Get Real, Get Committed, and Do the Work - 10 Questions with Filmmaker, Writer, and Painter Dr. Nadia Ramoutar
Our comfort zone is the behavioral space where we feel at ease due to an established degree of familiarity, security, and certainty. We have higher control of our environment when we are inside of our respective comfort zones. Our activities and behaviors fit a routine and pattern that minimizes anxiety and risk. Stepping outside of our comfort zones, however, has massive benefits related to performance and creativity.
We have been programed to view stress as a psychological state that should be avoided. But, in reality, there are healthy forms of stress that can actually serve as a catalyst for growth, personal development, and ultimately transformation. Directly outside of our comfort zones, but not too far outside of our comfort zones, is an area referred to as the optimal performance zone.
We expose ourselves to new challenges and tasks when we enter into this zone. As a result, we may experience increased levels of uncertainty, which is often followed by fear. Typically, what we fear most about new challenges is that we may fail. But, in retrospect, when was the last time you felt a deep sense of accomplishment that didn't result from overcoming and completing something that challenged you either emotionally, mentally, or physically?
Dr. Nadia Ramoutar spent the last 10-years teaching at The Art Institute of Jacksonville. Prior to her position at Ai, she taught at Flagler College for 9-years. This summer, Dr. Ramoutar decided to exit the world of academia and pursue a career as a full-time freelance creative. You could say that she has stepped outside of her comfort zone in a big way.
Dr. Ramoutar is involved with a number of artistic disciplines, including film, writing, and painting. In addition to being an artist herself, Dr. Ramoutar also serves as a facilitator of workshops and courses geared towards helping creatives identify and actualize their personal goals and objectives. She wrote "52 Ways to Free My MOJO: An Art Journal to Liberate Creative Energy," which is now available for sale. The book is a hand illustrated art journal that offers readers 52 practical and effective ways to set their creative energy free. It also includes simple and sustainable ideas to uplift or restore one's faith in themselves and their world. Dr. Ramoutar's objective for the book is to encourage readers to develop a deeper understanding of themselves and their personal creative paths.
You are invited to join Dr. Ramoutar at The 5 & Dime on August 20 for "Intertwined," an art show and book release for "52 Ways to Free My MOJO." Dr. Ramoutar will be showing visual art alongside her partner, Ryan McNair. The event starts at 4:00 PM and concludes at 6:30 PM.
10 Questions with Dr. Nadia Ramoutar
Do you have any patterns, routines, or habits when starting a new project?
Yes, I have very specific ones. I love neuroscience. I've realized that my brain is “a pattern programmed tool”. My personal motto is “make art work”. It’s a play on words but many people spend more time thinking or talking than actually making work. I started to really work my habits into patterns and it has paid off.
Here are a few.
Get clear: Before I start a new project, I ask myself a few questions to make sure that it's right for me. Am I the best person to do it and do I WANT to do it? For me, the times of doing things for obligation, exposure, or just to cash in are over. I have too much going on with writing, filmmaking, illustrating, and speaking. I also have a son on the Autism spectrum, so I need to manage my time and energy realistically. I have to say "no" to a lot of things that look fun, but it's necessary. The enemy of creativity and productivity is an overcommitted schedule or lack of resources and I learned that the hard way.
Get real: I am a professional creative. I know what I can do and what I can’t do. I question everything. Will a large learning curve impact my ability to complete a project?
Research: Whether it’s a Pinterest boar, a trip to another museum, or visiting a website, I try to immerse myself in both creativity and the project itself. Has anything similar been done before and what can I do new or differently?
Get committed: If I am going to do this project, how am I doing it? When? Where? And with whom? If it’s a painting, it’s simple enough. But, if it’s a film than this process can take months or even years to get planned.
Use exquisite self care: I keep an art journal, exercise, juice, eat healthy, get adequate sleep, and stay close to my loved ones. I try to really fuel my mind and body for the journey. I like my work to reflect my best efforts. I feel like I am an idea factory and I have to stay well or I burn out and crash.
Do the work: It takes discipline to create. Get going as soon as possible. Things will be fun and they will also go wrong, but you know nothing until you’re really in it.
Whether it’s a film or a speech, my process is the same. From the first step, I form an undeniable obsession with a new project. I have to be captivated. I have to either fall in love with it OR believe that it’s important to me and the world. I need to know that I can bring something new or original to it that no one else can. If just anyone can do it, I don’t try. Magic happens and we can surprise ourselves when we let things emerge organically.
What have you learned about yourself through your artistic endeavors?
I have learned so much. That's why making art is so important. When living in a noisy digital world, it’s easy to get disconnect from ourselves and our truths if we aren’t being mindful. My artistic endeavors have brought me to the edge of my awareness and into a deeper authenticity. Humans are messy and complex beings. Overcoming fear and old patterns takes courage.
I have learned the paradox of being a creative. I am brave and I am terrified. I am talented and I am a beginner. I am strong and I am fragile. I am exhausted and I am excited. I am wise and I am naïve. I am important and I am no-one. It’s so enlightening to get out of your comfort zone and explore all the aspects of yourself. The freedom of knowing that not everyone will like you or appreciate your work becomes liberating. You stop trying to please everyone and you instead focus on the work.
The beauty and horror of daring to be creative is overwhelming at times. Some days I find myself in what writer Brenee Brown calls a “vulnerability hangover," especially when something big happens or I take a huge leap and venture too far outside of what I have done previously. After that, I feel so naked and horrified that perhaps I have gone too far. That’s when having a supportive and creative network helps.
I have learned other hard lessons, as well. I am not my work. My work is not me. My work belongs to the world and I belong to myself. I have also learned that I am much more dynamic and capable than I ever thought. I realize that I have many people who love me and are here for me. That gives me great comfort as I burn the proverbial barn and know that I won’t die in the flames. When Alicia Keys sang “Girl On Fire” it resonated with me. I think I am fortunate to be one of those people who will step into the heat and work for what I want. I am not one to just stand back and complain. I want to live fully expressed.
How do you define success in what you do?
I value my creative energy like gold and I am deeply grateful for it, so I take nothing for granted. My father was a jeweler and I have been around creativity all my life. It feels very normal to me and over the years I have found ways to fuel myself. I believe in process more than I believe in skill or talent and I value the challenge of originality. Success for me is not traditionally defined. I define success as living a life of meaning that moves me and the world. If my work is experiential and it creates a feeling in me or in another person then I have succeeded.
I also don’t do projects anymore that cost me my piece of mind. If I am “out of my mind” then I am not succeeding. So I have to experience a oneness with the project. If I give it my all then it has to feel as though it was worth it. Success is that I can sleep at night and feel good about myself. Success is also if I made the world a little better for someone, somewhere.
What are some emotions that you've experienced as you've transitioned from salary employment to being a free-lance creative?
I have experienced some wild fires of emotions while taking this leap that I didn’t expect. Here are a few of the major culprits that pushed me totally out of my comfort zone after 18 years of teaching college.
Terror: I have been employed in a “job” since I was an immigrant teenager arriving here. I have always worked for someone or somewhere. I had a traumatic experience as a college student when I was 19 years old. I was stalked, beaten severely, and then abducted in my own car. I jumped out of a moving car to save my own life. The man was found by University police hours later. It was brutal. It left me with a weird blend of PTSD and euphoria to be alive. Being employed and getting a doctorate degree were things that somehow made me feel “safe”. Being a self employed creative is the opposite of that. So it has brought up a ton of old emotions to be healed.
Confusion: It was hard to leave college teaching because I love students and helping people achieve their dreams. Two of my amazing film students won Student Academy Awards so I got a lot of appreciation and meaning out of teaching. But, I also saw myself as the midwife to other people’s dreams for 18 years. I realize being a college professor is a noble role (or used to be) and it also went with quite a bit of ego and control. I got to call the shots but I also had to implement a lot of rules and be punitive. I hated that part. So it was a mixed bag. My last graduation ceremony took my breathe away and I cried hysterically afterwards. That was a shock. I grieved the role but I knew that I was ready to be done.
Love: I had a lot of encouragement to move on. My partner Ryan and I do a great job of gently nudging each other forward so having an art show together at The 5 & Dime is a thrill right now. I think you really find out who your friends are when you make a huge change like this. So many people love me unconditionally and I am very moved by it. That really fuels me to be brave and courageous.
Gratitude: I am blown away by how much encouragement and help I am getting from people globally. With the release of my book, so many people and opportunities have been presented to me out of kindness. I have so many offers to collaborate with people I adore and admire. I am now busy working to fit in all the possible options. My two sons are also a huge joy to me. I come from a large diverse family who really believes in me and cares for me. I also love my creative family in northeast Florida who are urging me on.
Excitement: I wake up with a bounce. I love what I do or I don’t do it. I feel a freedom I never knew possible. How many people can really say that? The freedom to chose and to explore so many creative options is such a privilege and adventure. I have no idea what I am doing or where it will take me and that is thrilling. I want to push to the limits of myself to see what is really there. My favorite phrase now is: “Why not me?”
What is your process for determining what endeavors you will dedicate your time and resources to pursuing?
We need to be careful about our choices. Time is my currency – not just money. That’s a huge shift in consciousness for me. I think Thoreau said something like “The cost of anything is the amount of your life you are wiling to give up to get it…” I totally respect that ideal.
As a creative leader, I constantly ask people “is this worth it to you?” So I hold myself to the same standard. Truthfully, not everything or everyone deserves your energy. When we say yes to anything we have to say no to something else, or we end up burned out and inauthentic. Being selective is our true genius.
Of late, I am very much a minimalist. I also value my ethics and environmental responsibilities so this adds a layer of effort and concern. I think my formula is much like this, with some variation depending on the medium or scope of the project:
You have said that living outside the lines takes courage, do you have any techniques that you implement to see where lines are drawn and muster the courage to explore beyond them?
Oddly enough, my technique is surprising – it’s stillness. I fight daily to carve out time for my own solitude and peace of mind. One of the 52 ways in my new book is to “stop glorifying busy-ness”. In my earlier years I was a slave to achievement. I suppose insecurity or fear of not belonging made me an approval whore. I just wanted people to accept me and like me. I was crushed when I didn’t get the highest grade, the award, or the medal. I am so grateful I am on another path now.
In stillness, I find the connection to my authentic self and I focus on being detached enough to let all my feelings emerge. Being “emotionally fluent” is another way featured in my book. I used to try so hard to always be positive – even at my own expense. It was a disaster. I was often using all my energy to contain and suppress my real feelings. Now, I watch for signs of anger, fear, frustration, irritation, or weariness. I don’t see them as negative anymore. They have become guides to let me know something is off. I take the time to be with them.
It may sound weird but I do a meditation like this. I get still. I name the feeling I am having. Let’s say it’s “I am angry”. Then I say, “Ok anger. Why are you here? Or what do you want to tell me?” The answer is often surprising. It’s something very simple or something really old that I thought I buried years ago. “What if no one buys my book?” Really, I think that. Then I go, hmm. Ok. No one. Is that really going to happen? Will I survive it? I bet I will.
Somehow not arguing for my limitation allows it to float away like a butterfly. I don’t try to do anything to solve it or analyze it and it leaves me. I used to try to understand and “figure things out”. I learned I can’t. I think a lot of depression and anxiety in our culture comes from people wanted to control their feelings. You just always lose that battle or make things worse.
The other trick I have to be brave is to be really kind. I try to focus on being insanely generous and kind. It distracts me from my own limitations and selfishness. Most insecurity is toxic. If we think we are “not good enough” we become stuck or we shrink. Love expands us.
The deaf, blind, and mute Helen Keller said “Life is a daring adventure or nothing at all”. She actually won an Oscar for documentary film. So seriously – what is my excuse. I constantly fill my mind with inspiring words, beautiful images, and natural settings. I try to laugh as much as possible.
When you realize that you have so much more on a daily basis than you need, you have to decide to operate from gratitude. Fear controlled me for so many years until I realized that I was the one generating it. It happened. I kept relieving it. It was a vicious cycle. Courage is really not that you don’t have fear but that you are going on despite the fear.
I think a sense of humor is a great tool. When we realize how flawed we are and how flawed our society is – it can be devastating. A good laugh helps. And hot tea. Lots of hot tea make everything better.
What is "Free my MOJO," and what inspired its creation?
Life is mysterious. My desire to create this came from a very dark chapter of my life that woke me up in ways I didn’t want to admit. I was happy humming along in my own conformity of achievement until I was shaken up. I saw a close friend and fellow filmmaker on Friday and I was super busy so I barely spoke to him though he had shown up to see me. He was casual about it. The next Monday he shot and killed himself. I was devastated. I have replayed the image of him standing in the doorway and me turning to see him there so many times. I was shattered and at the funeral I kept saying “How did I not know?” Then that question over the next few months was followed by “What’s the point of all this?” Depression apparently is going to be the major disease disabling our world in 2020. Mental health issues and also just a need for creative focus is a major hurdle in our current social structure. Many of us are questioning life as we know it now.
A few more tough things happened, a break up by text, my college campus was closing, and I was being challenged in many ways. It really hit me. I was working directing a film on overcoming obesity and also working with soldiers with PTSD. I was overwhelmed and burned out. As a working mother, I felt that I was drowning. Then some how I decided I needed to save my own life. I literally took advise from legendary Irish writer George Bernhard Shaw who said, "Life is not about finding yourself, life is about creating yourself.” I recreated myself.
When I was done, because I am a writer and visual artist, I wanted to take my daily practices and insights and share them with other people who suffer or want to live more creatively. I wanted to be an ambassador for well being and happiness. I actually highlighted my creative habits in my new book “52 Ways to free my Mojo”.
Initially I was going to just use my Phd and research to create the book. I went to the bookstore and looked at all the inspirational books and found them very uninspiring visually. I am an active art journaler so I decided that I wanted to do the book as an art journal.
My vision has been well received so far. I know it’s really the start of a global experience for me because so many people need the encouragement as I did. I am really excited to see where this goes.
What is the theme of the visual art that you will have on exhibit at The 5 & Dime to accompany your book launch on August 20 and how long will the work be up?
The work went up in July and it is there until August 27th. The show is called “Intertwined”. My life partner Ryan McNair is a wood designer and he creates amazing things out of wood. He mostly works with driftwood. He also creates lights, tables, spoons and other functional pieces. The show has both his work and my mixed media abstracts and mandalas.
I love working with watercolor and ink. It’s so fun and fulfilling for me. The show is really about how our lives, our loves, and our creative work intertwine and come together. Ryan and I both push and encourage each other to take this leap and bring our work to the world. It’s been a lovely exchange, though it’s not easy to “exhibit” your work. The book coming out at the same time is just a true delight to make the show even more meaningful to us.
It’s also perfect because it’s at The 5 & Dime Theatre and both Ryan and I have theatre backgrounds. So we love the people there and we are thrilled to give them a percentage of what we sell. They are working hard to create a wonderful venue. It’s the intertwining of visual and performance arts in one space. This company is amazing and I am so delighted to see how far they have come. They are very encouraging and supportive of us too so it’s a perfect union of non-conforming souls.
So much of life is about intertwining… we are organic beings and we do best when we connect. It’s how species adapt and survive.
How would you compare and contrast your creative process when writing, working with film, or creating visual art?
For a long time people tried to box me in. Since I was a little bi-racial child growing up in Dublin, Ireland, I was told I needed to focus on only one thing. I am not sure if it’s because I am dyslexic or I had a fierce Irish Mother, but I always rebelled against that advise. I just love to do different things and in new ways. It frustrates some people but that’s unfortunate for them.
It can be hard at times but I divide my time up each week between my different work. I have to get up early, stay up late, or forgo an event to stay on deadline. I was a reporter early in my career so I learned discipline. I will admit that the paying gig often gets the most energy or focus. My creative process is a lot like the art of spinning plates. There are many things going at once and I strive to keep the momentum moving. All of these things require me to isolate and focus at some stage. Then, depending if it’s writing or filming, I have to work with other people – artists, publishers, sponsors, event planners, and even lawyers. I have to collaborate but only after I have done the design of the project.
I don’t do anything until I have a vision of what the hell I am supposed to be doing. All my processes involve putting something where there was once nothing. A word on a page, paint on canvas, or film on a screen. This is my process. What am I doing? How and when? Now go and don’t stop until you are done. Get some feedback from trustworthy experts. Re-do. Get it to an audience. Rest. Repeat. Creativity for me is that simple.
We are so much more than we know yet. We can do so many things and in so many ways. I love experimenting and growing. I love learning something new about the medium, me, or the world. Einstein said he solved math problems while playing the violin. So it turns out I am in good company. Many creative folks do multiple things and have eclectic interests. Our brains and imaginations are way more capable than we are led to believe.
When I am in the creative process I go into a zone. There is no time, there is no hunger, there is no sleep, there is no money, there is no competition…there is just the creation. It’s how I commune with my muse. I literally become one with the process. I am so grateful I have the choices I do in my forms of expression. I love being a storyteller – everything I do comes down to storytelling. I have the joy of working alone or working with a team of people or just one person. How cool is that?
I will create on a napkin or the back of receipt. I can create on a fence or wall and make a mural. I can make a full length film or take a quick photo on my iPhone. It’s all the same to me. I feel like Salvador Dali sometimes when they asked him if he did drugs – he said “I am the drug”. I get off on creating and being creative. Whether is a healthy meal or a speech with an audience of 5,000 people watching me – I am home.
Knowing what medium serves the message and would create the greatest meaning is the challenge. I love having options. I love trying something new. I love not knowing if I can do it or not. I love the freedom to just do my best and see what happens. I am comfortable with failure because if I learn – did I really fail? No. So in that formula you can’t fail.
The way they differ is in resources of time, space, money and other people. It’s really just an equation and you have to keep it balanced in some way or you get your ass kicked.
What would you like to see as an effort to support and grow the city's creative economy?
The Cultural Council is doing a great deal to move art and culture in North Florida forward and I appreciate all of the efforts so far – but we have really only begun to put a sustainable creative system in place. The network in place now is so important in terms of support, encouragement, and resource sharing. We can do so much more together.
My dear friend and fellow writer, Al Letson pointed out to me some time ago, there comes a time when an artist no longer needs “exposure”, we just need cash to keep working. I think this is true. We need paying opportunities because we can’t just keep giving away art for free as if it were a hobby. The mentality that being a creative is a profession needs some investment here. We don’t seem to fully understand the value of arts and culture yet. I was born in Ireland and the Europeans really live, eat, and breathe culture and the arts in ways that I miss deeply. Florida relies heavily on tourism and quality of life. Arts and culture enhance both tremendously. Isn’t that obvious?
I just got back from visiting several major cities and I feel there is still a long way to go. It’s often disappointing how much support a loosing professional sports team will get and how little support hundreds of talented creative don’t get. But, I also don’t want to complain until I have exhausted every avenue to help myself and every creative I know. I know there are so many creatives here who are world class, we just happen to live and work locally. I have an illusion that we can be an arts destination – people can want to come here to work creatively and to witness what is going on. We have the climate, the natural beauty, the talent, and the space to grow an arts community to a global scale here.
We have tourists passing through here to go to Disney or Miami. We aren’t seeing what potential we have yet. Other communities out there serve as excellent models for how to do this already. We need the political and business leadership here to see that the arts are a wise investment. Creative communities around the world are thriving. We can too.
Henry Flagler made his hotel in the 1800s into an art destination – we have the legacy. It was the silent film winter capital of the world. We have all got to work together to push our agenda of the arts for all. Not just one part of our community or one demographic. Art is for everyone and it really can be part of everywhere and every day. Arts are not a luxury. They are a necessity.
I wish we could see the ways that the arts can solve problems, rather than seeing them as a problem to solve. We need to work together, increase our expectations and our standards. At our core, we have to embrace the decision to “make art work” no matter what. I would love to see us have more professional development, collaboration, and resources for creatives to not just survive here but to thrive.
I want to see us all do well. Not just me, but the entire creative community. I want us to be doing meaningful work and being paid our worth to continue making art work.