Songs for the Struggling Artist


Maybe Stick Around Twitter a Little While Longer?

Twitter has never been my drug. I wasn’t into it when it started and I only begrudgingly wade in there now. I used to set a timer for ten minutes so I could get in and get out. I’m not a fan of it but it’s where a lot of people are, so I feel obligated to check in with it and participate. I feel the same way about Instagram and TikTok. I have about five minutes of tolerance on those platforms before I am done. Facebook is stickier for me. Most of my friends and family are there. I love them. I like to be where I can see them. But regardless of my personal taste, these are the places people gather in these times. When I want to know what’s happening right this second, I check what people are talking about on Twitter. When I need to share personal news, Facebook is the answer. And every single one of those platforms is owned by a creepy billionaire. The fact that ownership of Twitter is switching from one creepy billionaire to another one is disturbing, sure, but I’m not sure that deleting our profiles is the answer. (Especially since, as I learned on Twitter, if you delete your profile, you lose access to your stuff but the platform retains it.)

We’ve got battles to fight against these billionaire types and we need ways to gather and organize and unfortunately, right now, the way to do that is ON these platforms owned by billionaires. Until we have other gathering spaces, I think we shoot ourselves in the foot by cutting off our access to other people. Is Elon Musk going to ruin Twitter? All signs point to yes – but given his tendency to not follow through on anything, it might not get that far. And before he ruins Twitter, assuming he does, I think we need to gather ourselves there, subscribe to people’s newsletters, blogs, podcasts or whatever. I don’t want folks to leave Twitter, not because I think it’s so great. I don’t. I have never liked it. But I do recognize its power and the fewer people who might have my back there there are, the more dangerous it becomes for me in that space.

Fact is, I am largely invisible on Twitter. Most of my tweets there have just one like – and that like is probably my mom. (Thank you, Mom!) I continue to cast my net there because you just have to cast your net everywhere when you make “content” on the web. When the people I know leave a platform, my chances of getting more than one like on a post diminish significantly. I know a lot of people deleted their Twitter accounts so as not to add value to Elon Musk’s portfolio, which I understand completely. I don’t want to see that guy get richer either. But the value of one person’s twitter account is NOTHING to Elon Musk, particularly if you’re not doing big numbers there. If you have a thousand followers, I’m sorry but you make not a speck of difference to his bottom line. I am absolutely insignificant in his portfolio with my 927 followers (990 before Musk took over). I don’t matter to Musk. If I had a couple million followers, though, maybe I could make a tiny drop of difference. (Also significantly, these millions of followers would also give me power to do things like get a publishing deal.) But if most of my million followers split, I would lose all of my power to make a difference and Musk doesn’t feel it at all.

I think sometimes people get a false sense of their own importance on a social media platform. They think saying something on Twitter is like saying something to some friends in a room. They think their account is more powerful than it is. This happens whether someone has three followers or a million, though, I’m sure, the larger the numbers, the larger the effect. Getting likes and followers CAN equate to real world power. People have gotten book deals or TV shows from single tweets or just having a certain number of followers. But that doesn’t happen for most of us. Most of us are shouting into a void, heard by a handful of people, if we’re lucky. I’m putting out stuff all the time so I’m used to it. But I watch others share my stuff sometimes with all their hope and enthusiasm and then watch as my stuff meets the same indifference that I experience most of the time. They get one like (from me!) and then maybe their mom (or mine! Thank you, Mom!) and then the thing is over.

But even though they don’t get thousands of likes from sharing my stuff, it is very meaningful to me that they took the time to post it. If the people who do that sort of thing for me from time to time were to leave, there would be no one to share my stuff at all.

It’d be just me, a bunch of famous people and Elon Musk left on Twitter and probably at that point, I’d have to leave, too. Which would be fine if people were engaging with my stuff elsewhere but they’re not. The current public commons are these weird billionaire-owned platforms. You leave the public commons and you leave the rest of us, those of us who feel we HAVE to be there for the sharing of our work, on our own, without any support at all. Don’t stay for Mr. Musk. He’s ridiculous. Stay for those of us with a few hundred followers and tiny social circles. You may not have power to dent Musk’s portfolio but you are significantly powerful for people like me.

Oh look. There’s your absence that Musk definitely doesn’t notice but I feel keenly.

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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Crowdfunding the Arts Doesn’t Work

My theatre company is over twenty years old. We started in 2001 and we’ve seen some things.

For our first show, we raised funds by writing a letter – yes, an actual paper letter – and we mailed it to anyone we thought might write us a check. This worked pretty well. I’d have to double check the numbers but it’s not impossible that it was the most effective fundraising we ever did. There are a couple of reasons for that, I imagine. One is the First Steps Toward a Dream Effect. This is the thing where people love to fund the FIRST something. They enjoy helping people take a first step toward a big dream. (They don’t love so much the slog of keeping something afloat.) But I think the other factor that helped this first show’s fundraising was just the moment we were in and the circles to which we had access.

It seems like it should have been harder in those days. The efforts that people had to make to donate were substantial. First, they had to open and read our letter. (Not a given!) If they wanted to donate, they had to get out their check books, write the check and then put it in an envelope, put a stamp on it and put it in a mailbox. There are a lot of moments for this process to get derailed. It’s a lot. It was not like clicking on a link, letting your credit card info autofill some boxes and then hitting submit.

When donating through the internet started to be a thing, we were very excited. It seemed like, by eliminating all those steps for people, we’d get so many more donations. It didn’t really work out that way, though. We saw charity donation websites come and go. (Remember Charity Blossom?) The donations got smaller and smaller and people who’d written us big checks never made it to the digital mailing lists. We didn’t have their emails. I’m not sure a lot of them HAD emails.

Then crowdfunding kicked off and everyone was so excited about its potential. In some circles people talked about it as a democratizing fundraising source. We wouldn’t need to depend on rich people to fund things anymore! If we got enough tiny donations, we could make a big difference! What a win for democracy! Poor people could pay for the arts instead of rich people!

But here’s the thing. You need a LOT of people to give you $20 to make up a 10k budget. You need 500 people, in fact. (Actually, given that all these platforms take a cut, you’ll need MORE than 500 to get there.) And for people without much to spare, even that $20 is a huge deal. It’s a huge deal for me. Most folks, no matter how much they like you or believe in what you’re doing, are not going to bother or they just don’t have it to spare.

If you want to really depress yourself as a theatre fundraiser, take a tour of the theatre fundraisers on a platform like Indiegogo. You’ll see a lot of folks barely making a dent in their humble 3k ask. Theatre isn’t a good candidate for crowdfunding. It doesn’t scale well. We don’t have compelling prizes. But crowdfunding is sort of the only deal anymore. Even wealthy donors expect you to eke out a bunch of $20 donations before they’ll think about sending over a few hundred bucks.

It feels a bit like crowdfunding has killed our ability to actually raise sufficient funds because sometimes a wealthy donor looks at how a crowdfundraiser is doing and thinks it’s not worth the investment. They see that we didn’t get 10 people to give us 20 bucks and they reconsider the 2k check they were thinking of writing us. In having our struggles be so transparent, we lose leverage. We can’t sell someone on a dream because they can see how little others have put in to it.

Crowdfunding, like a lot of things, has turned out to work best for things that are going viral. Remember that potato salad? Or the Josh battle? Crowdfunding also does really well in a well publicized tragedy – but it is terrible for the day to day art making. It is a very blunt instrument. It may be the only instrument at the moment, so we pretty much have to use it but it’s not very effective. Like anything in this capitalist world, your ability to fundraise is dependent on the wealth to which you have access. Your crowdfunding campaign does not depend so much on the content of your work but on the wealth of the people in your circle who will open their wallets for you. We had more access to those people two decades ago than we do today. Today, most of my contacts are fellow artists. We have a joke in the indie theatre community about how we all just pass the same $20 around between us.

To make a 10k budget, you only need 10 people to give you a thousand dollars. Big deal! That’s only ten people! But you have to know ten people who might have a grand to spare first. That’s the real kicker and why crowdfunding the arts doesn’t work. Not unless you only want work by and for the wealthy, which is what you get when you don’t subsidize the arts, no matter which way you slice it.

Crowdfunding demands an extraction of wealth from the artist’s community. Every time I put on a show, I have to go to the crowdfunding mines and extract a little wealth from the people I know. I know some folks have found a way to perceive this as obtaining their community’s investment in their work. I appreciate that perspective but I find it particularly challenging to see it that way in this moment where most of my community is in the performing arts and most of my community lost their jobs or their big plans or their dreams or their support. Now is not the moment to extract wealth from the performing arts community – even if you call it an investment. Same goes for a lot of people right now.

I know someone is thinking, “Hey what about grants?! Grants exist. Can’t you just get a grant?” Oh darlings. Yes. We have gotten some grants. Most of them were about $500. Very nice! It’s helpful! Not as helpful as someone just writing you a check for $1000 that you didn’t have to write several essays for but helpful! $500 is a very nice start and other funders like to see that you got it but there is not a grant in America that will fund your whole project. They want to see that you can extract $10k of wealth before they will give you $10k. The best way to get an arts grant is to show how much you don’t need one.

In my experience, it takes around 10k to do just about any significant art project. That’s with a shoestring budget. Shoestrings cost about 10k. For some people, donating that 10k would make less impact than the $20 coming from a struggling artist – but an arts organization lives or dies based on where that $10k might come from. Crowdfunding seemed like an answer and it’s probably not going anywhere but you can tell that it’s not an effective tool because you’ll never catch one of the big arts institutions using it. No one suggests that The Metropolitan Opera do a Kickstarter. They extract their wealth in a much more efficient way.

And yes, of course, I’m in the middle of trying to crowdfund a project right now which is, of course, why I’m thinking a lot about this. I feel extraordinary gratitude to the people who gave us their $3 or their $1000 and I really wish I didn’t have to ask them for it, just to make a piece of art.  

I made this for the company for World Theatre Day. I figured I could extract a little more value out of my labor by putting it here, too.

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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Waterworks at the Street Circus

When I walked up to check out the booths at Open Streets (the program that closes down/opens up a couple of blocks to give the neighborhood more public space) I wasn’t prepared for a show.

When I approached the second block, I saw a crowd and a truck and then I saw some clowns getting the crowd fired for their circus. Their performance style was so familiar, I almost just walked away – feeling an habitual “I know what this is. I don’t need to watch it.” But then I found myself not walking away. And then I found myself not walking away for quite some time – and halfway through their opening sketch, I started weeping and did not stop until I finally pulled myself away half an hour later.

Was I watching and crying because the show was so moving, so good, so remarkable? No. I mean, the show was fine. It was perfect for the venue and earnest and sweet. I’m almost certain that the river falling out of my face had very little to do with the content of the piece. There is nothing particularly tear-jerking about a Chinese yo-yo or a tapdancing ring master.

It could be the audience. There was a big joyful crowd of people and the children did not hesitate what they were asked to repeat, “We want the circus!” I, for sure, was moved by that. Maybe it was also just seeing an audience at all? I’ve only seen one other show since March of 2020 so I have not been in many crowds, nor seen them. Maybe it’s the novelty, the preciousness of a people gathering together to watch some show people on a truck bed.

I kept trying to stop my tears, because it became a little embarrassing. My handkerchief got soaked. A man came out of the crowd and looked right at my dripping wet face and smiled a little bit. He had a knowing look about him – like he knew what it was about. Did he? Because I’m not sure I know what it was about. It wasn’t the girls pretending to tap dance in their sneakers, though that had its charms. I did not notice anyone else crying their face off at the street circus so this would seem to be a me thing.

I have been cautious about going back to the theatre, despite some really tempting offers for precisely this reason. I know that whatever I see in a theatre again for the first time is going to be seen through the waterfall of my tears and I’m being careful about what that show will be. I don’t want to miss the show itself because of my response to the experience.

The half an hour I spent at the street circus was about all I had the stamina for. The loud music was hard on my brain that was just emerging from a migraine and I ran out of tissues after a while. I’m going to have to ease back into performances it would seem.

I think it’s probably from love that I’m weeping. The thing is I love performance and performers. I love audiences and shows. I am show people all the way through and this pandemic has so thoroughly cut me off from that part of myself, I’m not sure there is anything for it but to cry.

The marketing team can declare “Broadway is back” all it wants but as far as I can see, it’s really out there, more or less by itself, with a few well-funded buddies. Small companies like the one I saw on the street in my neighborhood are much fewer and far betweener. This particular one has been part of the landscape of NYC performance as long as I’ve lived here and it is a relief to me to see them out here, still kicking and juggling. I may not recognize any of the people anymore but I know their history. I was there for some of it. I don’t really know how a small circus got themselves through this mess. I don’t know how I got my theatre company and myself through this mess. And I don’t expect we’re really through this mess so much as on a temporary reprieve. (I’m sorry. I know there is not a country on this planet who has opened back up and not had to shut back down right quick like.) Mostly, I guess, I try not to think about it – but sometimes the feelings about all that just make themselves known. The crying I was doing at the circus was very bizarre in that I did not necessarily feel sad or happy or moved. I couldn’t have told you what those feelings were.  I felt disconnected from my own emotional world. It’s like my tears were flowing without me.

As an actor who can sometimes be called upon to cry, I cannot help but interrogate this new style of crying. It felt so involuntary. It was like when a strong wind blows in your face and makes your eyes water. I guess these are my new “watching a performance” tears. I don’t have to work up my particular feelings, I guess, just watch someone giving their all to an audience and the waterworks will flow.

I want to go back inside and see shows again. I love the red curtain. I love the wooden O, the wooden arch, the wooden frame. I love a black box and a dance studio. I long to return to all of them – but I have yet to hear an epidemiologist recommend it. I feel like folks are doing shows indoors again not because it’s safe and we’re ready but because Broadway producers want to make some money. I don’t blame them – there’s no support for anything or anyone – to put folks back to work is the only way to put food back on a lot of people’s tables. It may be safe-ish since everyone’s theoretically vaccinated and the audience is masked. It’s not the least safe space to be or at least it wasn’t until Omicron kicked off. Now shows that just opened are closing again. There’s something about the place that I love most in the world becoming so dangerous that it had to be closed, everywhere – that makes me feel like I need it to be thoroughly safe now.

Stumbling on a show two blocks from my apartment in the middle of the street is my dream of NYC come true. This is, definitely, what I hoped for when I moved here – and twenty years later, it happened. But only because we all had our little performers’ hearts broken in a big way last year. Based on the major waterworks that kicked off at the neighborhood circus, mine is still in need of repair I’d say.

This photo is probably blurry because it was taken through my tears. But check it out! This glorious woman is balancing on bottles on top of a truck bed!

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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I’m Sorry But the Temptation to Say This Will Be Great
December 15, 2021, 12:35 am
Filed under: community | Tags: , , , , , , , , ,

My favorite café closed and it was really the only choice in this particular neighborhood, which I pass through with some frequency. In the interim, someone has opened a chain café that has some decent outdoor seating on a spacious sidewalk so I’ve ended up there a few times when I’m in the area. The place is called Joe and the Juice and it’s important that you know its name as I tell you about it because its name is the key to this story.

This particular Joe and the Juice sits just south of Columbus Circle and north of Times Square so it is a well travelled corridor and a street that many tourists pass by.

Having had the occasion to sit here a few times, I’ve now experienced this phenomenon literally every time I’ve sat here. Here’s what happens as people pass by. They shout “Joe and the Juice!” (Again, this is the name of this place.) Every single person says it in a way that sounds as if they felt quite original in their reading of it and ALSO sounds almost identical to the way every other person has exclaimed it. As I sit there, and I am sitting there now, as I write this, I hear a river of “Joe and the Juice!” There is a flow – well, no, not a flow, it is more like Joe and the Juice popcorn. Every few minutes someone shouts “Joe and the Juice!”

If I were a devil and I needed someone to call my name a number of times to manifest, I would name myself “Joe and the Juice.”

*

A short play:

Art thou the devil, Joe and the Juice?

Ay, that I am, for no one can resist calling my name as they pass this establishment.

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I find it hilarious and kind of charming how like one another humans can be. This is comforting in these times when so many other things seem irreconcilably different in us. Many of these people would fundamentally disagree on who deserves basic human rights but they would all be unable to resist calling out, “Joe and the Juice!” while walking by a Joe and the Juice.

I’m not QUITE sure what it is about this place that makes it so hard to resist saying. It’s not that it’s so popular that people just shout with joy when they see it. Mostly people seem to be seeing Joe and the Juice for the first time. They are reading its name and discovering it. I suspect they find it amusing.

It’s a funny pairing perhaps? Or it tells a story? There’s this guy, Joe, right? And this is a story about his juice. Or it’s Joe and OJ in conversation? It is full of potentiality. It’s alliterative and full of monosyllables, so I suspect that’s part of it. It has a punchy quality in its rhythm. Metrically, it’s known as a choriamb because it’s like bookended stresses. Is that what makes it irresistible?

But it’s also basic. What do they sell here? Mostly coffee (colloquially called “Joe”) and Juice. That’s what they have here.  That’s more or less it. That simplicity is possibly the stuff.

I’m not here to sell you on Joe and the Juice, let me be clear. It’s fine but I wouldn’t come here if it wasn’t geographically convenient. However, I am absolutely captivated by the human behavior that repeats over and over outside this establishment. (There went another one!) If I were a fancy radio producer, I would totally come out here with a mic and just record all the people saying Joe and the Juice all day long and then make you a glorious montage.  As a humble blogger (and blogcaster) I will only tell you about it and let you shout out “Joe and the Juice!” yourself.

This might look like a picture of a coffee cup but behind it is the river of people just gearing up to start shouting the name of this place.

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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The One Who Called 911
November 30, 2021, 9:36 pm
Filed under: American, community, Healthcare | Tags: , , , , ,

The one I can’t stop thinking about is the person who called 911, the person who witnessed the accident that killed my youngest brother. I feel enormous tenderness for that person, even though I know nothing about them. The only thing I know is that they saw the accident and called 911.

They will likely have the image of it in their brain forever. I have an imaginary version of it in my brain that will likely be with me for as long but the caller has the actual event there in their brain. I’m sure it is not a nice thing to have there and yet I am grateful that that person was present, that they called the emergency line and did something. It was too late for my brother, but they tried and I think of them, this person I know nothing of, with so much warmth. They were there for the last moments of Will’s life. They were witness to his exit. I’m not sure why it moves me but it does.

Maybe because of this grateful 911 “song” that keeps playing in my head, I also haven’t been able to stop thinking of a 911 call I had to make for a stranger a few weeks before Will’s accident. It was a much different situation but the events are somehow linked in my mind. I’ll tell you about it.

About halfway up my block as I walked from my apartment, I noticed a young man, who I thought was sitting on a stoop but turned out to be crouching. As I approached, he fell to the ground in front of me. Not quite at my feet but awfully close. I asked if he was okay and though he did not answer, it was clear he was not okay. I asked him a couple of questions and he seemed not to be able to speak. I asked him if I could call him an ambulance and while he couldn’t really say anything, the look in his eyes and the slight nod gave me the permission I felt I needed. (Note to my readers from other countries: Because of our outrageous health care system, people will often object to having emergency services called for them as ambulances are incredibly expensive and are not always covered by folks’ insurance. Many people will not thank you for calling an ambulance.)

When I called 911, they seemed unconcerned really – more interested in the scrape he’d gotten on his fall to the ground than anything else – but they asked me if he was male or female and I found myself unsure of how to proceed. He looked male but I did not want to presume when he couldn’t speak for himself. So I said “male?” while looking at him inquiringly and he nodded so we were clear there. (Side note: Is gender identity really necessary for this sort of thing? Like how important is it to know what gender someone in trouble is?) Then they asked me how old he was so I tried asking him and I THINK he said 22 and he did not object when I repeated it back. And then they were on their way.

The elderly woman who’d been standing nearby all this time asked me something and I told her the ambulance was on the way. I’d thought she was standing there because she was concerned for this fallen man’s welfare – but no, it turns out, she was asking for my assistance in walking her around him. She was very unsteady on her feet and was making her way down the block by holding on to fences and the 22 year old was on the ground in front of the fence she needed to get by.

So I gave her my arm and walked her as far as she would let me then came back to the young man on the sidewalk who was now passed out and entirely unresponsive to my voice. As we waited, a woman passed by and said dismissively, “Drunk.” I said, “I don’t think so.” And as we chatted, she revealed that her husband had had Parkinsons and people were always assuming he was drunk when he categorically was not. I was fascinated that someone who’d had such a painful experience of someone dear to her being misjudged in this way would do the same to a helpless stranger on the street. A group of young men passed by on the other side of the street and laughed and shouted about drugs. Several people passed by, ready to dismiss this guy because “drugs.” Was it drugs? Maybe. But people on drugs need help, too. Also, I’ve seen “drugs.” This did not look like drugs. I was stunned by how little compassion folks had.

This stranger on the sidewalk had just started to turn blue and I was just starting to panic when the ambulance arrived. The arrival of the paramedics brought him back around a bit and the paramedics seemed just as unconcerned as everyone else until they took an oxygen reading and then they swung into swift action, getting out the stretcher, putting him on oxygen and getting him into the ambulance. Meanwhile, cars behind the ambulance started honking. It was entirely obvious there was an emergency here and these assholes were honking. Come on, guys. Come on. The honking was clearly an annoyance to the paramedics but they also seemed entirely used to it. I could not believe how jerky these people in their cars were.

The stranger on the stretcher was sort of awake now but very disoriented and kept trying to pull the oxygen out of his nose. They told him they were going to the hospital and off they went. And I don’t know what happened to him from there. I don’t know anything. I haven’t seen him on my street again, but then, I’d never seen him on my street before. I hope he’s okay. I feel strangely tied to him, like, having been with him at this terrible moment, he’s now sewn into the fabric of my life and yet I’ll never know how the story will turn out. Nor do I know if that elderly lady tottering on her red pumps, holding onto fences, ever made it to her destination.

I sort of understand why people don’t stop to help, don’t stop to call 911 – because you do become tied together somehow, in tragedy or fate or something. When you start to care, you can’t unstitch yourself from that caring. Every time I pass the spot this guy fell, I think of him. This 22 year old, who could have been my brother, only seven years younger than my brother, really, ended up on the sidewalk in big trouble and very few people stopped to help. Not only that, a lot of them were real jerks about it.

But someone did stop to help my actual brother when he was struck by that motorcycle. Someone was there. Someone made the call and they were a witness. Even though it ended in tragedy – my family’s tragedy – it was a good deed that person did and I am so grateful to them for it. It can’t have been easy and probably continues to not be. But I am grateful. Also, I realize I’m not 100% certain this person exists. I got a lot of information in a highly concentrated and emotional moment. I’m not entirely certain I didn’t make up this person who called 911 at my brother’s accident. But I think I’ve got this right. Someone must have called emergency services because they came.

If the circumstance arises, make the call. Someone will be grateful, even if you never meet them. And please don’t honk at ambulances taking care of someone in an emergency. At the very least.

Poster by Alfredo Ponce

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?

Become my patron on Patreon.

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Give Me Your Witches, Your Ghouls, Your Severed Limbs Hanging in Trees
October 28, 2021, 11:08 pm
Filed under: art, community, Imagination, Witchery | Tags: , , , , , , , ,

The cheerful scarecrow dolls and corn cob clusters don’t thrill me but I will celebrate any nod toward decoration this month. I embrace your paper pumpkin, your hay bale, your autumnal faux leaf display.

But I am delighted by your circle of witches, your zombie doll babies, your floating spectres, your plastic bag ghosts, your homemade headless magician, your skeletons engaged in activities, your dagger wielding clown child on a swing, your smoke machine, your sound effects, your back-lit and up-lit cloaked figures, your spiders, your crows, your ravens, your bats.

Having been starved of art for so long – (I have not yet been to a museum or a theatre since March 2020) – I find myself intensely grateful for the experience of discovering decorations on my neighbors’ houses and apartments. Is it art? Mostly not. But occasionally there’s something that feels like it. The house with the Dead and Breakfast sign felt like such a complete concept in its design. I can imagine the experience continuing should I walk through the gravestone yard and go up the steps, up to the figure who tells you to beware and attempts to send you away. I can then imagine trying to check in to this glorious Dead and Breakfast, where skeletons climb in at the windows.

Art or not, it feels like an exercise of our art muscles as we applaud the good ones and bemoan the missed opportunities of houses that seem built to be perfect settings for Halloween displays.  I am weirdly so intensely grateful to all the people who’ve made an effort. It seems like this is a new development, that this year is unusually rich in Halloween festiveness, but I can’t be sure. I’ve never gone hunting for Halloween houses before.

Ever since my youngest brother was killed last month, I have felt a strong need to get out of the apartment and walk. From day one, we went out walking nearly every night and over the weeks, there has been more and more to see. It feels so much better to get out and walk because we have a mission to see the best Halloween décor, for fun, than to just be out Grief Walking.

So I just wanted to say thank you to my neighbors for giving us cool things to look at. I thank you for your inflatables, your cobweb arches, your flashing eyes, your jack o lantern pile, your comedy skeletons who drink beer, read dirty joke books and fart. I thank you for your inflatable dragons that turn their heads to look at me. (Though I am not 100% sure dragons are on theme for Halloween, they are 100% on theme for me, so extra thanks!) I thank you for your vampires and your transforming portraits. I thank you for your flashing orange and purple lights. I thank you for your skull wreath. I thank you for your severed limb Halloween bush. (Like a Christmas tree but with feet and hands instead of ornaments!) I thank you for your Yoda toting T-Rex skeleton eating a hand. I thank you for your blood smeared windows. I thank you for your tiny mermaid skeletons that I feel sure you dressed yourself in tiny shiny mermaid skin tails and bikini tops. I thank you for cheering us up with darkness.

And if you live in my neighborhood (Astoria, Queens) and you know a cool Halloween House to go see, please let me know. I’m out walking, looking for them.

This house does a little Halloween all year round. Their Labor Day decorations are the only ones in the neighborhood.

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Circles of Gen X Friends

Someone in the Gen X subreddit proposed a “dating” app for making Gen X friends. I expressed my enthusiasm for it, saying it appealed to me because most of my Gen X friends have moved out of NYC. Someone replied that they still had a lot of Gen X friends in NYC and I did not respond to that person with a hearty sarcastic, “Well good for you! Aren’t you a lucky one?” Though I wanted to.

I did not say, “I guess most of your friends didn’t move to NYC to chase their theatre dreams or their art dreams or their music dreams or their poetry dreams or their film dreams or their dance dreams and I guess everything worked out for your people, huh?”

Now I don’t mean to imply that stuff didn’t work out for my friends. They moved here to follow their dreams and then they followed them to other places. They run theatres in their hometowns or their adopted cities. They have poetry programs and dance companies around the world. They make movies in their native mountains. They make paintings and sculptures of their new neighborhoods. They bring their big city dream-following perspective to young people in far flung spots. It’s working out for them.

But the fact of those folks leaving does mean that any community that formed when we all moved here has been scattered and lost. I imagine that this happens to every generation at some point. Everyone moves to NYC like they’re going to be here forever and then they leave after a handful of years. I guess that’s the norm. Contrarian that I am, I moved here like I was only going to stay a year and here I still am, over two decades later. I miss the leavers and need to find (or reconnect to) more stayers.

That’s why a Gen X “dating” app for friends sounded really good to me. That’s why (prior to the pandemic) I wanted to be invited to your party. That’s why I joined multiple book clubs. That’s why I joined a knitting/crochet group, even though I am VERY BAD at crochet. I will tell you – in every single instance of attempting to make friends in this city – I was always the lone Gen X-er. Every single time. So, sure, this random person on Reddit may still know a lot of Gen X-ers who live here but they probably travel in much different circles than I do. Maybe they’re high-powered lawyers or over-committed doctors. Maybe they belong to the Yale Club or Soho House and hang out drinking martinis with fancy people. That’s nice. Sounds like fun. I used to hang out at Dojo where you could get a whole carrot-ginger dressing-covered dinner for less than $5.  It’s harder to find Gen X-ers here, in general, and even more challenging to find some who would have felt at home on the St. Mark’s Place of yore.

It’s not like I don’t have any Gen X friends here. I still have quite a few. It’s just that I used to have a community of Gen X friends, or rather, communities. Two decades ago, I had circles of friends. I had theatre friends, music friends, circus friends, education friends, college friends, Shakespeare friends, random friends, friends from my home state. There were circles that intersected and some that never would. I have lone friends now. The communities have gone off to more hospitable climates but one lone friend usually remains. Often, I am that lone friend.

Also, the friends I still have here are New Yorkers and therefore usually impossibly busy. Most of them are also parents so they don’t have acres of time for galavanting around NYC with the childfree likes of me. It’s not that no Gen X-ers are here. It’s just that they are busy and the social nets of our communities have vanished and so we stand a vanishing chance of just happening to be in the same places together at the same time.

So maybe I don’t need a Gen X friend app. I need a Gen X circle creating app. It’s not that all the dream followers have followed their dreams elsewhere – some of us are still here – it’s that the communities that formed around those dreams have dissipated and there’s no good way for those of us whose circles have vanished to build new circles.

Frankly, I think it’s a problem that this city spits out as many artists and dream chasers as it does. It may be good for the places it spits people back into, but it is terrible for the artistic life of this city.

We lost artists from multiple generations this last year and a half. The city failed to support most of them in their darkest hours and now we’ve lost them, probably forever.

Most Gen X artists already left when they were in their 30s and now most Millennials are in their 30s (the eldest ones are turning 40 this year) and what with the abysmal way this city supported its artists recently and the inevitable waves of NYC spitting out its dream followers, I think there’s bound to be an exodus in the next decade. Maybe I’ll be in it, who knows? (Unlikely, where would I go?)

Will Gen Z artists and dream-followers even bother coming here? If they do, I hope this circle dispersal doesn’t happen to them, too. I read recently that we know a city is dying when young people stop moving there to chase their dreams. I’m not loving the prognosis for NYC that way right now. Maybe let’s get that circle app going, pronto.

****

In case you’re new here, I wrote a whole series about Gen X a few years ago. It starts here and expands in many thematic directions. Or you could search the whole range of Gen X writing here.

Just a circle of Gen X childfree friends galavanting around the city like we used to. We’re going to go get a soy burger at Dojo after.

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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The Internet Is Not a Friend
October 10, 2021, 9:47 pm
Filed under: community, Social Media, technology | Tags: , , , , ,

In the throes of my grief, I thought I’d just go along as normal, just get on the internet, see what’s what. You will be stunned to learn that the internet did not make me feel any better!

Over and over, I turned to the internet and over and over, it did not help. Not Facebook, not Twitter, not Reddit, not Instagram. Shocking, I know.

None of those things could do the heavy lifting of distracting me or providing comfort. Of any kind. I do not know why I turned to them, except that it has become habitual. Also, I guess I don’t have websites I just visit for fun or whatever anymore so the internet is no longer a series of places to check out, but weird social media plazas that I visit regularly.

I don’t really use any of these places in a personal way anymore. Most of them are where I put arts or career news, or occasionally promote the blog or podcasts. When big things happen, am I meant to put out a personal press release on my social media? Should I say something about what had happened? I do nothing personal on Twitter, Reddit or Instagram. But a lot of my personal friends are also my Facebook friends and it’s where they share their news – so it is confusing.  Also, I have over a thousand Facebook friends. I did not really want or need a thousand condolences. I thought it might make sense just to skip it. After all, in the first few days after the news of my brother’s death, all I wanted was to just pretend it hadn’t happened so I hung around Facebook, watching all the people go on about their lives as if there hadn’t just been an enormous earthquake in my world.

But then I started to make my way out of the denial stage and into something just as sad but realer. There is something so terribly clarifying about this sort of grief. It was just so clear what did me good and what did not. Hugs, good. Social media, no good. Not bad, necessarily – just not good.

I have thought this before. I’ve known this. And yet these weird tools have somehow become so ubiquitous in my life, I find it hard not to engage with them. Now I have to relearn how to be, not only without my brother – but also, without my old crutches because they are useless in this scenario.

I’ve found it challenging to write anything of substance while riding the roller coaster of grief but managed a little fantastical interlude about saving my brother with a time machine. I was wary about sharing the news of his death on Facebook but I figured that since Facebook typically shows my blogs to only a handful of people, I could probably covertly share the news to a handful or people without too much fanfare. It didn’t really pan out that way, though.

In the past year, when I posted a blog on my personal Facebook page, I got a handful of views, around 2 or 3 on average. When I posted this one, Facebook boosted it up to 331. This led to 50+ comments on the post and almost a hundred likes. I suppose I had a sense that Facebook might be programmed to promote a death post. For a while there, in the past few months, it felt like my feed was exclusively death announcements and ads. I chalked it up to my age and a time in our lives when we tend to lose people. But now I realize that death drives engagement so the algorithm is trained to seek it out even when it’s not obvious. I said nothing about the content of the blog post in my description in the feed but now I realize that the algorithm is likely trained to respond to words in the comments like “loss” and “condolences.”

Is it good to hear from friends in a time like this? Absolutely. But like the stream of Happy Birthdays on one’s special day, the comments do tend to blend together after a while. I found I had to be very deliberate about how I took them in so I didn’t lose the individuality of each person who kindly took the time to comment. Meanwhile, direct messages regardless of the medium did not require such diligence. Texts, emails, even cards in the mail. These things opened up conversation or gave me something to touch and look at instead of feeling like I was fording a river of condolence.

Then Facebook, Instagram and WhatsApp all disappeared for a day and the crash and the whistle blowing that proceeded it seems to have prompted many of my Facebook friends to leave the platform. Some are migrating to Instagram (not sure I get that one, it’s the same company) and some are migrating to Twitter and encouraging their friends to join them there. Over on Reddit, everyone gleefully watched this crash and then Reddit went down for a day or two. Despite all the ways none of these platforms make me feel good, this migration does make me think about why Facebook, in particular, has a hold on me. First and foremost, most of my friends are there. I go where my friends are. I moved to NYC because my friends were here and I got on Facebook because my friends were joining. I want to be where my friends are – full stop.

The problem with Twitter is that while some of my friends are there, Twitter never shows them to me. I see endless posts for political analysts and public figures but only once in a blue moon do I see a friend and they rarely see me. And while it was weird as hell to be discussing my brother’s death on Facebook – there was not even a like on my blog post about it on Twitter, where it gets auto-shared, and there’s not even a way to share a blog post on Instagram. It’s all very weird and confusing. Because while the Facebook river of condolence was overwhelming, it was an outpouring of kindness and support in a time when it is needed. It is nothing to sneeze at, even if it’s challenging to take in.

Facebook has squandered so much of its potential by turning a place that used to be cool, full of our friends, into a political cesspool whirling around relentless advertising peppered with people’s saddest moments. Is it any wonder folks are leaving? It’s just not fun to be there anymore. And it used to be. Really! Is it awful? Of course. Are we prepared to do without it? I’m not sure. We need an alternative and I don’t think Twitter is it.

Also – we’ve tanked all the other ways we used to let people know about things. We don’t have everyone’s phone numbers. We don’t have their mailing addresses for our show postcards or life announcements. Facebook has become the town square where we tack up our announcements for passersby and somehow there’s no better way to get out the news. And that doesn’t make me feel good either.

I see, though, in the saddest moments, that there’s really nothing the internet can do. It is clear, again, that it is not the place to go for comfort. That place is actual people, with actual bodies who can actually hug you.

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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A Night at the Wet Opera
August 8, 2021, 1:23 pm
Filed under: art, community | Tags: , , , , , ,

All day, it had been threatening to rain but we decided to risk it and go to the park to see the opera performance. Neither of us had seen a show in person since the shut down so it felt like a big event.

We showed our vaccine passports at the vaccine entrance of the Bryant Park lawn and were directed to the folding chairs and tables we could take and place anywhere in the area. There was a cordoned off section way at the back for the socially distanced chairs set up for the non-vaccinated. (This event, btw, was the first time I got to show my vaccine passport. I was so excited.) We found a table and settled in. Almost immediately, we were reminded of what New York audiences for free stuff are like. (Very annoying – there’s always some intense rule enforcer who’ll enforce rules that don’t even exist.) Several people asked if we were using our table and were miffed when we said yes, despite the fact that were many freely available scattered around the edges of the lawn. There was a family in a line in front of us who seemed to be playing musical chairs and they were taking non-stop selfies with one another. And then it started to rain. Only a little bit at first. The selfie family started trading umbrellas around instead of just chairs. And almost no one left the park. The show was about to start after all!

It rained. The show started. If the response to its starting was muted, it’s only because everyone had umbrellas in their hands. By the time Carmen finished her aria, the audience had figured out how to cheer in the absence of clapping and there was some very cathartic cheering.

Because, of course, we weren’t just cheering for Carmen; We were also cheering for ourselves, this audience that would not be pushed around by some rain. A lot of rain by this point, btw. We are sitting in the rain in a park watching a fair to middling opera performance and I was weeping my face off. To hear a performer singing after so long, just cracked me open. A lot of it was not very good but I honestly did not care at all. I was so grateful for their cheeseball narration and hokey costumes, for their two person choruses attempting to stand in for the usual giant choruses.

Next to us, the young women in their sun dresses who’d been sharing some crackers and cheese at the start, huddled together under a clear plastic tarp. They eventually just dispensed with their tarp and let the rain pummel them while the toreador sang his song. They happily drank their hard seltzers, soaking wet.

The older man in a sweatshirt, his cane leaning against his leg, let the rain soak through his hood for a while but he finally surrendered and left his single chair.

Then the thunder started and so, before the toreador could conclude his number, the Artistic Director appeared ruefully onstage, clearly there to end the performance, and so the toreador made his own impromptu conclusion with a flourish.

The singers took their bows. The audience cheered and then flooded out of the park. Almost literally. The puddles were ankle deep.

On the subway steps before us, the little boy was joking with his family about his remarkable experience at Wet Opera.

Wet Opera was really quite beautiful. I was so moved by this crowd that would not move. We were told we were at the first opera performance in NYC since covid and it felt like that really meant something to this crowd. This crowd did not strike me as a particularly opera opera crowd. They didn’t seem to be particular fans of any of the singers or have a relationship with this company. They just felt like it was important to sit in a park together and see a show. Rain or no rain.

During one of the arias, a few tables away from us, someone popped a champagne cork. They all started giggling from the embarrassment of having made a big noise in the middle of a show and the giggles were contagious. We’re all so unused to being together like this – a simple thing like a cork pop just reminded us we’re all here together. We’re all hearing this music. We’re all feeling this rain. We see the rivulets streaming on the backdrop. We definitely all heard that cork and the giggles around us. Whatever happens, we’re all feeling it together.

Even the thunder, which sends us home.

In the moments before the Wet Opera began and became really wet.

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

They also bring you the podcast version of the blog.

It’s also called Songs for the Struggling Artist 

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

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

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The Arts Save the Children

We had a hopeful politician come to our door, campaigning, and so we asked her about what she’d do for the arts. She said she understood the value of the arts, that they kept kids out of trouble, the way sports had for her as a kid so she supports them. It’s a sweet story, really.

I enjoyed that story and I like this politician a lot but I hate this reasoning. First, supporting arts programs for kids is not supporting the Arts. It’s great and I spent many years in those trenches but Arts Education is not the entirely of The Arts. This is a common conflation, though – and artists do it as much as anyone, usually when they’re trying to raise money for an arts program.

The other part of it I hate is the way it sets up art as just a method of keeping kids busy. It’s like an after-school job or a club or something. This framing also tends to travel hand in hand with setting art up as a savior for troubled children. I’m particularly sensitive to this one because I used to believe it. I used to be in classrooms trying to SAVE THE CHILDREN with Shakespeare or music or whatever. In some cases, the people who sent me into these classrooms also wanted me to SAVE THE CHILDREN with my theatrical magic.

Nope. Nope. Nope.

I’m not saying it’s not possible for a child to discover an art and find their way to a new future that might be seen as saving them. That sort of thing DOES happen. I have seen it happen myself. But it does not happen often. And it can’t be planned for.

But it’s also not unique to the Arts. Anything could save a wayward child. It could be sports. It could be cooking. It could be knitting. It could be watching Wheel of Fortune. Basically, anything that lights a person up and gets them going can “save” a person. The arts are perhaps more likely than Wheel of Fortune to engage a child but it’s all really up to chance.

Why should we support the arts if not to save wayward children? What are they good for besides keeping kids out of trouble?

The arts are good for our souls, okay? Maybe we’re not supposed to use words like that when it comes to finding funds and government support – but that is fundamentally what is at stake. When the going gets tough, people turn to the arts. During this last year of trauma and lockdown – when so much became inaccessible – many people turned to music, turned to stories in multiple formats. It’s not a hug from your mom but it’ll do you good.

A culture is judged by its arts and a culture that doesn’t support its artists is going to lose them. They’ll emigrate or cease to be artists or their wells will dry up and the faucet that pours out stories and meaning might not deliver like it needs to at some point.

What do we need to say to our politicians so they understand? How do we help them see artists as more than an after-school program? For years, our arts leaders have been attempting to make the economic argument about how much the arts contribute to the economy and if, after this year of artistic devastation and all the economic devastation that surrounds that, they still don’t get it, I don’t know that they ever will. I think we have to just talk about the source. That arts are good for our culture, our souls and our social identity. The politician who came to our door was elected while the more Arts forward candidate lost – so now the task becomes how to help her do more than just say she supports the arts. Now we have to help her learn how to actually support them.

The Arts can do a lot but I don’t think they’ll save these boys from those bees!

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

They also bring you the podcast version of the blog.

It’s also called Songs for the Struggling Artist 

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

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

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