March is Women’s History Month (in the US)
I’m making a series of posts about women who have inspired me.
I have talked a lot about writing and art, and how they are a part of my life. I was extremely fortunate to have found a career closely tied to my passions. When I convocated from University, I assumed I would be flipping burgers and running video stores until the day I died, meanwhile writing novels and books of poetry on the side, and that was, to twenty-something me, a grand life. I would be the ultimate bohemian. I would eat cheese. I would shove candles in empty wine bottles and live in a kind of romanticized squalor.
Then I had a baby. The bohemian lifestyle with children in tow is only really cool if you live in California or the French Riviera. Or if you’re independently wealthy.
I moved to a new city to work in the publishing industry, and I was shocked, first of all, that I was given that wonderful opportunity, and second, that there were people like Brenda Niskala, who lived and breathed art and culture, but who also were so together and sharp that they could run a business. I mean, that sounds bad. But not all artists are…particularly good at business and administration. But Brenda is.
Arts administration is particularly challenging. I’ve only worked at this for a dozen years, so I’m really just starting out, but what I can tell you is that when you work for an arts or culture association, you have to be good at everything. You have to be a bookkeeper, a planner, a troubleshooter, a front-line person, a public speaker, a facilitator, a co-ordinator, a secretary, a CEO, an advocate, a critic, a marketer, an advertiser, a promotions expert, a communications expert, a letter-writer, a letter-filer, a cleaning person, a tech guru…I mean the list can go on. You have to be able to do a lot of a lot of things, because the truth is that most arts and cultural associations do not have the luxury of stable administrative funding.
…I fear this is getting dry and preachy, and when I’m talking about Brenda, that is the LAST thing this should be. What I want to say is that from the moment I walked through the door at work on the very first day, I felt like I was at home. Brenda has the mind-boggling ability to value every opinion, to cherish every person, and to encourage you. I mean, you could be *kind of interested* in something, and then you’d meet Brenda, and perhaps mention that you thought you might be considering thinking about perhaps dabbling in the idea of …and she’s off like a shot with the people you should talk to and the workshops you can take and when can we see your show?
I’m not even kidding.
The depth and breadth of what Brenda knows and who she knows and what she’s done is completely staggering. And this goes beyond, far beyond her being “my boss”. She is a dear friend, an accomplished writer, an inspiring public speaker, an arts and culture advocate, and a mentor. I have never learned so much from one person. But here’s the mystery: I HAVE NO IDEA HOW THAT HAPPENED.
This may shock you – I’m stubborn. My whole life, my father has been trying to teach me to listen and learn. For some reason, I usually dig in my heels and decide I have to do something ALL BY MYSELF before I will really learn it. I’ve been working with Brenda for over a decade now, and when I sit back and think about all the things she’s taught me, I don’t even know where to start. I don’t remember learning any of these things. I certainly don’t remember her *teaching* me stuff. She is magic.
Oh, did I also mention that she’s a mother of two amazing and talented children? Or that she has this nurturing soul that humbles me? Or that it doesn’t matter who you are, where you come from, what your situation is, what your state of mind is, how you dress, or anything – she wants to know your name and where you’re from? That the fact that she can go to the post office with $10 to mail a package and come back with the package and thanks from nine panhandlers is part of what makes her, in my opinion, a goddamned saint?
When my mother died, Brenda brought her kids to my mum’s wake. She was there with them, smiling and laughing and enjoying the stories and just…being there. She was my *boss*. (Should I also mention that her mum and my grandmother had a best friend or two in common because Brenda’s family farms near my family?) She has taught me so much and is still teaching me so much.
I often talk about how much I love my job. A great deal of that is because the work itself is awesome. A great deal of that is because Brenda.
If you know Brenda, if you see her, I’d like you to tell her that I think she’s pretty awesome. And that I thank her for being so awesome. Because she is one of the women who has made my life better.
(Also, you should buy her books.)