Songs for the Struggling Artist


In Which I Read that Dragon Book, Part Two

This is part two of my journey of reading When Women Were Dragons. If you want to know why I’m reading this, catch up with my questions around plagiarism here. If you want to read Part One, start here. And I’m just a fountain of spoilers so skip this one if you’re wanting to be surprised by anything that happens in this book.

Now PART 2

September 4

I can really feel how Barnhill is a children’s book writer. I’m actually surprised this book is being sold as one for adults. The narrator is a child, looking at this event from a child’s eyes. Sure, there’s some violence and a lot of child abandonment but have you read work for children lately? Some of it is quite dark.

I mean – listen – maybe she really means to be writing for adults and just can’t help making work that feels like it’s for children. That happens to me all the time so I’m sympathetic. I make some piece that I feel very clear is not for children and then someone comes to see it and says, “This would be great for kids!” But I do wonder why an award-winning children’s book author wasn’t sold in the market she has already succeeded in.

I also feel like I’d have a lot more grace for this book if it were a children’s book. Or YA! YA is full of dangerous stuff these days. Why isn’t this a YA book?

Anyway – I read more than I meant to last night, mostly because I was hoping for something to pop out at me that I might tell you about here in this accounting. My feeling that this is really a children’s book is all I have, I guess.

September 5

The kid in the book is now thirteen and has lost her friend due to a homophobic panic from her father. It would appear that he also evicted his daughter’s friend’s grandparents. This father better get eaten or immolated by the end of this book is all I got to say.

So far the only satisfying dragon moment was in a brief list of dragon activity where some dragons seem to have eaten some asshole strike-breakers.

This section of the book was not particularly compelling but it did make me very nervous about my own work. I also have quite a bit of after the fact reporting of dragon events. I worry that my own work could feel as dry and perfunctory as the list of dragon related incidents in this book did to me. I hope these sorts of moments in my work are full of the person who is reporting them so that it’s not just the report but the human need to share things that have happened to them. I think I’ve done that but one can never be too sure. So for a moment that chapter felt like a cautionary tale.

If my library app is accurate (and I concede that it hardly ever is) then I’m not yet halfway through this book, though I AM on Chapter 19.

September 6

So it turns out the girl’s mother hadn’t turned dragon for the two months she was away – she just had regular old cancer, which then kills her when the protagonist is fifteen. Then the father turns out to be an even bigger piece of shit than he was before (and he was a GIANT piece of shit before) by moving the kids to an apartment to live on their own while he moves his pregnant mistress into their house. Maybe this is why this is not a children’s book?

I don’t know. I know it’s the 50s but could a father really get away with abandoning his kids like that then? The dragons I can accept. Children living like kept mistresses on their own in a shitty apartment stretches the bounds of credulity somehow. Oh, I sure hope somebody gets eaten soon!

September 7

Ok – finally, we get someone who is a dragon who wants to do dragony things – and it is a child.

I suppose one of the things I’m finding frustrating about this book is that the narrator is on the outside of a dragon experience and is judgmental of dragons and is learning about them through censored experiences. It’s just – frustrating? I wanna go flying through the air with dragons; I don’t want to experience the gaslighting around them. Just put me on a dragon’s back or something already. The doctor’s description of being on mic with one in the air as she transforms is not enough.

September 8

I suppose you have to make a guy a real big villain so we’re chomping at the bit to have him set on fire – but I’ve been rolling my eyes at how awful this father is. I suppose it’s because he’s awful in a cartoonish way. So despite having shown some tenderness to his wife, he just seems like a cartoon bad guy. Set him on fire already, dragon child! I mean, I know it’s the 50s and he feels like a king and doesn’t see what he’s doing but…I don’t know. It’s like – Bret Kavanaugh is an awful human. He’s petulant and whiney and he felt entitled not only to sexually assaulting women in his youth but also to his position on the Supreme Court. And yet – he is a human man, not a cartoon villain. He has done terrible things and if a dragon ate him, I wouldn’t complain but I also understand him. I grew up with boys like him. I know where he’s coming from. I do not know where this kid’s dad is coming from. It feels like the answer is: The 50s! But that’s not enough.

It’s really not that hard to make people want to have a dragon turn a person into toast. They’re not real people. They don’t have to be extra awful for us to feel like he’s asking for it.

I feel like I’d prefer the alternate world in this book, the world where the dragon ladies are flying around having a fabulous time in the mountains or wherever. Instead, we’re stuck in the world that was so terrible, they felt like they had to leave it. Take me to the dragons instead!

September 9

So far in this book, the only anger we ever see is almost entirely misplaced. We saw the mother slap her daughter when she was mad at….the dragons? Her husband? I don’t remember but her kid had nothing to do with it.

Now we have the kid getting very mad at the librarian for talking about her aunt and dragons but she’s not really mad at the librarian deep down. Then she also gets mad at her kid sister/cousin for no reason.

I know people do this but it is not very satisfying to read about. I just want to yell, “You’re all mad at the wrong people! Open your eyes and get it together! Call on the dragons already!”

I have little patience with this.

September 10

Things are kicking into gear with the dragon professor and the heroic librarian. Now, if you’ve listened to my audio book for kids, you’d know that I am a particular fan of librarians so I don’t object to this librarian being amazing. I will say, though, that she seems to be a little too heroic. Like she manages to do EVERYTHING? She’s the star witness of the HUAC committee, the benefactor and head of a whole library system, the leading sponsor of dragon research and she has time to look out for a little girl? I mean. I’m down with dragons existing but superhuman librarians feels like a bridge too far.

The kid now seems to be starting to accept the dragon reality so I suspect I’m going to start liking this book a little more once she actually gets into dragons. It’s like, you chose a book about trains and they spend the first half of the book denying the existence of trains while hinting at them just out of view every so often.  Just get to the trains already! That’s what I’m here for!

September 11

One thing that is driving me absolutely bonkers about this book is the withholding of information. We have a protagonist who seems to want to know what is going on – and in her youth, she is presented with a trove of information and explanations. She has letters written to her, an explanatory pamphlet and the correspondence of her aunt, who she was so curious about.

And this girl puts this stuff in a secret place, doesn’t read it and promptly forgets about it. When she finally remembers it, many years later, she goes to get it and ONCE AGAIN does not read it. Maybe I just don’t understand how a person could not read their own correspondence when it has been explicitly written to them and would provide answers I was seeking? Again, I find dragons easy to accept but to introduce a plot device with a box full of answers and not open it? Come on. Just discover the box later or something. Why you gotta tell me about the documents in the secret compartment if you’re just going to leave them there? It’s very frustrating. Like, I was so relieved when the protagonist finally remembered they were there and went to get them – but then she didn’t read them again?! And then later – when she sees her dragon aunt, her dad gives the kid a box for her from her mom and guess what she doesn’t do AGAIN?! Good lord. What is this child’s problem? She can’t open things??! She can mother her cousin/sister and take college courses in secondary school but she can’t open a goddamn letter or a goddamn box?

Gee whiz. This book is due in two days and I’m at 70%. I could knock it out but maybe I should follow the protagonist’s example and just not open it.

September 12

I am astounded by how this writer has taken the teeth out of dragons. She’s given them handbags and knitting. She has them help out at church picnics. They seem to be just a bunch of nice mid-western ladies who happen to have taken dragon form. Their main gesture is to put their hands /paws to their hearts. Blech. I would prefer to read about one of them tearing a man apart with her talons. But instead, I’m reading about a bunch of nice dragons chaperoning the high school prom. The protagonist’s date seems like a real tool – maybe they’ll burn him up by the end of the night? A girl can dream.

September 13

The book was returned to the source (Queens Public Library) last night. Digital copies just disappear, really. You can’t just hold onto a copy and pay the fine later like you could with a physical copy. So – I think I got to about 75%? And there are now 34 people ahead of me in line for this book. It’s so popular, my library bought two more copies. This is both good and bad news for me. Good, because if dragon content is becoming popular, if people like women turning into dragons, they might end up at my artistic door at some point. Bad, because it’ll be months before I finish reading this book that makes me so mad.

The thing is, I’m realizing maybe folks just aren’t ready for a story where women have genuine power. I’m also reading Nightbitch right now and there’s such a strong prohibition to that protagonist feeling her own rage that she turns into a dog. In that form, she is able to indulge her fury and tear into meat the way she wants to. I have not heard anyone talking about this book but I like it loads more than When Women Were Dragons, despite them sharing an annoying special interest in mothers. But still – all these stories are within the confines of continuing to live in the current messed up patriarchy. It’s possible that a lot of people are not ready to imagine how that might turn around. Ah well. I mean, I am. And so are a handful of people I know. But –

Anyway – temporary conclusion until I move up 35 places in line – I do not think Barnhill stole my idea. Or if my work was somehow her source material, she completely missed the point. Knitting dragons!?! Church picnic dragons?! Pah. Excuse me while I go set something on fire.

You know what this dragon is NOT doing? Knitting. Not that I don’t think knitters are bad-ass. I just – prefer my dragons more dangerous.

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

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It’s also called Songs for the Struggling Artist 

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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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Put Up Your Dukes
August 10, 2022, 12:21 am
Filed under: anger, Justice, masks | Tags: , , , , , , , ,

In case it’s not completely obvious, I’m a fairly conflict averse person. I hate when people argue. I get anxious when tensions rise. I do not enjoy a debate. I would almost always prefer to exchange smiles then to exchange “words” with anyone. Sometimes, on-line, people will think I like heated “discussions” because I have strong opinions and I express them through this particular medium. Just for the record, I do not. I will do a LOT to avoid a heated “discussion.”

As the time for jury deliberation got closer for those of us sitting through the trial, this one juror seemed positively excited about it. She’d put up her hands and pretend to duke it out with an imaginary person. I gave her the gesture back on occasion because I like to be playful – and I hate to leave an acting offer on the table. She wants to play fight? I’m here for her. But once the deliberations started, this woman had a lot to say and not a lot of it made sense and I was not there to indulge anyone’s whims. I did my best to get us on track and stay on the question at hand and the facts. And this woman who’d seemed so excited about the fighting she was looking forward to doing (“the fun part” she’d said) declared to me, “You’re so aggressive. I feel like I need to get out my boxing gloves.”

And this may be the most bizarre thing anyone has ever said to me. I found it positively baffling, especially in this context. But – just in case – I apologized and said I would try and turn it down – though what I was trying to turn down was completely unclear to me. There was something about what she said that made it sound like she was responding to my being passionate or some word to that effect so in addition to the apology, I let them know I was an actor and that seemed to satisfy everyone – like, “Oh, that explains it.” But what was it exactly?

I suspected that it had to do with a level of animation I have, an expressiveness that is perfectly normal for me but among these mostly quiet reserved people somehow felt out place? We’re all wearing or masks so everyone is harder to read than they might usually be. I probably turn myself up a little bit to get past the obstacle on my face. But I have noticed that a lot of people don’t do that. They just aren’t heard as well or aren’t understood. I guess that’s okay with them? It’s not ok with me so I become more expressive in a mask, not less. I will not disappear behind a piece of cloth.

But I suppose it’s possible that this makes me seem more aggressive to people who don’t do this? I don’t know. The whole interaction confused me so much. I wondered if this woman, with her mimed boxing gloves, was so interested in sparring that she just turned me into a sparring partner or if she truly did see me as aggressive.

I mean, I’ve changed a lot in these last few years, maybe I’ve turned over into aggression without even knowing it, though I very much doubt it. Do I write aggressively sometimes? Sure. Am I more assertive than I used to be? Yes. Thank goodness. But I’d be surprised if I’ve actually had an entire personality change.

I think the masks are a factor. They make it a lot easier for us to project things on to each other that have very little to do with us. I think that’s probably the main thing that was happening here. But maybe I’m just too aggressive.

This pic is like me, kissing my new dukes.

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

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And Now I’m Mad About Curious George

I guess this is a series now.

As you may remember, a short while ago, I was real mad about Kiss Me, Kate when I found out it had been written by a woman but not credited to her as a sole author, even though she was the sole author. Then I learned about the authorship of Curious George. Curious freakin’ George, the kid’s book about the curious monkey. You know you read it as a child. It is one of the most popular children’s books in history. Classic! (Also, problematic and possibly racist – sorry!) And now tell me who wrote it. Your answers will vary according to when you read it. If you read it before or when I did then, like me, you will say, H.A. Rey. Were there photos of him on the back flap to suggest he was like the man in the yellow hat from the book? If there weren’t, I made some some up – because I definitely knew that the author of Curious George was a man.

Surprise! It was a couple. You might know this already if you read it after I did, but married couple Hans Augusto Rey, and Margret Rey fled the Nazis, smuggled out their cute book about George and changed the world of children’s publishing. And here is why they left Margret’s name off the book: because they had “too many women” writing children’s books around then. Gah! It’s infuriating. Hey – they just used H.A’s initials. They couldn’t have ALSO made hers initials? H.A. Rey and M. Rey? Come on. It’s so easy. All they had to do was obscure both their names and genders if they were so worried about it. And listen, I know this was a long time ago – like my experience of Kiss Me, Kate, this decision got made decades ago, in a different time and all that – but holy macaroni, Batman. I just found out that one of the iconic stories of my childhood was co-written by a woman. I found out from a silly Facebook post. Shouldn’t they have put out a bulletin at some point? Like maybe when she finally got her name back on the books? That would have been a good time to talk about the entire erasure of an artist/writer. But, by the way, I cannot find evidence of this moment anywhere. In every mention of her getting her name on the books added, it gets framed as if it was some magical thing that just happened “at some point.” Here’s how she described it, “As Margret told it, “When we first came to America, our publisher suggested we use my husband’s name because the children’s book field was so dominated by women. They thought it would sell better. After a time, I thought, ’Why the devil did I do that?’ so since then my name has appeared also.”” (“Since then” – when is then?!?!)

And, also – it’s not over. Just because they added her name whenever it happened to be, that change was not reflected everywhere. It still isn’t. I did a Google image search of Curious George and only a handful of the book covers I saw had the full “new” credit.

It’s not surprising really because Curious George is likely handed from one generation to the next. We remember the one that was read to us and the stories about it from our youth. There’s a nostalgia there – even for the arrangement of the typeface on the cover. I can picture the font and the placement of H.A. Rey’s name on the bottom of the page.

I’m glad they finally fixed this one but for me it’s too late. Margret Rey got erased and bringing her back takes effort. And I guess I need to be mad about it so I can use it as fuel for my fire to remember the accomplishments of our foremothers. Partly what burns me up about it is the way these erasures lead further generations to think women “didn’t do anything” in history. It makes it seem like we’re always starting from the bottom when it turns out women broke that glass ceiling generations ago – that Margret Rey was a best-selling children’s book author, that Bella Spewack was the author of a wildly successful Broadway show. Dawn Powell was a best selling author whose books went out of print and was forgotten for decades, despite being an absolutely glorious writer and even more successful than her peers F. Scott Fitzgerald and Hemingway in her lifetime. (She’s not one of these authors who were hidden by a husband like the other two; I just included her because I love her like crazy and she was a bit lost to time, probably BECAUSE she was the sole credit.)

This story has a happier ending than Bella Spewack’s as far as I’m concerned because Margret did, in the end, fight for credit and did manage to assure that her name was on the covers of future generations copies of Curious George. This hopefully means that kids encountering this classic story now grow up knowing that it was written by a woman and illustrated by a man. There is progress. And fight for your credit, ladies. Always fight for your credit. We need you to.

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

They also bring you the podcast version of the blog.

It’s also called Songs for the Struggling Artist 

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

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

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I’m Mad About Kiss Me, Kate

Look, I know they made Kiss Me, Kate over 70 years ago but I am mad about it today. I’m sorry. Sometimes my rage is not on time.

Did you know that a woman wrote the book for this musical? I did not. I work in theatre, fanatically listened to the Broadway cast album in my youth, have seen at least two productions, I care about women’s achievements in this field and I did not know that a woman wrote Kiss Me, Kate. How did I miss that?

Turns out that even though she wrote it, the production team persuaded her to let them bill her with her husband, so it is credited to Bella and Samuel Spewack instead of just Bella Spewack. Even though they were in the middle of a divorce and Sam Spewack’s only contribution was that he punched up a few of the Tough Guys’ lines, he still got the credit as a full writer on the show. And in a pair like this, it is, of course the man’s name that is important. Apparently even for a feminist musical theatre lover like myself. Her name might as well not have even been there. Gets me all worked up!

And I can totally see how this happened. I think it could probably even happen today. The producers think a show about a married theatre couple will sell better if it’s written by a married theatre couple and so, because the writer wants the show to sell, she is persuaded to add her husband’s credit to her own. But the fact is, if Sam Spewack had been the sole writer of a show, they would never have asked him to share the credit with his wife, and if they had, he’d very likely have said no, especially during the time they were going through a divorce. And that would have been the end of it. Surely Bella Spewack also said no at first. And at a certain point, she had to yield. And decades later, I discover that a woman wrote a foundational Broadway musical. And while I understand why she felt like she had to yield to this request to share her credit, I feel like I’m the reason why she shouldn’t have let it go. Not me specifically of course – but all the theatre women who came after her, desperate for a role model.

Listen, I know that the Book Writer is the least sexy writer on a musical. No one chooses to go to a musical because of the person who wrote the text. I know that. But STILL. I think if I’d realized that there was a woman behind one of the great foundational works of American Musical Theatre, in any capacity, I think I’d have gotten a little more spring in my step. I’d have known that, even in the 1940s, a woman accomplished a really extraordinary thing.

And I’m sorry – but a husband-wife team just doesn’t do the same thing. It was Bella Spewack, on her own, who collaborated with Cole Porter to create this piece. It was Bella Spewack, alone, who made the decisions about how to create these characters, how to engage with the Shakespearean source material. It was Bella Spewack, by herself, who negotiated with the producer about the gig. All while her husband was wooing the ballerina he’d left her for. And sure – they did eventually get back together again and wrote more things as a team so maybe for them, it didn’t matter at all. Maybe it was nice for Bella Spewack to think of the work she’d done on her own as part of a continuum with her creative work with her husband. But it’s not nice at all for the women who came after her. I should have KNOWN Bella Spewack’s name. I should have heard of her work, even outside of Kiss Me, Kate. She was a successful writer BEFORE she was asked to write this show. Her male contemporaries names are canonized. I did not know her name before reading about this in James Shapiro’s book Shakespeare in a Divided America.

I know I’m late to the party on this. I wish I’d been celebrating Bella Spewack all along, along with the only other foundational Broadway Musical woman I can think of, Betty Comden.

The American theatre has an incredibly short memory. We have a few white guys we remember and the rest disappear into history – or into their husband’s credits. I’m so furious that her team convinced Bella Spewack that her credit wasn’t important, when surely none of them would have shared credit with their wives. It was another time, sure – but we needed Bella Spewack’s actual credit for history. For us now.

And I know somebody out there is saying, “How could you not know Bella Spewack? That’s ridiculous! I know all about Bella Spewack!” To which I say, “Good! I’m glad you know her. That’s good. But the problem is that I did not.” And I absolutely should have. If I know Oscar Hammerstein’s name or Alan Lerner or Adolph Green or Noel Coward’s name, I should ALSO know Bella Spewack’s. And I did not. It was not even familiar. Cole Porter, I know. I even recognize the names of some of the 1940s theatre actors. But not Bella Spewack. And I should have. Now I do. And so do you, in case you missed it, like me.

Bella Spewack. By herself.

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

They also bring you the podcast version of the blog.

It’s also called Songs for the Struggling Artist 

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

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

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WTF with Jake Gyllenhaal

Granted, I’m a little wound up. Theatre’s been on (really stinky) mothballs for a year and I’m really tired of my tiny apartment. So. Forgive me if this response to a little podcast episode I listened to is a little overblown. But – WTF! Actually the name of the podcast is WTF and that is also literally how I felt after listening to the episode with Jake Gyllenhaal.

It’s not Gyllenhaal’s fault – or Maron’s fault. (Marc Maron is the host. It’s his podcast.) It’s just that their talk about theatre made me feel a lot of things and most of them weren’t good.

First, a couple of people who spend most of their time in the Film and TV worlds waxing rhapsodic about theatre is always a little triggering. Like – Yes. You’re right. There is magic in a theatre with an audience. It is the greatest. Damn it. Ouch. Now go back to making your money.

Second, and this is the bit that is getting me all itchy and twisted, Gyllenhaal was describing how the show Sea Wall/A Life came about – and on one hand, it is a super sweet story about how a collaboration became a show that a lot of people really liked. (I did not see it.) On the other hand, it is an infuriating journey through the fame-hungry annals of American theatre. I mean. Listen, Gyllenhaal is a movie star. I like a lot of things he’s done. I got no beef with him. He seems nice and he’s fun to look at on a screen. It’s charming that people fall asleep next to him on the subway.

But lord have mercy. This movie star loved a little personal piece by a writer he worked with and wanted to perform it, even though it was not written to be performed. But the movie star wanted to do it so he eventually persuaded the writer to let him do it and that writer was buddies with another writer who also had a short monologue that wasn’t really for the stage and so they put the two pieces together and voila! Play! Which – you know – cool! That’s cool. Put on whatever you want!

But. Then there’s the part where the movie star gets a year’s worth of development of this piece at the Public Theater. He got to fuck around for a YEAR at the Public, with all its resources at his disposal, discovering what this piece could be.

And FLAMES. FLAMES on the side of my face!

Why, Emily? Do you not WANT to go see Jake Gyllenhaal on the stage? I mean, I’d go if someone gave me a ticket. I can’t afford those prices! But that’s not it. I don’t object to a movie star getting to put on a play. I don’t object to him taking all the time he needs to make something he loves. But what I DO object to are our non-profit institutions giving time and space to movie stars when there are so many worthy, unsupported theatre folk out there who would take a year residency at the Public and absolutely murder it. I know that’s not how the Pubic works. I know that it will give space to celebrities because they’ll bring in audiences later and it’s all very logical.

But it does rather feel like if a movie star read a cereal box that they thought might be a fun show, the Public would give over all its resources so we could all see the story of Honey Nut Cheerios or whatever. Maybe we got lucky and Jake Gyllenhaal’s buddy’s piece was really the best thing seen on a stage and so yay! (Again, I don’t know. I did not see Sea Wall/A Life.) But it is indicative of how stuff goes on. Or went on. I don’t know what sort of theatre we’ll get back when we get back.

I don’t expect the Public to let me come develop a show there. It’s not about me. (Though, give me space in a major institution with their resources behind me and watch the fuck out!) But what it IS about are all the resources that artists need to be able to get a leg up in this theatre world being given over to celebrities and corporate interests and more and more narrow pipelines. The Public wants to be seen as an inclusive diverse bastion of creativity – but when it comes down to it, their choicest reserves are for a group of a white movie star guys. Also, the guy who runs the place is a white guy whose compensation adds up to a million dollars a year. He gets paid that money to give space to movie stars.

And it’s not even about the Public. Any theatre in the country would have given Jake Gyllenhaal space to develop his little idea. But anyone who’s not a movie star will probably have to go to Yale Drama School first and even then no one will give them a year to develop something.

And listen – I know Gyllenhaal is not unaware of his privilege. He knows theatre is elitist. He explains that that’s why he became a Broadway producer and produced Jeremy O Harris’ Slave Play. And that is a good thing. It is good to see a play by a Black playwright featuring Black people on Broadway. And congrats to Yale grad, Jeremy O Harris for breaking a barrier. But this barrier breaking play took a Yale grad AND a movie star to get there. Also – I was struck by the fact that in the WTF conversation about elitism on Broadway, the extremely unaffordable ticket prices never came up.

Anyway – whatever. It’s fine. It’s really just a silly little reaction to a podcast I listened to and then couldn’t stop thinking about and feeling things about. There might not even be any theatre when this is all over. There’s no reason to get all worked up right now.

But after listening to that podcast, I worry it’s going to be JUST movie stars in our theatre from here on out. They’ll be the only ones who can afford to do it at a certain point. And all the theatres will line up to give them space.

Usually WTF stands for What the F**k and it does here, too – but maybe also Well, Theatre’s F**ked

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The New SCOTUS Handmaiden of the Patriarchy

Warning: This post is going to be a little bit crude. I find the proceedings in the Senate to be very crude, so this is nothing compared to that – but if crude language isn’t for you, this might be one to skip.

Hey everybody – the Heritage Foundation would like you to know that Amy Coney Barrett is NOT a handmaid for patriarchy. I saw a headline from them saying as such when I googled her name and “Handmaid for the Patriarchy” because I was sure someone had already written this piece and found the Heritage Foundation’s headline instead. And we should all trust that the Heritage Foundation knows about these things, right? That Conservative Fundamentalist Think Tank wouldn’t say something like that if it wasn’t true, right?

The fact is – The Heritage Foundation, while being a great representation OF the Patriarchy, does not know what the Patriarchy is – and certainly does not understand how Barrett is, in fact, absolutely a handmaiden for it.

Is she literally a handmaiden in the Margaret Atwood Handmaid’s Tale Style? Apparently not. So. The good news is that she does not seem to have to engage in those weird ritualistic sexual practices. But – in the sense of a handmaid being in service to the greater patriarchal Judeo-Christian concept? Girl is a full-on handmaid, y’all. This is a woman who, even when being screwed by the patriarchy, was like, “Thank you! Would you screw me again? And might I help screw over the other women in this plan you have?”

Truthfully, if we used Atwood’s story to compare her to the characters of Gilead, she would be more Serena Joy and Aunt Lydia than a handmaiden. But outside of Atwood’s structure, a handmaiden is one who helps, one who is at the service of, and Barrett is 100% at the service of Patriarchy. That’s why she was selected. She looks the part. She does what the patriarchy expects. She makes decisions based on what the patriarchy would want her to do. She even giggles when a Senator asks her who does the laundry at home. She is there to serve.

And not to serve the country. Or the law. Or the Constitution. Or any of those things that it is, in fact, noble to serve. No, no matter how much she fetishizes the original constitution and its founding fathers, she is there to serve the mother fucking patriarchy and the mother fucking patriarchy is jizzing all over itself to be able to put her where they want her.

I haven’t paid her confirmation hearings much notice to be honest. It is too disgusting and crude and she’s just a blank. As a longtime handmaid of the patriarchy, she has long ago stripped away any sense of a real self. She has done everything she can to become an archetype of everything. She is The Mother, The Wife, The Christian Woman and somehow, improbably, The Judge.

And by being an archetype of everything, she is, in fact, nothing of substance. She is as blank as the notepad she proudly held up in her hearing.

A lot of people have been asking what I think of her. And the fact is that I do not think of her at all. To me she is a void. She’s a patriarchal placeholder. I understand her purpose. She is there to serve the patriarchy, to give it what it wants, to help it seize control of women’s bodies, to help it strip rights away from anyone the white patriarchal capitalist machine deems “other.” She is a blank because she is a handmaiden. She is OF the Patriarchy. She barely has a name.

Photo by Kai Medina from the Boston Women’s March 2019

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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We Tried Asking Nicely.

The former prime minister of Australia was on a podcast talking about how the gender pay gap won’t be closed for decades at the current rate. She found this “frustrating.” I found it enraging. And it’s not new information. I know that every single measure of equality is moving at a glacial pace.

But it struck me as I listened to her that the problem is that we are attempting to make change without making waves. The current pace, the current rate of change is unacceptable – but anything faster or more aggressive will rock the boat. The waves will be too big to allow us to go along as we’ve always done. If there’s anything we’ve learned so far in the current pandemic moment it’s that going along as we’ve always done isn’t going to work anymore.

The upshot of it is – we won’t see real change without pissing a lot of people off. For all these years, many women have advocated for change, but, like, a nice change, a change that doesn’t really upset anyone. Like, just give us the right to vote. Just an itsy bitsy voting privilege. If you don’t mind. If it’s not too much trouble. We just want a tiny slice of reproductive rights, nothing greedy. You can have a slice first, of course. Yes, please.

I’ve been this kind of feminist myself. I called myself a Hello Kitty feminist a few years ago. You know – a non-threatening, cute, smiling, sort of feminist. The kind who’ll ask for her rights and give you a greeting card. I was nice and polite and didn’t want to trouble anyone. And honestly, I still don’t. I’d really much rather give you a slice of pie than demand one for myself. It is very confusing to have spent a lifetime trying to avoid confrontation and now be leaning into radical change. I’ve found myself in deep admiration of the early suffragettes who created chaos and anarchy in order to be heard. I’m impressed by the bomb makers, the balloon droppers, the strikers.

Did I really think equality would be given us if we just asked nicely enough? I might have. Or at least I hoped that the world would see reason and begin to adjust itself. It won’t. The rate of progress is embarrassing. The blatant misogyny that has risen to the surface is impossible to smooth away. My former self would have attempted it, would have found a way to see the good in even the worst perpetrators. No more. I’m in a head knocking mood now.

And not just about feminism, either. I saw a show about a coal mine disaster that was caused by corporate neglect and malfeasance and while I was touched by the stories the actors told us about the workers’ lives and attempts to get justice, all I wanted to do was go storm that CEO’s mansion. I came home and listened to The Coup’s “5 Million Ways to Kill a CEO” on repeat. I haven’t stopped listening to it since. In this world of glaring income inequality, I have found The Coup to be my music medicine of choice. It’s always a good time to listen to “The Guillotine” for me these days. (“We got the guillotine. You better run.”) Do I really want to kill a CEO and/or bring back the guillotine? No. Of course not. I can’t even watch someone get an injection on TV without hiding my eyes so of course I don’t want to see an execution. But I think the fact that a peacenik like me is so thoroughly enjoying revenge fantasies in stories and music is a sign that a corner has been turned. I’m at the point where if I saw an angry group of Amazon employees who’ve been denied PPE and bathroom breaks drag Jeff Bezos from his home, I might just cheer them on. The revolution may be upon us and it might be violent and that might be just, actually, and what has happened to me that I feel this way?

I find myself in a constant state of flux – feeling both the, “It’s fine. I don’t need anything, thank you so much. You’re so sweet.” And the flames shooting out of the side of my head.

Watching Elizabeth Warren take Bloomberg to task was one of the most liberating things I have ever had cause to see. I’m sure Warren is a real sweetheart when ordering a tea but get in the way of her and someone’s rights and you’re in trouble. There she is, the best listener on the block, a model of feminine compassion – but not everyone deserves her kindness. Some deserve her fire. Just as some deserve mine.

I have to figure out how to find that pathway – how to be as courteous as I want to be and knock heads when it’s time to knock heads.

I find, having never really learned how to channel my anger, I tend to toggle back and forth between fury and accommodation and I don’t always get the settings right. Sometimes I automatically accommodate someone and then suddenly realize that they were not worthy of my accommodation. That makes me mad but it’s not nearly as tricky as the moments where I’m more aggressive than I meant to be. Those are harder to forgive myself for – because the niceness is the baseline and deviations are disruptive, not just to the person I am not nice to, but to me – because niceness is my baseline. But as the reality of possibility of change in the world sets in, as I realize how unlikely it is that we’ll see any gender parity in so many arenas, or economic justice, my baseline starts to shift. I feel less and less uncomfortable with not being nice and more and more ready for wave making change.

We tried asking nicely. We tried incremental change. We tried pointing things out in calm, bright, friendly voices and writing polite well reasoned articles. It got us next to nothing. Those in power will not release their hold on it until we wrest it from their cold dead hands, I guess. Maybe it’ll be the guillotine that gets them. Or just their own venality. There are five million ways to kill a CEO.

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

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Screaming Songs For Men
November 26, 2019, 6:57 pm
Filed under: anger, feminism, music, writing | Tags: , , , , , , ,

For the podcast version of the blog, I try and find a song to pair it with – a song that speaks to the content of the piece. For my piece about screaming, I searched for songs on the subject. There are a fair amount of songs with the word “scream” or “yell” in the title but almost all of them, I found, were by white guys.

I found this phenomenon curious. Why are there so many scream songs by white men? What do white guys have to scream about?
EVERYONE LISTENS TO ME WHEN I TALK!
PEOPLE CLEAR A PATH FOR ME WHEN I WALK DOWN THE STREET!
WHEN WOMEN MAKE 70 CENTS, I MAKE A DOLLAR!
I AM AT THE CENTER OF MOST STORIES!

I don’t get. I’ve really been trying to understand why we have Scream Bloody Gore, Scream and Shout, Rebel Yell, Silent Scream, Let Me Hear You Scream, etc, but not say, I’m Screaming for Some Equal Pay, Shout Your MeToo Out or Reproductive Justice Yell.

I don’t get why white male rage is a thing in music. And I also don’t get why it happens also in theatre, film and TV. And not just currently. Now, I might understand that white dudes feel a little threatened – but this phenomenon goes back decades. Why? With all the advantages on their side, why should they be yelling?

And then I realized. The rage in those songs is not an expression of powerlessness, the way my rage is. It is an expression of power. It is practice for power. It is grooming for power. It is a flex. It says – this is my anger, watch out.

And for decades, we have heeded that warning. We have been appropriately cowed by the screaming. White male rage is dangerous. It kills women every day. It kills school children. It is nothing to sneeze at. But it might be something to scream back at – in art. If dudes can practice expressing their power in songs, we can, too. I want scream songs for women. I want female rage films. I want to see us flexing, practicing our power. I don’t want another “Luca” or “Voices Carry” – two songs about dealing with men’s rage (two songs I have loved by the way). I want Scream, Yell, Shout – Get All Your Rage Out songs for women. I don’t know if I have it in me to write one – but I really feel I should. And so should you.

*

*End Note: I’m being a little bit facetious for effect here. I know men have a lot of very legitimate reasons to be angry and most of them have to do with how the patriarchy screws men, too. I don’t want men to stop shouting. I just want the rest of us to be able to do it, too.

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What to Do When Weinstein Shows Up at the Bar

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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