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How She Does It: Keiko Elizabeth

Keiko_ElizabethOf all the ways to combine creativity and motherhood, the performing arts are among the most challenging. But the obstacles inherent to this path are no match for the fierce passion, commitment, and intelligence of Keiko Elizabeth, who you may already know from her work on stage and television. I can’t wait for you to read Keiko’s highly articulate and introspective interview! (Spoiler alert: Inspiration by the boatload.)

Keiko is from in Sacramento, California, and graduated from Stanford University with a degree in biological science. After a stint teaching middle school science to kids coming out of juvenile hall in San Francisco, she decided to pursue a professional acting career. Keiko received an MFA in acting from Cal State Fullerton, where she studied with renowned Russian acting teacher Svetlana Efremova.

Since graduation,Keiko has worked on a range of TV shows including Days of Our Lives, Hawaii Five-0, and Hot in Cleveland. Keiko is a company member at Theatre of NOTE, where she recently originated the role of Naomi in Supper by Phinneas Kiyomura. She lives with her husband and two children just outside of Los Angeles. 


SM: Please introduce yourself and your family.
KE:
I’m Keiko Elizabeth, I’m an actress, mother, wife, producer, writer (sort of). I work in television, film, and theatre and have a son and a daughter — 9 and 3.

SM: Tell us about your artwork/creative endeavors.
KE: 
I discovered acting rather later in life. I went to college with hopes to become a doctor, then I nearly went to law school, then I taught middle school students coming out of juvenile hall. It wasn’t until I was nearly 30 that I stepped on stage for the very first time. I knew right away it was something I wanted to do well and for the rest of my life, so I began applying to acting MFA programs with probably the least amount of experience of any MFA applicant in the history of MFA applicants.

Keiko_Elizabeth_4It just so happened that as I was applying and auditioning to MFA programs, I got pregnant. The funny thing is that we were trying. It just never occurred to me that I wouldn’t be able to do both things at once. I had very little experience with babies and I just thought they’d sleep all the time and not move or talk that much (oh, the naïveté). My son was born my first week of my MFA program, and truthfully, that first semester was blisteringly hard. I returned to class full time after two of the shortest and longest weeks of my life, and had to sit on a donut or lie down on a yoga mat in class because I couldn’t sit on a regular chair. I was not only the least experienced actor in my program, but I was now behind, my boobs leaked at random times, and I had to go into evening rehearsals for a play when my son was only 6 weeks old.

But I didn’t quit. In fact, I loved every excruciating minute of it.

And now, I’m a working actor in Los Angeles. I was just in seasons 3 and 4 of How to Get Away with Murder, I’ve been on a variety of television shows and films, plus a commercial or two. I’m a member of a theatre company here in Los Angeles called Theatre of NOTE. I love being a part of the theatre-making process — we are a democratically run company and we read and select all of the plays in our season as well as self-produce every show.

I’m also developing a couple of film projects — a documentary and a scripted feature.

supperSM: What goals do you have for your art? How would you define your “life’s work”?
KE: 
This is such a great question. My goal for my art is continued growth and expansion of myself as a storyteller. So that means playing complex women with lives, beliefs, and tendencies that are different than my own — that’s where the fun is. It also means telling stories on larger platforms that reach more people, and working with other artists who have similar vision.

You know, it’s interesting, acting is one of the arts that really requires other people in order to do it. I can do my own creative and imaginative work on a story or on a character, but at some point the creative cycle feels incomplete if you don’t get to play with others and for others. Seeking out collaboration and work is fundamentally important to being an actor. It’s like when you were little and you’d go over to the neighbors’ house and say, “wanna play?” Part of creative success for an actor is finding people to play with.

SM: How has motherhood changed you creatively?
KE: 
I really became an artist and a mom at the same time, so I only know myself creatively since becoming a mother. But I will say that being a mother focused my creative work in a way that nothing else would have. It raised the stakes on everything I was doing, and for me this was a good thing for a while, until it wasn’t any more. At first, I took my studies and my development as an actor very seriously, because it was taking me away from my baby, so I felt that in order to make that worthwhile I had to be good. But as any artist knows, at some point you have to give up the desire to be good to make anything remotely truthful. There came a point when I had to let go of tying my worth as a mother to my talent — “I’d better be good and successful, because so many people including myself and my child sacrificed so much for me to do my art.” That’s too much pressure for the muse to work under, it’s incredibly narcissistic, and it’s a belief that resulted in a lot of unhappiness. I had to get back to my mission as a storyteller, to my imagination, to my sense of play and aliveness, and my children helped show me how to do that.

SM: Where do you do your creative work?
KE: 
I have a little nook in an upstairs dormer of our house that I’ve set up as a quiet creative space. Most of my work is imagination-based, so I don’t need a lot of materials. I also have an office studio where I have a light kit and backdrop for taping auditions, which I do fairly often.

SM: Do you have a schedule for your creative work?
KE: 
Every morning I wake up and do imagination work for 1 hour and 20 minutes either on a story I’m working on in acting class, or a play that I’m interested in exploring on an ongoing basis. This morning time is like imaginative barre work for me, so if I have an audition or a job that I’m preparing for, I’ll schedule additional time to work on it during the day. The consistency of practice every day, even on weekends, is really important for me—it keeps me emotionally, imaginatively, and spiritually accessible, vulnerable, and creative. I often need to be able to fall seamlessly into a story with less than 24 hours to prepare, and in order to be able to do that, my emotional and imaginative accessibility needs to be very high.

Keiko_Elizabeth1SM: What does creative success mean to you?
KE: 
Creative success for me has a lot of do with my ability to empathize and then translate that empathy into action within the story that I’m telling. So that means in every creative encounter — in every audition, every performance — was I able to put aside my own beliefs and life circumstances to step into the shoes of this other person’s life circumstances and beliefs, and engage with the people of my imaginary life as if it were my own? And can I do it every single time? And tomorrow with an entirely different set of life circumstances and beliefs? If I can answer yes to all of those questions, that is creative success. Beyond that, if people see it and want to pay me to do it, that’s cool too.

SM: What makes you feel successful as a mother?
KE: 
I think the feeling of success as a mother comes for me in fleeting moments. When I see my child genuinely connecting with something in a pure and loving way, it feels like I also am experiencing that connection, and it feels really divine. For example when my son is really enjoying playing a particular piano piece (that maybe he hates playing the next day), or when I hear my children playing pretend together (instead of fighting and crying). It’s like a feeling of rightness, of coherence, of connection. I try to really inhale those moments into my bones, so that when I inevitably have shittier moments, it’s still okay because I know those good ones at least existed so I can’t be that bad.

SM: What do you struggle with most?
KE: 
I think what motherhood and acting have in common is that there is a lot that you can’t control, because both endeavors involve other human beings. So the best you can do is show up authentically, give as much as you can in that moment, and then keep engaging rather than retreating.

Since I tend to be a control freak, having to let go of that tendency was really, really hard, and continues to be hard. But when I do surrender control and go with the flow, I’m so much happier, everyone else is happier, and my work is better too. But it’s like I have to keep learning the lesson over and over again.

SM: What inspires you?
KE: 
Other women, especially artist moms who perform great feats of creativity and great acts of selflessness in the service of their children and families and humanity on a daily basis. I started a community for actors who are also moms called the Mama Actor community and these women, 100% of whom I did not know before starting the group, inspire me every day.

I also have creative mentors, three women who, at different times, gave me just the artistic gift that I needed. These women continue to provide creative nourishment and inspiration.

Keiko_Elizabeth_3SM: What do you want your life to look like in 10 years?
KE: 
In 10 years, I want to be developing and producing TV shows and films under the banner of my own production company. I want to be starring in films and television shows that I’ve had a say in creating, that tell the stories of interesting and unique and flawed women. In 10 years, my son will be going to college and my daughter will be just entering her teens years, so I imagine it will also be a time to double down on my family and what’s important for us to teach our children. Ten years from now is going to be the time of my life.

SM: What are you reading right now?
KE: 
I just finished reading Outlander, which was like eating the last piece of a rich chocolate cake — so indulgent and delicious, but now that it’s over I miss it! I’m not even sure I want to watch the series, because we all know how that goes. I just started The Power of Kindness by Piero Ferucci.

SM: What are your top 5 favorite blogs/online resources?

  • The Poetry Foundation
  • The Send Me SFMOMA project, where you can text a word to SF MOMA and they’ll text you back the image of a piece from their collection inspired by that word.
  • The Mama Actor blog and FB community. That’s my FB group, so if you’re an actor and a mom, find us.
  • Moms In Film. Doing great things to advocate for moms (and dads) who are filmmakers. They ran a childcare trailer at SXSW last year that got a lot of press.
  • The SAG-AFTRA Foundation has a huge resource library of videos for those interested in pursuing acting.

SM: What do you wish you’d known a decade ago?
KE: 
I wish I’d spent less energy on self doubt, worrying about what other people might think, and feeling like I don’t belong. This one life we have is so precious, I just think to my younger self, “Go! Do it! Say it! Don’t be so afraid!”

SM: What advice would you offer to other artists/writers struggling to find the time and means to be more creative?
KE: 
Three things. One. Just carve out time. It’s important. It’s important to you, it’s important to me that you do it — and I don’t even know you. If you have to leave 15 minutes early for an appointment and sit on the side of the road to have some quiet alone time, so be it (that’s a personal story; I guess it depends on what you need for your own creative expression, if it’s paint, maybe the car isn’t the place).

Two. Distraction is really the killer of creativity, and if you’re just returning to focused creative time after not having it for a while, it’s normal for your brain to be squirrelly. Don’t give up on yourself. Just keep showing up and the focus will return, even if it takes a year. It will return, I promise.

Three. Find a community of creative mamas. Like this one! I didn’t have one so I started one and it’s saved the lives of many of us who are in it. You may feel like an inferior imposter, you may feel a superior artiste, it doesn’t matter, you still need a community. These women will inspire you and give you their own pilot light until you can find the inner strength to relight your own.

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Connect with Keiko!

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How She Does It: Meet Jane Gilheaney Barry

Jane Gilheaney Barry is a writer, creativist, and curator of the lifestyle and creativity blog That Curious Love of Green. She is seeking representation for her first novel, a modern gothic tale, Cailleach, and editing her creativity book, A Complete Coming Out Guide For Creatives In Hiding, due for publication this year. Jane lives in Co. Leitrim in the North West of Ireland with her husband and children. You’re going to enjoy this bolt of inspiration from Ireland.


At Home with Jane Barry

SM: Please introduce yourself and your family, Jane!
JB: I’m a writer, creativist, and curator of the lifestyle and creativity blog That Curious Love of Green. I live in the North West of Ireland with my husband Adrian, our children Shaylyn, Saoirse, and Sadhbh, and our cat Ernest Hemingway.

SM: Tell us about your artwork/creative endeavors.
JB: I’ve always been what you’d call highly creative but a few years ago I became deliberate with it and that changed everything.

creativity book cover

I started the blog and within a year started writing my first novel, a modern gothic tale Cailleach, meaning witch, hag, or goddess. Since then I’ve taught myself to paint and written the first in a series of e-books on themes of creativity, food, and home. That Curious Love of Green: A Complete Coming Out Guide for Creatives in Hiding will be available for pre-order on Amazon in October.

SM: What goals do you have for your art? How would you define your “life’s work”?
JB: My goal is to be the best writer I can be and right now, to bring my books to publication. I’m trying the traditional route first with my novel and self-publishing my creativity e-book in October. My life’s work is to create, write, challenge, and inspire.

SM: How has motherhood changed you creatively?
JB: I don’t think it has. What I will say is I have an opportunity to impart a certain spirit to my children which might have been lost had I not embraced my own creativity. I’m certainly conscious of and grateful for that.

SM: Where do you do your creative work?
JB: It used to be wherever was cool, or warm, convenient, or quiet. For a short time I had a room of my own; that’s now a child’s bedroom. My current mode is wanderess. I create a space — right now it’s in the eaves of our bedroom — that moves according to the season. I find it helpful to have a dedicated space, but the stimulation of change is also important to me.

SM: Do you have a schedule for your creative work?
JB: Yes. I’d never have finished the books otherwise. It’s too hard, even when you love it. You have to create a habit. Since our youngest started school I spend two to six hours a day, five days a week. It was more difficult when they were babies. While writing the first draft of my novel I was getting up daily at 5:00 am to get the hours in before Adrian left for work. But I’m always creating, thinking, or talking projects to myself, the children, and Adrian. All day, every day of my life.

SM: What does creative success mean to you?
JB: For 39 years I dreamed of a writing life, a freer, more creative life. I only had one thing on my bucket list, and that was to write a book. And I knew I wanted to paint. At the point when I started the blog I felt blocked from all these things, from even the most basic of creative writing. I had no background, no training, no frame of reference. I thought this kind of life belonged to other people, “artist types.” I could not have been more wrong. That this is my life now, that I had the power to create it, I believe everyone does, and the democracy of it all. That is creative, is life success, for me. Plus I’ve learned how to slay creative blocks, that’s a success in itself.

Jane_Gilheany_Barry

SM: What makes you feel successful as a mother?
JB:
My eldest girl will be 22 this December. And when I look at her I feel successful, so, fingers crossed for the next two. We had an art day yesterday with everyone sitting around the table writing, painting, and working on various projects. At different times both small girls headed outside, “for inspiration,” they told me. That felt good. I think I will feel successful enough if they can be themselves, think for themselves, and do what they want to do.

SM: What do you struggle with most?
JB: Protecting myself has been a learning curve; my time and energy. And rest. My tendency is to not rest or take care of myself, because I’d rather just work. Which is a way of taking care of myself. But not enough. I’ve improved, but I need to do more for my physical self.

SM: What inspires you?
JB: Everything inspires me, nothing is wasted, nothing is lost. High on my list is colour, nature, beauty, women, houses, weather, wild landscapes, creativity, thinking, and sibling relationships.

SM: What do you want your life to look like in 10 years?
JB: Not very different to how it looks now. More books I should think. And when my ship comes in to winter abroad; now that would be nice.

SM: What are you reading right now?
JB: My novel writing style has been compared to Daphne du Maurier. In my shock and delight I’m currently reading everything by her. Next on my list is Lolly Willowes by Sylvia Townsend Warner because I love witches, women, rebels, and irreverence.

SM: What are your top 5 favorite blogs/online resources?

SM: What do you wish you’d known a decade ago?
JB: How wonderful life was going to be.

SM: What advice would you offer to other artists/writers struggling to find the time and means to be more creative?
JB: Look at your day critically and see what, even small changes, you can make to support your creativity. We get so caught up in habits, routine, and with a set script for our days that we don’t make improvements. You have to become really conscious and solutions focused. Also, when planning your day schedule your creativity first. Everything else gets done anyway. Trust the process and put your faith in the work. All the answers are there. The answers to fear, doubt, worry, frustration. Just prioritise and do the work. The tendency is to focus on problems, on outcomes, and what people think, but the joy of your life is the work itself. It’s hard when children are small but every little bit you do adds up. So don’t wait. If it’s important to you you’ll find a way.

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Connect with Jane here:

Kelly: Surrendering My Superpowers

One of the gazillion images I need to edit, this one captured in Virginia last month.

I had to meet with Olivia’s teacher yesterday morning regarding her reading grade. Livvie started out poorly this year, then made the A/B honor roll for the second and third quarters, and now has dropped back down as the school year is winding down. Ever feel completely powerless? Have a conversation with your second-grader’s teacher about her failing reading grade.

We talked through why this might be happening. After all, she did make the A/B honor roll for two quarters! I think with Olivia, it’s all about concentration, or lack thereof (something she, unfortunately, probably gets from me). Ms. G said that lately she’ll race through her reading comprehension quizzes and just circle random answers, seemingly without giving any thought to what the correct answer might be. She’s one of the first to turn in her quizzes. We asked Livvie about this at home, and she said that when she sees other classmates start to turn their quizzes in, she feels like she needs to hurry up and finish and turn hers in, even though these quizzes are not timed. Wow, ever feel like you are trying to keep up with everyone around you when you really don’t need to? I know I could learn from that lesson. Food for thought there… I asked Ms. G to send home several sample quizzes so I could work with Livvie on them over the long holiday weekend and try to get her grade back up. Her reading skills are fine. She’s reading above grade level. It’s just the patience it takes to actually complete the quizzes that she’s struggling with. I also need to help her realize that she is a wonderfully beautiful individual and doesn’t need to compare herself to her twin sister.

I do often feel powerless when it comes to trying to do what’s best for my children. Sounds crazy, maybe, but that’s how it hits me at times. I’m not home for homework time. Most of the academic year, I get home about 6pm Mondays, Wednesdays, and Thursdays, and 9pm on Tuesdays. Fridays are my only decent days since I can usually get home by 4pm.  DH picks the girls up from school about 4pm and does homework with them when they get home, so by the time I get home, it’s time for dinner, baths, snuggling, a little reading, and bedtime. DH is great with helping them with their math, but he admits he struggles helping them with their reading and writing. And those are my strong points! That’s where I can and really should be helping them! It all comes down to time.

And that’s also where I’ve been feeling powerless lately and am trying to find ways to make some major changes. Overall I think I’m at a point in my life where, though I’d love to be working on my creative endeavors more, there simply isn’t much spare time most of the year. And I have to tell ya, if I hear one more person tell me “Oh, you make time for what’s important to you,” I think my head will pop off. You can’t create more time, so, no, you often can’t make more time for what’s important to you without something that’s just as important suffering. That’s where reality kicks in. “Find some time after the girls go to bed!” others have told me. My girls go to bed between 8:30pm and 9pm. I can’t give up sleep due to my balance disorder. It’s crucial that I get at least eight to nine hours of sleep a night or my spins pick up. My dizzy meds work to reset my balance while I’m sleeping, so that sleep is ultra-important. I have to get up at 5:30am or 6am, so that means my bedtime is typically about 9pm.

But there are changes I can make, and that’s what I’m working on. Read more

Cathy: Love and writing

I really do often feel stuck between what I “should” be doing instead of writing, and my writing. If I don’t put it first right now, I will only be a resentful pig of a mother and wife. And that’s the truth. Plain and simple.

So yesterday, when I needed a moment in the midst of writing, I doodled this instead.

It’s really almost done. This is the final push. So if my family sees less of me, if you see less of me around the blogosphere, etc., this is why. I am hard at work. I will be back in my family’s life more when I can focus on them better because I will not be dissecting and rearranging a manuscript in my head during our interactions.

And that’s it.

[Cross-posted from musings in mayhem]

Cathy: New favorite thing

Please forgive me if my sentences make no sense today. I had a cahrazy weekend, which included Honey’s birthday, on which I barely saw him. It was a good weekend, a celebratory weekend, but I have been having a cold coming on for a few days, and I think it hit me full force today, when I can finally rest, while catching up and critiquing two manuscripts for tomorrow’s writing group, that is. How’s that for a run-on?

Oh, and for some unknown reason, Captain Comic has decided that somewhere between 3 am and 4:30 am is primo wakeup and run back and forth with lights on and doors slamming time.

Anyway, in time for the December challenge, one of my old writing friends from my Boston days turned me on to a new writing tool. It works like Julie Cameron’s Morning Pages from The Artist’s Way, but it’s online. It’s typed. It’s private, and you can let your mind wander for 750 words, the equivalent of three pages. And you don’t have to find that notebook or pen. I think most of us are sitting in front of a screen these days anyway, right? And it gives me a community of people who are also writing, whether or not I make any more of a connection beyond just knowing they are out there somewhere doing the same thing: http://750words.com.

I am a horrible typist. It takes me about 20 minutes per day to meet the 750, averaging about 35-40 words a minute. all typos are left in place. I try not to go back and correct. I don’t think about what I’m writing, I just let the garbage fall out of my brain through my fingers tips and up onto the screen.

Usually about three quarters of the way in, I hit my stride and there’s at least a phrase if not an idea that I like or that I can work with in something else, later.

Here’s the thing:

When the boys were younger, and I was single and working three part-time jobs to support them, when I woke up in the morning, I put the baby gate across the kitchen doorway of our little condo, got the coffee started, and while it brewed, I started my morning pages with pen and notebook amidst the dulcet tones of Captain Comic hanging on the opposite side of the gate, rattling it and screaming for my attention, Mr. Cynic momming me, and the themes of Blues Clues or Bob the Builder running from the tv in the background. After a few months, they got that I was not going to give them the time of day during “Mommy’s morning pages.”

And that’s when I started writing my almost finished editing this draft manuscript — later in the day, somewhere between job number one and the first school bus arrival, I had 30 minutes in which I wrote the first thirty or so pages of this book. But I was only productive on that if I had been productive earlier by getting through the mess of my daily concerns to hit the subconscious, where the better writing sprung from, like an underground spring of fresh water. First I had to clear away the mud.

So why have I not been writing or editing what I really want to be working on lately?

I think the key is in these morning pages. I think it’s in getting the garbage out of my head. It only takes me 20 minutes, so why not? Here I am, doing it online. And this site has some interesting tools to help you see what mood you’re writing in, for instance. Or what words you repeat, or what senses you are using, and how dominantly you write in one over another. It also has a healthy dose of competition that fuels some of us to write. For me it’s much needed accountability. I highly recommend it: http://750words.com.

C’mon….you know you want to.

 

Kelly: What Shall You Do?

This little scrap of spelling list has been floating around the house for months. I find it here and there, and for some reason, I’ve just never thrown it away. Today I was thinking about everything that I have on my plate on right now, and when I came home, I saw this on the floor in the bedroom. Shall.

Sometimes things get so crazy that we lose track of all the things we said we shall do. The kids get sick (Olivia). You get sick (me). The cat goes on the lam again (Tink). You become over-committed, oftentimes because of things you cannot control (me, work). You stay sick because you’re over-committed (me, still). You follow through on obligations you make because you committed that you shall do them (me, participating in the Halifax Arts Festival even though I was still sick). You work one very demanding full-time job, one part-time job and try to manage a creative business, for a reason (you, um, I, want the part-time job to become the full-time job so you can have more time with your family and more time for creativity). So you keep going.  What shall you do to pull all this together?

Today, I shall try to remember that all things will fall into place where they shall, in their due time, as the Man above plans. And I shall be thankful that I got to get away for a brief 24 hours to reunite with my sorority sisters Saturday (45 of us), antibiotics and cough drops in hand (and a few beers to help battle the germs). And I shall decide that those custom orders can wait just a little while longer, and that will be okay. And I shall decide that I’ll get to my blog when I get to my blog, which obviously hasn’t been very often lately. And I shall sit on the couch and cuddle with my girls while watching Wheel of Fortune and Jeopardy and then lie in the bed and snuggle with DH while watching Antiques Roadshow. And I shall try not to worry about all those things I’ve been losing track of. And I shall decide that everything will be just fine. What shall you do today?

[cross-posted from Artful Happiness…pictures from the reunion there :-)]

Robin: Stepping In

I completed my one week ecourse with Christine Mason Miller this past week.

More than anything, I found that putting the money down for the e-course forced me to DECIDE…Decide whether I am in or out. Am I really moving into this writing life of mine? Or am I just flitting around from here to there talking about it and blogging about it and TWEETING about it.

So step 1: Yesterday, I cancelled with a friend who wanted to shoot the breeze explaining that I KNOW that Josey’s preschool time is supposed to be set aside for writing. And I KID YOU NOT, within the next 24 hours TWO PEOPLE asked me if I would like them to help with Josey, giving me 4 EXTRA HOURS next week to write.

So here I am stepping into my life. I am writing an e-course on the spiritual side of creativity. The anticipated launch date is January 2011. You heard it here first. I am thrilled to say it in this space because this is where I first put my toes in the writing water this year. Thanks to Miranda and all my kindred spirits for the courage to put one foot in front of the other.

[Photo credit]

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