Songs for the Struggling Artist


My Respect Was Yours to Lose, or, Why Radiolab Broke My Heart a Little

When I first heard Radiolab, almost a decade ago, I was entranced. I’d never heard anything like it before and it was thrilling radio. Whenever it came through my podcast feed, it was the first thing I’d listen to, before any of my other programs. The episodes on Time and Music were as powerful for me as a good production of theatre. Their live show with Pilobolus WAS good theatre. It was a better show than most theatre I see. I loved Radiolab so much, I wished more people listened to it so I could describe one of my theatre practices using it as a reference.

I tell you all this fangirl stuff so that you know where my love for these guys began. And where it is now. In recent years, Radiolab episodes often languish in my podcast feed – partly because other podcasts have replaced it in my affections but also because it has changed. Listening to it was once like listening to art – a blend of sound, music and story – a series of factual short stories in an art wrapper. Lately, it’s become  like every other well-produced podcast in my feed – journalistic, professional – with up to the minute and historical stories. It’s still well crafted and well-considered – but I don’t NEED to listen to it the way I used to.

I don’t begrudge the guys who do Radiolab their new developments. I fully respect that artists change and follow their own interests. A good artistic practice demands that willingness to change. Artists are lucky if our audiences come with us on these journeys.

If this were just about that shift, about this particular audience member losing interest, I probably wouldn’t be writing this – but I’ve now had an experience with Radiolab that puts this all in a new light for me.

My friend and I went to a live taping of a show/debate about the First Amendment for the More Perfect show, which is their spin-off about the Supreme Court. To explain what happened, I’ll just include the message I sent to them about it.

Dear Radiolab –

I’m a long time fan of the show and a fan of the new spin off, too. I was at the debate last night and had some thoughts.

When Jad declared the winner of the first debate based on audience response, my friend leaned in and whispered, “They didn’t win. They’re just louder.” I nodded vehemently. A group of guys came in loud and they finished loud and the whole conversation last night struck me as highly gendered.

Since this is a show you’re still working on, I just wanted to raise this issue in the hopes that you might be able to consider the gender dynamics of the questions. When the show began, we were encouraged to be loud, to make noise, to boo and hiss and so on and some of the crowd, the mostly white male 1st Amendment enthusiasts were happy to oblige.

This felt like the beginning of a gender bias tilt in the evening. Some context: Women have been socialized to not do any of these things in public space so even if we have been given permission, we are still hyper-alert as to whether we are in a safe space to do so. From the beginning of the evening, it was clear that we were not in such a safe space. To even risk applauding in the face of the very deep voiced enthusiasm for being able to say whatever you want was too much for many of the women around me.

And here’s the thing – I’m pretty agnostic in this conversation. I’m still working out what I think – but I found myself trying to make noise on the other side of the 1st Amendment cheerleaders just to try and find some balance.

It’s pretty easy for a white man to be in full support of the 1st Amendment. White men tend not to be victims of abuse or vulnerable to hate speech. (At least not until they start to speak out for those that are.) After last night’s debate, I wondered if all hardline 1st Amendment people were white men. I know that can’t possibly be the case – but there was such a bro atmosphere on the topic, even with a woman debating their side, that I became concerned that any support of unfettered free speech must suggest extreme white male privilege.

I’d love to hear another perspective on your show when you air it. If you listen to W. Kamau Bell’s conversation with Lee Rowland (from the ACLU) on Politically Reactive, for example, you’ll hear a far more nuanced and sensitive perspective on free speech. Can you get her for your show? Or talk to Malkia Cyril at the Center for Media Justice?

I understand the appeal of the boxing match/debate experience (it probably feels entertaining to some) but it wasn’t a fair fight. For those of us who feel particularly vulnerable to attack, for whom the threat of on-line abuse often keeps us out of those spaces, the debate felt like yet another public space that women weren’t really welcome or comfortable to participate in.

As a long time listener of the show, I know you all to be thoughtful and considerate interviewers, investigators and curiosity seekers – so the tenor of this experience was surprising to me. This is why I think it’s worth letting you know about the experience of some of the unheard voices in your audience.

Thank you so much for your work. It means a lot to all of us. I’m just hoping you might be able to make this show, um, more perfect, as it were.

Respectfully,

Emily

Finding contact information was more difficult than I would have expected. On the first platform where I could find contact information, I received no reply. I sent it again through another channel – no reply. Not even an auto-response, like, a “Thank you for your message.” Nothing.

I really expected better of them that’s why I bothered to write them a letter. (This is not something I’ve done before, really.) I expected better of the show and I expected a better response to my hopes for a more inclusive conversation. But my letter was ignored. And so, I assume, were my concerns. And now that I find myself dismissed, I’ve started to re-examine some assumptions I made about the show in general. I assumed they’d WANT to create a more inclusive atmosphere because I wanted that to be true but now I’m not so sure.

Now that I’ve seen the show that I saw and gotten no response to my letter, I start to listen to the show in a different way. I used to hear two charming intellectuals bantering about ideas. Now I hear two white dudes needlessly scrabbling. I used to hear a kind of playful playground of curiosity. Now that I recognize that I’m not welcome on that playground – those games look a lot less fun. I listen differently now. Now I’m looking for how I misread the scene. I’m looking for sexism that I missed (I don’t tend to miss much. I’ve got a well-honed sexism radar.) I search for where I misread the signals of inclusivity, how I could have thought this space might have made space for me.

My experience with this show is a little like having accidentally walked into a frat party and seen your professor and your TA getting drunk and hitting on the grad students. It’s, like, technically fine, I guess – since everyone’s adults but – just, gross, man, it’s just gross. And now you won’t be able to think of anything but that frat house whenever your professor and TA are lecturing.

Anyway – that show about the First Amendment has come out now and I just can’t make myself listen to it. Not listening to it allows me to believe that maybe they took my thoughts on board, even if they didn’t let me know. But I really doubt they did. Given what I saw and felt that night, I really doubt it.

Here’s another thing that happened that night, a moment that made me feel like I had to write that letter initially and that I had to say something now that I’ve been ignored. That is, in the final round, the host, Jad, phrased the debate question in such an incredibly biased way that no one could assent to it, making it seem as though that side had lost in a landslide. Every woman around me sort of shook her head, like, uh…no. And I shouted. I don’t shout. But I shouted to the host, something like, “Could you rephrase that?” I pushed past my own discomfort with the power dynamics and the way the room felt to insist on a modicum of respect for the people who held that view.

Afterwards, quite a few women thanked me for speaking up. And I understood that I had to speak up then and that I had to speak up afterwards. I guess I’m a person who shouts now. Now I say something. Even when it’s a seemingly small detail.

And while I’m sad that a show I once loved disappointed me, being disappointed like this is not a unique experience for me. A lot of us women will give men we admire the benefit of the doubt. We will stretch ourselves to make them right, because we admire them. In this case, the Radiolab men had a lot of admiration to buffer them but once the shine comes off, once the scales fall from our eyes, well… we will give you a chance. But then that’s it. The stretching to accommodate your genius is over. And we will shout if we have to. We’re shouters now. We will shout. .

 

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Don’t Step On My Exit

This guy I’d never met before was being kind of a pretentious dick about the theatre we were standing in. He clearly felt he gained some status and authority from working as an usher at the place. What he didn’t know (because this is a big old organization) was that my friend and I had also worked there for over a decade in the education department so I told him. And it gave him pause, which was the desired effect. I’m not a big fan of the status game shit (Unless it’s an actual status game in an improv context – those status games I love!) but I’ll play if I have to.

As the evening went on, more talk of the theatre we were in emerged and when I was asked how I happened to no longer work at this fancy theatre, I joked that I stormed out in a huff. To be clear, this is not the case. It was a playful re-framing at my own expense, not the expense of the institution. It was my hope to make it clear that I left with a sense of righteousness and my dignity and that it was not some other kind of parting of the ways. But this little joke came back to haunt me over the course of the rest of the evening.

The first time was when he told someone my parting of the ways was acrimonious. I corrected him immediately. I said explicitly that it was not acrimonious. All parties were respectful and measured and no one bore anyone any ill will at my parting. I told more of the story. I emphasized that my “huff” was my own sense of self-righteousness and nothing anyone did to me. Not to say that the things I was mad about weren’t justifiable – but I recognize that I was the active agent in a moment. I saw my leaving as heroic and to hear it re-framed like a messy divorce made me mad. But I corrected the mistake and then moved on to enjoy the drinks at the bar.

An hour or so later, I heard him report, once again, to a new arrival to the party, that I’d had an acrimonious parting at this theatre. I corrected the implication again for the new arrival but I recognized that this guy was going to talk about my “acrimonious” parting forever – no matter what I said.

And here’s why I hate that and why I wanted to tell you about it. It felt like such a clear example of someone changing my story – something that happens all the time, especially to women and people of color and changing it in such a way where I was no longer the hero with a powerful exit. I thought I had a story like that air steward who pulled the escape hatch and slid down the inflatable slide to quit, but now I was in a story where I was just a pain-in-the-ass ex-wife.

And the fact that this guy still works at that theatre and seemed to enjoy the telling of the story he made up made me worry about all the people I still know there with whom I have good respectful relationships. I know how these stories get around.

I’ll explain my concern with a story of another job I quit. When I was in my early twenties, I was working at a theatre that suckered me in by telling me I’d be playing a leading role in a big play and then, when I arrived, stuck me into the box office 6 days a week, with a small chorus part on the occasional evening. It was one of those theatres staffed almost entirely by similarly suckered young people and in the house we all lived in, the others told the story of the one who came home for lunch one day, packed up their stuff and never went back. This person was a legend. Everyone seemed to admire their heroic departure. Everyone told the story again and again.

I left that theatre myself after two weeks, though not in a cloud of mystery. I spoke to the Artistic Director. (Yes, the one with the veil of rumors about his behavior with young women.) I talked with him once after the first week (when he told me I should meditate) and then again when I’d definitively decided I was leaving. Even though the Artistic Director tried to get me to stay, he finally conceded that if I was going to go, he couldn’t stop me and to get on my horse and ride. I packed up my car and drove out of there. It was a sexist and racist place to work and I was glad as hell to escape into the sunset.

Fast forward to my next acting job in a different state. In the new company of actors, there was an actor from the city where I’d left that shitty job. I told him I’d worked briefly in his city at that shitty theatre and he said, “That was YOU?! You’re a legend.” This was a year after the fact. And this guy didn’t even work at THAT theatre. Stories stick around. They can spread and grow until they cease to have anything to do with the source. And you know – I liked how that exit story came back to me from the other state. This actor’s story about me supported the vision I had of it. His story was like mine in which I was the hero who rode off into the sunset inspiring others to follow.

But back in the present day – this new story of my acrimonious split at the usher’s theatre makes me angry because it takes away my agency in it and it does not reflect my experience of leaving a place to make a stand. It frames me as a woman in Fatal Attraction instead of Karen Silkwood or Erin Brockavich. I left that theatre on principle and I’m hearing it reflected back to me as a spat. Repeatedly. No matter what I say to correct it. And he will tell his version of his story at work and he might tell it often and I don’t know what it will be by the time it comes back to me.

And this happens to women’s stories all the time. All the time. Wondering how it is that no one believed women when they came forward with their harassment and assault stories? This is how. This is how.

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This blog is also a Podcast. You can find it on iTunes. If you’d like to listen to me read a previous blog on Soundcloud, click here.screen-shot-2017-01-10-at-1-33-28-am

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There Was So Much Less Sexism Then
October 20, 2017, 9:52 pm
Filed under: art, education, feminism | Tags: , , , , ,

Whenever I reconnect with my college experience – either by going to a reunion or reconnecting with people from that era of my life – I am reminded of a time when I felt unstoppable. It feels like I reconnect with the aspect of myself that felt I could do anything.

I have often chalked this feeling up to youth, to just winning and winning and not really knowing what it meant to fail. And that was absolutely a part of it. But after seeing a couple of my teachers recently, I realized, too, that one of the other factors was that I went to college in a place relatively free of sexism. It was the kind of place where students sometimes complained of “reverse sexism” – like, when the theatre department didn’t want them to do True West with its cast full of men. (The students did it anyway, on their own, with an all female creative team and a gender reversed agent character.) Now, of course, we all understand that reverse sexism isn’t really a thing in the same way that we know that reverse racism isn’t a thing. But at the time, we were in an environment so positive for women that it felt skewed.

What I realized recently is that this college experience was the last time that this was true for me. When I was miserable in grad school, I called up my undergrad’s career counseling services (available for life, bless them) and tried to work out if I should drop out or keep going. My counselor said something like, “Everyone hates grad school. Pretty much everywhere is a let down after this place.” At the time, I thought, yeah, nowhere is as small or thoughtful or as dedicated to its students. It made sense. I realize now that the other factor I was missing was that it was also so much less sexist there. Which is not to say it was a paradise. (I heard tales of assault and harassment there too.) But now I see that it was the last time I felt really seen – the last time I felt taken seriously – the last time my potential felt visible to a critical mass of people.

I never considered an all women’s college. I was too keen on boys to make that leap. But my college was 75% women and that imbalance was enough to give me the experience of a life that was relatively friction-free sexism-wise for a few years. I see now that that was a beautiful headstart into my adult life. I only wish the world of work could have been as smooth.

It is an incredibly potent reminder to touch back in with the people who saw me in my full personhood, who imagined I could do great things, who invested in my potential. In the past, I thought they must be so disappointed in me that I never “made it.” Now I think: no, the disappointment is not in me but in the world that failed to see what they saw.

I imagine that’s what my teachers think because it is what I think when a student of mine has the same experience. The failure, if there is one, is not in the student but in the world that does not see their full personhood, either due to their gender, their race or their disability. As teachers, we put our hope in our students, hoping they will transcend the boundaries we ourselves were unable to overcome. I am still the vessel for that hope for the people who believed in me and I put my hope in those who follow me in the same way. And luckily for me, I once knew what it was like to be an artist in a world not dominated by sexism. It was beautiful, y’all. It was beautiful. And it is worth fighting for. It could be everywhere.

I can’t find the source of this but I can’t resist using it. If it’s yours, tell me!

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A Remedy for What’s-the-Point-itis

Because one of my beloved collaborators loves the work of Monica Bill Barnes, I sought out a performance. As soon as I saw Happy Hour, I, too, was in artistic love. I laughed and cried. I laugh-cried and cry-laughed. It was one of those shows that made me feel as if there might be a reason to go on. I’ve seen it multiple times.

I’m not going to lie; there are some days in this artist’s life in which I get a bad case of What’s-the-Point-itis. When the labor and heartbreak of making theatre just doesn’t seem equal to the reward. For me, seeing Monica Bill Barnes and Company perform is a great cure for that feeling of wondering what the point is. Good art is the point.

Monica Bill Barnes’ latest show (One Night Only) was no exception in this way – but it also brought to the surface a new “-itis” that I wasn’t quite sure what to do with at first. I learned in this show that Monica Bill Barnes and I are the same age. I learned that we share a lifelong commitment to our respective art forms. And in learning about the cost of that commitment to the dancers during the show, I learned about the cost of my own.

This may be a spoiler (DANCE SPOILER ALERT – skip ahead if you’re going to this show and would prefer not to know what’s going to happen -) but towards the end of the show, the two dancers listen to a list of injuries they have sustained over their lifetimes in dance, as we watch them continue to dance. There is a concrete cost to dedicating your life to dance and as I listened to it, I cried my face off.

Partly I cried out of admiration for the performer/creators who are facing the accumulation of that cost (for my benefit as an audience member) and for whom there is a finite amount of time to continue to dance the way they want. But I think I also cried for all the things my own dedication to my art has cost me. I can’t list them for you, not by year or by category – but watching this show made it very clear to me that all these years of dedication to art have taken a toll. Is the toll physical? Maybe not directly – but as everything that happens to us mentally, emotionally, spiritually, happens through the body, I don’t see how it couldn’t be. There is a cost to this kind of dedication. I knew there would be costs and I made my choice to pay that cost willingly a long time ago. But that doesn’t mean I don’t have scars.

Watching an artist (who is my peer in age and commitment) honor the injuries, the pain and the cost along the way helps me honor my own. Seeing the sacrifices of a life dedicated to art laid bare, I can see my own dedication, my own sacrifices and how hard the road has been but also why it was worth it.

Seeing the cost, I also understand the point. The point is that we keep dancing, we keep writing, we keep creating, we keep producing, we keep performing, we keep making things because art is important to our humanity and each encounter with it, whether in the audience or on the stage, has the opportunity to teach us something about ourselves.

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One Night Only is still running for another couple of weeks, click here for info. And Happy Hour comes back soon, too, I think.

photo of Happy Hour by Grant Halverson (I lifted it from MBB&Co’s Website.)

You can also be a remedy for What’s-the-Point-itis by

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This blog is also a Podcast. You can find it on iTunes. If you’d like to listen to me read a previous blog on Soundcloud, click here. And I usually sing at the end, if you want to hear that.screen-shot-2017-01-10-at-1-33-28-am

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Writing on the internet is a little bit like busking on the street. If you liked the blog and want to support it but aren’t quite ready for patronage on Patreon, You can tip me a dollar (or more!) put it in the PayPal digital hat. https://www.paypal.me/strugglingartist



Age is a Feature Not a Bug
September 21, 2017, 10:19 pm
Filed under: age, music | Tags: , , , , , ,

She told me her voice wasn’t what it once was. She’d taken time off from singing to raise her kids and was now coming back to it – distressed that she was not as perfect as she once was. There was a sense that her lived-in life had diminished her instrument.

I, too, had left aside my singing for a bit. Not entirely, of course, but aside from the occasional song for a friend, I hadn’t really kept at the technical practice of vocal performance. But ever since the election, I have leaned back into music and find myself singing again – because it is the only thing that makes me feel better. Raising my voice in song is how I express my fury, my fear, my determination to fight for the things I believe in. And I’ve been around the block a few times so my voice is not as technically proficient as it was, once upon a time. And I find that I really don’t care. I don’t care if I don’t hit a note with the exact tone I was imagining. I don’t care if a sound comes out strangled that I meant to sound clear. When I listen back to moments like that, I find that I like that catch in my voice. It is what I feel now. That catch is a feature not a bug. My age is a feature, not a bug.

A lived-in voice is a feature, not a bug. It’s funny to use a tech metaphor for something as organic as a voice but it leaped to mind when talking with that mother coming out of retirement. Her years of experience, of life, are a gift, not a problem.

I started going to voice lessons as a child and continued into college. My first year without regular vocal training was the year I spent abroad, in Italy. I did no vocal exercises, made no attempt to expand my range. I just sang and spent my year leaning into a new culture. When I came back to college, after I sang – one of my teachers said to me, “That was some year you had.” I didn’t know what she meant right away but something about it eventually helped me understand that she could hear the year in my voice. My year of learning a new language, growing bolder and opening up to new experience was all there in my voice. I don’t want to say she could hear the hills of Tuscany in what I sang but that’s how I imagined it.

Of course there are technical ways we can explore and expand our voices. Of course vocal training and coaching are incredibly useful and valuable. But our voices are more than simple instruments. We respond to the lives of the people who sing to us and to be able to hear the years in a song is to hear the agonies and the ecstasies, the thrills and the tedium, the passion and the despair. That is a great gift.

I want to hear the voices of mothers, of fathers, of grandmothers and grandfathers and all the adventurers among them. Your life, your years are a feature – not a bug. Give us your voices. Raise them in joy, in fury, in protest or in peace. Even if it catches, even if it cracks, even if you don’t like the sound – we need to hear you now.

You can help me keep singing by

Becoming my patron on Patreon.

Click HERE to Check out my Patreon Page

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This blog is also a Podcast. You can find it on iTunes. If you’d like to listen to me read a previous blog on Soundcloud, click here. And I usually sing at the end, if you want to hear that.screen-shot-2017-01-10-at-1-33-28-am

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Writing on the internet is a little bit like busking on the street. If you liked the blog and want to support it but aren’t quite ready for patronage on Patreon, You can tip me a dollar (or more!) put it in the PayPal digital hat. https://www.paypal.me/strugglingartist



Generation X Part 6 – Selling the Drama

We are the few, the proud, the brave members of Gen X who continue to make our way through the world while many of our peers have given up.

Do you remember, before we were Generation X, when we were the Pepsi Generation? Right about that time that Michael Jackson’s hair caught on fire? We were told that Pepsi was the choice of a new generation and there were videos and apparently our generation bought into it hardcore. We were also Peppers. Wouldn’t you like to be a Pepper, too? But that Pepsi Generation technique was actually a marketing campaign for Baby Boomers first and it worked so well for Pepsi when Baby Boomers were kids that they thought they’d try it out on us, too. And all the generations after. How you like Pepsi, Generation Next? Feel like joining the conversation since you “are the movement, this generation“? A lot of the conversation about generations is actually driven by advertising.

I read an article about an ad campaign for Lululemon wherein they’re targeting “the Yoga generation.” And which generation is that? As far as I can tell, every generation is doing yoga. My grandmother was doing yoga in the 70s and she was the Silent Generation. So that’s dumb. But…that’s what I mean, they’re trying to put you in a generational category so they can sell you stuff. I say you, not me, because advertisers are apparently not targeting Gen X-ers, because there are so few of us.

And here I think we have the heart of why Gen X tends to resist being labeled. We somehow have always known that once a marketer could label us, they were getting ready to sell us shit. But what’s hilarious is that marketers worked this out about us anyway – so they got sneakier with us when they still cared about us. I once bought a record almost entirely because of it’s ironic cover.

What’s ironic is now that Gen X is older, some members of Gen X have more money to spend but advertising has (mostly) stopped trying to reach us. Which probably explains why there’s been a recent bubbling up of Gen X articles. Marketers are perhaps getting interested in us again. For good and ill, I imagine. Just google anything to do with advertising and Gen X and you will see such an extraordinary trove of weird articles about how to advertise to us. Actually, search how to market to any generation and you’ll see some eye opening stuff about what’s going on behind that advertising curtain and where you might be vulnerable.

So Millennials and Gen Z, just in case you’re still here…I think it might be useful to recognize that when you see articles and listicles and so on and so on that reference your generation, you are probably being marketed to. The condescending pieces about you that make you mad may be designed to encourage you to spend your money on something or just click on something to get an ad near your eyeballs. The imaginary rivalries between Gen X and Millennials, or between Millennials and Boomers, are essentially clickbait for the people trying to sell you stuff.

As we now carry devices that have the capacity to market to us everywhere we go, we all need to become savvier about our vulnerabilities to advertising. As marketing becomes more personal and more direct, it will become harder and harder to remember our humanity. It might be helpful for all generations to take on some of our good ole Gen X skepticism.

We seem to now live in a world of relentless marketing. And it’s not just businesses who are marketing at us. The new norm seems to be a kind of marketing of self. People have become brands instead of individuals.

Most of Gen X has a gut response to this trend and it is a strong-armed revulsion. To us, this branding of people carries all the horrors of the origin of the word – the branding of cattle with a hot iron. For most of Gen X, this branding of the soul is relentlessly uncool. We liked our icons reclusive, uninterested in self promotion, and intensely private. Prince once gave an interview to the BBC wherein he neither spoke nor showed his face. Both Kurt Cobain and David Foster Wallace were incredibly uncomfortable with their own popularity.Can you imagine a Cobain clothing line? A David Foster Wallace cologne? For us, as soon as a band became popular, it ceased to be cool.

But we live in a gig economy now and if we want to survive, we must do as the digital natives do and put out all of our goods for clicks and likes. We cannot be the reclusive geniuses we want to be because the world doesn’t work that way anymore – And maybe it never did.

Every Gen X-er I know is deeply uncomfortable with self promotion. We recognize that we need to sell our book or our record or our blog or our podcast or our show or our theatre company or our business or whatever it is but it is highly problematic for us.

If we do it, we tend to see it as a necessary evil. I’ve taken multiple marketing classes and despite having a lot of knowledge and skill at my disposal, I have generally yielded next to no results. While attempting to sell my show in the highly crowded market of the Edinburgh Fringe, I discovered that the only real marketing skill I had – that is, the only thing that would reliably bring people to the theatre – was making friends. Like, actual friends. This is the only successful marketing I have ever done. I made some friends who showed up for me because that’s what friends do for each other.

I have had a podcast for over a year and I am so bad at self promotion that most of my best friends don’t even know about it.

And maybe it is just me. Maybe I’m the only one (see part 4) that is unwilling to trade my authenticity for more likes or hits or shares. Maybe I’m the only one that closely guards my best work until I’m ready to share it. Maybe I’m the only one that would rather share my truth than a promotional photo. I don’t think I’m the only one though.

Gen X tends to see the world that has emerged behind us as a life-sized version of that SNL sketch “You Can Do Anything!” We see that kind of self-promotional vibe as not only terminally uncool but completely at odds with authenticity, which is one of our core values.

I really do admire the hutzpah of Lena Dunham in having her character announce at the beginning of her show that she is the voice of her generation (or “a voice of a generation.”) This is something that no Gen X-er would ever do, even if she wanted to. Even as a joke. And Dunham was definitely joking. I dig the gutsy self-aggrandizement of it and I dig that it made her extremely popular.

Most of Gen X would rather be authentic than popular. We would rather be true to ourselves than just about anything else. I wonder if, in addition to the small numbers of us, our general lack of interest in self-promotion is a factor in our invisibility. In a world where everyone seems to be shouting about how great they are, Gen X is sitting in the corner, making something totally cool that few people will ever see.

I wonder if this is part of why there have been so many think-pieces about how Gen X is going to save the world, how Gen X is our last hope, etc. I think this is how we like to be seen – as the quiet secret heroes – chronically underestimated but swooping in at the last minute to save (and astonish) a grateful world. This image appeals to us. But frankly, even after reading dozens of these articles, I have yet to be convinced that somehow Generation X has the secret world-saving serum. I’m pretty sure we’re going to all have to get together to get that done. Generation X would like to do it alone but this is a job that’s going to need all generations on deck.

This is Part 6 of a multi-part series. and

You can read Part 1 here Part 2 here  Part 3 here

Part 4 here

Part 5 here

Help a Gen X-er with this self-promotion thing

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(Still) Waiting to Be Discovered

As a child, I wanted to be an actor but I lived in a small city wherein my opportunities were mostly school plays and community theatre. This did not stop me hoping that some director or producer would stumble upon me and whisk me away to Broadway or the movies. I imagined someone like the Hollywood guy in Cold Comfort Farm seeing me somewhere and a light would shine on me the way it does on Rufus Sewell and he’d know I was gonna be a star!

The fact that I was a shy, quiet, unremarkable looking kid didn’t stop me believing such a thing were possible. I did talent shows and musicals and revues and every play that would let me in. And the people who came would tell me to mention them in my Oscar or Tony speech. Everyone seemed to hold the same dream of my future discovery. Someone, somewhere would recognize my talent and catapult me to the stars.

Lana Turner was famously discovered at a soda counter after all. It was just a matter of time. The process of being an actor was primarily a waiting game, a game of wanting to be picked, to be “discovered” by someone with actual power. It was like trying to be Sleeping Beauty – but, like, awake and trying to look beautiful in the sorts of places princes might be looking.

Ultimately, this is why the business of acting didn’t suit me – even though I loved the act of acting. This is also why I moved toward the bits of theatre that allowed me to feel a sense of agency, an expression of some kind of power. I don’t like waiting – so I discovered myself instead.

But even so – I’ve often caught myself in the same expectant state, at a metaphorical soda counter, waiting for someone to discover me and change my life. I think maybe this isn’t just because I wanted to be an actor. I think this is because I have a little bit of fairy tale princess dust still in the system. While I refuse to fall asleep like Sleeping Beauty or Snow White and I am not locked in any tower like Rapunzel, I’m still locked in a kind of expectant state. When I’m told I can’t go to the ball, I don’t always think about how to get in without an invitation, I just wait for some Fairy Godmother to swoop in and make me presentable for the privileged. I wish I’d read a version of the Cinderella story wherein Cinderella picks herself up out of the ashes, dusts herself off (only a little) and then just brings herself to the ball just as she is. I want to see a version of this story wherein Cinderella sees something she wants and then goes and gets it. No waiting. On one of my favorite podcasts, the host often uses the phrase “Include yourself” and I have found it very useful when trying to elbow my way into places I have not been invited. I also just discovered something that Shirley Chisholm said that I have found very inspirational.

“If they don’t give you a seat at the table, bring a folding chair.”

But even while I now try and carry a metaphorical folding chair with me everywhere, I still often feel excluded. And while I thought I’d left behind my habit of waiting to be discovered, every so often I find it rearing its ugly fairy godmother head. I’ll put on a show and hope “someone” will come see it and pick it up. I’ll write a blog and think this will be the one that somehow shifts me from Struggling Artist and Thriving Artist. I write a play and think that “someone” will read it and take me to the theatre dance. And they never show up and I sink back into the ashes to cry and wish, like some older grayer Cinderella without the fairy godmother.

And for some people getting “discovered” does happen. They have mentors or advocates that shepherd them to the ball – but not every one gets a fairy godmother. Not every one who is working gets “discovered.” Being discovered is essentially a passive activity and hoping for it is a heartbreak. If you don’t get invited to the ball, sometimes you find your own way in and sometimes you just have your own party which, while a lot more work, can be a lot more fun and certainly a lot less passive.

I hesitate to write about this internal pattern because it is the very thing someone might use to explain why success eludes me (or any woman.) It’s that thing where confessing to lacking in confidence suddenly leads to blaming women for the confidence gap. I fear that acknowledging that I notice a tiny inner fairy tale princess who keeps waiting to be chosen will then be used as evidence for why I have not made my way to the ball. It sounds as if I am passively sitting on a rock and wishing for my (artistic/professional) prince. Which I categorically am not. I mostly do no wishing at all. I just do doing. I write the thing, I direct the thing, I devise the thing, I produce the thing, I publicize the thing, I invite people to the thing. I write other things. I podcast the thing. I tweet. I email. I call. It’s just that there is, below the doing, a little wishing fairy princess that was imprinted on me from a very young age. She mostly does me no real harm, aside from the disappointment of the fairy godmother never showing up.

It makes me think of a speech that Virginia Woolf gave called “Professions for Women.” She talked about the necessity of killing the Angel in the House. She spoke of the nice, accommodating angel who sacrifices herself for her loved ones. Woolf described how the “Angel” whispers in her ear while she tries to write. And each time she sat down to write, she had to kill the angel anew.

I suspect that it is not JUST the Angel whispering in my ear that I have to kill. The fairy tale princess, trying to help me be chosen, needs to be killed, too, before any real writing can happen. It’s tricky because the fairy tale princess seems to want to help me. She wants me to be seen and accepted, to be invited to the ball – but her voice is just as distracting and manipulative as the Angel.

When I sit down to write I have so much murdering to do. And while I don’t particularly find murdering appealing, I prefer it to the despair and disappointment of waiting to be chosen. It is, at least, an active engagement – an energetic purposeful task. Unlike waiting, which is total enervation.

Help kill the angel and the princess

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This blog is also a Podcast. You can find it on iTunes. If you’d like to listen to me read a previous blog on Soundcloud, click here.screen-shot-2017-01-10-at-1-33-28-am

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Writing on the internet is a little bit like busking on the street. This is the part where I pass the hat. If you liked the blog and would like to give a dollar (or more!) put it in the PayPal digital hat. https://www.paypal.me/strugglingartist




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