Songs for the Struggling Artist


Kittens and Fluffy Clouds
October 21, 2020, 9:03 pm
Filed under: music, Uncategorized, writing | Tags: , , ,

There’ve been times when I’ve seen people respond to my work with, “You’re just looking for problems.” They want me to look on the bright side. “See the good in the world!” “There are roses and sunshine!” That’s why I decided to write this piece about kittens and fluffy clouds. Who doesn’t love kittens?

The problem is – there’s not much to say about kittens except the fact that they are awfully cute and there’s not much to say about fluffy clouds either, except to say that that one looks a lot like a whale.


That’s why this piece is actually not about kittens or fluffy clouds.

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This piece is actually about my stalker/harasser/troll and since she does tend to lurk and look at my headlines, I felt it would be safer to give this one a title she would be unlikely to click on. I mean, I don’t know, maybe she’s into kittens but she does not tend to actually read so I’m burying this text beyond where’s she’s likely to look. Many a social media post will put out the first few lines of text of something, so to be safe, I went ahead and started with kittens and fluffy clouds.

If the news of this semi-famous troll stalker of mine is news to you, I’d recommend you go back and read this post to catch up. It’s a doozy.

So…that was about 2.5 years ago. After a pretty terrible couple of weeks, after I blocked her on Twitter and she finally stopped calling, I didn’t hear from her again. She continued including me in mad rants for a while where I couldn’t see them, but it stopped eventually, as far as I knew. I thought it was over.

As my phone was dying last month, I made a last push to get at least get her voicemails copied from it so if I ever had to provide evidence of the harassment, I could. I thought the whole thing was probably over – but I felt I couldn’t be too sure. I wanted to be prepared for a reappearance.

Turns out, I was right to be concerned about a reappearance. A few weeks ago, I got notice of a new patron on Patreon at a $10 per blog post level. (Amazing! My second highest pledge! That could be $50 a month!) But it turned out to be her. For a minute I thought it could be a friend playing a not so funny joke on me – the way someone bought her song on my website using her name, even though it wasn’t her. But then I saw the nasty message that came along with the pledge. It banged on the “You stole my songs” drum and several other nonsensical things that signaled her actual presence and I straight up did not know what to do.

It was Yom Kippur. She’s a born again Christian, I think, but maybe she was attempting to make some extremely ass backward atonement? Why is someone who hates me pledging to give me money every month? Aside from a weird attempt at apologizing, what could it be? On one hand, it seemed like a dominance move, a way to say that she has money and I do not. It could have been a way to gain access to me and power over me. It could have been attempt to invade a safe space. It could have been an attempt to target my income. Maybe she was planning to cancel the payment right as it was about to charge to pull a nice financial rug out from under me. I asked around and no one seemed to be able to guess what her game was.

I have no way of knowing what her thinking was (which is hard for me, because I like to understand why people do things) but I have learned that trying to figure that out is a fool’s errand. Since my initial experience with her, people came out of the woodwork to share their horror stories with me about their experiences. Tales of her not paying her musicians, harassing people selling her used CDs, forcing someone to stand in a garbage can, and much much worse (which I have promised not to publicly divulge). No matter how much I could have used the money, I knew I had to block her.

I know from my own experience that there is no rationalizing with this person. The guys at the company who helped me with the licenses tried to explain to her how licensing worked, how this aspect of the business went and found themselves surveilled and vilified, as well.

As I watched well-meaning people try to appeal to her reason or humanity last time around, it started to become clear how impossible that would be. It would be like trying to have a reasonable conversation with a tornado made of jellyfish. Not all of the jellyfish will sting you but you will end up with a jellyfish to the face at some point – and certainly the tornado will never stop to listen to what you have to say. A lot of people who tried to reach out to her with kindness ended up with a face full of jellyfish.

You might have seen a similar example of this sort of behavior in another context recently. It is not really possible to debate a jellyfish tornado.

I blocked my jellyfish tornado on Patreon, which triggered an automated email notifying my jellyfish tornado of her blocking, which, given the clicks from admin.Patreon on my blog, fairly likely triggered a retaliating accusation of some sort. In this moment, I do not know what the tornado is going to do next. But I do know that it will be neither reasonable or rational. Hopefully, it’s just moving on. But I can never be sure when she’ll be in the mood to dredge this all up again, for no particular reason.

That’s the thing that is the hardest to understand – that not everyone is reasonable – that even if the jellyfish tornado can use words and form sentences, that does not mean it is reasonable. I did not know that at first. I think I half hoped she’d read my blog, realize it was all a misunderstanding, call me up to apologize and then invite me to come sing duets with her in her studio. (I don’t think I truly believed this but my inner teen fan from 1988 might have.) But instead, she tweeted out something nasty in response and outed herself as the redacted troll mentioned within. It was an extraordinary self-own.

But see, I know she’s a jellyfish tornado now. I’m still scared of her but mostly I try to stay clear of her path. If I have to go inside and lock the door until the tornado has passed, I can do that – and I’d rather do that than go outside and end up with a face full of jellyfish. I can often tell who has run into some kind of jellyfish tornado before. They are the first people to tell you, “I can see why you think that reasonable appeal will help. But you might want to just skip ahead to locking your door because it probably won’t work. And definitely don’t invite that tornado in your house.” Once you’ve been in one jellyfish tornado, you get a feel for these things. I’m one of those people now.

I don’t know what we’re to do with all these tornados. Are they inevitable? Is there no way to neutralize them? Or stop them showing up in your neighborhood? If there are answers to that, I would like to know – because this is not the only jellyfish tornado in the world. The only thing I’ve figured out how to do is call a jellyfish tornado a jellyfish tornado when I see one and do my best to not get caught up in it. I may be tempting fate by telling you about all this. Maybe I’ll draw the tornado back in my direction by writing about it. But I’ve also learned to reach out to friends and ask for cute animal photos when the tornado appears for whatever mercurial reasons tornados have. Hopefully, I won’t need more photos of kittens anytime soon. Or fluffy clouds.

Such cute kittens. Probably looking up at some fluffy clouds, don’t you think?

This post was brought to you by my patrons on Patreon.

They also bring you the podcast version of the blog.

It’s also called Songs for the Struggling Artist.

You can find the podcast on iTunes, Stitcher, Spotify or wherever you get your podcasts.

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Every podcast features a song at the end. Some of those songs are on Spotify, my websiteReverbNation, Deezer and iTunes

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Frustrated Artists and Tyrants

From listening to the Bunga Bunga podcast, I learned that Silvio Berlusconi started as a singer. He was reasonably successful and having a great time when, apparently, his dad shamed him, asking him if he was really going to be a singer for the rest of his life. So Silvio Berlusconi quit singing. Even though he loved it. And became a shady ass real estate developer instead. This led him to becoming a shady ass media mogul and then the shady ass prime minister of Italy. Did that go well for Italy? No, no, it did not. Would Italy have been better off if Berlusconi had just continued to do what he loved and just kept singing? I think so. I blame Berlusconi’s dad for the problems of Italy. I also blame the world that denigrates the arts and deems them not enough.

This makes me think about Hitler, of course. Hitler wanted to be a painter. He was rejected by the Academy of Fine Arts of Vienna, where he’d moved to pursue his dreams. He had a go of selling his work and found a few people to buy it. He was fucking serious about painting. Was he any good? No. But some people liked his stuff. They even paid for it – so hey – that’s something. But his failures in art led him to politics and the world ended up with a disaster. Do I blame the Academy of Fine Arts? Nope. No one wants to go to school with Hitler. And he was bad. So. Of course they had to reject him. But someone, somewhere might have encouraged him. I don’t know who but somebody could have kept that man painting and it would have saved millions of lives.

The stories of frustrated artists going on to do terrible things are many. And there are many frustrated artists who ruined the lives around them when they took their own. What I’m trying to say here is that I think we need to take frustrated artists seriously.

Think of all the tyrants we could have avoided if we’d just managed to be supportive of artists or even just gave them some time, space and resources to do their thing. I mean – good lord – Just give artists the space to be artists and the ones who would have turned out to be tyrants can just happily paint in their basements or sing in the clubs.

But – golly gee whiz – what if they’re no good? What if they’re a terrible singer or a lousy painter?

To that, I say, wouldn’t you rather have a gallery full of shitty paintings than the fucking holocaust? Live with the shitty art, for crying out loud!

Embracing art and artists is a great thing to do, just because art is great but it ALSO could be seen as a preventative measure. Prevent a tyrant! Support an artist! Even a shitty one! I swear everyone is so concerned with whether things are good or bad when, really bad art is entirely tolerable in a way that, say, genocide is not. And I say that as someone who, when I’m watching something terrible, acts as though I’m being quite melodramatically tortured.

I’m not trying to say that all frustrated artists are genocidal maniacs (if so, watch out for me!) but an awful lot of genocidal maniacs really wanted to be artists. They would have rather been singers and painters or authors or actors or whatever. I think a culture that encouraged these things would see a lot fewer genocidal maniacs. Support an artist! Prevent a possible global catastrophe! Buy that weirdo’s ugly paintings! You don’t have to hang them up. Go to that terrible play! Listen to that awful album! Do it for the world.

I feel like sometimes when people talk about supporting the arts, they really want to make sure they only support the really good stuff. Organizations have extensive applications to make sure they get work of which they approve. They require references or degrees or resumes to try and insure quality. If you propose running a lottery, they worry about how they will weed out the bad stuff.

But true support would mean supporting all of it – the wonderful, the good, the mediocre and the terrible. It’s like trying to save a forest by just saving a couple of the tallest trees. The forest thrives because of all of the trees, even the fallen rotting ones and to support a forest would mean supporting the widest variety of forest life. The same is absolutely true of the arts. The more supported the entire ecosystem is, the more good art we get out of it.

And if just having a robust arts culture isn’t enough of a reason for you, just think of investment in the arts as tyrant insurance. Support all the arts, even the bad, and maybe you’ll save us from the ravings of the next frustrated artists.

Again, I’m not saying artists are uniquely poised to be tyrants; Surely someone who had potent dreams in another field that were thwarted and discouraged, would be equally likely to turn sour. Anyone with their dreams dashed upon a rock might be likely to turn bad – but artists have their dreams dashed more often than most and there are few places in the world where an artist’s ambitions might be realized to their full potential. I think a world that encouraged its artists, whether they be good, bad, mediocre or genius, would be a much more interesting world. And if my theory is correct, it might also have a lot fewer tyrants in it.

Look how happy young Berlusconi was singing.
Coulda saved everyone a whole heap of trouble if he’d kept this up.

This post was brought to you by my patrons on Patreon.

They also bring you the podcast version of the blog.

It’s also called Songs for the Struggling Artist.

You can find the podcast on iTunes, Stitcher, Spotify or wherever you get your podcasts.

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Every podcast features a song at the end. Some of those songs are on Spotify, my websiteReverbNation, Deezer and iTunes

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Everybody’s Favorite Nice Guy Has a New Gig

You all remember the guy who inspired my blog post about Sticky Benevolent Sexism? (It was a few people’s favorite. It’s about the time this guy asked all the ladies to stand up so the men could applaud us.) Well, I just got an email from an organization that is trying to reckon with its own racism and sexism and this guy is apparently part of some learning group on the subject. In the email, he recommends some podcasts to listen to for this racism/sexism reckoning.

I happen to agree with his recommendations so I can’t fault him for his choices. But there’s something about this particular brand of white guy leading this conversation that just makes me want to start throwing plates.

He’s the darling of this organization. One of the Favorite Sons. Everybody’s favorite nice guy. I bet if he’d spoken to me, I’d have found him nice and charming, too. It’s not about him, I promise.

It’s how this particular pattern is playing itself out around the world. Rather than figuring out how to include all the people who have been left behind due to their race, class or gender, the white men who have the power are figuring out how to talk the woke talk so they can hold on to their positions of power.

They’ll still have the jobs, the gigs and the opportunities but now they’ve learned how to say that we should be hearing from a BIPOC or a woman instead of them before they start their speech. They’ll hang their heads a little bit and bemoan that it is they in front of us, instead of, say, a black woman. “It’s just too bad,” they’ll say. They’ll coat their power in a layer of guilt so we still like them and let them keep their jobs.

Rather than going back and collecting all the people this organization left behind over the years, it’s beefing up the current members with woke language and talking big talk about all the people they’ll include in the future.

And maybe they will! I don’t know. But as one of those people that got left behind, I know I will never be collected. There will never be a moment when they say, “Hey, where was that nutty feminist from a few years ago? Think we should ask her back to help us improve our sexism problem? She might know a few things about that.” It will NEVER happen.

Instead, they’ll have the newly woke white guy explain it to them.

It’ll happen for BIPOC folks as well. The reckoning won’t pull an artist back in who understood how racism was operating there. They won’t call up that artist and ask them to make a piece about what it’s like to be excluded.

Nope. The newly woke white guy will lead everyone in a white guilt seminar instead.

And maybe, just maybe, they will make a change and the place will be full of the work of women and BIPOCS, as well as work by working class or disabled artists. Maybe this place will become a beacon of egalitarian art.

But they won’t come back for me. They won’t come back for all the BIPOC, working class or disabled artists they left behind.

As an artist in my 40s, no one’s coming back for me. I know that. If I’m not the Favorite Son now I never will be. All the privileges, that got Mr. New Woke Bae where he is, passed me by and he will continue to benefit from what got him there. He may begin to try to make space for the artists on the horizon who fit his mold but all the women and BIPOC artists who got displaced in the water, because his boat was coming through, are drowned forever.

Except we’re NOT drowned forever. We’re still here and available. But those who got drowned in the wake of this guy’s big boat are poison somehow. We’re too angry. We don’t strike the right tone.

(Sorry about all these boat metaphors. The Trump parade at Lake Travis is fresh in my mind and the way all those big boats caused the submerging of the little ones, really stuck with me. I mean it’s just so apt, metaphorically speaking – those big boats having no awareness of the others’ distress as they happily motor along, throwing up damage in their wake.)

Anyway – congratulations on your new wokeness newly woke white guy. I look forward to your blogs about feminism – because heaven forbid you just amplify mine.

The plates I have hurled in my imagination.

This post was brought to you by my patrons on Patreon.

They also bring you the podcast version of the blog.

It’s also called Songs for the Struggling Artist.

You can find the podcast on iTunes, Stitcher, Spotify or wherever you get your podcasts.

screen-shot-2017-01-10-at-1-33-28-am

Every podcast features a song at the end. Some of those songs are on Spotify, my websiteReverbNation, Deezer and iTunes

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Want to collect me for the future?

Become my patron on Patreon.

Click HERE to Check out my Patreon Page

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I Miss the Smiling
September 30, 2020, 9:34 pm
Filed under: American, feminism, pandemic, space | Tags: , , , , ,

I’ve been going to this little sandwich shop in my neighborhood lately. It’s got a garden in the back and it’s usually pretty empty so I can take my mask off and write back there fairly easily. I never went pre-covid because it had table service and I didn’t really want a sandwich.

But since I returned to Queens after almost two months away, I’ve been going a couple of times a week. It’s always the same people behind the counter and sometimes they seem to remember me and sometimes not. This last time, it was as if I’d never been there before and it strikes me that with everyone in masks, we are all a lot less recognizable than we used to be. We’re all just these eyes over cloth – and if we change the cloth every day like we should, we look like a different person every day.

I’m used to becoming a regular somewhere. Usually it doesn’t take long. At the tea shop I used to go to, when I first started going there, they recognized me after the first day. When I went in there in mask and hat and sunglasses, after two months, they STILL recognized me. But in this new spot, I’m as much a stranger now as I was five visits ago.

Now, maybe these folks just aren’t that into recognizing people. But also, I think, most new people recognize me by my smile and no one can see that right now. No one can see anyone’s smile. Or rather, we shouldn’t be seeing one another’s smiles in person so much.

But as much as I miss seeing people’s smiles, I also miss being able to flash mine. I feel like I’ve lost access to my main social tool. This is what I use to win people over and historically, it tends to work. But I can’t use it right now and I find it both illuminating and frustrating. The frustrating part is not being able to interact with people the way I’ve always done. I cannot charm strangers the way I’m used to charming them and the illuminating bit is realizing how much of my interaction with people depends on my charming them. I wouldn’t have thought so – but it is, in fact, the case. Without this smile, I have to try other things and that becomes very interesting.

Maybe I could move through the world without charming people. It’s an interesting challenge. The problem is, though, the charm is a way to feel safe – and without people who smile back at me doing my smiling, I don’t know whether I’m in safe territory or hostile. It is a lesson of some kind, I’m sure – though not a pleasant one.

Smiling can be loaded for women. We are told to do it all the time. And some of us do do it all the time. And it can keep us safe. 

I’m sure you’ve run into an image or two about stopping telling women to smile. I mean, listen I’m smiley as hell – but even I used to get told to smile by random strangers if I happened to not be smiling for a moment. For many women, wearing a mask has meant a break in the tyranny of being told to smile all the time. If you have what’s (problematically) known a Resting Bitch Face – this moment may be a reprieve.

It feels more complicated for me. I feel sort of hamstrung by the loss of my smiling super power. I feel like I’ve lost the best tool in my arsenal. I recognize that the smiling is a socially constructed skill that helped me get what I want – but I went with that tool because it was the thing that was most likely to get me what I wanted. It would be great if not being able to smile people into my good graces somehow made them more likely to just listen to my ideas – but that is not what’s happening. As a woman in my 40s, I am much more likely to be ignored entirely without the smile. And I do not like it.

I don’t see many people in this new socially distanced world, which is maybe why I seem to need so much more out of my brief interactions with strangers. I didn’t realize how much juice I used to get out of getting people to smile back at me – but I miss that juice as much as I miss seeing my friends and hugging.

Anyway – the woman who failed to recognize me on my way in to that sandwich place wished me a warm and familiar goodbye on my way out that day so I know developing rapport and recognition is possible. It’s just going to take a much longer time without my face in play.

Please, my fellow Americans, wear your masks so I can get back to smiling at people again soon.

This post was brought to you by my patrons on Patreon.

They also bring you the podcast version of the blog.

It’s also called Songs for the Struggling Artist.

You can find the podcast on iTunes, Stitcher, Spotify or wherever you get your podcasts.

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Every podcast features a song at the end. Some of those songs are on Spotify, my websiteReverbNation, Deezer and iTunes

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Click HERE to Check out my Patreon Page

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Bill and Ted’s Bogus Handling of Older Women

We did it. We watched the new Bill and Ted movie. The trailer made it look kind of charming and our Gen X nostalgia for the original was strong enough to put us in front of, what we knew would be, a very silly movie. And it was! They brought back all these cast members from the original. Ted’s Dad. Ted’s Dad’s girlfriend. A hologram of George Carlin. But significantly, despite the medieval princesses’ appearance in the earlier movie, the actresses who played them did not play them in this new movie. Instead, the filmmakers cast two women who are about ten years younger than the original princesses. This made me mad. And curious.

I investigated the women who played the original roles. Maybe they were too busy to play the parts. Or maybe they were dead! I mean, if one of them was busy playing Hedda Gabler at the Royal Shakespeare Company, I could understand that she might not want to do a sequel to Bill and Ted. But no. Their IMDB pages suggested that they were still acting, though not with really high profile credits. A couple of years ago they were photographed at a Bill and Ted convention event. In other words, they were probably available – the makers of Bill and Ted just didn’t ask them.

I’m assuming. Maybe there’s a great story about this that isn’t the usual sexism – but I somehow suspect that it is the usual sexism. The two women in their 50s were not hot enough for film anymore. (Though, frankly, I’ve seen recent photos of these ladies and they’re gorgeous.) So while the producers were happy to look at Bill and Ted with male middle aged bodies – they needed younger models to represent the hot princesses they married. That’s pretty gross and sexist but, you know, fair point. If I recall, correctly, the original princesses weren’t written to be much more than hot – so if the actors’ hotness has faded, then perhaps it was necessary to get new ones to represent the one trait they possessed.

But even hot people age and not all of them look like Catherine Zeta Jones as they do. Even hot medieval princesses might get a few lines on their faces or find the shapes of their bodies changing. But this movie chose to focus on the hotness instead. They gave Bill and Ted new wives, who were still hot, even though they were in their 40s! (Please read Gen X sarcasm there.)

And I mean no disrespect to the women who ultimately played the wives this time around. They’re both very funny women and I’ve enjoyed their work in other things and even, briefly, in this, where they were given almost nothing to do but complain that their husbands were losers. (Man, women are such a drag, aren’t they?! – Gen X sarcasm again)

But I am furious on behalf of the women who originated those parts, whether they wanted them or not. The film’s treatment of them as expendable is so common and so careless and I noticed it constantly as I watched the movie. In early scenes with Bill’s wife and daughter, I found myself asking “Which one is the daughter again?” Jemima Mays may be 41 but she still looks like she could be twenty something.

And so, despite the sort of feminist message of the men passing on the torch to young women, the movie made clear that older women can take a hike. Women who look like they could be the mothers of children in their mid-twenties are not to be looked at or admired on the screen. They’re not the sort of mothers Bill and Ted would fight for their marriages for. They somehow need hot chicks for the plot to make sense that way.

In some ways, the new Bill and Ted movie wants to be feminist. It wants to say that the future is female and that the people to change the world will be the young women. It has something to say about fathers fighting to keep their families together. That’s often a trope for female characters and it is refreshing to see two dudes try and save their marriages and their children. It feels like a shift.

But if the future is female, it is only for hot young women, not older women. Holland Taylor plays the ruler in the future and she is fabulous as ever but her character does not look like a hero in the end. The movie seems to suggest that old women need to step aside and be replaced by younger women who are more chill and know what’s going on.

Were there some fun moments? Sure. I would watch a spin-off buddy comedy between the couples therapist and the killer robot. And surely the original movie was not a beacon of feminist thought. They have made progress. But someone get me a phone booth so I can go back in time and tell these guys that feminism is not just for young women. It’s for everyone. The movie that denies them is bogus.

This post was brought to you by my patrons on Patreon.

They also bring you the podcast version of the blog.

It’s also called Songs for the Struggling Artist.

You can find the podcast on iTunes, Stitcher, Spotify or wherever you get your podcasts.

screen-shot-2017-01-10-at-1-33-28-am

Every podcast features a song at the end. Some of those songs are on Spotify, my websiteReverbNation, Deezer and iTunes

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Want to help me fight sexism and ageism?

Become my patron on Patreon.

Click HERE to Check out my Patreon Page

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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

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And Then the Internet Went Out

While I was polishing up my blog about the power outage, I googled Tropical Storm Isaias to double check I was spelling it correctly. The request timed out but I figured it was just this thing the wifi does in our apartment where it gets moody about the distance between my computer and the router. After bringing it closer and then plugging in the ethernet cable and switching everything off and on again a million times, I had to accept that there was no internet. I found it ironic that I was trying to post a blog about the power of power, in which the power of the internet played a role, and could not because, while I did have electricity, I had no internet access.

The next day, the company said it would be fixed by 5pm, and then within 24hrs and then by 5pm the following day. Concurrent to all this, my phone had begun to switch itself off at every opportunity and would only rarely turn back on for a moment or two. My access to the world, beyond my physical presence, was largely cut off.

I didn’t know what to do. Every task I thought about tackling seemed to require the internet. I spent the first couple decades of my life living in a world without internet. It was fine! There were a lot of great things about those times! Why was it so impossible now?

Late Monday night, in order to maintain my weekly podcast posting, I realized I could potentially access the internet via these LinkNYC things – the structures we call “propaganda sticks.” I was 100% sure they were a privacy nightmare, in addition to being corporate tools – but I had a deadline – so I took my laptop and a little stool I’d bought for a cowboy clown show I made a few years ago and went to sit next to the LinkNYC column.

Just as soon as I’d gotten the blog posted, I saw this stream of liquid emerge from the other side of the column. Some guy was pissing right next to the thing, like it was a tree in the woods and his piss was flowing downstream right in front of me. The splash got very close to me and I scooted quickly away, swearing loudly. I found a new spot closer to the closed-up Greek travel agency office behind me. Later, as I got the two podcasts uploaded, the guy from the Mexican restaurant next door brought me some chips and salsa because he liked my “set up.”

There’s a way that having to go out into the street to reach the wider world really put me in touch with the immediate world in ways both pleasant and unpleasant. When the real physical world was all I had, it all got very physical very fast.

In wrestling with my world without internet, in addition to pushing me out into the street, I found myself really noticing how blended my creativity and the sharing of it had become. I could practice a song. I could even record a song and podcasts but without the internet, all of that could go no further than the room they were made in.

We finally got a little green light suggesting our internet was back but in various computer tests, the signal could go no further than the internet company itself. It’s as if we could communicate a tiny bit but we could only reach one person and even then, it was just to wave. There could be no meaningful discourse.

There’s something about this limited signal that I found poignant. It felt a bit like my entire artistic career. I make something and put it out but only a few people have the tech to receive it.

We have these internet connected light bulbs, for example, which I was astonished to discover could still work, even with the area outages preventing us from interneting. It turns out it’s because they’re local. They communicate just within our apartment. But we cannot reach beyond our local network. Our internet problem is a communication problem.

It cannot take us beyond our apartment. And a lot of my struggles as an artist are similarly about an inability to get beyond my apartment. The work makes it around the apartment, no problem – and even to a few points beyond – but the signal always seems to run into an obstacle somewhere. Out there in the physical world, I do alright. I might get pissed on occasionally but I also get free food and warm greetings.

In the internet world, which, more and more, given the lockdowns, seems just as real, there are many places I can’t reach.

And like, power, when someone is without the internet, their lack is invisible. To the one who has been cut off, it feels as though they are cut off from the bulk of the world – but the world will never notice their absence.

The local is the only bit that remains. It can involve piss and salsa – but it is real and where the action actually is.

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Comfort Is Not the Point

Now that things are starting to open up a little, there are increasingly tough decisions to be made. There are negotiations to be had. There are choices to consider. “Let me know what you’re comfortable with,” someone said as we negotiated how we’d be together in this moment. But comfort is not the point.

Masks aren’t comfortable. Keeping at least six feet away from people we care about is not comfortable. Staying in, in our uncomfortable apartment, is not comfortable. But comfort isn’t the point. I am very comfortable without a mask. I am comfortable in close proximity to people. I’m comfortable hugging almost anyone. I’m a theatre person; I’m comfortable with a massage circle. Heck, in the right crowd and context, I’d even be comfortable in a dog pile with face to face singing. I’d be so comfortable in a big theatre chock full of people. That’s my happy place and so comfortable. What I’m comfortable with doesn’t matter.

What matters is what’s smart. What matters is what we can do to help end this thing.

I’d like nothing more than to go to a party with all my friends and dance and hug and talk and sing and eat and drink and share a bunch of food and forget about this thing for awhile, forget about the masks and the distance. That sounds fun and nice and comfortable. But it won’t help end this thing. Even if I’m comfortable with it.

I want this over. If my discomfort in my mask can help get it over, I’m going to do that. People aren’t wearing masks because we like them and they feel great. They don’t. We wear them because there’s evidence that the more people who wear them, the sooner this nightmare is over. 

I think this is one of the fundamental disconnects in our country. There are, of course, many political reasons wearing a mask has become such a volatile conflict – but in some ways I also think we’re looking at a comfort issue. Americans are used to being comfortable. We have heating in the winter and AC in the summer. We can hop from air-conditioned cars into air-conditioned homes and find everywhere we go is somewhat comfortable. A lot of Americans will make decisions based on what feels comfortable for them. They check in with themselves, see if something makes them comfortable or uncomfortable and they go with the thing that’s comfortable.

There’s something about comfort and trusting one’s gut, too. Many an American makes decisions based on feelings. Like, if something feels bad, they don’t do it – if it feels good they do. They don’t need science – because they’ve gotten this far by just following their instincts. The man who currently holds the office of the presidency is known to make his decisions this way, too. He goes with what “feels” right.

The problem with going with what feels right, though, is that what feels right and comfortable is what is familiar. It is all of us gathered together at the church, or the theatre or for a meal but all of those things have become risky. They don’t FEEL risky, though. They FEEL nice! They FEEL comfortable and comforting! But they could also be deadly. And what’s so tricky is that you won’t feel it right away. It could be two weeks before you know that that party that felt so comfortable and right was a superspreading event and your feelings will change about it only then, long after you leave it.

Our feelings just aren’t that reliable right now. The perils that lurk won’t send up your danger signals. You won’t get that “This doesn’t feel safe” vibe that you might feel on a dark street that will have you hightailing it out of there. You can’t scent the air and feel that hurricane coming. Check in with your feelings, you’re likely to get comforting vibes. And they could be very wrong.

I can’t stop thinking of that 30 year old man who went to a “covid party” in Texas. This was a party where everyone got together with someone who’d tested positive and then they all had a swell time together. I’m sure they laughed and joked about “the hoax” and, significantly, I bet they were all very comfortable there. Then this man had to go to the hospital and before he died there, he told his nurse, “I think I made a mistake, I thought this was a hoax, but it’s not.”

He was very comfortable going to that party – but his comfort didn’t save him. It’s not about comfort. If I’m a stickler for wearing my mask and washing my hands and social distancing right now, it’s not because I’m uncomfortable doing the things everyone else is doing. I would love nothing more in this world than to go sit with a big crowd of smiling people all pressed up together, maybe singing along to our favorite band. But right now it would not be wise. It would be a risk. It might be comfortable but it would be a mistake. We need to listen to science, not our guts. We need to check in with experts, not our own or anyone else’s comfort.

I’m generally a gut follower and I am a big fan of being comfortable but now is not the moment for my comfort. It is the moment to follow guidance and wisdom. 

 

This post was brought to you by my wise patrons on Patreon.

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Do You Have Power?
August 31, 2020, 9:26 pm
Filed under: class | Tags: , , ,

The neighbors were walking through the neighborhood checking out the damage caused by Tropical Storm Isaias. I asked them if they had power and they shook their heads. None of us had power.

And of course, I’m talking about electricity. I was staying at my friend’s place and the storm had brought down trees all over the area, knocking out power lines everywhere. Rich neighborhoods, poor neighborhoods, the power grid was out for everyone.

There’s an idea that’s been making its way around the internet during these global pandemic times, about how we’re not all in the same boat, as some have said, but we are all in the same storm. How the storm impacts us depends greatly on what kind of boat we’re in to weather it. If we’re on David Geffen’s yacht, we’re probably okay. If we’re on a rubber raft, we’re in for some trouble. The week-long power outage on Long Island was a result of a literal storm and the metaphor applies to its aftermath. There were those with generators whose lights only dimmed for a moment as they switched from one power source to another and those for whom the loss of a fridge full of goods may have meant ruin. Your access to power could allow for a cramp in your lifestyle or a full-on shut down.

Our lives are so dependent on electricity and the ways we rely on it are legion. You discover how much when you are without it. It’s not just lights out at night. It’s hot water heaters powered by electric switches. It’s refrigerators and freezers. It’s your phone and your computer and your tablet that become bricks when you run out of batteries. The all-powerful internet is meaningless when you can’t turn anything on that will get you to it. You cannot grind your coffee beans. You cannot run the air conditioning. You can’t turn a fan on. When it’s hot, you’re going to stay hot.

The fact that we call electricity “power” strikes me with great force after a week without it. I walk around in my daily life with extraordinary power at my fingertips. I turn lights on, grind coffee, charge my devices, heat stuff up in a microwave. It is non-stop power. I don’t think of myself as powerful but I do have access to power. There are those that do not have that access.

There’s something about the literalness of this metaphor – something about those with access to power and those that do not have access – that lines up perfectly. When you have power, you take it for granted. I was cavalierly freezing food, running fans and letting my phone run out of battery because I knew I could just plug it in and charge it some more. I previously did not think I had power because I didn’t have artistic access or couldn’t get my art sold or produced or whatever. But I did have access to the sort of power that powers a modern life and until I lost it for a significant period of time, I took it entirely for granted.

When you have power, it is largely invisible to you and highly visible to the people without it. I was acutely aware of the neighbors’ generators – how loud they were, sure – but also how some would power even their driveway lights with them, while others just lit up their kitchens. The house I was in was entirely dark and became invisible to those WITH power at night.

This dynamic is at play with less literal power as well. The powerless can track the levels of power they do not have while the powerful don’t see power at all, they’re just using their juicer at breakfast or investing their money or taking that meeting with that VIP, no big deal.

I feel like this is a central difficultly when trying to make social change. The invisibility of the power structure to those that benefit from it is one of the largest obstacles to making it more fair.

I wonder if we need these occasional power outages to at least just remind us that our hold on power is not something to be taken for granted. It is not a given.

It makes me think of the charitable donations of solar powered lanterns. The ones that are given so students can study, so doctors can practice even when there is no light. They’re particularly useful in disasters. A little solar lamp is not a big dose of power but it is a start. The lights are powered by the power source we all have access to. Sometimes I think this is why the powers that be are so dead set against solar and wind power – because our current leaders are power hoarders. If we powered our electricity with wind and sun, they could not so easily control the power source.

I don’t think of myself as someone with power but I can use what little bits of electrical power I have to type into this machine that I plug into the wall where I get that electricity. And then I post onto the internet which I can access because of power and receive support through that same electric internet for my work. I will then, with the support I receive for this post, buy someone, without power, a light. I want to give power, not just take it. If you want to join me, here are the lights I’m going to buy when my electric powered payment comes in.

This post was brought to you by my electric patrons on Patreon.

They also bring you the podcast version of the blog.

It’s also called Songs for the Struggling Artist.

You can find the podcast on iTunes, Stitcher, Spotify or wherever you get your podcasts.

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Every podcast features a song at the end. Some of those songs are on Spotify, my websiteReverbNation, Deezer and iTunes

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I Am a Genius
August 26, 2020, 12:11 am
Filed under: art, feminism | Tags: , , , , , , , ,

Does it make you uncomfortable when I say I am a genius? I can see why it might. Women aren’t supposed to be geniuses, for one thing, and they should be modest, as well, so even if women COULD be geniuses, they shouldn’t go around declaring themselves such. We learn very early that we should hide our intelligence, that we should be quiet about what we’re good at and that we are never going to be seen as brilliant. Because being brilliant, and being a genius, is for boys.

Think that’s all in the past? Well, you’d be thinking wrong. Forbes just published a piece about a study that shows that there is an unconscious bias in both men and women that associates men with things like genius and brilliance and not women. Forbes declares that women tend to not apply for jobs that list a brilliant mind as a qualification. Their solution? Stop putting “brilliant mind” as a qualification.

That’s one way. Another way that I see is to purposefully cultivate an immodest attitude of brilliance. To practice calling girls brilliant and genius. Changing the language on job listings is only a change in semantics – changing how we talk about the brilliance, the genius of women and girls is another.

The culture we’ve been swimming in loves a genius. We are a culture that believes in genius and will excuse all sorts of bad behavior when a genius does it. Picasso! What a genius! It doesn’t matter that he abused the women in his life, neglected his children and made a seventeen-year-old girl his lover when he was 45. The genius effect is powerful and will overshadow any wrong doing.

Here’s his granddaughter describing his genius: ”His brilliant oeuvre demanded human sacrifices. He drove everyone who got near him to despair and engulfed them. No one in my family ever managed to escape from the stranglehold of this genius. He needed blood to sign each of his paintings: my father’s blood, my brother’s, my mother’s, my grandmother’s and mine. He needed the blood of those who loved him — people who thought they loved a human being, whereas they really loved Picasso.”

And here she is describing his relationships with women: ”He submitted them to his animal sexuality, tamed them, bewitched them, ingested them and crushed them onto his canvas. After he had spent many nights extracting their essence, once they were bled dry, he would dispose of them.”

Nice genius right there. That’s genius built from the blood of women. That’s not just a really sharp, smart, cool artist. He was that, sure. I like his artwork very much. But he was pretty awful to the people around him. We excuse it though, because of that genius effect.

But no matter how brilliant a woman may be, no matter how prolific and original, it is highly unlikely that she will be called a genius or even brilliant – and if she made even the smallest of errors, she will be pilloried for it. There’s no genius effect for her.

I am so incredibly tired of this and have made it my practice to call myself a genius and to tell myself I’m brilliant at every opportunity. When the silly video game calls me a genius after I string together a long line of dots, I say to it, “Thank you. I know.” Sometimes I don’t even say thank you because of course my genius is obvious and I don’t have to be polite about it.

Is this immodest? Yep. I’m done waiting for the world to recognize my genius. If the orange dumpster-fire-in-chief can call himself “ a very stable genius,” there is literally no reason in the world I should not declare my own genius. I may not be as brilliant as Einstein but I am for sure more brilliant than the fascist meme machine in charge. He got pretty far by declaring himself a genius. Can I do worse?

But most importantly, I am trying to normalize women being seen as geniuses, as brilliant. I want the next generation of girls to know they are brilliant and geniuses and to apply for and get all the jobs for brilliant minds out there. (By the way, what are these jobs? I’ve never seen a job listing that asked for a brilliant mind ever. Was it because I was looking at theatre and education listings? No one would ask for a brilliant mind in those fields, I don’t think. Not the way they’re currently administered. A brilliant mind would only make trouble. As I often did.)

Anyway – I’m a brilliant genius. I hope you’ll agree. And make it a practice to call other women and girls geniuses, too. Start your practice with me, if you want – because I will, for sure, accept it. If you call me a genius, I will say, “Thank you, I know” just like I say to my game and then you can move on to your next genius, who may have been taught to be modest and deny it. They may be embarrassed and uncomfortable to hear it but call them a genius anyway. One day it will stick.

The only reason I got comfortable calling myself a genius is that I have a handful of people who have called me brilliant, who have called me a genius. It didn’t come from nowhere. You can help me spread it. 

Here’s me with my genius rainbow brain just geniusing it up out here.

This post was brought to you by my generous brilliant patrons on Patreon.

They also bring you the podcast version of the blog.

It’s also called Songs for the Struggling Artist.

You can find the podcast on iTunes, Stitcher, Spotify or wherever you get your podcasts.

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Every podcast features a song at the end. Some of those songs are on Spotify, my websiteReverbNation, Deezer and iTunes

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Is a Seventeen Year Old Girl Convincible?
August 11, 2020, 11:44 pm
Filed under: age, anger, education, feminism | Tags: , , , , ,

I sort of thought I was all done sorting through my past and re-evaluating. I’d scanned through it during the various waves of Yes All Women and Me Too. But the other day, I found myself suddenly absolutely newly furious about a relationship I had when I was 17. Before this moment, I had mostly fond memories of this relationship and, despite some ups and downs, I remained friends with the man. Until now, I’d seen this relationship with the eyes of the seventeen-year-old girl who was in it. Now I’m 46 and I realize that I had no business being involved with a twenty-three-year-old man. He should absolutely not have been messing around with me, a seventeen-year-old girl.

At the time, it all seemed very reasonable. I saw myself as an unusually mature young woman who’d outgrown boys my own age. To be involved with a man who’d already graduated from college, had jobs, even gone to war, well, there was no question I was into the idea. His attentions seemed to confirm what I imagined about myself – that I was a grown-up person ready for grown-up relationships.

But the woman I am now has suddenly realized that I was not nearly as grown up as I imagined myself and that this experience, while not all that bad, was also not good. One of the things that suddenly dawned on me was a new interpretation of his friends’ behavior. I thought they didn’t like me. I thought they thought I wasn’t good enough for their friend. I thought they were underestimating me, that they didn’t know me well enough to understand how mature I was. I realize now that they were trying to protect me. It wasn’t that they didn’t like me – they just didn’t think a twenty-three-year-old man should be messing around with a seventeen-year-old girl. They told their friend not to mess around with me and I suppose he got sort of half the message – because he told me we couldn’t date – we could only be friends. And we were. Except for when we’d make out. Except for when we’d roll around in his bed. Except for when he’d try to sneak past my boundaries. But it had to be a secret. Which now I recognize as a giant red flag – but at the time just seemed necessary, since his friends did not approve.

Now, I know his friends were right but I wonder if their attempts to help actually made the situation worse. So much of the damage was around the secrecy. Because I was a kid, I thought the secrecy was because I wasn’t good enough to date out in the open.

When this guy remarked that all of his girlfriends had been extraordinarily beautiful, I felt that the reason I wasn’t his actual girlfriend was because I lacked this essential extraordinary beauty. The whole situation was an exercise in shame. But the seventeen-year-old me could never have been convinced that this was a bad idea. Any questioning of it seemed like a knock against my own sense of maturity. Now, I know I was still a kid but, at the time, I genuinely thought I was grown.

I think this is a major factor in a lot of these predatory scandals we see. The girls think of themselves as grown-up women who are suddenly being welcomed to the grown-up world by actual grown-ups – and it is not until decades later that they realize the damage.

I’ve been trying to think of what anyone could have said or done at the time to shift my thinking around it and all I can come up with are a couple of things that shifted my thinking now. One of those things was reading Edith Wharton’s novel, The Buccaneers, and the other was watching the TV series version of the same. I feel it may have been a combination of the two. I’ll walk you through it a bit.

The central character of the story, Nan St. George, is fairly childlike when we meet her. She’s just been given a governess to look after her and she resents being given a babysitter when she feels grown but then comes to adore Miss Testvalley, her English governess. Her older sister has just come out (in the debutant sense) and so they all troop over to England for the London season. Nan meets Guy Thwaite on a tour of his house and they have some stimulating conversation about the estate, the landscape and the paintings and it’s clear they like each other but it’s also clear she’s a child.

So he goes off to South America to make some money and she meets the Duke. And the Duke is charmed by her and asks Miss Testvalley what he should do about proposing. She tells him to wait, and that, “in many ways Nan is still a child really” and he replies that that is what he likes about her.

This moment is gross in the book but it made an even bigger impact on me in the TV show somehow. Because we have seen how like a child she is, because the actor (Carla Gugino) is playing her as this vivacious, luminous, enthusiastic creature that, of course, we find charming. But we can also see how she is still a child, even though she has a woman’s body.

Suffice it to say that this marriage does not end well for The Duke and Nan. She grows up and he doesn’t like it.

There’s something about watching a girl, who, of course, is longing to be seen as an adult, end up in the hands of a man who doesn’t recognize that he should wait for her to grow up that turned on a series of lightbulbs for me.

I have no idea what effect it would have on an actual teenage girl. Would she recognize her own vulnerability as a child who feels ready to be an adult but isn’t quite? Would it help her avoid the Dukes of this world?

The educator in me really wants to be able to solve this for future generations. And, of course, I think stories are the answer because stories are powerful. The plethora of stories, songs, plays, movies, TV about a man falling in love with a young girl have played a role in how normal this feels to everyone. She was just seventeen, if you know what I mean. It’s not just Lolita. It’s story after song after film after novel after opera after play after book.

We need more stories that show us why the girl dating the older man is not a great idea. From this angle, the red flags are legion but how do we help girls see the red flags when they are blinded by the romance of being brought into the grown-up world by a grown-up man? More importantly, what stories would help men to see that underage women don’t exist? Underage women are girls. They are still children, even when they look like women.

Because I’ve spent time in a lot of high school classrooms, I know the difference. I’ve met a lot of highly mature, intelligent, vibrant teenagers. They are extraordinary humans but they are clearly still children. I cannot imagine how a healthy adult person could see them as a prospect for a romance. They are children. Intelligent, energetic, passionate children but still children.

No teenage girl wants to be seen as a child, though, which is why this problem is so hard to shake. There is nothing anyone could have said to me that would have convinced me that a relationship with a man was a bad idea. This is true for my friends at the time, too, who also got involved with men much older than themselves. None of us could have been convinced we were still girls and that these relationships might have consequences beyond us feeling grown up and ready for the world. Stories that shift this might be good for the girls but given that they are still children, I think it’s actually more important for men to see these stories, to learn the difference between a woman and a girl, to recognize their own power as adult men and wield it for good. It shouldn’t take an unfinished novel written in the 1930s to show us the way. There should be more stories. And if you’re seventeen and reading this, maybe just realize that that older man who is after you is kind of a creep, even if he seems cool now. You don’t need to wait 29 years to discover his creepitude. I’m here to tell you, if he’s a man and you’re a kid, he’s a creep.

This is Edith Wharton in 1880, which means she was about 18.

This post was brought to you by my generous patrons on Patreon.

They also bring you the podcast version of the blog.

It’s also called Songs for the Struggling Artist.

You can find the podcast on iTunes, Stitcher, Spotify or wherever you get your podcasts.

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Every podcast features a song at the end. Some of those songs are on Spotify, my websiteReverbNation, Deezer and iTunes

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Want to help me create new stories?

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