263: Practical Tips for Becoming a Working Artist in College and Beyond

Are you a high school student who is also an artist — a dancer, actor, designer, video game designer, painter, musician, and more? Are you curious how to use your college education to prepare you for becoming a working artist?

Guest Expert Madison Alexander breaks down how to choose the right arts-focused college, write an appealing application, and what on campus resources will help you build your resume and start getting paid for your art sooner rather than later.

After she shares her personal story about becoming a working artist, Madison enthusiastically answers the following questions:

  • What are the key considerations for writing an artistic personal statement for college admission?
  • What are important things to look for in a college when pursuing the arts is a student’s long-term goal?
  • What can students be doing to prepare to enter a career in the arts during their time in college?
  • Lastly, how can parents best support their burgeoning artist throughout this journey?

Click here to listen in!

5+ Oddly Effective Tools That Build Great Habits with Thomas Frank

Back in July 2015, I presented a webinar, “5+ Oddly Effective Tools That Build Great Habits” with special guest Thomas Frank, from CollegeInfoGeek.com. This webinar was to help introduce high schoolers and college students to some unique and potent tools that they could use, and Thomas was excellent, showing us a wide variety of tools that were unique, creative, and very effective that everyone could add to their toolboxes.

So tune in to see what crazy ideas Thomas shared with us.

The tools demonstrated in this video are quite a few, and a summary wouldn’t do the video justice; however, I do want to give you all the links to the different applications and sites mentioned in the video.

Buffer, Tool, Tools, Habits, Habit, Thomas Frank, Gretchen Wegner, High School, CollegeBuffer is a social media management suite. It allows you to schedule posts, set up a queue of repeatable posts, etc. for Facebook, Instagram, Pinterest, Twitter, etc.

IFTTT is an application that allows you to connect two different websites/applications. In the video, IFTTT is used to connect Beeminder with Buffer, so that when a post from Buffer goes live, a data point gets added to Beeminder.

Beeminder, Tool, Tools, Habits, Habit, Thomas Frank, Gretchen Wegner, High School, College

Beeminder is a website application that allows you to have a system of accountability for your goals. You can set up goals, and if you don’t complete the goals, then you have to pay Beeminder. So, for example, if you don’t send out one post on Facebook a week then you have to pay $5 for each one you miss per week.

Habitica, HabitRPG, Habit RPG, Tool, Tools, Habits, Habit, Thomas Frank, Gretchen Wegner, High School, College

Habitica/HabitRPG is a habit tracking website. Effectively this website is a game based on your habits. The more habits or routines you complete, the stronger you get and the better you do. You can do a wide variety of things here, so here’s an example of what you can do: Let’s say you want to make sure you do your HW every day. You can schedule out your HW that you have in your planner, and then every day you can check it off, and you’ll gain EXP, items, etc.

ToDoist is a great place to keep track of all your tasks that you need to take care of. You can add tasks here to keep track of everything that you need to take care of.

Google Calendar is basically a planner that’s online. You can use it to schedule out all your time in a visual schedule. This offers a wide variety of features, including multiple calendars that can be turned on/off easily, time slots that can be overlapped and color coded, and much more.

As you can see there were a variety of tools listed in the video, and the system surrounding these were even better, not to mention starting at around 39:00 minutes into the video, Gretchen and Thomas answer a wide variety of questions from high school and college students. For a little sample, there’s one discussion about part-time jobs, another question about meta-habits, and so much more!

If you found this useful, I highly suggest you check out Thomas’s site, CollegeInfoGeek.com. He has a regular blog, podcast, and more for college students with tips and advice. And you can get even more tools and tips in my course, The Anti-Boring Approach.

How to Like Your Teachers and Get Better Grades, too!

Do you ever feel as if your teacher hates you?

I can’t tell you how many of my clients complain of this. In fact, it’s their number one excuse for why they don’t like their teacher! However, taking the time to get to know a bit more about your teachers helps you connect in class and get better grades.

Recently, I had a wonderful conversation with a client, who is a senior in high school this year. I just had to share with you his insight and reflection on how he shifted his relationship with a teacher last school year — for the better!

If school is overwhelming and stressful for a teen you know, please check out for the Anti-Boring Approach to Successful Studying. If my clients are reliable proof, these tools may just be the “magic wand” you need to start feeling more confident and in control, at school and in life.

Why Teens Should Stop Being Afraid of Librarians

Why are so many students hesitant to talk to Librarians?

Have you (or a teen you know) ever had a burning research question but been afraid to talk to a librarian? So many of my clients would prefer to spend hours alone googling for resources than spend 20 minutes with a knowledgeable librarian.

However, librarians are there to help and they love to answer questions. Research is definitely in their wheelhouse!  In this video, I share a few fun and creative ideas for helping students overcome their reluctance to ask for help. Getting past this minor roadblock will definitely benefit students in the future when more complicated research is needed for lengthy high school and college essays.

Would you like to learn more great tips like this? My online course The Anti-Boring Approach to Powerful Studying is filled with 30+ tools for rocking school…and is perfect for teens, parents, or educators.

If You Want to Be A Better Writer, Improve This First!

Does your poor typing slow you down when writing essays?

During client sessions, I often have an opportunity to watch my clients type. They often make so many mistakes that they are constantly deleting what they typed…and rarely can their bumbling fingers keep up with their brilliant minds.

Poor typing skills are not only frustrating but it is also stifling to creativity and the natural thought process. In this video, I discuss the possible reasons you or a student you know may be having difficulty as a writer. There are many resources out there to help sharpen your typing abilities, speed, and accuracy. I love to hear success stories. Leave them in the comments section above!

With the school year suddenly looming, now is the perfect time to get yourself some more tools to rock your grades this year. Click here to check out my favorites! 

Four Awesome Apps to Learn To Use This Summer

Do you have trouble keeping track of all of your To Do Lists and School Projects?

There are so many awesome apps out there to help you manage your time. Since it is summer, this is a perfect opportunity to discover and play with new time management applications.

In this video, I discuss a flashcard tool “Anki”, newly improved “Habitica”,  alert app “Way of Life” and organizational tool, “ToDoist”.

Would you like more creative solutions to time management and study woes? Check out my online course the Anti-Boring Approach to Powerful Studying. It’s great for grown-ups and teens alike.

Take Time Out To Slow Cook

20110826-100823.jpgEvery year I encourage my academic coaching clients to decorate their planners (otherwise, time management can be so uninspiring). Because I practice what I preach, I made a collage too. Can you tell what my intentions for the school year include? The poem (made of found words) sums it up:

True Vitality:

calm minds take time out
to slow cook.
break free!
the pleasure of not being perfect.
double your salary of possibilities
and live lighter
(yes, you can!)

Why It’s OK That I Don’t Finish My Homework

As an academic coach, I end the school year by meeting with parents to reflect on the ways their children have grown  — and to identify goals for the next year.

Recently at the end of one of those meetings, a mom sighed and said, “My daughter is simply developing at her own pace. Not necessarily the pace that I want her to be developing. But her own pace nonetheless.” Mixed into this comment was lots of love, some resignation, a little frustration, and a bunch of pride.

Parenthood sure comes with a complex set of feelings. And so does solopreneurship.

My sweet little academic coaching business is sure developing at it’s own pace. Sometimes it bursts forward! Sometimes it crawls. Just like a parent can’t control every aspect of their child’s development, neither can I do the same for my own business.

I’m extra conscious of this slow pace right now, as I take the Right Brain Business Plan e-course with Jennifer Lee.  I’m so behind on all my homework!! Every week I do a little something…but certainly not everything.

For example, this week we’re supposed to be making a balance sheet for our business. Instead, I’ve been working on the marketing assignments from last week. And even then, I’ve only did HALF the assignments.

The pictures (above) are the collages of my perfect customers that Jenn asked us to make. As I cut and pasted images that seemed to represent my ideal client, I learned a lot! For example, it seems that that my target clients are women and girls. That doesn’t mean that I don’t work with guys. Actually, I’m quite successful with a number of  teenage boys. But my ideal clients — the ones with whom I feel like I’m “in the flow” when we’re working together — are usually women! So why not claim that!?

Speaking of flow: finishing up those “perfect customer” collages was inspiring, although perhaps not in the way that Jenn intended. Her next assignment was for us to create a marketing plan, (two weeks later and I haven’ done it yet). Instead, I feverishly created a flier for a girls-only time management workshop I’m offering in August. Click on the picture to see the flier and read more about this never-been-tried-before workshop!

After creating the flier, I couldn’t wait to send it out. Thus ensued emails, photocopies, conversations. In fact, because I’d pushed to make the flier, two parents have registered their daughters already! Yay!!

Turns out that I didn’t end up making the marketing plan, but I sure did a whole lot of marketing!! Which is a new experience for me. And now that I’ve had real world experience getting the word out about my workshops, it’s going to be a whole lot easier to make the actual marketing plan

At a different time in my life, I might have been more stressed about not doing all my homework for a course. However, my participation in InterPlay has helped me understand the importance of ease and incrementality. InterPlay is a community arts practice that unlocks the wisdom of the body.  There’s so much about life that’s not easy! So when I’m feeling some ease around a specific task that I know is important to me, I give myself full permission to go for it, one small step at a time. Even if it means not doing my homework.

Uh oh. My Devil’s Advocate voice just jumped in:

Gretchen, I’m impressed on the positive spin you’ve just given your irresponsibility. Did it ever occur to you that you are just procrastinating?!  Is it possible that your push to send out the flier was actually a sneaky move to justify ignoring the balance sheet that is this week’s homework?

Maybe. However, check this out: last night when I was driving home from the coaching office, I started daydreaming about the balance sheet. “How cool is it that I just got two checks?” I thought to myself. “I wonder how much the workshop is actually gonna cost me? I guess it’s time to start that balance sheet!”

Aha! Never before in my life have I day dreamed about balance sheets! Maybe this means I’m ready for that next, small step! Whereas before working with numbers seemed like a chore, now I’m entering the task propelled by curiosity, ready to take on a challenge that before now felt big and annoying.

Luckily, Jenn is not grading us on our homework. If she did, I’d totally fail the class. At the pace I’m going right now, my Right Brain Business Plan won’t be done when the course ends.

But every week I make some good progress. I won’t be done when the course ends in a few weeks. But I will have all the information I need in order to finish. Which is one reason I’m blogging about my Right Brain Business Plan process:

I’d love you — my big bold blogging community — to hold me accountable. My goal is to be completely done with the entire plan by the end of July. If you don’t see any blog entries about it between now and then, will you bug me? I’d sure appreciate it.

Now, I’m off on vacation for a week, which means yet another week of not completing my homework. But when I get back on June 21st, I’ll get RIGHT ON that balance sheet!

Bon Voyage!


Imperfectly Inching Towards My Right Brain Business Plan

I’m taking the most wonderful (and the most challenging!) course right now: the Right-Brain Business Plan with Jennifer Lee.

Writing a business plan is hard!!! It brings up all my inner demons — procrastination; waffling;  shyness; fears (of commitment, that I’m not worthy, and that I won’t do it right, yaddah, yaddah, yaddah).

Luckily, Jenn has us playing with art as we crunch left-brained numbers. And that certainly makes it more tolerable. Down right fun, at times! Of course, in some cases I use the art as a procrastination tool in and of itself.

However, Jenn is encouraging us to trust the right brained process. And I’m encouraging myself to turn down the volume on my self judgment demons and trust that I’m doing exactly what I need to be doing at every step.

So even though I didn’t get all my homework for Week 2 done, I did want to share some of my small successes!

First I cleaned off my workspace. Ahhhh, a clean table top is such a delight:

Then I bought art supplies (markers, paint pens, acrylic paint) and fun orange containers in which to house them. I used to keep my markers in drawers, but I never used them. I think I’ll be more likely to make art if they are out, organized and visible, like this:

Then I finally launched into the easy part of Week 2’s assignment: asking folks for 3 Words that describe me. I posted a request on Facebook as well as sent out a GoogleForm to all my clients. Here’s what I learned from my fabulous friends and clients (there appears to be major consensus about a couple of adjectives):

Finally, I got into the hard part of the assignment: researching trends, markets and competitors. Blech. Numbers, numbers, numbers. I have so many different parts to my business: academic coaching for teens, writing and creativity coaching for grown-ups, MuseCubes. The overwhelm almost got to me, until I found a fun picture of a detective and remembered that I had an old magnifying glass lying around:

After taping them to a poster and putting the whole shebang up on the wall where I could see it, I suddenly found motivation! I decided to focus this part of the business plan on my academic coaching work, and began researching trends and competitors. I’m certainly not done with this research process, but at least I got started:

So there you have it: I’m inching closer and closer to my right brain business plan. Very imperfectly. Very incrementally. But getting there. And it’s actually kinda fun.

A few learnings about what motivates me in a difficult and triggering process like business plan writing:

  • colorful tools like paint pens
  • basic supplies like blue tape and poster board
  • plenty of wall space so I can keep my work visible while I’m working on it
  • a key metaphor and corresponding image (like the detective and magnifying glass) to keep me focused on my role AND to make it seem more fun
  • the permission to go incrementally and be imperfect
  • the freedom to make art along side make lists
  • a community of women doing the same thing and sharing about it online (Jenn has us working together in an online space).

Although I’ve taken and enjoyed Jenn’s day-long in-person workshop, I highly highly highly recommend this virtual process!! If you’ve been hemming and hawing about writing your own business plan, check out Jenn’s website.

Make Your Own MuseCubes?! Reflections on Creativity, Entrepreneurship & Ownership


As a product inventor, people often ask me whether I’ve “protected” Musecubes. Certainly, I’m in the process of trademarking and copyrighting my products. So in that sense — yes.

But with any creative idea, to what extent do I truly “own” it? And would I really want to?

A year ago, I found out about a preschool teacher who made giant MuseCubes by covering boxes with wrapping paper, and adding her own verbs.

Just today, I stumbled upon Dayna Collins’ blog, Alley Art Studio. Wow! I’m stunned at Dayna’s creative application of the MuseCubes idea. In her own words:

Our creative project for last night was to design and make a personal set of MuseCubes. I heard about Muse Cubes sometime last year and went online and bought a set. I used them during my last Artist’s Way session and they were great fun. Basically, one cube has words related to noises and sounds you can make and the other cube has action verbs, i.e., shake, bend, and dance. You roll the dice and do as instructed. You might be howling and bending, or laughing and shaking. You get the idea.

I absolutely love how Dayna personalized the Cubes. And aren’t they beautiful?! I’ve included one of the pictures, above, but I highly recommend going to Dayna’s blog and checking out the gorgeous art work yourself.

Back to that question of ownership. I think of the MuseCubes as my child. And as poet Khalil Gibran points out in The Prophet, we do not own our children:

Your Children are not Your Children
They are the sons and daughters of life’s longing for itself.
They come through you but not from you,
And though they are with you yet they belong not to you.
You may give them your love but not your thoughts,
For they have their own thoughts.
You may house their bodies but not their souls,
For their souls dwell in the house of tomorrow, which you cannot visit, not even in your dreams.
You may strive to be like them, but seek not to make them like you. For life goes not backward nor tarries with yesterday.

The timing of Dayna’s blog is ideal for me in terms of MuseCubes business development.

Because I live in the land of America — where we encourage entrepreneurs to get bigger, better, faster — I’ve been feeling the pressure to turn MuseCubes into a mass-produced, commercially viable product. And I won’t say that I’m NOT moving in that direction. Perhaps I want to!

However, one of the pleasures of this delightful product is the homemade beauty of each Cube. And Dayna’s blog entry reminded me of just how stunning the cubes are when they are decorated with random art cutouts.

As Khalil Gibran reminds me, the idea of MuseCubes — that we are all inherently creative; sometimes our creativity gets buried underneath thinking and mistrust; and movement, whimsy, and silliness are GREAT tools to unlock our stored gems — is not “mine.”

So I still don’t know which direction I’m going to go with the business. Will I mass produce? Will I quit altogether and sell the idea to someone with more resources & time? Will I continue making small, homemade ones by hand? Will I sell MuseCube making kits? Will I put more of my focus onto the upcoming iPhone app?

What I DO know is that more and more people (in general) and women (more specifically) are taking to the Cubes. This is an idea that, now that it’s born, can’t be stopped.The whimsy, creativity, and surprise that comes from a random roll, and subsequent shake & howl, really does open up our creativity and sense of possibility.

What might happen if I now, following the guidance of Gibran, “strive to be like them”? In other words, strive to have my business processes and goals be more like the MuseCubes themselves — whimsical, creative, flexible?

I’m not sure what this all means, but you can be sure I’ll blog about it when I figure it out.

Thanks, Dayna, for your creative application of MuseCubes — and for inspiring to expand my vision of how my invention might play in the world.

This entry is a re-posting of an entry that first appeared at www.musecubes.com.

Can Howling Make You Smarter?


Wowzers! I invented a new use for the MuseCubes today. Story first, then tip below:

The Story: Singing Unlocks Brilliance

My friend Annie came over to cowork with me this morning. We usually meet for 3 hours, each working separately on important projects. Nothing like a fellow warm body to get these two solo entrepreneurs focused!

Today Annie needed some help. She was trying to write an essay, but was feeling stuck. I suggested she get up, dance around my big living room, and talk while she moves. In InterPlay lingo, this is called a Big Body Story.  I took notes, because I know that amazing ideas get unlocked when we move our bodies. And boy did I have to scribble hard — she was saying some great stuff!

I was surprised, though, that movement wasn’t the only trick to unlocking Annie’s creativity.

Afterwards I pointed out that Annie often uncovered a new brilliant idea whenever she would sing! More specifically,  when she sang the words “I don’t know what to say!” Usualy her singing was silly, often her head was thrown back with a more full throated sound. Each time (at least 3!), she always found a fun idea right after she sang.

MuseCube Tip: Roll Just the Voice Cube

Of course I couldn’t help think of the MuseCubes.

If you own a pair of MuseCubes, try this next time you find yourself feeling stuck:

  1. Roll the voice cube alone.
  2. Sing some words in the manner that the cube suggests. For example, if you roll a howl, try saying “I don’t know what to say!” in a howling way. Or if you roll “whoop”, try whooping the words “What should I write next!?”
  3. Roll the cubes at least three times.
  4. Go back to your work and see what’s new for you.

If you don’t own a pair of MuseCubes, you can still play with making silly noises while you talk. But if you’d like to get your own set of Cubes (or if you know someone who needs them!), please visit www.MuseCubes.com.

Walk Stop Run

Grand Central Station

This post is part of a project to share reflections about all 28 of the Core Elements of InterPlay.  For background information about InterPlay or this project, read What the Heck is InterPlay?!.

For the longest time, Walk Stop Run was the most challenging activity I experienced in InterPlay.

Which is funny, because in some ways it’s the simplest thing we do.

Here’s how it works: In a group everyone walks in any direction they choose. They play with finding the center of the room, and the edges. They walk in unusual patterns on the floor. They run and stop whenever they feel like it. And if they’re inspired, they play with each other. All with a backdrop of instrumental music.

Need to see it? Unfortunately, I don’t have any straightforward videos of Walk Stop Run. However, if you need an image, here are two:

So — why did I find it so challenging?! What could be easier than walking, stopping, and running in a room with other people?

The thing is, experienced InterPlayers don’t just stick to walking, stopping, and running. They also skip, lean, giggle, hug, push, cavort. In fact, not-sticking-to-the-rules is part of the intention of the exercise. The facilitator’s manual says:

In general, we want participants to learn for themselves that they might stretch the boundaries of what is “permissible” movement. … One of the basic elements, though, of Walk Stop Run is this “bumping up against” what we perceive to be the “rules.” This is one of the ways we learn to make choices for ourselves.

Harumph! You mean, Walk Stop Run is designed for me to practice making choices for myself in the midst of community? But this is exactly why the exercise was so painful for me at first!! I’d watch everyone else leaping, bumping into each other, and swirling — and I’d have this painful chatter in my head:

Oh, I feel so lonely. Look at them all, having so much fun.  They know what they’re doing and I don’t. I wish I knew how to fit in. It’s hard enough to figure out what I want, much less do it when I’m surrounded by other people.  I want to walk right up to someone and lean against them. But what if they don’t want me to interfere?! What if…?

Sheesh. That chatter was exhausting! I didn’t know how to simply relax into my experience. What might it feel like to simply play in the company of other people without worrying, second guessing, and questioning — my own intentions and the intentions of others?

Imagine my delight when — about a year ago — I realized I’d stopped thinking (during Walk Stop Run, at least). It’s now one of my favorite moments during InterPlay. It’s a time to move through the space, responding to other people (if I want) or keeping to myself (if I want).  Sometimes what I want changes from moment to moment, and I allow myself to go with the flow of the present moment.

It’s soooo delightful to have a safe, fun place to practice getting out of my mind. I know I’m more easy going, relaxed and flexible in my daily life because of this practice.

What other experiences do IntePlayers out there have with Walk Stop Run? Do tell!

Wreck This Journal, Week Eight

So, it’s official. I’m done with Wreck This Journal. For now, at least.

And I won’t be around next Friday for the FINAL POST (I’ll be cavorting with 40 InterPlayers at a retreat on the beaches of North Carolina, poor me).

So, in honor of our time together, here are some final pics of wreckage:

Office Supply page of Wreck This Journal

The paperclips make this page delightfully heavy. I love the “clicking” sound when the pages fall together.

Doodle on the envelope page of Wreck This Journal

Doodle, doodle, I love how relaxed-yet-focused I feel when I doodle.

Waterlogged drawing that I did with the pen in my mouth -- from Wreck This Journal

My roommate Kelly warned me against posting the video of me creating this page. Evidently, the marker in my mouth was (ahem!) a tad suggestive.

Fun with Tearing in my Wreck This Journal

The 3-D spirals were so fun & boingy. Too bad that closing the book squished them.

Blackberry thorns stuck in my Wreck This Journal

Blackberry thorns stuck to the page.

Remnants of Scrubbing the Page in my Wreck This Journal

Scrub, scrub, scrubadub dub.

A page someone else did for me in my Wreck This Journal

Listening to me tell a story, my friend Beandrea captured words in my journal. I wonder what my story was about?

Circles in Wreck This Journal

Circles. Enough said.

Burned Page with coffee grounds from Wreck This Journal

What a walk down memory lane. This burning and grounds-flinging occurred at the very beginning of the Wreck This Journal experience.

Footprint and Wine Stain in my Wreck This Journal

The footprint was made with dirt from Lake Chabot Campground and the wine drips were in celebration of Katherine’s 33rd birthday. What fun memories!

Stain Log That's All Washed Out in my Wreck This Journal

Dunking the book in water got rid of all my beautiful flower stains. This had been my favorite page. Sigh. Letting go…

Where the Poem Used to Be in my Wreck This Journal

Did you know that water dissolves glue? All the words to my poem fell out after I dunked the book in water. It would have been a lesson in letting go, except that I captured the poem on video.

Cover to my Wreck This Journal

Ahhhh, what an experience. I’m so grateful for the community of creative wreckers with whom I’ve spent the summer! I’ve learned so much about perfectionism, destruction, creativity, support, courage, and abandon. Can’t wait to hear what Jamie’s going to have us read for our next book club.

Juggling and Expressive Arts — for Veterans!


Welcome to my first guest post ever! Occasionally I will use this blog to highlight how facilitators use InterPlay to change the world. This post is written by Dorothy Finnigan.

This Work Could Save Lives

I stared at the email.  “This work could save lives,” it said.  Had I really just been invited to teach InterPlay and juggling to a group of Iraq and Vietnam War Veterans with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD)?!

A day later, I was granted clearance to the Veterans Affairs (VA) facility. My host drove me through the rain, warning me to expect a tough reception from the vets. Some had just returned from Iraq; others were still healing from Vietnam. Once a week, they all took mandatory art therapy and wellness classes. On this day, I would be given the entire “wellness” hour to share whatever I wished.

Accessible, Playful, Unpretentious

InterPlay had been a personal practice of mine for under a year. I found it when I was craving the embodied wisdom of elders and the space to share my stories. With its practical forms and accessible, playful, unpretentious philosophy, InterPlay had helped me transition through harrowing circumstances and enjoy life more than ever.  Now, I wanted to share simple tools for relaxation, healing, and enjoyment with these vets.

A dozen people took their seats around the perimeter of the small, naturally-lit room. I stood before them and took a deep breath, letting it out with a loud sigh. “The best way I know to help myself relax is to take a deep breath. I invite you to take a deep breath with me.” This invitation seemed simple enough, and everyone obliged.

Optimal Health and Happiness

“I’m of the belief,” I explained as I drew five bullet-points on the whiteboard, “that to have optimal health and happiness in our lives, there are five things we need on a daily basis. The first one is to have our voice. Sighing is one of the simplest ways we can let ourselves have our voice throughout the day. So let’s take a deep breath, and let it out with a sigh. Ahhhhhhhhhhh.” The sighing got louder as people relaxed into the permission to have their voice.

“Another thing I need on a daily basis is movement. Right where you’re sitting, shake out a hand. Shake out another hand. Shake out a foot. Shake out another foot. Shake out what you’re sitting on.” Everyone participated. A few chuckled. One veteran got really into moving her rear around her chair. Within myself and around the room, I could feel the anticipation of fun growing.

It’s Not An Order; It’s An Offering

“Anything I say to you today,” I reassured them, “is just an invitation. An offering. It’s not an order. Feel free to alter or abstain from any activity.” I invited them to stand up. Everyone complied. I didn’t yet sense the major resistance I’d been warned about. “Shake yourself down into your spot…”

And with that, I took them through the InterPlay warm-up, welcoming and awakening parts of our body from head to toe. At one point a couple of veterans chose to sit down; true to my word and in keeping with InterPlay’s commitment to honoring individual choice, I simply continued leading. Soon both veterans were on their feet again, perhaps because they realized that my “do what is good for you” rhetoric was for real.

Juggling Is Good For You

After warming up, it was juggling time! I had spent 15 years teaching tens of thousands of people to juggle using slow-moving nylon scarves; yet, only recently (thanks to InterPlay) could I articulate why juggling helps heal the supposed “split” between mind and body. Neurological research increasingly confirms the integrative health benefits of juggling. Moving cross-laterally and tracing infinity sign pathways (which are the “secrets” to juggling) are movements that activate communication between left and right brains. This may help to inhibit Alzheimer’s, deal with dyslexia, and develop reading skills and higher order problem solving abilities. Turns out that juggling is not only fun, it’s really, really good for you!

Sharing Stories

Earlier, I had been cautioned by my host to expect the veterans to be self-conscious in the group because of certain judgmental personalities. However, as each individual’s nylon scarves kept falling to the floor, they just laughed at themselves and continued to enjoy learning. When I casually asked half the room to stop juggling in order to witness the other half, the vets enthusiastically applauded for one another! By slipping in this opportunity to witness and affirm their peers, we had avoided setting up a stressful paradigm of “audience” versus “performer” that might have activated judgment of self and others.

InterPlay is essentially a practice of doing stuff (with our bodies, voices, etc.) and then noticing our experience. With that in mind, I invited each veteran to take 30 seconds to share with a partner about learning to juggle. The vets were proud they had learned a new skill; they were also surprised how much of a workout they got out of three floaty scarves. With the group relaxed and confident, I then led them through a storytelling series. They got to talk about things like their favorite place in nature and a person on their mind. There were nods of agreement all around when I said, “I believe that sharing our stories — both the monumental AND the mundane — is another requirement for health and happiness.

The One Hand Dance

To close the hour, I taught the quintessential InterPlay form: the one hand dance. The beauty of the one hand dance is that anyone can do it. Raise your hand in the air and move it through space. Play with both smooth and jagged movements; make different shapes; vary the speed. For the veterans, I put on a piece of music and invited them to do a hand dance on behalf of the person who was on their mind. As partners witnessed each other, some pairs fell into deep laughter and others had tears in their eyes. One vet ended his piece with his hand over his heart. He and his partner sat in stillness for a silent minute.

And our hour was up. I invited them to take an idea or activity into their lives beyond this room. If nothing else, I hope they feel a greater sense of permission to take a deep breath and let it out with a loud sigh whenever they need a moment of grace.

A New Way to Express

Earnest “thank-you”s filled the air as the vets filed out of the room. As I packed up my scarves and sound system, I overheard Archie (one of the “resistant” vets I’d been warned about) telling his friend who hadn’t been able to attend, “You really missed something. Too bad for you, man. It was fun.” My host, who’d also overheard the comment, shook her head in disbelief.  “You won them over,” she marveled. “Even Archie.”

The other staff were impressed, too. “Not only did you give them an opportunity to relax and have fun, but there was a sense of peaceful group cohesion we desperately needed. Thank you!”

As I was leaving the facility, a veteran who had done a hand dance on behalf of his daughter, thanked me again for allowing him to have “a way to express.” Over the course of the class I had shared the belief that for optimal health, we need to be able to have our voice, our movement, our stories, our stillness, and our contact with others (otherwise known as InterPlay’s Five Recommended Daily Requirements). The invitation and opportunity to have these things, had given this vet a way to connect with his own truth.

Creating a Space of ProFUNdity

Who could have guessed that my old skill — juggling! — would integrate so seamlessly with InterPlay’s tools for holistic community development, creating an environment of ease, affirmation, and grace. The strength of these men and women, and particularly their willingness to open up when given the choice, touched and inspired me. I see now that this work has the power to be sneaky deep: to be both playful and transformational for individuals and communities. I’m looking forward to new opportunities to create a space of proFUNdity for groups, from intergenerational gatherings to corporate cultures.

Until then, I continue to work on having InterPlay’s five recommended daily requirements in my own life. Even now, sitting in this coffee shop writing, I take a deep breath, let it out with a sigh, and am grateful for this moment of grace.

Who is This Dorothy, Anyway?

Dorothy Finnigan grew up on the road, living in a motor home with her family as they taught juggling in elementary schools across the United States. She was world-schooled (her version of being home-schooled) until age 18, after which she traveled solo internationally, paying her way by juggling on the street.  After a brief stint of formal education at Yale University, Dorothy “walked out” to pursue intergenerational embodied learning. Now a graduate of InterPlay’s Life Practice Program, Dorothy is developing several workshops that integrate her skills as a juggler and a body wisdom practitioner.

Easy Focus


The following post is part of a project to share reflections about all 28 of the core elements of InterPlay.  For background information about InterPlay or this project, read What the Heck is InterPlay?! Subscribe by email to receive updates.

Easy focus. Eeeeeeeezy focus! Easy, now.  Easy!

I love things that are easy. So when I learned that the most fundamental InterPlay tool is called “easy focus,” I knew I was onto a good thing.

Easy focus is the process of widening our focus, relaxing our bodies, and using all of our senses to percieve the world around us.

A Personal Story

Just last week I was at a wine bar on a first date. Now, I don’t know anything about wine.  Nada. Zilch. So I got a little stressed when my date playfully suggested I do a blind taste test.  Always the good student, I prepared by studying a sip of each wine in our flight, willing myself to find words to describe their subtle differences.  I was concentrating so hard, my forehead wrinkled and my eyes squinted. Focusing too hard can be uncomfortable!

Luckily, I caught myself mid-squint and realized I was taking this taste test far too seriously. “Gretchen dear,” I told myself.  “How about just relaxing, and trusting that your taste buds know the difference?  You’ve tasted the wines once.  You’ll be fine!”

In other words — have an easy focus about the whole thing!

Immediately I relaxed. Smiled. Took a deep breath. Closed my eyes. Tasted…and voila! I passed the test with flying colors! Not a single wine misidentified.  Proud was I. Impressed was my date. Well played, Gretchen, well played.

Both a Physical Experience and a State of Mind.

Easy focus is a physical experience in that it involves relaxing the face muscles, loosening the eyes’ hold on any one object, and widening one’s peripheral vision.

Easy focus is also a state of mind in that it involves a loosening of our need to control situations.  It is an accepting state, a surrender of sorts.  Easy focus acknowledges that our bodies are capable of holding multiple feelings and ideas at one time.

Sheesh! The weekend after the wine bar date I had a bajillion feelings swirling inside of me — sorrow over a recent break up, thrill about this new connection, fear about all of life’s uncertainties, and more.  All these feelings, all at once! I’m grateful for the InterPlay practice of easy focus because it allows me to hold two or more seemingly conflicting realities at one time. As the facilitator’s handbook says so reassuringly,

We can go crazy trying to focus on one thing or another, or we can relax and have the fullness of all the elements that make up our lives.

How to Create Easy Focus

Tip 1: Take a deep breath and let it out with a loud sigh. Try it now (you’ll see; it’s really satisfying!): Deep breath. Loud side. We do that all the time during InterPlay.  In fact, there’s nothing sweeter than the sound of 10 people sighing together.

Tip 2: Roll the MuseCubes. They’re a set of dice that help people shake themselves into new mindstates.  Roll the dice, and then do what they say: Shake and howl! Twist and whoop! Most people report feeling more relaxed, more vibrant, and more open.

Tip 3. Take a walk outside. Recently, I blogged about the role that nature plays in calming our attention, which results in more brain power when we go back to trying to focus later.  This is exactly the effect Phil and Cynthia talk about when they say, “it can be quite wondrful to be in an easy focus state and then let the focus come out and do its wonderful work.

Tip 4.  What do you think? What creates a sense of easy focus for you? Please comment!

Wreck This Journal Week One


Welcome to Week One of The Next Chapter: Wreck This Journal.

I’m completely and utterly thrilled to be participating in a creative book brigade with Jamie Ridler and  a whole crew of amazing bloggers.  This summer we’re “reading” — Ahem!  Perhaps it’s more accurate to say we’re “destroying” — the book Wreck This Journal.

Watch me as I destroy this beautiful book — this morning I go at it with coffee stains, orange juice, and a smashed flower.

It’s also my first attempt to Video Blog (otherwise known as vlogging).  I have to say, the idea of Vlogging is so-completely-wonderfully in line with the whole Wreck This Journal philosophy.

See, this summer we’ll be playing around with creativity as a process of messing things up! Imperfection! Chaos! Disaster! Destruction!

And those of us who vlog are trusting ourselves to make it up on the spot while the video is running. Talk about potential for disaster! I guess I could edit out the bad parts, but there’s something delicious about sharing myself and my ideas in all their rawness, imperfection, and chaos.

In fact, if you watched the video, you’ll undoubtedly notice that it ended abruptly.  Totally accidental. And totally perfect. My final words were something like, “In InterPlay we start things, we mess them up, and we find a way to end–”

This summer, I invite you to do this process along side me.  Start something! Mess it up! And then find an ending! (Even if that means allowing the ending to find you).

Wrecklessly yours,


What the Heck Is InterPlay?!

So, I do this thing called InterPlay. And it’s kinda hard to explain exactly what it is.  People still scratch their heads and say “huh?” when I try to describe it.

Officially speaking, it’s an active, creative approach to unlocking the wisdom of the body.  Sounds great to me! But there are tons of people out there who have no idea what this means.

So, I’m devoting the summer to this problem: How do I describe InterPlay so that people get it!?

Why Do I Care About InterPlay?

But hold the phone — why does it matter if people “get it”?  Why do I care?

Partially because I want people to get ME. And InterPlay and its philosophy of body wisdom is a big part of who I am.

But I also care for this reason — I’ve found a great deal of freedom in my life thanks to the InterPlay philosophy and practices.  I think it’d be most excellent if other people got to experience this freedom too.

New Agey Blah Blah Blah?

I’m a pretty open person, and I’ve gone to a lot of new agey workshops on personal development and body/mind/spirit integration.  So much of it is really good stuff, and I’m a better person for it.

But this stuff also inaccessible to a great number of people. The language used by gurus and their followers is often so insular. Not to mention “airy-fairy” or “hoity-toity”. Their practices — for example, gazing into another person’s eyes for minutes at a time, or sharing deeply personal pain stories in public — feel threatening and uncomfortable. Most people (myself included) don’t like to dive head first into transformation.

Good for Average, Regular People

InterPlay is one of the first workshoppy things I’ve done that made me think — Wow! These folks have figured out how to bring body wisdom to your average, regular person.  There’s no need to be ultra spiritual or liberal to benefit from InterPlay.

Those of us who love it share bits and pieces everywhere we go.

Bobbie just called me yesterday to share how she used the babbling activity in a recent church meeting (Result: a group of people who’ve been friendly-but-distant for years starting feeling more connected).

Dorothy even got Iraq veterans doing — and loving! — a hand dance. (Result:  “It’s a new way to express myself,” one of them reflected gratefully. Yes!! More about that in a guest post soon.)

Uh oh. Look what I just did! I’d intended to try to explain what InterPlay is briefly and clearly. Instead, I used a bunch of wierd terms like “babbling” and “hand dance.” Does it put you off, because you have no idea what these things mean?

Come On, Already, Gretchen — What the Heck is InterPlay!?

I really do have a commitment to talking simply, directly, and clearly about InterPlay.  I just don’t know how! So, before I end, let me take a stab at some more statements:

  • People often practice InterPlay by gathering in groups in dance studios. But it can actually take place anywhere.
  • In any InterPlay experience, folks get together (community), do stuff (play), and then notice about it (reflection).
  • The “stuff” that they do includes improvisational storytelling, movement, and playing with the voice. I’ll be describing these forms in more detail in future blog posts. The “noticing” includes anything a person is comfortable saying about their experience. Often people don’t say anything at all.  Luckily, in InterPlay you don’t have to articulate your experience in order to have it.
  • In any InterPlay class, you’ll experience the 5 daily requirements — tell a story, use your voice, move around the room, have some stillness, and have easy, playful physical contact with others.
  • All activities in InterPlay are broken down into small, bite-sized pieces that are easy and comfortable for participants to do. (For example, “Take 30 seconds to tell your partner what you had for breakfast this morning”).

Please Give Me Feedback:

To those of you hearing about InterPlay for the first time, I’m curious: what have I said here that resonates? What confuses you?  What questions do you have?  Your feedback will really help me get better talking about this thing that I love so much.

Stay Tuned…

Starting this weekend and every Monday throughout the summer,  I’ll be blogging about the InterPlay core elements.  My goal is to provide clear, non-jargony descriptions of the core elements of InterPlay, including:

Body Wisdom Tools: Easy Focus, Body Data/Knowledge/Wisdom, Internal Authority, Physicality of Grace, Exformation, Spiritual Practices, Incremenality, and Affirmation

Body Wisdom Practices: Warm-Up, Babbling, Big Body Stories, Circle Stories, Contact, DT3s, Following and Leading, Group Toning/Singing, Hand-to-Hand Contact, “On Behalf of” forms, One-Breath songs, One-Hand dances, Shape & Stillness, Side-by-Side Stories, Solo Movement, Walking/Stopping/Running, Warm-Up, Witnessing, Noticing

Or Just Come Play

The truth, though, is this: no matter how much I say about InterPlay, you really need to experience it to get it.  Here is a quick brainstorm of ways to try it live and in person:

Goodness, this has been a long post.  Thanks for reading all the way to the bottom. Please DO leave your feedback! Here are those questions again:

What have I said here that resonates? What confuses you?  What questions do you have?

Your comments will really help me get better talking about this thing that I love so much!

As always, playfully yours!