Songs for the Struggling Artist


Put Me in Your Show

Dear Fellow NYC Theatre Makers,

Please put me in a show. You may know me more as a writer or director but I’m also a performer. I can act, sing, puppeteer, play guitar and ukulele or whatever you need. I would carry a spear like nobody’s business. I could also be a movement coach or dramaturg. Just. You know….ask me.

I know that’s not how these things usually work. I’m usually on your side of the desk. But – I’m not wanting to get back onstage because I’m trying to be a professional actor again. I don’t want to get headshots taken. (The last time I got acting headshots done they were in black and white and mine was literally just my head. I was also 21.) I’m not trying to get an agent or be seen by Mr. Guffman. I know Guffman isn’t coming and I know what the market for 40 something women who specialize in classical theatre is like.

I literally just want to do a show because I am longing for community and doing shows is literally the only way I know how to get it. The bummer of NYC theatre is that we’re all taking this stuff so seriously, we can never just do a show. And I think I need to just do a show.

I need to be in a room with a group of people all trying to create something. I need to go somewhere regularly where people would notice if I didn’t show up. (This was Johann Hari’s definition of home which I heard on the Your Undivided Attention Podcast – the place where they’ll miss you when you’re not there.)

The reason I want to do YOUR show and not my own is that, as you may have noticed, the community that forms during a show does not tend to form around the leader. The leader holds the space for the rest of the community but often isn’t a full part of it. At least that’s how it goes when I make something. When I’m in charge, I’m both inside and outside the group. I just want to be inside for a minute and I don’t want to be in charge.

I’m writing this so you’ll think of me when you’re looking for someone to hold a spear or make plunking sounds on a ukulele while the actors cavort. I’m a pretty good performer – but I don’t need to play Hamlet right now. Bring me in to be your messenger. I just want to be invited to the cast party. There is literally nothing like the instant community that theatre can create and I am thirsty for it at the moment. I have tried book clubs and cultural societies. I learned how to crochet so I could go to knitting meet-ups but what I really need is theatre. Not because I need the applause (though if you read this post you know I love applause) but because I need the community.

We don’t do a great job of creating a citywide theatre community here in NYC. Literally the only time I felt a part of it was during Devoted & Disgruntled NYC – an event organized by an English company. But almost all theatre folk are great at creating quick communities within shows. So – put me in one, if you’ve got a slot.

And while you’re at it, I bet you could find a bunch of others like me. They are practiced professionals that don’t comb Backstage looking for their next big break because they’ve got lives and responsibilities, like jobs and kids and such. But they’d probably just like to do a show every once in a while without too much hassle. You probably aren’t thinking of them when you’re casting your thing because you haven’t seen them in a while. They’ve been writing their novel or taking care of their kids or grading papers or recording their audio book – not submitting their stuff through Actors Access. Ask them. You might get lucky.

And heck – I’m not really into starting a whole new thing or anything – but if you’re a theatre person and you feel like me, drop me a line and let me know. (Comment below if you want, or message me.) I feel like I could be a keeper of a list of people who just want to do a show or at the very least get together for some pretend cast parties. (Oh my god. I would totally do this. We could all pretend we just opened some show we didn’t do and celebrate as if we had. I’m seeing name tags given out at the door so you get given your role and then you can play at being the ASM all night long.) Jeez – there I go again, compulsively making up things I’d have to lead. Save me from myself! Put me in your show!

This headshot is literally the only one I have and it is older than most of the people auditioning in NYC right now. It was taken by the wondrous Caverly Morgan. I’m not taking another one. Just put me in your show, already.

 

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A Visit from The Rejection Fairy and The Missing Legitimacy Fairy

As I am, apparently, a glutton for punishment, I wrote another play for this Shakespeare’s New Contemporaries contest like I did last time. This new play is an interstitial Jane Austen style All’s Well that Ends Well. I think it’s pretty good. The people I read it with a few months ago thought so, too. One of the actors even called me a genius, which, you know, I liked very much.

So this play made it to the semi-finals – which is a nice mile marker on the submission marathon – and then this month, was rejected. When the rejection arrived I didn’t feel anything. When I get some rejections, I have an immediate heart-sinking sensation – a sudden wave of disappointment. This one felt like nothing at first. I just went, “Yeah. That’s logical. This play wasn’t really right for them. They probably couldn’t really do the style and it features way too many women for their company make-up.” And I moved on.

But as the day went on, I sank deeper and deeper into a funk. I was sometimes angry, sometimes hopelessly sad and sometimes self-flagellating. (“You should not have gotten your hopes up on this one. You knew it was foolish to imagine this would break you through. You’ve been burnt before. Don’t get too close to that fire of hope. Stop. Stop.”)

And it’s not about this particular no. This is the No that is triggering all this because I was pinning a hope or two on it. Whereas with other opportunities, I sort of apply and forget about them – this one, I’d set a little candle by it, metaphorically speaking. The candle got lit, I think, because the stakes of it are so life-alteringly high and because I have some ties to the organization. It’s a bit different from other things I apply for and so, of course, the rejection feels a bit different as well.

This particular opportunity, if one wins it, provides a production of the play and gives the writer more money than I’ve ever made in a year. Additionally, for me, it would also reunite me with my first theatrical employer and bring me back to my homeland. There’s a lot to be desired in there. But even more than the money and the homecoming and the production, winning a prize like that would offer the kind of legitimacy as a writer that I have never known. You win a thing a like that and no one can deny that you are an actual playwright.

Despite the fact that I’ve been writing plays for over twenty years, there is somehow no stamp of legitimacy on that aspect of my identity. Because I produced and directed my work myself, my plays are often seen as vanity instead of art.

So – what I think I am really mourning here through this loss, this latest rejection, is the hopelessness I feel at ever achieving legitimacy.

Now – what is legitimacy? Oh boy. Who knows?

If my MFA had been in Playwriting instead of Directing, would I be legitimate? I don’t really direct anymore – am I a legitimate director just because I have a master’s degree? I write plays constantly. Am I not a legitimate playwright just because few people want to produce my work but me?

I don’t know where the Legitimacy Fairy lives but I sure would like her to come visit and wave her wand over me. I know her magic doesn’t last for very long, even when she visits, but still – a visit would be nice.

Also, I must have really pissed off the Rejection Fairy because she’s over here almost every day, kicking up dust and making me cry.

If anyone knows the Legitimacy Fairy, would you make sure she has my address? In the case of this recent opportunity – I didn’t need the prize money (though of course I could use it) and I didn’t need the homecoming (though that would have been sweet) but I needed some legitimacy like nobody’s business and I’m running out of ways to imagine getting it.

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In my attempts to up my submissions/rejections, I applied for a lot of residencies this year. Two were almosts, which was nice but the Nos have been rolling in. I don’t have anything to really say about any of them. You reject me in the wrong season, you don’t even merit your own separate rejection post. Sorry. We received a record number of rejections this year we regret we cannot take on all of them. But farewell to Oak Springs Garden Foundation, Jan Michalski Foundation, Bloedel Reserve Creative Residency, Siena Art Institute and New Harmony.

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I got a rejection notice that did not state who it was from. It was signed The Submission team and the body of the letter/email was so generic, it really could have come from anyone. For a while there, I was submitting query letters almost every day so there was a long list of possible senders.

For a minute I thought I was going to have to reply to ask who it was – but then I noticed a legal notice at the bottom of their email and buried in at it was the name of the agency. Boy, they really make you work for those rejections, don’t they?

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

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What to Do When Weinstein Shows Up at the Bar

When I read about the three people who challenged Harvey Weinstein at a show for young artists, I tried to imagine what I would have done if I’d walked in to an event and found him there. I hope I’d have been as brave as Kelly Bachman, Zoe Stuckless and Amber Rollo but I don’t know.

Would I be the first person to say something to him? Probably not. I’m not particularly confrontational. But I would have, I’m fairly certain, created a hex on the spot and I would have quietly but forcefully cast some kind of spell. I’m not a witch – but I think I’d just become one if I were put in a room with a monster.

What I do know I would have done if I were in the room with the repugnant Weinstein and the heroic three, what I do know is, that I’d have backed them the fuck up. I hope I would have been a first follower – as Derek Sivers put it in his video. Watch it. It’s great. It’s all about how the first person to exhibit anomalous behavior can be seen as a weirdo or pariah when they break the norms. When the first guy starts dancing, it’s weird. It could go nowhere. It probably will. But then someone comes and joins him and that someone basically starts the movement. That first follower teaches others how to follow and invites them in. Before long everyone is dancing.

In order to change rape culture, we don’t all have to be as brave as Bachman, Stuckless and Rollo (though lord knows I wish we could be) but we do all have to get better at backing brave people up. We need to be first followers.

That story would have gone a lot differently if the room had supported those women. If Kelly Bachman, the comedian, had been cheered more robustly instead of booed (she was cheered but only after having been booed!) or if the others came to stand behind and beside those who confronted Weinstein instead of trying to pull them out of the room, we could have had a story about how the people of New York just won’t stand for predators instead of a story about just three brave humans.

It’s clear that, fundamentally, not much has changed in the culture if women challenging a known rapist, harasser and predator are booed and kicked out of a club for doing so. They should have been supported. The room should have rioted as soon as Weinstein walked in. But it didn’t. Social norms took over and (almost) everyone decided that politeness was more important than anything else.

The people who confronted him broke the social norm of politeness and since there was no first follower, the room expressed its disapproval and spit them out.

What was needed in that room (besides Weinstein just simply not being there) was a First Follower. Someone to bring the room along, to maybe get a chant going after Bachman’s set.

Maybe a “Remove the Elephant from the Room” or “Rape whistle! Rape Whistle! Toot toot toot!” And just scream it until Weinstein gets his predatory ass up out of that cushy booth and hightails it out of there.

It’s not a surprise that this particular room was the way it was. In other places, Weinstein might have been booed the minute he walked in the door (as he should be) but there is not a more malleable sycophantic population than a bunch of show people trying to make it in The Business. In this particular room, everyone but the three women decided that they’d rather have Weinstein see their work, maybe even give them a gig, than deal with his problematic presence. I know that many people sitting there were thinking, “Sure, he’s a horrifying monster but maybe he can put me in a movie!” That’s how he was able to get away with so much for so long in the first place.

But some things are most important than politeness and the people who challenged him knew it. Unfortunately, the rest of the room did not and they will probably live with the shame of that for some time. They’re going to wish they’d stood up and joined in. They’re going to wish they’d been a First Follower, rather than part of that shameful crowd.

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Applying to More Stuff Means More Rejections, Natch.
October 31, 2019, 12:41 am
Filed under: Rejections | Tags: , , , , , , ,

Because they don’t have deadlines, I’d gotten a little bit lax about submitting my book to literary agents. (Also, my fire for it kind of went out.) But I had a good chat with a fellow querying writer and it inspired me to get back to querying. Lately, I have been querying a new literary agent practically every day. I have found that habitualizing things is the only way to get stuff like this done.

I write everyday because I write every day. There are many other things that I do every day because I have set up that I do them every day. Querying literary agents can be one of those things.

If I can keep this up, I expect to reach my goal of 100 rejection notices this year before the year is out. But the question is CAN I keep this up?

The problem with this new habit is that it yields me a whole lot more rejections. Round about the fifth or sixth rejection, I sort of lost the will to keep doing this every day. I’m going to have to figure out a way to keep at it in bursts, I think.

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In other rejection news:

The Willapa Air rejection sent an email declaring some email trouble as the reason they were attaching their rejection rather than just sending it.

Just what I wanted – a two step rejection revealing process.

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I appreciate that the UCross rejection notice has the rejection right in the first line so I don’t even have to open the email to know it is a rejection. “We regret to inform you” is all I needed to know what was in there.

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I wrote a story about a circus because this contest wanted stories about circuses and it seemed like something I could do. So I did. Months after I submitted it, I still hadn’t heard anything so I went ahead and submitted that circus story to a publication with a ghost theme. (My circus story featured a lot of ghosts.) Still haven’t heard from the circus contest but the ghost publication has already sent their rejection notice.

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I entered a couple of writing contests for fiction. The Santa Fe Writers Project and Craft both sent their rejections recently. I had no expectation that I would win them but sometimes all the No can be a little bit relentless.

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

 

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

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My New Coping Mechanism
October 25, 2019, 6:58 pm
Filed under: American, anger, resistance | Tags: , , , , , , , , ,

A year ago I was so angry, I felt like I could destroy villages with my fury. The Kavanagh hearings gave me a powerful rage. I’d never felt anything like it. I really did feel like a dragon.

But over the last year, despite many awful, infuriating things happening, I have not felt the same fire-spitting rage in a while. The rage doesn’t usually feel good but I have noticed that it is energizing and this last year has felt just low level horrifying – like poison dripping. My rage is just sort of simmering. I’ve become almost numb to it. I read about another atrocity and instead of wanting to kick something, I just shake my head and say, “Oh, this now?”

I worry that the relentlessness of the horrors and bad behavior has immunized me to things that really should make me rage. I feel like this is happening to a lot of us. We can’t reconcile the relentlessness of the news so we sort of numb out.

That numbing out, that pushing aside of the nightmares has not been good for me – not for my physical or mental health. I actually think I was doing better when I was kicking mad. So, I decided I needed to find a way to adapt to these screwed up circumstances. I decided to scream every time I read or heard some new infuriating fact. Screaming is releasing and physical and expressive. I thought it might help get the fury out of me rather than letting its poison build up in there.

But. I do live in a dense urban area. And probably my neighbors don’t need the extra worry of a woman screaming all the time. So I’ve implemented the Silent Scream response.

A Silent Scream has the physical benefits of a voiced one without the sound that might make the neighbors nervous or damage the vocal chords. The Silent Scream can be small or large. It can expressed through just the face or the whole body.

News about a moat filled with alligators? Silent scream. Story about the gag rule’s impact on the country? Silent Scream.

I silent scream so many times a day now. Sometimes I forget and I read some bit of news and start to feel a sinking sensation of hopelessness – but once I notice it, I open my mouth and scream silently and I feel a bit better – more powerful – more energized – less hopeless.

So this is your invitation to join me. Throw your head back and let it out. And maybe eventually we might start doing it in public. The women’s march might feature an epic simultaneous silent scream. Or a voiced one.

I read about a Mexican tradition wherein the population has a good collective shout on the fifteenth of September at 11 o’clock for an hour in honor of independence.

I don’t know if I could scream for an hour – but I do know that a good collective scream (silent or voiced) might just be the thing I need.

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The Weird Perils of Surviving in the Arts

It WAS a magical show. It’s not that we didn’t have difficulties – it’s just that they were so minor in the face of the magic afoot. The cast was talented and smart and game. The design team was innovative and generous. The musicians were curious and supportive. The three of us who made it happen thought of ourselves as Charmed Ones – bringing forth good art magic. It was a charmed time, I think. And I don’t think I’m wrong about how good it actually was.

Anyway – that was 18 years ago. A baby who was born on the day we started rehearsals is probably preparing to go to college. Time has passed. But for me, it still feels quite fresh. It is part of my artistic continuum– the first step on a long road – and therefore a still significant card in my deck. For most of the other people involved, it is a pleasant memory. It is a show they did in that (perhaps) brief period of making a go of theatre in New York at the dawn of the century. It has become a bit of nostalgia – something to tell their kids about.

Since that show in 2002, at least 18 children have been born to people involved in it. A few of them have remained in theatre but have moved to other parts of the country. As far as I know, I am the only one left of that 22 person team doing theatre in New York. And even I have scaled way back.

It’s become clear what a young person’s game theatre can be. The large majority of that magical team were young artists. We were mostly in our late 20s and we were all on fire. But without sustaining support, without sufficient opportunities to keep working, most people made the quite sensible choice to leave theatre or New York or both. I did not make that sensible choice and while I wouldn’t have, couldn’t have, done it any other way, I am running into some surprising new perils in sticking around this long.

For example, enough time has now passed that shows that I think of as contemporary are, for others, part of their crazy artistic long distant past. Shows that were and are the most important things I’ve ever done are now, to others, comparable to a fun party they went to a long time ago. It is a very weird feeling. I used to be surrounded by hordes of people who all seemed to believe that theatre was the most important thing in the world and over time, almost everyone has found other things that are the most important to them, while I remain.

I have so many conversations wherein people express surprise that I’m still at it. There is often a tone that sounds a little like, “You’re still playing with dolls?” If feels as if, to most people, theatre was a childish thing that they put away with all their other childhood toys and almost no one can believe I still have mine.

When I first started putting on shows, it was all fresh and new and I felt I had so much to learn and discover. I was pulling on so many threads and bits of training. I figured out how to work with our masks from books, learned Rasa Boxes from our Movement Director and threw in some training in Viewpoints I’d gotten a few years before. I didn’t have a method, per se, but I did know what I was after and tried anything and everything to get it.

Now – I am much clearer about my methods and techniques. All the things I’ve learned over the years have sort of coalesced into my own practice. I have acres more confidence in my ability to get a group of people where I want them to go. But all that hard won knowledge feels wasted due to the fact that I rarely have the will and/or energy to raise the necessary funds to make a show happen. I have had my theatrical heart broken a lot and it is hard to love again.

I can say, with a fair amount of confidence, that I would make an objectively better piece of theatre than I could 18 years ago. I know what I’m doing now in a way that I did not then. But what I had then was a kind of unbridled enthusiasm and positivity, as well as some delusional optimism. Turns out, that may be the more valuable commodity.

Let’s say you met a genie who told you he could give you either endless unbridled enthusiasm for your work OR highly evolved skill and knowledge – but you could not have both. Which would you choose?

In previous years, I’d have thought that skill and knowledge would be a better choice but having seen how things work, well…part of my hard won knowledge is the realization that unbridled enthusiasm tends to get people a lot further than skill. Take the genie’s first offer. With your enthusiasm, you can fundraise and hire someone with knowledge and skill.

In the not quite two decades since we put on that first magical show, I have made many things, taken many risks and put on a lot of shows. The company lost actors to other professions, other callings and other cities. Two of our regulars were lost to fatal illness. Things happen in 18 years. Births, deaths, art, all of it.

That first show eighteen years ago was connected to the cycles of the world. It was about Persephone and how she came to live in two places – the Underworld and the world above. Since we made it, there have been seven Spiderman movies and a couple of versions of a Spiderman musical. Given the way the world retreads the same stories again and again, it has not come as a surprise to me that a show based on the same mythical source material has become a hit show on Broadway. I’m sure there were many wonderful Persephone shows somewhere before ours ever came into being. It’s clear if you live long enough that you’ll see these sorts of things happen often. It’s probably never easy to watch the world embrace things that it ignored when you made them but maybe you get used to it the longer you keep at it.

There’s a chapter in Elizabeth Gilbert’s Big Magic where she talks about ideas sort of floating around in the atmosphere and then gifting themselves to the person that is ready to receive them and bring them forth into the world. I have found this concept comforting and motivating. It has helped me welcome the crazy ideas that occur to me and justify my work on them. I think, “Well, that idea chose me to come through. It must be a good one and I have to honor it.” The part I have yet to be able to reconcile is the bit that comes later – after I’ve made the thing and after I’ve fulfilled the promise to the best of my ability – and then the idea goes and flies off to someone else, to go do it for a bigger audience.

I don’t think anyone could have warned me about some of the more unexpected perils of sticking out a life in the arts. No one could have prepared this particular road for me. The only things I could say to my younger self if I could time travel and give her advice are: Grab hold of that unbridled enthusiasm and ride it for all its worth. Catch hold of the ideas flying by and ride those, too.

But everyone will tell you that sort of thing. And honestly, that’s pretty much what I did. So…I don’t know. Merde?

I suppose my real hope is to speak to those, like me, who have been at it for a long while to just say – Yep. Of course it’s unsustainable. Yep. It’s weird in so many unexpected ways. Yep. I’m here too. We’re here and it’s weird.

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

They also bring you the podcast version of the blog.

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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The Collective Emily Davis

You guys. Sometimes I get a little cranky about how common my name is. Like that time, a while back, when some other Emily Davis got into some serious debt and caused debt collectors to call me at various relatives’ houses because they couldn’t be sure I wasn’t THAT Emily Davis and they really wanted to find her.

Or when they wouldn’t give me a mailbox at my college post office because they said I’d just come in and withdrawn. Uh. Nope. I’d just arrived for my first year of college and I was super freaked out and the thought of not getting mail seriously wigged me out. (It was before email. No mail was serious back then.)

When I started to explore putting solo music online, I discovered an Australian Emily Davis who seemed to be doing pretty well. That was one other Emily. Then, a few years ago, I started to get tagged in Facebook events for shows I was not in. There was a new actress in town with my name and she was starting to get some traction.

Then recently I got a postcard in the mail for a show that declared “Emily Davis is mesmerizing” and I felt very weird.

On one hand: how nice! I am mesmerizing. I am glad someone finally noticed!

On the other hand: It’s not actually me that has been declared mesmerizing and it’s distressing to feel like this will be the only way I will ever be declared so. I started to feel bad about it and a little bit jealous of all the other Emily Davises who are doing better than I am at things I also do.

I mean, that’s the thing, I think. I’m pretty sure I wouldn’t begrudge the success of a lawyer Emily Davis or a VP of marketing Emily Davis or a construction onsite Forewoman Emily Davis. It’s only the Emilys in the arts that trouble me. And maybe not even just the arts in general. I think I’d be delighted about a sculptor Emily or even a lighting designer Emily. It’s just the Emilys who do stuff I do. The actor Emily and the singer/songwriter Emily are the ones I know about. I’d for sure struggle with a writer or director Emily, too.

This is not a new problem. When I started acting, I was pretty sure I wouldn’t be the only Emily Davis out there so I used my middle name right out of the gate. (My middle name is Rainbow for those of you who missed the announcement last year.) I thought it would help distinguish me from the herd – not just the other Emily Davises but anyone. When I moved more into writing and directing, though, I worried that my middle name might be a hindrance in people taking me seriously so I dropped it. As a woman in a male dominated field, I felt a need to project a tougher image. I needed all the help establishing authority that I could get. I submitted my plays as E. Davis, with the hope that someone might think I was Edward or Edgar or something and give E a shot they wouldn’t give Emily. There is evidence that this sort of thing makes a difference. That’s why I did it. But my work is pretty obviously made by an Emily and not an Edgar, I think – so that strategy never worked.

Anyway – I am still Emily Davis, regardless of whether the Rainbow is included and there are a lot of other Emily Davises. Because I found myself getting jealous and resentful of another Emily’s success, I decided I needed to reframe my responses to the others. I think I need to think of us a collective – the collective Emily Davis instead of competing ones. Instead of seeing another Emily’s success as a challenge to mine, I can see it as a lift for the collective. When one of us does well, we all benefit.

And this is not just a mind trick, I’ve realized. Practically, if Australian Emily has a hit song, it will drive traffic to my music as well, even if it’s only accidental. I mean, she gets 5000 listeners per month on Spotify and I get 36. I’ll take her spillover.  As the other New York actor Emily gets great reviews for her production at the Vineyard, there will be those who, in searching for her, will end up on my website, who check out my theatre company. And vice versa. Maybe someone looking for me will find one of them and fall in artistic love.

Previously, I’ve really only experienced the painful moments – when someone expected to see a different Emily and is disappointed to meet me instead. But I think, as a collective, we can turn this around. I am uniquely myself – the one and only Emily Rainbow Davis but I am one with the collective Emily Davis and I am proud of all of us.

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