Using the Urgent/Important Matrix to Mitigate Holiday Anxiety

Is it Important? Possibly. Is it Urgent? Probably Not.

As the holiday season is now in full swing, most of us feel like we have more on our plates than usual with the looming deadline of THE END OF THE YEAR hanging over our heads.

The other day I was having a bout of all the things to do today/this week/this month/before the end of the year anxiety. Everything felt very urgent. Then I took a moment to ask myself, Are all these things I think I need to do important? Says who?

How many of the things that I was dumping into my salad spinner of anxiety were things that were important to me and how many were things that seemed important just because there was some sense of urgency around them? What was the source of the urgency?

I hit the stopper on the salad spinner and decided to take a look at what was in there.

The Urgent/Important Matrix and you.

I know we’ve all heard of the Urgent/Important Matrix aka the Eisenhower Principle. There are two axis – Urgent and Important. Things fall into one of four quadrants: Urgent/Important, Urgent/Not Important, Not Urgent/Important, and Not Urgent/Not Important.

Urgent/Important Matrix aka Eisenhower Principle

While the Eisenhower Principle is a popular work/productivity/business gimmick, it can also be useful in your personal life.

Let’s just take a moment to consider the source of my holiday-season anxiety (and probably yours too) – the Urgent/Not Important quadrant.

How can something be urgent but at the same time not be important?

Well, generally speaking, the urgency is coming from an external source. In the workplace, it is very often someone who uses the phrase, “We should …”

In your personal life, you are probably doing your own should-ing.

  • “I should turn my house into a holiday wonderland.”
  • “I should bake twenty kinds of cookies.”
  • “I should throw a party and I should cook all the food myself.”
  • “I should …”

When you start should-ing all over yourself, instead of spinning, maybe take a moment to ask some follow-up questions like:

  • “Do I really want to?”
  • “Is it going to make a difference in my quality of life?”
  • “What other tasks is this activity going to impact?”
  • “Is there another way to accomplish the same objective?”

Maybe you decide that you really don’t want to bake cookies. Maybe you decide that organizing a cookie party is a way that you can throw a party and get lots of different kinds of cookies without having to bake all of them or make an extravagant meal. Maybe you decide that staying up all night making cookies instead of getting a good night’s sleep and getting up early to exercise isn’t a trade-off you are willing to make.

The punchline is that most of the time something that is Urgent/Not Important isn’t necessarily urgent at all.

If you take a moment to reflect before you react, you can usually move things into the Not Urgent/Not Important quadrant where you can forget about them or to the Not Urgent/Important quadrant where you can thoughtfully plan how to address them. A few will move up to the Urgent/Important quadrant where you can attack them with the satisfaction of knowing that you consciously determined that task merited your attention.

If you’ve already started your holiday season spinning, I hope that you will hit the brake on your salad spinner of anxiety and take a moment to examine whether all those urgent “should do’s” are actually important.

Anyone Having Chips for Thanksgiving?

It’s a special Monday installment of Flash Fiction Friday.

I wrote this little story for my writing group about a fraught Thanksgiving dinner.

When I presented it, I got a really great reaction, so I decided to share it with you here.

Sam and Chip

When Mary called Sam in early October to invite him to Thanksgiving dinner, she made sure to ask if he would like to bring any friends with him. She didn’t want a repeat of last year’s blow up about not being properly invited and everyone assuming that he would be alone.

She was titillated when he responded, “It’ll just be me and my Chip,” and couldn’t wait to tell Frank.

Frank warned her that Sam might not mean what she was thinking and that she might want to keep it to herself anyway because no matter what Sam meant by “his Chip,” he would probably be bent out of shape with Mary for sharing something that he thought of as his news.

Mary hated when Frank was right, but agreed that caution was the better part of valor, especially when it came to Sam. So, when the rest of the family asked if Sam was coming to Thanksgiving, Mary would simply answer, “Yes.”

Sam had been nurturing the chip on his shoulder since last Thanksgiving. When he arrived at Mary’s he had to duck and turn sideways slightly so that his chip could fit through the door.

His eight-year-old niece, Patty, came running up to hug him and a piece fell off. He quickly reached down to gather up the crumbly bits and carefully smoothed them back into place on his chip.

Sam strode around the living room with his chip, waiting for someone to make a sassy comment. At one point he almost clocked Uncle Marty with it, but somehow the old guy ducked at the exact right moment.

When they sat down for dinner, Sam carefully and ceremoniously removed the chip from his shoulder and set it in the middle of the table. With a smug grin he looked around. He waited. No one said anything.

Then Mary set the turkey down right on top of it and it shattered. Chips of Sam’s chip went everywhere. It was the moment that he had been waiting for.

May your Thanksgiving be full of love and friendship and community. I hope that however you celebrate, no one is serving up their chips!

It’s Orange-Colored Food Season

Did you know that Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) advocates eating orange-colored food this time of year?

Without getting too deep into it, TCM interprets foods that are orange in color to be warming and as the weather gets colder, eating warming foods helps keep the body in balance.

My first thoughts when I think of orange food are memories from many years ago when I worked for a theater company (in administration). On the first day of rehearsal for every new show, there would be a mixer so that all of the administrative and production staff could meet the new cast. It was the tradition to serve what was affectionately called “orange food” — an extravaganza of all manner of orange junk food: Cheetos, goldfish crackers, Reese’s Pieces, you name it, with a tray of carrot sticks thrown in for good measure.

Although I am a big fan of Cheetos, I am pretty sure that it isn’t the kind of orange-colored foods that TCM is promoting. But if you think about it, TCM’s orange-colored food season does coincide with Trader Joe’s everything pumpkin season. Coincidence? Maybe not.

A few weeks ago, I was visiting a friend and she made a butternut squash soup. It was extra special because this friend does not like to cook. The gesture was not only thoughtful, but the soup was delicious. Last week, I was having a hankering for some orange-colored food (tis the season), and was remembering what a fun time we had together, so I decided to see if I could recreate the soup she made.

It was time to dust off the trusty slow cooker and try to whip up my own batch from memory. It didn’t quite turn out the way that I remembered (a hazard of not using a recipe or measuring) but it was still delicious (and easy).

Butternut Squash Carrot Ginger Soup

Ingredients

  • One onion, chopped
  • Three or four carrots, chopped
  • One butternut squash, peeled and chopped
  • Garlic (2 cloves or more)
  • Some ginger (I used two of the frozen cubes of ginger from Trader Joes – next time I will use more)
  • Some turmeric (at least a tablespoon)
  • Broth (I used chicken broth)
  • Can of coconut milk (I used light because that is what they had when I went to Trader Joes, also, I don’t know if I was supposed to use the whole can, but what was I going to do with the rest of it?)
  • Salt to taste

Process

  • Sauté the onion, carrots, and squash just to get it going a bit (~5 minutes)
  • Add the garlic, ginger, and turmeric, continue to sauté until it starts smelling like something is happening
  • Dump the container of broth, stir, cover,
  • Switch the cooker to slow and low and go about your day (you could always InstaPot for faster results)
  • Come back later (I let mine cook for 6 hours) and blitz it with the stick blender
  • Dump the coconut milk in, give it a good stir, see if it needs salt and you’re set (I let it go another hour with the coconut milk in because I wasn’t ready to have dinner yet)

Serving suggestions

  • A dollop of sour cream or crème fraiche
  • A sprinkle of scallions
  • A handful of pomegranate seeds
  • Croutons (or a grilled-cheese sandwich on the side)

I like this version much better than the butternut squash soup that I made last year. The next time I make it, I am going to be sure to use a lot more garlic, ginger, and turmeric – I think I would like it a bit jazzier.

Have you been eating more orange-colored food recently (other than Cheetos of course)? Got any great recipes to share?

Go to an Art Museum Day, Virtually

November 9 every year is Go to an Art Museum Day!

But maybe if you’re busy or not up for crowds (I’m still picky about the places I’m willing to bother putting on pants to go to, I get it), today might be a perfect day for a long overdue installment of virtual museum tours.

While Go to an Art Museum Day allows you to be a tourist in your own town, virtual museum tours allow you to explore all sorts of exotic locations without ever having to get on an airplane (and that’s always a win).

Since today is also Kitten Tuesday, I thought it would be appropriate to take this opportunity to explore a few of the numerous cat museums around the world.

Numerous? Yes, I was surprised too.

The Cat Museum of San Francisco

When I was doing research for International Cat Day, I came across the Cat Museum of San Francisco. What!?!?!  Why hadn’t I heard of this wonderful place before? Mom, sister, and I used to regularly make our ballet season weekends a cultural extravaganza with a visit to one of San Francisco’s great museums included in our itinerary of shopping, fine dining, and performing arts. Why had we never visited the Cat Museum?

It turns out that the Cat Museum of San Francisco is not a place, but an idea.

While I have to admit that I am disappointed to learn that there is not an actual, physical, cat museum in San Francisco, I am beyond delighted at the fact that this is a museum of the mind and of the heart.

Cat Museums Around the World

It turns out that San Francisco is not the only city with a dedicated cat museum. There are actually quite a few cat museums around the world.

The Maneki Neko Art Museum in Okayama, Japan is dedicated to the Japanese Lucky Cat and boasts over 700 examples. The figure, which originated in the 19th century, can be portrayed with either the right paw (to attract more visitors) or left paw (to attract more money) raised or both.

In Montenegro, the Cats Museum of Kotor has an extensive collection of vintage cat memorabilia – cigar rings, books (even a lace bookmark with cats), art depicting cats in human clothes/situations, the list goes on. This museum has a few video/slideshows of various works from the collection, like this 2-minute option.

The Kattenkabenet in Amsterdam has its entire collection available to view online. The collection is organized by type of work (sculpture, painting, posters, etc.) and you can click on any piece you find interesting to get more information about it. There is also a page with biographical information about artists who painted cats as their subject. Unfortunately, its virtual tours are presented in Adobe Flash Player which is an outdated format that I don’t recommend installing.

Although not technically a cat museum, the Ernest Hemingway Home and Museum in Key West, Florida does boast having approximately 60 six-toed cats living on the premises.

Outside of Asheville, North Carolina is the American Museum of the House Cat, which was founded by Dr. Harold Sims (aka Cat Man 2) to showcase his collection of cat memorabilia as well as raise money for a local cat shelter. One way to experience the American Museum of the House Cat is through this 12-minute documentary.

Skip to 3:50 to watch an adorable toy cat automaton ironing.

Other ways to celebrate Go to an Art Museum Day

If cat museums aren’t your thing, you can still participate in Go to an Art Museum Day from home. Why not try:

  • Looking up a subject, artist, or museum that you have always wanted to know more about (I’d love to hear what you decide to look up).
  • Pick up a book about art.
  • Make some art yourself, even if it’s just one inch.

Of course, if you are fortunate enough to have cats at home, you can just take the opportunity today to appreciate them like the great masterpieces they are!

National Authors Day

Since today is National Authors Day, I thought what better time to get back to writing my blog after an unexpectedly long hiatus.

One thing I love even more than reading is talking about what I’ve read with other lovers of reading. I feel an instant bond when I discover someone who has the same passion for a certain author; those people have a very special place in my heart. I also love when someone can turn me on to an author who I haven’t read before or give me a good reason to reconsider one who I had dismissed.

So, let’s take this opportunity to talk about authors and National Author’s Day!

What is National Author’s Day?

The purpose of National Authors Day is to take a moment to appreciate those authors who have written some of your favorite works.

The philosopher Michel Foucault once asked, “What is an author?” What is provocative about that question is that maybe someone who you would think of as an author – Homer for example, never actually wrote anything down. The Merriam-Webster Dictionary defines an author as, “the writer of a literary work (such as a book),” but also as “one that originates or creates something.”

An author (who writes things down) whose work I appreciate, Stephen Kotler, likes to say that reading books gives you the most bang for your buck, so to speak, because the amount of time that has gone into researching, synthesizing, and presenting the information in a book is exponentially greater than the time it takes to read it. Books are like a superfood.

Although someone doesn’t necessarily need to write a book to be an author, for our purposes today, it may be more fun to think about those who do.

Photo by Yannick Pulver on Unsplash

The History of National Authors Day

Unlike many this-or-that days, National Author’s Day actually has an interesting history. In 1928, Nellie Verne Burt McPherson, the president of the Illinois Women’s Club sent a letter of appreciation to the author of a book she had just read. The author responded and that exchange inspired her to establish an official day, “… to recognize all the people who have contributed to American literature.”

In 1929 the General Federation of Women’s Clubs approved observance of National Authors Day as a way to recognize American authors. The day was acknowledged by the U.S. Department of Commerce in 1949.

Some of My Favorite Authors and Books

For the sake of getting the conversation started, here are some authors of books who I appreciate:

  • Ken Kesey, Sometimes A Great Notion.
  • Kurt Vonnegut
  • Barbara Kingsolver’s early work like The Bean Trees and Animal Dreams.
  • Deborah Harkness’s Witches Trilogy (it’s up to four books, I’m eagerly awaiting the fifth).
  • Elizabeth Gilbert, City of Girls (no, I didn’t know she wrote fiction either, but she does, and you should read it).
  • Benjamin Dreyer, Dreyer’s English: An Utterly Correct Guide to Clarity and Style. Yes, I read grammar books cover to cover. This one made me laugh out loud on multiple occasions.
  • Sylvia Plath. I just recently read The Bell Jar for the first time and I have a lot to say about how much I loved it.
  • Larry McMurtry. I may have actually read almost everything he’s written. If you haven’t read any of his books already, start now.

“The inconvenient – even distressing – lack of a Wanda means that I’m apt to be writing a one-character book, that one character being someone I have only a modest and flickering interest in: myself.”  

Larry McMurtry, Roads: Driving America’s Great Highways, p.22.

National Author’s Day Activities

If you’re feeling up for celebrating National Author’s Day with me, here are some suggested activities:

  • Tweet at your favorite author (or just follow them on Twitter – it is one of the best uses of the platform as far as I’m concerned).
  • Buy yourself a new book or give one of your favorites to a friend.
  • Be your own author, write something! (November also happens to be National Novel Writing Month, aka: NaNoWriMo.)

In celebration of National Authors Day, thank you for reading this post!

Also, if you would care to share, I would love to know some of your favorite authors and why.

Synchronicity, Good PR, or Algorithms

Is it a message from the Universe or just trying to sell us something?

Every once in a while, I have a day when I can’t help but think that I’m getting a message from the universe. But is it synchronicity, good PR, or algorithms?

One day last week, it was a subject that kept showing up in my email. The first message resonated because it gave me some ammunition for something I had already been thinking about. Later, a second message on the same topic came from a completely different source. To me, it was a pretty strong message from the universe that it was time to put my thoughts into action.

It convinced me that it was time to write this blog post.

Synchronicity

For Carl Jung, who coined the term, synchronicity happens when a cluster of unrelated phenomena create a meaningful coincidence. Sudden hunches and stochastic operation also fall under the umbrella of synchronicity. Like you are thinking about someone who you haven’t talked to for a while, then they call you. Or you open a random book to a random page and find a message that addresses a quandary you’ve been having.

I was formally introduced to the concept of synchronicity reading The Artist’s Way by Julia Cameron. For Julia, synchronicity is a way that, “…the universe falls in with worthy plans and most especially with festive and expansive ones.”

Part of synchronicity is just awareness. Part of it is magic, like when I was looking for a hutch for my kitchen and came upon one that someone had put out on the curb.

As Julia puts it, “First, choose what you would do. The how usually falls into place of itself.”

Basically, the universe is constantly sending you messages, providing paths with which to accomplish your goals. Synchronicity happens when you are paying attention and notice these messages.

Which is super fun. But are these always messages from the universe? I mean, I can accept that sometimes the universe is telling me that I should buy the smelly candle, but sometimes, it might be another force.

Good PR

Just to clarify: I’m referring to the entire marketing communications umbrella.

There are a lot of people in the world who are gainfully employed in the endeavor of getting other people to pay attention to something. One of my favorite things, communication strategy, is simply an exercise in plotting out what you want to say (your message), who you want to say it to (your audience), and how you are going to get your message to your intended audience in order to accomplish your objective.

The whole point is increasing awareness of whatever it is (an organization, a product, a policy).

Sometimes good PR is obvious, but sometimes it feels very organic, like the idea just popped into your head. How do you know it wasn’t synchronicity?

Algorithms

Photo by Markus Spiske on Unsplash

I can’t explain the mechanics of it, but we all know that our digital lives are shaped by computer algorithms. I use Google to look up a lot of terminology when I’m writing; now Google knows that the first search result to show me is a definition.

And then there’s social media. Just because I keep seeing ads on Facebook and Instagram for smelly candles does not mean that the universe is telling me to buy smelly candles (although I probably will at some point, I love smelly candles).

So, is it synchronicity, good PR, or algorithms?

In The Art of Impossible, Steven Kotler talks about how our brain is a pattern recognition system, our own internal algorithm.

When we set up our internal algorithm properly, we are primed to notice synchronicity. Steven calls this supplying the pattern recognition system with ammunition.

He recommends doing this by feeding it lots of information. Don’t just troll the internet, read books, listen to podcasts, go for walks, talk to people – give your pattern recognition system lots of data from different sources.

By doing so, we become our own PR manager and synchronicity follows.

Because don’t we all want to be in tune to receiving messages from the Universe?

Flash Fiction Friday – Let Sleeping Cats Lie

It seemed like a good time for another installment of Flash Fiction Friday.

This is the prompt that my story is based on:

Write the beginning of a story that takes place in the protagonist’s home. Use at least 3 senses to describe your scene or set an emotion. Please write 350 words max.

I was feeling onery the day I wrote this and wanted to write something that would create an unpleasant or at least uncomfortable impression.

Let me know what you think!

Let Sleeping Cats Lie

With a sigh, she turned the key and pushed. The door opened three inches, then stopped. Crap, those damn cats must have knocked something over, she thought to herself.

Taking a deep breath and bracing her shoulder against the door, she shoved. One, two, three. It budged just a bit more. At least there was now enough of an opening that she could squeeze herself inside.

Gripping the door frame with one hand and the doorknob with the other, she stepped up onto a pile of junk mail, books, and empty takeout containers. As she began to hoist herself upwards, a black flash shot past her and she fell.

“Darnit Jasper! You had better get back here!”

She named all of her black cats Jasper, it was just easier that way.

Refocusing on the task in front of her, she pushed her substantial girth up onto the mound that was blocking the door, teetering cautiously atop it.

The reek of ammonia sucker punched her. She attempted to blink the sting away. This was another reason why she didn’t like to leave her house, any length of time in fresh air intensified the cat urine stench when she returned.

She told herself that her accumulation of things was actually a budget-friendly, cat-centric decorating technique – using found objects to craft a multi-level, feline wonderland. But the boxes she collected for the cardboard cat fort she once intended to build had become a haphazard catchall.   

Twisting, she pushed the door shut before prying eyes caught a glimpse inside. Darkness engulfed her. Last summer she had covered the windows with aluminum foil to try to keep the house cooler. It had been sort of cozy until her electricity was shut off, now it was like living in a cave. This wasn’t a problem for the cats, they could see in the dark. She told herself that the darkness was just another way that she was providing for her feline companions.

The avalanche had thrown off her established route to the sofa. She shuffled ahead slowly. After bumping into a familiar pattern of knee and waist high piles, she arrived at her destination. Her hands fumbled for the one, clear spot where she could sit. It was covered with sleeping cats.

Art or Craft, What’s the Difference?

Questions About Art, Crafts, and Meaning Making

Do you have some sort of creative expression? Do you write? Or paint? Or sew? Do you make decorative objects? Utilitarian objects?

Do you consider the product of your effort art? Or craft?

A while back, I found a show on PBS called Closer to the Truth that was ostensibly about art and meaning. I was expecting some insights from neuroscience or a conversation about symbology. It turned out that the show was basically just white, male, Eurocentric gatekeeping. I was really disappointed by the lack of breadth in the perspectives presented.

I had been looking to learn something new or feel enlightened, instead I got a bit fired up. Isn’t there a universality in meaningful art? Because it expresses something about the human condition to which a diverse audience can relate. You know, the collective unconscious and all that jazz.

I decided that I wasn’t willing to accept something as art “because someone else said so,” anymore. So I started looking for a better way to answer the question of what is art and what is craft.

One common answer that I kept coming across is that art expresses ideas beyond the scope of the form whereas craft serves human objectives (well-being and fulfillment of expectations). But are these mutually exclusive?

Monet at the DeYoung, 2019

Maybe the Dictionary Can Help

Art and craft are both valued as products of human effort. Definitions of craft indicate that there is an expectation of a certain, demonstrable level of proficiency.

But I think that proficiency is as necessary for the production of art as a certain amount of creativity and freedom of expression is desirable in a craft. A ballerina or a writer would be called an artist although they both work every day their craft.

For some reason, thinking about proficiency reminded me of what Mr. Densley, my 8th grade art teacher, used to say, “Even Picasso learned how to draw it how it looks before he could draw it how it doesn’t look.”

Can we determine what is art versus what is craft based on the materials used or the method by which a work is created?

An Inch of Art for a Week … or was it a craft?

If Not How, Then What?

There are many things that are considered art which are created with common materials. Think about seeing an Eames chair made from molded plastic being displayed in an art museum. Or art made from junk like the work of Noah Purifoy.  

Maybe craft is the creation of a utilitarian object and art is nonfunctional? But what about the art of fashion? Clothing, despite how fanciful or decorative or imaginative it may be, is still a utilitarian object, isn’t it?

Maybe art is the creation of one, unique artifact whereas crafts are things that can be replicated?

But then what about Monet’s many, many iterations of his water lilies?  Or the performing arts? A symphony or a play must be replicated to be experienced as the artist intended. Or objects that are mass produced?  How do we reconcile the work of Andy Warhol?

My creativity doll and her pet cat

The Process Or The Product

I was talking to an executive from a local arts organization, and I mentioned my conundrum to her. Her answer: art is the idea and craft is the execution of the idea. I like this definition very much although it speaks more to the process than the product (that is a whole other rabbit hole we may want to explore another day).

Now I’m wondering:

Is the distinction between art and craft even useful? Necessary?

Maybe what I’m suggesting is that we can all be more critical about finding ways to consider creative work on its own merits and making up our own minds as to what we feel is meaningful regardless of whether someone else chooses to call it a work of art or a craft.

I would LOVE to know what you think.

Acting Like a Dancer

Does Authenticity Really Matter?

When I was in college, it always drove me (and my fellow dance majors) crazy when the drama majors would invade ballet class. In the sanctity of the dance studio they were a disruption. I remember one girl who was always there just acting like a dancer.

There is an ineffable difference in the quality of the movement when someone is acting like a dancer. They will be executing the steps, but it is as if they are just trying to replicate pictures of the movement. Everything was happening on the outside.

An authentic dancer moves from the inside, from the center. Think of it like the sun or the center of an atom. Everything else radiates from and moves around that point.

Center is a metaphor, but it also corresponds to a physical location in the body, much like chakras. The precise placement varies depending on the style of dance. For example, the center in ballet is at the diaphragm (manipura) but in Martha Graham technique it is below the belly button (svadhisthana).

Regardless of the style or level of training, for an authentic dancer all movement, no matter how subtle or grand, how delicate or robust, how small or substantial, emerges from the center.

Among my many college jobs, I taught ballet to preschoolers. They would come to class in their precious pink baby ballerina outfits (so would the drama majors), and we would practice the foundational elements of ballet – the positions of the feet, the positions of the arms, the basic movements. And they would act like they were ballerinas.

One day instead of the usual drills, I read the class a story. And then I put on music and instructed them to dance it for me.

I was blown away. It was the most beautiful expression of pure dance I had ever seen. Because these little girls were dancing from their center. They hadn’t suddenly mastered ballet technique, but they were executing advanced steps. Their lines were strong. Their movement had a refined musicality.

But the most moving thing about what I saw was the way that they were expressing themselves. What was on the inside was being made visible through their movement.

Photo by Caleb Woods on Unsplash

I had a moment of clarity that day about what my instructor El Gabriel had been yelling at us about in my ballet classes. About letting the expression come through in the movement. About moving from the center. All of the training, all of the practice was just to facilitate the path for that expression to emerge.

There are a lot of times in life when we are moving from the outside, when we are acting like a dancer, or a writer, or fill-in-the-blank. We have the right costume, and we know the steps, and we go through the motions. But we are not moving from the center.

And that’s ok. Sometimes it is appropriate or even necessary to act like a dancer. Maybe a lot of the time. As long as we are mindful of it.

And as long as we are open to opportunities when we can authentically dance.

Paint Your Own Audience

How A Dancer Looking for a Stage Created Her Own Theatrical Oasis in a Desert Ghost Town

Once upon a time there was a dancer looking for a stage.

She had performed on Broadway and been a Rockette, but the roles got sparser as time marched on. One day in 1967, she came across a dilapidated building in a virtual ghost town in the California desert. When she did, this lifelong New Yorker knew that she had found the place that she would make her life’s work. She decided that this was the place where she would paint her own audience.

Marta Becket was 42 when she found herself in Death Valley Junction (founded Amargosa in 1907).

The town is located at what was the terminus of the Tonopah and Tidewater Railroad, just east of Death Valley National Park (also known as two hours from anywhere). In 1925, the Pacific Coast Borax Company constructed a building in the town to serve as a whistle stop for borax mine workers and executives. It included a hotel, restaurant, and the meeting hall that would become the Amargosa Opera House.

photo credit: Tuxyso / Wikimedia Commons / CC BY-SA 3.0

Marta leased the theater and got to work making repairs and putting together a show.

I first learned about her when I came across this short (under 10 minute) film about the Amargosa Opera House. I was enthralled. I think that you will find the story as fascinating as I do.

Dust Devil, directed and produced by Poppy Walker

Her first performance was February 12, 1968 for an audience of twelve. For over 40 years, she gave performances three nights a week at 8:15 p.m. (her last performance was in March of 2012 at the age of 85).

Sometimes she performed to an audience of one, sometimes there was no one. Marta never let the number of butts in seats (or the lack thereof) stop her from giving a performance.

To ensure that she would always have an audience she painted one, covering the walls with a fantastical mural that invoked the glamour of an old-world opera house. Why worry about whether there is an audience for your work out there in the world somewhere when you can create your own?

At first pass, the tale of Marta Becket and the Amargosa Opera House is simply a delightfully strange one. I mean, Who does that?  

Really.

Think about it.

If you had a flat tire in a desert ghost town and wandered across some abandoned building, would you think, “Ah yes, this is just the place that I am looking for. This is where I am going to create my life’s work.”

But then I suppose the next question should be, Why not?

Why not find your own place to do your own thing?

I’m not suggesting we should all go driving around in the desert waiting to see where we get a flat tire. But I do think that if you find yourself at the metaphorical intersection of passion and purpose there is no reason not to roll up your sleeves and paint your own audience.