Mahlet Seyoum

Good artists borrow
Great artists steal. 


On becoming a producer of creative work

I remember reading a quote back when I was in college and contemplating a phD and career in academia (ha!) that what a phD gave you was the right to be a producer, not just a consumer, of knowledge. That thought stuck with me and has been something I've been beating myself over the head with for the past few weeks in regard to my art. Transitioning from a consumer or appreciate-er (gimme a break) of art to a creater. 

In this regard, I blame facebook, twitter, tumblr, policymic, nytimes, mademenoir, the atlanta post, the millions of hair blogs and music videos on youtube, and my DVR and on-demand capabilities for keeping my EXTREMELY easily distracted mind away from making my own work. I remember being a kid with no cable and going through books daily, writing short story upon short story, poem upon poem, and making painting upon painting (i thought myself a fashion designer too!).


Since there's actually been a month delay since I started that post, you see where I was going. It's easy to get sucked up in the day-to-day, which is why my good friend and fellow blogger Lumumba Seegars swears away the 9-5 like the plague. Thank you to the great people at DAP for allowing me my sabbatical, one that has undoubtadly engrained and really branded into my mind that for me (and perhaps others?!?) my art is something I have to work at. Something I have to give time to, something I have to actively... well, act on. Perhaps I'm one who needs schedules, despite how much I hate them, for my art; time set-away, written into planners and locked into daily/weekly calendars to work on my art. How seemingly paradoxical! Shouldn't my art be the place I'm free? Shouldn't it be bursting out of me? Shouldn't I be unable to control it, say, on the A train to work or while standing in line for my lunch? Clearly a monologue should always be at the tip of my tongue and my newest novel should be unbearable to hold back.

And it is, to an extent. But I take solace in knowing that there are enough wandering artists out there to make Julia Cameron's "An Artists Way" a best-seller. There are others like me! With a story (or 5,000) inside them and a fire in their belly who...just... haven't. For me, it's about just doing. Just doing it! Not overintellectualizing my art or my performance or what to say or how to feel or attempting to package it neatly or even waiting around for some divine inspiration to hit and literally move my hand across the page (er, keyboard). It's about my own active steps. I remember watching my boyfriend in college who played basketball wake up every single morning at 6am to practice shooting. He'd have team practice later that same day for hours as well as lifting and all the other hours of unbelievable training they had, but he woke up himself at the crack of dawn (leaving, besides an extra 4 hours of sleep, a hottie like me behind!) to practice, to get better. And I was always in awe of that discipline. Why, shouldn't an artist have that same discipline?

To that accord, I've made a pact with myself (here we go...) to whip myself into artistic shape. I won't be getting up at 6:00am anytime soon, but I'll be demanding of myself at least a page of work a day-- be it thoughts, poems, drawings, collages, short stories, treatments, or whatever pours. And see, I'm putting it on DAP, for the world to see, so that I may be held accountable! I'm also going to be sure to spend more time outside of my apartment (read: my room) and work... I read today that Richard Wright wrote Native Son in Fort Greene Park. I walk outside of my door and am at Fort Greene Park! If that's not inspiration...

I feel good, good people. I feel good. Something about the fall makes me feel good, or maybe its just the change in seasons. I grew up in Texas and went to college in California, so this is the first time I'm experiencing a change in seasons and its just like a breath of fresh air. A new start. I'm excited for what it has to bring, and promise not be gone for so long.

Signing off with love, as always.



"If people knew how hard I had to work to gain my mastery, it wouldn’t seem so wonderful at all." - Michelangelo



on performing classical work

for my second challenge in my technique class with the Negro Ensemble Company, I decided to tackle a classical piece; a monologue from Saint Joan by George Bernard Shaw. I read the monologue on its own before reading the entire play and it struck me instantly. I've always been fascinated by the story of Joan of Arc (read: since seeing its portrayal in Wishbone, of course) and the way Shaw wrote this particular monologue is breathtaking. Reading the entire play was a delight and helped put everything into greater context. Joan was quite a woman! I've been working on this monologue for a few weeks in class and it's been coming along... Suffice it to say I was dancing in my seat when our instructor said she wanted me to perform it as a part of our scene study (another class) end of term showcase! I've attached it below. Thanks, Mr. Shaw, for writing beautiful work about 15th century France that resonates with a 21st century Texas girl! 


JOAN.  Yes: they told me you were fools [the word gives great

offence], and that I was not to listen to your fine words nor trust

to your charity.  You promised me my life; but you lied [indignant

exclamations].  You think that life is nothing but not being stone

dead.  It is not the bread and water I fear: I can live on bread:

when have I asked for more?  It is no hardship to drink water if

the water be clean.  Bread has no sorrow for me, and water no

affliction.  But to shut me from the light of the sky and the sight

of the fields and flowers; to chain my feet so that I can never

again ride with the soldiers nor climb the hills; to make me

breathe foul damp darkness, and keep from me everything that brings

me back to the love of God when your wickedness and foolishness

tempt me to hate Him: all this is worse than the furnace in the

Bible that was heated seven times.  I could do without my warhorse;

I could drag about in a skirt; I could let the banners and the

trumpets and the knights and soldiers pass me and leave me behind

as they leave the other women, if only I could still hear the wind

in the trees, the larks in the sunshine, the young lambs crying

through the healthy frost, and the blessed blessed church bells

that send my angel voices floating to me on the wind.  But without

these things I cannot live; and by your wanting to take them away

from me, or from any human creature, I know that your counsel is of

the devil, and that mine is of God.


On Writer's Block

I came to the office of the theater company many of us affectionately call NEC, also known as New York's famed Negro Ensemble Company, with the plan of starting and finishing the first draft of a short for a woman's entertainment group that I'm a part of. I was given an assignment to complete a first draft of a short on an assigned genre and, in typical Mahlet fashion, decided to wait until two days before it's expected to begin. To my own defense, I did craft 1/2 of a pretty nifty story idea while waiting to see my client at Rikers Island (you see, I'm also a client advocate at a criminal defender org in Harlem-- more on that later). So here I am at NEC with the whole office to myself, a big, fast computer and comfy chair, and my little pink notebook where I scribble all my on-the-go musings, inspiration, and advice. 

It's now 7:09. I've been here since around 4 and have successfully completed all of the following tasks:

1. Wrote out a list of things in my life that I remember that ever hurt me/made me feel pain in an attempt to access my emotional memory (one of my current struggles in acting)
2. Ordered an Italian Hoagie from Shorty's and had it delivered 
3. Updated my personal blog and spent an embarrassing amount of time looking at Drake and The Weeknd's blogs 
4. Checked my email, facebook, twitter, and tumblr about 10x each
5. Added more books to my cart on Amazon, including "Nice Girls Don't Get the Corner Office" by Louis B. Frankel 
6. Started writing my first DAP blogpost

You see, I haven't even opened my pink notebook where I scribbled my short idea. And instead, recognizing the all-too-familiar feeling I was having, began to google "writer's block" and books like The Artist's Way, by Julia Cameron. I don't know the exact definition of writer's block, but I do think it necessitates one actually attempting to write something and then coming to a crossroads. What's my excuse? I find in myself more of a fear of writing, and of course, that comes from a fear of being mediocre. 

I read in one of Syd Fields' books (are you noticing a trend of reading about writing instead of writing? Me too.) that in order to be a great writer, you have to get used to a lot of bad writing. Sure, easy enough. But my brain was shot. Frozen, really, and no matter how much I tried to force myself to think character, plot, conflict, resolution, all I could think was how much I'd rather be at home (safe!) watching TV. 

So I took a break, and wrote a poem. I used to write poetry all the time in junior high and high school (yes, I was one of those girls with a diary of angst-ridden and woe-is-me poetryabout unrequited love and wanting to be famous) but abandoned it for the most part in college. I remember going to spoken word events and watching my amazing friends stand up in front of a room full of people and shouting their feelings on politics and race and love and sex and mischief and being quietly jealous that they were so forthright, so BOLD, so in-your-face. MY poetry, of course, was much too private, much too wicked and wild and different from who I was that I couldn't dare to speak it aloud! 

But I wrote anyway; a spoken word piece that had the cadence of the hipness in me. It had the fire of the anger in me and the wit of the vixen in me. I wrote and the words spilled over with ease and I laughed and wrote and thought and wrote. I wrote of unrequited love. I wrote of wanting to be famous. I wrote with angst and woes and boldness and wrote until my knuckles ached. Then I sat back and let the excitement take me over. 

My lesson learned? Allow (demand!) myself to be wholly creative. To write poetry, write fiction, write screenplays, act, paint, sing, soar! To open the floodgates without regard to with what medium my art is expressed. To trust that I'll navigate to what's most beautiful, most brilliant in me. 

And my poem? Well, it's much too wicked...