One year ago I risked my college degree; I took off for Florida to become a Disney Cast Member. Life in Minnesota no longer fulfilled me. I was in limbo between a life I thought I wanted—one which felt like my favorite book, but the best page was torn out—and a future that didn’t fit into the norm of a twenty-something, almost postgrad:
Let me say this first: the phenomenal part of a Chevy Sonic is that an entire life can fit in it; the bits of it that are essential anyway. I left just enough room for a pair of Mickey ears atop of the front seats, and the three-day drive was ahead of me and my Mom.
We only fought almost the entire way… .
Eventually, we had made it to
Sunny “Pouring-Wet Florida”. The days before I moved in were spent visiting the popular parks: Sea World and Islands of Adventure. The nearly completed English major in me geeked out at The Wizarding World of Harry Potter. It helped that I idolized J.K. Rowling, as well. Things were looking swell for the new me.
I was already beginning to Face Forward.
Naturally there were parts of my Minnesota life I would miss—my family, dog, and college crew. That being said, move-in day signified a major shift in my somewhat slow, sad, and snowy life back home. Traditions, the first day for a Disney employee, would in fact break my previous traditions and make way for anew. To start, I found out who my new best friend would be:
*Language is a powerful tool. It can be dismembered, altered, and ambiguous. It also allows me to keep my job. The language I am about to use will make sure kids never leave Neverland; Princesses and Pirates not only exist, but captivate your imagination; rodents are worshiped; and the end of a small-town, Main Street road sits a castle where all are welcome. It allows the magic to continue.
I now knew Pluto and I were going to get along very well; we hung out for over four months! Okay, sometimes he was like a dog in heat (not that kind of heat!), but we’re talking, like, really hot! All I had to do was tell him to cool it, and he’d be reminded that he had a magical job. He met guests from all around the world, hugged the cutest kids, signed autographs (who wouldn’t want a paw print), and chased his tail when he got distracted. The pup would often get so excited when he met someone he knew. Don’t worry, he never wet himself with excitement (but, it sure felt like it sometimes). Unlike his owner and boss, though, Mickey Mouse, Pluto can’t talk; nonetheless, he found ways of communicating his enthusiasm: Eye. Nose. You!
I soon found a family I nosed very well, my training group—a family to trick-or-treat in the Not-So-Scary Magic Kingdom, a group to spend an intoxicated Thanksgiving with me, and friends I now travel around the country to visit. I was also able to make friends with the bumbling Mr. Smee, the wise Rafiki, and the miniature soldiers—the Green Army Men (NO, Andy is NOT coming. Not ever!) If anything, my new friends and family taught me to take risks. Specifically spontaneity.
The risk to move to Florida meant giving up my “Best Man of Honor” role in my friend’s wedding—and the wedding itself. With some Pixie dust, however, I was able to fly to the wedding and spend a full nineteen hours in Minnesota, surprising my friend. It was then that I realized my past life was always going to be apart of me—the good parts. The haunting parts could spend their days in the Haunted Mansion. I no longer felt I was running away. I was at the beginning stages of a nomadic life; my two lives were filling the missing pages of the life I thought I wanted; my two lives were balancing out.
The wedding inspired my random trip to New York City to audition for the Disney Cruise Line. I found myself alone in the city. It symbolized my fear of the new, yet demonstrated the thrill of fear. The heartbreak of failure, too, came around—as I did not get cast for the voyage. It was a lesson, a tough one, that set backs are beautiful. I’ve been learning it ever since. I makes room for an unpredictable adventure. “Did somebody say adventure?”
A set back came again at the end of my Disney College Program. I was not permitted to extend my stay. A number of other potential jobs also did not pull through. I was, thankfully, permitted seasonal status with Disney. Unfortunately, it looked as if I was headed home for a while.
This time period allowed me to finish the last class of my undergrad. The set back of not staying with Disney granted me the opportunity to secure my degree. With only one class, I found time to COREYograph a four-part dance based on birds in pieces of literary works: The Birds, “Ode to a Nightingale,” “The Raven,” and To Kill a Mockingbird. My dance was called Birds of Page. I then found a new set of character friends with Nickelodeon Universe. There was only one thing left to do: find an internship, and this led me to Face Forward.
I was dreading an internship. In fact, I was not entirely sure I wanted to graduate with an English major. I found an unprecedented joy in Face Forward though. It wasn’t a typical coffee-getter, desk-job internship. I was making a real difference.
Failure. It is a remarkable devastation. Through all of my trials and failures, I found Face Forward. I finished my degree, and I felt what it meant to have friends and family. The risk of leaving it all brought it all back to me. It came back anew, and I had a fresh perspective on what it meant to be alive. My Seasonal status is bringing me back to Disney at the end of this month. I hope I can continue involvement with Face Forward, as it has taken me so far. Now, my adventure continues—
See Ya Real’ Soon
Ellen Dissanayake is very much a pioneer in her approaches to the arts. Her undergrad degree was not in painting, sculpting, art education, or theater. She got her Bachelors of Science in biology, sparked by an interest from a required class in high school. She has a brilliant and inquisitive mind. Over the course of her life she has been encouraged to pursue various curiosities by her supportive husbands—she has had two. A major question she has spent her life chasing is whether or not creativity can be found in our genetics. I ask you, the reader, to stop for a second. If you have it, take a minute, and ponder your day-to-day existence. How creative are you? Is creativity in your genes? I would like to take you on a small journey of your own mind while also giving you a minor lesson about the fundamentals of the human mind from the perspective of various biologists.
Let’s turn back to Dissanayake and what her studies found. Ellen faced critics in the studies of sociobiology and evolutionary biology, who were more focused on a factual, non-fiction behaviors, did not favor the idea that humans thrived on “made-up” worlds. That is to say, Ellen suggests that humans are emotionally stimulated in a positive manner by art of various forms. In early times this was basic drawings on cave walls and oral stories passed down from one generation to the next. Now we have vast resources to tap into our creativity. However, some critics argue that drugs are a favored stimulant that trump the need for art because it’s faster acting yet dulls emotional receptors. So, we have the groundwork of argument against Ellen’s hypothesis.
Dissanayake is now critically acclaimed and published for a few reasons, including changing the minds of some nay-sayers. When you flip on the television, your mind enters a different world. The intent is to stop thinking about whether or not you’ll be getting that promotion and why your car brakes are squeaking. Cue the opening credits of your favorite show, and dive into the melodramatic yet comical love-triangles of fictional characters, suspending your life for a few hours. Dissanayake, who worked alongside American psychologist Leda Cosmides, made a connection to this form of storytelling and why it was a vital part of human evolution. When a person turns on the television, they subconsciously emotionally engage in the plot line and learn a lesson from what is occurring without literally taking part in the experience. They are emotionally engaged in the fictional scenarios because they have invested an interest in the fate of these characters. You return to the show weekly for a reason—to see whether or not Jim and Pam will finally get together. You are not physically present though. Your mind is simply engaging in a perceived reality outside of your own personal drama. Fiction is acting as an escape, or rather, art is acting as an escape. In other words, we are designed to experience fiction. We appreciate and grow from it. We are subconsciously learning lessons about ourselves and about the human condition through fictional engagement.
Creativity springs from many sources. For some people it is the simple act of daydreaming on the train while listening to music. For others, creativity is an entire lifestyle; the act of artistic engagement feeds their soul and fosters everlasting happiness. The important thing to recognize, and indeed what Dissanayake points to is that the arts keep the imagination churning. To remove art would be to remove color from the world. We would have a world void of music, dancing, painting, movies, books, and all that moves the soul to light up. This is why, for thousands of years and many generations, art has been a fundamental piece of our societies.
Face Forward spoken word artist Joe Davis will be featured at TEDxMinot on Sept. 6th in Minot, ND. Joe is a phenomenal poet who inspires many with his words of love and beauty. He was born in Minot to a Jamaican mother and Chicagoan father. He stayed in the area for college, earning is B.A. in English—later gracing the Minneapolis area with his talents. His program, “Creative Mental Engagement: Change Starts Within” will surely prove to be just as impactful as many of his other works.
Tickets can be purchased here: http://www.eventbrite.com/e/tedxminot-tickets-12143490507?aff=JoeDavis
“The precise role of the artists… is to illuminate that darkness, blaze roads through vast forests, so that we will not, in all our doing, lose sight of its purpose, which is, after all, to make the world a more human dwelling place.”—James Baldwin, excerpt from The Creative Process (1962)
James Baldwin was a colorful, impactful, powerful force who took the literary world into his hands and molded it in a way no other Afro-American author had before him. From his fingertips poured the ink of his soul, barely creating fiction. Rather his novels were translucently veiled autobiographies, hinting to the reader that “the poet” in the story was really Baldwin as “the artist” in real life. Critics during his life and after his death analyzed his work with the greatest precision. Some take on a more religious lens, others hold onto his homosexuality and binge drinking when digging for truths; others still do their best to be objective.
The broad consensus remains that, as a public figure, James Baldwin was a racial spokesperson. Many issues got his blood boiling—racial tension, criticism of homosexuality, and the concept of reverse racism to name a few. Baldwin also rubbed elbows with many well-known members of the political and literary worlds. He had come in contact more than once with influential writers Richard Wright and Chinua Achebe—two writers who broke down racial barriers. Furthermore, he met Malcolm X, another man whose voice was heard across the world. The list of influential people that Mr. Baldwin came in contact with is extensive and is proof that his life was influenced by many great minds. And, from those great minds came a collection of wisdom and great art.
Baldwin did four forms of writing: novels, plays, poems, and essays. Each spoke to a different hardship, but they mostly held true to his character of striving to improve the condition of the black American. He loved his country deeply, but he criticized her viciously. He wanted improvement where it was supposed to be given, yet there was no proof anything was being done. The black man was freed, yet hatred coursed like lava through the streets of every American city. He used his medium much like many artists, as a form of therapy.
Go Tell It On the Mountain is one of his most well-known novels. Critics argue that the entirety of the story is written in the form of “self-writing”, which is essentially a euphemism for “thinly veiled autobiographical work”. The daydreaming and allusions to characters in this book can be directly connected to Baldwin in “real-time” (when the book was written) and in relation to his hopes and dreams.
James Baldwin was a lively, crackling spirit. He had a sharp tongue at times, with a complex world view. He did not just want to be seen as “that Negro-writer” either. He wanted to be a great man who made a difference both artistically and in the public sphere. He made his voice heard and impacted the literary world profoundly. He gave a voice and understanding to people who did not have one before his books came about. Much like Malcolm X, he was able to give the African American community an author they could relate to—one with similar struggles. He was a man who made a difference and rocked the international literary stage forever.
By Kallie Schell
My experience with Face Forward was what I expected it to be in a professional sense. The journey I’ve taken was what was unprecedented. I came into a big city scared as a child on her first day of school, eager to impress by following the guidelines of the job description. And I followed what I was supposed to, sure. But it’s not so cut and dry with a non-profit like Face Forward. I became a part of a safe space from the first meeting, where I could finally express my thoughts and feelings about art, beauty, the world, and what reverberated in my soul. I am in awe at all of the artists I have been blessed enough to come in contact with through this internship. But one thing I did find was that through my words I was able to make a difference. By simply empowering myself with the message that is Face Forward- that through art you can make social change…”and this is how…” I have made a difference. I look back to the beginning when we were all tongue-tied about how to describe Face Forward or scrambling over what my elevator speech would be. I was just in another interview for an internship and talked animatedly for seven minutes about Face Forward. That’s what this nonprofit and internship has done for me. I have a louder voice. I may not be a dancer or singer or even be able to rhyme cleverly at the drop of a hat, but I know that I can make people listen because I’ve been given the tools to do so. And not just the right words; I’ve been given those! But I’ve also been given a crazy, beautiful passion that I haven’t felt in a long time about making a social impact through community building. Marrying those two has made every moment of my huge, scary life change worth it. Face Forward has given me the tools to believe I can do something impactful with my life. ~Kallie Schell, BloggerLooking for grant writers, bloggers, and social media interns for the fall season! Submit a cover letter & resume to firstname.lastname@example.org.
"My English degree required me to find an internship. I was dreading it. Writing is a passion, yes; however, finding a fulfilling, truly fulfilling, internship—one where I felt I was making a difference—was not going to be easy. Then Face Forward happened. Through discussions of art, I’ve been able to see social issues though a new lens, a clear lens. I had expected an internship that would, yeah, stir my artistic mind. I had no idea I was about to to divulge into a multilayered experience: artistry, acceptance, and social alteration. Art has an ability to shift perspective. Yet, there is no clear definition. Nonetheless, my experience with Face Forward has defogged this hazy word… Art: a new perspective on the numbing senses—a new angle on a fading backdrop. Our experiences shared, and long forgotten, are brought anew in time and space; the internal journey may not be the same, but the ability to unearth an emotion is altogether inherent. Our deep-rooted, biological sixth sense brings communities together, changing humanity’s direction. Art allows us to Face Forward.” ~Corey LedinLooking for grant writers, bloggers, and social media interns for the fall season! Submit a cover letter & resume to email@example.com. Apply by August 9th.