Songs for the Struggling Artist


The Ship Is Turning
May 26, 2022, 10:00 pm
Filed under: age, art, Creative Process | Tags: , , , , , , ,

There was a week when a lot of good things happened at once. It felt so strange and I realized that I had grown very used to things going either badly or just sort of going. It felt like I’d been on a giant ship and it had, for years, been headed toward desolation. I’m not sure I was fully aware I was on a ship headed toward desolation. If you’d asked me, “Are you on a big ship?” I’m not sure I’d have said yes. It’s a metaphor I was not conscious of at all until it started to shift.

Now, the ship becomes visible to me as it is starting to turn. It’s a big ship, so it can’t turn quickly. I can still see the shores of desolation off in the distance but the ship is turning. It is turning slowly and (hopefully) surely.

I’m not sure when I got on this big ship. It could have been when I went to grad school, which took an enormous amount of wind out of my sails. It could have been when I realized I’d have to leave London and give up a series of hopes and dreams. Or maybe I just found myself on board one day after one too many rejections and disappointments. All I know is, I am glad this boat is turning around.

I wonder, too, if this ship’s route is related to the U curve. Apparently, most people’s life satisfaction takes a major dip in their mid 40s – but it starts to head back up at a certain point – which is why it’s called a U curve. You hit the cul de sac of the U and then things start to get better.

Maybe the ship’s sailing plan is a U curve. It dips down close to the shores of desolation, makes you think you are definitely ending up there no matter how many dance parties you have on board, and then at the last moment, the ship starts to turn.

The thing about being a struggling artist™ for this long is that it starts to feel like you have a stink on you. It can feel like everyone sees that your ship is headed to the shores of desolation and most people prefer to look away. Everyone loves a winner and everyone wonders what’s wrong with the ones that aren’t actively winning. That is, it’s fine to choose to be an artist, as long as you can show everyone that you are actively winning – stop winning for a bit and folks are going to start asking why you keep doing this. The wins don’t have to be big to keep your sails billowing but they do have to be recognizable to the average person as a win.

That is, I could write a book – but until that book is published and in stores, the accomplishment does not register to most people. It can feel like you’re carrying that book on a big ship headed to the shores of desolation where you might as well throw it into the sea and watch the pages scatter through the waves. Get someone to agree to publish it, though, that ship starts to turn around. (No one’s publishing my books by the way. My ship would probably be turning around a lot faster if that were the case.)

Most people won’t read (or listen to) your book until it’s published and reviewed and vetted by all the major news outlets. They won’t go see your play until it’s on Broadway. They won’t listen to your albums until they’re on the radio. They won’t buy your paintings until they’re on sale at the Biennial. I don’t know why people need their art to be approved of by the mainstream but apparently they do.

I guess what I’m saying is that there’s a U curve for artistic work, too – and it probably magnifies the U curves of age. The relentlessness of indifference, of failing to make an artistic mark in a way regular people recognize, of just pushing forward with so little encouragement can make for a pretty brutal U curve for artists. I know too many who didn’t make it up the other side. They saw where that ship was headed and they couldn’t imagine it would ever turn around.

Frankly, I didn’t have any reason to believe mine would turn around either. I just figured I’d dance on deck until we hit the shore.

But this ship is turning. It’s going slow. It’s creaking. It’ll take some time and effort and it’s probably going to displace a lot of water. But it is turning.

If you have any choice about it, it’s generally a good idea to start turning your ship BEFORE it gets this close to a lighthouse.

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

They also bring you the podcast version of the blog.

It’s also called Songs for the Struggling Artist 

You can find the podcast on iTunesStitcherSpotify or wherever you get your podcasts.

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

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Inclusive Gatekeeping

The application form asked my age, so I answered the question and submitted my application. But after I did, I started to worry. Should I have skipped that question? Should I have submitted it to Honor Roll, the group of women playwrights over 40 that works to combat ageism and sexism in American theatre? Had I just set myself up for being rejected by revealing that I am 48? The form asked. I answered. I’m not yet used to being vigilant on this topic. I tried to be attentive to ageism before it was relevant to me but I wasn’t prepared for it to come for me so soon – or at least before I had anything impressive under my belt.

It was one of the first things I’ve submitted to in a long while and the whole exercise sent me into a bit of a funk. In the year and a half that theatre was been shut down, I’ve aged into ageism and now all the doors that have been closed to me are extra closed. I read a book on creativity that suggested that the science says we are most creative in our first few years with our art and after that it’s just a steady downward trajectory.

What is that ageist science nonsense? It’s possible I was more creative in my youth. I’d say my songs were full of some naïve innovations – but I am a much better writer now than I was in my 20s. And also, the American theatre is not very keen on innovation – so it may be an asset if I have, indeed, lost creativity over the years.

Anyway – this whole spiral was brought to you by the series of questions on the application that tend to happen around demographics and attempts to be more inclusive. I suspect this questionnaire asked my age, not so they could be ageist at me, but so they could make sure to include some young playwrights. However – one does privilege the other. You want to get more young writers, you’re discriminating against the old. You want to combat ageism and pull in the older writers, you’re discriminating against the young.

When we apply for things, we have no idea whether we are helping the organization discriminate against us, or give us an extra boost. Somehow arts organizations think that they can solve their racist, sexist, ableist biases with tools like this.

As my friend put it, “Right now across the nation, arts administrators are sitting around tables trying to figure out how to do more inclusive gatekeeping.” I have not been able to stop thinking about this phrase since he said it.

Because that’s the thing. American Arts institutions are built on gatekeeping. They are spaces designed to keep people out. The velvet rope was invented in NYC by someone in the hospitality business but Arts institutions are the ones who’ve really taken the idea and run with it. Sometimes with literal velvet ropes and sometimes internal ones. Having people in or out is the whole deal. The people who have salaries in the arts are not the artists but the gatekeepers.

As a culture, we clearly value keeping people out more than the actual art. But the gatekeepers have been challenged to shift the demographics of who they let get past the door of their clubs. Most of the clubs have been chock full of white guys with a handful of white women and some token people of color. But ultimately, after all these years of hanging out in those clubs, those clubs are really white guy clubs. And mostly they’re clubs full of white guys who went to Yale and occasionally some other people who also went to Yale. They’ve congregated there for so long and they want to keep hanging out there and they want to keep doing things the way they’ve always done them; They just don’t want to be accused of racism or sexism. So they ask the bouncer to let in enough “others” to not get in trouble about it anymore. So the bouncer tries this new inclusive gatekeeping. He’s trying to keep the club the same as it always was but include enough of the RIGHT new faces to keep this club out of the news.

Actually, they think they just need to approach this problem at the ground floor and make sure to send more diverse people to Yale, so they can make their gatekeeping more inclusive because you get in the club immediately that way. So – they rename Yale Drama School after David Geffen so he’ll give a bunch of money to Yale so they can make it tuition free in the hopes of making it more inclusive and voila! Problem solved, right? Must be!

I can’t wait for all these super inclusive shows that will tell us all about what it’s like to have studied at Yale. Oh, the fresh perspective we’re going to get! Oh, the extraordinary inclusivity that awaits us from all the different people who might have gotten in to Yale.

The thing is we’re sort of in this mess because the gatekeepers get their power from choosing, from who they select – which is, significantly also about their power to say no, to refuse people entry to the club. To have an actual equitable club, there would be no bouncer and our gatekeepers would have no power. We might get to stop guessing whether our demographics will hinder us or help us and just, say, hope for a good lottery number. Honestly, could we do worse?

I mean, I don’t want to be cranky about it, but I haven’t seen a really innovative piece of work in maybe a decade. Choosing the same sort of people all the time, whether it’s their race or gender or grad program, does not innovative art make. Maybe we could give up trying to do inclusive gatekeeping and try to just do away with gatekeeping altogether. What if we tried that?

We might have locked you out but we LOVE you! Look at that! It’s a heart on the lock we locked you out with! Isn’t that so sweet and inclusive?

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

They also bring you the podcast version of the blog.

It’s also called Songs for the Struggling Artist 

You can find the podcast on iTunesStitcherSpotify or wherever you get your podcasts.

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

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Or buy me a coffee on Kofi – ko-fi.com/emilyrainbowdavis



Is There a Gen X Aesthetic?
December 19, 2020, 7:03 pm
Filed under: age, art, Gen X, podcasting, theatre | Tags: , , , , ,

Prior to my deep dive into Gen X-ery, I honestly didn’t think about our generation much at all. It was one of the last things I considered in my identity, particularly in my artistic identity. I have a very particular aesthetic and, I’m given to understand, an identifiable one, as well. I would have called that MY aesthetic, not a Gen X aesthetic.

Then the stats for my audio drama podcast (The Dragoning, listen wherever you get your podcasts) started to roll in and it was absolutely clear who my audience is for that. In case you can’t see this graphic, it’s a chart of listeners by age, where each column is a different collection of ages. To me, it looks like a hand with its middle finger extended and that middle finger represents people who are 45-59 – that is, most of Gen X. This has not shifted as time has gone by. The graphic looked the same when we had twenty listeners and now that we have 200. If I have a demographic for this podcast, it is clearly Gen X.

Meanwhile, on the podcast version of this blog, where I directly discuss matters pertinent to Gen X, my listeners actually skew quite a bit younger. The tallest column is people who are 28-34. They’re squarely Millennials. (Though surely not square, they’re my listeners, after all!) I have no idea why this is but it is so and has remained fairly consistent over the years.

This whole mystery of the Gen X middle fingers of taste has made me wonder if my artistic work is more Gen X than I thought and made me wonder, too, if there is, perhaps, an aesthetic that I’m a part of that I’m not even aware of. I mean, speaking generally, there are style choices that can be made that are obviously Gen X. If it’s got graffiti scrawled across it or if it looks like a John Hughes film or a video by Run DMC or Bananrama, or even if it just sounds loud and angry – those are some Gen X red flags right there. But I swear, as far as I know, I have inserted nary a Gen X cue in my podcast about women who turn into dragons. There isn’t a Nirvana or Digable Planets soundtrack. No one finds anything grody to the max. There is nothing obviously Gen X about it that I can see.

And yet. The middle finger of statistics suggest that it is a work for Gen X.

This makes me wonder if some of my struggles to find a foothold in many of my artistic exploits are a generational problem. Like, if my appeal is primarily to my generation and my generation is the smallest, and dwindling all the time, am I just dealing with a numbers problem? I have, historically, had a very hard time getting people to come to my shows. Gen X Theatre isn’t really a thing. Has never really been a thing. Yet here I am, a Gen X-er making theatre that maybe mostly appeals to Gen X and Gen X won’t come out of their apartments to see it. (In the times when there is theatre and we’re not supposed to be staying in our apartments, of course.) But it’s possible that Gen X WILL listen to a podcast, if they feel like it. If it’s for us.

I don’t know. Statistics are funny and could change at any moment – but I am so intrigued by this clear preference for this thing I made, among many things I’ve made. What about it specifically appeals to Gen X? Did I make an accidentally hyper Gen X world? Do we have an aesthetic? And is my aesthetic our aesthetic, too?

There are generational markers, for sure. Millennials have pink and the whoop. We have…I don’t know. Torn up black clothes? And Mix Tapes?
And maybe a dragon dystopic/utopian world I made up.

I find myself both baffled and interested.

Is there a Gen X aesthetic?

What is it?

Do I have it?

Do you?

Stats for The Dragoning

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

They also bring you the podcast version of the blog.

It’s also called Songs for the Struggling Artist.

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

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

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

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Want to help support my aesthetic?

Become my patron on Patreon.

Click HERE to Check out my Patreon Page

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If you liked the blog and would like to give a dollar (or more!) put it in the PayPal digital hat. https://www.paypal.me/strugglingartist

Or buy me a coffee on Kofi – ko-fi.com/emilyrainbowdavis



Bill and Ted’s Bogus Handling of Older Women

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

They also bring you the podcast version of the blog.

It’s also called Songs for the Struggling Artist.

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

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

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

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Want to help me fight sexism and ageism?

Become my patron on Patreon.

Click HERE to Check out my Patreon Page

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If you liked the blog and would like to give a dollar (or more!) put it in the PayPal digital hat. https://www.paypal.me/strugglingartist

Or buy me a coffee on Kofi – ko-fi.com/emilyrainbowdavis

 



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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

They also bring you the podcast version of the blog.

It’s also called Songs for the Struggling Artist.

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

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

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

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Want to help me create new stories?

Become my patron on Patreon.

Click HERE to Check out my Patreon Page

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If you liked the blog and would like to give a dollar (or more!) put it in the PayPal digital hat. https://www.paypal.me/strugglingartist

Or buy me a coffee on Kofi – ko-fi.com/emilyrainbowdavis

 



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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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.

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

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

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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 a 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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