Stand Your Sacred Ground

Joining a yoga class in Southern Tennessee looks a lot different than Southern California. For starters, bread. It’s often the topic of conversation in my Tennessee class, everyone salivating while in side plank. Apparently there’s a bakery in town called “The Bread Basket” that not only serves up amazing bread, but decadent pastries. Our teacher listed out each one she tried over the weekend, the cheesecake brownie not being her favorite, but it was in front of her so she ate it anyway.

“My husband does that,” a middle aged woman called out as we switched from right side plank to left, “I don’t get it, how can you eat something you hate?”

“Hate is a strong word,” Joe, a middle aged man transplanted from Chicago, yelled out from the other side of the room, “No one said they hated it, just that it wasn’t the best… but I agree, if it was just sitting there in from of me, I’d eat it too.” Most of the class agreed, and the teacher stood her ground as well, not just in side plank but in the cheesecake brownie, “if it’s just sitting there looking at you, you can’t not eat it.”

“So JJ,” Joe says, addressing me since I’m the newest person to the studio, “you’ll start to notice the only thing we talk about here is food.” I laughed, “Oh I did notice,” I said, “and I love it. In California all they eat is tree bark!” The whole class laughed and I remember thinking that felt better than most of the stretches I’d just done.

“You’re right!” Joe yelled as he pointed at me, “out there on the west coast, I went a few years ago, beautiful resort, all they served us was twigs and berries, I was like ‘where’s all the food? You call this a buffet?'” I laughed at Joe’s very obvious Chicago accent that he says “has gotten better” since living in the South. “The best class of all is next,” Joe says as he rolls up his mat, “my favorite class… lunch!”

The ladies all agreed, one mentioning she was trying to avoid Taco Bell and may have to swing by Zaxby’s instead. “See ya later, California,” Joe said to me as we walked to our cars, “see ya, Chicago!”

When class ended I thought about how funny it was to intermittently talk about bread and cheesecake brownies the entire time. That would never happen in a California yoga class, I thought to myself, and I laughed as I mimicked the conversation the whole drive home.

I love that my Tennessee yoga class is an older group of people who are trying to take care of their bodies, but can’t quite bring themselves to give up bread. As Joe says, “it’s a classic!” I hid the fact that I was gluten-free so as not to elicit any groans or typical questions like “what’s a gluten anyway?” I do enjoy finding really good gluten-free bread, but it’s just never going to sound as good as the more simply put “bread.” Joe’s right, it’s a classic.

To be honest, I thought my transition from California to Tennessee would be a lot harder. I miss the ocean and still feel it tugging at my heart from time to time, but knowing I have planned visits keeps me sane this far inland. Outside of that (no ocean), I really love it here. It’s more simple and laid back. The people are kind and not trying to compete with each other. The pressure I always felt to do more, be more, make more has gotten quieter. It’s not that I don’t feel it at all, but I feel it much less, and certainly not on a daily basis.

This past weekend I got to perform in a comedy club for the first time since COVID cleared my calendar two years ago. I was excited to get to perform in my new town, but also nervous because even though I now call Chattanooga “my town,” I’m the new kid on the block. Deep down, I didn’t yet feel the right to call it my town, but also deep down was the desire for the neighbors to welcome me in and affirm I’m home.

I worked Thursday, Friday and Saturday writing, editing, crafting and reciting my 10 minute set. Three days of work, all for ten minutes.

I wasn’t sure how I was going to be received by the crowd, no “unknown” comedian ever really is. That’s currently what I’m called in the entertainment industry, “unknown,” whether for writing or comedy or art, it’s always the same response to any submission I turn in… “being an unknown, we can’t risk not having a guaranteed audience.” My favorite was from a publisher who said, “your writing is strong and stories are relatable, but being an unknown, I’m not sure who would care to read your work.”

Yea. That one stung a little.

So in order to become known, you can’t be an unknown? Did we all not start somewhere? I hear older comedians or even musicians complain about how easy kids have it these days to make it big, “we didn’t have social media,” they say, “we had to do real work out on the road.” Though social media has given comedians and musicians an easier platform, it’s also given everyone an easier platform, making the market so saturated that the standard to be noticed is a minimum of 300,000 followers (and that’s for an “unknown”).

With people scrolling and swiping through content so fast, it’s less about talent and more about statistics– most of those stats being your social media following and what you can already bring to the table aside from your talent.

But! I was given a shot this weekend. Without having a huge following in this particular area, The Comedy Catch in downtown Chattanooga took a chance on me. Okay, they actually had me audition, but it was in front of a live audience, in the hopes of getting booked as a headliner in the future. That’s good enough for me and all the chance I need!

I’m not sure how to describe it other than I felt like I had finally found my people. The crowd was electric! And as I navigated through my transition to Tennessee, growing up Southern Baptist and surviving middle school, it seemed the audience had been through it all as they keeled over in laughter; almost making me forget what I was going to say next because I was caught so off guard by the volume of their laughter. The show went so well the club asked me to stay and perform for the late show which I was not originally scheduled for.

While that sounds like a dream, I almost said no because I had not mentally processed performing twice in one night. I get anxious easily and I was feeling so good after the first show that the thought of performing again made me nervous… again. Plus what if I didn’t do as well? I wanted to end on a high note.

It’s funny how I can complain about not being given a shot and then as soon as I get one, I realize how late it is and how much more comfortable my bed sounds. Josh encouraged me to stay for the second show, “I really think you’d kill it twice,” he said. I nervously agreed, and he was right- I realize unknowns probably aren’t supposed to say this, but I killed… twice.

I was flying high on adrenaline Saturday night and well into Sunday evening. But so it goes with entertainment that by Monday I was starting back over, submitting footage to clubs, asking to get booked, only to be met with the same term, “unknown.” The higher you ride on the adrenaline, the harder the fall when you come crashing back down to reality. Even now I feel like a total basket case, the paranoid kind that Green Day sang about in the 90s: “Do you have the time to listen to me whine, about nothing and everything all at once?” My mind playing tricks on me… I killed, right?

I had to remind myself that just because I worked up the nerve to perform two back to back sets (and kill both of them), it didn’t mean every club in America needed to line up to book me, though sometimes it feels like they should. I pulled out my journal this morning and noticed a quote I had written in it last year by Brene Brown, “Don’t shrink back. Don’t puff up. Stand your scared ground.”

“Yep,” I said out loud, responding as if Brene had just said it to me, “I didn’t shrink back this weekend, I showed up! And then I think I puffed up.” Which is why I was feeling so discouraged, it was the puff deflating, reminding me I still have work to do. “Now to live in the tension of the two,” I said, “neither shrinking or puffing.” I took a deep breath and laid on my sacred ground that is the bed, “I just gotta keep plugging away.”

I checked my email and received two more rejections. “Don’t shrink back,” I whispered.

And now, on with day…

Stand your sacred ground.

———————–

*As a Tennessee resident, I’m trying to book shows here, so if you live in the Nashville area and would possibly like to see me perform live, please consider emailing Zanies Nashville at boxoffice@zanies.com and request JJ Barrows as a comedian. Clubs only book who people want to see, which more often than not translates to… “knowns.”

**Or if you have a club or theater anywhere in your area, please consider emailing them and requesting JJ Barrows as a comedian. The audience holds way more power than the comedian does.

***Should I hear from Zanies or any club in your area, I promise not to puff up!

LIVE ART in QUARANTINE!

Hey Friends,

Instead of Weekend Wednesday tomorrow, I’m going LIVE!!

But it’s not what ya think…

One of my favorite things is actually LIVE ART, painting at a concert, show, wedding, conference, etc… I love it because I always include the audience by having them write down something related to the topic at hand and grafting it into the painting.

At the end of the event I show people what we created together with a mix of our struggles, hopes, prayers, etc… It’s a way to let go and making something beautiful together. I love layering my paintings in this way because it’s a representation of us as humans… layered with meaning that not everyone can see.

SOOOO… I’m painting tomorrow, Wednesday May 6th, LIVE at 4pm PST. It may take a bit so feel free to stay and watch or leave and come back. AND I want YOU to get involved…

It’s going to be a community painting… a large community given our new virtual reality!

Please begin to comment or message me any of the following, something you either want to let go of or celebrate…

-What are you struggling with in quarantine?

-What are you grateful for? (it’s also okay to be enjoying this)

-What do you hope for, pray for, wish for… for yourself or someone else?

Together we’ll let go of some stuff and create something together! You can also just feel free to show up and comment if you want me to add anything in!

Josh will be engaging the comment section… I paint with my hands so that wouldn’t go too well!!

Hopefully see some of you Wednesday!

💜💚🧡💛💙

Art and Life in San Diego

Hey friends, here’s just a quick and fun mashup of San Diego Art Spots in April… including some footage from RAW Artists San Diego! I am incredibly grateful for the community in which I live. From Keith Edward and the OB Farmer’s Market to Tripower Yoga Framily Fun nights, I love that this is where I get to create. AND my sister Betsy came to surprise me from the east coast! More to come soon.

Here’s to being the YOU you were created to be. I think I was created to be a dancing artist… amongst other things!

Also featuring San Diego locals: WinstonsOB, ArtBox, Heartsleeves Coffee, Culture Brewing Co- Solana Beach, House of Blues San Diego

heART in San Diego

The face of excitement and disbelief. It looks something like this:

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On  Wednesday, April 20th, I got to showcase my art amongst a host of other talented artists at the House of Blues downtown San Diego.

There was so much color and life beaming from my booth and so many people drawn to it that even I couldn’t believe it. Every time someone wanted to buy a print or a postcard I felt like a giddy school girl, “thank you, God, thank you!” I’d say under my breath as I gave them their change.

While I’ve painted, colored and created my whole life, it wasn’t until January of this year that I actually decided to do something about it. I was scrolling through Instagram one morning (guilty) and I came across a picture of Micah Bournes, a talented spoken word artist. I don’t remember the picture, but I will never forget the caption: “today marks four years of being a professional artist.” Upon reading it I said out loud “how come I can’t do that?” There was no audible response, but I felt like God responded “who says you can’t?”

It caught me off guard, while also invoking some sort of hope, a spark so to speak. “Well, I don’t know,” I responded, and as I thought about it I realized the only person that had the power to keep me from being a professional artist was me. “You already are an artist, but if you’re going to do art, do it with all that you have,” God said… or something like that.

I put my phone down and for the first time in my life I claimed it out loud… “I’m going to be a professional artist.” I sat in the truth of that before speaking up again, “wait, can I start over?” I said to my audience of one, “I AM a professional artist!” It was silent. I felt strong, capable, excited. “Now what?” I asked. I realized I didn’t know where to start. “Start with what you know,” God said, “worry about the big stuff later. If you want to paint, then paint.”

And that was the beginning of pursuing this art journey. Baby step after baby step, getting back in the habit of creating and painting after a long hiatus due to life’s ups and downs. Being in the act of painting reminded me of my love for it, and in my love for it I talked about it, and in talking about it word spread and as word spread opportunities opened. I went from painting paper in my room to whatever I could get my hands on and whatever anyone would offer, including this:

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And much like us as people, this is still very much under construction. See video interview about painting an RV here:

I was a part of my first art show in January, followed by a live art show where I painted to music. Painting live on the spot became an art form I didn’t know I loved until I tried it!

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In February I hosted a free art event in my community with other local artists where we provided art materials to make Valentines cards and a photo booth with hand painted props for people to take pictures:

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In March I took part in a benefit concert in Malibu, California where I got to paint live to music in support of MADE IN THE STREETS, an organization dedicated to helping kids on the streets of Nairobi, Kenya.

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See video here:

 

As I created more and shared more, eventually I got the chance to do my first mural and it took place in an art store in the community where I live. I couldn’t have asked for a more perfect opportunity! Go visit the ArtBox in Ocean Beach, California (I’ll have art hanging there this month!)

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And then there was April, taking part in creating art all over San Diego, from Heartsleeves Coffee in Little Italy to Culture Brewing Company in Solana beach, providing materials and space for other people to let their art out!

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I found out in February that I was selected to be a part of RAW SAN DIEGO and it was the push I needed to take myself seriously and believe that I was capable of creating as way to live life, to be more me and more alive (and to pay the bills). I spent two months in preparation for RAW SAN DIEGO, to get to showcase my art at the House of Blues… I honestly couldn’t believe it was going to happen.

Weeks before the show I found out I was picked as one of the San Diego artists to go on the news and talk about the upcoming art show with RAW SAN DIEGO. I found live TV to be a bit different than me editing in my room, but after my nerves wore off and I popped out from behind my painted surfboard, I was able to keep it together enough to express how I find the process of painting to be a lot like life.

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(You can see clip here: RAW SAN DIEGO CHANNEL 6 NEWS )

And before I knew it… there it was, April 20th, and all I had worked so hard for came out in the form of color and life and happy dances and… well, this…

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As people stopped by my booth they couldn’t help but smile and take pictures. “The color, the life that is coming from this booth,” people would say, “it makes me so happy!” People used words like “vibrant” and “alive” to describe the corner where I was set up and I couldn’t have asked for better descriptions. That’s what I want my art to do for people… I want it to inspire them, not just to do art, but to do whatever it is that makes them feel alive. I want people to feel something when they see the colors of life caked on a canvas over a secret message that says they are loved. (Yes, I write on all my canvases before painting over them to give them an even deeper meaning than what is seen on the surface).

I want people to know they matter, as does every little detail of their life… the little things, they all add up and matter. I don’t know how else to express that other than through art, be it in words or color. I think we all have a lot to offer this world, and it looks different for each person. I may not have a lot to give financially, I may not be able to build a new building or teach a foreign language, I may not be able to do what a lot of other people can do, but I’m learning that instead of comparing myself to the giftedness of others, I’m just going to work on my gifts and offer my gifts to the world. There may be a lot I can’t do, but I can share my heART and hope it encourages someone else to share theirs.

So was the show a success? Well, it depends on your definition of success. I only sold prints and postcards. I didn’t sell any big pieces or walk away feeling financially successful. I get it, we’re all struggling artists to a certain degree. I admit, I wanted to be able to say I sold everything so I could prove to myself and everyone else that I am an artist. But I didn’t, I didn’t sell everything. In fact, aside from the prints and postcards, I only sold one little original piece. But, instead of being bummed about the size of the piece that sold, I’m going to walk the talk and be grateful for the little things.

That little piece matters because each little piece over time adds up, be it with art or choices we make. The little things matter, and I can’t preach it if I don’t believe it, which is why I am so beyond grateful that little piece sold. The piece was called “little waves” and much like that painting, I am making little waves in this world, hoping to color it with hope and life… little by little, piece by piece.

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From that little piece I learned that it’s not about how much I sell that determines my worth or defines me as an artist, it’s not even the amount of money made that determines success. Being true to myself and refusing to give up on who God made me to be… that is success. The smiles that evening, the hope in the conversations I had… that is what I wanted to happen in sharing my heART with people, my excitement alone had me dancing all night… and I would say it was above and beyond a success.

See video featuring “little waves” (before I knew how much it would impact me) here:

 

And as with any successful event, they are never done alone. I could not have done any of it without the help and support (physically, emotionally, spiritually, mentally) without my friend and roommate, Jena. She showed me grace and patience and even loved me through my first diva moment (and hopefully my last). She brought me iced coffee while I was setting up, and seeing as I tasted something sweet after asking for it black, I jerked the straw from my mouth and yelled “WHAT IS THIS!?”

I know, I was embarrassed the second it came out of my mouth, realizing that even in our best efforts to love people, sometimes we still fall short. I apologized and walked back to Starbucks with her, telling the barista about the monster boss lady who didn’t want sweetener in her coffee. Jena and I laughed, took a deep breath and enjoyed the rest of the night together.

All of this to say, do what you love, be true to yourself, find your people who will encourage you along the way and don’t let them go. It’s hard letting people get to know the sides of you that aren’t as pretty, but those who will love you through your ugly moments (we all have them) are crucial to you knowing you are loved, not based on what you do, but simply because you are you. Being the individual you were created to be is important, and being that individual in the context of community is vital.

This is life, it’s hard sometimes, but it’s beautiful… and we’re all in this together!

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Thank you to everyone who helped make this happen, your support in buying tickets, showing up, buying art, engaging in conversation, spreading the word… every person that played a part MATTERS and it all contributed to this night being a huge success.

From the bottom of my heART, thank you, thank you, thank you.

Video updates available here:  www.youtube.com/jjbarrows

Prints and products available at www.society6.com/jjbarrows

Photography by www.jenawillard.com

Instagram: @jjbarrows, @jjbarrowsart

Website coming soon.

 

 

 

capturing march

As I work on trying to figure out how to gather the words to describe the art shows that took place in April, here’s a video recap of all that went down in March…including my first mural in Ocean Beach, CA!