anna brones

writer + artist + producer

Posts Tagged ‘interview

Lisa Congdon

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“An artist is someone who practices and expresses their creativity intentionally and regularly.”

-Lisa Congdon

Even if you don’t know her name, it’s hard not to have come across the work of Lisa Congdon. Her illustrations have been featured in numerous books and magazines, her wisdom about working as an artist is inspiration for many seeking a creative path, and her bright, bold, thoughtful work has become a visual statement against the oppressive and divisive politics of our time, a balm for many of us.

I have followed Lisa’s work for years, and knew that I wanted to feature her in the Women’s Wisdom Project. But would she say yes to taking the time to do a Q&A?

If there is one thing that I respect about Lisa, it’s that she is very publicly open about how she manages her time, and the necessity of saying no. She recently launched a collaboration with Emily McDowell and she has a new retail space in Portland. All to say, Lisa has a lot on her plate, and I was so grateful when she responded to my email and agreed to answer a few questions.

Originally, I had thought about using either of these quotes in her papercut portrait:

“Want to get better at something? Keep doing it.”

“Every single person who chooses to embark on a creative path has to work at it… You have to stay open and constantly move outside what’s comfortable.”

All of those words have power, particularly for those of us in a creative field, whether it’s personally or professionally. But eventually I landed on something that she wrote in her answers in this Q&A. That an artist is “someone who practices and expresses their creativity intentionally and regularly.”

Why this quote in particular?

The topic of what we call ourselves often comes up in conversation with friends and colleagues. When you are in a creative field, there is sometimes a fear or pushback to feeling like you get to define yourself with a certain term. Simran Sethi talked about this in our interview, not feeling like she could comfortably call herself a writer. I too have felt this many times, hesitating at the terms “artist” or “writer,” wondering if I have permission to employ them.

Instead of defining who we are and what we do on our own terms, we often seek external validation. In our culture, usually that’s money. The Virginia Woolf quote comes to mind: “Money dignifies what is frivolous if unpaid for.”

But you are not an artist because someone pays you to make art. You are an artist simply because you are involved in the act of creating. That’s why Lisa’s quote stuck with me, a reminder to reinvest in the creative act, to continue to be intentional about creative work.

Anna: What does wisdom mean to you?
Lisa: Wisdom to me is perspective. Perspective on life, the flow of life, the ups and downs of life, the relative seriousness of life’s events, understanding that all things pass, even good and exciting things, especially the difficult things. It’s an ease, a loosening of the grip. The perspective that comes with wisdom grows naturally with age, and it’s very comforting.

Is there an influential woman in your life who passed along a piece of wisdom to you? Who and what?

I haven’t seen her in years, but I had a therapist in my early/mid thirties who literally helped me change my life. Previous to working with her, I thought of myself as a victim, as someone who had no agency over her life or happiness. I was really, really depressed and suffered from extreme anxiety. And she helped me shift my perspective to see that I had the power to create the life I wanted through what I believed about myself and about life. Low and behold, I worked on changing my beliefs about life and my own worthiness, and my happiness grew. She taught me that it was my attitude about life’s events — not life’s events themselves — that would determine the quality of my life, and that I should look at even difficult experiences as opportunities to learn more about myself and to grow. Everything shifted for me as a result. I ceased being a victim and began being creative. I began making art. Everything opened up as a result.

What does the word “artist” mean to you?

Someone who practices and expresses their creativity intentionally and regularly.

I think a lot about our cultural use of the words “productive” and “prolific.” Especially in creative fields, these are certainly viewed as positive things, often given as a compliment. And yet, I think that it distracts us from the importance of the process of creative work, because we are instead so focused on the outcome. You are a full-time artist, so how do you find that balance between producing artwork to keep yourself financially flourishing and investing in a process that fuels you?

I am one of those people who others describe as “productive” and “prolific.” People ask, “When do you sleep?” assuming that people who are prolific also do not enact self care or know how to recharge. I think one of the beautiful things about my path so far is that I have pushed the envelope so many times (working too much!) and have managed now to learn the sweet spot where the creative experience and productivity meet but don’t overwhelm me. I’ve made the mistake of taking on too much work or committing myself to too many projects in the past, and I’ve learned when I do that I basically just stressed out and I feel like crap physically and emotionally. So what’s the point? A new client on the client list? Something new to show in the portfolio? Those outcomes mean little if you are miserable in the process of achieving them. My work right now is finding just the right amount of work to pay the bills and feel creatively challenged, but also to do as much of my own personal work as possible (and I’m lucky because I can monetize my personal work), and find time to explore, try new things, and also to rest, ride my bike and enjoy my life. That work is hard because you have to be so self aware. You have to say no when something doesn’t serve that end, even when it’s a beautiful carrot. You have to be super present. It’s daily work. I’m into it, though. I want to feel happy and relaxed. Getting older makes me want to really live what I have left.

Do you experience creative blocks? If so, how do you deal with them?

I do sometimes, but not too often, because I am always actively seeking out inspiration and I also have en enormous amount of grit that helps me work through blocks. In my experience, creative blocks are either exhaustion or fear. So I try to suss out which it is in any particular situation. And then I either rest of push myself through the fear of failure or whatever I’m scared of.

What wisdom would you share with your younger self?

YOU ARE A SMART, CREATIVE BEING. YOU WORTHY OF LOVE AND HAPPINESS.

This papercut and profile are a part of the Women’s Wisdom Project, a project focused on showcasing the wisdom of inspiring, insightful women by making 100 papercut portraits.

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Written by Anna Brones

March 22, 2019 at 08:07

Simran Sethi

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“Empower women and we all do better.”

-Simran Sethi

Journalist, writer, podcaster, speaker, professor: Simran Sethi is many things.

Her work centers around food, sustainability and social change, and whether she’s penning an article about bees for the Smithsonian, podcasting about chocolate, or speaking at a conference, whatever medium she uses, she is committed to connecting with people.

In 2015 she published an excellent book titled Bread, Wine, Chocolate: The Slow Loss of Foods We Love. That book is ever more topical given the recent United Nations report on the shrinking biodiversity and the risk for global food and agriculture. For example: while 6,000 plant species are cultivated for food, just nine of them account for two-thirds of all crop production. If we don’t prioritize biodiversity and conservation, we are in risk of a serious crisis.

Sethi and I have only met in person once, but thanks to this thing we call the Internet, we have been able to cultivate a friendship. I have a deep respect for the work that she does, and over the course of knowing her, I have discovered many of the commonalities that we share. We had a long conversation last summer, and I only recently got around to transcribing it.

It was so refreshing to listen to it after all this time, the things that we talked about are still relevant and I found myself appreciating this new dose of wisdom from her.

Who is Simran Sethi?

I’m a writer and I’m a professor of journalism and have been a podcast and broadcast journalist and documentary filmmaker. I’ve had a number of different designations, but all of them at their very core are about creating something. For me the act of creation is one very specific intention of helping people make better decisions in their lives, providing the kind of information that will support some small or large level of transformation.

You told me that a woman who you shared an apartment with when you were teaching in Rome last summer referred to you as an artist, and that you really appreciated that. Why do you think you haven’t referred to yourself as an artist?

I’m still pretty new to referring to myself as a writer. It has taken me a long time to do that. I mean, even after a major house published my book, I would apologetically and sheepishly say, “I wrote a book.” Probably it comes from very early on in my childhood. My family and I immigrated from Germany, but my parents are of Indian origin. As far back as I can remember, my father gave me five job choices: teacher, lawyer, engineer, doctor, or scholar. My mom encouraged actual artistic creativity in my sister, but I was the bookish one, with glasses at age six, reading a lot. I didn’t see myself as, A: someone who a was creative, or B: was allowed to be creative.

It’s so interesting to me that so many people say “I’m not creative,” even though it’s not a thing that we inherently have or don’t have. It’s something that we can work on. Everyone gets to be creative, no matter whether you’re an engineer or an illustrator. I wonder what it is that’s kept us from embracing that culturally.

I think it even ties in to the notion of a storyteller. Certain people claim that mantle, but we all are telling stories every day. Like I write in my book, we’re made of story. I firmly believe that: we’re engaged in creative acts every day. Whether it’s a spreadsheet, a book or a loaf of bread. We can look to the age of rationalism and philosophers like Descartes, and I can’t really go too far down that road, but I think there’s something there separating out an artist from a thinker, as if these things are mutually exclusive. They are not, they are embedded in each other.

When you think of the word wisdom, what does it mean to you?

The first idea that comes to mind is roots going deep. And the distinction I would make between being smart and being wise. Wisdom feels like a grounded knowledge, being centered and steadier in yourself. To describe someone as wise, to me is to describe someone who is not only knowledgeable about the world, but has a deep relationship with their inner world.

Is there an influential woman in your life who passed along a piece, or sense, of wisdom that you can remember?

It sounds a bit cliche, but the person who has done this the most, is my mother, with little dust bunnies of wisdom. So much of how I felt about recent decisions that I have made have been elevated by her support. I live a pretty nomadic existence, and there’s a part of that absence of a singular home that feels weird and ungrounded. My mom reminds me how remarkable these decisions are, how lucky I am, how her life would have been so different if she had been allowed to make different kinds of decisions. Her feedback and insights have been really reaffirming for me.

How do you stay grounded within that existence?

I’ll share with you what I share with my mother, to reassure her: I have to find “home” within myself. I used to be a labor support doula, helping women during childbirth. When you’re actually birthing, you’re not moving, you’re birthing, right? You’re walking around ahead of time, you’re rocking or on your hands and knees or doing whatever you do. But in the moment when you’re pushing that life into the world, you’re stationary.

It’s a little bit difficult to drop down into my creative work when I am moving; I have to find still points. And I also know the movement feeds the work. In many cases, it is the work: taking in the world and bringing it back to my respective audiences – whether in print or on a podcast.

I feel like that constantly, that I need solitude and stillness to create the work, but I need movement to inspire the work. That is a tough balance to find.

Exactly. It’s dynamic. So many things feed us. It’s a gift. And, at the same time, I occasionally – rarely now but still – feel like, “Wouldn’t it be nice to live a calmer, contained life?” To pick the kids up from soccer, to make dinner with the husband, et cetera.

I have been thinking a lot about what women have to contribute. And I was thinking about all of your work in chocolate, meeting women on the ground. What are some of maybe the old traditions are wisdoms that they have that can help to move us forward in a sustainable way?

Women have a much harder time getting access to capital and land. Yet, they’re the ones who, with whatever money they earn, do a much better job at sustaining the household. It’s just so simple, right? Empower women and we all do better, our entire society will be better. If you give women access to education, credit, work, leadership positions, things will be better.

There’s this one collective of women farmers I met in Dominican Republic who make chocolate. I referenced then in a story I wrote for Yes! magazine. All they wanted was be treated the way the men were and to earn enough money to have some agency in decisions in around their families. Some of them are farmers, but they’ve now also moved into making this value added product, chocolate. The way I saw them take care of each other at the conference where we met, and what I learned about how their role in their communities were being elevated as they were seen as business people. It was quite inspiring.

From a global perspective, women feed us. We grow the crops, we make decisions around food purchases and make the food. We nourish. But these acts have also been taken from us. Women were the first people who made beer – they were called “ale wives” – women were the first to make farmhouse cheese, and so on. It’s only when these kinds of drinks and foods become commodities – when it’s taken away from the province of the home – that they seem to accrue value.

I want to continue to be somebody who calls attention to that and does whatever I can to help shift perceptions around who – and what – women are. I don’t fully know how that will play out but it starts, I think, with what you’re doing: elevating women’s voices.

This papercut and profile are a part of the Women’s Wisdom Project, a project focused on showcasing the wisdom of inspiring, insightful women by making 100 papercut portraits.

Written by Anna Brones

March 8, 2019 at 06:43

For the Love of Cookbooks and Roots

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When I was home earlier this summer, I asked my mother for a recipe. She pulled out her worn 3-ring binder. This binder is blue, has yellowed pages falling out of it and has sat in the same place on the bookshelf for as long as I can remember. In it are recipes scratched in her handwriting of her earlier years, additions by her sisters, and almost four decades’ worth of recipe inspiration ripped from magazines.

My natural instinct when I need a recipe is to go to that online thing that starts with G. For my mother, it’s to go to her recipe shelf. If it’s not in the blue book then there has to be a recipe that can be improvised on elsewhere among the culinary titles. In fact, it was only recently that she called to tell me that she was wondering about a specific recipe and went to her computer herself to search around the internet for it (normally she calls me and has me cull the pages and select a few links, her personal search engine so to say).

Read the rest of this entry »

Written by Anna Brones

September 26, 2012 at 08:45

Journey to Kathmandu: Beautiful Documentary About Nepal’s Dashain Festival

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There is a big place in my heart for the people of Southeast Asia. Smiles. Generosity. Beauty. Simplicity. So it’s no surprise that I love this trailer for Journey to Kathmandu.

The documentary is about the once-in-a-lifetime journey that goats make from their lives in Tibet to their sacrificial deaths in Kathmandu during the annual Dashain Festival, and this trailer is downright beautiful. I was so inspired by it I interviewed the documentary’s director, Chris Parkhurst. Here’s an excerpt.

What has inspired you to focus on SE Asia?

As ‘Bombhunters’ opened my eyes up to the wonderful world of documentary films, it also inspired me to travel and do work in SE Asia. Cambodia blew me away. SE Asia, as a whole, blows me away. It’s very difficult to explain to people who have never been. Sure, all the cliches apply here. It’s life-changing. Once you’ve been, you’re forever changed. But, you know, it’s absolutely true.

What can I say? It just gets in your blood, in your heart, on the brain. Once I’d done it, I only wanted more. I was addicted. Don’t get me wrong, this is not to say that countries like Cambodia, Nepal, Indonesia, Thailand… they’re not for everybody. They’re uncomfortable. They’re dirty. They’re corrupt. They make you sweat. They can make you sicker than you’ve ever been in your life. You’ll see some of the most decrepit, sorry things you’ll ever see. People without limbs. Kids playing in garbage dumps the size of my neighborhood back home. But I love that. I really can’t get enough.

Because what goes along with all of this are the beautiful things that you don’t get here in the States. Community. Perspective. Compassion. Appreciation for friends, family, your neighbors. Soul and spirituality. People treat one another with a kind of dignity, honesty and love that seems to be lacking here. These are all things that I hope to share with Westerners in hopes of creating some sort of better consciousness, some better ways of living and interacting with one another.

Read the whole interview over at Elephant Journal.

Written by Anna Brones

January 19, 2010 at 06:00

Where Would You Want to Wake Up?

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One question simple question was asked to 50 different people in Brooklyn. The result is this beautiful video.

Fifty People Once Question have a great website as well.

[Via: World Hum]

Written by Anna Brones

October 21, 2009 at 06:00

7,800 Miles Across the Andes: An Interview With the First Two People to Trek the Entire Andes

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I recently got to interview two of my adventurers, Gregg Treinish and Deia Schlosberg. Early last year they returned from a two year trek where they hiked the entire length of the Andes. Impressive. Plus they’re both fabulous people.

Here’s part of the interview, you can check the rest out at Matador Life.

***

AB: You decide to take off from your regular lives and trek the Andes. What goes through your head and heart before embarking on such an adventure?

Gregg: To me, the unknown has always been incredibly exciting. Not having any clue what lay around the next corner captures this special place inside my head that is very deeply attached to a visceral feeling of being alive, of doing something worthwhile.

Oftentimes, I find myself saying that had I known what was in store I might not have gone; this is certainly the case with the Andes as the challenges were far greater than either of us anticipated. Before the journey, there was a lot of fear, which my mind somehow translates to excitement.

I think that it would only be fair to say that there was a high level of disillusionment as well. While I obviously thought about what it was going to be like, I somehow let myself believe that it was going to be fun day in and day out, this despite a cognitive recognition that it wasn’t going to be fun in many cases.

I think that in order to follow through with something that you know could very well be your demise requires a certain level of denial.

Check out the rest of the interview here. And you can listen to a podcast with Gregg and Deia reading the first installment of their story in Wend Magazine here.

Written by Anna Brones

April 9, 2009 at 08:00

Posted in Portfolio, Travel

Tagged with , ,

I’m Podcasting!

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wend_dsp_logoIt’s been a busy last few days. Thanksgiving was fortunately full of a lot of sitting around and drinking wine, but then there was the inevitable return to an inbox full of emails and a to do list too long to even begin thinking about. But in the hectic days of last week, I forgot to post about launching podcasts over at Wend!

Now you can listen to feature stories from Wend writers as well as interviews with global adventurers, all conducted by yours truly. It’s an exciting project and I’m stoked to do more. Check out our first two that we posted last week. The first is Across the Andes, the first section of a two part story about Gregg Treinish and Deia Schlosberg, who trekked the entire length of the Andes and were just named National Geographic Adventurers of the Year! You can listen to them reading their moving story, which is just as inspiring as when you read it yourself!

The second podcast is a personal favorite: an interview with French writer and traveler Alexandre Poussin. Poussin and his wife trekked from the Cape of Good Hope to the Sea of Galilee in an incredibly epic journey, which has been recently documented in the book Africa Trek and currently running as a PBS series. It was an honor to chat with him (and fun as well). You can check out the podcasts — and others coming soon — at Wend’s Digital Story Project.

Written by Anna Brones

December 1, 2008 at 23:13