Songs for the Struggling Artist


Art by the Numbers (or Six Ways to Really Support Artists)

When I stepped away from my acting career, the first arts project I got into was my alterna-folk-pop band, Bright Red Boots. It was the first time I’d had to ask for people’s attention, the first time I had to gather an audience. It wasn’t easy, but between the four of us, we managed to pull in enough people to keep getting booked at a handful of venues. Handing out and sending postcards made me uncomfortable but that’s the way we did it, really. There were a lot of venues we couldn’t play because we couldn’t draw a big enough crowd and that has been the story of my life as a generative artist ever since.

When I started a theatre company, the problem of bringing in an audience wasn’t at the forefront of my mind at first and also, at first, it wasn’t that hard. With a fairly large company of actors and creative team, we managed to fill up our first small Brooklyn house most of the time and didn’t do badly at filling up a big theatre in an out of the way venue during the Fringe. But as time has gone by, pulling audiences in to see anything has become more and more challenging.

Around about the time we had to cancel two shows in Edinburgh because no one showed up, I started to dream of not having to worry about bringing in an audience. I wanted to just make things and not worry about who received them. I tried posting things on the internet, thinking this is just how we do things now, thinking that it’s all just clicks and likes and maybe the digital realm will be less concerned with popularity than the time-based live performing arts can be.

And, well…I discovered a kind of indifference I never thought possible. Despite the vastness of my POTENTIAL audience on the internet, I generally draw just about the same numbers that I used to draw in person. Very few people give a damn about what I get up to.

How few? I have two podcasts. One averages 13 listens per episode. The other averages 15. This is almost exactly the number of people I can manage to get into a theatre these days if I put on a show. This blog is definitely the most popular thing that I do because, occasionally, when some post is a hit, the numbers rise into triple digits briefly. (Once, they went up to 4 digits. Once.) But then it goes back down to my usual 6-16 readers. Music? Hmmm. I put out 4 albums this year and sold 5. Not 5 per album. 5 total. I would probably have sold a few more but my main supporters (my 16 Patreon patrons) got them for free as a thank you gift for their support. Songs on Spotify average 15 plays. I’ve written around twenty plays and probably 15 people have seen more than one of them. And I want you to know how much I appreciate those 15 people who have viewed or listened or bought or come to see shows. Those people are my heroes. Those people know how to support the arts. They know how to support me. (If you’re one of the 15, I thank you!) And truthfully, I know it’s more than 15 altogether. It’s more like 15 people at a time. The total is probably more like – I don’t know – 50? 60?

But I’m not going to lie – sometimes I get very discouraged that generally only 15 people at a time care about what I do. This is why I had to write a post for myself called No One’s Asking for Your Art.

So much of the artistic world these days is valued by the numbers. The box office numbers of movies are reported like important news stories. We measure if a movie is good by how many people go to see it on opening weekend. (Which is absurd, by the way. The only thing those numbers are an accurate reflection of is how effective the marketing plan was.) We have a 1% problem in the arts, just as we do in greater economics. There are a small handful of artists at the top, with big numbers (millions of downloads, books sold, tickets sold, etc.) and the rest of us limp by with our 15.

Here in America, we treat popularity as if it’s quality. (And of course this is a factor in our politics as well.) We assume that if lots of people like a thing then it must be good. (All over NYC, taxis advertising the musical Frozen proclaim it “a serious megahit” – which tells us nothing except that a lot of tickets were sold.) And we ALSO assume that if very few people like a thing then it must NOT be good. And if you think we artists don’t internalize that metric and make ourselves miserable, you probably don’t know a lot of us artists.

I have to constantly check myself on this point. When I’m disappointed that only 15 people looked at some thing I made, I remind myself that numbers are not a sign of quality. I remind myself that there are hundreds of thousands of white supremacist assholes. Those guys are very popular. Before his account was suspended, Milo Yannopolis had 300,000 followers on Twitter. Popularity has NOTHING to do with quality. NOTHING. Not one thing.

I always think about this episode of This American Life where they interviewed these conceptual artists who hired a market research firm and then made art by the numbers they received. I’m sure I’ve talked about this before (I am obsessed) but the deal is that they polled people about what they liked most in music and in visual art and then made pieces that were the MOST popular things and the LEAST. And the most popular song is bland and unmemorable. It’s about love and features a saxophone. It sounded like everything else on the radio at the time. The least popular song is a tour de force. I think about it all the time. I get parts of it stuck in my head. The opera singer rapping cowboy lyrics over a tuba is extraordinary. (It’s here if you need to hear it.)

It feels as though so many aspects of our lives have just been reduced to numbers, to how many clicks something gets or units sold or whatever. Even our journalism is caught up in it. Have you wondered why the New York Times has been posting so many kooky opinion pieces the way I have? Well, as Michelle Woolf pointed out – a share is a share is a share. (Seriously watch her video about this – it’s illuminating and funny.)

We make no distinction of quality – is this a good piece of work? A good show? A good movie? A good song?

If lots of people clicked on it – it must be, right? It’s the free market, right? Don’t we live in a meritocracy where the cream rises to the top? We don’t. Sorry. And it’s not even a free market. Let’s take music, for example. Watching this video made it crystal clear to me why songs became popular. (Short version – it’s extreme exposure coupled with audio manipulated for maximum loudness.) They became popular, not because people liked them but because executives decided to make them popular and so they are.

Which, you know, that would all be fine with me if the folks making work at the other end of the spectrum weren’t limping along with only 15 views or whatever. I feel like there should be room for all of us but somehow there isn’t.

I have no idea what’s to be done about it but if you’re wondering how to make the most difference to those who continue to make work in the face of impossible odds, I do have some suggestions.

1) Read, Listen to, Watch, Go to people’s work. Even if you don’t love it. The support you give now to an artist may lead to work you do love in the future. Or it may not. But your view, your click, your ticket sale, your presence will make a huge difference to someone who is used to indifference. Subscribe to their email lists, click on their links, like them on Facebook, follow them on Twitter and Instagram.

2) Respond to what you see with love, kindness and support. Even if you don’t love every aspect of what you see. Just some acknowledgement that the work’s message was received means a lot.

3) Boost these folks as much as you’re able. I know it’s exhausting sharing stuff all the time. But know that your cheerleading for a struggling artist has a much bigger impact than cheerleading for something everyone is already talking about. Example: You loving a Marvel movie is great. But everyone’s already going to superhero movies. They really don’t need the boost. You’re one of millions. You loving your friend’s short film? You’re one of 15. Be that person. That’s impact. I’m not saying you shouldn’t post about how much you loved Wonder Woman but maybe complement it with another post about an actual wonder woman you know.

4) If you hate something, you don’t need to say anything. Obscurity will take care of it, believe me. It’ll take care of the good stuff, too, unfortunately but —a share is a share is a share. You’ll actually boost the thing you hate if you talk about it.

5) If you can afford to: buy their book, buy their album, buy tickets to their show, even if you don’t particularly want to read the book or listen to the album or see the show. As I learned form this article – even super well established published authors have trouble selling their books to their loved ones. If someone you know wrote a book – buy it. And give it to someone if you don’t want it. Impress your friends by giving them a copy of your other friend’s book!

6) If you have some extra cash, you can go to the top level of support with something like Patreon. Helping an artist pay their rent is one of the most supportive acts of kindness. Patronage doesn’t have to be big. Someone giving a dollar a month to an artist gives not only the $12 a year but also a gesture of faith – of belief in the value of whatever that artist does. My Patreon patrons have made the things I’ve made in the last couple of years possible. They are why I can write these words now.

 

If you can only do one thing – start with number one. Just watch, show up, go, listen, view. (I heard about someone who sets their Spotify account on their friends’ albums and sets them to repeat all night while they’re asleep.) It’s exponentially more valuable to an artist like me to see that someone clicked on my work than it is to Taylor Swift. She deals in millions. I deal in multiples of 5. By the numbers, your share is more valuable to me. And a share is a share is a share.

Am I great at this? Nope. I’m not. I’d like to be better though. I actively try. But most artists I know are better at this than others – mostly because we know how it feels. Unfortunately, us liking each other’s work doesn’t always translate to the wider world. We need fans. We need cheerleaders. We need advocates. You don’t have to do it for every artist you know. Maybe pick one and be that one artist’s champion. It will mean more than you can imagine to that person. I have a couple of people like this and I appreciate them more than I can possibly say.

I’m not trying to say that only 15 people are ever interested in what I do. Sometimes I get a hit. But most of the time – 15 is the average. And I feel like I’m telling you this now because I know I am not the only one. Many of the artists I know are in a similar position but most of us work very hard to create an illusion that our numbers are much higher than they are. We’re not doing this to con anyone. We just know that human beings tend to gravitate toward popular things. To sell tickets to a show, tell people it’s selling out fast. Every theatre producer knows this.

Here are some reasons that people have given me for reading, watching, listening to my work: “Because you’ll be famous one day,” “because I want you to thank me in your Oscar speech,” “because I want to say I knew you when.” These are all investments in a future where my numbers are so big that the person is glad they got in at the ground floor. I used to try and capitalize on this instinct – to try and project an image of “I’m going places!” But I find I can’t get on board with this idea anymore. Not because I don’t have faith in my work but because I think possible fame in the future is a lousy reason to support artists.

It is unlikely I will be famous one day. But something I do might influence someone who will be famous one day or who is already famous. Or, more important to me: something I do might contribute to the culture, might influence another artist to make something great, might inspire someone to create extraordinary things.

In order to get just 15 views, sometimes we will create an aura of success. I have been known to say things like “bloggers over on WordPress love this!” when three bloggers have clicked the like button. I’m not lying. Three bloggers is more than usual for me. But I also understand that I’m putting a little bit of a shine on a situation while trying to boost my views.

When I began in theatre, I didn’t know almost everyone was bluffing. I thought everyone’s career was really going great! I didn’t know that theatre people are always having a great year no matter what is actually happening. I also didn’t know art wasn’t meritocratic yet. I didn’t know how much more important process and artistic integrity would be to me than “success.”

But I digress. I’m telling you about this because I want you to understand that even the artist who is projecting an air of cool, could probably still use your support. Unless your artist friend is Beyonce, they’re probably struggling to get more than 15 people’s eyes or ears on each of their things. Click, show up, be a patron. It’s good for artists. And good for art.

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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Want to be a top supporter?

Become my patron on Patreon.

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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Announcing My New Podcast (You know – for kids!)

Introducing Reading the Library Book – a podcast in which I read my novel for young people one chapter at a time. Part audio book and part writing workshop, the podcast invites young people to be a part of the writing and editing process of novel writing.

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I wanted to find a way to get feedback from young people about my novel. As a playwright, I am accustomed to being able to watch and sense my audience. This helps me work out what bits are really working and which might be expendable. Due to a novel’s length, it is very tricky to utilize similar barometers for this new project. I can only read so much aloud at a time and to so many people at once. The podcast will allow me to share my work in progress with friends around the world and to (hopefully) receive some thoughts about what young people are responding to when they listen to it.

The podcast will also serve as a commitment device for me. The trickiest part of this novel writing process has been finding the time and the will to do the major editing – if I have a group of young people waiting for me to read them another chapter, I cannot drag my feet.

This process blends a few separate strands of my creative life and practice. While this is my first novel, I’m finding many parts of my identity weaving together in this new venture. Certainly, my experience of podcasting and blogging helped support the speedy launch of this new one and my experience as an arts educator gives me some ways to set up an open, supportive space in a new venue. My theatre practice has given me many ways to listen to feedback and ways to be specific about asking for it. And I even made myself a quick theme song for the whole affair.

If you know a young person who likes books, please share this with them. I’m not entirely sure of the age range yet. (That’s part of the reason I’m doing this podcast. I want to find out!) I imagine it’s somewhere in the 8 – 12 range. But my first listener was six. Basically if you’re reading Harry Potter or The Girl Who Circumnavigated Fairyland, you should be fine. It’s not nearly as scary as those books either.
Thank you!

This is the current blurb:

Leandra spends most of her time in her local library. When the library’s books and librarians vanish, Leandra sets off on a quest to find them. Following a mysterious trail of red leaves through a leaf-pile, she discovers Akita, the fantastical Global Library, where libraries come in all shapes and sizes. With her new friend, Ammon, the Wandering Librarian and his library (a camel,) Leandra investigates the disturbing trend of all kinds of books and libraries disappearing. Are those her books paved into the ballroom floor? And what are those strange books wrapped in burlap and twine that seem to send people to inhospitable places as soon as they open them? Who is behind the cryptic messages and illustrations that keep appearing in her library book? Is it The Chair? Or reclusive author, Dorothea Crane? The fate of them all rests in one young girl’s book-loving hands.

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 and More. You can find them on Spotify, my websiteReverbNation, Deezer and iTunes

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You can help me with all my creative projects of all stripes

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

 



100th Episode
June 12, 2018, 10:20 pm
Filed under: podcasting | Tags: , , , ,

This blog will mark a milestone in my podcasting experience. When I record this blogcast, it will be my 100th episode. One of my favorite podcasts just celebrated their 100th episode and while I definitely won’t be renting the Palladium in London for the show the way they did and I can tell you right up front that Emma Thompson won’t be making a surprise appearances as she did there at the Palladium, it does feel important to acknowledge that a milestone has been reached.

It seems that a little podcasting reflection is in order (and maybe some cake. This might call for cake.) A number of factors contributed to the beginning of this particular arm of my artistic life. The first was that it occurred to me that the blog I was writing might be inaccessible to some who would want to read it. That is, I initially thought of the podcast as a way to bring the blog to those who might not be able to access it. (This is a little example of how making things more accessible can be creatively stimulating.)

The other factor was hearing Manoush Zomorodi’s story about her journey into podcasting. Hearing how she felt that podcasting allowed her to more authentically use her voice and become part of feminist podcasting revolution was the push I needed to get my podcasting idea off the ground. When I started, it was a total experiment and I wasn’t convinced it was a great idea. It’s not as if tons of people turned up to listen to it. Sometimes it seemed like only my boyfriend was listening. But his enthusiasm for the project was sufficient to keep me going. (Also the fancy podcasting mic he got me.)

And even 100 episodes in, I still don’t have a lot of listeners. Anchor tells me I average five listens per episode. That’s not a lot of people, really.

So I can’t really measure the success of this enterprise in numbers. (I mean I could but it would be depressing.) What I can track are the little impacts the podcast has had on me.

1) It generated four albums worth of songs last year. Every single song I recorded, I recorded for the podcast. And those songs were also what got me through the year of shock following the election of 2016.
2) I’ve developed a lot more facility with sound and editing and recording and such over the last 100 episodes. That facility made it so much easier, smoother and quieter to create a voice-over reel recently. Without all those episodes behind me, a project that might have taken weeks or months, took me a few days.
3) 100 episodes of the Songs for the Struggling Artist Podcast has given me the confidence to start an entirely different podcast – one that may have an even broader appeal. Weirdly, Struggling Artists are not a great target market! So stay tuned for my podcast for children. (Okay, technically, I’ve already launched it. I’ll tell you more about it later – but meanwhile, you can check it out on my website.)

But I’m not stopping at 100 episodes. I’m not sure why I’m not stopping. I guess I like it. And I like being able to make the blog accessible to those who can’t (or don’t) read it.

So I will continue for as long as it continues to please me. And I’m going to have some cake in my podcast’s honor.

You can find the blogcast 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 and More. You can find them on Spotify, my websiteReverbNation, Deezer and iTunes

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You can help support the podcast and the blog

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

 



Is It More Than a Thousand?
January 30, 2018, 12:43 am
Filed under: Feldenkrais, music, podcasting, Social Media | Tags: , , , ,

A podcast I’m a fan of had a Facebook group and on the show they were often talking about what a lovely group it was and how the people on it were the best, so I joined it. It was a place where women asked each other questions, where they vented about sexism they ran into and shared stories. It was a feminist space where you could sensibly participate in a conversation about vibrators without batting an eye. It was pretty cool.

As the podcast became more popular, the group got bigger. And slowly but surely the group became more and more contentious until eventually they shut the whole thing down. A lot of people were shocked but I could see it coming from a mile away. While many mourned the dissolution of their “safe space,” I’d known from the beginning that no space is truly safe on social media. I know enough about the way these companies operate to know that anything I post could become public – that anything I post is really Facebook’s property, not mine. Sometimes these kinds of groups are fun but they’re never truly safe. (This skepticism may be a property of my Gen X identity.) And something I’ve noticed about on-line spaces is that the bigger the group, the less civil people become.

I don’t know what the civility threshold is on a Facebook group – but I suspect it’s somewhere around a thousand people. Once it gets bigger, somehow someone is always going to be offended and then pile-ons ensue. It doesn’t have to be ABOUT anything in particular – it could be something small – but after a thousand people are in the room, it’s bound to happen.

This happened recently on a professional group I’m a part of (2,735 members in the group.) Someone asked for tips about how to deal with a particular brand of troll and I offered a suggestion of a metaphor which featured classical music. And before I could blink, angry comments started to spew. There was a pile-on of angry classical musicians like you would not believe. The last I checked on this post, someone had said, “I find this metaphor offensive.” Which you know, I’d understand if I’d said classical music is dog poop and anyone who plays it is stupid. But I did not say that. Nor did I intend anything of the sort. (Some of my best friends are classical musicians!) All I said was that the Alexander Technique might be said to be more like classical music and the Feldenkrais Method might be said to be more like jazz. It’s not a particularly controversial thing to say. Unless you’re in a social media group of over a thousand when everything is potentially controversial and pile-ons seem to happen all the time.

In this case, too, I noticed on this thread that two comments down from me, a man had used this same analogy – but curiously, his post received no angry responses. So…I have to assume that this issue may be gendered. It did not escape my attention that every angry response was from a woman and that none of them challenged the man who had asserted the identical metaphor.

Now – here’s what I’m wondering. Is it possible for groups of over a thousand people to be productive and civil? And what happens to large groups of women in particular? Why is this devolution of civility so common?

A misogynist might say that women are petty or get upset about nothing. And my own inner misogynist thinks that very thing about all those women who were mean to me without even knowing me!

But. If I pull back my focus and look at the big picture…I think of this situation as a plugged up sprinkler. Like, the sprinkler is full of fury and if it’s thwarted, if all of its outlets are stopped, it’ll shoot that fury out of the side of the hose or wherever it can find a crack. When I’m feeling generous, I can see these dumb responses this way, as just misplaced fury – and women sometimes shoot their anger onto other women because they’re afraid to express it to men. They’re mad at me about my classical music metaphor because they can’t go yell at Harvey Weinstein or whomever the Weinstein figure of classical music is.

Or maybe it isn’t gendered – and any group of more than a thousand is just bound to devolve into constant spats. I don’t know. It’s a new world. These are not problems we had twenty years ago.

But I’d love to read any sociological studies about groups like this. There is probably a predictable formula for when people start to behave badly. I think it might help us all to know what that formula is. As for me, since I get knots in my stomach in response to conflict, I’ve just unfollowed pretty much every large group I’ve been a part of. And I breathe a LOT more easily now.

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You can support the blog

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.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. You can find it on Spotify, ReverbNation, Deezer and iTunes.

*

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



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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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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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

 



No One’s Asking for Your Art

Probably, there is no one who can’t wait to read your next play. Probably, no one is itching to read your novel. No one is clamoring for your new album or begging for your next dance piece. Probably you have some loved ones who are very supportive and tell you how excited they are to read your latest writing but 9 out of 10 people really don’t care and even the most supportive person you have on your side won’t see or read EVERYTHING. Your friends might feel obligated to go see your show or listen to your album but they probably won’t come every single time or listen more than a few times. Probably when you tell them about your latest creative venture, they’ll tell you they’re excited about it but they probably won’t come. (Life happens. To everyone. Everyone can’t see everything.) I’m not saying your people are not glad that you make art but the odds are they’re not clamoring for your latest thing. Especially if you make a lot of things.

This is why you have to untie yourself from your potential audience. If you have the instinct to create, you have to do it for yourself first because no one wants whatever you have in mind more than you.

I think this is true even if you’re a popular artist who people want to hear from. Let’s look at J.K. Rowling. Her fans wanted Harry Potter, now and forever. No one wanted her to write a book about a small-time English Village council election. No one was asking for that. But she wrote it anyway. If Rowling was completely tied to what people wanted from her, she’d have been writing only Harry Potter for the rest of her life. But no, not only did she write a novel about an election, she also went and wrote a whole crime series under a pseudonym. I bet you no one was asking for her to do that when she started.

If you’re not J.K. Rowling, your audience might not want anything at all from you. The most likely response you will get to your art is indifference. And you cannot let this stop you. Just because no one particularly wants you to do it, doesn’t mean you shouldn’t.

If you’re called to create, you have to do it. For you. No one else. Or maybe one other person. It could even be an imaginary person. I have one dedicated fan of the podcast. I record it for him. And even he doesn’t listen to every single one. A more logical person might leave such an enterprise aside. But I don’t make a podcast for logical reasons – I make it for artistic ones. My reasoning mind understands that not every artistic expression is for every one. And that as long as I feel inclined to create, that’s how long I should do it.

No one wants it. But if you DON’T express that unique sparkling thing in your soul, it will fester. Or at the very least, wink out of existence.

If you need people to want your work, you might just want to go ahead and work in advertising. You can go be “a creative” in marketing or some form of industry. They’re going to want your words, your ideas, your drawings, etc. They’ll give you assignments, structures and feedback. They’ll ask you for all you have. They will read everything you write for them. They will listen to all you record. They will look at all that you draw. And you will get payment, one way or another.

But if you feel called to be an artist, you’ll need to be prepared to go where no one is calling to you, where there is no encouragement but your own creative spark. The practice of a life in the arts is learning how to nurture your own spark, how to stoke your own creative fire and encourage it to blaze so it becomes harder and harder to ignore. Learn how to be your own match, your own oxygen, your own kindling, your own log and you have a practice for life.

Help me feed my fire,

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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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