I am a Hudson Valley Parent: Shawn Strong

Making creative parenting look easy as pie

Shawn Strong describes his life in terms of pie. Or at least the means by which he portions out time for his creative work, his wife, his kids and the stuff he does to pay his bills.

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Time for it all

"I'm not sure if things are always cut in proportion," he admits, noting that a key factor in his life has long been his creative work, which started before his marriage and two daughters and has involved music, painting, filmmaking and his shepherding of the innovative Phan Media Creative Arts Webshow for the Hudson Valley. "I would say I'm 50 percent into my creativity with the rest going to my wife and kids."

Which doesn't mean that Strong discounts his Moroccan-born wife, Najat Elabouri, or daughters, Ayah-Nur, age 7, and Sabreen, age 5. He points out how he's long organized his life around his girls, who he takes to his editing office often and tries to spend mornings with. He strives to make it home for dinner every night by 7 pm, even on days when he's also working as a deliveryman for UPS, a gig he's had since he realized it would pay for extra college years during which he picked up video editing and other skills.

"I want to do a blog about all that's involved when you're in a relationship with a creative person." he adds. "I do make the time, for parenting and family and everything, and I can because I don't work 9 to 5. I give everyone what they want and need, and I still get to do what I've always wanted to do."

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Local talents, local flavor
Strong was born and raised in Newburgh, where he still lives in an apartment complex. After getting interested in music and other art forms in high school, he went on to St. John's University in Queens, then down south "for a while" before returning home in 1997. Over the past decade, Strong started back at SUNY Orange, utilizing UPS's tuition reimbursement program, started doing digital media and video work around the region, and started Phan Media after noticing there was no digital media forum for the creative communities he'd grown up with and gotten to know over the years.

"At first I had this idea for a video magazine. Then we moved to a digital platform," Strong says. "I wanted to make people feel like they're on TV. I interview them about why they do the art, where the passion is. I let them tell their stories."

He adds how he wanted to represent people from the area, instead of focusing on artists who have come here from elsewhere. And with his media work starting to stabilize, he's looking to find investors now for Phan Media, and working to match a new business plan he's put together for the increasingly popular site that showcases local talents with a local flavor.

Family man balance
But how does all this balance with his life as a family man? "I do Daddy Daycare as I edit. I've learned to work within a certain amount of chaos," Strong answers. "Sometimes the girls fight, it gets loud, and I have to tell clients their projects are going to face a bit of delay."

He's also included Ayah-Nur and Sabreen in shoots, especially when they involve events or there's a need for uniquely beautiful young girls with richly-diverse looks.
"They've agreed to it and think it's fun," he says of his kids' media work. "But they also still find it kind of magic, unless they've been messing with my cameras or my Mobi."

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Daughters changed his work

Shawn Strong stops a moment, then talks about how parenting has changed his work. He talks about the things he won't film, and how that's affected his work with music videos in particular.

"There are ways in which hip hop sometimes treats females," he notes. "I think parenting two girls has made me look at my art, and some of the decisions it involves, a little bit differently."

We go back to that time pie, that web of intricate and sometimes convoluted balancing we all do as parents.

"In the end, I do what I do for me," he says. "But that's something my wife and my kids understand and respect."

It's what keeps creative parenting, and creativity itself, alive.

Paul Smart is a father who writes for a variety of publications in the Hudson Valley. He lives in Catskill.

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