Songs for the Struggling Artist


Mature
July 20, 2018, 9:27 pm
Filed under: age, art, clown, comedy, music, theatre | Tags: , , , , , , , ,

I have arrived at the point in my career wherein people are starting to call my work “mature.” It has happened with my playwriting. It has happened with my singing. And I do not like it. In both of these instances, “mature” seemed to be meant as a compliment. “Mature” is not (yet) code for “old” – but meant to suggest a kind of complexity and evolution. I think. So why don’t I like it? Surely I want my work to mature, right? I want my work to age like a good cheese or a fine wine, don’t I?

Don’t I? I don’t know. I’m trying to understand why “maturing” doesn’t please me. At the heart of my discomfort of it is the dismissal of what came before. If this play is mature, it suggests that the plays that came before were immature, just little adolescent saplings running around untethered. It implies a kind of linear artistic development and I just don’t think such a thing exists. An artistic life does not travel in a straight line. It circles. It comes back around to ideas from the past and brings them to the future.

It’s like this conversation my partner and I had about Shakespeare. He noticed that sometimes when scholars don’t have definitive evidence for when a play was written, some of them will group the plays thematically. That is, they think because Shakespeare wrote a play about fathers and with disobedient daughters in one year, that that would suggest the undated father-daughter play would be around the same time. To me, that’s bananas. While certainly we all have our artistic phases where we obsess over one thing for awhile – we also have artistic touchstones, ideas that we return to again and again, ideas that we investigate anew from a new place in the life circle.

And maybe that’s why I find the idea of maturity so uninteresting. I mean, Shakespeare, again, is a good example of this. Some might say Hamlet is his most “mature” play. It sits at the top of achievement in Western literature. And yet it sits right in the middle of his career. Probably written in 1600, Shakespeare had many more plays to write after that one. Some of those plays are very silly and some of them are quite wild (including my favorite, Cymbeline.) Which are the most “mature”?

Maybe it’s my clown training but I am not particularly interested in maturity. Maturity has airs of seriousness, waves of severity that just don’t connect with my sense of play. When someone calls me immature, they are usually pointing out my irreverence, silliness or non-conformity. I value all those things tremendously.

I know maturity doesn’t necessarily mean I’ve lost my irreverence but maturity smells like mothballs to me. What I hope people who tell me my voice has matured (either metaphorically or literally) mean is that my stuff is complex, layered and interesting. I sometimes get called “wise,” too. And I like that just fine. I like it a lot, actually. Because there is always space for a wise fool.

I suppose, too, that I can’t help but keep returning to the idea that labeling my current work as “mature” suggest that my previous work is less than. And I just don’t appreciate any compliments for my newborn that insult my previous creative children.

I don’t mean to make anyone self conscious about giving me compliments. I don’t receive quite enough of them to start getting picky about them. Believe me, I sincerely thanked every person who called my work “mature” because it feels appropriate to accept a compliment in the spirit it was given, even if it has an odor of backhandedness about it.

I will say, though, that no one has seen enough of my body of work to make such a judgment. The only human to have a thorough enough experience of my oeuvre would be my mother. She’s the only one who’s seen enough of it to make that call. And I think the last time she called me “mature” was when I was a teenager. (I was very mature then. I’m not sure I am anymore! )

So, if you are tempted to call someone’s work mature, maybe dig a little deeper. What do you mean?

Is the work complicated? Layered? Deep? Rich?

I mean – let’s look at wine and cheese. We don’t stop at describing a wine or cheese mature. We call it nutty or grassy or robust or smooth.

I would be so delighted to have my work described with the subtlety of wine or cheese descriptions. Some of my work may be mature. It may be immature. Neither of those categories is useful to me. Call it robust or nutty, though? I’m gonna eat that up.

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 Anchor, click here.

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

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You can help support both my maturity and immaturity

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Click HERE to Check out my Patreon Page

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Writing on the internet is a little bit like busking on the street. This is the part where I pass the hat. If you liked the blog (but aren’t into the commitment of Patreon) and would like to give a dollar (or more!) put it in the PayPal digital hat. https://www.paypal.me/strugglingartist

 

 

 

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TV Folks Feeling Uncomfortable

Reading excerpts of a roundtable of TV showrunners made me unexpectedly angry. I found myself throwing down the magazine. There seemed to be a general consensus that the “Me Too Climate” was inhibiting their work as comedy writers. Showrunners, male and female, bemoaned the PC atmosphere.

And it made me mad. Not because I don’t understand. I understand that a certain amount of freedom and safety definitely helps the creative process. I understand that continually censoring one’s self can put a big obstacle in front of creation. But….a lot of us have been dealing with that our entire creative lives.

I don’t really feel bad for people who suddenly have to hold back from saying their misogynist joke or their racist joke or whatever ugliness they feel they should be able to just let loose with.

I don’t feel bad about these folks who suddenly have to be a little more self-conscious for fear of saying something inappropriate.

Some of us have had to be self-conscious this whole time. Some of us know how to make jokes in an inclusive way. (If you don’t think it’s possible to be funny and also kind, listen to the comics on The Guilty Feminist podcast. It is entirely possible to be funny and sensitive to power dynamics, race, gender and ability. Or listen to Cameron Esposito do crowd work. She brings everyone in with inspiring warmth and hilarity. And, of course, if you haven’t seen Hannah Gadsby’s Nanette, get on that.)

But the folks running TV shows have generally been in The Business for a while. They came through the ranks when the ranks required a comfort and ability with working with the status quo. They are the Establishment.

In order to become a part of the Establishment, you have to have had a certain level of comfort, ease and understanding of the status quo. You have to have been okay with the bizarre power dynamics and the bananas world of mostly wealthy white men making the majority of the decisions. Most folks who made their way to the top of a media chain did not get there on the back of nuanced feminist or racial sensitivity. That’s not how you get to the top in TV.

I’m not saying everyone who works in high power positions in TV are complicit in mounting sexist, racist and abelist structures but a lot of them are.

And now as the big players in their industry begin to tumble down, people are looking to them to say something to address things that they are frankly ill equipped to address. There is a shifting of the balance of power happening, for sure. But it’s a looking glass world.

I saw, in this same magazine that I threw down in fury, an advertisement for a conference on change. It was clearly an attempt to help guide people through the shifting sands of power, to address sexual politics and new norms. But of the maybe 12 speakers, there was only one person of color. And one of the lead presenters was a white haired man who appeared to be about 75 and is the “Creative Ambassador” at Barneys. These are the people folks are looking to help them through a changing landscape? I mean…

It just suddenly struck me that rather than reach out to the people who have been historically shut out of those worlds, they’re just asking the people inside the gates to do things a little differently.

Instead of hiring people who have been working for racial equality and gender equality and disability rights and so on, they’re turning to the people who never cared about those things and asking them to figure out how to address them.

And you know, I don’t object to all those folks getting more woke, as it were. That’s great. Let’s wake everyone up! But…I don’t really have the patience or the good will to watch celebrities and TV execs learn about feminism from each other. It’s just not that interesting watching them make mistakes we all made back in college.

I’d rather watch W. Kamau Bell get given four shows to develop and Cameron Esposito and Rhea Butcher’s shows get picked up by a major network and then get three more. I want to see Hari Kondobulu and Negin Farsad on TV all the time. I want Zach Anner to have a show.

I mean…I just don’t feel bad for those still holding on to their comfortable jobs and finding it a little less comfortable. It should be a little less comfortable. It’s your comfort with how things were that contributed to the ickiness of the media culture. Stay uncomfortable. Stay present. And invite some other people in.

And listen, I don’t really have a dog in this race. I have no ambitions to work in TV.

But I do suspect the same mechanism is already at work in theatre, where I DO have ambitions. I’m sure that, as the big companies are making their reckonings, they are not saying to themselves, “Hey I wonder if we could bring in some people who have been working in feminism or racial justice or disability rights and produce their plays, for a change?”

Nope. I’m pretty sure the first order of business will be to turn to the people already inside and ask them to write (or direct or create) something on the topic they’re hoping to improve their image on. Mark my words, we’re going to see Neil Labute’s Me Too play before too terribly long or David Mamet’s. And I’m sure it will sell a lot of tickets, Lord Help Us. But…I’d rather see a big theatre stage all the feminist writers who have writing without reward in the trenches for years. Or hire any number of feminist directors who have not gotten the work offers they should.

But maybe I’m wrong. Maybe this time theatre won’t follow TV the way a little sister follows the older one. Maybe this time theatre can lead the way and invite in all the folks who have working tirelessly on the fringes. Maybe.

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 Anchor, click here.

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

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

*

You can help support my lifelong work on the fringes

by becoming my patron on Patreon.

Click HERE to Check out my Patreon Page

*

Writing on the internet is a little bit like busking on the street. This is the part where I pass the hat. If you liked the blog (but aren’t into the commitment of Patreon) and would like to give a dollar (or more!) put it in the PayPal digital hat. https://www.paypal.me/strugglingartist

 



You Had One Job, Man

I will preface what I am about to tell you with the fact that I spent much of the evening before this day wading in the mucky pool of the aftermath of the news about Louis CK. While stand-up comedy is not technically my field, it is a sister field and therefore painfully close. So I began my day still marinating in both the horrors and the hope of this world laid bare and I felt pretty ready to tear it all down. But that’s not what I want to talk about. Just read Laurie Penny or KatyKatiKate or Laurie Kilmartin if you want to talk about it amongst yourselves.

What I want to talk about is this incredibly weird moment in an incredibly weird alumni lunch I was a part of. In the middle of the lunch, a tall middle-aged man stood up at the mic and proclaimed that he did not have his glasses and was going to mispronounce everyone’s names. His job was to point out the various alumni volunteers so that students could find us. This job should have taken two minutes. He had maybe 17 names to read. And this reading of the names took, what with the hemming and hawing and the “oh, you see I need my glasses” and the repetition of needless instructions, probably ten minutes. The man had ONE VERY EASY JOB and he was appallingly bad at it.

And you know, in some contexts, I could be very forgiving of such incompetence. If we were at a senior center, for example, I’d not have given it a second thought. But it’s 2017 and the world is run by incompetent men who have gotten away with terrible things and stupid things and I have zero patience with any old white man who has power over women. There was, at this event, a staff of incredibly capable women standing to the side, watching this moment and wanting (I imagined) to jump in and help the car wreck in front of them but unable to because this guy has a fancy title. He’s the President of the Alumni Association. So a room full of people just quietly sat there (well, truthfully I didn’t sit quietly – I cracked jokes to the student next to me) while a buffoon rambled on. ONE JOB, man. YOU HAD ONE JOB.

Listen, I sympathize with missing glasses (I need them too) but I can come up with six ways to solve this problem that would not have involved putting a room full of (mostly) women through that terrible show. And anyone who has had to fight their way into a room would do the same. And I know that my fury about this is out of proportion with the offense. I spent a day trying to unpack why this event made me, at dinner that night, want to disembowel the air with my chopsticks. And I don’t yet have an easy answer.

Here are some factors that seemed to be driving my violent chopstick impulses:
1) I’m furious in general. I have been enraged for over a year now and it only gets worse the longer this political disaster goes on.
2) This particular mediocre white man has pushed my buttons before when he advocated for the Board of the College in cutting my beloved Florence program. (More about that here.) That corporate sucking up is antithetical to what I valued about my college experience. So yeah. I’m not inclined to think of him favorably. Also I saw a little clip of him speaking at graduation wherein he said something like, “Either Key or Peele went here, I can never remember which.” – a comment I found so shockingly racist, I gasped and had to stop the video. I mean…so yeah. He pushes my buttons.
3) That a mediocre white man is representing a college that is mostly women is not an insignificant factor. And I am suddenly aware that there may have been elections for this alumni board that I have likely ignored and here is yet another area of my world where not paying attention has led to circumstances not to my liking. This guy is the President (of the alumni board) because he wanted to be and believed he could do it and because most of us have other things to worry about. So now, I’m pissed because I’m thinking, “Do I have to run for the alumni board now? My god, I do not want to. All I really want to do is make art. I don’t want to tweet and make calls to congress. I don’t want to sign petitions and campaign for people and write postcards. And I don’t want to be President of the Alumni Board of my alma mater nor do I have the resources to do such a thing. Because here’s the thing – I’m an artist, a struggling one, in case you hadn’t worked that out by the name of the blog, and you know, it cost me $16.50 to go up to the college and a whole day to try and be helpful and I really don’t have $16.50 to spare and a decent lunch might have made it feel worth it but a sandwich and a bag of potato chips ain’t really doing the trick. So it’s like, the people who volunteer for these sorts of positions like president or board member have something to get out of them and resources to spare. And they’re the sorts of people who make their forgetting of their glasses the problem of a whole room of people.”
4) I am not feeling logical or temperate anymore. I am having an Unforgiving Minute, as Laurie Penny beautifully put it. I have made excuses for, apologized to and made space for men to be right for too damn long and I will rage about the smallest infraction. I was nice and accommodating for forty years but time’s up and I’m done.
5) Sorry. No, I’m not sorry. But you know probably this guy is perfectly nice and pleasant to talk to at parties but I’m sorry – no, I’m not sorry, I don’t want this guy’s head on a platter, I just want the career I don’t have because incompetent overly confident mediocre white dudes blustered their way into gigs that more qualified people should have had. And this guy is now just a symbol of the ego-inflated oversize mediocre white dude balloon hanging over the world and all I want to do is stick a pin in it anywhere I can. So, I’m sorry. No, I’m not sorry. I’m done being sorry.

6) Like Rebecca Traister talked about in her article about the current moment – I’m also waiting for the backlash. As a woman who was writing about sexual harassment and sexism before it was trending, I know the backlash is coming and I’m bracing for it even while half hoping that this article in Time about women having reached a critical mass in all these fields is right and maybe no backlash is coming but really I’m still bracing for the terrible ugly backlash just in case and I think that makes me a bit tense, you know – so one incompetent asshole who could have just turned over the reading to someone who had their glasses or bothered to ask how people pronounced their names ahead of time or written names in a size he could read just gets right under my skin. It’s like a small scale diversary/diversity moment happening right in front of me.

So it’s obviously all really simple and stuff and I guess chopstick air evisceration is logical given the swirl of feelings. And for me that rage is relatively new. I will confess that my socialization as a feminine creature was so intense that I literally thought I could not feel anger until I was in my mid-twenties. In my early years of acting, I got nervous when I had to play characters who got angry because I worried that I had no capacity for rage. Those years are over and perhaps I’m just making up for lost time. I’m angry now about all those things I pushed away and smiled about instead of kicking over – so now I will rage about the littlest things. From a stupid speech to a shitty radio show, I know how to rage now and I can feel how much more productive it can be than pushing things aside or making excuses for stupid behavior. Not that there won’t be consequence for my rage and I’m worried about those, too because – come on, man. Just…I don’t know…bring your glasses next time and get on with it. Also, I’d like to know when the alumni board elections are. I’m paying attention now and I use my power to vote at every chance I get. And I rage.

You can help me rage productively

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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.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

 



The Guys
January 31, 2017, 12:54 am
Filed under: art, comedy, feminism, podcasting | Tags: , , , ,

In addition to making my own, I listen to a lot of podcasts. In my feed consistently for the last 7 or 8 years has been Marc Maron’s WTF, wherein he talks with people – mostly from the entertainment biz. I’ve learned a lot- but one major thing that I don’t think I would have known without this medium, is the way male entertainers talk to each other.

In most of these conversations, at some point Maron will ask his guest “Who were your guys?” He’s asking who inspired his guest…who they idolized, who they looked up to. And there is a mutual understanding about this long line of guys – which guy inspired the current guy in the guest chair. I have never once heard a woman come up on one of these guys’ list of guys. No male comedian will credit Carol Burnett or Lucille Ball with forming his comedic sensibility. No male musician will credit Bonnie Raitt or Billie Holiday.

We live in a “My Guys and Your Guys” world. It’s not just comedy. It’s music. It’s movies. It’s the whole culture. Guys and guys and guys. Guys talking about guys.
I’m starting to think that one of the most radical things a male artist could do would be to credit a woman as one of his guys.

And this is reinforced everywhere. American Theatre Wing made a video about clowns in their Working in the Theatre series and every single clown was a white guy. I guess to work in the American Theatre as a clown, the first thing you have to do is be born a white dude. I don’t blame the clowns. They’re just The Guys and they probably asked the guys who their guys were and so we ended up with this long line of clown guys. But surely American Theatre Wing could have found ONE female clown. Or a clown of color. I know at least ten personally that I would have been happy to recommend. But they didn’t ask me. Because I’m not one of the guys. And the guys sent the team from one set of guys to the next set of guys. It’s a legacy of guyness, passed from one generation to the next.

It’s not just the institutional sexism that perpetuates the current structures, it’s all the guys idolizing the guys before them and hoping to inspire the guys after them and there are the girls who try to be one of the guys in order to be on the list of guys that will be remembered for all time.

But there is no real solid legacy of Ladies. And we definitely need such a legacy. Of course, what might be better are less monolithic lists of “guys” – for men to be as inspired by women and trans artists as they are by their fellow men – and vice versa. Meanwhile, I’m cultivating a legacy of ladies for myself so I can be prepared in case anyone asks me about my guys.

And, as is happening so often in this current moment, the world has shifted rather dramatically since I first wrote this piece. I’m writing this now a few hours after Sally Yates was fired from the Trump administration for refusing to violate the constitution. In the last couple of days, there have been several judges who have similarly been incredibly inspiring in their standing up for what is right. So, as Kamala Harris said over on Twitter, “It is clear that the resistance to Trump’s radical agenda will be led by courageous women fighting for our future.”

My new hope is that these women will inspire more women and in future podcasts, they will be named on everyone’s list of “guys.” I know that throughout our country’s history, women have been at the forefront for social change. I’m reading Rebecca Traister’s All the Single Ladies right now, about how women drove the abolitionist movement, drove the labor movement and much more. Many of those historical women are lost to the common conversation but I hope the new ones will help us create ever stronger lists of “guys” who are also women.

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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




“You Should Do Stand-Up!”
February 29, 2016, 11:07 pm
Filed under: advice, art, comedy, education | Tags: , , ,

A woman in my Feldenkrais class asked me where she should go to learn how to do comedy. She’d been told at various job conferences that she was funny and she said everyone told her, “You should do stand up!”

People SAY these things without realizing what they’re doing. People who say, “You should be a stand up comedian!” don’t actually go and see stand up. They have no real sense of what it is or what the life entails. I’m not a stand up comedian but I know what it takes and I can tell you that this woman should NOT be a stand up comedian. She doesn’t even like stand up comedy. But she was considering it anyway because so many people said it.

But people say things like this. If they see a kid who is cute and talented in a school play they say, “You should be on Broadway!” Which, again, is not something I have done but I do know what it takes and 999 out of one thousand kids should NOT be on Broadway.

I wish that people could be a little less ambitious for one another…that we could just let a funny person at a business conference be a funny person at her job or let a talented kid be a talented kid at his or her school. That’s enough most of the time.

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Going into the Arts is like Playing the Lottery
April 21, 2015, 10:19 pm
Filed under: advice, art, comedy, Creative Process, music, puppets, theatre, writing | Tags: , ,

The odds are maybe not quite as bad. Maybe. But the chances for an actual sustainable life in the Arts in this country are very slim. When we begin, we’re all convinced we will be the one to beat the odds but only a lucky few will actually manage it. When you play the lottery, you can incrementally improve the odds of winning by buying more tickets. It stands to reason that the more tickets you’re able to afford, the more opportunity you have to win.

This is how privilege works in the arts, in a sense. Being white, for example, gives you some extra metaphorical lottery tickets. Being male will do the same. If you’re both those things, you’ll get an additional handful of tickets. And if you have some economic privilege – i.e. you can afford to do internships or not pay rent while you do a residency or whatever – that’s an even bigger handful of tickets.

But it’s still not guarantee of winning. This is why it’s hard to see one’s own privilege. It’s hard to feel like you’re winning when you’re losing most of the time. Winners of the Arts Career Lottery will tell you that all it takes to win is to work really hard at your craft and be the best you can be at what you do. The winners are experiencing something known as survivorship bias (to read more about this see: You Are Not So Smart.) Someone with Survivorship Bias attributes anything that they experienced as the reason for their success, that is, they worked hard, so it must be hard work that makes success!

But for every person who won the sustainable career Arts Career Lottery by working hard, there are probably hundreds upon hundreds who worked just as hard, are just as good and yet didn’t win. And there are also the ones who didn’t work very hard and just got lucky. You can do everything right and fail. You can have a fistful of tickets and still not win the lottery. You can have a fistful of privilege and still not win the arts lottery.

And like the actual lottery, sometimes a little win in the Arts will keep you playing. In the lottery, you play enough, you will win $25 or $50 and those small gains can encourage you to stay in the game, giving you hope that you could win. This happens in the arts, where a small bit of progress feels like a signal that you could win. You got that audition. You got that grant. You won that jury prize. So you keep playing. For better or for worse.

Should you play the Arts Lottery? Entirely up to you. The odds are terrible and you can lose a lot of money as well as piece of mind. I can really only recommend it for those who feel that they have no choice – that a life in the arts is the only available path. If that’s you: Welcome to the Lottery. Your odds are pretty slim but if you’re like me, you keep playing, simply because you cannot help it. Just be prepared for the moment when some asshole who’s never bought a ticket before, who’s barely trained and has not paid any dues suddenly hits the jackpot. I’ve seen it happen many times and it does not stop sucking.

But if you can let go of the idea that there might be order or justice or merit in the way the arts magic gets distributed, you might be able to enjoy the game.

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