Songs for the Struggling Artist


Age is a Feature Not a Bug
September 21, 2017, 10:19 pm
Filed under: age, music | Tags: , , , , , ,

She told me her voice wasn’t what it once was. She’d taken time off from singing to raise her kids and was now coming back to it – distressed that she was not as perfect as she once was. There was a sense that her lived-in life had diminished her instrument.

I, too, had left aside my singing for a bit. Not entirely, of course, but aside from the occasional song for a friend, I hadn’t really kept at the technical practice of vocal performance. But ever since the election, I have leaned back into music and find myself singing again – because it is the only thing that makes me feel better. Raising my voice in song is how I express my fury, my fear, my determination to fight for the things I believe in. And I’ve been around the block a few times so my voice is not as technically proficient as it was, once upon a time. And I find that I really don’t care. I don’t care if I don’t hit a note with the exact tone I was imagining. I don’t care if a sound comes out strangled that I meant to sound clear. When I listen back to moments like that, I find that I like that catch in my voice. It is what I feel now. That catch is a feature not a bug. My age is a feature, not a bug.

A lived-in voice is a feature, not a bug. It’s funny to use a tech metaphor for something as organic as a voice but it leaped to mind when talking with that mother coming out of retirement. Her years of experience, of life, are a gift, not a problem.

I started going to voice lessons as a child and continued into college. My first year without regular vocal training was the year I spent abroad, in Italy. I did no vocal exercises, made no attempt to expand my range. I just sang and spent my year leaning into a new culture. When I came back to college, after I sang – one of my teachers said to me, “That was some year you had.” I didn’t know what she meant right away but something about it eventually helped me understand that she could hear the year in my voice. My year of learning a new language, growing bolder and opening up to new experience was all there in my voice. I don’t want to say she could hear the hills of Tuscany in what I sang but that’s how I imagined it.

Of course there are technical ways we can explore and expand our voices. Of course vocal training and coaching are incredibly useful and valuable. But our voices are more than simple instruments. We respond to the lives of the people who sing to us and to be able to hear the years in a song is to hear the agonies and the ecstasies, the thrills and the tedium, the passion and the despair. That is a great gift.

I want to hear the voices of mothers, of fathers, of grandmothers and grandfathers and all the adventurers among them. Your life, your years are a feature – not a bug. Give us your voices. Raise them in joy, in fury, in protest or in peace. Even if it catches, even if it cracks, even if you don’t like the sound – we need to hear you now.

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Writing on the internet is a little bit like busking on the street. If you liked the blog and want to support it but aren’t quite ready for patronage on Patreon, You can tip me a dollar (or more!) put it in the PayPal digital hat. https://www.paypal.me/strugglingartist

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Apparently, Being a Sexist Jerk Pays Well

Perhaps this isn’t news to you. Probably especially not this year. Not in 2017 when we’ve seen one of the biggest sexist jerks around continue to profit on his sexist jerkholery. But… this isn’t about that. This is about a smaller corner of the sexist landscape.

One of my feminist heroes is Anita Sarkeesian who has been making videos at Feminist Frequency since 2009. My personal favorites were her looks at Legos and her explanation of the Bechdel test. (This was before the Bechdel test was common knowledge – an evolution that I suspect that Sarkessian had a hand in.) You may have started to hear about her after her Kickstarter campaign to make videos about women in videogames triggered a terrible hate campaign against her. Then the parade of horrors known as Gamergate began to target her as well.

I recently read an article about her experience of speaking on a panel at a video conference and being harassed in person. There’s a lot to take in in this article – but the thing that shook me rather badly was the fact that two of the leaders of Gamergate and Sarkeesian’s harassers-in-chief both make their living from making videos about their harassment and get their support through Patreon. The article reports that one makes $5000 a month from his videos and the other $3000 a month.

Why did this particular fact shake me? Because I use Patreon, too. I think of it as a noble enterprise providing funding for artists of all kinds, a new patronage. Knowing that the architects of one of the most infamous harassment campaigns in the last few years are receiving support on the same platform that I use makes me incredibly uncomfortable. And the fact that they make six times more than I do at it makes me feel even worse.

The disturbing truth would appear to be that being a sexist harasser is more profitable than being a feminist writer. And it has likely always been thus. Patreon is just highlighting a pattern that has been long established in the culture. It seems like capitalism works really well for sexists. That may be one reason the sexism sticks around.

Also, in the wake of recent events, it has come to light that a great many of the men in white supremacist movements got their start in MRA movements, that is – Gamergate was the gateway drug for joining the ranks of white supremacy. The one thing mass murderers and terrorists have in common is a tendency to be domestic abusers. It is the number one predictor of future violence.

I mean, it makes sense. If you begin by not seeing women as human beings, by being cruel and threatening to people you don’t see as people, by fantasizing about violence, why not expand into hating more people? You’ve already begun by hating half the population. You might as well, I guess. There is a major connection between these men’s inability to see women as people and leaning into white victimhood. As this article in The Cut says:

“If you can convince yourself that men are the primary victims of sexism, it’s not hard to convince yourself that whites are the primary victims of racism.”

I wrote the first draft of this earlier this summer, before the invasion of Charlottesville, before the lid was removed from the pot on the depth of depravity of the revitalized white supremacists and some things have changed and some have not. On the plus side, some tech companies stood up and denied service to hate groups they were previously hosting. Patreon sort of is and sort of isn’t standing up on this point. They removed right-wing activist, Lauren Southern, from their platform. This led her supporters to invent something called Hatreon. Where, I guess hate groups can crowdfund themselves in peace? Anyway – turns out this woman didn’t get cut from the platform because she’s spewing hate, she got cut for “risky behavior.” Meanwhile, Sarkeesian’s harasser-in-chief has increased his monthly take on Patreon from $5k to $8k in the last few months. It’s not getting better, folks, it’s getting worse.

When I read this story about Sarkeesian’s experience, I thought – “Should I leave Patreon? Is it right to be a part of a platform that enables sexist harassers?” and I think, if there were another platform like Patreon, I would switch to it immediately. (Like, “Actual Art-eon”? “No Nazis, just Art-treon?” I don’t  know.) I thought Patreon was a place for artists not harassment campaigns …but as no one has yet developed an artist funding platform for feminists, I think my best move is to stay where I am and somehow find a way to at least match the funding of the sexist jerk brigade. So if you want to help this feminist writer do at least as well as a sexist jerk, click here to find out about becoming a patron.

It’s possible right? For a feminist to do better than a sexist? Damn, I hope so.

And it doesn’t have to be me. I want to boost feminists and artists of color and people with disabilities and anyone else who is particularly vulnerable to the evils of hate. I did a search in Patreon and I gotta tell you, my extremely unscientific survey says, it pays a WHOLE LOT MORE to be a sexist jerk than to be a feminist. Or just to be a woman.

Here are some suggestions of some underfunded artists:

Feministing for Change

Women in Comics Collective International

Disability Visibility Project

STEM and Disability Activism

Transgender Civil Rights Activist, Danielle Muscato

Marina Watanabe – Feminist Fridays

A Feminist Paradise

Feminist Killjoys, Phd

Monica Byrne – feminist sci fi writer

Faithless Feminist

Bree Mae – Disability, Queer, Mental Health advocate

I only knew a couple of these before I started searching, if you are a feminist or intersectional activist I can boost here, please let me know. I want us all to do better than the sexist jerks.

 

The 2016 Best of the Blog and Thank You notes for my patrons.

You can help me beat the sexist jerks by

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Writing on the internet is a little bit like busking on the street. If you liked the blog and want to support it but aren’t quite ready for patronage on Patreon, You can tip me a dollar (or more!) put it in the PayPal digital hat. https://www.paypal.me/strugglingartist

 



Generation X Part 6 – Selling the Drama

We are the few, the proud, the brave members of Gen X who continue to make our way through the world while many of our peers have given up.

Do you remember, before we were Generation X, when we were the Pepsi Generation? Right about that time that Michael Jackson’s hair caught on fire? We were told that Pepsi was the choice of a new generation and there were videos and apparently our generation bought into it hardcore. We were also Peppers. Wouldn’t you like to be a Pepper, too? But that Pepsi Generation technique was actually a marketing campaign for Baby Boomers first and it worked so well for Pepsi when Baby Boomers were kids that they thought they’d try it out on us, too. And all the generations after. How you like Pepsi, Generation Next? Feel like joining the conversation since you “are the movement, this generation“? A lot of the conversation about generations is actually driven by advertising.

I read an article about an ad campaign for Lululemon wherein they’re targeting “the Yoga generation.” And which generation is that? As far as I can tell, every generation is doing yoga. My grandmother was doing yoga in the 70s and she was the Silent Generation. So that’s dumb. But…that’s what I mean, they’re trying to put you in a generational category so they can sell you stuff. I say you, not me, because advertisers are apparently not targeting Gen X-ers, because there are so few of us.

And here I think we have the heart of why Gen X tends to resist being labeled. We somehow have always known that once a marketer could label us, they were getting ready to sell us shit. But what’s hilarious is that marketers worked this out about us anyway – so they got sneakier with us when they still cared about us. I once bought a record almost entirely because of it’s ironic cover.

What’s ironic is now that Gen X is older, some members of Gen X have more money to spend but advertising has (mostly) stopped trying to reach us. Which probably explains why there’s been a recent bubbling up of Gen X articles. Marketers are perhaps getting interested in us again. For good and ill, I imagine. Just google anything to do with advertising and Gen X and you will see such an extraordinary trove of weird articles about how to advertise to us. Actually, search how to market to any generation and you’ll see some eye opening stuff about what’s going on behind that advertising curtain and where you might be vulnerable.

So Millennials and Gen Z, just in case you’re still here…I think it might be useful to recognize that when you see articles and listicles and so on and so on that reference your generation, you are probably being marketed to. The condescending pieces about you that make you mad may be designed to encourage you to spend your money on something or just click on something to get an ad near your eyeballs. The imaginary rivalries between Gen X and Millennials, or between Millennials and Boomers, are essentially clickbait for the people trying to sell you stuff.

As we now carry devices that have the capacity to market to us everywhere we go, we all need to become savvier about our vulnerabilities to advertising. As marketing becomes more personal and more direct, it will become harder and harder to remember our humanity. It might be helpful for all generations to take on some of our good ole Gen X skepticism.

We seem to now live in a world of relentless marketing. And it’s not just businesses who are marketing at us. The new norm seems to be a kind of marketing of self. People have become brands instead of individuals.

Most of Gen X has a gut response to this trend and it is a strong-armed revulsion. To us, this branding of people carries all the horrors of the origin of the word – the branding of cattle with a hot iron. For most of Gen X, this branding of the soul is relentlessly uncool. We liked our icons reclusive, uninterested in self promotion, and intensely private. Prince once gave an interview to the BBC wherein he neither spoke nor showed his face. Both Kurt Cobain and David Foster Wallace were incredibly uncomfortable with their own popularity.Can you imagine a Cobain clothing line? A David Foster Wallace cologne? For us, as soon as a band became popular, it ceased to be cool.

But we live in a gig economy now and if we want to survive, we must do as the digital natives do and put out all of our goods for clicks and likes. We cannot be the reclusive geniuses we want to be because the world doesn’t work that way anymore – And maybe it never did.

Every Gen X-er I know is deeply uncomfortable with self promotion. We recognize that we need to sell our book or our record or our blog or our podcast or our show or our theatre company or our business or whatever it is but it is highly problematic for us.

If we do it, we tend to see it as a necessary evil. I’ve taken multiple marketing classes and despite having a lot of knowledge and skill at my disposal, I have generally yielded next to no results. While attempting to sell my show in the highly crowded market of the Edinburgh Fringe, I discovered that the only real marketing skill I had – that is, the only thing that would reliably bring people to the theatre – was making friends. Like, actual friends. This is the only successful marketing I have ever done. I made some friends who showed up for me because that’s what friends do for each other.

I have had a podcast for over a year and I am so bad at self promotion that most of my best friends don’t even know about it.

And maybe it is just me. Maybe I’m the only one (see part 4) that is unwilling to trade my authenticity for more likes or hits or shares. Maybe I’m the only one that closely guards my best work until I’m ready to share it. Maybe I’m the only one that would rather share my truth than a promotional photo. I don’t think I’m the only one though.

Gen X tends to see the world that has emerged behind us as a life-sized version of that SNL sketch “You Can Do Anything!” We see that kind of self-promotional vibe as not only terminally uncool but completely at odds with authenticity, which is one of our core values.

I really do admire the hutzpah of Lena Dunham in having her character announce at the beginning of her show that she is the voice of her generation (or “a voice of a generation.”) This is something that no Gen X-er would ever do, even if she wanted to. Even as a joke. And Dunham was definitely joking. I dig the gutsy self-aggrandizement of it and I dig that it made her extremely popular.

Most of Gen X would rather be authentic than popular. We would rather be true to ourselves than just about anything else. I wonder if, in addition to the small numbers of us, our general lack of interest in self-promotion is a factor in our invisibility. In a world where everyone seems to be shouting about how great they are, Gen X is sitting in the corner, making something totally cool that few people will ever see.

I wonder if this is part of why there have been so many think-pieces about how Gen X is going to save the world, how Gen X is our last hope, etc. I think this is how we like to be seen – as the quiet secret heroes – chronically underestimated but swooping in at the last minute to save (and astonish) a grateful world. This image appeals to us. But frankly, even after reading dozens of these articles, I have yet to be convinced that somehow Generation X has the secret world-saving serum. I’m pretty sure we’re going to all have to get together to get that done. Generation X would like to do it alone but this is a job that’s going to need all generations on deck.

This is Part 6 of a multi-part series. and

You can read Part 1 here Part 2 here  Part 3 here

Part 4 here

Part 5 here

Help a Gen X-er with this self-promotion thing

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Writing on the internet is a little bit like busking on the street. This is the part where I pass the hat. If you liked the blog and would like to give a dollar (or more!) put it in the PayPal digital hat. https://www.paypal.me/strugglingartist

 



The Library Rejection
September 3, 2017, 5:00 pm
Filed under: Rejections | Tags: , ,

Decades of rejection can give many of us a pretty thick skin for this sort of thing. We assume we won’t get the thing we spend hours (or days or weeks) applying for. We assume the reward for the work of applying will be naught. That doesn’t mean getting rejected most of the time isn’t discouraging. It is, greatly. But I’ve found the will to keep doing it mostly due to the generosity of my Patreon patrons and my chronicling of the rejections.

But every so often, without meaning to, I discover that I’d gotten my hopes up too high. And I discover it in the crashing disappointment that I find myself in upon learning of the rejection.

This most recent crashing disappointment was partly a surprise because of a particularly potent mix of long-shot and being perfect for the thing. The thing this time was a residency at the Boston Public Library for a book for young people. Now – it was a long shot because I have spent most of my life in the arts in theatre, not fiction, so I don’t have much of a fiction resume. But I was kind of perfect for it because my book for young people takes place in a library, in which librarians are the heroic figures and is called The Library Book.

I mean, it’s like, made for a residency in a library. So I simultaneously thought, “They’ll never give me this” AND “My book is perfect for this.” And I guess both things are still true.

I had been, without really realizing it, waiting for this rejection letter (or the acceptance, I thought maybe an acceptance? This time?) I was planning some dates for my theatre season and realized I wasn’t comfortable booking dates because a part of me was still waiting to hear from the library folk. So I looked at the application again. There, I saw that it said that they would notify the recipient by June 30th – which is now quite a while ago. So – I guess they’re not bothering to tell the rest of us that we’re out the running. Sometimes I don’t even notice I haven’t heard from a place until I look at my list. Sometimes it has no impact on me at all. This time it sunk me like a lead balloon. And logically – it would be a real pain in the neck to relocate to Boston for 9 months – so maybe I should be relieved. I should be. But I’m not.

 

*Wondering why I’m telling you about all these rejections? Read my initial post about this here and my patron’s idea about that here.

You can help ease the sting of rejection by becoming my patron on Patreon.

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This blog is also a Podcast. You can find it on iTunes. If you’d like to listen to me read a previous blog on Soundcloud, click here.screen-shot-2017-01-10-at-1-33-28-am

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Writing on the internet is a little bit like busking on the street. This is the part where I pass the hat. If you liked the blog and would like to give a dollar (or more!) put it in the PayPal digital hat. https://www.paypal.me/strugglingartist



Will You Wish You’d Been There?
August 31, 2017, 12:19 am
Filed under: resistance | Tags: , , , , ,

Listen you guys. I hate going to protests. They’re loud and shouty and there are crowds there – usually big ones – and that’s sort of the point.

But sometimes I make myself go despite my natural inertia – you know, that thing that makes it easier not to go than go. And given that there are protests nearly every day now, it can be hard to figure out whether it’s a time to hit the streets or a time take care of myself. My barometer has become: Will I Wish I’d Been There?

Here’s the thing. When it became clear what was going to happen in Charlottesville on August 12th, people were advised to stay away. From what I understand, the recommendation was that only those with appropriate training and a whole lot of willingness should show up. In general, the Southern Poverty Law Center’s advice is to steer clear of assembling hate groups. The SPLC is a bad-ass organization and has been tracking hate groups for a mighty long time. They’ve been in the trenches of this a whole lot longer than most of us, so people are usually inclined to heed their advice. And that advice rather conveniently lines up with most people’s natural inertia. It is much easier to sheetcake than to risk your life by going where the trouble is.

But. But. Many who heeded that advice in Charlottesville now regret that decision. Despite all the horrible things that happened, I know a lot of people who wish they’d been there. Not to kick-ass or knock-heads but to support, to help, to be physically present for vulnerable people.

I thought I’d be glad I was 500 miles away when this was set to go down but now having endured it at a distance, part of me wishes I’d been there, if for no other reason than to hand medics water and hug people who needed hugs. Simultaneously, I’m glad as hell that no one in my family was too close to the fray.

It is an incredibly odd sensation – to wish vehemently for everyone you know to stay as far away from harm as possible and to somehow wish yourself there.

And no one is more surprised about this response than me. I am not a rush into a fire sort of person. I hate conflict so much, y’all. I can’t even watch a heated debate without my heart-rate escalating and getting super anxious. I am an HSP (Highly Sensitive Person) with a precarious health situation. I do not really belong at a protest that has the potential to become violent. Given all of that, I thought I would have wanted to be as far away from such things as possible. But – I find I wish I’d been with my friends in the middle of the most dangerous moment in my hometown that I’ve ever known about.

I’ve heard from a lot of people that feel the same way. There was that article in the New York Times from the parent who made the decision to steer clear because of their child but now regrets that choice.

“I now believe we made the wrong choice. Does my status as a parent make me special? It shouldn’t. A young man named Dre Harris was ambushed in a parking lot and took dozens of blows by club-wielding thugs. He took them so I wouldn’t have to. Next time I will stand on the street with my neighbors, even at the risk of injury or death. It’s the least I can do to repay those who stood bravely this time.”

It is always easier to choose not to show up. And those who have been going to these sorts of demonstrations know better than anyone what sorts of risks are involved. That’s why they have to advise you not to go.

And everyone has their own acceptable level of risk and their own metric for participation in fighting for good.

My metric is clear now. It is “Will I wish I’d been there?” And most times the answer is no. But when it’s yes, it’s time to go. On one side, is my personal safety – but on the other side is a fight for the greater good. Sometimes it’s better to be there.

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Side note: The news cycle has moved on (as it does) from Charlottesville to Texas. I’ve seen a lot of folks wondering how to best support the folks in Houston. I recommend this list: http://noredcross.org/

And while the national news has moved on, Charlottesville is still reeling and regrouping. This is the most comprehensive summary of ways to support folks there:  this list on Google Docs.

Will you wish you’d supported me later?

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Writing on the internet is a little bit like busking on the street. This is the part where I pass the hat. If you liked the blog and would like to give a dollar (or more!) put it in the PayPal digital hat. https://www.paypal.me/strugglingartist



Where I’m From

When I worked as a teaching artist, I traveled to about 300 different schools around New York City. They were wildly divergent places and environments but on bulletin board displays in hallways, in all five boroughs, I often saw the same writing assignment appear and it never failed to move me. It was called “Where I’m from…” and students would recount the smells, the sounds and sights of their homeland. For kids who’d lived in the city their whole lives, the sound of the ice cream trucks was often the birdcall of spring. Because New York is so beautifully diverse, this assignment would often paint a whole world of elsewhere, as well. The sights of Egypt. The sounds of the Dominican Republic. The smells of Uganda. The temperature of Poland. No matter where students came from, even if they had to flee their homelands because they were not safe there anymore – the formative power of home rang out from their writing.

I’m not from here. New York City is where I live and where I feel at home but where I’m from is a small city in the hills of Virginia. It’s the kind of city that sometimes gets called cosmopolitan – not because it’s a bustling metropolis but because it has a vibrant arts culture and an intellectual fire. This place is as much a part of me as my leg is. My hometown feels like part of my body.

Where I’m from is green, green hills, green lawns, trees and trees and trees. It is people gathering under fairy lights on a red brick road. It is a place where you can see the stars in a backyard. It is a place in which sometimes you feel like you know everyone and a day later feel as though you know no one anymore. People will smile at you and say hello when you walk past.

I’m from crickets on a summer evening. I’m from parties out in the country. I’m from wood smoke in winter and cigarette smoke on the bricked pavement in summer. I’m from jazz pouring out of one restaurant/bar and frat rock pouring from another, just steps away. I’m from a wall so thick with paint it was possible to peel-off a corner of it and keep it as a sculpture souvenir. I’m from craft fairs and festivals. I’m from the bells shaking on the legs of the Morris dancers. I’m from late night wanderings over green lawns. I’m from Greek letters on steps. I’m from dodging crowds of students who flood the city like water pouring into a glass. I’m from orange V’s on asphalt. I’m from libraries. I’m from community theatres. I’m from community radio. I’m from a folk scene, a bluegrass scene, a jazz scene, an old time scene, a rock scene, a pop scene, a classical scene, a women’s music scene. I’m from used bookstores and used record stores and independent community business. I’m from fireworks in the park on the 4th of July put on for us by the fire department. I’m from honeysuckle. I’m from musicians on the Corner and musicians on the Mall. I’m from deer by the railroad tracks. I’m from crayfish in the creek. I’m from red dirt and several shades of brown dirt. I’m from hummingbirds. I’m from dogwood trees. I’m from field trips to the art museum. I’m from book sales and yard sales. I’m from hot humid summers, exuberantly flowery springs, winters that bring snowstorms and autumn leaves with a top note of apple cider.

And I’m also from a place where neighborhoods are black or white. I’m from a school system that tracked its students, that sent its white students to the top and the black toward the bottom, that encouraged young minds to think that this was just how things were, that white students were more likely to be “advanced” and black students more likely to be “general” or “basic.” I’m also from a place that tried hard to believe that Thomas Jefferson’s slave was his mistress. I’m from a place where visiting a landmark important to a black leader meant visiting the tobacco farm where he was born a slave. I’m also from a place where I could go see a kid’s magician in a thousand seat theatre and see only white people in the audience. I’m from a place where we don’t talk about that much, mostly because it’s not polite. And where I’m from, politeness is important.

And now here I sit in Queens, New York – the most linguistically diverse place in the world and one of the most ethnically diverse places in the country – but where I live now isn’t any better, really. It feels good and blended on the train or in the grocery store but the school system in diverse NYC is the most segregated in the country. While we think of ourselves as models of tolerance, diversity and unity – the hate and violence has visited us here, too.

See, the story is that I’m from a place you’ve possibly only heard of because some hateful Nazis decided to target my hometown. And when they did, they broke the hearts of not just the brave souls who stood in opposition to them and those who had to go to work and those who prayed with Cornel West and those who were away but also all of us who feel that Charlottesville is a part of us. Those of us who were born there or grew up there or went to college there or even just lived there for a few years – it feels to us, too, as if the dirtiest boots just trampled over our hearts.

Charlottesville isn’t perfect. The racism runs deep there, yes. (Read about that here.) But before you start thinking my hometown had it coming, that it asked for it, that it shouldn’t have worn that short skirt if it didn’t want to be invaded, search in your own city’s past. I’m going to guess that no city in America has completely clean hands when it comes to racial discrimination.

The deck is incredibly stacked against people of color in America. It took me too long to work out how much. For me, it took going to college and learning about white privilege and starting to understand that being nice was no excuse for accepting injustice. I thought that because I was nice, I was immune to racism. You see where I’m from, we’re nice to everyone. We’re polite. We’re courteous.

And maybe you’re thinking, “Ah! I see now! This terrible thing happened there because the people of Charlottesville let it. They just didn’t say “no” loud enough.” And you’d be wrong. The people of Charlottesville have been preparing for this for months. The folks I know there have been, for months, strategizing and debating, trying to figure out the best way to make it clear how unwelcome the “Unite the Right” were. From what I understand, Charlottesville’s Black Lives Matter was organized in June to help address this invasion. Petitions were circulated. Injunctions were filed. Violence was suggested and rejected. Dozens of peaceful demonstrations and events were organized to prepare.

The people of Charlottesville didn’t throw open the door and welcome this mess. It showed up unannounced on the doorstep in May and they did everything they could think of to prevent it, at every stage. So when I see people say things like, “I’d like to see them try that in my hometown,” I think, “No, no, you wouldn’t. You wouldn’t like it at all.”

You wouldn’t like this mess of feelings that I’ve had to negotiate, not just these last four days when you started paying attention but since May when those assholes with torches first showed up. It is a combination of despair and fury and fear for my loved ones. A few months ago, on video, my mother asked a Trump supporter at a rally about his “Kekistani” flag and the look of pure hatred that he gave her made me quake. You don’t want to know the mixture of pride and terror that seeing such things inspire.

You don’t want to sit 500 miles away as you watch militant Nazis with advanced military gear taunt clergy people kneeling at the edge of a park you used to play in. You think your people are tough? That these highly organized, armed jerks with nothing to lose will somehow be stopped from waving their flags by your gang of guys with bats? I mean, I wish that were true. But I don’t think it is. These people punched clergy-folk. They taunted them and tried to do worse.

This is the future I was worried was coming as soon as I saw where the world was turning on Nov 8th. I was figuring we’d have ourselves a Nazi-like state by now. I didn’t expect ACTUAL Nazis. But otherwise – this is what I feared most. And yet I never expected it to start in my hometown. So I’m not surprised that this happened. I saw it coming. I just didn’t see it coming for my hometown first.

I hope you’re not next. The country is racist. My hometown is racist. The city I live in racist. And so is yours. Those guys came from all over the country. If you’re just realizing this a problem, you’re late. But if you’re late, we still need you. In fact, you may be the best link to the people who are going to be later than you.

Dealing with the racism in your town (or the racist people in your town) isn’t easy – especially since it’s usually systemic and those structures are hard to see and take a long time to dismantle. If you’re new to these concepts – if you don’t know what systemic racism is, then this is a great time to start learning. Seeing the ways that your town or your city or your county has perpetuated white supremacy over the years doesn’t mean you love your town any less. In fact, the more you know about where you’re from, the more meaningful your relationship with it will be. Forewarned is forearmed and knowledge is power.

I know that terrorists primarily want to strike terror in people’s hearts and the terrorists who came to my hometown stated plainly that this was their goal. I do not want to give them what they want. I’m from Charlottesville and I live in New York. I was in NYC on 9/11. I was not cowed then and I will not be cowed now.

But I am afraid. I cannot deny it. I have not slept much since the racists with torches surrounded a church service Friday night and essentially held them hostage. I had family in that church. And friends. I was in that church in spirit.

Here in Queens, I heard some folks swear they’d never cross the Mason-Dixon line again. I understand the instinct. It’s a way to say – “Oh, that’s them over there. I’ll be safe if I just stay here.” But I don’t think geography will save you. I would never have thought, in a million years, that white supremacists would march through where I’m from. And here in Queens, many years ago, Donald J. Trump’s father was arrested as he marched in a KKK rally. In Queens. New York. It’s not about location, y’all.

Here in Queens, I’m devastated about what’s happened where I’m from. And there is no shaking off this sense of violation. But if there’s anything that gives me hope in all of this, it’s watching the way the community in my hometown has come together over this series of events. From the clergy linking arms and marching in silent protest, to the swelling numbers of white people at teach-ins and Black Lives Matter meetings, to the giant crowd at Heather Heyer’s memorial service, there is a unity brewing that many never thought possible. Where I’m from, folks are trying to be better. I’m from that. I’m from where brave, nice people try to be and do better. That’s where I’m from.

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This is a great list of resources if you’d like to help the people of Charlottesville.


Normally this is the spot in my blog posts where I ask folks to support me on Patreon. But today, I’m requesting instead that you go to help the many people who need your help in my hometown. Go to this list on Google Docs.

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This blog is also a Podcast. You can find it on iTunes by searching for Songs for the Struggling Artist. If you’d like to listen to me read this post to you, you can listen on Soundcloud by clicking here.screen-shot-2017-01-10-at-1-33-28-am

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Generation X – Part 5 It’s the End of the World As We Know It (And I Feel Fine)

On the Stuff You Should Know podcast about Baby Boomers, the hosts (both Gen X-ers) pointed out that generations are often characterized by events that shake their collective innocence (e.g. 9-11, JFK, Challenger) They then suggested generations might as well be characterized by the technology that unites them. Boomers were the first generation to grow up with TV. Gen X was the first generation to grow up with video and videogames. Computers, too. And Millennials grew up with more ubiquitous computers and the spread of the internet. Generation Z is growing up with smartphones. So…we somehow define our humanity by the technology at hand. Probably cavemen were like, “Yeah, our young ones are the Fire Generation. They’ll never what it was like for us before we got that life changing Fire stuff.” Probably the Fire Generation and the House Building Generation got together and sang songs at each other right over the head of the lone representative of the farming generation, who declared that all this generational thinking is bullshit.

Time magazine called us the Video Generation in our youth. Which is a little bit comical now that there’s something called YouTube (invented by Gen X-ers.) Given the amount of video in our lives now, it is hard to imagine that people were once worried about us watching a couple tapes on VCRS or music on MTV or hanging around in arcades playing Ms. Pacman. It seems quaint now.

Were we the computer generation? While I did learn to program a little triangular turtle in grade school, the only computers I ever touched until college were the ones at school. I went to college with a typewriter and left with a Mac Classic II. I understood that computers were powerful and a little bit scary. The bad boys with keyboards could both start a nuclear war AND prevent one. And neither computers or videogames were really for girls.

There was an interesting anxiety in the air as we watched the Computer Age roll in. Before we all had our own, computers were sort of magical and mysterious, dangerous and exciting. In a movie a lot of us saw, two nerds created a fantasy woman in real life by programming their computers. What would have once been a magic spell was now Weird Science. The nerds of Real Genius used their good computer skills to save the world from evil weapons computer stuff. It was good versus evil but with computers.

I re-listened to Kate Bush’s 1989 song “Deeper Understanding” which was about computers and found myself astonished at how directly it relates to all of us now. In an interview about this song, Kate Bush said she was surprised by how many people assumed she was into computers because she wrote a song about someone into computers. But this is the funny thing about that: at the time, we used to think about computers like this. Computers were an interest, like parasailing. Some people were into them, most people weren’t.

But those that were into computers were busy imagining a wide open world. I didn’t know it at the time (because I was one of those who weren’t that into computers) but Gen X computer kids were full of possibility. They imagined a world in which we could talk to anyone anywhere in the world, in which anyone with the skill could build anything. Gen X kids who were into computers were talking to each other on their computers long before the rest of us. They made virtual spaces made out of their imagination that were endlessly flexible and modifiable. For Gen X computer kids (and some OGx-ers like Jaron Lanier) the way we use our technology now is anathema to what they intended.

While those of us who weren’t into computers were fine to have our options streamlined, to have our websites more user-friendly, to not have to learn the skills to make our own, those who did have the skills were horrified as they watched the wide open world of tech be reduced to a “click yes or no” world. They aimed at freedom and we got convenience and those of us who “weren’t into computers” don’t even know what was sacrificed for that ease.

An iPhone will only let you put apps on it that are Apple approved. And many of the websites that are changing the world aren’t customizable at all. They create paths for us to walk down in which we can only make one choice at a time. For example, Facebook makes most decisions for its users. It gives you only six options for your feelings when it would be just as easy to have you create your own reaction emoticons. Its algorithm chooses which posts you see when Facebook could easily make it possible for you to design your own. But it doesn’t. Its algorithms remain a closely guarded secret and it controls which of your friends you see and which you don’t.

As the years have gone by, we have been trained not to wonder about what it is behind the technological certain. We trade our privacy for connection and ease. We leave the decision making to big corporations or big data.

The promise of a wide-open world where anyone with know-how can do anything has become a world full of walled gardens. From meadows and mountains and plains and oceans, our technology became a series of small plots of land, gardened by a chosen few, on the estates of big corporations. And while the gardens inside have clear paths to walk down and very specialized flowers and hey, all our friends are here! – the walls don’t seem to help keep out the jerks. Now instead of wide open space where we might run into a jerk sometime, we are locked up in the garden of Twitter, for example, with torrents of jerks. As one Gen X-er who has always been into computers said, “The people who weren’t into computers won.”

That is, while we now all have tiny super computers that fit into our pockets, the computers in our pockets are often structured to limit our choices instead of expanding them.

We all have computers but we don’t know (or care) how they work or which corporation has access to our data. The Gen X-ers into computers are understandably a little upset about this and it would appear that Gen X-ers are at the forefront of helping us figure out how to integrate technology into our lives responsibly, wisely and consciously. Gen X-er Manoush Zomorodi hosts a podcast that leans into these issues with a characteristic Gen X questioning of accepted norms. Gen X takes nothing for granted. We know that infinite possibilities include some possibilities that are a real bummer.

Gen X programmers built new virtual spaces – things like Friendster, Google, MySpace and Twitter. This may not have been what they imagined back when they first got into computers but they have changed the world. I think we need Gen X technologists more than ever to help us return to the idealism of the Open Source dreams, even as we adapt to the inventions Gen X let loose on the world. Gen X may have been seen as nihilistic and cynical but that is partly just the shadow side of the deep vein of idealism that runs through most of us. If we’re cynical, it’s because we think people can and should do better.

While most generational discussions I’ve seen point to the Challenger explosion as the most influential historical event in Gen X’s youth, I have yet to meet anyone for whom that event loomed particularly large. We remember it, sure – but it doesn’t seem all that formative. What I do think may have been formative was the constant very palpable threat of nuclear war. I was reminded of how real this was for me after I watched the episode of The Americans, in which the family watches the TV movie, The Day After. I don’t remember the movie itself but I do remember the feeling I had that I would not be safe anywhere. I could not be safe under my desk or in my bed. I remember hiding under my covers for some time, knowing it would never be enough – that if someone pushed a button (and it seemed very possible that someone would), none of us would be safe.

The events of the movie Wargames felt like a very real possibility to me and I think most of Gen X had to adapt to a world that might explode at any minute. We had to acknowledge that it might be the end of the world as we knew it and we had to find a way to feel fine. Recent political events have brought this feeling back to the surface and Gen X finds itself once again in a world where some guy pushing a button could end it all for all of us.

When I started watching The Americans, it was an exercise in nostalgia for my childhood. (They used that “Nobody bothers me” ad! We sang that all the time in the 80s in Virginia!) Now watching a show about Russian spies undercover as Americans in the Cold War feels like current events.

I understand the impulse to categorize a generation by its technology or its unique historical events but I suspect that what binds a generation together more is the atmosphere that pervades – it is a collection not just of the music we hear, the movies and TV we watch, but also the politics and the objects that surround us.

Generation X was surrounded by some meaningful bullshit and we thought the world was probably ending but we felt fine. In a world of infinite possibilities, there was a small chance we might get out of our youth alive. And if you’re Gen X and you’re reading this – Congratulations! We did it! We already lived much longer than we ever imagined.

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This is Part 5 of a multi-part series. and

You can read Part 1 here Part 2 here  Part 3 here

and Part 4 here.

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