Songs for the Struggling Artist


The Difference Between A and Z and Progressive Politics

My State Assembly member has been kind of amazing at her job. Let’s call her A because this is about her but not really about her. She is amazing, though. She’s super progressive and has gotten some really sticky legislation passed. She’s kind of heroic that way. Every time I’ve sent her emails through ResistBot or something, when I wasn’t QUITE clear who was supposed to handle the thing I was concerned about, she has responded to those emails immediately and almost every time, the response has been something like, “Thank you for your message. I sponsored a bill about this and am working to pass it now.” It’s happened more than once. She’s ahead of me every time. She’s remarkable. So – that’s A.

Z showed up a few months before the primary elections. We started to get flyers from him and see posters. I couldn’t figure out whose seat he was running for because he was pitching himself as a progressive change candidate and both of our state reps are some of the most progressive reps around. Like, who is he trying to unseat? Our progressive State Senator who kicked off the Cancel Rent movement? Or our state Assembly Member who has been helping the senator to get it passed and co-sponsored the police accountability bill? But it turned out it was A that Z was running against – our amazing State Assembly Member.

From the start, something about Z’s campaign rubbed me the wrong way and it made me feel very strange. I agreed with his positions, sure, but those positions were basically the same as our current rep. What case could he possibly have for replacing a seasoned, highly capable progressive woman?

Well – we found out soon enough that his narrative was that she had taken money from Real Estate after pledging not to. That was pretty much it. And, yes, that real estate business did give me pause. It seemed out of character for her to do such a thing but you know – she’s a politician, you can never be sure. But, most importantly to me, if she had taken money from real estate, it hadn’t impacted any of her legislative choices. She remained a fierce advocate for tenants and for canceling rent.

Z was saying stuff I believe in but A was doing stuff I believe in and has been for 9 years. So – after considering them both carefully. I filled out my absentee ballot enthusiastically for A.

And I cannot stop thinking about these two, especially now that preliminary election results are trickling in and he’s ahead of her by 600 votes. Because here’s the thing – there was no reason for him to run. Everything he wants to do, A is already working on and has the colleagues in Albany and the consensus in the community to do it. She’s good at her job – and he’s never done this before. Why is he running? It feels like he’s running because he can. Because he has friends in high places who want to help get him into politics and maybe he’s got a little bit of a hero complex.

Z is very charming. But for a guy who has a “Feminism for All” platform on his website, it feels a little out of alignment with his ideals to try and unseat a highly capable older woman who fought like hell to get where she is and continues to fight like hell for her constituents. She’s on the young side of Gen X. He’s on the young side of Millennial. This whole campaign has the flavor of the young man turning up and expecting to be hailed as a king for doing the thing the woman has already been doing for almost a decade. She’s a lifelong member of this community. He moved here a year and a half ago. There are things in our freezer that have lived here longer than him.

And there is another layer. We don’t have class here in America. (Boy, do we ever not have class!) But if we did have classes (and I’m kidding, of course we do, we just pretend not to) she would be from the working class and he would be from the ruling class. Her parents ran a deli. His parents are a renowned professor at an Ivy League college and an Academy Award nominated Hollywood film Director.

So – now we’re looking at a working class Gen X woman just beginning to experience the erasure that kicks in for women in their 40s being possibly pushed out by a ruling class interloper Millennial man.

And fundamentally, their positions are almost exactly the same. They disagree about almost nothing. In their on-line debate, he pretty much wanted the same stuff she did but felt it wasn’t done fast enough. A pointed out that until last year they’d been blocked by a Republican senate and were playing catch up a bit. It’s as if Z had no awareness of what had come before. As if he had never heard of the IDC (faux democrats who blocked progressive legislation) that A had to fight so hard to change. But he’s been out, chalking the streets, blanketing the neighborhood with his expertly branded flyers – repeating all the slogans of the moment. In this debate, he proclaimed that we must defund the police and I could almost hear the hashtag. A agreed that yes, we do need to reallocate funds from the police to our schools and such. She’s been working on it.

This whole campaign feels like a big picture version of a woman sharing her idea at a meeting and then a man says exactly the same thing a few minutes later and everyone ooohs and ahhhhs. Except in this case, not only has the woman just said her idea, she’s also already done all of the work for it. And then the man swoops in and gets the applause. The more I think about it, the more enraged I get.

The gender dynamics are one thing and the class dynamics are another. Z’s campaign is sponsored by the Democratic Socialists of America (DSA). And theoretically, the DSA should have some awareness of class. Theoretically, the DSA, as a left leaning organization, should have some affinity with the working class – but rather than offering their support to the current working class woman Assembly Member, they threw their weight behind a ruling class man. The DSA has had some real struggles with how their gender politics are perceived throughout the Bernie Sanders campaign. They’re really not doing themselves any favors in that department here. Anyway – A had the endorsement of almost every union – that is, the support of labor. Z had the endorsement of celebrity members of the DSA. And why on earth is the DSA not aligned with labor? Isn’t that the whole point of socialism? To support the working class? Oh man. This whole thing gets me so worked up.

Because here’s the thing. A has been one of the most fierce advocates for women in our state. She got major sexual harassment legislation passed and she co-sponsored the Reproductive Health Act. I just noticed in her latest email newsletter that she’s pointed her constituents to where they can get free period products – addressing period poverty – a thing I’ve heard almost no one talk about in this country. She’s not out here bragging about it because frankly, she’s not that great at self promotion. She’s a classic Gen X woman, just getting the job done. If we lose her, we will lose one of the best feminist lawmakers I’ve seen.

This should be a highly local race – but Z’s donors include many celebrities who not only don’t live in the neighborhood, they don’t even live in the borough. A’s donors are mostly local. And yes, she did take some money from the police union but they’re a labor union too, so it’s complicated – and she gave it back. As for those hotly contested donations that Z accused A of receiving from the Real Estate Developers – they discussed them during the debate. Let me remind you before I tell you this story, that these donations have literally been the centerpiece of Z’s campaign, they are what all his volunteers have been primed to speak about and the issue that has been on all his materials. Just remember that.

Now – they’re on this Facebook live debate and Z names these two donors and proclaims them to be the most egregious real estate people in the area. Let’s call them George Smith and Carol Jones. When A is given the opportunity to respond, she lets Z know that what he doesn’t know is that here in the Greek community, lots of people have the same name. So George Smith is not George Smith the Real Estate developer but his cousin, George Smith. Z is stunned and asks her about the other one, Carol Jones. Turns out, Carol Jones owns not one piece of property and works as a paraprofessional – in other words, about as far away from a real estate developer as you could get.

The central issue of Z’s campaign against A is not real. It’s a giant mistake and it’s a mistake that reflects a lack of knowledge about a very large swath of our historically Greek community. It was a hell of a moment. Now – did Z apologize? No, no, he did not. It was as if it had never happened. And even though he learned this days before the election, all of his volunteers were still declaring that the reason to vote for him was because his opponent said she wouldn’t take real estate money and then she did. But that’s a lie. It was a mistake before. Then it became a lie. And it burns me up. Especially because it seemed to have worked, for at least 600 more people than I would have liked.

The thing is, though, this is a super local race. So local. You don’t know A and you don’t know Z (though you probably know his mom since she’s a super famous director). Whatever the results, it will likely have no major impact on anyone outside of New York State. But the pattern, folks, the pattern. This pattern keeps repeating itself and repeating itself. And now it’s repeating itself between two ideologically similar candidates.

We fall for the charming ruling class young man who swoops in to “save the day” while the working class women who’ve done all the hard work are erased and I am so done with this.

I don’t know what’s going to happen with this particular election. Two thirds of the votes were absentee and haven’t been counted yet and I know at least two of them are for A but I’m mostly just mad at the DSA for running Z here. Take that condescending ruling class meme-itude somewhere that needs a progressive candidate. We have one. She’s great. She may be unpolished (and boy, I know she’s unpolished – A, blunt lawmaker that she is, when asked what she’d do first in the legislature brought up the reclassification of rape. In the process, she probably said the words “anal rape” four times. No political advisor in the world would have advised that.) but she is amazing. I enjoy the lack of polish quite a bit, actually. It is very refreshing.

Why on earth did the DSA, if they wanted a candidate in this neighborhood so badly not just ask her if they could endorse her? If there was something they wanted to get done that she wasn’t doing, why didn’t they just lay that out to see if it’s something she could work on? I really do not understand at all why an organization that is supposedly for the working people would try to displace a lefty working class woman to install a ruling class elite man.

As A said about the DSA in a local article, “I don’t disagree with any of the issues that they’ve put forward, from criminal justice reforms, to decarceration, to making sure that we expand healthcare, to making sure that we protect our environment — I don’t know how you can run from the left of me. There is no room.”

It’s definitely not the first time a man has pressed his way into a woman’s space when there was no room for him there.

Coincidentally, there is another as yet undecided election in our area with oddly similar demographics. In the congressional race, another handsome South Asian Millennial man is running to defeat the older white woman incumbent. But, in that case, there was ample room on the left. The incumbent there has voted with Republicans on several things and is closely tied to New York Real Estate interests. I was very happy to vote for the progressive man challenging her. He would replace a woman who’s done some racist things, some anti-vax things and I would be very happy to see the back of her. In this case, the younger man is actually more progressive. So I’m not saying no young man should ever replace an older woman. Some should absolutely be replaced.

But this situation is not that other situation. In the case of A and Z, when their views are essentially the same, it mostly just feels like an intense example of sexism, as well as classism and ageism. It reminds me of that classic cartoon of a group of people at a meeting and the man at the head of the conference table says, “That’s an excellent suggestion, Miss Triggs. Perhaps one of the men here would like to make it.” It feels like the electorate is saying, “Nice ideas, A, is there a man available who could make them?” And lo and behold, one arrived and here we are, possibly about to lose one of the most feminist lawmakers we have.

“Yeah, guys, this one prop piece of paper is gonna do the trick, along with these empty file folders. We’ll just put on these outfits and the votes will fall at our feet. It’s just a woman we’re running against. Nothing to worry about.”

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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Something About Juliet, Naked

Despite generally being a Nick Hornby fan, I resisted reading Juliet, Naked for a while because of the title. When I finally read it, I remember being glad that it wasn’t actually about a naked woman. I remember liking it but I’m fairly certain I was in a different decade of my life then.

After watching the film version, I find I’m curious to re-read the book – to find out if it’s as problematic as I found the movie. I was going to say “sexist” instead of “problematic” but I’m not sure if the movie is as sexist as the world is. It just highlights some of the ways the world is sexist and it’s problematic for me because it’s also a bit seductive.

Ethan Hawke plays a rock star who has gone full Salinger and fallen off the map. Chris O’Dowd plays the leader of his fan club and Rose Byrne plays Chris O’Dowd’s girlfriend. It’s a funny little music love triangle, that deals with fandom, art and change. Chris O’Dowd is clearly the Baxter and Ethan Hawke is the sexy grandpa and who will Rose Byrne choose? Spoiler Alert: It’s Ethan Hawke. As every Gen X-er knew she would. Because Ethan Hawke is the Gen X dream man, even as he lies in his hospital bed, surrounded by all his ex wives and neglected children as a man who has always been a troubled cad. He’s just become a grandpa and he’s grappling with all his past mistakes and boy, does that guy come with a whole train full of baggage. As a woman who is only a few years younger than Ethan Hawke, I found myself wanting to warn the younger Rose Byrne character to steer clear. Don’t do it, Rose! All that baggage might seem like it’s fun to overcome from where you’re standing now – but you’re not going to change him!

But it’s Ethan Hawke. So you sort of get it. Yes that guy is trouble but he’s trouble in a way that seems fun. He has a heart attack and terrible relationships with all but one family member but still a charmer. He’s a heck of a project for a guy in his late 40s.

But the thing that troubles me is that there is no comparable story with a woman in her late 40s. No younger man comes along to absolve her of all her past sins and to help her make a come-back.

In the Juliet, Naked film, there was nary a woman over 35, as far as I could tell. Maybe one of his exes for a few seconds but mostly not. The lead romantic interest had to be young because she wants to have a baby and the drive to have a child is what drives a large portion of the plot.

And I don’t know, I guess I agreed with cranky grumpy face O’Dowd’s character who’d just rather not have kids. And I’m mad that there are never female characters who feel that way. There’s something in the way movies always talk about this that makes it feel like it is a woman’s innate natural desire to reproduce and if she doesn’t, it’s because some uptight man, like Cranky Grumpy Face, is in the way.

The movie of Juliet, Naked tweaks the standard romantic comedy story just enough to feel like it’s subverting the genre while it actually reinforces it. There’s just no way we could ever see its opposite. It’s the same reason the gender swap of High Fidelity doesn’t really work. Because those types are so strongly gendered and any reversal just makes it clear that is not a world we live in.

There are so many barriers in the way of gender swapping Juliet, Naked. Let me pitch it to you and notice where all the stops are. In it, I’ve recast Ethan Hawk’s character as Parker Posey, an indie Gen X dream girl. Byrne and O’Dowd have just switched roles here. SPOILERS implied.

Chris O’Dowd is feeling unfulfilled in his life and relationship. He wants kids but his long term girlfriend, Rose Byrne, doesn’t. Rose Byrne is a mega fan of a Patti Smith-like reclusive rock star, played by Parker Posey. Parker Posey had a number of artistically successful albums and then disappeared. The mystery of what might have caused the disappearance keeps Rose and her fellow fans very busy on message boards. Then someone sends a demo copy of Posey’s hit album to Byrne – but O’Dowd hears it first. He listens to it before Byrne and declares it not as good as the finished album. Then Byrne hears it and falls in love with the rawness of it. There is conflict – but they both write reviews of it and Posey emails O’Dowd to tell him he’s right.

Posey and O’Dowd start an email relationship wherein they confess their baggage. Posey’s is that she has had and abandoned four children, and is finally giving motherhood a go with her 5th. She becomes a grandma when one of her erstwhile kids has a kid and so she comes to the country O’Dowd is in. Then she promptly has a heart attack.

O’Dowd comes to the hospital and discovers the noisy family who have come to see her. Posey invites herself to his house to recover from her heart attack. A romance blooms between the young O’Dowd and the aging Posey.

Do you see how this movie is sort of impossible? I mean, I’d watch it – because I love Parker Posey and it would be super weird but also, it would be super weird!

But whatever, you know, man, whatever. The movie is problematic, so what? So what? I don’t know so what. For me the so what is that there are so many things about this movie that I liked, so many twists on the romantic comedy structure that I found it very compelling and it is its compellingness that makes it especially problematic for me. I felt sucked in by it and melancholy when it was over. I wanted those crazy kids to get together! Do they?

But should they get together? No. I don’t think so, actually. I think Ethan Hawk’s character should get together with a woman his own age and not go around fathering any more children.

And Rose Byrne’s character should hook up with some nice man who’ll make her dinner and worship the ground she gorgeously walks on. I mean. I don’t know. There was just something about this movie that so insidiously cracked open the seams of the genre while also making me feel the usual things this genre makes a susceptible person feel. I don’t like being a susceptible person and I felt like this movie made me succumb to its charms – and then left me in the record bin, nostalgic for some lost time and also like, disappointed.

I can’t recommend this movie, obviously. But if you watch it, please tell me. I feel like I need help sorting out the box of problematic things it revealed. And by problematic, I might mean sexist. 

Here’s Parker Posey in a photo via WikiCommons by Tabercil. Don’t you want to see her play Ethan Hawke’s part just to see what would happen?

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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The World I Imagined When I Was a Teen

I wrote this a few months ago and haven’t posted it because so much has been happening and a post about imagining a different world feels so weird in a world absolutely none of us imagined. But maybe it’s nice to time travel. Maybe it’s nice to pretend we’re in the world of a few months ago when this is what I was thinking about.

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Once upon a time, I dreamed of the world I would inhabit as an adult. I thought I would grow up to be Ann Magnuson or Annie Potts. I thought I would hang out in the cool clubs from Desperately Seeking Susan and be taken to a restaurant that had glass tables where I could watch myself while I was eating. The adult world I imagined featured a lot more cool haircuts and funky suits than I ever see in my actual adult life.

I have been thinking a lot about the way we create expectations but also how we create our worlds. The world I imagined no longer exists. It may have only existed in film and TV and it was created by the adults of the moment.

It may have been the underground in the 80s but that underground is long gone.

I find I’m a little disappointed. I live in the very city that used to look so cool in Jonathan Demme or Susan Seidelman’s films but there is nothing here that is as cool as those films. There are so many banks and yogurt shops and hardly any funky thrift shops. You will never stumble upon a crazy cool jacket like Madonna wears in Desperately Seeking Susan – but you can find a dozen high-end cupcake shops.

It just strikes me that every generation probably imagines that their adulthood will look like the cool adults in the previous generations. We think we will grow up to live like what we saw in our youth, despite the fact that when you look backwards, the common denominator is change.

No one grew up to live in the world they imagined when they were children. No one. The first generation to grow up reading novels probably imagined they’d have a life like the ones in books but those lives were already in the past by the time they read them. The children growing up reading the first novels likely lived in a world that looked nothing like the one they imagined.

Maybe a few decades ago, someone dreamed a future full of banks and yogurt shops and so created a New York that reflected that dream. Possibly a yogurt shop and bank New York looks very cool to young people coming up now and they will be disappointed to arrive here in ten years time when yogurt shops are no longer in fashion and there are no more brick and mortar bank branches.

I suppose the tragedy and gift of the world is that change is so inevitable, no one can ever live in the world they imagined when they were young. In so many ways, the world I live in now is far superior to the one I imagined. A South Korean film won best picture and there’s so much interesting TV. There’s been enormous gains in social justice (though not quite as many as I’d hoped for) and technology is like magic.

There’s better coffee and abundant Poke to be had. I bought a pair of glasses for $15 and the Affordable Care Act has made health care a possibility for me and many of my artist friends.

There are a lot of things that are way better than what I imagined but some things are worse, too – and mostly a lot less cool. I’m an Ann Magnuson girl in a bank and yogurt world who knows the world is ever in flux and will never be as it was or what we imagine it will be. That’s just the deal. I know it and I still think it’s weird.

 

Look at Ann Magnuson in the early 80s. This is the only photo of her on Wikicommons and it is perfect. She’s so cool. Why isn’t the world this cool?

 

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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There Will Never Be a Gen X President?!?

A few months ago, a friend sent me an article about Gen X and the presidency that was in the Financial Times. (Write a whole series on Gen X, people will send you Gen X articles.) In the article – the millennial writer expresses his admiration for Generation X while simultaneously declaring that we are about to miss our shot to have one of our own become president. I started to write something about it but then I let it go. It seemed to just be a fleeting inconsequential opinion piece in the Financial Times. I can’t catch every single bit of silly Gen X-ery that floats by!

But then this idea came up again in a Gen X themed interview on the Brian Lehrer show. The guest host asked Ada Calhoun (author of Why We Can’t Sleep, a book on Gen X women) about this idea that we’ll never have a Gen X president and I got mad. Not because we won’t have a Gen X president. I don’t really care about that one way or another. But what I did get upset about is the weird ageism or bias that’s built into that assumption.

I also got mad because I bought it for a second. For a second, I thought it was real. That we really had missed our Gen X presidency shot. I mean, sure, I can see how Beto O’Rourke would be a classic Gen X president. Cory Booker was a little more corporation-friendly than the typical Gen X-er – but he literally ran into a burning building to save someone back when he was mayor of Newark. I liked his chances of saving us in burning country. And I was very very sad when we lost honorary Gen X-er Kamala Harris in this race. (She’s just on the cusp being born in 1964.) I had no idea that Julian Castro was Gen X until just now and now I’m doubly sorry he’s left the race. But this election is not our only shot.

I don’t know if you noticed but we’ve got a lot of old folks running for President these days. Who’s to say some Gen X-er won’t win the presidency at age 80? We’ve got decades to deliver a presidential candidate. I mean, before I float this next idea, I need you to know that there is no world wherein I would like for this to happen – but Ted Cruz (a Gen X-er, I’m a sorry to say) could run for president in his 80s and in a cockamamie enough world, people could elect him. (Please, no!) What’s this assumption that it’s all over about? Is it the fear that we’ll be skipped again? That we’ll have a millennial president before we get a Gen X one?

Yeah. Sure. We could. But – whatever, you know? I’d be delighted to have Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez before Paul Ryan. Go on, Ilhan Omar, Lauren Underwood, Xochitl Torres Small and Katie Hill. Step on ahead my millennial goddesses!

But… the door isn’t closed for us. I mean – Ayanna Pressley, Rashida Tlaib, and Katie Porter are all Gen X mega-stars and I’d love to see any one of them with a shot at the presidency at some point. (Maybe we can get Julian Castro next time?) I get that we’re all in the middle of a pretty brutal U curve and it really does pretty much feel like this is the end for us. Gen X men are knocking themselves off in droves and Gen X women can’t sleep. I see why this bias exists. Most of the dominant voices of our generation are dead – so of course it’s hard to imagine ourselves as old.

But we don’t have to be president right now. I’m guessing most of us aren’t interested. Given the current one in office, I’m not sure the presidency is quite the pinnacle of accomplishment it once was. But maybe, if we can survive past this year, we can prepare for a Gen X presidency in the year 2032. Or, you know, whatever.

Really, though, I give no shits about whether or not we get a Gen X president. The position has been a bit devalued these last couple of years and I’m not sure it’s worth the wanting. But the conversation around it matters because of the ways it reveals our thinking around stuff like this.

I think a lot of us think the game is over because a) we have some kind of intense generational nihilistic tendencies and b) we grew up in a youth culture, not unlike every other generation still alive. Ever since The Who hoped to die before they got old, we’ve all seemed to think that was a reasonable position to take. The culture glamorizes youth and sends the old out to pasture and here we see the evidence that somehow if we fail to elect a Gen X president in 2020, we will have missed our shot.

Now – the nihilist in me can fully understand that 2020 may in fact be the last election we ever have at all – but in that case, all the generations have lost – not just Gen X.

But like I said, this isn’t really about the presidency. This is about counting us out across the board. It’s not over just because our youth is over. People can accomplish great things in their 40s and 50s just like they could in their 20s and 30s. And they can go on to accomplish great things in their 60s and 70s and even their 80s and 90s and on. This notion of having missed our shot is incredibly damaging. It sneaks in to most of us, this sense that it’s all over now. We are vital. We are potent. We can do whatever any other generation can do. Come on now.

There are decades to come for the Gen X-ers who can hang in there. One of them could be president. It might mean less or more by then but it could happen. Don’t count us out yet. We’ve got decades until you can say there will never be a Gen X president. Talk to me about this again in fifty years. That’s when I’ll concede the point.

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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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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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.

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Be the Weirdo You Want to See in the World

Look – I’ve always been a LITTLE bit weird. I wore my tutu with pants and an engineer’s cap to school when I was a kid. (I might still wear this, given a chance.) I don’t care much for social conventions or fashion trends or behavioral controls. I’m sort of constitutionally an artist and a certain amount of difference discomfort is just a normal part of my life experience.

But recently, I’ve been feeling like I’m much weirder than I used to be. Or rather, I’m as weird as I’ve always been but I seem to seem weirder to the outside world.

I get a lot more quizzical looks than I used to. I get more heads turning in my direction if I make a sound. I feel like I’m weird everywhere I go. Even in weird New York, which has not historically, been worried about weirdos in its midst.

I’m not concerned about it for myself. I’m a comfortable-with-myself woman in my 40s, I don’t really worry about what most people think of me. But I am concerned about the weirdos behind me. I am concerned that if even my lowest level weirdness is drawing attention, the less comfortable weirdos, the young ones who are still finding themselves, will feel less and less comfortable becoming their full weird selves.

It feels like the world is bending toward a conformity that makes me very nervous. The current bent toward the collective sometimes means more policing of behavior, I think. People seem more inclined to try and fit in somewhere than to just rock who they are wherever they are. This may be a generational preference. Much of my generation would rather walk into the sun being 100% true to ourselves than conform to the crowd.

There are absolutely advantages to the group choice – but I worry about the loss of those sun-walkers. It feels like it makes the world less interesting, less vibrant, less alive.

It’s not just my feelings that are signaling that I am weird. I got a notice at the end of last year – a sum up of my listening on Spotify. They described me as 100% different. This tells me that the bulk of Spotify listeners are playing highly conventional tracks – that there are not nearly enough people venturing down the less traveled hallways there. Because, sure, I like to explore music from around the world and will happily venture into unknown musical territory but there are surely musicians with more adventurous tastes than me. At least I hope there are because I am really not that weird, musically. I don’t want to be a lonely weird music listener.

I’ll give you another example. I went to an author event. It was a big crowd and while the subject matter was intense, the author and interviewer were making jokes and being engaging humans. Being the human I am, I laughed at the jokes, gasped at the astounding facts and clucked at the reported bad behavior of some. But I was literally the only one making ANY sound. People turned to look at me. I was a sound-making weirdo laughing and responding instead of sitting in the silence of the rest of the room. I know I seemed like a weirdo in that room but to me the room was weird. Who just sits in silence while someone makes a joke? They’re just going to let them flail up there on the stage? A laugh after a joke is polite, especially if it’s genuine. (My clown training prevents me from laughing at theatre folk who aren’t actually funny but I will still laugh as a social lubricant in a social or lecture setting. Clown rules do not apply to the general public.)

Anyway – I walked away from that event feeling as though the world had changed in a way that has made me less welcome in it. It has become a world wherein I’m weird everywhere I go no. Not just because I wear asymmetrical dresses but because I bring all my human self with me wherever I go.

Those kinds of things seem to happen more and more and I don’t know what to do about it. Luckily, I am already comfortable with being different, with being weird – but I want to make space for all the other weirdos. I want to find a way to support those who want to laugh but feel silenced by the group. I want to live in a world with more fully human humans and a whole lot more weirdos.

BTW – the image they used for this is of Fatoumata Diawara whose music you should definitely listen to.

 

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Gen X Is a Mess?!?

Well, well, my fellow Gen X-ers. We have arrived. Again. The New York Times put out a style section spread on us and I tried not to pay attention to it because I was done, my Gen X siblings, I was done with weaving together the threads of all the Gen X articles I’d read and considered and so on. It came out a month ago but apparently I can’t leave it alone.

I read the New York Times piece. Sort of. What I actually did was scroll through it and skim the little paragraphs next to the pictures under the text obscuring “graffiti.” And I did click through to read one of the essays and some bits of others. This whole piece was easy to gloss over because there was really nothing there. It’s weird. Let me tell you. I have read so many articles about Gen X. Like, so MANY and this series in the New York Times was the most meaningless I’ve encountered. I’m including BuzzFeed listicles in that assessment. What I’m trying to say is that there was more depth in an “Are You a Gen X-er?” quiz than in the New York Times style section.

It feels like it was written by visitors from another planet who did some research on what was popular in America in the 80s and 90s and then called it “This Gen X mess.”

Listen – we can call ourselves and our stuff a mess if we want to but no one else is permitted to dismiss us this way. Also – where was this mess to which the headline referred? I did not see it explained anywhere. Is it because walkmen came out when we were kids? That seems to be the sort of thing the New York Times wanted to talk about. Walkmen. Strings around necks. A book called The Rules which gets its own essay – but which is a book no one I know actually read. Also featured: a musician “style icon” of Gen X-itude that neither I, nor my Gen X musician boyfriend ever heard of.
What version of Gen X is this?
Was there an alternate universe Gen X where all these things were important to us that I just missed?
Even the essay by a guy who seems to have been there is weirdly disconnected to my experience of Gen X-ery. And, like I said, due to my having written an 8 part series on Gen X, I have read a lot of diversity of Gen X experience. His essay felt as if it were written in an alternate universe wherein Alex P Keaton was not a fictional comedy character from TV’s Family Ties but a real life hero and the dominant cultural icon. It’s like his fan club president wrote this essay and is trying hard to convince the rest of us that Gen X had it so good, has it so good and is spending all our plentiful money on luxury goods.

That’s just not the Gen X I see. Or saw. Or ever saw. Unless it’s an Alex P. Keaton fantasy sequence on an alternate world Family Ties.

A Gen X friend of mine has a day job at the New York Times and told me that many of his cultural references and jokes fall flat due to his colleagues all being younger than him. It seems as if this might be true on the writing staff as well, if this Style section is any indication.

Gen X is not a mess. We may have once enjoyed a messy aesthetic on occasion. The stuff we really liked is not seemingly on the New York Times radar, actually, because the New York Times just went with what was selling well in the 80s and 90s. But Gen X wasn’t really buying, as far as I know.

I keep thinking of Keegan Michael Key on the Stephen Colbert show talking about how someone’s response to the Violent Femmes’ “Blister in the Sun” gives them away as someone in their 40s. Like, literally. Across cliques and subgroups, I would wager that most of Gen X will lose their mind on the dance floor for “Blister in the Sun.” “Blister in the Sun,” my friends. Which did not even CHART. The song never charted. The album charted eventually but only ten years after it was released! I mean, we loved it but we didn’t buy it.

Maybe I’m just remembering the indie parts but I keep thinking of a line from ani difranco’s song that goes,

“Generally my generation wouldn’t be caught dead working for the man and generally I agree with them. Trouble is you got to have yourself an alternate plan.”

I feel this sums up the Gen X-ers I know fairly accurately. It’s not Gen X that’s a mess. It’s the system, man. The system is a mess. We’ve been saying it for years now. We’re fine. If you want to understand us, the (former) Kids in America, maybe ask us what we think is a mess. We’ll tell you.

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Excuse me, Ma’am

The man in an oxford shirt came up behind me at the narrow passage of the café and did not stop moving as he said, “Excuse me, ma’am” and walked on, scrolling through his phone.

I muttered, “Don’t you ma’am me,” after he passed but what I really wanted to do was set him on fire with my magical fire-shooting ability.

I know the offense was minor and he probably only called me ma’am because there’s no feminine equivalent to sir and even though it sounds like “Outta my way, old lady” to me, he thinks he’s being respectful and at least he didn’t say, “Move, bitch,” and I should be grateful for even an attempt at politeness. But maybe if I combusted enough people for calling me ma’am, we could finally find a respectful word for women instead of limping by with miss and ma’am and madam since forever. Sometimes it takes a little fire.

I want a fire shooting power or a spontaneous combustion ability or to just truly access my dragon self and be able to gobble up those that displease me. I am so weary of conceding and getting out of the way and I don’t want to make a mess but I do want to obliterate my enemies.

The thing is, though, even if I woke up with such a superpower tomorrow, I’m fairly certain I wouldn’t use it. If I got a skein, like the women in Naomi Alderman’s extraordinary book, The Power, I don’t think I’d go on a mad electrocuting spree. I think I would probably keep it to myself – but I sure would feel a lot better knowing I could do it.

If I had, in my back pocket, the power to vanquish a world of enemies, I might be a little more apt to speak my mind at a meeting or on the street or in the passageways of small cafes where boys feel they own the throughways. I might not mutter, “Don’t you ma’am me.” I might say it loud. I might let it resonate and hang dangerously over the air, as the power danced around my fingertips. And we could all feel the electricity I was keeping in store, what energy I was using to NOT combust someone.

My anger had abated somewhat after the fetid air of the Kavanaugh hearings cleared a little – or maybe my anger just went underground these last few months. Eventually, it seemed, I did not long to combust every man I saw. But the recent spate of attacks on reproductive justice have begun to once again stir the dragon I have within and I am longing to actually be as dangerous as I feel. Don’t ma’am me. You might not mean anything by it. But I’m not sure what I’ll do. You just better hope my magic hasn’t grown in yet.

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Thoughts on Defiance
November 16, 2018, 1:31 am
Filed under: age, feminism, resistance | Tags: , , , , ,

He poked his head out of his apartment as I waited for the elevator. He then came out with his dog and followed me into the elevator. I already felt stalked. In the elevator, he seemed to be a giant, taking up twice as much space as me and the young man who had been on the elevator when I got in.

The tall man with his dog was instantly aggressive. He wanted to know if I’d come from the apartment next door to him. I had. Just that was enough to send this guy on a rant. He said the people in that apartment banged their cabinets day and night and he was furious about it. I told him I just worked there and knew nothing of cabinets but I didn’t think it was them. I mean, that apartment is inhabited by two infirm elderly people neither of whom can reliably go out on their own. There’s no way they’re hammering.

But this guy was convinced. And livid. At me, too. Just because I’d come from there. He was pretty terrifying, to tell you the truth. Particularly in an enclosed space.

His manner was terrifying, his logic absurd but the thing that blew me away was something he said: “That woman. She’s so defiant.”

He’s talking about an elderly woman who can barely walk. Defiant, he said. She’s defiant. And defiance is a very interesting word to use in this situation. Because it suggests that he expects to be treated with subservience and obedience, that he thinks of himself as someone in power, with authority and this woman has dared to defy him. She has refused to obey. He has told her to stop banging the cabinets (something she is definitely not doing, by the way) and she not only pays him no mind but she doesn’t respect (what he thinks should be) his authority. He is probably twenty years her junior but because he is a man, he thinks she is defiant.

I am very interested in defiance – on who is seen as defiant and who uses the word in relation to others. For example, despite decades of experience in teaching, I don’t think I ever once called a student “defiant” – no matter how much of a pain in the ass they were being. It would simply never have occurred to me. I think defiance lives in direct relationship to obedience and my worldview is such that I do not particularly believe obedience is owed to anyone. (I’m a big questioner of authority, as you might have worked out by now if you’re a regular reader of the blog.) Defiance basically means that someone has failed to be obedient to someone who demands it. The man in the elevator expected obedience from his neighbor (simply due to her gender, I assume) and his fury at being denied this obedience was such that he could not contain it and he spilled it in every possible direction. I think he thought to himself, when he saw me: “Ah, a woman younger than me. Since I can’t get that older woman to obey me, I bet I can make this one obey.”

Sorry Charlie. You have no authority over me. And also you met a witch in the elevator and now you are nothing but a pile of ash.

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