How to Care for Extroverts
I’m a composer of “classical” music. I write on commission, mostly chamber works, vocal music, and staged pieces (opera). I work primarily with acoustic instruments, although I also use electronic and mixed media elements on occasion. My music primarily gets played in North America and Europe. Most people would consider what I do to be avant-garde, but basically I just write the music that I’m interested in hearing. I’ve also done a fair amount of private teaching as a percussionist (though less so in recent years), I blog and write actively on musical topics, I’ve led music ensembles/organizations, and I’ve held a range of non-musical jobs. I’m lucky though that I’ve always been able to work in creative fields with forward-thinking people, regardless of the discipline. I’ve never done the barista/bartender, starving-artist-type jobs, and every job I’ve had has done something positive for my musical career.
As a kid I was always drawn to music. My mom tells me I was pulling out pots and pans to drum on them from the time I could crawl, and not just once or twice—this was one of my favorite activities as a toddler. Naturally, I bugged my parents to let me play the drums when I was old enough to talk. They put me in piano, hoping I would forget about the drums, but I kept at them until they acquiesced when I was in 3rd or 4th grade. From then on, I became a very serious student of percussion, seeking out the best teachers I could find. I quickly gravitated to jazz, which was my first love. In my early teens, I started writing music. I didn’t think of it as composing, I thought of it as a way to get to play the music I wanted to play. After high school, I attended jazz college, then took an extra year to do the composition option they offered.Gradually I found myself composing more than playing. I transferred to a full B.Mus program at the University of Toronto, majoring in jazz, but after a few months I knew I would be happier as a composer. At the end of my first year there I transferred into the composition program and I never looked back.Around the end of my undergrad, I started to have my first career successes. These continued throughout grad school, and I won a number of awards, attended music institutes, and did the other things young composers are supposed to do. Following my graduate degree at UC San Diego, I went to Holland for an extra year of study, where I became quite ill and had to drop out. I spent about half a year recovering under medical care. Prior to then I always assumed I’d end up in academia, but during my convalescing I realized I didn’t want to be in school anymore and wasn’t interested in an academic career.This posed a problem because most composers survive by working “day jobs” as university professors. There are, however, notable exceptions, and I figured the challenge of not falling back on academia would force me to find a solution like that. I have, but wow, it has been a hell of a journey! And it’s not over yet. When you’re in a field that does not fit well with mainstream economics, you either need to relegate your work to hobby status or you have to blaze an entrepreneurial trail. I chose the latter, which means I’ve learned a lot about networking, the value of relations, how to be self-disciplined, how to organize my time, and numerous similar skills. I’ve learned that you need to develop the talents that come naturally to you, outsource the stuff that you can’t do yourself, and work around the clock. I gradually started getting up earlier and earlier and I’m usually up these days by 4:30am to get it all in (I felt more than a little smug when I learned Barack and Michelle Obama do the same). I’ve also learned that the journey is the end goal. Today you’re earning a living on your commissions and grants, great! Next year might be a dry spell and you have to get a job. You just keep at it, and keep trying to do it smarter, more effectively. All the while, you want to grow as an artist, to create work that you’re proud of, that will change history. Composing as a career isn’t about modest goals. You have to want to change the world, otherwise why would you sacrifice so many other comforts?So in summary, becoming a composer or following any other vocation that is not financially rewarding is a process of self-discovery that never ends. I didn’t “get there” because there is nowhere to get to. I’m constantly going somewhere, and trying to enjoy the journey as much as possible.
People become composers because they have a vocational drive to become composers. There’s really no other explanation. I like to work independently, I need creative tasks, I don’t mind details or meticulous work, and I’m a control freak. Those are some of the requirements to be a composer.Beyond that, the existential, self-discovery aspects are rewarding, if often difficult. I feel like I have a truer outlook on life than many people. My friends describe me as having a certain wisdom. Somehow though, liking being a composer seems the wrong question to ask. The truer question is, why haven’t you quit? Being a composer is very tough, there are innumerable obstacles, and the rewards are few and far between. The people who keep at it have had numerous opportunities to say, “You know what, this isn’t worth it. I’d doing something else.” But we don’t… That’s the true test of if you’re a composer or not.
I wanted to be a geneticist. I saw a show on genetic engineering on TV around 8th grade and thought it was the coolest thing, changing the DNA of plants in order to make them more resistant to pests or environmental conditions. But in high school I had terrible biology teachers and that completely killed my love of science, at least in the career sense.
What do you do?
I am a substantive editor of literary fiction for adults and teens and Canadian non-fiction, and teach editing, publishing, and media studies at 3 Canadian universities. I also host a radio segment called Books & Bytes, oversee a literary magazine and online portal, and produce a chapbook series.
How did you get there?
Though in high school I’d written agonizing poems, then a column for the local paper, and finally long expository letters home from travels abroad in the summers, it wasn’t until I’d completed a journalism degree at Carleton that I knew the love of reading and writing was less in the news and more in the arts. I was fine-tuning my media literacy so that it fit my aspirations.
Ironically, the ticket to capturing the esprit of reading as a career lay not in the printed word at first, but in radio features and the bi-weekly on-air program I founded interviewing Canadian writers of fiction and poetry called “Write On.” After 3 years and hundreds of authors behind the mic from Michael Ondaatje to Carol Shields, I learned that where there’s an author there’s an editor and publisher close on her heels, and the show opened several doors that knocking couldn’t have. The show lead to working on the editorial boards of Quarry and Arc, two national literary magazines, reviewing books weekly for the Ottawa Citizen, Vancouver Sun and the Globe and Mail, partnering with the national librarian on a monthly panel on CBC, and when one of my interviewees informed me that his press was looking for an Associate Publisher, I crashed its Christmas party at the Chateau Laurier Hotel and was hired the following week. The sound of literature had lead to the practice of actually making it. Once I caught the publishing bug, I was infected forever – for 15 years I worked in-house as an acquisitions and structural editor of primarily fiction for adults and young adults at 4 Canadian presses (Quarry, Beach Holme, Raincoast, ECW) and my respect for the intellectual gymnastics that goes into creating those spell-binding books only grew as did my gratitude for the privilege of working alongside the talents – Michael Crummey, Bill Gaston, Terence Young, Adam Schroeder, Patrick Friesen, Norma Charles, Andrea Spalding, Julie Burtinshaw, Beryl Young and so many others. So much talent, so little time :) Why do you like it?
An abbreviated list of the “value-added” benefits of the study and creation of literature reveals all the characteristics that make it my true passion Literature offers us the world around us and worlds we’ve never seen or even ventured to contemplate. It empowers us to silently and individually challenge the proscriptive power of inherited ideas. It creates a private space in which to escape, imagine, muse, and feel while offering a safe site for experimenting with identity. It gives us the ability to fashion a context for our own experience and to communicate with the past. It familiarizes us with the legacy of those who have come before and allows us to commit what is of value to personal and cultural memory. Literature prepares us to recognize ourselves as unique individuals, but also to build community as a member of a family, culture, tribe, or nation, and as a citizen of the world. It teaches us to make sense of our lives through narrative and to identify and test belief systems while believing in the magic of words.
It offers us choice and gives us pleasure, power and the ability to train ourselves as visionaries. It allows for an active rather than passive role in the interpretive process, a creative act that is a revolutionary tool in the fashioning of independent minds. It accepts every reader and offers immersion, focus, quiet, and resistance where needed. Literature retells history and underlines the reader’s role in both sustaining and extending it. It connects us to the stories of our childhood and of our family while inspiring us to make our own new story. It creates a path from one author to the next and convinces the reader she has the right to follow in the footsteps of those who have come before her. The books that have done this for me are too numerous to list by name, but each new day brings a new literary discovery so the stories eventually speak to each other and speak for me and to me, not to mention all the attendant media that surround them – radio, film, music and theatre among my rivalling passions – layer and enrich these literary experiences in different forms for it is all STORY. My media world also obviously involves the Web as a platform for all these genres and a place to find others who share their allure, as sokanu.com is now, but in the end both literature and media is like mercury on a table, beading, morphing, and reconstructing in a way that is both slippery and fascinating. I would be voiceless without it and I can’t think of anything else I’d rather spend my days midwifing, indulging, and exploring.
When you were a kid, what did you want to be when you grew up?
Many of us begin our love affair with books as children – being read rhymes or tall tales before bed; discovering a secret realm in a wardrobe, a hobbit hole or a behind a garden gate; staying up late with a flashlight and illicit comic under the sheets.
Who among us hasn’t escaped through the portal of a book, emerging only to select a new title and re-immerse once again into that seductive realm where the writer’s imagination meets our own.
This is a shimmering place where we can be lost to the world we know, but found in a new one, recognized there in a way we often aren’t outside those pages. This is the moment a reader is born, but for me, also an editor.
As much as I loved the company of others, the company of characters was equally compelling and often drew me to quiet corner, the crook of a tree branch, or the tent pole of a fort to sneak a read. When at 11, I entered and won a contest at the local library by reading 100 books in a single summer I knew the passion had well and truly become an obsession. The prize? Lunch and an interview with Vancouver writer W.P. Kinsella, famous for his title Shoeless Joe optioned for the film that became Field of Dreams.Though he doesn’t likely remember my precocious questions, the exposure to a “real live author” made a lasting impression - for a time I wanted to be one, and then in my 20s I wanted nothing more than to work with them.
Editing and publishing books for youth inspired a project that returned me to those halcyon days of my own childhood when I would have wanted nothing more than to go to “book camp,” a place where I could talk, read, and write fiction with others who shared the same sweet affliction. So in 2000 I launched the inaugural summer Canadian Book Camp for 100 young adults 11-13 with the help of Janice Douglas at the VPL and Suzanne Norman at SFU.
I’d surveyed summer camp offerings - sports, the outdoors, performing arts and technology – but hadn’t come across the perfect fit for the budding young reader or writer who kept diaries, wrote and/or illustrated their own imaginative stories, created homemade novels and feverishly devoured works by their favourite authors. We wanted to offer a fun workshop that took them seriously and excited, motivated, and celebrated young readers and writers while exposing them to the contagious thrill of discovering good books. The camp would offer field trips, interactive sessions with well-known authors, editors, and illustrators, a gala reading of campers’ works, and a freshly-minted edition of young authors’ excerpted in an annual anthology. This camp was for enthusiastic readers and eager writers who love writing, who have questions about the process, who want their work recognized - in short it was for people who feel the need to read (and write)! Through it I have met children who “meditated with their muse,” who said “I used to be bullied for reading on the playground, now I’m with 99 others just like me,” who were so troubled they had not spoken for over a year and then suddenly did when they met their favourite author at the camp and felt heard – these stories are inspiring and haunt me in the best possible way. Now more than a decade and over a thousand campers later, it has been duplicated in Toronto, Brantford, Orillia and anywhere someone has taken up the challenge to “steal this book camp” and adapt one of their own from our Book Camp Starter Kit. While the camp allowed me to be a child again, I also returned to the classroom as both student and teacher, doing a PhD in Communications and Publishing and teaching these skills at SFU, Ryerson and VIU. In my thesis, I proposed, like Swift, to outline a modest proposal for the uses of literature. While it did not propose a satirical solution as Swift did to the famine in Ireland (eat the babies), it did propose to satiate a reader’s hunger for imaginative fare by consuming literature (varied, relevant, and of excellent quality) that provides the nourishment to grow a child’s dreams from fantasy to reality. After all, I was living proof.
"Let me tell you something. An ‘ex’ is something that has been. And a ‘spert’ is a drip. We never use that term. There’s no such thing as ‘experts’. You’re learning all the time."
Meet Steve Sunk - “The Blade Maker”
Beautiful video by Rob Norton Production
What do you do?
I am a Fundraising Consultant, working with not for profit charitable organizations. In that role I work with clients to help them: do Strategic Planning (particularly with respect to fundraising); develop a 12-, 24- or 36-month fundraising plan; conduct a feasibility study which tests what they believe their Case for Support is and estimates what level of possible support might be available to them in their future capital campaign; and, run a Capital Campaign. In the latter instance, my preference is that the client actually learns how to run, and actually does run, the campaign so that in the future they can do the work and take ownership for themselves.
How did you get there?
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