Songs for the Struggling Artist


In Which I Read that Dragon Book, Part Two

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

Now PART 2

September 4

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

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

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

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

September 5

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

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

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

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

September 6

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

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

September 7

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

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

September 8

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

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

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

September 9

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

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

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

I have little patience with this.

September 10

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

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

September 11

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

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

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

September 12

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

September 13

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

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

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

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

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In Which I Read That Dragon Book

August 30th 2022

In a wave of curiosity, I put myself on the waiting list for my library’s digital copy of When Women Were Dragons, the novel that came out this year in which a dragoning is a featured event. (I wrote about this funny “coincidence” not so long ago.) The wait was going to be months long so I figured I didn’t have to read it – but it would be on my list should I want to. When it suddenly became available, I didn’t WANT to read it but I also couldn’t help myself. What is this book’s deal?

I started it last night and I already have so many thoughts. It seemed like it would be better to wait until I’d finished the book to write about it – but it’s clear it’s going to be a real journey for me so I figured I’d take you with me on it. This post may take a while to write as I don’t think I’m going to be able to read this book quickly. In fact, I think it’s going to be multiple posts. There will be spoilers. This will be me reading the book, with you alongside me.

First, this book is dedicated to Christine Blasey Ford and makes it clear that the Kavanaugh hearings were the inspiration for it. I almost stopped right there. Because, as you’ll know if you’ve read previous blogs on this topic, or listened to interviews with me about The Dragoning podcast, those hearings were what provoked my dragon blog and then the podcast. So…the kick-off was exactly the same, which just created some super complicated feelings before the book even started.

But I kept reading. I was in a space where I could deal with some complicated feelings. I read all the introductory material and I read Chapter One and then I had to stop. I hated it. Not because it wasn’t good or well written. I think it is but I can’t tell because I was blind with frustration. Here’s what I know already. This book is too nice. It is academic (or faux academic) and it is going to make a lot of women suffer. (Well, fictional women anyway.) Already, it is clear that this author and I are coming from very different starting points. In her novel, it is mothers and wives who are missing. It is children who are suffering the loss of their mothers. Women turn into dragons, yes – but then they fly away. I created a world where it is men who go missing – because the women ate them or set them on fire. And while women have to wrestle with a new reality, you will not see a woman victimized in my dragoning.

Now – this book may turn around from here. It may turn out that all the missing mothers and wives have flown off to start their own dragon society or something – but from this point in the narrative, I am not enjoying this reality. And I’m sure you know how much I like women turning into dragons. After an hour or so away from it, I was able to read another chapter and it didn’t make me quite as mad. The main thrust of the story seems to be a child trying to understand what’s wrong with her mother after a two month absence. Of course we assume her mother was a dragon for a couple of months. Either that or she was in a sanitarium from being abused by the father. Anyway – this is where we’re starting.

Will we get some empowering lady dragons at some point? I expect and hope so – but I’m not counting on it.

August 31

In talking about this experience of having a famous author write a thing like my thing, my friend advised me to discuss it with the Dramatists Guild, since I am a member and questions of creative legality are their special purview. I’m not sure I’d have a case, as this book, thus far, only shares a point of inspiration, a concept and a made-up word. I don’t think there’s any evidence of substantial copyright violation – but I’ll have to keep reading of find out.

Anyway – I read another couple of chapters as well as the Handmaid’s Tale-style academic inserts. I still hate it. But it’s becoming clear that the story is a conflict between the patriarchy-fighting aunt and the patriarchy-handmaiden mother. It would appear that it is the trouser-wearing mechanic who is going to turn dragon. Everyone’s already afraid of her and her eyes turn funny at times.

I don’t know. Thus far it’s all a little conventional for me. I don’t think this author stole my work because if she did, she missed the whole gist of it and she stole the most banal part. I guess it makes me appreciate the world I created more but it also makes me angrier that my podcast continues to languish in obscurity while this novelist gets write-ups in places like the New York Times.

But I have to keep reading to see if I have something to discuss with the Dramatist’s Guild Legal Department.

September 1

I read a chapter and more of the “Academic paper” and a “Washington Post article.” I’m using quotes because neither of these things would pass for the things they are supposed to be. I mean, that’s fine – academic papers aren’t generally very readable and newspaper articles can be dry and go on a bit. And now I know more about where this is going. There’s a lot of talk of the “Mass Dragoning Event” which I find funny for some reason. Maybe because it’s so clunky?

And the part that I find irritating is the fact that now we’ve learned that the dragons are exclusively wives and mothers. It is repeated twice – “Wives and mothers, all.” And I suppose I find this irritating because I am neither a wife nor a mother and I suppose I’m not crazy about the idea that it is essentially the relationship to a man that would give a woman the super power of dragonhood.

Maybe the author is going for an idea that being married and giving birth introduces you to a new kind of patriarchy-fighting rage? But still…

Ultimately, you get your dragonhood because you get married to a man or a man got you pregnant. (I assume she means women who marry men when she says wives, as it takes place in the mid 50s.)

And hey – maybe she means that only women who are compelled to be this close to men will get mad enough to turn dragon but I find it vaguely insulting to unmarried and childfree women. We can get plenty mad, believe me.

Listen, I think mothers are magical. I know a lot of extraordinary women (cis and trans) who are mothers. I have an extraordinary mother. I would never diminish the work and sparkle they put into the world – but this “wives and mothers, all” business makes me real twitchy.

September 2

Thus far the pattern in this book has been a chapter bookended by supplemental material. That pattern changed in my reading last night wherein I read two or three chapters in a row.

What’s becoming clear is that there’s some kind of connection between the head of the dragon and the uterus, which aesthetically, I understand. There is a sort of pleasant echoing of shape. I don’t love connecting dragon transformation to biology, however – and I particularly don’t love it in this moment when there’s a lot of transphobic nonsense around the biology of women. I can’t claim any special inclusiveness around trans issues in my dragoning. I’ve just said any woman can become a dragon and I just assume that may include trans women. I’m leaving that door open – maybe have a trans writer write something that speaks to them in that world, at some point. My own work is not particularly inclusive in this way (yet) but it’s not exclusive either. Which I somehow think is important.

This question makes me think of Y: The Last Man, a TV series I watched that is based on a comic book, wherein everyone with a Y chromosome suddenly dies one day (except one guy and his male monkey). The show explicitly dealt with the difficulty of trans men being the only men remaining and getting one’s hands on testosterone in that transformed world becomes a plot point. It also acknowledges that there are women with Y chromosomes as well.  

It feels like if you’re explicitly talking about biological issues, you’re obligated to deal with the complications of biology. We’ll see if this book goes there.

The other thing that’s becoming clear is that the dragons are a mother’s fantasy. They are the dreams of overwhelmed women, ready to run away from it all. It reminds me of The Lost Daughter but in a fantasy world. I’m sympathetic to it but I don’t know what it might have to do with what we saw in the Kavanaugh hearings. It’s just sort of generic patriarchy at the moment. I guess that’s why she set in the 50s – so it could be generic patriarchy.

I do love the gold eyes of the dragons, though – and that somehow the mother can prevent herself and others turning into dragons by tying complex knots?

September 3

The most dominant experience of the novel seems to be the intentional forgetting of the fact of the dragoning. It’s not the dragons themselves – they just take off and live on mountains and stuff. The novel is unpacking the gaslighting done by the protagonist’s mother, the cultural gaslighting of pretending nothing happened and the oblique references to changes and transformation. I suppose this is connected to the Kavanaugh hearings in that so many people were able to pretend the assault he committed in his youth (allegedly! Ha!) didn’t happen and then later pretend that we didn’t all see what a shitbag he was.

I don’t think Barnhill is wrong about this cultural impulse to try and forget terrible events. I feel like we’re watching that happen now as people pretend that everything’s fine and we didn’t just let over a million people die of COVID.

So far, this cultural forgetting thing seems like the most true thing in the book. Can’t say I’m particularly enjoying it though.

End of Part One

That was nearly two thousand words on the first chunk of the book. So this is going to happen in chunks because no one needs a book length review of another book. We’ll just have multiple blog posts instead!

There wasn’t an image of the book under the Creative Commons umbrella so I just went for a nice licensed colorful dragon via the British Library.

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

They also bring you the podcast version of the blog.

It’s also called Songs for the Struggling Artist 

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

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

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Is This a Dragon Zeitgeist?
July 5, 2022, 10:49 pm
Filed under: art, Creative Process, feminism, Gen X, Imagination, podcasting, writing | Tags:

As many of my readers will be aware, back in 2018, provoked by the Brett Kavanaugh hearings, I wrote a piece called “I Am a Dragon Now. The Fear of Men Is My Food.” A few months after that piece went around, elements of it poured themselves into a piece that became The Dragoning, an audio drama podcast. The podcast came out in the spring of 2020 and Season Two just launched.

I’m taking you through this timeline because here, in 2022, an award winning author has published a novel called When Women Were Dragons, in which there is an event known as The Dragoning. A friend sent me a review of this novel because it sounds an awful lot like my piece. Not identical, of course, but close enough to be uncomfortable.

Has, bestselling author, Kelly Barnhill STOLEN my idea? I doubt it. I suspect dragons were in the air and we both reached for them. I think of Elizabeth Gilbert’s idea about ideas. She unpacks this notion in Big Magic. This is her theory that ideas just sort of float through the air and they visit whomever they think will realize them. The ideas visit lots of artists at once, just to be sure they are born. My guess is that The Dragoning was in the air and it chose both me and Kelly Barnhill. I got the idea out faster but Barnhill will spread it wider.

It is slightly uncomfortable, of course, to find that something that came from my brain also appeared in another person’s brain – and a woman who is exactly my age, no less. It’s like the idea was flying around in 2018 and was like – “I need a 44 year old woman to take this and run with it” and maybe it wasn’t even just me and Kelly Barnhill. Maybe there are a dozen more 48 year old women who were visited by the dragoning fairy four years ago.

Is it possible that Barnhill consciously or unconsciously lifted this idea from me? Like maybe she read the blog, which did go pretty viral, especially among Gen X women and thought, “I can imagine a world based on this!” And off she went. It is possible. Same thing happened to me! But, do I think she STOLE this idea from me as every novice writer is always convinced will happen to them? I do not. I’ve read Barnhill’s work. She has no shortage of imagination. She’s not out here trying to steal anything. She doesn’t need to. Her brain makes up lots of neat stuff on its own. She does not need to steal. I’m incredibly confident in her ability to make up her own magic.

But I do find myself in this incredibly awkward position of finding my own work slightly less google-able because someone else, with a much larger platform than me, has written a work with my title in it. They got Naomi Alderman, who wrote one of the most exciting books of the last few years – The Power, to write a review of it in the New York Times. Naomi Alderman is ALSO 48 years old. It feels like all the girls in my class are writing magical feminist speculative fiction and they all joined a club so they’re getting together and hanging out and I’m all by myself over here, quietly declaring I was here with this first.

The other thing that sucks about this is that the only way to find out if Barnhill’s work is somehow derivative of mine is to read it and I don’t feel I should, even though I know I’d enjoy her writing. I loved her novels for young people but I don’t want to mix up the waters. I don’t have any plans to write a third season of The Dragoning but I’d like to have the option and I don’t want to unconsciously take on a different writer’s dragons. So I guess I just have to wonder about it – or wait for my friends to read Barnhill’s book.

I feel like I want Barnhill’s book to be a success because maybe a rising dragon tide could lift all dragon boats. But I’m also not looking forward to being overshadowed by an established writer, who has an agent and an editor and all the trappings that come along with success. I’m proud of my work and it would be very painful if the spotlight shining on that award winning author just cast me further into the shadows. That’s why this is complicated. I am reasonably sure we’re all just part of a zeitgeist in a world where women long for the power of dragonhood, while we watch our rights and hope disappear. But the zeitgeist doesn’t feel great. Maybe just because I’m not in the club.

I’m obsessed with this Paolo Uccello painting from 1470. I love that this woman has the dragon on a leash, like she’s walking it and the knight looks like he’s giving the dragon a COVID test.

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

They also bring you the podcast version of the blog.

It’s also called Songs for the Struggling Artist 

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

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

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Do I Make Media?
June 15, 2022, 10:15 pm
Filed under: art, podcasting, writing | Tags: , , , , , , , , ,

For jury duty, we had to fill out information about ourselves that the lawyers then used as conversation points during jury selection. The first lawyer looked at my occupation (writer, podcaster, theatre maker, performer, Feldenkrais practitioner) and said something that I couldn’t understand at first. He said, as a statement, not a question, “You work in (unintelligible).” As I tried to work out what he’d said, he asked, “You’re a podcaster?”

This I knew what to do with. Yes. I am a podcaster. And in the meantime, my brain had managed to process the word he’d said earlier, which was “media.” I have never, in my life, thought of myself as working in media, which explains why it threw me for a loop. I suppose it might technically be true in that “media” is a kind of broad category but conceptually, it is so far from how I think of my work that he might as well have asked me if I work on Planet Earth. I mean, I do. But that’s not how I usually think about it. I was struck by the discrepancy of the confidence he had in proclaiming that I work in media and my own complete bafflement by the category. And I mean, sure, he’s a lawyer who works on civil cases so maybe overconfidence in categories is an occupational habit but I am genuinely confused by this categorization.

I suppose to his mind, people only work in large categories. He works in law. He’s pursuing a malpractice suit so he’s watching out for people who work in the medical field. He sees “writer,” he doesn’t think “Art,” he thinks “media.” And I guess media was an approved category for him because I got selected for jury service. (More on this in future posts!)

But while I make things that I suppose might be called media, in that I make things in one medium or another that might make their way to the public, when people rail against the media, I don’t even feel slightly implicated. I suppose because I am entirely independent and generally just make things because I feel like it, not because anyone told me to.

But what this experience has made me realize is how foreign my self-identifiers are to the bulk of average Americans. This lawyer would never look at my list of occupations and think, “artist!” For him, I would guess the only artists he thinks of as artists are the ones with paintbrushes and berets. And I think there are certainly more of him than me.

I live in a kind of artist bubble where I hang out with other artists, where I talk with people who actually understand artists even if they’re not artists themselves so I can sometimes forget how the rest of the world tends to operate. Artist isn’t an occupation for them. The expectation is that you have an employer and you do labor for them.

The other juror form we filled out for this situation offered no category for freelancer on its list of types of jobs. It was full time, part time, per diem/commission or unemployed. This is a whole system (that every citizen is likely to make some contact with) that misses out a giant (and growing) category of the work force. It’s not just artists who freelance, of course, but it’s an equally baffling category for a form within such a big system.

You start to see how systems are built and how easy it is to exclude people with categories. Or to include them in categories with which they not only don’t identify but that don’t even make sense to them.

I can see how this lawyer landed on “media.” Probably the only podcasts he’s listened to are Serial and The Daily. Maybe The Joe Rogan Experience, lord help us. To his mind (and a lot of people’s) – podcasts are just another channel from major news outlets. They’re not something a person might make with a mic and a laptop while sitting under a bed. (It’s a loft. But still.) The picture this guy has for what I do is very different than the reality. He thinks I make media. I think I make art and work about art, which okay, I guess is technically media – but I sure don’t think of it that way.

Is this media? It’s certainly using MIXED MEDIA. It is somehow connected to a larger organization so it may be a message for it?

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

They also bring you the podcast version of the blog.

It’s also called Songs for the Struggling Artist 

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

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

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

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Want to help me make “media”?

Become my patron on Patreon.

Click HERE to Check out my Patreon Page

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Should I Try to Work with Egotistical Douchebags?
April 8, 2022, 10:50 pm
Filed under: art, feminism, Shakespeare, theatre, writing | Tags: , , , , ,

* Note – I’m going to use the word douchebag a lot in this post. Get ready. But also – for context – I used to be really wary about the word douchebag. I thought the word might be connected to some thinly veiled misogyny that I didn’t want to be leaning into. Then I read this blog post and now I am a convert. If you have any hesitation at all about this word, I highly recommend the journey this guy will take you on. Go. Read it. Then come back here and enjoy me talking about d-bags a lot.

And now – the actual post:

The minute I met the artistic director of that Shakespeare company, I thought “Oh he’s an egotistical douchebag.” Then I saw his show. I did not want to like it but it wasn’t terrible. I mean, the thing with doing Shakespeare is, the text is always interesting so as long as you don’t get in the way too much, it’s possible to put on a decent show, even if you’re an egotistical douchebag.

And the theatre business is oversaturated with egotistical douchebags, especially in positions of power. When I was really trying to make acting work as a career, I discovered that the vast majority of employers in this arena were, in fact, egotistical douchebags. I think it was realizing that kissing up to this type was going to be the bulk of this job that made me start my own company. It seemed the only way to ensure that I wouldn’t have to suck up to an egotistical douchebag on the regular.

Anyway, at first meeting, this Artistic Director struck me as someone I would not even like to talk to at a party but the Shakespeare world is smaller than you’d think so I told myself he was nervous – talking to all those Shakespeare teachers and maybe not the egotistical douchebag he seemed to be. Maybe he’s fine. I didn’t think so but I tried to give him the benefit of the doubt. I was still pretty sure, though. I have a highly tuned douche-meter.

When an opportunity to submit plays to his theatre came up, I thought, “Why not? I may not be crazy about that guy but their work isn’t bad and I just can’t produce my own work the way I used to. It’s time to expand my circle. Sometimes it takes an egotistical douchebag to bring plays to the world.” I submitted. The play was rejected. No big deal. And when I mentioned it, a much respected colleague let me know, in passing, that I probably would not have enjoyed my time there had I been accepted. My colleague had some experience with this guy and reported him to be… an egotistical douchebag. They recounted many nail biting stories of douchebaggery in the trenches with this fellow in days of yore.

It’s very nice to have my first impressions confirmed. That’s the good news here. I know an egotistical douchebag when I see one! But it has made me think; Isn’t practically every dude who runs a theatre company an egotistical douchebag? If I want to see my work get made (by someone besides me) do I have to learn how to suck up to egotistical douchebags? I don’t want to work with douchebags, period. But there are so many of them and they work all over the place and there are only the smallest cracks getting made in the walls that keep them there in the seats of power. Twenty plus years ago, I just thought, “No problem, I’ll just do it myself!” But I didn’t factor in all the ways the system is designed to support egotistical douchebags, young and old, and leave the others in the dark. The light shines on the egotistical douchebags and the more light shines on them, the brighter they get and the rest of us can never really make it out of the shadows. Sometimes the only way to catch a little light is to stand next to an egotistical douchebag.

This particular company run by this particular egotistical douchebag was founded ONE year before mine. Technically, this guy is my peer, along with numerous other guys who started their companies at the same time as I did and somehow found the light to thrive. I don’t know another woman who started a company around then that is still going. I guess the egotistical douchebag lane is the only one available? I mean, I hope not.

Running a theatre company is not an easy job. There’s very little money in it. It’s a whole lot of work for very little reward. It’s possible an inflated ego is the only thing that will keep you afloat in this world. Maybe you need to be a little douchey to get things done. I genuinely don’t know. I would very much like to see my work produced by someone that isn’t me. Would I like it to be produced by a douchebag? No. Do I have a choice about that? I’m not sure. That’s what I’m trying to work out.

You know who that light is shining on? You guessed it.

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Rejections as a Measure of Hope?
March 18, 2022, 10:28 pm
Filed under: Rejections, theatre, writing | Tags: , , ,

New York Classical Rejection

I didn’t submit to many things in 2021. This was the first theatre I submitted to in over in a year. It seemed such a gimmee – a Shakespeare company doing readings of Shakespeare adjacent work. I have a LOT of this sort of material due to applying over and over to the Shakespeare’s New Contemporaries award at the American Shakespeare Center, a company that I used to work as an actor for and therefore know VERY well. I just can’t resist it, every time it comes around. And therefore I have a small glut of plays that are perfect for a Shakespeare company but have never been produced.

I’ve seen New York Classical’s work and met their Artistic Director while doing some Folger education work so it seemed like a natural fit. I thought that they’d look at my finalist play and snap it right up. They did not.

Back in the rejection saddle again!

That was the first in a while and since it was so short, I sat on it for months, waiting to fill this post out with some other rejections.

Now the rejections are flowing again so you know I must be bothering to apply for stuff again finally. The document where I track my applications and rejections is a real study in….I don’t know what to call it – Hope and Despair?

Ashland New Play Festival

In 2019, I applied to 92 things and in 2020 I applied to 18 things. Almost all those applications were in the first three months of the year. (Wonder why!)  I guess I was starting to feel vaguely hopeful there might be theatre again by the fall of 2021 as I did manage to submit to 8 things. The rejection for the Ashland New Play festival which I applied to in October just rolled in and I expect the others will be along shortly.

But I’ve already applied six this year, so I guess I’ve raised my hope level somewhat? It doesn’t FEEL like it but the evidence suggests a shift.

And now they roll in.

The Eugene O’Neill National Playwrights Conference

The very first time I applied to the O’Neill, I got into the semi-finals. It has not happened since. I had never applied before my first submission. I really didn’t think I stood a snowball’s chance in hell and I didn’t want to spend $35 just to melt my snowball, as it were.

In a way, that first shocking win has made all the subsequent submissions more painful to lose than they otherwise would have been. Sometimes it’s easier to apply when you think you have no chance. You just throw your submission money down the hole with a kiss and it’s over. When you’ve had a little glimmer of hope, the rejection somehow feels a little sharper.

Anyway – this year I submitted my mash up of Jane Austen and All’s Well that Ends Well. It did not make the semi-finals.

Orlando Shakes PlayFest

(title of email: PlayFest 2022 Unsolicited Query Update)

I will say this for the Orlando Shakes fest; They are one of the speediest rejections around. I feel like I JUST sent them the same Austen All’s Well that I sent to the O’Neill and they have already rejected it. There are at least eight other rejections I would have expected first but they are very efficient over there. I applaud them for it, truly. It is so much better to get these things done quickly.

*Wondering why I’m telling you about rejections? Read my initial post about this here and my patron’s idea about that here.

Hope? Despair? Just a cool work of art somewhere.

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

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The Macintosh in Tick, Tick…Boom!

In the first couple of minutes of the film, the character of famous theatre writer, Jonathan Larson, introduces us to the year (a pan shot of a Calvin and Hobbes calendar that reveals it is January 1990) and a lot of his stuff. He tells us about his two keyboards, his music collection and his Macintosh computer. My brain did a little record scratch of “Huh?” at this but I had a movie to watch so I watched it, occasionally squinting my eyes at his machine when he’d type a single word on that computer, throughout the film. Then I went to bed. And I started thinking about the Macintosh computer. I thought about how odd it was for a struggling musical theatre writer to own a computer at all in 1990 and how extra odd it would be if he had one that was new like that. I mean, I didn’t know the exact dates, but I knew most people didn’t start really getting these things for another couple of years.

So this computer in his apartment in 1990 could only mean two things. One – Jonathan Larson was also a computer nerd, in addition to being a musical theatre nerd. And in 1990, this was just highly unlikely. Like, it’s like a computer nerd and musical theatre nerd could not have been the same person. They might meet at a party and make out but those two circles of being were probably closed at that time. I knew both of those types of people then and they were not the same. You could find one now, no problem. But in 1990? No way. So – given that this musical theatre nerd was not likely to also be a computer nerd, the only other reason a man who cannot afford to pay his electric bill would have a fancy new computer was that his parents bought it for him. This would mean that his parents had some cash to burn and the other evidence for the privilege his family must have returned to me as I went over some facts I learned from the film. His family lived in White Plains (a wealthy suburb of NYC) and they have a summer place on Rhode Island. This would mean that this composer cannot pay his electric bill, not because he has no access to money but because, very likely, mostly others had taken care of those things for him before. (Again, there is evidence for this in the film when it is suggested that his friend and former roommate, who had only recently moved out, used to take care of these things.) Suddenly a story about a struggling artist becomes the story of a man with a certain amount of privilege, carelessness and entitlement. I have a feeling this is not the myth the filmmakers wanted to make.

Anyway – the next morning I looked up when the Mac Classic came out because the (two second long) shots of it made me think it was like the computer in the 90s I knew best. I wanted to find out how weird a choice it would be for a musical theatre guy to get a Mac and when I saw that the Mac Classic came out in October of 1990, when the movie takes place in January of 1990, well, now I had a THIRD explanation for how Jonathan Larson, a musical theatre writer, had a Macintosh computer in his struggling artist apartment so many months before they came out. He’s a time traveler. He went to the future, not super far, just far enough to pick up one of the first Macs and brought it back to his present moment in January 1990. I’m sure he could have probably done some more useful stuff than picking up a computer a year before other people got them – but that’s like, a whole other movie.

I sort of liked this explanation best, fantasist that I am, but then I looked at the film again to grab a little screen shot of the computer and it turns out the model in the film is NOT the Mac Classic but the earlier, more expensive model, the Macintosh Plus. So at least it’s clear that this character is not a time traveler. (Alas!) But now I know that someone spent $2,599 on this computer in 1990 or before. And that’s almost six grand in today dollars. This becomes an even more unlikely item for a struggling composer to have in his apartment.

What is he using it for? Ain’t no internet on that thing. He’s not emailing his agent from it. He COULD be using FINALE, the music software, which was invented in 1988, but if so, he’s a really early adopter. Like – is a waiter at a diner likely to be using cutting edge software to write his rock musical? In 1990? I’m gonna guess no.

I know what those 90s Macs were like. It’s not a thing you want to write a song on. Not in the early 90s anyway. I can say that as a person who was starting to write songs at about the same time as I got my hands on a Mac. You can check my floppy discs; I didn’t do my songwriting on the Mac.

Based on the screens on the Mac in the film, he’s not using any kind of music software. He’s using that Mac as a word processor. Just like I did at the time. He’s using it to type “Your” and “You’re.” This movie did not need a computer of any kind. Pen and paper would have done the same job.

I’m trying like hell to understand why this Mac is in this movie. Like, was this in Larson’s original show? Did HE want us to know he had a Macintosh in 1990? If so, why? Well, I looked at the script for the 2001 version of this thing (This is the version that’s available to the public. It’s adapted by another playwright.) and there’s no mention of the Macintosh. It’s possible that in earlier editions that the screenwriter had access to, Larson mentioned his computer but I think it’s most likely that the screenwriter made this call. The screenwriter (Steven Levenson, writer of Dear Evan Hanson) was born the same year as the Macintosh, 1984. He has never known a Mac-less world. Perhaps he cannot imagine a world where someone could write a musical without one. So maybe he’s added this Macintosh without realizing. It’s understandable. It’s just a mistake then. That gave me a kind of peace.

I thought I’d hit the bottom of this rabbit hole and just found a mistake but then I happened to see some production research for Larson’s apartment and there is a photo of Larson’s actual desk from the 90s. There IS a computer on that desk. It’s not a Macintosh Plus, though. It’s not even clear that it’s a Mac. But the actual person had a computer. It was not just added by a young contemporary screenwriter who hadn’t done historical research.

Screenshot of the Macintosh Plus which occupied my thoughts more than, perhaps, it should.

Emily, you seem really worked up about this tiny detail in a sweet little movie about a fellow struggling artist theatre guy. What’s your problem? Are you trying to get a job as an historian for films or something?

Meanwhile, I know there are several among you who would like to know my thoughts about this film. I would like to know my thoughts about this film but all I can focus on is that Macintosh and why they thought they needed it. Did Lin Manuel Miranda get a Mac as a young theatre dude and he wrote his stuff on it, so it’s like, meaningful for him in tying his own legacy to the legacy of Jonathan Larson? I’m making stuff up here because that little Mac is just sitting in the middle of this whole experience for me.

Did this movie give me some feelings I might be just funneling into this silly prop and I’m making a big deal of nothing? Possibly. Maybe I’m just reeling from some nostalgia for the period? Could be. But I also think that details like this ARE important because of all the side stories they tell that we, as storytellers, might not be aware that we are telling. Others might have seen a loving tribute of a bio pic musical. I saw a confusing movie about a Macintosh.

Oh why do I care about this? I guess I know something about being a struggling theatre artist. I’ve done it a long ass time. The lesson he learns in the movie is that he should write what he knows and the stuff he knows, I know, too. Having watched the rise and fall of many struggling theatre artists, my eye is pretty finely focused for spotting the secret advantage someone has. The reality is that this guy is not doing nearly as badly as this movie would like us to believe. Sure, he forgets to pay his electric bill but he clearly has a financial safety net, he has the phone numbers for fancy famous people and they take his calls. He has an agent, two keyboards, a mixer, a microphone and, I’m sure you haven’t forgotten, a Macintosh computer. The actual person has, at the point that this play takes place, won an extremely prestigious award, though the film NEVER mentions it. For a 29 year old, he’s actually doing amazing. Like, really super well. The film wants to make us think it’s a super sad struggling difficult life and from this struggling artist’s perspective, his “terrible life” is actually as good as it gets for some folks. To see a film romanticizing the struggle, made by a bunch of guys who are multi-millionaires, is just a little hard to swallow when their vision of the hard life is way better than my actual life.

I mean, sure, I currently have a Macintosh computer, too. It’s nicer than any computer Larson ever had his hands on – but that’s because technology gets cheaper and better as time goes by. A Macintosh in 2022 means something very different than it did in 1990.

We now live in a world where a computer is a necessity to do most any job but particularly any job in freelancing arts. In Larson’s time, it was still a rarity. You might find one in a family’s house, with parents trying to give their kids a leg up in the coming computer age. But struggling artists would mostly have had other priorities then.

I’m still confused by the discrepancy in the computer from the research photo and the set they came up with. I watched a video interview with the set design team and I gotta tell you, these folks cared about the details. They got the sag in the bookshelf. They searched for just the right model of Yamaha keyboard. Why would the computer be any different? I mean – these people got their hands on Larson’s cassette tapes and they didn’t put the actual tapes on the set, no, they scanned the covers so they wouldn’t lose, or damage, his originals. They cared about getting his exact copy of Led Zeppelin IV.

And maybe this is part of what gets under my skin about all this. Like, we all had that Led Zeppelin tape in 1990. I’m pretty sure I still have mine in a box in my mom’s house somewhere. To watch a dude, who is basically like a lot of people I know, get canonized like this is super disconcerting. I have known many musical theatre writers more skilled than this guy who will never have their tapes lovingly scanned by a set decoration team. Nor would they like to, really – they’d just like to have gotten even a hint of some of the opportunities that Larson got, or to have started out with some of his privileges. Obviously, this Macintosh in the movie is standing in for more than just a computer. I know it. You know it. But I really do want to know what it’s doing there.

I was sent the booklet with this page in it. Little did I know, this piece about the production design would lead me further down the Mac rabbit hole. I mean, look at that research photo. If it’s a Mac, it’s one of the few models that didn’t look like a Mac.

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

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The Women’s Lane

Rebecca Solnit recently posted this essay that Mary Beard wrote back in 2014. It’s about women speaking in public and the ways classical culture was built around telling women to shut up. Also about how that trend has continued.

It’s brilliant for all the reasons Mary Beard is often brilliant but the thing that feels like new information for me is the bit about women generally only being allowed to have a voice on matters that pertain to women. The one exception to the impulse to silence women is when they speak of things that are in their lane. Women are (sometimes) permitted to talk about women’s rights but not about the war.

This makes me think about Phyllis Schlafly. Or at least the Schlafly that was depicted in the (somewhat problematic) TV series, Mrs. America. Schlafly was very interested in foreign policy. One might even call her an expert in it. While I certainly wouldn’t have agreed with her about it, she did seem to know an awful lot about these things. She ran for Congress twice. And lost. But then she gained fame by campaigning against the Equal Rights Amendment (ERA). That is, when she started focusing on women’s issues, then folks took notice. (Much to the detriment of American women.)

I’m trying to figure out how this concept of a women’s lane applies to my own writing practice. I haven’t seen a lot of success on any subject, really – but I have seen a relative spike in recognition on subjects related to women, usually some wrong that’s been done to me or to women in general. In other words, I get listened to the most when I’ve been the victim to someone or something. I’ve always assumed that I’m just at my best when I’m fired up about feminist issues but now I’m not so sure. Is my furious writing on women noticeably better than my fired-up writing about artist’s issues or, say, PDFs? I’m not sure it is, frankly.

As a woman who struggles to be heard, to be noticed, to be recognized, I am always alert to what factors might be supporting my visibility and what factors obscure me further. I have often felt that my tendency to write plays about women, with a bald-faced feminist slant, is what has kept me shut out of the pipeline. My sense has been that theatres don’t tend to want to produce overtly feminist work. But this doesn’t square with what I’m learning about this women’s lane. Or does it? I guess, in the theatre, it’s the women’s plays that are explicit about their woman-ness that cross over into the mainstream: The Vagina Monologues, ‘Night Mother, Crimes of the Heart, Uncommon Women.

Now that I think about it, this does help me to understand something that has often felt mysterious to me. How did a play like The Vagina Monologues break through when so much of American Theatre is so hostile to women and women’s work? How was it that theatres put on seasons of almost exclusively men, and also The Vagina Monologues? It’s very logical, I realize now. You cannot get more in the women’s lane than The Vagina Monologues. It’s a kind of apotropaic magic, a spell against feminist criticism. You put on The Vagina Monologues – which is cheap to produce and markets itself and no one can excuse you of sexism for at least a few years. It is the perfect balance for your Mamet season. Most theater companies would rather produce The Vagina Monologues many times over than to produce a woman’s play about something not particularly womany.

Maybe I just need to write a play called The Woman Woman. I mean, The Women is a fabulous (and very successful) play from the 30s. Maybe it’s really just a matter of laying out the category in the title? It’s something to consider. Look forward to my upcoming trilogy: The Woman Woman, Girls and Women and Girls and Ladies in Ladyland. It can’t be so simple, can it? Honestly if this worked, I’d change so many titles in a flash.

My play about Medusa could be called Girls Getting Stoned or I could just rename any old play Women’s Bodies. Or Boobs. My next play is now called Boobs.  

This is an illustration from Oscar Wilde’s Salome. If he was a woman, he’d just have to call it Boobs.

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

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Inspiration Obstacles

Ladies and Gentlemen, Whales and Snails, Lobsters and Crabs, Crayfish and Crawlers: I have something of a reputation for keeping going in the face of difficulty. I am a self-proclaimed shark and I swim ever forward. I hold space for people who once stood where I stand and need me to keep going as a sort of beacon. That is a responsibility I take very seriously and I hold that beacon high, my squids and octopi. But I have to confess to you that my arm has gotten very tired of holding that beacon up and I’ve been falling down on the job a lot this last year.

When the pandemic hit, I knew exactly what to do. I went into creative overdrive and I made something happen. I’m good in a crisis. I get creative in a crisis. I started my theatre company in a crisis. I recorded a bunch of albums in a crisis. My band’s album came out the day after a crisis, so really still in crisis. Last year, I made an audio drama in a crisis.

But I gotta tell you, my crisis muscles are exhausted. This crisis has gone on too long and for the bulk of 2021, I went to the inspiration well every day and if I came back with an eyedropper’s worth of inspiration, I counted myself lucky. I don’t got it, my oysters. I don’t got it. I don’t got it and I don’t know how to get it back.

I read a thing on Facebook that I haven’t been able to find again because I didn’t interact with it because I was mad at how exactly the algorithm knew where I was and I didn’t want it to know it was right. It was a thing about grief and how things can start to seem flat and pointless and it’s hard to get excited about anything so one should just follow anything with any hint of a spark whatsoever. And I wish this were just true from the last few months after my brother’s death but I think I was grieving even before I was grieving. My city (not to mention my field) has been gutted by the pandemic. Small businesses and even slightly bigger corporate ones have all disappeared. The map of the places I used to go is now a map of what used to be there. The world has narrowed so painfully and as winter hits it narrows even more. One of my favorite activities used to be turning up in a neighborhood and wandering around until I found a coffee shop to go write in. I can’t do that anymore.  It’s not just that most of my favorites have closed; it’s also that I might never find one with conditions that feel safe to write in. 2021 has almost been worse than 2020 because things seem like they’re a little normal but are really still not and very few are acknowledging what has come before even as they catapult into a faltering future. Anyway – all that to say that I think I was grieving even before I was actually grieving.

Folks keep asking me what I’m working on and I don’t have a good answer. That (possible) new audio drama I’ve been writing during my writing practice this last year might turn out to be something but I’m not, like, any more confident in it than I am in the cup of coffee I make every day. I think Season Two of The Dragoning – which I wrote in 2020 – is pretty good but fundraising for Season One was so harrowing  – I had not been able to imagine going through that process again until just a couple of weeks ago. Honestly, one of the things that got me over the hump was somebody on Reddit asking the podcast group at what point they thought a podcast that they listened to was dead. (We’re “not dead yet!”)

To get something to production, I have to believe in something so hard that I will fight through the agony of fundraising and organizing to get there. I have to be buoyed up by my own faith and hope and inspiration to put myself through it and I haven’t had access to that in a long time. I suspect that it’s probably since I put out Season One without paying myself. It seems like it might be important to find the money to do that – as it has held up quite a lot, just energetically, just, inspiration wise. Which, let’s face it, is pretty much my only currency. Sometimes you have to pay one currency with another. But this is not my only block.

There are a lot of things that can block inspiration. It is a little like a body of water, in that inspiration’s natural inclination is to flow. The bigger the body of water, the more difficult it is to dam. But when you’re getting by with a tiny stream, a couple of fallen trees can jam up the whole works. Sometimes it seems like the logs are the block and then you realize there’s a boulder further downstream or maybe some beavers have gotten busy with some reeds.

The only thing for it is to set about removing whatever obstacles you can find – whether they’re the real stoppage or not. However you can get the flow going, even if it’s only a trickle, is good.

This post, I think, might be one of those logs in my inspiration stream. I started it at least a month ago. I wasn’t going to publish it. I just felt like I had enough of these “struggling with inspiration” posts this year. But then I came up dry for future blogs. “Why do I have nothing.” I wondered. And I thought – hey maybe it’s that post about inspiration that’s clogging up the pipeline. Maybe it isn’t. I don’t know. All I can do is clear the pipeline. Or the stream. Or whichever water metaphor is right for this situation. And then hope the water starts flowing again soon. I know this is my dry season generally but that doesn’t make it all that much easier to be thirsty.

I would love if my obstacles were this clear. I’d go in there, apologize to the beavers, of course, but then start hauling branches to get that inspiration flowing.

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

They also bring you the podcast version of the blog.

It’s also called Songs for the Struggling Artist 

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

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

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

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Want to help me clear some obstacles?

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My Genius Idea for a Book
December 8, 2021, 6:44 pm
Filed under: space, writing | Tags: , , , , , , , ,

I just remembered this absolutely genius idea for a book I had about 25 years ago. When you hear it, you’re going to be like, “Yeah! What a brilliant idea! What a shame you didn’t put that together! You’d be a millionaire already!”

Here it is: A guide book of cafes around the country, with reviews and photos and maybe little drawings and scraps of writing I’d done in them.

Can you believe I missed out on this golden opportunity?

I’m kidding of course. I know this idea would have gone absolutely nowhere. And it cracks me up thinking about it now.  It was not long after I had this idea that people started creating multiple review web sites for all things, all around the world. But at the time, there was very little café culture to speak of and as I made my way around the country, finding a little spot where I could happily drink good coffee and write, was like finding little jewels scattered around the place. I thought I might go on a little search and seek them out, like an old school explorer.

Now you can find a Starbucks in every town and a laptop on every table. Café culture has simultaneously grown and practically disappeared.

I wanted to write such a book because I wanted to be able to use such a guide. And despite the fact that Yelp and Trip Advisor and Google exist, I sort of still do.

For one thing, these web services are hardly even good for what they should be good for. For example, while they may alert me to a café possibility in the location I am searching, they often do not tell the whole truth. Especially lately. Yelp, for example, has a handy filter feature that allows you to search for only places that are open now and/or have outdoor seating. I got all excited! Hooray! This place looks cute, is open now and I can sit outside, where I feel safer! When I arrive, though, usually after a good long walk to get to this miracle spot, I discover that they have no seating or just one (occupied) table out front. Or – even worse and also more common – the place, reported to close at 7, closed at 3 or 4. So this modern, up to date, technology is, in fact, no more up to the moment than a book would be. With a book you’d at least know the hours might have changed. You’d plan for that. With Google, you expect it to be accurate. Or at least I did before.

More significantly, there are things I want to know about a place that these websites rarely tell me. Will it bring me inspiration? Is the atmosphere rich in ideas? Can you feel a history in the walls? Is there art there? Is the art good or just for sale? Are the baristas artists, too? If we paused in our work, would we end up talking about philosophy or the fascinating musical history of Ziad Rahbani? The fact is that the Starbuckification of cafes has meant that there are a lot of chairs at tables that will give you a cappuccino but there’s not a lot of soul out there. There’s no soul rating on Yelp. There’s no box I can check to let others know I got hit with an inspiration wave at the table by the window or had a life changing conversation under the skylight. My book would have told you that.

But unfortunately, given the way the internet has worked, historically, it tends to collect things into boxes of popular and unknown and there’s nothing about this book of mine that would have been popular. It would never have sold. Even if I could have magically popped it into existence when I thought of it. It mostly makes me laugh to think of how unpublishable this idea was, how of its time it was. It’s a funny sort of unfulfilled dream – the kind you know would have been a failure but you’re still a little sad you didn’t make it.

Why, yes, good sir, I’ve gone back in time to publish my genius book idea and I wondered if you might sell it here in this 19th century bookshop.

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