Artistry, evolution, and adulthood

  • Author Rachel Friedman will release her second book on Dec. 31, 2019.

  • Friedman as a student at Interlochen Arts Camp in 1994.

For most of her childhood, Rachel Friedman (IAC 93-95) dreamed of being a professional musician. Then, as a freshman at Boston University's School of Music, she gave it all up.

In the wake of her viola-playing career, Friedman found her way to writing, going on to earn her Master of Fine Arts in creative nonfiction from Rutgers University - Newark. Her work has been published in The Best Women’s Travel Writing, The McSweeney’s Book of Politics and Musicals, and The New York Times, and she released her first book, “The Good Girl’s Guide to Getting Lost: A Memoir of Three Continents, Two Friends, and One Unexpected Adventure,” with Bantam Press in 2011.

This December, Friedman will release her second book. “And Then We Grew Up: On Creativity, Potential, and the Imperfect Art of Adulthood” follows the lives and careers of Friedman’s friends since their summers together at Interlochen Arts Camp. It’s a poignant reflection on childhood dreams, creativity, and what it means to live a fulfilling life in the arts.

We caught up with Friedman to learn more about the book, switching artistic disciplines, and navigating the twists and turns of artistic life.

Your own journey from viola to creative writing was the inspiration for “And Then We Grew Up.” How did that journey happen?
I realized my freshman year of college that I no longer wanted to become a professional violist. Writing had always been a more private creative pursuit, but after music, I found myself dedicating the hours that I had once spent practicing viola to my writing. I suppose there was a creative vacuum and writing moved into it.

How did you come up with the concept for “And Then We Grew Up”?
In my early 30s, I was struggling as a freelance writer. I started asking questions about my writing life, and it was starting to feel like where I was at with music in college.

As I started thinking about music again, I realized that the last time in my life when I felt clear about what I wanted to do was when I was at Interlochen. I started to become curious about the other people with whom I had gone to Camp. We all felt like that at Interlochen.

We all knew that making an artistic life was complicated, but we didn’t have a lot of role models. We hear a lot of stories about the artists that make it big. The stories that we don’t hear as much are those middle-of-the-pack artists. Those were the stories I wanted to hear, because I felt like those were going to be more useful to me in terms of figuring out how to live as an artist.

Tell us a bit about the research process for “And Then We Grew Up.” Were you still in contact with your old friends, or did you find yourself re-connecting?
I was connected with a few old friends via Facebook, but we weren’t actively in contact until I started reaching out for "And Then We Grew Up." I’ve kept in touch with most of the people in the book since I started working on it and many of those old friendships have grown into new ones—which is so wonderful.

How did you choose who to include in the book?
As I had conversations with my former camp-mates, the structure of the book started to take shape in terms of the kinds of themes and issues I was exploring. The truth is, the selections were intuitive. I could sense during the interviews (with my former camp-mates) when I was learning an important lesson about making an artistic life. When I walked away from a conversation with a new perspective or question, I knew I wanted to share that story

You and your Camp friends ended up pursuing careers that aren’t quite what you envisioned when you were honing your skills as teenagers. Looking at your lives and outcomes, what is the value of arts education?
My father, a professor, always says a liberal arts education teaches you how to think critically, so perhaps we could say a performing/fine arts education teaches you how to think creatively. Creativity is an incredibly valuable skill in the workplace, whether or not you make your living through their art.

What advice do you have for young artists?
Be flexible about your artistic path. Be open to all the ways it (and you!) can evolve over time. Surround yourself with people who love the arts and value your artistic impulses. Know that success is the result of many variables, not all of them within your control. Figure out what you really need in order to live a contented artistic life—not what you think your life should look like— and focus on that. Know that if you are creative you will never lose that creativity, even if you make your living another way. There are many different ways to live an artistic life.

It’s also important to be prepared for the realities of being an artist. Take being a freelance writer, for instance. You’re running a small business. You need to develop the skills for that in addition to your creative skills.

Also, it’s really important to develop the skills to quit when you hit a ceiling—and most of us will hit a ceiling at some point. When you reach that point, you have to learn how to disentangle your identity from your art. That’s what happened to me in college: I had such a firm grasp on the idea that I was a musician that not pursuing that professionally made me feel very lost.

How can you create an artistically fulfilling adult life—whether or not your career is in the arts?
As adults our time gets filled by a lot of infuriatingly mundane tasks that feel like the opposite of making art. Some days I feel like making art has been completely crowded up. But then I remind myself of what psychologist Ruth Richards calls “everyday creativity.” Richards says that creativity is a state of mind where you are open to experiences and fully present, whether making art or making dinner. Richards is talking about finding moments for everyday creativity, not saying all moments must be infused with creativity.

I used to spend a lot of time fretting about how a day job would take away from my writing time. But what I realized is that my day job is actually what enables me to work on the projects I want to, instead of being forced to take on writing assignments to pay my rent each month. When I reframed that balance in my life between non-creative and creative work, it made me so much more appreciative of it.

What do you hope your fellow Interlochen alumni take from reading the book?
I hope "And Then We Grew Up" conveys to readers that they are not alone in navigating that tricky gap between your childhood fantasies and your much more complicated adult reality. I hope this book offers relief for people who, like me, are trying to figure out their adult artistic lives—whether they have become professional artists or not. Also, I believe that to embrace our adult potential, creative and otherwise, we really have to embrace our complex, imperfect adult lives. That’s another important takeaway I got from writing “And Then We Grew Up,” and I hope it’s one that resonates with readers.

“And Then We Grew Up” was released by Penguin on Dec. 31, 2019. You purchase the book from Amazon, Barnes and Noble, or Books-A-Million.

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