Songs for the Struggling Artist


“Believe in Yourself!”

In the bathroom at my local café, someone has written on the wall with chalk, in what I’m sure is meant to be an inspirational font: “Believe in Yourself!”

I hate this note. I know it’s meant to be uplifting but I cannot imagine that anyone could look at a note on the bathroom wall and change their belief or lack of belief in themselves. In response to this cheery message, I may have given a bathroom wall the finger. I’m not proud of it – but I think I’ve been pushed to my Believing in Myself limit.

My having reached Believe in Yourself capacity is probably coming from my time in acting where the main career strategy is to Believe in Yourself hard enough that good things will come to you with secret attractive magic. But then – ironically – if a director told an actor to believe in himself while acting in a scene – he would be at a loss. “But what do you want me to DO?” he’d ask in frustration. That’s always my question, too. But what should I actually DO?

The thing that’s dangerous about this Believe in Yourself business is that it often becomes a way to explain one’s success or lack thereof, particularly in fields where luck plays such an extreme factor. As people search for explanations for why we succeed or fail, it often tends to boil down to, “Well, he didn’t really believe in himself, did he? If he had – he’d be doing great!” Belief in self becomes this mysterious magic that can be dark or bright.

In my earlier years, I often took this sort of thing to heart. Someone would try to instill confidence in me by telling me that I just needed to believe in myself more and I believed them. I thought that the reason I hadn’t achieved whatever I was trying to achieve was because I hadn’t had enough confidence in it, that my belief in myself had been insufficient to achieve the goal. It strikes me now as insidiously destructive. The magical thinking that pervades the arts makes our success or failures hinge entirely on an unmeasurable metric of an ethereal thing when most of success is actually based on a series of systemic advantages or disadvantages. To transcend the disadvantages, one needs a champion or champions. I think we can all agree that the fabulous Billy Porter probably believes in himself. But he does not credit his self belief in the same way he pays tribute to the people who supported him. Here he is in an interview with Diep Tran for American Theatre talking about his relationship with Huntington Theatre:

Yeah, Peter DuBois and I were both working at the Public Theater under George C. Wolfe back in the early 2000s. Peter was a producer, and I had a writing/directing residency there. When he got the artistic directorship at the Huntington, he called and asked me to direct there. He believed in me. He has believed in me as a director from the very beginning. He’s one of the few who has given me the opportunity to exercise that muscle and become the best that I can be—because you can’t get better unless you have a space to practice. He’s given me a really safe theatrical home for me to expand my art and help everybody else understand what that expansion is.

I am so glad that Peter DuBois supported Billy Porter from the beginning and on through the years so that we could have him inspiring us now and only wish I’d had a Peter DuBois. I long for someone who might have provided me the same sort of support and encouragement and a safe theatrical home.

I have seen men do this for each other over and over again. It makes no difference if the mentee is as brilliant as Billy Porter or as mediocre as the most mediocre white bread man in the world – men escort other men into the circle. I have seen it happen over and over again. I have anecdotes. I have receipts. And I have never seen a man do this for a woman. At this point, I think there are not quite enough women in the inner circle for women to be able to do it for other women, either. The women I know who made it into the center did it by banding together and getting their crowd through. No one brought them in or made space for them.

Maybe we don’t need everyone believing in themselves more. Maybe it would be good to try believing in someone else, for a change. Choose someone and be their champion – be their best believer. That has a whole lot more value than believing in yourself.

This was not the message on the bathroom wall. This is far more arty and tasteful. (It is by HaseebPhotography via Pixabay.)

 

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This Hour Is for You

My priorities seem pretty screwy to a lot of people. Because Art is the most important thing to me, I tend to value my time more than money. There is not much that money can buy me that seems better than time to create in.

This means that I have made quite a few sacrifices over the years. There are things I don’t have. Places I don’t go. Shows I don’t see. Experiences I fail to enjoy. But I do have time. I have time to write, time to stare out the window, time to learn new songs, time to play guitar. I have time to read and time to wonder if I’m wasting my time reading.

It has not always been this way. At this point in my life I know I could probably be less Money Poor if I was less Time Rich but I’m actually reasonably comfortable with the current balance. It’s not at all sustainable and it won’t last forever. But it is a gift for the moment. It’s a gift I sometimes feel guilty about – like, am I allowed to mull and ponder like this? Wouldn’t I be a more productive member of society if I got out and sold something? Did some “business” or sent emails for a boss all day?

But then I read Brigid Schulte’s article, A Woman’s Greatest Enemy? A Lack of Time to Herself, and something snapped.

I am not just taking time for myself, for my art, though it can feel that way. I am also taking time for all the women who can’t spare an hour.

By taking time for myself the way Popeye takes spinach, I can, perhaps, begin to counteract the way the Patriarchy has stolen so much time from women over the years. I don’t just take an extra hour for myself, I can take one for Henry David Thoreau’s mother and sister who did his laundry and made him meals while he wrote out by the pond. I don’t just retreat to solitude for me and my play, I do it for Alma Mahler who might have taken some time for herself instead of tiptoeing around her husband. I take abundant time for all my friends, caught up in the mesh of childcare, who cannot take more than 15 minutes at a time to do much of anything for themselves, much less work on their art.

It feels as though it is my solemn duty, as a woman unburdened with the usual domestic duties, with my particular tolerance for financial insecurity, to take as much advantage of time alone as humanly possible. I would have thought that by now, what with the progress that has been made, we could have made space for women’s creativity – but no. Creative pursuits are still largely seen as a man’s rightful place. When have you heard a woman called a genius? When have you heard of a woman, gifted with time, who was supported and catered to in the way that all the “geniuses” were?

Are there women who have managed to grab moments of creativity in the cracks of their domestic lives? Of course. But I am heartbroken for all the women who never got a full afternoon to themselves to just drop in to their own minds or their creative work.

There are probably many women who have never even tasted uninterrupted time and might believe they do not need it. They may feel a stolen moment or two is enough to get some art done. (Neuroscience says otherwise. Humans are not nearly as good at multi-tasking as we think. We are also incredibly good at fooling ourselves on this front. “Why, I just happen to think better when I have Twitter scrolling by me!”) But what wonders might the women, hemmed in by domesticity, have made if they’d had more than a whisper of time to create in. We might have called a woman a genius once in a while instead of just catering to the boy geniuses.

And the thing is – it’s not JUST geniuses who have been catered to in this way. Women have lost acres of time to as many (if not more) dolts as they have to geniuses and all levels in between. Many a man thinks himself a Henry David Thoreau and many a woman does his laundry as if he were.

Sometimes I think I do not deserve to take time alone because I am not genius enough – or because I haven’t achieved the sort of success I imagined would justify having taken time. But fuck that. Just fuck it. I will pretend to be a motherfucking genius even when I least feel like one. I deserve it. I will treat myself like a 19th century boy genius. I will cater to myself, give myself the best chance I can get and enjoy every goddamn minute.

So, in honor of all the women who can find nary a minute alone in which to create, I pledge to stop feeling guilty for my productive solitude. I pledge to soak up every minute, every hour and make the best work I can make. I’m guessing that for the women without a minute, for the mothers and movers, this hour that I honor them with is actually not nearly as good as actually having an hour. So, I also pledge to give some hours to help watch your child or aging loved one so you can have an actual hour. If you’re in my city, you have some hours in my bank that I will happily give you so you can create, too, you genius woman.

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In Which I Get Myself F-ing Mad About the Roma movie

Both swearing and spoilers ahead. I’ll warn you before the spoilers. Consider yourself already warned about the swearing.

I really wasn’t mad about Roma while I was watching it. It was a quiet arty experience and I appreciated the cinematography and getting to see the very specific world it created (and perhaps documented). But I didn’t find it moving. I expected to. I brought a pocketful of tissues and I did not use a single one. Not that my tears are required for a moving experience. But I was oddly unaffected and I was trying to understand why.

So I did some googling and saw this cascade of articles declaring Roma to be a feminist film. That’s when I started to get mad. Sure, there are mostly women in the film and that’s really nice and all but crowing about it as a banner feminist film? Sorry. No. Now I’m mad about it.

Just putting women in your movie does not make it feminist. Having your movie declare that men are trash also does not make it feminist. In fact, it is quite the opposite. Feminism holds that men are equal with women (and vice versa of course) and, in fact, men are quite capable of being great (in other words, not trash). Feminism has had a bad reputation for being a man-hating ideology but in truth, it holds men to higher standards than the trash men are often accused of being. Demonstrating that men can behave badly and sometimes leave women to fend for themselves in the world men created is not a particularly feminist demonstration. It’s just something that happens. Feminism doesn’t flatter men or give up on them. It says, “You could do better and you should.” Which is how I felt about Roma.

If (SPOILER ALERT) when Cleo’s character got pregnant she’d been able to get an abortion, that would have been fucking feminist. Assuming Mexican abortion laws were restrictive at the time, there would still be ways to make that a more feminist movie. For example, if her employer had taken her to get an abortion where surely all the rich ladies got their illegal abortions, (because people with money always have more access to abortions even when they’re illegal) that would have been fucking feminist. Even if neither of those things were possible, a feminist film would have at least discussed the possibilities for dealing with an unwanted pregnancy. Instead this film acted like everyone needed to be super happy about a baby no one wanted. And when that baby was born dead – we could maybe not, as an audience, have been put in a position to think, “Well, that’s probably for the best.”

I resent a film that made me feel relieved about a dead baby. Really. Come on. That’s why abortion needs to be fucking legal. Because no one wants to feel relief about a baby born dead. No one. Come on.

And then – at the end, the big fucking reveal is that she never wanted that baby in the first place? What the fuck? Of course, she didn’t. From the moment her boyfriend ditched Cleo in the movie theatre, we all knew she did not want that baby.

In addition to all the personal reasons that the baby was a bad idea, she could have lost her job. It’s clear a different employer would have fired her immediately. That pregnancy was a catastrophe long before it had a gun aimed at it. Somehow the movie pretends it’s not and somehow thinks that women wouldn’t talk about that.

Cleo is a sort of domestic saint, who always does the right thing, is always put upon. The pregnancy somehow makes her more holy. I kept expecting her to get martyred and I’m glad she survives the movie but I guess her declaring that she didn’t want that baby is meant to be an acknowledgement that she is not an actual saint? I don’t know – but domestic sainthood doesn’t rank high in my feminist book.

END of major SPOILERS – some very minor ones ahead:

This sanctification of a boy’s nanny appears to be a thing. I don’t know why boys who grew up with nannies feel the need to make art about them but they do and they seem to be these saintly loving self-sacrificing figures who endlessly give of themselves to help form genius young men. I’m thinking, also, of Tony Kushner’s much lauded musical, Caroline, Or Change, which has similar issues of a woman of color raising white children. Both Roma and Caroline, Or Change have been fictionalized but both creators make it clear that their work was based on their youth. They also both drive me up a fucking tree with their magical negro/magical Native American tropes.

Anyway, speaking of how Roma was based on Cuarón’s nanny, I highly doubt that the big fulfillment in Cuarón’s actual nanny’s life – the end of her story – was to be told that her charges loved her. I’m sure hearing what she meant to her employer’s children was very gratifying but the odds that his family never once drove her crazy and never once made her want to cry out in frustration or kick a hole through one of those glass doors – those odds are very low.

I’m super glad that Cuarón has introduced us to Yalitza Aparicio, who is an extraordinary indigenous actor and that this film got her an Oscar nomination and all that – but we never learned anything about the character she plays or where she’s actually from. The barest minimum we learn is that her village looks a bit like the countryside where they spent New Year’s Eve. Her indigenousness was inconsequential in the end and that feels like a real missed opportunity – especially when it feels like the only real purpose of the film is to tell us that some men can be trash sometimes. Yeah, we know.

Now, can we get some reproductive freedom for everyone?

I’m not saying the film’s not brilliant – the sequence of the father trying to park that whale of a car in his garage is as poignant a look at masculinity as I’ve ever seen. But lionizing Roma as a feminist film just makes this feminist fucking mad. No. Not all men are trash and not all movies about women are feminist. Fade out on ranting feminist.

photo by ProtoplasmaKid via WikiCommons

 

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Harry Potter and The Hangover

We watched The Hangover one night, when it seemed like a couple of dumb laughs might be just the remedy for the world’s cruelties. A couple of dumb laughs were about all we got out of it in the end and half of them were from us about what extraordinary stereotypes all the “killjoy” women were. We cracked ourselves up adding lines, “That no-fun bride is mad we lost her fiancé right before her wedding. God! Women are so annoying!”

My friend could not get over how conventional and conservative it was. It seems like it’s this crazy hair-brained tale of wild excess – but in the end (I don’t think this needs a spoiler alert,) really all that happened is that the guys got super drunk and gambled. Sure, they also stole a tiger and one of them got married but the crazy things were all sort of socially fine. All sexual behaviors were within appropriate Hollywood bounds – that is, they ogled and groped the strippers but didn’t have sex with them. Even the one who got married to a stripper only cuddled with her. It was a crazy night in Vegas for which there was always a sort of reasonable explanation. When it’s all over, everyone could return to his conventional suburban life without incident. It’s just a little release for a couple of days in Vegas.

The most transgressive thing that happened, really, was that Zach Galifinakis’ character carried a purse and was not bothered about it’s not being manly.

It made me think about one of the theories of comedies that I studied in college. The Hangover wants to be one of these pastoral comedies where the protagonists go into the woods and lose all social convention and then can return to their more conventional lives with new information, having shifted what may have previously seemed unshiftable. Rosalind has to go into the Forest of Arden dressed as a boy to get the man she loves. And by the time she’s done, the rightful Duke has been restored to the throne and four marriages have been performed. The Hangover apes this sort of structure in that four guys go into the woods (Las Vegas) and by the time they emerge – one of them has broken up with his abusive girlfriend. Otherwise – everyone’s lives are pretty much the same. There’s no real release in this release comedy. Back to the Suburbs everyone – until the next time we get drunk! Conventional. Conservative.

Which brings me to the Harry Potter play. Harry Potter and the Cursed Child is a lot better a play than The Hangover is a movie. It’s funnier, too. But like The Hangover, it is remarkably conventional and conservative.

There are a lot of reasons this is surprising. 1) It’s about magical people. With magic powers! In a magical land! They could be so much more interesting than us! 2) It was made by some of the most skilled, creative theatre makers we have. 3) The author of the books (and the story on which the show was based) is in a position wherein she does not need the money or the prestige from this show. She can afford to take some risks that the rest of us might not.
And yet. And yet.

Now before I break down how/why this show is conventional and conservative – I want to acknowledge some of the ways it was successful for me.

1) Cape choreography (Note to my theatre-making self: All future set changes will now require cape swirling. It is a very satisfying way to disappear a chair.)
2) Whatever that time shift tech was, it blew my mind. If I’d seen it on screen I’d have thought nothing of it – onstage it was miraculous
3) It is no small accomplishment to keep an audience interested for over five hours of theatre.
4) The staging was A+, likewise the design, performances were on point.

If you’re going, I think you’ll find something of merit. It’s a better time in the theatre than a lot of things I see. However – fundamentally – it is the story of a father and son who just don’t seem to understand each other. This is perhaps the most common story in the Western Canon. Honestly, plays about fathers and sons trying to negotiate their differences are the top of the most produced stories. And in this case, there really wasn’t even any clear reason for this difference between father and son. It seemed to just be that Harry Potter’s son got sorted into Slytherin and wasn’t as popular as his dad. That’s it. At the heart of the play is just a difference in …fraternities?

The other important relationship in the play is the friendship between Potter’s kid, and Malfoy’s kid. They’re best friends and even though the play sometimes hints that there may be more there, it never allows these two boys to actually be gay, or even entertain the possibility.

It feels like, the whole time, cranky old middle aged Harry Potter is just reacting to his son’s gayness without his son ever actually being gay. A play like this has the potential to open up worlds of possibility and it pretty much just said, nah, they’re two best friends who fight through time and space to stay together – but they’re just best friends. And you know – I’m hip to that sort of story, too, for sure. My best friendships are really important and I like the idea of a play about that sort of dedication. But I didn’t buy that in this story. I felt like they were gay and the writers just didn’t want to talk about it. They didn’t want to alienate the anti-gay Potter fans!

Conservative. Conventional.

Also. This was a man’s story all the way through. Sure we had a few women in it – but we basically had an old conventional daddy issue play with some magic tricks. All the women were sidelined.

Hermione was particularly hung out to dry. Despite having the most prestigious job in the magical world, she can seemingly get no one to listen to her and is constantly interrupted by men. In an alternate time line (spoiler: There’s time travel!) she has become a nasty old maid spinster teacher stereotype just because she failed to marry a man she loved. O boy. It’s only the love of a man that keeps a witch from turning into a mean old witch apparently. Conventional. So conservative.

Listen – if your play has the ability to travel in time…why not entertain truly exciting other possibilities? You don’t have to hop from one conservative time line to another. There has to be some time line where things can be truly shocking and maybe even queer, in more ways than one.

I’m 100% sure that there is some very daring fan fiction in this vein and how I wish I’d seen even a hint of it in this production.

It’s interesting to see a play that has such a long reach of a following. The generation behind me grew up on Harry Potter and the commonality of experience they have around it is extraordinary. There’s nothing like it from my childhood. The amazing thing about making a play about a series of stories that everyone knows is that everyone’s an insider. It is actually very exciting to be in a room full of people who are so pumped up and so uniform in their responses. Any references to the characters or events in the book get giant responses from the audience. It’s the “I know what you’re talking about” laugh. I mean, just a mention of Neville Longbottom drew applause from the audience. He makes no appearance in the play but he got applause anyway. It’s like a band playing a phrase from their hit song in the middle of a new one. I guess it’s bound to be a hit. There’s no real risk there.

And speaking of phrases from a hit song – almost all of the music in the Cursed Child was actually bits of the instrumental tracks of Imogen Heap’s hit songs. Now – I love Imogen Heap. I want her to make all the heaps of money she’ll get from being the composer of this show. But it seems to me they just used her instrumental tracks for their early movement rehearsals and just decided to keep them. That’s not so much composing as recycling old hits in a new remix.

And that’s sort of what this show was – a recycling of old hits in a new frame. Using theatrical techniques pulled from more experimental works to tell a conventional story with a recycled soundtrack.

I mean. It was a reasonable day in the theatre. It knew what it was doing and made use of some of the best theatrical tricks in the book. But it made me think of The Hangover.

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O God, that I were a man!

The interviewer had asked me about my early career as a classical actor. I was explaining the math I did after a few years of acting wherein I realized how terrible the odds were for me in classical theatre. I’d realized I had little interest in performing in contemporary work and that the jobs in Shakespeare for women were so few that I had really very little chance of continuing to work. Then she asked me, “Do you think it would have different if you were a man?”

I did not hesitate for even a second as I said some variation on “Absolutely. Definitely. No doubt.”

And it’s interesting how this question caught me by surprise. I have written streams of words on sexism in theatre and sexism in Shakespeare. I could lay out structural and institutional bias and break down a host of examples.

But somehow I had never before considered what my life would have been like were I a man. Like, if I were me and I had all the same ambitions, desires, interests, personality – all of it and I just was a man instead. And there is no question that things would have been very different for me if I’d come in with a different gender.

It’s like the story Dustin Hoffman tells about his first encounters with being dressed as a woman to work on Tootsie. After the first test with the make-up and hair designers, he asks them to make him beautiful and they tell him that what was there was as good as it was going to get. He describes becoming very sad at realizing that he would never have talked to the woman version of himself if he’d met her at a party. It wasn’t just that he, as a woman would never have had his opportunities, it’s that she would have been entirely overlooked. It’s a very moving speech. (Unfortunately, the speech is now undercut for me by another story about 17 year old he sexually harassed – but that’s another subject.) I feel a little like I had the reverse experience as Hoffman when the interviewer asked me that question. I don’t think I’d have been Dustin Hoffman – but I bet I could have worked for much longer than I did.

I knew from the beginning that I had a very limited window for working. It’s partly why I was so on fire to do it. The women’s parts in Shakespeare tend to be mostly young women – young wives and love interests. There is very little middle space. Maybe Lady Macbeth, Regan, Goneril, Paulina, Tamora and Emilia. But often they’re played by young women, too. You don’t really graduate from Juliet into something juicy. You age out and hope to play maybe the Queen in Cymbeline? You won’t be the lords, the thieves, the politicians. You won’t be the kings or the emperors or the princes. Men age into these sorts of roles and they are the bulk of the jobs. Maybe a guy gets too old to play Romeo but then he’s Hamlet-age and Macbeth age and then Lear and if not Lear, there’s Gloucester, Wooster, Egeus, Egeon, Claudius ,etc. No such journey awaits women in the classics. You go from ingénue to maybe a queen, if you’re lucky.

I played a fair amount of men in my time. Not just the “pants” roles – the Violas, the Rosalinds, the Imogens – but actual male characters: Poins, Quince, Vernon, Holofernes, Feste. And I was grateful to be able to expand my repertoire beyond being in love.

But I knew if I wanted to play Hamlet, for example, I would have to make that sort of thing happen myself. If I’d been a man, it might have been just as difficult to get someone to see me as Hamlet – plenty of male actors don’t get to play Hamlet either. But their gender would not have been one of the obstacles.

Classical acting is a tricky business no matter what your gender is. The men I know from my time in it have quit in the same numbers as women. They mostly just quit later. They got a few more years in.

The male version of me probably would have moved on to writing and directing just like this lady version of me did – but I suspect he would have had longer to build up his contacts. He’d have been given some pats on the back, gotten some brotherly advice, received some introductions that I never had a shot at.

If he’d started my theatre company, he’d have had some donors lined up or some mentors in the background. He’d have portions of the road paved for him before he ever set off driving on it. I had to build the dirt road and, also, the car.

Let me just state for the record that I am very happy to be a woman and have no desire to trade my gender. But this thought experiment got under my skin in a way that I have not been able to shake.

It is somehow easier for me to look at all the systemic blocks and institutionalized sexism as not personal – to feel like those things have been blocking all of us, not me specifically. But they HAVE blocked me specifically and I find that I envy the man version of myself who would have had a few more years on the boards – who, even if he never got to play Hamlet, would probably have gotten to kill him as Laertes, or be killed by him, as Polonius.

The thing, too, that I find upsetting about my particular experience is that it will never be better for anyone else. If you are a woman who loves classical theatre, it will always be thus. The plays will always have way more men than women. They will always have screwy old fashioned gender roles. There will never be new full exciting roles for women in Shakespeare. We’ve got some great ones. But not a LOT. And it will always be thus. Always.

That frustration led me to write plays, which is ironic given how little interest I had in new plays when I started. But…like me, our theatres are obsessed with Shakespeare. They’d rather produce Hamlet than some new play no one ever heard of.

When I came to grad school, Macbeth was the first show I directed and many people told me how happy they were to be doing Shakespeare instead of all those other plays that no one had ever heard of before. (I showed them. The next year, I directed my own play which, for sure, no one had ever heard of.) We have a major underlying problem in our field. Theatre is in love with Shakespeare and it means there are never enough jobs for women. I also am in love with Shakespeare so I get it. I understand, truly. Ask me to recite a speech, it’s going to be Shakespeare. Partly, it’s that I don’t remember any other ones but also, I love it. I’m guilty, too.

This problem has hit me many times in my positions as a Shakespeare educator as well. I have often been in the fortunate position to introduce young people to their first Shakespeare and when those girls light up with love and tell me how they’ve found THE thing they want to do – I start to worry I’ve not done QUITE right by them.

But this question…this “would it be different if you were a man?” – it has to change. There has to be a future for theatre where it WOULDN’T make a difference.

I don’t know what the answer is. It’s probably a combination of things. Maybe we call a Shakespeare break for a decade. Or increase the numbers of women’s Shakespeare companies. Or increase the funding and profiles of already existing women’s companies. Or just exclusively do reverse gender casting for a while. Or maybe we could, as a society, just really chill out about gender and let the fluidity run through the plays so gender wouldn’t matter at all anywhere.

I want a future where a Shakespeare loving person could have the same opportunities, the same road, no matter their gender.

In the end, Beatrice’s line from Much Ado About Nothing, “O, God, that I were a man!” continues with, “I would eat his heart in the marketplace.” And I guess I feel pretty strongly that if you want to eat a man’s heart in the marketplace, you should be able to do it – even if you’re not a man.

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Posse. Team. Community.

Here’s what I’m looking for: A Squad. A Posse. A Team. Specifically: a squad, posse or team that is ready to mobilize for protests and marches and events.

Here’s why: I do not enjoy protests and marches. I’m a highly sensitive introvert with an aversion to crowds and shouting. But I know they make a difference and I often feel as though I OUGHT to go. Unfortunately, sometimes I just can’t muster the will. The main obstacle is that while there are many many things I am very happy to do by myself – protesting is not one of them.

So going to a protest often becomes the act of trying to find a date for something I don’t even really want to do myself. (“Hey friend – you feel like going to go do something I am definitely not going to enjoy but feel like I should go to and which I’m hoping you’ll say no to so I have a good excuse not to go?”) There are just too many opportunities to forget the whole thing altogether. It’s too easy to NOT go.

What this brings to the forefront for me is how little community I have in my life. I have a lot of wonderful individual friends – but I don’t have a community anymore and it’s become clear that I need one. Or several. Because here’s the thing – if I had, say, a What’s App group of protest buddies, I could just find out where they were meeting at the reproductive rights rally on Tuesday and turn up. Maybe go get a drink after, even.

If I had a squad, I could start the conversation or just show up. Sometimes the community would call me to action and sometime I could call the community to action. I now really understand why so much of the civil rights movement began in churches – because that is a ready made community. You can speak to a room full of people all at once that way. You don’t have to call up each individual church member and ask them to come to the march. You just ask them all at once. And then those people can car pool to the event and the next and the next and if a strike gets called, everyone’s ready to walk. It is very handy for organizing people.

So where’s an irreligious person to go to try and get some community going? Where do I go to find a squad? I tried the feminist book club in my neighborhood but when I mentioned I was looking for protest buddies, I got a lot of blank stares and one person said, “I have to work.” Uh, the protest I was talking about was five days ago. You’re already off the hook.

The thing is – I know I am not the only one who is reticent to go to a protest on my own but who would be easy to include with a suggestion from a community. Humans are social animals – even the most introverted among us still can be brought into a circle by the desire of the group. I need a group to want me to show up – because it is just too easy not to.

I mean – “I have to work.” You know?

What time do I have to work? Oh, you know – um, when’s the protest? Oh. Yeah. Then. Then’s when I have to work.

The times are such that we are likely to need to hit the streets more than ever. Reproductive rights are under fire like never before and we have to get out there to save women’s lives. We all need squads. Maybe you don’t need a squad right this second. Maybe you, like me, live in a state that’s not in too much immediate danger of attacking women’s personhood but I think we have to start building our squads now so we can hit the streets at the drop of a text. Not because they’re coming for us right now but because they’re coming for everyone. We all need a protest posse, I think, even if we don’t think we’re going to go.

And since my feminist book club was a bust, I figure I’m just going to have to start my own squad. So if you’re in NYC and you want to be in my squad, let me know. I’ll drop you a text.  We’ll all hit the protest, maybe get a drink after and call it community.

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

They also bring you the podcast version of the blog.

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

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Excuse me, Ma’am

The man in an oxford shirt came up behind me at the narrow passage of the café and did not stop moving as he said, “Excuse me, ma’am” and walked on, scrolling through his phone.

I muttered, “Don’t you ma’am me,” after he passed but what I really wanted to do was set him on fire with my magical fire-shooting ability.

I know the offense was minor and he probably only called me ma’am because there’s no feminine equivalent to sir and even though it sounds like “Outta my way, old lady” to me, he thinks he’s being respectful and at least he didn’t say, “Move, bitch,” and I should be grateful for even an attempt at politeness. But maybe if I combusted enough people for calling me ma’am, we could finally find a respectful word for women instead of limping by with miss and ma’am and madam since forever. Sometimes it takes a little fire.

I want a fire shooting power or a spontaneous combustion ability or to just truly access my dragon self and be able to gobble up those that displease me. I am so weary of conceding and getting out of the way and I don’t want to make a mess but I do want to obliterate my enemies.

The thing is, though, even if I woke up with such a superpower tomorrow, I’m fairly certain I wouldn’t use it. If I got a skein, like the women in Naomi Alderman’s extraordinary book, The Power, I don’t think I’d go on a mad electrocuting spree. I think I would probably keep it to myself – but I sure would feel a lot better knowing I could do it.

If I had, in my back pocket, the power to vanquish a world of enemies, I might be a little more apt to speak my mind at a meeting or on the street or in the passageways of small cafes where boys feel they own the throughways. I might not mutter, “Don’t you ma’am me.” I might say it loud. I might let it resonate and hang dangerously over the air, as the power danced around my fingertips. And we could all feel the electricity I was keeping in store, what energy I was using to NOT combust someone.

My anger had abated somewhat after the fetid air of the Kavanaugh hearings cleared a little – or maybe my anger just went underground these last few months. Eventually, it seemed, I did not long to combust every man I saw. But the recent spate of attacks on reproductive justice have begun to once again stir the dragon I have within and I am longing to actually be as dangerous as I feel. Don’t ma’am me. You might not mean anything by it. But I’m not sure what I’ll do. You just better hope my magic hasn’t grown in yet.

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

They also bring you the podcast version of the blog.

You can listen to me read this one 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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