as I had not studied and taken a test for 25 years! Still, I decided to apply, got in, and got straight A’s in all of my classes!

I loved the art history classes and had a yearning to continue for my MFA (Master in Fine Arts), but the closest University with a Sculpture MFA was an hour away, and cost prohibitive. Through networking, I found a school with a progressive “low residency” program, Vermont College of Fine Arts, that only required being on campus in Montpelier, Vermont for 20 days a year (10 days in August and 10 days in February), for two years. My three children were now teenagers and my husband encouraged me to attend. I was accepted into this program and began my first residency in August 1997. To use a cliché, I thought I’d died and gone to heaven—my two years were completely transforming. And when I graduated in 1999, at the age of 50, it was the first time in my life I felt I could really, really call myself an ARTIST.

Celebration Totem

I returned to BCC, where I had first attended clay classes, and became a Professor! They gave me two Art History classes to teach the first semester. I was scared and thrilled at the same time. I remained a professor at this school for several years, teaching assorted classes, and even became the College Gallery Director for two years. All of these jobs were never an ambition of mine, but I loved them.

While I continued to create art, sales were few and far between and the effort to build my reputation and resume in this method was unsatisfying.

I read about the field of public art in the back of Ceramics Monthly magazine, as ceramics was a durable permanent medium suitable for outdoor wall art. I was intrigued but faced a catch 22 because a major submission requirement was to provide images of past projects—I had none. I contacted my kids’ elementary school to ask permission to create a clay sculpture and mosaic mural on an exterior wall.  They agreed, and I created a 20-foot long x 10-foot high exterior wall mural. I sent images of the finished mural to the Cultural Division in my County and got my first Public Art project from a neighboring town’s Landscape Architect. He contacted the Cultural Division as he needed a Public Artist to create a ceramic entryway feature into a park he was renovating. They recommended he see my mural, and I got the job, with a budget of $25,000!

I slowly started getting public art projects and left academia, as it was extremely time consuming for very little money as an adjunct (part-time Professor). However, I became quite an entertaining lecturer, having honed my skills speaking about art in my art history classes.

To this day, I get requests to lecture!

“Octopus’ Garden” mixed media artwork, exhibited in galleries

 

How hard was it to leave the business world?

It was very difficult. I am very clear that most people do not make change unless it is forced upon them. If my partner had not offered to buy me out of my business, I might have stayed (he went out of business five years after buying me out). Before my buyout papers were even signed, I was enrolled in art classes. It was heaven! I was creating art simply for the joy of creating.

When the year of “chilling” was up, I met with several businessmen (yes, they were all men), who had contacted me after my buyout. I was offered several attractive deals to go back into business. After one lunch, having been offered an incredible deal to go back into business doing exactly what I had been doing for the past 20 years, I went into a phone booth (yes, there were still phone booths at this time), called my husband, and started crying. He was very worried, and so was I. I could not express why I was crying other than the fact that I just didn’t feel right.

My family and friends couldn’t believe I really left my business, but everyone was incredibly supportive. I think they marveled that I actually did not want to go back into the same business. They thought I had a lot of guts to change my life so drastically.

 

What challenges did you encounter in your transition into the art world?
First of all, we could not afford our expensive lifestyle if I was not going to contribute financially through my business. And I was just not sure what I was going to do about that. This prompted our move to Florida, where the cost of living is lower.

The second challenge was depression. Although I was enjoying myself, I wasn’t evolved enough to feel that this was enough. The loss of power was acute. I went from being a high-powered executive where people marveled at my multi-tasking (before it was a trendy term) to replacing toilet paper and light bulbs in our home. I will never forget the first time I travelled out of the country with my husband. The customs officer asked my profession. I was silent as I was thinking for a second when my husband blurted out, “She is a housewife” I was horrified!

I have periodically suffered from depression. I can always feel it coming on—when I am confused as to my life’s path. I have always been an ambitious person and an over-achiever (I never felt good enough in my father’s eyes). If I am asked for something, I always have to give more than what was asked. No matter how much therapy I have received, and no matter how much I have worked on my issues, there are still times I become that “unloved” little girl. None of my friends and colleagues would believe this statement, as I am known to be the most positive person on the planet. I am everybody’s cheerleader, and can motivate almost anybody.

There have been times when I thought of giving up. I just wasn’t sure where I was heading.

I have to apply to 50 commissioned art projects to get the one. Sometimes as many as 300 artists apply for one project. The 300 are narrowed down to five, three, or two semi-finalists, and if I am still in the running I then have to come up with a fully fleshed-out idea to win the commission. So I can still lose at that stage. I liken it to the Oscar nominations. All five actresses are talented, but only one gets the award. The odds are daunting, yet I do get my fair share.

Still, I can have a week of opening up emails to rejections day after day, and it does make me feel like giving up. When that happens, I have to get away and do something else for a while. I remember feeling so horrible at some point I couldn’t get out of bed. All I wanted to do was sleep. My husband helped me through this period and invited me to work with him for a while. When the depression is less severe, I go do something new for a while, such as going to the beach, a movie, a Museum, lunch with a friend, a massage, anything to do something different until I feel refreshed again.

“Mindscape” a the Morgridge International Reading Center, University of Central Florida, Orlando

What did you learn about yourself through this process?
As an artist, I have learned that I don’t have to be a workaholic to achieve the next level. I have learned that it is extremely helpful to get away from the constant work for a long period of time. Getting away from what you are doing is a creative act. Ideas will flow from a day or week in a totally different environment. It frees up the mind to think and problem solve.

I must be more forgiving of myself, and not beat myself up when I don’t have a lot going on. I have learned, when ideas are not flowing, to go for a walk, read a book, go to the beach, go out of town, nap. I cannot be productive all the time.

I truly have no regrets. Although my path has not been easy (if it were easy everybody would be doing it), I think it is important to love yourself, treat yourself well, give yourself all that you need without feeling guilty, and be good to your family and friends.

“Whispers of Botanical Ribbons,” one of 8 stained and fused glass panels for clerestory lobby at the Renaissance community Center, Orlando,FL

 

What advice do you have for women seeking reinvention in midlife?
My standard cliché is: “If you do nothing, nothing will happen to you. If you do something, something will happen to you.” This is my mantra—and it really works!

Go for it!!!  If a woman has any passion for anything, it is important to find a way to achieve that goal. When I wanted to go to graduate school at 48 years old, I thought my teenage kids were still too young for me to dedicate my focus on another path. My husband was very supportive and told me to go for it and he would be Mr. Mom. So I went for it, not even knowing what I would do with the degree. But I knew my passion had always been art, and I had never treated myself to my own art education. I got my BFA, followed by my MFA, not knowing where it would lead.

If a woman does not do this, and feels depressed and locked into who she is at mid age, she will never achieve her potential. Life is a long time (hopefully), and it’s important to always keep it interesting and challenging.

A lot of life is circumstances happen to you. Whenever adversity strikes, it usually opens up opportunity. At the moment of happening, it doesn’t seem that way, but humans are resistant to change unless they are forced to change. I thought I would be in my fashion industry business forever. Because my partner forced a buyout, it led me to reexamine my life. It was very difficult at the time; not knowing what I was going to do, but I kept exploring and taking new classes, and it opened up a whole new world for me.

Think about a passion. I have a friend who worked in Government as a parole officer, and ended up being on a SWAT team toward the end of her career. She retired and loves gardening. She is taking classes and hoping that something will lead her to a new career.

Choose, choose, choose, and then act upon a given choice, whatever that is.

Our family together for my son Adam’s wedding

 

What advice do you have for those interested in pursuing a career in art?
To pursue anything art, start by building a resume. Join an art guild in your area so that you can begin exhibiting with them as a group in venues that the guild will find. Educate yourself by taking a class in your favorite medium (or learn a new medium that has always intrigued you) at a local community college. A college has a higher level of professionalism when learning a new skill, or continuing with a medium you already know—for instance, painting. The challenge of working with an MFA professor and other dedicated, serious students is a growth experience. It also starts the networking in your field.

Call your County Cultural Division and volunteer to be on an art committee. Again, this is networking in that you will be meeting important people in the arts. In addition, see if your city has a Public Art Ordinance. If yes, they will have a volunteer committee. Try to get on that committee as well.

Try to apprentice with another artist who is further along than you. I worked for years for artists who were working on Public Art projects and were glad for the extra help. If there is a “Studio Visit” night advertised anywhere near you, go.

Do anything art, and your networking will have begun.

 

What resources do you recommend?
Americans for the Arts is a wonderful organization dedicated to artists and advancing the arts in the US. Go onto that website, learn what jobs are available, and/or choose a conference that sounds interesting.

The Artist’s Guide to Public Art: How to Find and Win Commissions by Lynn Basa

Guide to Getting Arts Grants by Ellen Liberatori

Locate and call the local Cultural Arts Organization, the local Public Art Committee, and the local Arts Guild in your city.
Do an Internet search of State or National Conferences (Americans for the Arts advertises this).

 

What’s next for you?
When I think of how far I have come in my field, I am completely amazed. It has been a long haul—15 years—to become recognized as a respected artist, consultant, professor, or anything art; people come to me. The most wonderful thing is that at 66, I feel I still have not reached my potential, and I am hungry to continue achieving.
Therefore, I hope I live long enough to continue to achieve all that I want.

Retirement is not in my vocabulary.

 

Contact Beth Ravitz at bethravitz@gmail.com
Website




Becoming a Filmmaker in Midlife: Caytha’s Story

screen-shot-2016-11-05-at-5-40-31-pmAfter a “Mommy midlife crisis,” Caytha started writing again and went on to write and produce three feature films. Her newest work, The Other F Word, is a webseries on Amazon that explores four women’s midlife journeys.

 

 

Tell us a little about your background.

I am 54 years old and grew up in Scarsdale, NY. I always loved writing and consider myself a storyteller. In fifth grade during recess, my friends would put on plays that I wrote. I went to Syracuse University, where I majored in Film/TV and met my husband.

After college we lived in New York City. I worked as an agent in the film rights department of a literary agency, and then we moved to Los Angeles. My husband is a finance guy and went to UCLA for an MBA while I worked in the movie business for a producer. I then went to UCLA for a Master in Fine Arts in screenwriting.

Our first child was born when I completed my degree and quickly realized I couldn’t write with a newborn and didn’t want to return to the 24/7 job world of the movie business. So at 30, I closed that chapter of my life. I took a flexible part-time job selling greeting cards as I wanted to keep working in some capacity.

After our second child was born, we moved back East, to suburban New Jersey. I continued to do part-time sales work on and off, and became immersed in suburban mom life culture.

My family

My family

 

When did you start to think about making a change?

My aha moment was more of a “Mommy mid-life crisis.” My kids were getting older—now in middle school—and the flexible mom jobs available to me were no longer satisfying. Being a full-time stay-at-home mom was just not enough for me. I didn’t want to do a traditional full-time office job as I knew I needed and wanted to be there for my kids.

I suffered a mini (private) breakdown and then started writing again as my internal creative monster was waking up. It wasn’t easy at first; I had a lot of negative thoughts on the worthiness of the stories I wanted to tell—this was before blogs where moms had a place where they could write/talk about their true feelings and experiences.

 

screen-shot-2016-11-05-at-5-47-32-pm

What is your next act?

I am a writer/director/producer, aka a filmmaker.

In my early 40s, I wrote a feature screenplay but no longer had access to anyone in the business, so couldn’t get anyone to even read it. I gave the script to Vanessa Williams—through a mutual friend—and she loved it. The next thing I knew, I was producing a movie, a romantic comedy called And Then Came Love. In addition to Vanessa Williams, our cast included Eartha Kitt and Ben Vereen. That was the first of three features I wrote and produced. My last feature was a comedy about over-the-top sports parents called Bad Parents that starred Janeane Garofalo and Cheri Oteri.

With Vanessa Williams

With Vanessa Williams

My current project, and most personal, is a web series called The Other F Word that now streams on Amazon. I was turning 50, my kids were older and moving on, and wanted to write with humor and pathos about this chapter life for women after our kids are grown—our “next act”—through the journeys of four different women friends. These stories hadn’t been explored so it felt like an obvious show. Each character has her own journey: For example, the A story is Amy, a suburban stay-at-home mom whose husband quits his job to join the Peace Corps, and leaves her for a year. I wanted them each to have separate mid-life coming-of-age journeys. Amy is stripped of how she identifies herself, which is through others—as a Mom (she’s now an empty-nester) and as a wife (her husband is gone). It was important to me to have her alone, but not have her on a coupling journey but rather one of self-discovery. While the F originally stood for fifty or forty, it’s as much about friendship, fun, and finding oneself fearlessly during this chapter of life.

Unfortunately, when trying to sell The Other F Word as a network series, while the script got great feedback and validated, I was blind-sided by the ageist resistance to stories about women in the forties and fifties by the youth-obsessed entertainment industry.

I produced the show independently as a web series in hopes that if it’s successful, I could show Hollywood that our stories do matter and that we are not an invisible “tough” demographic. Fortunately, the feedback thus far has been so affirming, and our viewing audience is growing thanks to word of mouth by what I call “The Power of Mom,” as bloggers like Hélène and their readers have been helping to spread the word.

Cast and Crew of The Other F Word

Cast and Crew of The Other F Word

 

Why did you choose this next act?  

Producing seemed to encapsulate all my skills—creative and sales. I am an entrepreneur at heart. I was very scared during the process as there is a lot of financial risk, but it was a nice fear and I started to feel alive again.

 

How hard was it to take the plunge?

It was hard to take the plunge, as there is a lot that goes into producing and it’s not a cheap venture—and a lot is out of one’s control. Watching countless end credits reminds one how many hands go into the finished project. I ran our town’s soccer tournament prior to my first production and joked that it was preparation as I felt that many of the skills were transferable. I also enlisted the help of my mom friends for some of the film jobs; I called them my “Mommy Posse.”

screen-shot-2016-11-05-at-5-40-50-pm

The “Mommy Posse”

 

How supportive were your family and friends? 

They were supportive and intrigued yet also skeptical, knowing how hard it is to succeed in this field.  There were not a lot of suburban soccer moms making movies. Fortunately, I’ve been able to repay my investors as my films have been profitable.

 

What challenges did you encounter? Did you ever think about giving up?

It always costs more than you think, and producing ambitious projects on a small budget means lots of compromising. That said, when you don’t have money to throw at a problem, you must rely on ingenuity—a challenge I like to take on.

Yes, I definitely thought about giving up. All of my projects have had huge obstacles like budgets and finding funding and actor’s schedules and the fear that what you are doing will not find an audience. What kept me going? My family and my producing partners, but also my belief that I’d rather fail than not try—a very mid-life “next act” philosophy. My team knew if we didn’t do it, we’d regret that more than the risk of doing it. Don’t let anything or anybody stand in the way of having a dream and then aspiring for it; there is no failure if you enjoy the journey.

Producers of The Other F Word, with cast member Stephanie Little

Producers of The Other F Word, with cast member Stephanie Little

 

What did you learn about yourself through this process?

Not only am I a fearless person, but I take pride in inspiring others to have dreams and not let anything stand in the way of attaining or attempting to realize them.

Looking back, there are things I could have done better. There are always regrets, but they make the best stories.

 

What advice do you have for those interested in pursuing a movie production career? What resources do you recommend?

My advice is that it’s never too late to dream big. It’s easier than ever to produce as films can be made on an iphone now with fairly good production value. If you have a compelling story that you believe is best told cinematically, go for it.

The Internet is a great resource and in my industry resources are constantly changing. I attended seminars, read anything and everything pertaining to producing a movie or a web series and started to engage with my audience early on for research and validation that whatever I was writing about had the potential to connect. I become incredibly myopic on each project.

There are great film schools that offer continuing education and many like UCLA and NYU offer online classes. A great resource is Stage32.com: It’s free to create a profile and they offer networking opportunities, classes, and workshops for writers, actors and producers. They also provide pitching opportunities for writers to present their scripts directly to producers who are buying. I met my manager through their services.

I am a member of the Writers Guild, the Producers Guild, and New York Women in Film.

Producers and Kids Cast for Bad Parents

Producers and Kids Cast for Bad Parents

 

What’s next for you? Do you think you have another next act in your future? 

I have some new feature scripts I’m working on, but really hope that we can find funding for more episodes of The Other F Word as my characters’ next act journeys have only just begun. My fantasy is to have a writer’s room of next act storytellers who can help grow the episodic world I’ve created.

We welcome you to add a comment on Amazon—it really does help. Share the show with your friends and like us on Facebook, follow us on Twitter, share your comments, subscribe to our newsletter, and just stay in touch with me.  We would love to have as many people join us on our mid-life journey. And please reach out to me if you would like to be part of our show’s journey in a more meaningful way.

 

Contact Caytha Jentis at Caytha@foxmeadowfilms.com

The Other F Word Website

Twitter is @TOFWseries   @caytha

Hashtag #TOFWseries #funnevergetsold #powerofmom

The Other F Word on Amazon 

Facebook Page




Becoming a Stage Actor at 67: Judi’s Story

unknown-10After selling her successful PR firm at 64, Judi revisited her childhood dream and started taking acting classes. She is now a busy stage actor and even performs her own show, “Husbands: An Owner’s Manual.”

 

Tell us a little about your background…

I was born in Chicago in 1941, two weeks before Pearl Harbor. When my father was drafted shortly thereafter, my mother and I moved into my grandfather’s large home, where he was single-handedly raising his three daughters (two of whom were still teenagers). For obvious reasons, I grew very close to these aunts, and remained so even after they married and moved out of the house.

When my father returned from the army, we continued to live in my grandfather’s house, where my two sisters were born.

The greatest impact on my life occurred when I was 11. My 39-year-old father died of a heart attack, and my 32-year-old mother became a widow with three children. She also became a business owner, taking over the family shoe store.

At six with my dad and my 3-year old sister Carole

At six with my dad and my 3-year old sister Carole

Significantly, two of my three aunts were also widowed in their early 30s, and the third was divorced.

As a result, I did not grow up with the regulation mind-set of a ‘50s teenager in the Eisenhower years. I never believed that I was going to get married and someone was going to take care of me for the rest of my life. While other girls chose to major in Elementary Education in college so they’d “always have something to fall back on,” I wanted a career I could be passionate about. I debated between Theater and Journalism, two areas I enjoyed in high school.

Ultimately, I decided I would have a more successful career in journalism. I was hoping to become a crime reporter like my two role models, Brenda Starr and Lois Lane. I graduated with a B.S. in journalism from the University of Illinois in 1963, but never got that job on the police beat.

Instead, I worked as an editor at a trade magazine and later as a publicist at a number of different organizations. I married Jack Schindler in 1964 and our son Adam (our only child) was born in 1973.

When Adam was a baby, I continued to work part-time, doing public relations and marketing for a tele-communications company. By the time Adam was five and going to school every day, I turned that tele-communications company into a client and started building my own PR and Marketing agency, Schindler Communications, Inc., from there.

Receiving the National Women's Business Advocate Award from the Director of Small Business Administration in 1980

Receiving the National Women’s Business Advocate Award from the Director of Small Business Administration in 1980

Over the years, I built a substantial business with some 10 employees and strong specialties in real estate and higher education. Offices were in the trendy River North area of Chicago. I was also a co-founder of the Chicago Area Chapter of the National Association of Women Business Owners (NAWBO) Chapter, serving as both a chapter and national officer. Through NAWBO, I became active in small business issues and served as a delegate to the 1980 and 1986 White House Conferences on Small Business.

At a luncheon for Congresswoman Jan Schachowsky (left), where Michelle Obama was the speaker (1996)

At a luncheon for Congresswoman Jan Schachowsky (left), where Michelle Obama was the speaker (1996)

In 2006, when I was 64, I realized that I had to make a decision about the business. Public relations was and is a young profession—nobody wants a little old lady publicist.  I worried: How long would I be able to bring in enough business to support my over-head? Should I keep investing in new equipment? How long a lease could I safely sign?

To solve the dilemma, I sold the business to another public relations firm and continued to work in that firm for another five years, before economic pressures forced its eventual closing. I still, however, continue to perform marketing services for one client, The GO Group, a consortium of airport ground transportation companies from around the world.

 

When did you start thinking about making a change?

Directly after the sale, I suffered something of an identity crisis. I was no longer the boss. And, while I maintained my corporate entity, I was no longer really a business owner. I needed something else in my life. At the start of 2007, I remember telling my peer-to-peer group (The NAWBO Boardroom Exchange) that my goal for the year was to find a new identity.

On a whim, I decided to go back 46 years and try the road not taken. I enrolled in an acting class. One class led to another, better class—then another and another. Along the way, I noted that some of my classmates had headshots and agents and were going out on auditions. So I did too.

 

Curtain call for "Hillary & Clinton" at Victory Gardens

Curtain call for “Hillary & Clinton” at Victory Gardens

 

What is your next act?

I am an actor, performer, and writer.

For the last several years, I have appeared in a number of storefront productions and understudied at equity theaters including NorthLight (“4000 Miles”), Victory Gardens (“Rest”) and Shattered Globe (“Marvin’s Room”). Most recently, I understudied the role of Hillary in “Hillary & Clinton” at Victory Gardens, and was thrilled to go on for one night.

Other favorite roles include The Drunk in “Hell Cab” at Profiles Theatre, Miriam Goldman in “Beau Jest” at Oil Lamp Theatre, and Juanita Bartlett, another drunk, in “Sordid Lives” at Ludicrous Theatre.

I have also done a few commercials and independent films. Check them out here.

About three years into my acting career, I decided I wanted to have a show of my own that I could perform for women’s groups, senior centers, and spouse programs. So I sat down and wrote “Husbands: An Owner’s Manual,” a 30 to 40-minute performance piece suitable as luncheon entertainment. You can see a brief preview of the show here.

unknown-6

Based on my 50+ years of marriage to Jack Schindler, the show covers how to select a husband and how to maintain him in good working order—including information on replacement parts, warranty policies, and returns. The show has been well received by a variety of audiences, including one stint in a comedy club.

In creating the show, I was afraid that I wouldn’t be able to hold an audience’s attention by just standing there and talking so I added multi-media elements with photos, audio, and animation.

Several times during the performance, I am interrupted by the sound of a cell phone ringing, and I take a customer service call from a woman who has an issue with her husband or boyfriend.

I spent almost a year developing the show, working with first-rate professionals. Well-known cartoon illustrator, Elwood P. Smith, provided illustrations; award-winning actress Janet Ullrich Brooks was my director; AV producer Brian Ernst produced audio segments, an animation segment, and a video preview. And several actor friends did the voice-overs.

Currently I am working on the book version of “Husbands: An Owner’s Manual,” which I hope to publish before end of the year.

Performing "Husbands"

Performing “Husbands”

 

How hard was it to take the plunge?

I never really plunged; I dipped one toe, tested the water, and slowly waded in.

I didn’t plan to take up acting as my next career. Originally, I was just looking for something new in my life that had nothing to do with business. It could have been pottery or photography, but I had always liked acting as a kid, so acting it was.

I love taking the classes—scene study, monologues, Shakespeare, auditioning, on-camera, improve—I’ve probably taken 25 or more classes since I started.

While early on I was approached by an agent (which is the entryway to commercial work), I did not take the step of signing with one until I was no longer working full time and could be more flexible about auditioning and shooting during the day.

One of the first plays I did, Grapes of Wrath with Infamous Commonwealth Theatre

One of the first plays I did, Grapes of Wrath with Infamous Commonwealth Theatre

 

How supportive were you family and friends?

I think my long-time friends and business associates get a big kick out of seeing me in this new role. On the night that I stepped in as Hillary in “Hillary & Clinton,” some 40 friends came to support me. And I know that a few were pretty surprised that I was actually doing credible work right up there with life-long professional actors.

I have four friends who come to every show together to root me on.

My husband has been equally supportive of my theater and commercial work, but has never seen my “Husbands” show. People have told him that it’s an “homage,” but the concept makes him uncomfortable.

In addition to my old friends, I have acquired a new set of friends—my fellow actors, most of whom are in their 30s. Chicago is blessed with an enormous, gifted, and generous talent pool. When I first got started, a number of us formed an “accountability” group, where we met every two weeks to trade information about auditions, theaters, and agents, and to commit to a task list. We even got together to coach each other before auditions. While the formal meetings slowly disbanded for a variety of reasons, we still keep in touch and help each other out with advice and counsel as needed.

 

With my husband, on our 50th wedding anniversary November 1, 2016

With my husband, on our 50th wedding anniversary November 1, 2016

 

What challenges did you experience?

Everything about acting is challenging, particularly when you’re older. Losing yourself in a character is a challenge. Acting naturally for the camera is a challenge. Auditioning in front on directors who are younger than your own children is humbling as well as challenging. Last, but not least, memorizing one hundred pages of dialogue is grueling, exhausting work.

But then everything about running a 10-person PR firm was also challenging. I get amused when a director says, “we decided to go in another direction.” That’s exactly what clients would say when they would hire another PR firm.

The big difference is that as a business owner, I always felt I was the one in control.  Actors have no control. They are at the very bottom of the power totem.

My first commercial for Columbia Medical Center in Missouri (with actor Rick Plastina)

My first commercial for Columbia Medical Center in Missouri (with actor Rick Plastina)

 

Were there times when you thought about giving up?

I remember years ago seeing the celebrated movie star Jimmy Stewart on a talk show saying that every time a movie shoot ended, he was afraid he’d never get cast again. This is not a business for the faint of heart. You have to put up with rejection over and over again.

But then something great happens, a successful audition, a meaty part, a good review, or just a responsive audience, and you’re hooked all over again.

Playing a deranged old lady who shouts obscenities in the short film "Coming of Age" by Fork Man Productions

Playing a deranged old lady who shouts obscenities in the short film “Coming of Age” by Fork Man Productions

 

What did you learn about yourself in the process?

Frankly, I am pretty proud of myself. I said I wanted a new identity and I found it. I have built a reputation in a highly competitive industry where I now get direct calls from casting directors. I feel I have a place in the Chicago theater community. Almost every show I go to these days, I know someone in the cast.

I learned that at 74, I am essentially the same person I was at 34, when I started my business. I still have a lot of energy. I am willing to set goals, work hard, and direct my energy to achieving those goals. Only this time around, I have the time to linger over coffee and the newspaper in the morning.

While I have six adorable grandchildren—2 months to 10 years old—I could no more be a stay-at-home granny than I could have been a stay-at-home mom.

I need to be involved. I need to be actively pursuing goals. I need to be engaged.

All six of our grandchildren

All six of our grandchildren

 

Is there anything you would have done differently?

Would I go back in time and study acting instead of journalism? No, I made the right choice for me at the time. Somehow at 18, I realized that the communication skills I learned in college would serve me better during the period of my life when I needed to earn more money.

Now that my husband and I are older, our mortgage is paid off, and we’re collecting retirement benefits, I have the luxury of choosing art over commerce.

Furthermore, in my 20s, I would have been in competition with hundreds (maybe thousands) of young women who come to Chicago seeking careers in theater. At my age, there are maybe a couple dozen non-union old ladies. I see the same ones at every audition.

unknown-3

Playing Miriam Goldman, the ultimate Jewish mother, in “Beau Jest” at Oil Lamp

 

What advice would you give to other women interested in beginning an acting career later in life?

I would not advise other women to go into acting full time if they still need to earn a living. Most young actors (even the really good ones) wait tables, nanny, bag groceries, or have other types of jobs that supplement their income.

However, there are lots of opportunities for those who wish to enter acting for the love of it. I know a retired nurse, a retired lawyer, and a retired tech-entrepreneur who actively work in professional theater and do commercials, voice-overs, etc.

I suggest starting with lots of classes, not only for the skills you learn but also for the opportunity to network with other actors and learn about the biz. I highly recommend the following classes in Chicago.

For general acting classes: The Acting Studio Chicago

For on-camera classes: The Green Room Studio

For Shakespeare: Susan Hart and Jeffrey Carlson (mail them at carlsonandhart@gmail.com)

The Acting Studio Chicago also has a comprehensive list of industry information and resources on its website including lists of agents, casting directors, headshot photographers, etc.

It can be quite difficult to get an agent, particularly if you have little or no experience. It might be easier to start with a non-union agency, which does not require exclusive contracts. Some of these in Chicago include Karen StavinsLily’s Talent, Paige Model & Talent, and Talent Group.

Go to their websites and follow the instructions for submission.

For photography, you need to have someone who specializes in theatrical headshots. I recommend Ian McLaren and Brian McConkey.

Finally, you can find Chicago theater auditions at the following two sites: Theatre In Chicago and League of Chicago Theatres. As we say in the theater, “break a leg.”

unknown-2

As Juanita Bartlett, a drunk, in “Sordid Lives” at Ludicrous Theatre

 

Contact Judi Schindler at judischindler@rcn.com

Website

Twitter @husbandsmanual

LinkedIn

YouTube




Creating a Community for Caregivers: Carole’s Story

Screen Shot 2016-08-31 at 1.35.40 PMCaring for her mother in her final years helped Carole find her mission later in life. She is helping others in the Sandwich Generation cope with the challenges of caring for their loved ones, while celebrating the privilege of being a Caregiver to her elderly parents.

 

Tell us a little about your background…

I grew up in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, and still live in the same neighborhood. I was raised by wonderful, loving parents and am the third of four kids. I have fond memories from my childhood. My parents created a warm and loving home and exposed us to the arts and cultural district early on.

My mom was a creative genius: a great seamstress, knitter, crocheter, designer; a creative cook and baker; a writer and lyricist, writing jingles back in the day. She also became a prolific painter in her 60s. She enjoyed using collage in her paintings and her designs were always unique. She loved to dance and was always taking educational classes. She was full of life and love and was a dedicated homemaker, wife, and mother.

10yrsoldmymommademyjumper

At 10, in one of the many outfits my mom made for me

My dad was an engineer and worked at Westinghouse until he got his law degree while we were in grade school. He went on to have a long, thriving law career, not retiring until the age of 85! He had his own practice and taught us much about reaching for your dreams, following your heart and passion, and never giving up. Both my folks set stellar examples of what a fine human being is. They were married for 65 years and showed us what a good marriage is too.

I went to Ivy School of Professional Art after high school and graduated a two-year program in Fine Arts with a focus on fabric art, including batik. I have a varied work history. I was in the restaurant business for ten years in a variety of capacities. I owned a soda pop vending machine company for eight years. I worked in customer service. I also owned a custom frame shop/art gallery with my sister, Jan Steinle, for five years.

Our shop and gallery was a beautiful, creative place to work in daily. We became a leader in the frame industry, in large part thanks to our efforts to market our business online via elaborate e-newsletters. The industry was behind the times digitally and we understood the power of the net to generate business. As a result of my e-newsletters, I was hired by a leading editorial in the art and framing business to write a five-page, feature article on e-Marketing. It was an exciting offer. That was a defining moment in my life. I had a strong love for writing that I didn’t know about until I hit my 40s.

I was married at 23. I have four children: a daughter Katie (33) and three sons Thomas (29), James (28), and Steven (26). We’re a close-knit family and we all live in Pittsburgh except for Thomas, who lives in Boston. I divorced in 1995 and remain friends my ex.

frameshop2005

In our frame shop, 2005

 

When did you think about making a change?

When the store closed in 2009, I became my mom’s Caregiver for the next several years, while managing a small professional organizing business. My mom died on November 23, 2014 and, since then, I have been my dad’s Caregiver during the workweek.

When I took on the role of Caregiver for my mom, it was because I was unemployed after closing my art gallery; I stepped up as “the daughter.” Jan helped on a part-time basis and was also caring for her mother-in-law. My other siblings worked full time and were unavailable during the workweek. I fully expected to get another job, but this was 2009 and the marketplace was tight. I applied to many companies and had a couple of interviews, but nothing was gelling. I was searching for my calling, but finally understood that my calling was to care for Mom. There were times I was very at peace doing the Caregiver gig and other times I felt a need to move on due to Caregiver burnout and emotional turmoil during the duration of my Caregiver role.

There were moments during my Caregiver journey when I believed that I was right where I was meant to be. Still, I was squirming about what my lifetime calling was because I knew my role with my mother wouldn’t last, for obvious reasons. I didn’t know until late in my journey with Mom that I was a Caregiver; I didn’t know that terminology. Caregiving was not my career path. I didn’t know anything about the industry. I stepped up as the daughter because my parents needed help. They had been my best cheerleaders, always very generous and loving over the years, and it seemed the right thing to do was to come to their aid when they needed me most.

I shared my mom’s last years in the best way, the most loving way I knew possible. I would do it all over again. It was a privilege, in my opinion, to care for her. It was an extremely difficult journey. She was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease after my store closed; it was devastating news. We didn’t know about the disease, but we certainly knew it was not good news. My dad was still working full time and needed help. Her diagnosis came almost a year later after we were suspicious of her peculiar behavior and oddball memory loss.

My parents, 25 years ago

My parents, 25 years ago

During the time I cared for my mother, I felt withdrawn, isolated, and overwhelmed by sorrow and loss long before my mother died. It was an excruciating process. I am typically a social person, but my world was rocked hard, and my personality deeply affected. There are no words to describe how deep down inside this impacted my life, still to this day. What I witnessed in my mom’s personality changes was intense and extremely sad. I felt the overwhelming sorrow of anticipatory grief. I had a broken heart. My best friend was dying and I was losing her long before she died. My learning curve was huge. The role changes that took place were monumental.

A purpose-driven life is a powerful thing. It’s all encompassing when you can wake up and know you have a voice in your destiny. Pursuing my life’s path has been a rocky road. How could it not be? I was caring for my mom when she needed me most and reevaluating my own life and career path. I can’t think of anything more important that I could have done at the time. She loved me and our journey early on was meaningful when she knew changes were coming her way. It was a tender time.

I’m so grateful I have discovered my purpose-driven life. I took three different seminars with John Stanko (Purpose Quest) in a classroom setting in 2014, with the aim to understand my purpose in life, and each one helped me greatly. I was hungry and longing for answers and I knew it required work to pinpoint what I was meant to do. There were workbooks and class participation to help me to discover my calling. I knew I needed to find a way to help Caregivers connect and find comfort in their shared journeys.

All I could think about was that there must be thousands, if not millions, of people who were going through something like I was. I longed to rise above the pain and make friends with others who, like me, were giving their best, giving their life, to save a life. Caregivers all around the world are my heroes!

 

ZIA

What is your next act

I have a created a community for the Sandwich Generation and for Caregivers, SanGenWoman: The Heart of the Sandwich Generation (formerly known as The Sandwich Woman).

The statistics regarding Caregivers are truly mind-boggling, with an estimated 43.5 million adult family caregivers caring for someone aged 50 or older, in the US alone. Read more here. We learn at a very young age how to love and nurture others; we are groomed from the time we are toddlers to show love and taught to care for others. Caregiving is not a new concept. In this modern day society, support groups are popping up everywhere for Caregivers, due to the mammoth numbers of people who need help to get through their day due to aging, illness, or special needs. Caregivers and Carers (our European sisters and brothers who provide care for their loved ones) are a global, diverse population growing by leaps and bounds as medicine prolongs our life to a ripe old age.

I launched my Facebook community page, San-Gen-Woman: the Heart of the Sandwich Generation, in February 2015; we are now a community approaching 4,000 and are represented by 45 countries. The need for Caregiver support truly is global. I added Twitter and Instagram in May 2015. I publish a blog every other Wednesday too. My sister Jan and I have an online retail store we launched in August 2015, TangledArtBoutique.com, that houses Zentangle® Inspired Art (ZIA) we create ourselves. You don’t have to be an artist to make a Zentangle; the beautiful images are created by drawing structured patterns. The Zen, or meditative aspect of the art form, is the best part. I’m in a peaceful place when I create my Zentangle Inspired Art.

We also house a special gallery of designs to affirm and support Caregivers that includes several gift lines including tote bags, cell phone cases, and greeting cards. It’s a fun store to shop in with all the customization features. I don’t know of a Caregiver gift line like ours; the designs are quite unique. There are 140+ designs to choose from.

aFinalCvr8-6

My first book, The Artistry of Caregiving: Letters to Inspire Your Caregiver Journey, is now on Amazon in Kindle and paperback. A unique format, this is truly a book of inspiration, art, and 33 letters — affirmations and imagery to express my deepest love and gratitude to those who are living the life, traveling down the slippery slope of caring for someone who relies on them wholly. My book does not focus on any particular illness. It is meant to help others, of all ages, who are navigating the emotional journey of Caregiving. The Artistry of Caregiving: where words soothe and ideas & art delight. If you don’t have the time or focus to read, you can look at all the dynamic Zentangles in the book to feel affirmed and supported. It’s a book that can be referred to over a lifetime.

Out of something so dark as witnessing my mom’s very serious, extreme memory loss and death, came something beautiful and supportive to the Sandwich Generation – SanGenWoman: the Heart of the Sandwich Generation social media platform. This is my passion, my calling, my mission. My grief could have taken me down, but in fact, it’s my inspiration.

My goal is all encompassing. I want to impart peace, healing, recovery, education, and inspiration, as well as offer gift lines, to those who supply and support the Caregiving industry.

Fruit of the Spirit wth Border1

 

Tell us more about the challenges you see in midlife and in the field of Caregiving.

There is a lack of praise, value, appreciation, support systems, and financial reward for a Caregiver. We are in a major crisis with more of us living longer and the rise of chronic illness and dementia unlike ever before. The projections are staggering for millions of people, worldwide, who will be affected by Alzheimer’s/dementia. We need more funds for research to stop this life-stealing disease.

Our healthcare system is not easy to navigate. It costs a huge amount of money to save a life if you need aides or need to hire people to care for your loved one. Many family members are taking on the role of caring for another and trying to juggle their personal and professional life too, while keeping their sanity. It’s no small feat to be able to do everything and do it well. Caring for someone else is a big responsibility and a huge job that requires energy, stamina, a strong voice of reason, and patience.

Aside from support groups, we need trained professional counselors who can advise us in all areas of life, dealing with the stress and pressure to meet all of the demands. We need someone to talk to who can advise us, put things in perspective, and help us to nurture ourselves and make ourselves a top priority so we remain healthy, able and strong.

amedad

With my dad, one of my very best friends

 

How did you get started creating your community?

I had never written a blog, didn’t know the first thing about it, but I jumped in with both feet. I didn’t worry about having my ducks in a row because my desire and passion to help others superseded my grief and lack of knowledge. All I could think about was helping others because my Caregiver journey was so isolating and emotionally tumultuous.

When I launched my Facebook page and blog, I sent out a questionnaire to 150 women in midlife, asking them to respond to 33 questions about how they dealt with being the in The Sandwich Generation. The questions were very personal and somewhat invasive, but I made it clear they could reply anonymously and answer as many or as few questions as they wanted. The responses I received were interesting to read: how everyone was dealing with being part of The Sandwich Generation. I heard many common themes, for example, financial concerns: how these women would maintain jobs and income while caring for both children and elders, as well as how they’d plan for their own long term care.

My Twitter community now has 1,000+ followers and my Instagram account 700+ followers, with a strong momentum. Each of my social media platforms has generated important contacts for me in my industry and has opened many doors for me. I have made personal friends and business associates with my audience, including people in other countries such as Indonesia, Switzerland, and Europe. These connections make my heart beat a little swifter, enjoying every moment. I love it.

tote

How supportive are your family and friends?

My dad and sister Jan have been a big support system for me, along with my children and close circle of friends. My dad is the editor for my blog; he’s a wonderful teacher and I have learned a lot in my writing journey with him. My parents have always been my biggest cheerleaders over the years.

 

What challenges are you encountering?

It has been a challenge to find a nice, sweet way to blog about what I have learned without it being a total bummer or upsetting someone. I’m discovering all the time what it is that I truly want to do with the knowledge gained from my experience caring for my parents. Some of my posts were tear jerkers to write, but mostly it’s been a positive experience and certainly has helped me adjust to the new normal.

Life is good and I’m in a peaceful place. I’m happy to be able to profess that. With great love comes great loss. I am full of gratitude to have been raised by my parents. Good memories throughout my whole life. What more can one ask for?

 

My kids

My kids

 

What are you learning about yourself through this process?

I have what it takes to overcome my emotions and think with my voice of reason. If I set my mind to it, I can accomplish many things I never dreamed of. I have something to offer to others – hope, comfort, affirmation, support and love. And, lastly, I have what it takes to create a book and have it come to fruition! That was a very large undertaking, but written with love for my readers.

 

What advice do you have for women seeking reinvention in midlife?

Take some classes to find your passion. What makes you happy and excited? What brings you joy? If you’re unsure, I’d suggest reading about finding your purpose in life via books and on the Internet, finding programs to take, getting support from your place of worship, and surrounding yourself with people you admire and respect in life and in business.

I am always making lists for a variety of things. I suggest writing a list of what is a positive in your life. That is a good starting place. It wasn’t long ago someone said the same thing to me. It sounded so cliché. When you’re reflecting on what matters most, it can open many doors in unexpected ways. I am currently seeing this in my life. All the connections I’m making now via social media are a direct result of that lifestyle.

Don’t wait to have it all figured out before you take the leap. I didn’t know how to create a blog, Twitter, Instagram, or an online store. I didn’t have all my ducks in a row. I didn’t take classes on social media or how to craft a message on any of these platforms—I jumped in with both feet and didn’t care about anything except getting my voice heard. I didn’t get bogged down in the “how to” and just figured it out as I went. I had a calling and my calling was to write a book and to help others who are doing what I did. Emotional support is so important to everyone in general, and certainly in a crisis situation when a loved one is suffering, for the person dispensing care. I cannot overstate this point. Emotional support is a must so that the person who is caring for another can do a job well done.

I heard something recently from a senior woman on the radio talking about her lifetime of success and she said when you have a passion about something it borderlines “obsession”… I can attest to that. Most days I eat, sleep, breathe SanGenWoman. It’s not something I work at – It just IS.

With my sister Jan

With my sister Jan

 

What advice do you have for those interested in sharing their own journeys to help others?

Decide whether your journey is something you want to continue talking about in your life. I do have some limitations about what I’m willing to share and how much I’m willing to talk about my mom and her illness. It was a very personal time in my life—not a fun one to talk about either.

There are a lot of really good people all over the world who are making large strides for senior care, health care, special needs, medical research, writing, and blogging about Caregivers and midlife.

The Sandwich Generation is full of responsibility in all areas of life, and there is plenty of room for anyone who would like to focus on this subject. If you’re driven to share your story, find the means to do so. If you don’t want to write about it, how will you manifest it? Only you will learn the answer to that, if you don’t know already, through your passion and pursuing of your purpose and dreams.

My purpose driven life didn’t come easy. It’s been an oh so long journey of trials and tribulations. We are created to solve problems and find resolutions to situations that arise. To manage a life well lived is a goal I aspire to, daily.

abeam

 

What resources do you recommend?

I think it is vital and critical to anyone who is in the role of Caregiver to ask for help, anywhere you can get it. Agencies, nonprofits, and community colleges are a huge resource to support Caregivers. I never even thought to go there during my years of caring for Mom. I had too many pressing, daily duties to even think about reading anything.

Looking back, I’m sorry I didn’t connect online early on because that can potentially be a saving grace to find a community that understands your pain and role in the caring of someone else’s life. One site I did find and recommend is The Caregiver Space. It’s a great resource and inspired me to forge ahead in developing my own platform. I also recommend the National Alliance for Caregiving for up-to-date information on the subject.

According to my grief counselor, Barbara Coyne, grief is a gift. She is wise about processing grief and embracing it as a gift. I went to one of her support group meetings and it changed my life. I learned how to live with loss and grief from Barbara. She is one of the most peaceful persons I’ve ever met.

Pastor John Stanko, is my advisor, mentor, counselor, spiritual leader, good friend, and the editor of my book. He published the first edition of the Kindle version of my book. Dr John’s mission is living a purposeful life and teaching others how to do that. Purpose Quest is his calling. Read his information and the free assessment survey. It’s one of the most unique and life changing courses out there that I’ve come across and taken. A combination of heart, soul, mission, and spiritual calling to formulate what is going to define the meaning of my experience as a Caregiver.

Finally, for those interested in selling your art as part of your mission, I recommend our boutique supplier, Fine Art America.

 acarerocks

 

What’s next for you? Do you think you have another next act in your future?

I haven’t had much time to think about this because publishing my book was all consuming for the last couple years. I also care for my dad during the week and write a blog and spend time on social media and that is all very time consuming. I’d like to spend more time creating my art. That brings me so much peace and satisfaction. My creative juices are at an all time high and I’m always in the mode of what’s next to post or write about. As for another next act, I am not really looking at the future in that way. I’d like to keep writing and see what doors open now that I have published my book.

thkidsatniecesweddinginphotobooth

With my kids, in the photo booth at my niece’s wedding

 

Contact Carole Brecht at cbrecht4@gmail.com

The Artistry of Caregiving: Letters to Inspire Your Caregiver Journey

Website

Blog

Tangled Art Boutique online store

Facebook Community

Twitter: @SanGenWoman


Instagram