I got a grant! Mentoring with Alice Night

In November last year, I applied for a small grant through Moreton Bay Regional Council for my first ever album. Success! Specifically, I wanted the grant to support the artistic work of developing a concept for the album, the labour of finding the deeper message and meaning to unite the tracks and say more than each song does individually. As part of the grant, I signed up for mentoring with songwriter and creative catalyst, Alice Night.

I first came across Alice's work through a friend who'd completed a year-long, group creative arts journey with her. I was inspired by the space of unbridled creativity that could go in any direction... painting... music... theatre production... screen writing... poetry... novels and memoirs... dance... all the performing arts... Alice welcomes every creative expression as equal and is interested in drawing out an authentic and intimate art form from every person she works with. As well as interdisciplinary artist, Alice is a songwriter who has created five full length albums and three EPs. Read more about Alice here and find her music on BandCamp 

Why I wanted to work with Alice... 

I wanted to work with Alice because her interests as an artist and creative facilitator weave under and over a broad range of mediums of expression. This speaks to me and inspires me because despite a lifetime of hearing "if you dig too many holes you'll never find water" or "jack of all trades, master of none", I find myself unable to choose between the things I enjoy doing creatively. I love them all! equally! Working with someone who understands that impulse and who wasn't going to pressure me to focus on just one thing felt important to my process. I wanted to step into the space of developing the album's concept open to the journey and whatever direction it would take me.

In contrast, around the time I applied for the grant, I received some creative business mentoring through the great work of the Regional Arts Services Network. I had a mentoring session with a music industry expert and I told him I wanted to develop the concept behind my album and see the whole thing as a creative work (rather than just a collection of my favourite songs). He threw mammoth wads of information at me for the next 1.5 hours about all the things I had to do to record an album (the practical, rather boring, step by step planning stuff). Unfortunately, none of it was helpful and it left me feeling overwhelmed, depressed and a long way from the creative space of play I wanted to explore. My issue was not an information-deficit. My issue was a lack of connection to my voice as an artist.
Alice touched me as someone who cares deeply about authentic expression in art. Before skill, before top-notch professional recordings, before all the bells and whistles of what it takes to share a creative offering with others, Alice asks the question, Does it say something real? Does it say something necessary? Does it heal you, the creator in the making of it? Does it challenge you to go deeper into your art? This was exactly what I needed help with.

What we did in our sessions...

Through mentoring sessions with Alice, sitting in on her Mistress of the Wild Arts group program and being part of her weekly Song Club, I got clear on the internal barriers I have around believing in my voice, believing that anyone should listen to me, and believing that my art could make a difference in the world. Phew. No small potatoes. We did journal processes around understanding the resources one has available right now to make art and where gaps might be. We spoke about creative discipline, what it takes to show up to our art practice consistently but in a way that reflects one's natural rhythms and preferences. We entered a space of poetry and stream of consciousness writing, using the body as art and silence. We worked with my voice as a blank canvas and using sound to be curious about what's inside right now... no words, not trying to sing or make pretty sounds, just playing with mouth shapes, ugly sounds, pitch, volume and melody in a formless exploration. She encouraged me to use my voice and sound in a sensual way, to use movement as I sing and to use my voice to touch stuck parts of my body and being. She once asked me a beautiful question that brings tears to my eyes every time I think about it, "Is there anyone in the world, is there a person alive who doesn't have the right to share their voice?" She invited me again and again to connect with my intention, the energetic intent behind each song - for myself and for others.

What I learned...

Alice gave me permission to be myself, to do this my way, to stop comparing my journey with others'. She's great at allowing and supporting aimless play and exploration and experimentation without any heavy agendas or goals to achieve. As someone who struggles with perfectionism and thinking too much, being encouraged to make a mess is a huge gift!

I learned I could make sounds that don't have to sound good. I learned I could use my voice in a way that moves energy through my body. I learned that even though there's something about a song that wants to be shared, I have to do it for myself first and foremost. I learned that without the connection to my own voice and unique expression, all the validation in the world won't matter or make me believe in myself as an artist. I learned that I'm a good songwriter, I've done enough to know what I'm doing . I learned that no matter how hard I try in my music, I will never be everybody's cup of tea. It's just not meant to be that way. Music is subjective but rejection doesn't mean lack of skill or expertise on my part. I learned that no one has the answers, there's no cheat sheet or short cut to help me develop the concept behind my album. I have to find it within myself. And... perhaps most of all, I learned that I'm free to do anything I want in my album, there's no rules.

Alongside my journey with Alice, I stumbled across another teacher whose work proved life-changing and affirming. Barbara Sher and her book, Refuse to Choose, was a balm to my heart and an inspiration to continue being myself no matter what. I don't think I would have been able to hear Barbara's message if I hadn't met Alice and seen a living example of someone not only refusing to choose a single path of creative expression but who actively celebrates that in others.
From the mentoring with Alice and the parallel processes that unfolded, I did actually discover what I want to do in my album. Yay! I wasn't expecting it... all the focus on the voice didn't seem related to developing a concept for my album. However, reconnecting with my voice as a site of play, lightness and joy rather than physical effort to sound a certain way, helped me to see and feel what I really want to say in my album. And there's a lot, there's something pure and unexpected...  underneath all my self-doubt, and underneath all the things I think I should be saying in my art.

With thanks...