Songs for the Struggling Artist


This Is Not a Good Story

Like most humans, I’m a sucker for a good story. I like them on stage, in books, on screen, in magazines, on the radio, in podcasts, in songs and so on. I also like them over dinner or drinks at the bar. I like to tell them, too. I’m telling one right now about stories.

We are in the golden age of stories. We can get them in so many forms. In addition to the plays, movies, books, radio dramas, news and such, storytelling events and podcasts and shows have exploded onto the scene. Many of these storytelling groups run storytelling workshops where you, too, can learn to frame your experiences in a story form.

“We’ve reached Peak Story!” I shouted as the last storyteller of the evening brought his story back around to his opening teaser.

Let me back up. I did not actually shout this at a storytelling event. I did attend a storytelling event and I did think it but I did not shout it. Because I didn’t want any of those storytellers turning me into a story.

At the same time this popularization of storytelling is happening, stories are also turning up on every product. Check your bag of chips. Does it have a story on it? How about your coffee? Your toothbrush?

Branding and marketing have leapt upon storytelling with great relish. Stories sell now. When you make a product, you don’t just make a product, you also learn how to sell its story. Branding and storytelling start to blend into each other, intertwining until they become indistinguishable.

Because of this overlap with advertising, I have become increasingly suspicious of stories. Every time I hear one I think: What are they selling? And if they’re not explicitly selling something, I wonder about it metaphorically. What version of self is this person selling? What are they trying to accomplish with this story?

At a party, it’s usually pretty clear what the stories are for. It’s all interpersonal. We all have our standards that we play. Whether the story makes us look good or look bad, in a social context, they’re all an attempt to connect, to establish or affirm our place in our relationships to each other.

As soon as there is a stage and or audience involved, a different set of questions emerges for me. Why is this person telling us this? What are they revealing or hiding about themselves and sometimes even, what are they selling?

I started to think about this at that storytelling event I went to last year. I’d listened to dozens of stories over the years on podcasts like The Moth or Risk or Story Collider but watching a storytelling event live – with several professional storytellers in the line up – made me suddenly see things differently. I was struck by the disconnect between the words coming out of the storytellers and what their bodies were doing. While the words came out so self-assured, their bodies twitched and wavered. They adjusted shirts, hats and jeans. Their words were polished, their bodies told the truth.

I found the experience un-nerving. As a theatre maker, I am very concerned with the body and seeing it left out like that made me understand that storytelling, while theatre-ish, was not theatre. It sat in a kind of middle space. And I found I did not like it. I felt bad about not liking it. I felt I SHOULD like it. I felt the noble aspiration of listening to people from all walks of life, regardless of their expertise or training in stories was all good. What kind of jerk didn’t want to listen to “real people tell real stories” as a lot of these things bill themselves?

This made me think about realness. So many of the stories in a storytelling event are polished within an inch of their lives. There’s almost always the teaser, the beginning, the middle, the end, the button. “Real” people don’t often tell stories this way. They ramble. They start somewhere illogical, wind back and forth, go on tangents. They can fail. They can talk for ten minutes and when they stop talking, the story can fall flat. That’s the point at the party that many a “real” person will awkwardly say,”Welp! That’s my story!”

The trend of live storytelling events has led to a formulaic and predictable way of telling stories. Everyone has a story to tell but somehow they all seem to tell it in exactly the same way. I have come to love the awkwardly told story. It is so much realer than “real people” stories on story shows.

I think the “realness” is one of the things that troubles me about this trend. There’s a fetishization of the “real person” – and I think what is often meant by this is someone who is not an actor. The “real person” is not an actor and tells a “true” story. As someone who IS an actor and deals in stories, both true and made up, I find the realness confusing. It’s like Reality TV – which has writers, directors and editors, all of whom create the stories of the “real” people. Reality TV featured a “successful” businessman whose businesses in real life, were failing. The Apprentice Reality show led to some very real consequences out in real life. But Reality TV has very little to do with truth.

I understand the hunger for realness. I watched ALL of the San Francisco season of the Real World when it came out. It felt just like being on tour, but from my living room. At the time, it felt like a window into the lives of some real people. But I now understand that the realness of TV is about as real as many “real” stories people tell. More so now than ever before. A lot of people would rather watch “real” people on YouTube or Instagram than actors in made up stories on TV or in movies and in plays. But while Lil Tay, for example, seemed real to people, she was mostly the brainchild of her older brother. (Lil Tay was a child social media phenom last year.) In other words, Lil Tay is a character. She’s acting. She’s about as real as Luke Skywalker.

And I suppose that’s why I get so flummoxed by storytelling. Is it acting or is it just talking? Is it a performance or a presentation, like a TED talk? Is it Stand Up? I don’t know how to relate to the “real” story told on stage – which is a place of invention, of performance, of heightened or imagined reality. It is also a place for truth.

Picasso once said, “Art is a lie that tells the truth.” I think sometimes “real people” telling stories are telling truths that are really lies.

I’m not saying there is no truth and there are no facts, as many nihilistic storytellers and politicians would have you believe. There are facts. Some things are true and some things are false, just as some stories are true and some stories are false. But context is everything. I expect a journalist to tell me true things and to acknowledge when they make a mistake in that arena. I expect a fiction writer to tell me things that they made up – but that doesn’t mean there won’t be truths woven throughout. The truth can be emotional, situational, metaphorical. And it can be featured in all the stories in between. The spectrum of truth is wide and mysterious.

There’s a TED talk by Tyler Cowen about stories. I find it refreshing to watch in the midst of this moment of peak story. He is very skeptical of stories and suggests we should all be. He points out that, when asked, over 50% of people described their lives as a journey – that is, as a particular kind of story. He notes that no one declared their life “a mess” – which is probably a much more accurate metaphor for most of us. It’s just that “a mess” doesn’t easily translate into a story the way a journey does. A mess is a mess. It’s like a story “badly” told – like a story with tangents and dead ends, with extraneous facts and unnecessarily details. A real real story is like that. So is a real real life. It just goes for a while and then stops and then maybe you think, “Welp. That’s my story! That’s the end.”

But to get real with you for a second, I’m not entirely sure why I needed to tell you THIS story about stories. I don’t really have beef with the storytellers. I like stories. I like real people. But…I suppose my fear is that a cultural shift toward “realness” and stories that anyone can tell means fewer and fewer resources for the people who make art out of stories. When everyone is a storyteller, sometimes stories become devalued. When the storyteller comes to the village, the villagers won’t pay him because the baker told a good one last week. With stories multiplying in every direction, people become loathe to pay for the deeper stories, the more careful stories, because they can get simpler ones for free. Maybe I’m paranoid and there’s room in the tent for all of us. But…authors are making less money than ever before, actors are making less money than ever before, songwriters, screenwriters, poets, filmmakers, etc, are all struggling. With a handful of exceptions, artists – storytelling artists – are finding it harder and harder to get paid sufficiently for their work.

We have no national arts council. The theatres, dance companies and opera companies are shuttering – but the National Endowment for the Arts funds storytelling organizations like The Moth. It won’t fund individual artists but it will fund real people telling true stories. We have the barest of bare minimum in funding for the arts and a slice of both the state and federal pie is going to storytelling organizations. Is this a problem? I don’t know. Storytelling is cheap, comparatively, and you get a lot of bang for your buck. I understand why it’s easier to fund a storytelling event than it is to fund the ballet. I’m not trying to start a rumble between ballet dancers and storytellers, I’m just worried. I hope I’m wrong and I hope that there’s space for everyone – but I have concerns, which is why, I suppose, I needed to tell you this story.

Welp. That’s it.

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

The digital distribution is expiring at the end of the month, so I’m also raising funds to keep them up. If you’d like to contribute, feel free to donate anywhere but I’m tracking them on Kofi – here: ko-fi.com/emilyrainbowdavis

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Get Out of the Boom Boom Room

I was trying not to listen but you know how it is with actors, you kind of hear them no matter what. These two seemed to be meeting for the first time to work on their assigned scene for their class – a scene from David Rabe’s In the Boom Boom Room.

Do you know this play? If you’re a woman and were in an acting class, you surely encountered it at one point between its premiere in 1973 and… today, apparently. It’s the story of a dancer who finds work in a seedy nightclub. Acting teachers used to assign it a lot. Apparently they still do.

It’s kind of a terrible play. Like, really. The thing of it is, even if it was a great play – this was a terrible scene to assign to these two women across from me at the cafe. Not only would neither of them ever be cast in it or anything like it in their lifetimes, but they are pretty much guaranteed to fail at it. I listened to them struggle with the scene. They thought it was them. But I just wanted to scream –“Nah, girls. Nah. It’s not you – it’s the mantrification! (This is the word I was looking for in my previous post. Newly coined. Very useful.) It’s sexism.”

These two young women in the cafe were clearly beginning actors but eventually these ladies could be great in any number of parts. I’d like to see them play scientists, astronauts, horse trainers, accountants, courtiers, foot soldiers, etc, etc. But could they play a go go dancer and her go go boss? Nope. Never gonna happen. Not even with the best teacher in the world.

I think I know what this teacher was thinking. He was thinking, “I need to get these girls in touch with their bodies. I need to get them to open up and be able to play sexy.”

And, indeed, for the entirety of my lifetime so far, being able to play a sexy dancer who’s also an ingénue (or a seductive dominatrix or dominatrix who is also an ingénue with a heart of gold) really is going to get you the most jobs as an actress. If you can play a scientist, but sexy, or a girl next door who takes her glasses off and is suddenly hot, you’ll be much more marketable. I was given scenes like this back in my acting class days and I was also no good in them. Only a handful of people can be good in this sort of thing. We do the others no favors in repeating these same old tired tropes.

Many acting teachers think all women have a secret Christie Brinkley within – they just have to teach us how to unlock it. They feel this is their duty – to help every woman perform a certain kind of sexuality. But becoming Christie Brinkley is more than just shaking out your hair and taking your glasses off.

I’m not saying these ladies in the cafe weren’t sexy. Put them in the right context, I’m sure they could be sexy af. But that’s where the typical acting teachers’ logic is so twisted. One of the sexiest performances in 2018 by a woman was Rachel Weisz shooting pigeons in The Favorite. I can’t tell you the numbers of tweets I saw that declaimed this moment as “my sexuality.” Sexiness is not hair flipping and playing seductresses and go go dancers no matter how much the old creepy dudes who teach acting think it is.

Why on earth are people still assigning scenes from this play to young actors? Maybe in the early 70s there was something exciting and interesting about treating a go go dancer as a human being with problems and relationships but in 2019, we need more. I won’t dwell on the awfulness of this play (except to say that compelling a bunch of young actors to casually say the N-word for no good reason in the middle of it is just insult to injury) because this play is not the only guilty party in the constant objectification of actresses in training. I never had to work on this particular play myself but I certainly encountered dozens of others like it. It’s no wonder that the casting sites are full of women who list pole dancing as their special skill. If almost every woman in acting training encounters her own Boom Boom Room, it is no wonder our strength and power are much diminished by the time we reach an age wherein we could seize it.

And I know, I know, #NotAllActingClasses or at least I hope it’s not all acting classes these days but it’s clearly still #ManyActingClasses. Do a video search of In the Boom Boom Room and you will see acting showcase after acting showcase of young women in short skirts talking to each other about the hardships of the go go dancing life.

So, the vast majority of female identifying actors in this country are dealing with trying to play this sort of scene, if not this scene itself. I think that’s a problem and has an effect that reaches far beyond each individual class.

“Why?” you may ask. “Why is it a problem?”
Well – run this thought experiment. Gender switch this scene. Instead of two young women, it’s two fresh faced young men. Let’s say it’s Timothee Chalamet and Lucas Hedges before they got famous. Is this a good use of their time? Is teaching Chalamet how to flip his hair and pop his ass, to perform an exaggerated sexuality an effective way to teach acting? It is not. It’s a colossal waste of his time. And if he takes it to heart and continues to only perform in this way, it will ruin his talent entirely.

Once upon a time, there weren’t that many parts for women. We had to take what we could get. What were acting teachers to do if they had classes full of women, as they tended to have? You’ve got In the Boom Boom Room, Crimes of the Heart and The Children’s Hour, in case you felt like going classic.

But it is 2019. If In the Boom Boom Room is still in your repertoire, it’s time to let it and all the other scenes like it go. I know it’s easier to just work with the scenes you worked on when you were a student – but when you are training young actors, you aren’t just teaching them acting, you’re introducing them to the possibilities, to plays they might want to see or be a part of in the future.

I also understand that some scenes really allow you to teach certain things in a clearer fashion – there are scenes that allow you to teach objectives and obstacles and business and all sorts of stuff. So…tell me, what do you need, acting teachers? I know a lot of playwrights. I’m a playwright myself. What can we write for you to help you break out of the boom boom rut? We could start a whole thread of non boom boom two women scenes over on New Play Exchange.

Yes, too, as I’m sure many non boom boom teachers will point out, there are MANY MANY plays that have been written in the last 45 years that do a better job than In the Boom Boom Room. List them here, if you want. I don’t want to see another new actor trying to reconcile how to play these parts. It is time for them to disappear out of the repertoire and out of our lives.

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

The digital distribution is expiring at the end of the month, so I’m also raising funds to keep them up. If you’d like to contribute, feel free to donate anywhere but I’m tracking them on Kofi – here: ko-fi.com/emilyrainbowdavis

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Some Rejections and Some Math

Last year, my Medusa play was a semi-finalist for the Eugene O’ Neill Playwrights Conference. Given how establishment the conference is and how anti-establishment my work feels to me, I was shocked to get that far.

Also, last year, my play Errors Before Errors, written for American Shakespeare Center’s Shakespeare’s New Contemporaries contest was chosen for the finals. It ultimately went nowhere but…for a moment, visions of an anachronistic homecoming and a living writer’s wage flashed before my eyes. When I applied to the Eugene O’Neill again, in the fall, I submitted the play that had been (almost) successful at the ASC. It seemed like a good strategy to push forth a previously successful(ish) work. The rejection arrived in the mail and it had not even made the semi-finals. What works for one company does nothing for another.

Also in the mail, I received the expected New Dramatist’s rejection. For my more successful playwriting peers, that is the rejection that tends to sting the hardest. For me, it barely registers – so far outside the circle am I. It could be a life changer, for sure, if it were ever to come to pass. But the rejection was not at all unexpected.

Finally, I learned about The Great Plains Theatre Conference from a local booking agent. I thought maybe she was just talking up her local theatre thing but it turns out the GPTC is pretty prestigious and whatnot. It’s good that I applied but, surprise! I was rejected.

I feel like this rejection post is somewhat unusual in that all of these rejections are for playwriting. Usually, it’s much more of a mix. I don’t know whether I’m concentrating on playwriting more or whether it just shook down this way. I do think the two almost yeses I got last year did push me a little more in this direction. Whether that’s for good or ill, I do not know. I’ll let you know if people suddenly start clamoring for my plays.

And finally – I thought I’d add a little math to these rejection posts – especially since I’m paying for more of my submissions than I used to.

Calculation:

Fees
O’Neill – $35
Great Plains – $10
_______
Total outlay – $45

Patreon payment for this post: $127 (Thank you, Patrons!)
Gain – $82

*Wondering why I’m telling you about rejections and doing this math? 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.

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.

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

The digital distribution is expiring at the end of March, so I’m also raising funds to keep them up. If you’d like to contribute, feel free to donate anywhere but I’m tracking them on Kofi – here: ko-fi.com/emilyrainbowdavis

If you have a particular album you’d like to keep there, let me know!

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The Default Character and Why Elizabeth Acevedo Made Me Cry

Elizabeth Acevedo’s presentation at the Conference of the Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators made tears fall down my face in a way that I usually try to avoid in public. Acevedo is an extraordinary performer, writer, speaker and it’s no surprise that she took hold of the room full of writers and illustrators and moved us. But why was I crying?

At first, I thought, “Well, I’m old enough and she’s young enough that she could have been one of my students when I was doing workshops and residencies all over New York.” And while I probably didn’t teach her specifically, I certainly taught a lot of kids who could have grown up to be poets or performers. I thought maybe I was having a teacher’s kvell moment, feeling proud of my former students by watching her work. But I think it was something more.

One of the stories she shared was about her graduate training in poetry that led to her writing an ode to rats. (I’d tell you the story in more detail but SCBWI’s blogging policy forbids me from disclosing the contents of a presentation. Though if you watched the beginning of this video, which is freely available on the internet, you’d be pretty much up to speed.) At the heart of the story is a kind of mental gentrification of an artist in the midst of learning a craft. It’s a story about the way that a person in power, coddled in privilege (white, male, economically secure, always part of the dominant paradigm) can thoughtlessly dismiss a culture, a humanity, can fail to see what treasures are right in front of them.

I thought, perhaps, after hearing this story, particularly the part where all of Acevedo’s Spanish words are circled in red, that I was crying for the loss of all the books I haven’t read, all the stories I haven’t heard from the people whose art was cut off at the knees by this kind of colonialist mind set, the kind that can’t look up words he doesn’t know, the kind that can’t see an experience outside of his own. There are so many books we won’t get to read, so many poems we won’t hear, so many films and plays we missed. I mean, I’m crying for that loss again right now as I write this. It is our culture’s great loss. There is no question.

But this felt more personal. It felt like she was talking to me – like it was my story she was telling in addition to her own. I’m not Dominican. Not Latina. Not a woman of color. I cannot claim to have had my work edited to fit a whiter paradigm. My work is probably right in the white zone, probably with its own unconscious colonialist impulses. I have seen the cultural knee-capping happen to students in my orbit but that particular injustice has not been one I’ve had to face. So what is it? Why does this feel so personal? I’d love to believe I was just moved by a cultural loss but I don’t think my tears are that selfless.

I suspect the feeling is familiar even if the facts are different. I suspect I felt all the ways I have been dismissed, edited or questioned for being too feminine, too disorderly or too much trouble. I suddenly found myself looking for a word that expressed a kind of colonization of gender. I want to be able to note the action while it’s happening. I want to be able to say to someone something like “Stop patriarching me!” (but better) or to find the equivalent of calling someone a colonizer. It’s not the same, I know. I know it’s not the same. But there are many ways that women’s bodies have been claimed by others instead of the people to whom they belong.

Of course we have words for the many ways that that claiming happens – many of which have only recently become common parlance. We can acknowledge that someone has committed domestic abuse or sexual assault or sexual harassment or reproductive tyranny or gaslighting or rape or objectification, etc, etc – even something as tiny as mansplaining – but so many of these things stem from a basic entitlement to women’s bodies and space. I need a word for the whole basket. I need a word bigger than sexism. I need a word for when someone is editing the femininity (or feminism) out of my work. I want to be able to shout something better than “You’re being sexist!” That phrase is too passive. It’s something the person is being, not doing. I want something like, “You’re doing sexism!” – both so I can identify it myself and to make it clear to other people. I need a word that can help highlight the subtle ways this happens. Sexism, like colonization, is ACTIVE. It’s not just in the water. It’s something people do to each other all day long and repeat and repeat, generation after generation. Colonizers try to make people assimilate to the dominant culture. Sexism-ers (sorry, still need a word and until I find one, I’m going to keep making them up) make people assimilate into the biased binary.

I have no idea what I would have been able to create if I hadn’t already spent a lifetime in the Patriarching Machine. I hope I’ve been able to resist most of the assimilation to the sexist structures – but I know there is a colonizer and patriarchist in my own mind, who does at least as much damage to me as any sexist colonizer outside me. I’d like to believe that if someone told me my idea wasn’t good enough that I would have gone ahead and written it anyway, the way Acevedo did, but I don’t know if I would have. Or did.

At this same conference, I learned about the Default Character – this is the “Neutral” character, the one that you don’t need to specify anything about. Unless we’re told otherwise, we assume the character is male, white, upper middle class, able bodied and Christian. Any character outside this norm, tends to need to be specified.

In order to be welcomed into the mainstream, we try to make ourselves closer to the default, to the neutral. We might edit out our femaleness and/or our cultural identity. (When Boots Riley won a Spirit Award for my favorite 2018 film, he pointed out how class struggle has been pretty much invisible in film due – in part – to self-editing.)

It’s a gentrification of the mind, of art. Where has my own artistic sensibility been edited and proclaimed not noble enough for the taste-makers, educators and gatekeepers? What poems haven’t I written because I was told my experiences were not sufficient? What plays or books or songs did I set aside because they weren’t nice enough for a “nice” girl like me? Acevedo heard criticism of her rat idea and she did not fold, she did not nod and say, “Oh, okay, how about an antelope?”

She went ahead and wrote that ode to rats. And she performs it on stages and in videos and there are likely people who have heard her rat ode that have heard no other odes in their lives and so she sets a new standard, a new possibility. We can praise what had once been held in contempt. We can change the definition of nobility. We can all be noble humans and there will be no more default characters.

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.

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

The digital distribution is expiring at the end of March, so I’m also raising funds to keep them up. If you’d like to contribute, feel free to donate anywhere but I’m tracking them on Kofi – here: ko-fi.com/emilyrainbowdavis

If you have a particular album you’d like to keep there, let me know!

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Want to help me clear the cobwebs of the patriarchy from my mind?

Become my patron on Patreon.

Click HERE to Check out my Patreon Page

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If you liked the blog (but aren’t into the commitment of Patreon) and would like to give a dollar (or more!) put it in the PayPal digital hat. https://www.paypal.me/strugglingartist



Atmosphere, Art, Magic and Souffles
February 18, 2019, 10:18 pm
Filed under: Creative Process, writing | Tags: , , , , , , ,

As I write this, I’m at a table under a palm tree facing a late afternoon sun over a blue green sea. It is a beautiful location – perfect for reading or bird watching or people watching. But it is curiously not perfect for writing. At least, not for me.

About a week before, I was in a restaurant with a storied history, with a legacy of writers and revolutionaries at their tables. It was not my usual sort of spot and I didn’t have nearly enough time there – but it was perfect for writing. Why? Why? Why does a café with dusty old photographs on the walls have more power than a beautiful sunset beach?

The answer is atmosphere. There is something in an atmosphere. There is something in an atmosphere that speaks to a writer and gives a little lift to the pen. That is why a soulless Starbucks, despite a comfy chair and the “arty” décor, does absolutely nothing for me and the Hungarian Pastry Shop (if I can find a table) is magic. There is a sense of magic in a place where other artists have hashed out their arguments and ideas. There’s a kind of possibility patina of the past on the walls.

I imagine there’s a similar magic at an artist’s colony – like a Millay, an O’Neill or a MacDowell – a sort of creative breeze that blows through there, whispering concentration, inspiration, whispering solidarity perhaps?

As lovely as a beach is, as pleasant as the atmosphere can be, the beach’s inspirational voice is not so writerly. It feels very elemental, asking you to consider the sun and the moon and the waves and the primal rhythms of the universe. And none of those things make very good drama – so the atmosphere does not so much serve the work I’m interested in. Maybe if I were a nature poet it would be my fairy dust – but as it stands – the magic is most likely to happen in a dingy old café with mismatched chairs and a surly waitstaff who mostly leave you alone.

Can I write without it? Of course. I can write anywhere with coffee and a table. I can set words down in any old place. One of my regular spots is a bubble tea place with almost zero atmosphere. Seriously, the music is terrible, the lighting is terrible and the seats are uncomfortable. But it’s fine. I make it work. However – if I get a chance to be in a place that gives me more than basics, there’s more chance for magic.

I think about the practice of writing as being a little like cooking (and I’m not much of a cook so if this analogy falls flat that’ll be why.) But certainly when you set out to cook, you gather the ingredients and you can probably make a reasonable meal. Let’s say you’ve got some eggs and some milk and some flour and butter. If you mix ‘em up and put them in the oven, you’re going to get something edible.

But only under the exact right conditions are you going to get a soufflé. It can literally depend on the atmosphere.

The fallen soufflé will taste fine – you can eat it, no matter what – but to get the delicious light texture of a soufflé, you’re going to need good atmosphere. A door slam can ruin the whole thing. My writing process is the same. The ingredients are pen, paper, coffee and uninterrupted time.

In the right atmosphere, I can write a soufflé – in most instances, I’m just writing an omelet. It’s fine – it’s good – whatever atmosphere I’m in will make it’s way into the work a little bit – so if I can, I prefer a place with atmosphere that might push me past the boring old omelet and into soufflé territory.

This post, for example, is not a soufflé. It’s fine. It gets the job done – but I wrote it on a beach with tourists shouting over me about happy hour and constant interruptions and some really lousy coffee. This post could never be a soufflé – and I knew it the moment I sat down. That’s how it goes.

I sit down with the same ingredients every day and if I’m lucky, if I’m very very lucky, a soufflé will happen even in less than ideal circumstances – but mostly I just get some utilitarian art food out of my labors. And some days there’s magic.

photo by Donna Shaunesey

This blog is also a podcast.

You can find it 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

The digital distribution is expiring at the end of February for the second album, so I’m also raising funds to keep them up. If you’d like to contribute, feel free to donate anywhere but I’m tracking them on Kofi – here: ko-fi.com/emilyrainbowdavis

If you have a particular album you’d like to keep there, let me know!

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The Cafe Wall of Fame

On the wall at Café La Habana in Mexico City is a plaque that proclaims the previous presence of Octavio Paz, Ché Guevara, Gabriel Garcia Marquez and more. The rumor is that the Cuban Revolution was planned there. It is an inspiring place. The conversations of these public intellectuals soaked into the very walls.

Also, not a single woman is listed in its storied history.

It was founded in 1952. That means Frida Kahlo could have gone there in the last two years of her life. Remedios Varo and Leonora Carrington could have gone there. I know they didn’t live nearby but still, they could have. Laura Esquivel was two years old when the place was founded but I imagine she’s been there at some point in her life.

I mean – did no women come and plan there? Or they just haven’t done it yet? What if we planned the feminist revolution there? The Cuban one worked out reasonably well for the guys who started it.

I have a lot of questions about this particular place because it feels like a kind of magic to write in so potent a place. But I wonder if that magic has only ever applied to men. Did women not go there? Were they somehow unwelcome to the public intellectual’s realm? Or was it unsafe for women? Or were they there and then forgotten about? Or did they just have their coffee, conversations and revolutions at home?

As a woman who has spent time in coffee shops in many countries, I can confirm that public spaces like cafes are more male space than female. In some places I’ve been, I’ve been the only woman. On holidays I am almost always the only woman in the last open café.

It does feel as though despite our many advancements, public space like coffee shops still belongs to men. Soraya Chemaly gave one of my favorite TED talks on the subject of public spaces. The gist of it is, almost all public space is male space, in that it was designed by and for men. I can’t stop thinking about this. I’m fascinated by the architectural projects that are JUST beginning to address it. There is a movement coming, I think. But without the history, it’s very difficult. Show me the café that brags of all the women who frequented the place. (Seriously please show me – I’ll go there.) Show me the city that was planned with women in mind. (Vienna comes closest in that they made adjustments based on a survey of women’s needs back in the 90s.) All space is men’s space that others find our way through. All cafes are for men, for men’s ideas, men’s revolutions. The women’s revolution is in the house, I guess? Which maybe explains why we haven’t really had a revolution.

If women have no public space in which to gather, if we aren’t seen in public together (except for once a year at our march) then we have no public power. We try and claim space when we march. We chant. Whose streets? Our streets.
Now maybe it’s time for:
Whose café? Our café.

I’m not here to call out Café La Habana. Honestly, I can’t think of a single café in the USA that honors literary greats or revolutionaries of any gender on its walls. Café la Habana is way ahead of us in honoring writers, artists and intellectuals and I respect and admire them for it. I’m a fan.

One day in the future, I hope to make it back to that cafe, where I’ll drink another delicious lechera and on their updated plaque I hope to see many women’s names. Or maybe one of you will start a café with women in mind and we’ll all turn up to hang out and plan our revolution and someone will hang a plaque up decades later. I’d like to be on that wall with the rest of you.

Photo by Donna Shaunesey

 

This blog is also a podcast. You can find it on iTunes or wherever you get your podcasts.

If you’d like to listen to me read a previous one on Anchor, click here.

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

Every podcast features a song at the end. Some of those songs are now an album of Resistance Songs, an album of Love Songs, an album of Gen X Songs and More. You can find them on Spotify, my websiteReverbNation, Deezer and iTunes

The digital distribution is expiring at the end of February for the second album, so I’m also raising funds to keep them up. If you’d like to contribute, feel free to donate anywhere but I’m tracking them on Kofi – here: ko-fi.com/emilyrainbowdavis

If you have a particular album you’d like to keep there, let me know!

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Want to help get my name on a cafe wall?

Become my patron on Patreon.

Click HERE to Check out my Patreon Page

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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 (but aren’t into the commitment of Patreon) and would like to give a dollar (or more!) put it in the PayPal digital hat. https://www.paypal.me/strugglingartist



The Tribal Boost

As a theatre maker, I think about group dynamics a lot. When making a show, I think about how to create a cohesive ensemble of actors and an inspiring team of designers who can all bring out the best in each other. When performing a piece, I think about how an audience behaves – what makes them decide to laugh together, to clap together or to stand together.

Humans are tribal people. We look to one another for cues about how to behave – sometimes to our detriment. I’m thinking of that experiment where the participant sees smoke but does nothing about it because the others in the room fail to acknowledge it. Tribes can be centuries old or as temporary as a room full of people and if the tribe decides there is no fire, everyone might just burn up.

Tribes of people – temporary or longstanding – have preferences, aspirations and group behaviors. They have personalities. Audiences are as individual as individuals – as any performer can tell you – and they have ways of welcoming or excluding others.

At a comedy club, for example, when a man like Louis CK turns up, the audience is usually eager to hear what he might have to say. Even now. Even after his fall. He got a standing ovation when he came out at some comedy club he turned up at recently. When a woman turns up to do some comedy, the tribe is a bit skeptical. They aren’t primed to hear her. They might even be actively hostile.

I started to think about this while reading Deborah Francis White’s book, The Guilty Feminist. She talked about how Louis CK thrives in an environment that was built for him and others like him. And she’s noticed that the tribal energy at tapings of her podcast is sometimes the opposite. Her audience is mostly female and feminist so when a man turns up onstage – the audience gets a little wary. The room gets an atmosphere of “All right…we’ll hear you out, white man.” And what is interesting is that some men respond to that skepticism – perhaps the first they have ever really encountered – by getting smaller, maybe even with some nervous sputtering. (Very like a woman on an all male panel, she says.)

There’s an exercise we theatre educators often use to illustrate status that involves the players holding a playing card to their forehead that they can’t see and then trying to work out where in the hierarchy they stand by how they are treated. Kings work out that they are Kings rather quickly.

In addition to teaching differences in behavior of a King and a Two, this exercise shows how the status of a person really comes from the behavior of the world looking at them. Treat a King like a King and he becomes a King. But a Two who tries to become like a King will always be put in their place by the tribe, no matter how hard they try.

The thing is, when it comes to leadership, the world has been saying to women, “It’s up to you! Lean in! Be more confident!” The world looks at women as Twos but yells at us to be like Kings. The change is in us, the world says. But really – the change needs to happen in the tribe. The group needs to treat women like Kings instead of Twos.

For so long, tribes have cleared the way for men, have treated so many as though they were potential kings. It feels as though when a man turns up to lead, the climate of a room tends to say, “Yes! He’s here! Let’s make sure he has a place to sit and a nice megaphone and good lighting. I can’t WAIT to hear what he has to say!”

When a woman turns up to lead, arms cross, eyes narrow and the climate of the room says, “Well, we’ll give her a chance, I suppose. We’ll see what she has to say. Maybe she’ll be able to find a place to sit. Maybe she’ll be able to be heard over this din.” And some women stride right in, make space for themselves and get themselves heard and seen without too much fuss.

As someone with an interest in leading, I have always had trouble with this. If I come into a room and feel that no one wants me there or wants to hear what I have to say, I’m much more inclined to turn around and find another room than to stay in that one to fight it out. I’m really only interested in leading when I have a room full of yes. I’ve never been too keen to try and convince a room that thinks I’m a Two that I am really a King, or even just, like, a Nine.

I’m seeing now what a fight it has always been to lead. To have to convince everyone of my right to be there before I even begin is more work than I am willing to do anymore. And what is making me furious now is to see how, for so many men, the mantle of authority is just given to them even if they don’t want it or deserve it.

It starts so young, too. In schools, I’ve seen groups of riled up children get instantly calm when a man walks into their classroom. Triple that effect if he’s wearing a tie. And that effect magnifies over time. And I think it is how we’ve ended up with this horrible political situation – and the slowly awakening realization of this bias is what’s slowly shifting it. As a tribe, we have to examine who we clear space for and who we challenge, who we defer to and who we are skeptical of. Sure – internalized misogyny has been a factor but it is also a lifetime of patterns that our tribes repeat and repeat.

In her book, Deborah Frances White shares an anecdote about driving. She’d heard that London drivers were aggressive but when she drove her employer’s SUV for the first time, she experienced everyone getting out of her way. She thought, from this experience, that London drivers were extremely polite.

Then she drove a small VW Golf. She discovered that, previously, her way had been cleared because of the large vehicle she’d been driving. People had been getting out of her way due to her barreling through the roads in a big car not because they wanted to. As she puts it: “I thought everyone else was polite. Turns out, I’m an arsehole.” She makes the analogy that this is how privilege works – the “arseholes” don’t know they’re being “arseholes” – they think that others are just polite and they think they’re being polite too.

This is the thing – the SUV’s way is always clear and the little VW is always trying to squeeze in where it can. To create a sense of balance, we probably need to treat VWs like SUVs an occasion. We need to treat Twos like Kings. We need to shift the group dynamics to open up and welcome the people who have had to fight for their place.

The group endows the leader with their power or their lack of power. The group sets the tone of welcome someone with an enthusiastic yes or a skeptical no – or even just a qualified skeptical yes. Western ideology always credits the leader with changing the group but I think it’s rather the reverse. The group changes the leader. The leader becomes who they are and leads how they lead because of the group. There are a lot of interesting examples of this in the American political landscape at the moment. Donny Twimp just repeats the lines his audience likes. He explained that’s how “drain the swamp” became a thing. The people in front of him liked it so it caught on.

No way was cleared for Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez before she started but she famously wore out her shoes clearing a way for herself. And now, she is challenged at every turn. But simultaneously, those who elected her and admire and support her, buoy her up with our enthusiastic yes. That helps her negotiate all the SUVS that Republicans keep trying to park in front of her.

But American politics aside, this is all happening on micro levels as well. There are rooms women are welcome in and those we are not and no one needs to say anything for us to feel the difference. In theatres, for example, women are welcome as ingénues and chorus girls but not as leaders. (Actual thing said by an Artistic Director to some writers I know: “Oh, we don’t hire women directors. They can’t hold the room.”)

If we want to make changes, we’re going to have to bring our enthusiastic welcomes to women, especially in rooms where they have previously been met with hostility. If you’re an airline – maybe roll out the red carpet for your lady pilots. Throw them parties. I don’t know. And actually more than special treatment, women (and other people who find themselves less welcome) just need the group to have faith and confidence in them, to uncross their arms and smile and expect to be dazzled.

Having my leadership questioned and challenged at every turn in my graduate program for directing made me question my skill and has made all subsequent leading fraught with self doubt. Having been, frankly, a little bit traumatized by the tribe, I have found it harder to feel any subsequent group’s welcome, harder to distinguish what is actually a challenge to my leadership and what is just the usual workings of a tribe trying to figure something out. This is still a factor in everything I do now and led to my, more or less, giving up directing. I’m guessing that we lose a lot of women (and trans and non-binary) leaders this way.

But the group could turn it around I think. The group is powerful. The group can say “yes” enthusiastically if it wants and carry its leaders ahead. The group can welcome new leaders together, new voices, new ideas. The group can lift up all the previously under supported, under appreciated, under heard people and make a more equitable world. And it can get everyone out of a burning building when someone smells smoke, too. If the people around you don’t believe you when you smell smoke, or they aren’t lifting each other up, maybe start looking for a new tribe or even just a new audience with which to watch a show. And help that tribe give a boost to someone who needs it. It could change everything.

This blog is also a podcast. You can find it on iTunes or wherever you get your podcasts.

If you’d like to listen to me read a previous one on Anchor, click here.

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

Every podcast features a song at the end. Some of those songs are now an album of Resistance Songs, an album of Love Songs, an album of Gen X Songs and More. You can find them on Spotify, my websiteReverbNation, Deezer and iTunes

The digital distribution is expiring at the end of February for the second album, so I’m also raising funds to keep them up. If you’d like to contribute, feel free to donate anywhere but I’m tracking them on Kofi – here: ko-fi.com/emilyrainbowdavis

If you have a particular album you’d like to keep there, let me know!

*

Want to be a part of the tribe that boosts me?

Become my patron on Patreon.

Click HERE to Check out my Patreon Page

*

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 (but aren’t into the commitment of Patreon) 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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