How To Not Always Be Working
Photos by Anna Powell Denton
Author: Marlee Grace
Marlee Grace is a dancer and writer whose work focuses on the self, distraction, creativity, and art-making. Her practice is rooted in improvisation as a compositional form that takes shape in movement videos, books, and hosting artists. You can find her zines, things she makes, artists she hosts, and more at marleegrace.space/home
1. When did you hit that personal wall of overworking and how long did it take you to realize it was time for a change?
In 2015, I was running my shop/gallery/artist residency Have Company in Grand Rapids, MI. I had found a way to weave in every single hobby and things I liked into the shop.
The breaking point was knitting. Once I started selling yarn at the shop I officially hit my wall. Knitting was the one thing I held on to as a hobby, and once I turned that into my job I burned out. I literally was always working, every task led me directly to making money.
That’s when I wrote How to Not Always be Working the zine and started hosting workshops around the country in an attempt to figure out what the hell to do and see if anyone else was struggling with this - turns out a lot of other people were too!
2. What are three healthy tips you would suggest to someone that has recently experienced a divorce or heartbreak in general?
Ask for help, be slow and gentle with yourself, and know that you never know what the outcome will be. I was in a partnership with John (my ex-husband) for five years and if you would have told me that three years later I would be living in a house with him running an artist residency as my best friend I would have never believed you.
Or that my partner Jackie and I went to visit him and his mom (my ex-mother-in-law) and have a game night and sleepover at her house. You can invent your own freaky family! So even though the pain hurts, that person won’t necessarily be out of your life forever - in fact, they might just fit into a different more perfect role down the line.
The end of a partnership, whether it’s marriage or even a short deep love, causes so much disorientation and pain. We have to forgive ourselves for needing to go slower, to ask our friends for support, for needing to say no or change plans.
3. What was your writing process like for this book?
A lot of opening a blank google doc and going WHAT THE HELL DO I SAY?! WILL IT BE IMPORTANT?! And then having to release expectations around what the book could do for other people.
I write from a place of teaching myself, in an effort to share with others to help them along their path as well. But as a self-help author, I never think to myself, “How can I help other people?” Writing and releasing work is in itself an act of service, so I write for myself.
I write for myself because it is my experience that by sharing my own process it just happens to help others. I also write a lot on pieces of paper - themes, and ideas, and tape them to the wall.
4. What’s something you do every day that makes you feel happy and alive?
Kiss my girlfriend, do my morning pages, stretch, drink water, call a friend, pray, give thanks, and skateboard and swim as much as I can!
5. How important was it for you to rebuke the “always staying busy” mindset that our society thrives on?
SO IMPORTANT! Wow, glorifying busy is the least cool thing to me. “Booked and busy” feels like a capitalist and competitive mindset. Just today in line at the grocery store I was thinking about how a week ago I felt very busy and “important” and was around a lot of special people and felt very “seen” and then all of a sudden I was like - oh no I am in my house in the woods and have nothing to say!
But that’s good. Having nothing to say is ok. Having nothing to do is ok. I am reading Jenny O’Dell’s book How to Do Nothing right now and it’s changing my life. Even though I am getting better at not always working, I tend to want to replace working time with SOMETHING productive.
We are allowed to do nothing. To rest. To not be busy. To not show the whole world what we are doing in an attempt to appear productive.
Capitalism wants us to compete, wants us to hate ourselves and each other. We must exist within it but we can build brighter slower futures.
6. What are some ways you practice mindfulness daily?
My friend and author of the book On Being Human, Jen Pastillof, recently introduced the concept of BEAUTY HUNTING to me. This has been a game-changer - instead of telling myself, or forcing myself, to seek mindfulness, I can just be like “Ok! Time to hunt for beauty!” It feels more fun to me, like an adventure. I like to make hard stuff fun.
Birds on a wire, the perfect shade of blue paint on a pole, the way my roommates pants fit, the old couple holding hands, puddles in the driveway. Beauty hunting turns everything into a freaking miracle.
7. Can you talk a little bit about improvisation, and how it has become a method for you to navigate being alive and bringing your best self to every moment?
Yes! I love improvising, it is absolutely the modality of creativity I feel most skilled in, most interested in researching and teaching. My background is in modern dance and compositional improvisation as a mode of performance and practice.
I am grateful to my teachers Katherine Ferrier, Lisa Gonzalez, Jennifer Kayle, and Pamela Vail (The Architects) and Amy Chavasse - these women taught me everything I know. They brought me into a world of movement and writing that shaped how I create and see everything.
I feel so grateful to write and create and see the world through the lens of movement and spontaneous choice making. It provides a freedom and a looseness that patterns and set movements don’t always give us.
8. Also, can you talk a little bit about CENTER, where the idea came from and just your overall feeling about helping people get past their own limitations?
Center is my hosting practice that exists wherever I am. It started in my tiny cabin in California and was visioned by myself and friend and designer Nicole Lavelle. I missed running an artist residency but didn’t quite have the space or the resources - so I created a loose concept that I could bring with me everywhere!
When I moved back to Michigan this past winter, I did so to bring it to more people by running an artist residency in a house I was living in.
I love hosting artists, it’s possibly my favorite thing. I love learning with them and watching them bloom and celebrating their every tiny movement.
9. What’s the best advice you have ever received on happiness?
That it goes away. And that you aren’t broken if you can’t keep it for very long. My emotions go in huge waves and I give myself permission to just follow the waves. It’s uncomfortable. But because I know happiness will disappear - when it comes I accept it fully. I laugh as hard as I can. I hold on to the sacred joy and I don’t feel guilty about it.
I spent so much of my life being drunk and miserable and sad and a victim of my own mind. I don’t have to live like that anymore and that’s a miracle in and of itself - so when happiness emerges I greet it and say hello! Yes! Thank you for stopping by! I know you might leave again so I’m gonna hold you close.
10. What’s the best book you have read in 2019 thus far?
How to Cure a Ghost by Fariha Róisín
11. Do you plan on writing more books in the future?
Yes! As we speak! I am working on my next book Getting to Center which comes out October 2020 with Morrow Gift/Harper Collins
I can’t wait for everyone to read this book! It’s about 6 times as long as How to Not Always be Working and is everything I know about returning to myself in the face of change over and over and over again! From the tiny changes to the big ones to the small ones!
Places To Find More From This Author:
Instagram: @marleegrace //
Online Course: Everything is a Sunset
Get Your Copy of How to Not Always Be Working Today!