When I was a kid I loved to make stuff. I made theater shows in my bedroom with my Smurf figurines, a clip-on desk lamp, and a scrim made from my polyester Dracula cape left over from Halloween. Even though I didn’t know how to play yet, I gave piano recitals for my family. The little songs were wheezed out on my 1970s era orange chord organ. I made stop motion films with the Super 8 camera I got for Christmas with my friend Andy, complete with title cards that listed us as cast and crew. When my sister and I played “house” on rainy days, I was always coming home late from my gig at the nightclub, just like Linda Lavin did on Alice. That’s just the beginning of the list, but suffice it to say I always found a way to create something to share with others and it always brought me joy.
Like a lot of creative kids, I was told by well meaning adults on the regular that music, theater, art, films, and the like would be good hobbies, but I needed to find a more sensible way to live my life, or at the very least come up with a back up plan. The implication was that I would never be able to make a living doing the things I loved. I was a very sensitive kid (and not coincidentally, a very sensitive adult, too), so I internalized those messages and let them inform not just the value of my interests, but the core of my value as a human. If I loved to do something that was so worthless and foolish, what did that say about me? Slowly but surely my passion and excitement for creating things withered, along with my excitement for life.
When I set off for college in 1987, I settled on a Radio and Television Production major. Even though it wasn’t exactly what I wanted to do, I figured it was creative enough and it felt like a more sensible choice than studying my real passion: music. That year at University was half-hearted at best, and ended with my coming out, partying every night, and flunking out of school. Ooooops.
It wasn’t until I sobered up in 1994 that I began to take tiny steps toward pursuing the life I had dreamed of since being a kid. In 1995 I registered at Houston Community College and began studying both Piano and Music Composition, and then almost immediately began music directing at professional theaters and teaching piano around town. I went on to study at Moore’s School of Music and continued making a little name for myself around Houston as a pianist and Musical Director. I was excited to be doing professionally the thing that I loved, but something was still missing.
When my mom passed away in 2011 I shifted. I was a few years into my 40s and now living in New York City. I was devastated by the loss of my mom and after digging deeper I realized that I had let her down. For every adult that told me I needed to focus on figuring out a “real job,” my mom had been there cheering me on to follow my heart and my passion for music. My fear and doubt had not only kept me from following my own dreams, but it kept me from fulfilling her dream to see me become more authentically me. I realized that the best way to honor her memory was to start believing in my artist self, or at the very least, act like I believed in that artist self. That’s when I started writing my first solo show, Tentative Armor, which I went on to perform in New York City and then turned into a book and an album based on the show. I’ve gone on to write another show which had TWO runs in New York City. I took the show on tour, and turned the show into a book and an album, too. All of these things were co-created with members of my Patreon community, along with 68 podcasts, 29 videos, and 2 zines.
Right now, though, I am sitting on a weirdly shaped stool at LAX waiting to board my flight home and reflecting on why I have had this big-ass lump in my throat ever since I woke up this morning. I legit feel like I want to cry about leaving Patreon’s annual Patrecon convention for creators, and I am just beginning to figure out why.
From the start, I have been thrilled by Patreon’s mission and the possibility it provides for creators like me to get paid for making stuff on our own terms. Over the last year, I have had the opportunity to interact directly with members of the Patreon staff through meet-ups, bootcamps, and even one-on-one calls. I knew that Patreon believed in artists, but through my direct interaction with the members of the staff, I began to learn that they believed in individuals. Like me.
I have come a long, long way in learning to value the work I create over the past few years, but I still experience embarrassment when I tell people about how I am living my life in an art focussed way. I didn’t really notice how ingrained this feeling was until this weekend, when I was able to let it go.
I met countless creators this weekend and each meeting started with the question, “what do you create?” Not only was I suddenly in the center of a community where creativity was important, but it was the most important thing, and the thing that brought us all together. I began to let go of my smallness around the fact that my answer was “I create multi-media performance art, books, music, videos, and podcasts,” because I was quickly discovering that I was amongst folks who were similarly trying to make a life out of their beautiful passions. These were people who knew that my passion, whatever it was, had value. Just like theirs.
I gathered a ton of information at Patrecon this weekend thorough talks, panels, workshops, and conversations with other creators. I learned about data, email lists, inclusivity, branding, marketing, coping with burnout and so much more. I’ll be sorting through my notes and refocussing my work to build my creative business on Patreon for the next few weeks. I am incredibly excited and motivated by all of these things, but, that lump in my throat about leaving. . . why?
This weekend I was able to take that little creative kid inside me out to play without fear. The little kid who slowly let his passion to create wither away years ago got to meet other humans who said “holy shit, your work sounds awesome!” instead of asking “what’s your real job though?” This little kid got to hear a closing talk from Patreon founder Jack Conte, who got choked up telling the crowd about his belief in us and making a promise that he would not let us down. My little inner creative kid came back to life a little bit more this weekend, and he is PUMPED.
I absolutely love my life in New York City, and am surrounded by tremendously supportive people who I love very much. Our society doesn’t value artists and creators yet the way that it should, though, and after my weekend in the creator centered environment of Patrecon, it feels sad to go back to this other place. I believe we can have a world where things and actions have value because they make us feel, they make us wonder, question, or even doubt what we thought we believed. We laugh, we cry, we even get angry when we encounter someone else’s creation. Art has the capacity to make us feel in ways that other things can not.
I am so proud to be an artist today, and grateful as fuck to have a platform like Patreon to explore, experiment, and connect with the people who love what I do.
Thank you. <3