Who Am I If I Am Not A Suit?

I came to NYC to ride the coattails of Kerouac, Capote, Ephron and Allen. Since I moved here 10 months ago I have survived story-worthy events such as grand theft, a peeping tom, a surprise eviction and a mass public shooting. I have had two jobs and four apartments. I have been in the presence of President Obama and shared a personal moment with Yoko Ono; still, my notebook is e-m-p-t-y. There’s a long list of things that “prevent” me from writing like:

Another episode of Law & Order: SVU is airing
I have to go to the gym
I just got home from work and I have to make dinner
I have to do laundry
My day was long and I’m just going to decompress with this “one” glass of wine before I do anything else

I am always too tired, too annoyed, too busy making excuses to do the one thing that I really ever thought I might be good at and like to do. I’m in New York City, home of Broadway, Washington Square Park, the Stonewall Riots, the Apollo and Carnegie Hall. I am surrounded by people chasing their dreams, working day and night to shine in a city of 10 million while I stare blankly at my computer screen eating stale crackers until it’s time for American Horror Story to start. This signals the moment I am free to forget that my brain and passion have turned to mush.

I have always wanted to be a writer – of novels, short stories, film – but my consternation has grown these past few months as I have tried to determine if I/we must in fact choose between being a suit or being an artist. Instinctively, my brain screams “I can do it all.” But, when I try to dig in to my writing after a long day at the office I am left wondering, how do people have the stamina to be creative if it isn’t their full time gig? I wanted to speak with someone I know who I think is “doing it all.”

Rachel White is the Director of Creative Operations for L’Oréal’s luxury brand Lancôme in New York City. Rachel also has a Master of Fine Arts in Sculpture/Digital Arts from NYSCC, Alfred University and has recently exhibited at Casa De Campo in the Dominican Republic and at the Veuve Clicquot Gold Cup Finals in the UK. Born in Salt Lake City, Utah, she currently resides in Westchester, NY with her dreamy husband and their deliciously Gerber newborn.

Alison: How did you end up going from being Artist-in-Residence to working full time in a corporate environment?  

Rachel: I was at the Fine Arts Work Center in Provincetown, MA. I had been working as an artist full-time diligently since the day I decided to be an artist at the age of 16. Suddenly I found that my inspiration had run dry. I reflected, searched, read, re-read … and nothing. Then I finally realized that, in a way, I was not really participating in the “American life,” I was observing it. It was then I decided that I wanted a “day job,” and a gym membership, which I could not afford at the time. A friend referred me to major NYC-based cosmetics company that was hiring a production artist. I called, interviewed and got the job. 

Alison: Do you feel like you ever have to choose between your corporate self and your creative self, or can you be both? 

Rachel: Yes, I absolutely feel I have to choose sometimes. For a few years I stopped making my art in order to build some security by taking a corporate job with a stable pay cheque. I did not return to my art until I met my husband. It was really tough to recover my studio practice and my sense of identity as an artist, but overall my life has been enriched by the duality of the two careers. Now that I have had a child too I need to regularly reinvent myself. Currently, what energy I have left once home from my day job is spent in baby rush hour with my nine-month-old. My new plan is Sundays in the studio! Also, now more than ever, I find it critical to have exhibits/goals on the horizon in order to stay productive.

Alison: Tips for mustering stamina and nurturing creativity?

Rachel: 1. It’s critical that I am in the present when I create. 2. Learning to navigate between left and right brain is important too. My current position is not creative at all, which is particularly difficult. I find that I get stuck on one side of the brain and have to consciously move myself into the other zone. There is a book called “Drawing from the Right Side of the Brain” that is phenomenal for making the transition from left to right brain. For stamina, I have an amazingly supportive husband who is the biggest fan of my work and who constantly reminds me of my job as an artist. Also, my stamina is heavily reliant on my jogging and my yoga practice.

Rachel’s advice is solid. I’ve gleaned that the road to creative success includes making time to create no matter what else is happening in your life; leaving the world at your doorstep helps snowball ideas. Surround yourself with supportive people who inspire and challenge you. Work your mind and your body; energy breeds energy. Set goals and be accountable for meeting them; being an artist takes discipline, just like anything else in life. I think these rules apply whether you are creating part-time or doing it for a living. 

I recently attended New York Comic Con with my sexy nerdy boyfriend. NYCC was a great reminder for us that no idea is too big or small to cradle, and that the portals to creation are limitless (and they sometimes dress up like slutty unicorns wielding Samurais swords). As John Lennon once said, “life is what happens when you’re busy making other plans,” to which I respond, Carpe Day-um John Lennon, this life is short! Thanks for the reminder. I’m off to channel Dorothy Parker, which I formally commit to doing everyday from now until my future coronary prevents it.



Photo: Suits, television show.