IIRY Podcast: 30. Karen Rile: “You can actually change your life very quickly.”
A chat with writer Karen Rile, about parenting, flexibility, and how deliberate practice yields huge results.

In my conversation with writer Karen Rile, we discuss her experience of parenting four artistic children and her interest in musicians; how flexibility and creative courage led to her founding Cleaver Magazine, a successful literary magazine; why creative writing and small amounts of deliberate practice create a vast foundation for a successful life; and how change, uncertainty, and even tragedy can bring unexpected opportunities.

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Karen Rile

2:05 – Karen’s childhood growing up in an “arts friendly” family.

3:53 – Nathalie Hinderas, an African American pianist who faced career challenges due to racism and how Karen’s mother, Joanne Rile, became her manager and pivoted towards a career in arts management, championing African American classical musicians.

5:58 – Why Karen found music lessons very stressful and anxiety producing.

6:56 – How Karen grew up surrounded by musicians and learned to revere them and how this led to a lifelong fascination with musicians.

8:00 – How Karen found her literary path.

11:04 – How Karen’s children started music lessons despite her reservations.

12:25 – How Suzuki and Montessori pedagogies “collided” for one of Karen’s daughters.

13:56 – How “small amounts of deliberate practice yields huge results” for Karen’s children.

From the Top

18:16 – How the classical music culture of daily practice informs Karen’s creative writing pedagogy: “focusing on technique some of the time (in writing) helps a lot.”

20:18 – How creative writing culture can also inform classical music culture and why taking a break can be very necessary and helpful for classical musicians.

22:21 – How classical music gave Karen’s children “an incredible work ethic.”

22:50 – How Karen learned about homeschooling: “radical unschooling” and the flexibility Karen gained from this experience.

24:16 – Karen’s obsession with the lives of musicians and how this informs her writing. Karen’s novel, Winter Music, about a child prodigy musician.

27:03 – Karen’s experience of Juilliard Pre-College as a parent. “It was more stressful for my daughter.”

32:23 – How Karen started her literary magazine, Cleaver, with her daughter. How Cleaver became successful by combining flexibility with diligent practice.

Cleaver Workshops’ online writing classes 

38:56 – How classical music training is so consuming, making it difficult to develop other skills. “The professionalism starts so young and there is hardly any time for anything else.”

40:47 – “Everyone comes to writing because they’ve experienced ecstasy as a reader.” Why college students and classical musicians seem to have very little time to read for pleasure.

43:03 – “A lot of classical musicians aren’t comfortable writing because they haven’t been allowed to just lie around and read a book.”

43:43 – “Professional and academic writing is unclear and filled with jargon….creative writing helps develop the ability to write clearly and communicate well.” Why creative writing and cultivating a writing practice are important.

47:06 – How color theory and psychology college courses continue to influence Karen’s like and pedagogy.

Martin Seligman

49:34 – How arts entrepreneurship and day jobs can enable artists to pivot more quickly, especially in the COVID pandemic. Also, the flaws of a culture that wants the arts to be available but doesn’t want to pay for it: how this makes it extremely difficult for artists to make a living wage.

1:03:54 – How Karen learned about creative courage from her daughter’s experience with a tragedy. “The world keeps changing but you can change with it.”

1:10:16 – “One Train May Hide Another,” a poem by Kenneth Koch. How unexpected change can bring new opportunities.

1:11:55 – “Be flexible and know that a small amount of work every day yields more than the sum of the work. And one train may hide another….be open because you have no idea what may happen to you.”




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