Songs for the Struggling Artist


View from the Women’s March NYC 2018
January 25, 2018, 1:16 am
Filed under: feminism, Leadership, resistance | Tags: , , ,

The woman at the table next to us at dinner said she’d checked out the Women’s March that afternoon, after her spin class, but it wasn’t as much fun as last year, so she left. Aside from finding this whole way of thinking completely counter to the purpose of the march, I also found it baffling. Why on earth would she think a March was going to be fun?

I did not want to go to the Women’s March. I did not think it would be fun. I don’t like crowds. I don’t like shouting. I don’t like waiting in large groups of people. But I went anyway. Because I knew I’d want to have been there. I knew my future self would be glad I’d gone and I knew I’d feel better for having added my voice and my moving feet to the movement. I knew it would feel good to have done something but that did not mean I wanted to do it. And it did feel good to do something and it was maybe even a little bit fun at times. More than fun, though, I found the experience to be moving and surprising in several different ways.

First, it was surprisingly cathartic to walk by the Trump Hotel, giving it the finger, singing “Ole, ole, ole, ole, Fuck Trump, Fuck Trump.” And chanting “New York hates you (clap, clap, clap, clap, clap.)” I mean. It felt good to give directed voice to the fury I’ve been feeling for so long with so many other women. But that was a relatively brief moment of catharsis (repeated, when we passed the next Trump property.)

However, most moving to me was the way I saw the crowd around me take care of one another. For a crowd averse person like myself, this is no small matter. It struck me that a women’s march is full of people who have been socialized to look after one another and so it was an unusually conscientious way to be in a large group. When problems arose, they were quickly solved. For example, a woman behind us was looking a bit frantic and apologized for moving a little too quickly through the crowd. She’d lost her son. She described him and we all looked around. She called his name and within seconds, every woman around her had added her voice to the call. We all shouted for Ziggy together and before too long, the lost boy was found.

Over on 6th Avenue, a woman in a pink coat was hurrying alongside the edge of the route and tripped over the leg of one of the metal gate blockades. Within seconds, every woman around her had stopped to make sure she was okay. She was fine and hurried along ahead but we laughed at how immediate the response had been. It was like a flock of sign-carrying, concerned birds had suddenly surrounded her.

All over the march, children were welcomed and given pride of place. The photos of the march on the event’s Facebook page are dominated by adorable children with their home-made signs. It made me wonder what a world run by women might actually be like. Would there be more places for children to be a part of the lives of their parents? Wouldn’t the participation of parents and their children in our most important affairs make for a more compassionate and considerate world?

Boys with their mothers, girls with their fathers, whole families marching together, all made me feel hopeful about the future for the first time in a year. We had a sweet moment with two little girls and their fathers. The girls were very interested in our percussion instruments and wanted to know why we had them, what they were for, how they worked. We let them play them and they developed this hilarious move where one of them would hold the rattle in one hand and the shaker in the other and jump in the air to create a flurry of sound as she descended. Then the jumper would hand them to her friend and then the friend would jump and then she would hand them to us and we would jump and finally to the shy boy, holding on to his dad, so shy we hadn’t even noticed him, encouraging him to play too.

That part was fun. Watching two bold, curious, caring girls explore a new thing and share it with everyone nearby was absolutely fun but also inspiring. Because if we don’t blow up the world before they get there, it will be girls like those who might one day rule the world. They will be inclusive, compassionate, caring leaders – who look out, not just for themselves, but for the vulnerable, for the marginalized, the mothers, the fathers, the other children and they will express gratitude to those that shared with them. I marched so that that future stands a chance of coming to be.

And what about that woman, fresh from her spin class, who didn’t find the march fun enough to join? Did we need her there? You know, as much as I’d like to say no and never have to march alongside such a person, I think we probably need everyone right now. We’ll none of us ever agree on absolutely every issue, or every methodology, or how much fun it is or isn’t to go be heard on the street, but if we cultivate a kind, caring, compassionate future, we can make space for even the people we find distasteful. We can call for their children if they get lost. We can help them up if they fall. And if it’s fun, while we do that, that’s nice, too.

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Generation X – Part 8 – the Coda: We’re Not Gonna Take It

Y’all. You guys. I was done. I was totally done with this piece. I was not going to write another word about Generation X but I’ve just realized, in the midst of the current river of men being called to account for their years of harassment and abuse, that the majority of the women who kicked this off were Gen X women. Harvey Weinstein harassed, abused, raped or assaulted women in their twenties when they were young and no one cared what they thought then but those women are in their 40s and 50s now and I don’t think that’s insignificant. I would also like to point out that Meghan Twohey and Jodi Kantor, the two women who broke the Weinstein story that jumpstarted this moment, are both Gen X, as well.

Gen X women have stepped out of our victim years and are stepping into our power. We thought were the Only Ones but have woken up to the fact that we are not alone.
These aren’t our middle aged years – these are our power years – our witch years. We’re not going to take it. We are sisters who twisted ourselves into knots for too long and no, we’re not going to take it anymore.

Look at who is at the forefront of this movement – Tarana Burke, Alyssa Milano, Rose McGowan, Ashley Judd, Mira Sorvino, Salma Hayek, even Gwennyth Paltrow. These are all Generation X women. And now, with the Time’s Up initiative, Gen X-ers Shonda Rhimes, Reese Witherspoon and Jennifer Aniston have picked up the baton.

This watershed moment was kicked off by Gen X women. But I have heard nary a peep about that. In fact, on the Brian Lehrer show, there was a segment called The Generational Divide in the #MeToo Movement. It was a conversation between a Baby Boomer and a Millennial – how differently those two generations see this moment. Gen X barely got a mention throughout the hour long discussion. That’s when I knew I had to come back to this Generation X opus.

I do not think it was an accident that there was a twenty year gap between the crime and the reckoning. In part, it’s the changing of the times, sure – but it is also that women stepping into our 40s and 50s are stepping into a new power. I suspect that young women are still dismissed when they make claims today. I suspect that young attractive women are still less likely to report harassment or abuse – not because there’s something “weak” about them as I’ve heard some people say (WTF?!) but because young women are in an incredibly awkward position. They have a whole lot more to lose – they have not much career behind them and a great deal to gain in the future. Predators prey on young women precisely because of that vulnerability of position. Young women have historically had no real authority and are judged almost exclusively on their ability to be pretty and compliant. Disrupt either of those and your currency as a young woman goes down dramatically.

As we’ve seen, even just rejecting advances causes tremendous consequences – Mira Sorvino was blacklisted and had her entire career derailed because she fought off Weinstein’s advances. Rose McGowan was called crazy for years because she said something at the time. Young women are believed less than older ones. And now that the majority of the actresses who were abused in their twenties are now in their 40s and 50s, there’s nothing to lose and no reason to hide the truth anymore.

That is, Gen X women are no longer really seen as bankable young women so are now in a key position to call people on their shit.

I also don’t think the fact that many of these women are now mothers is insignificant. Every woman I know who became a mom became more fierce and stronger and determined to fight for their children to grow up in a better world. I know that that’s a  part of why my Baby Boomer mother is out resisting every day – to make the world a better place for me. And Gen X moms are fighting, not so much for themselves, as for their children. Many Gen X women waited a while to have children and are now not only entering their power years, but are entering their power years with the ferocity of young children to defend.

I think the moment that this movement will really soar is when all the Dads join in, too. Some are already on it. But, at the moment, men are mostly still leaving the heavy lifting of social change to the women. While women addressed #MeToo and #TimesUp at the Golden Globes, the extent of participation from men at that ceremony was to wear a button.

Gen X women kicked this off and while I don’t want to see us left out of the conversation, it is my hope that the cause gets lifted up by all genders from all generations so that Gen X won’t have to keep this movement afloat by ourselves. We’re good at going it alone but change works better with everyone involved.

In part, I think Gen X women are leading this movement because, at our age, we are suddenly confronted with, not only the sexism we’ve endured for decades, but also ageism. The culture wants to put us out to pasture and Gen X is just not having it. We won’t accept invisibility. We won’t accept things the way they’ve always been. Suddenly our ability to call bullshit is coming in very handy.We’re not going to take it anymore. Time’s Up.

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Hello Little Girl Culture and #MeAt14

The horrifying Roy Moore stuff has sparked a campaign of people posting photos of #MeAt14 to bring home, for those who are dismissing the severity of the charges, how young 14 really is.

When I was 14, I saw the Broadway production of Into the Woods and I heavily identified with the child in the show, Little Red Riding Hood. I was very interested in the other women but I saw myself as Little Red. And in seeing a production of the show recently, I started to think about how my 14 year old brain processed the play.

See, I thought I’d seen this show when I was 17 because of how clearly I understood that the wolf was as sexual predator and that getting eaten by the wolf was a sexual awakening for the little girl. But I was not 17, I was 14. And I got it. Totally. And it “made me feel excited, well, excited and scared.” (*This is a lyric from Little Red’s song “I know things now.”)

And while I still love this show, my adult feminist brain sees this storyline, as well as many others, as particularly problematic for my developing brain.

The thing is – the wolf is a bad guy. He is seductive and charming and he eats a grandmother and child whole. He is a literal predator. He sings “Hello, Little Girl” and the lyrics are not vague on the subject. “Think of that flesh, pink and plump,” he sings. And this show makes the confusing overlap between sex and predation. Like – the wolf has stolen Little Red’s innocence but she likes it a little bit. She knows things now, things like “scary is exciting” and “nice is different than good.”

But meanwhile, the audience has also been seduced by the wolf. We laugh at the double entendre of wolf’s sense of her as “tender and fresh.” And that crosses our wires. We learn to be attracted to predators through stories like this. Which, I know, I know, wasn’t the intention. The work is complex and Sondheim points us toward something that does, in fact, happen in the world. But –

In thinking about #MeAt14 – I find it disturbing that at 14, I had already worked out the feeling of being prey for predators when I saw this show. I knew how that felt and had known for some time. But I was also interested in a sexual awakening and every story I saw about this seemed to suggest that the way to an awakening was to get seduced by a predator. You couldn’t have your own sexual awakening, you had to be overpowered by some dark force.

I keep thinking about a tweet I saw from Anna Paquin about growing up in a victim grooming business. And the movie business isn’t the only one doing that grooming. Sometimes it feels as though most of the culture is a victim grooming business.

As I grew up, I kept listening to the soundtrack from Into the Woods and I moved from identifying with Little Red to Cinderella. I really understood Cinderella’s indecision about whether to be caught by her stalker or keep running. The Prince has a lot in common with the wolf – especially when he’s played by the same actor – and his relationships are similarly predatory. And similarly attractive. What I learned was that it was a predatory “prince” who will awaken your sleeping sexuality – not a man who is your peer.

I understood that these princes were ridiculous but also that they were the only way forward for a sexual life, not just for Cinderella but also for the Baker’s Wife – who I also learned to identify with as I got older. The Baker’s Wife gets her post-baby sexuality awakened by this predatory prince and then promptly gets killed for it. (She also technically gets fridged.)

I mean, it’s like, from this plot point, I learned that sex you enjoy is punishable by death. The Baker’s Wife is set free sexually and then she dies. (Also she has no identity of her own. She belongs to the Baker.) Little Red is seduced by the wolf and then consumed by him. Cinderella is transformed/rescued by the prince but ultimately betrayed by him. The only man who isn’t a predator in Into the Woods is bossy as hell and is always telling his wife to go home.

And I’m not trying to be a jerk about Into the Woods. This show has meant something to me since I was 14. The women in this show are complex and multi-dimensional and that is nothing to sneeze at in this world. But I am troubled by the messages I took in from this show and troubled by the way they continue to fly through the culture.

Stephen Sondheim’s complex and poignant work points to something that can be real. But then that realness goes on to perpetuate itself as the work becomes canon and every young musical theatre fan goes to see it. The wolves of the world, the Roy Moores of the world, not to mention so many others, continue to think they’re doing young girls a favor by pursuing them and then young girls convince themselves that being overcome, being doggedly pursued, being seduced, consumed, betrayed are an inevitable part of a sexual awakening. Most of us found the wolf singing “Hello Little Girl” funny and charming and not deeply disturbing the first time we heard it. But I find myself deeply disturbed by it now, every time I think about it.

And I try to imagine a production of Into the Woods where a fourteen year old me wouldn’t be charmed by the wolf, where #MeAt14 wouldn’t start dreaming of being stalked or hunted like prey after watching it, where I didn’t learn to be attracted to predators. If you are a person who finds men attractive, this is a thing you have to reckon with. (See also, Kevin Spacey’s predation on a 14 year old boy.)

The production I saw most recently tried to deal with some of the tricky gender dynamics of the show with some feminist flair. The director tried to make the Baker’s Wife the hero (hard, because she gets fridged.) The costume designer gave Jack’s mom a hammer and made her a kind of Rosie the Riveter single mom. But it takes more than a hammer to solve this problem at the heart of the piece. You can’t solve a “Hello, Little Girl” culture with a sexy wolf. I think you may actually perpetuate it.

And, of course, I got these messages long before I ever saw Into the Woods. This programming is not the fault of this show. I couldn’t have understood it if I hadn’t seen it multiple times before. I don’t know what we’re supposed to do about this sort of thing. Never do Into the Woods again? Only do dark expressionistic productions? I don’t know. My hope is that we find a way to tell stories that eventually drown out these predatory stories, to let these stories of predation become the outliers and watch other stories take center stage.

We have to take a hard look at the way our culture grooms men to be predators and women to be victimized, even in our most beloved stories and shows. We have to address this stuff in the senate and in our theatres. It’s time. I don’t want the next generation of girls to grow up as prey for the wolves and Roy Moores of the world. I want them to find their awakenings on their own, with their own agency, with people who are their peers, not their predators.

Also, people of Alabama, please, please, please vote for Doug Jones on Tuesday. For all of us.

#MeAt14, in my Rizzo costume, trying to look grown-up

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You Had One Job, Man

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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My Respect Was Yours to Lose, or, Why Radiolab Broke My Heart a Little

When I first heard Radiolab, almost a decade ago, I was entranced. I’d never heard anything like it before and it was thrilling radio. Whenever it came through my podcast feed, it was the first thing I’d listen to, before any of my other programs. The episodes on Time and Music were as powerful for me as a good production of theatre. Their live show with Pilobolus WAS good theatre. It was a better show than most theatre I see. I loved Radiolab so much, I wished more people listened to it so I could describe one of my theatre practices using it as a reference.

I tell you all this fangirl stuff so that you know where my love for these guys began. And where it is now. In recent years, Radiolab episodes often languish in my podcast feed – partly because other podcasts have replaced it in my affections but also because it has changed. Listening to it was once like listening to art – a blend of sound, music and story – a series of factual short stories in an art wrapper. Lately, it’s become  like every other well-produced podcast in my feed – journalistic, professional – with up to the minute and historical stories. It’s still well crafted and well-considered – but I don’t NEED to listen to it the way I used to.

I don’t begrudge the guys who do Radiolab their new developments. I fully respect that artists change and follow their own interests. A good artistic practice demands that willingness to change. Artists are lucky if our audiences come with us on these journeys.

If this were just about that shift, about this particular audience member losing interest, I probably wouldn’t be writing this – but I’ve now had an experience with Radiolab that puts this all in a new light for me.

My friend and I went to a live taping of a show/debate about the First Amendment for the More Perfect show, which is their spin-off about the Supreme Court. To explain what happened, I’ll just include the message I sent to them about it.

Dear Radiolab –

I’m a long time fan of the show and a fan of the new spin off, too. I was at the debate last night and had some thoughts.

When Jad declared the winner of the first debate based on audience response, my friend leaned in and whispered, “They didn’t win. They’re just louder.” I nodded vehemently. A group of guys came in loud and they finished loud and the whole conversation last night struck me as highly gendered.

Since this is a show you’re still working on, I just wanted to raise this issue in the hopes that you might be able to consider the gender dynamics of the questions. When the show began, we were encouraged to be loud, to make noise, to boo and hiss and so on and some of the crowd, the mostly white male 1st Amendment enthusiasts were happy to oblige.

This felt like the beginning of a gender bias tilt in the evening. Some context: Women have been socialized to not do any of these things in public space so even if we have been given permission, we are still hyper-alert as to whether we are in a safe space to do so. From the beginning of the evening, it was clear that we were not in such a safe space. To even risk applauding in the face of the very deep voiced enthusiasm for being able to say whatever you want was too much for many of the women around me.

And here’s the thing – I’m pretty agnostic in this conversation. I’m still working out what I think – but I found myself trying to make noise on the other side of the 1st Amendment cheerleaders just to try and find some balance.

It’s pretty easy for a white man to be in full support of the 1st Amendment. White men tend not to be victims of abuse or vulnerable to hate speech. (At least not until they start to speak out for those that are.) After last night’s debate, I wondered if all hardline 1st Amendment people were white men. I know that can’t possibly be the case – but there was such a bro atmosphere on the topic, even with a woman debating their side, that I became concerned that any support of unfettered free speech must suggest extreme white male privilege.

I’d love to hear another perspective on your show when you air it. If you listen to W. Kamau Bell’s conversation with Lee Rowland (from the ACLU) on Politically Reactive, for example, you’ll hear a far more nuanced and sensitive perspective on free speech. Can you get her for your show? Or talk to Malkia Cyril at the Center for Media Justice?

I understand the appeal of the boxing match/debate experience (it probably feels entertaining to some) but it wasn’t a fair fight. For those of us who feel particularly vulnerable to attack, for whom the threat of on-line abuse often keeps us out of those spaces, the debate felt like yet another public space that women weren’t really welcome or comfortable to participate in.

As a long time listener of the show, I know you all to be thoughtful and considerate interviewers, investigators and curiosity seekers – so the tenor of this experience was surprising to me. This is why I think it’s worth letting you know about the experience of some of the unheard voices in your audience.

Thank you so much for your work. It means a lot to all of us. I’m just hoping you might be able to make this show, um, more perfect, as it were.

Respectfully,

Emily

Finding contact information was more difficult than I would have expected. On the first platform where I could find contact information, I received no reply. I sent it again through another channel – no reply. Not even an auto-response, like, a “Thank you for your message.” Nothing.

I really expected better of them that’s why I bothered to write them a letter. (This is not something I’ve done before, really.) I expected better of the show and I expected a better response to my hopes for a more inclusive conversation. But my letter was ignored. And so, I assume, were my concerns. And now that I find myself dismissed, I’ve started to re-examine some assumptions I made about the show in general. I assumed they’d WANT to create a more inclusive atmosphere because I wanted that to be true but now I’m not so sure.

Now that I’ve seen the show that I saw and gotten no response to my letter, I start to listen to the show in a different way. I used to hear two charming intellectuals bantering about ideas. Now I hear two white dudes needlessly scrabbling. I used to hear a kind of playful playground of curiosity. Now that I recognize that I’m not welcome on that playground – those games look a lot less fun. I listen differently now. Now I’m looking for how I misread the scene. I’m looking for sexism that I missed (I don’t tend to miss much. I’ve got a well-honed sexism radar.) I search for where I misread the signals of inclusivity, how I could have thought this space might have made space for me.

My experience with this show is a little like having accidentally walked into a frat party and seen your professor and your TA getting drunk and hitting on the grad students. It’s, like, technically fine, I guess – since everyone’s adults but – just, gross, man, it’s just gross. And now you won’t be able to think of anything but that frat house whenever your professor and TA are lecturing.

Anyway – that show about the First Amendment has come out now and I just can’t make myself listen to it. Not listening to it allows me to believe that maybe they took my thoughts on board, even if they didn’t let me know. But I really doubt they did. Given what I saw and felt that night, I really doubt it.

Here’s another thing that happened that night, a moment that made me feel like I had to write that letter initially and that I had to say something now that I’ve been ignored. That is, in the final round, the host, Jad, phrased the debate question in such an incredibly biased way that no one could assent to it, making it seem as though that side had lost in a landslide. Every woman around me sort of shook her head, like, uh…no. And I shouted. I don’t shout. But I shouted to the host, something like, “Could you rephrase that?” I pushed past my own discomfort with the power dynamics and the way the room felt to insist on a modicum of respect for the people who held that view.

Afterwards, quite a few women thanked me for speaking up. And I understood that I had to speak up then and that I had to speak up afterwards. I guess I’m a person who shouts now. Now I say something. Even when it’s a seemingly small detail.

And while I’m sad that a show I once loved disappointed me, being disappointed like this is not a unique experience for me. A lot of us women will give men we admire the benefit of the doubt. We will stretch ourselves to make them right, because we admire them. In this case, the Radiolab men had a lot of admiration to buffer them but once the shine comes off, once the scales fall from our eyes, well… we will give you a chance. But then that’s it. The stretching to accommodate your genius is over. And we will shout if we have to. We’re shouters now. We will shout. .

 

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Why I Am Indebted to Charmed (Yes, the TV Show)

Whenever I hear The Smiths’ “How Soon Is Now” I go back in time. Not to when I used to listen to The Smiths in college but to the song’s time as the theme song for Charmed, my favorite guilty pleasure TV show of the late 90s and early 2000s. I was embarrassed by how much I loved Charmed. The women’s outfits were ridiculously classic WB silliness (really? You’re going to fight evil in those shoes, in that dress?!) and the plots tended to get pretty soapy but damned if I didn’t love watching three witchy sisters (the Charmed Ones) fighting dark forces while also trying to maintain businesses and appearances of normality.

And I soon discovered that two of my dearest friends were also charmed by Charmed. Those two friends and I started watching the show together and (I think, not incidentally) we also started a theatre company together. We were a three woman team and I think we got a lot of strength from regularly watching a three woman team of witches. The Power of Three was real for us. Charmed helped us feel charmed even if we didn’t have a magical Book of Shadows. I think our company’s existence is wrapped up in the Charmed Ones.

I wanted to tell you about this now because it feels to me as though witches in general are having a bit of a moment and two of the actors who played the witches on Charmed have become powerful voices in the movement for justice for women. I don’t think this is an accident, actually. I think that embodying powerful women, even if that power is fictional, helps show you that you do have power, even if it isn’t actual magic. I think the feeling of pushing back “evil spirits” teaches you how to push back on more pedestrian evil, the kind of evil most of us run into every day.

Once you know what it feels like to shoot magic fire from your hands, I think it is hard to go back into hiding. I’m not saying Alyssa Milano and Rose McGowan are activists for women because they once played witches on TV. I mean maybe they are but I think they probably had that strength in them in the first place, which helped them get those parts as Charmed Ones. (Also, to my knowledge, Tarana Burke never played a witch and she is the originator of the #MeToo campaign and is so badass.)

Of course witches are not the only way to access feminine power – but it does seem like witches are the primary way we culturally will allow women power. This goes way back, of course. And the impulse to burn witches is directly related to the impulse to limit women’s power. The sign at the Women’s March that made me cry the hardest was the “We are the Granddaughters of the Witches You Failed to Burn.”

Witchcraft is growing like hotcakes right about now. Like, there are hexes and spells and gatherings to push back the patriarchal horrors growing around us all the time. That’s a thing that people are actually doing. I love it. I don’t really BELIEVE in it – but anything that makes women feel powerful in a world that tells us we are not is A-OKAY with me.

Back in January, I was invited to a participate in a photo shoot and asked to say when I felt powerful and it took me forever to find an answer. I could not think of a single instance in which I had the thought “I feel powerful.” I could think of a dozen other sort of empowering things I have felt but I couldn’t think of when I felt actually powerful. It felt entirely out of my wheelhouse.

But it occurs to me now that I felt powerful in my Charmed years. That I felt powerful with two sisters by my side, practicing theatre magic, believing I was casting spells of art. It felt good to feel witchy, to feel like Charmed ones. Just recently, I cackled with glee, like full witchy cackled, when I read Lindy West’s article about Weinstein and Allen, et al and she said, “Yes this is a witch hunt. I’m a witch and I’m hunting you.”

In real life, we watch our powerful women get attacked in a multitude of ways. We watch women lose so often. Our victories are small – Rep. Maxine Waters’ “Reclaiming My Time” is about the top of what we can dream of. We watch the Women’s March organizers bring together a record breaking group of women in January but then we watch them get arrested at Trump Tower in NYC. We watched Hillary Rodham Clinton get the historic nomination but then had to watch her eviscerated by the media and painfully lose to a ridiculous man.

So we need our witches. We need to see women who can win. Every time. We need to pretend to be them and know what it feels like to win so we can keep winning. We need our Charmed, even if it might be a little silly.

Some of the lyrics from “How Soon Is Now?” that were in the titles of Charmed were “I am the sun and the air” and “I am human and I need to be loved, just like everybody else does.” And now that I think about it, it’s actually one of the sweetly potent parts about Charmed. It was three exceptionally powerful witches (the sun and air) but they got to be human (just like everybody else does.) They dated or got married, or slept around and just generally had a fun human time while fighting the forces of evil with their magic. The charm of Charmed was being both witch and human, both powerful and woman.

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And a little coda to this post: As many of you know, I record an audio version of this blog via my podcast. At the end of (almost) every post, I include a song. For this one, it was obvious that I needed to do “How Soon Is Now?” so I looked up the lyrics/chords to start learning it and had a funny revelation. The lyric is not “I am the sun and the air;” it is “I am the son and the heir.”  All these years, I was sure it was the sun and air and it’s the son and heir. What I thought was a sort of pagan animistic declaration is, in fact, a lineage of male-ness. Hilarious.

But I think the show’s title sequence is edited in such a way to suggest the more pagan reading of those words. For example, on the word, “sun/son” a much brighter shot appears in the titles, like a light turning on and moments before “air/heir” a candle is lit. So, on a show about the witchy power of women, the theme song takes on a different meaning. That is, Morrissey may be the son and heir but the Charmed Ones are the sun and air.

You can help me access my power

by becoming my patron on Patreon.

Click HERE to Check out my Patreon Page

kaGh5_patreon_name_and_message*

This blog is also a Podcast. You can find it on iTunes. If you’d like to listen to me read a previous blog on Soundcloud, click here.screen-shot-2017-01-10-at-1-33-28-am

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Writing on the internet is a little bit like busking on the street. This is the part where I pass the hat. If you liked the blog and would like to give a dollar (or more!) put it in the PayPal digital hat. https://www.paypal.me/strugglingartist

 



Don’t Step On My Exit

This guy I’d never met before was being kind of a pretentious dick about the theatre we were standing in. He clearly felt he gained some status and authority from working as an usher at the place. What he didn’t know (because this is a big old organization) was that my friend and I had also worked there for over a decade in the education department so I told him. And it gave him pause, which was the desired effect. I’m not a big fan of the status game shit (Unless it’s an actual status game in an improv context – those status games I love!) but I’ll play if I have to.

As the evening went on, more talk of the theatre we were in emerged and when I was asked how I happened to no longer work at this fancy theatre, I joked that I stormed out in a huff. To be clear, this is not the case. It was a playful re-framing at my own expense, not the expense of the institution. It was my hope to make it clear that I left with a sense of righteousness and my dignity and that it was not some other kind of parting of the ways. But this little joke came back to haunt me over the course of the rest of the evening.

The first time was when he told someone my parting of the ways was acrimonious. I corrected him immediately. I said explicitly that it was not acrimonious. All parties were respectful and measured and no one bore anyone any ill will at my parting. I told more of the story. I emphasized that my “huff” was my own sense of self-righteousness and nothing anyone did to me. Not to say that the things I was mad about weren’t justifiable – but I recognize that I was the active agent in a moment. I saw my leaving as heroic and to hear it re-framed like a messy divorce made me mad. But I corrected the mistake and then moved on to enjoy the drinks at the bar.

An hour or so later, I heard him report, once again, to a new arrival to the party, that I’d had an acrimonious parting at this theatre. I corrected the implication again for the new arrival but I recognized that this guy was going to talk about my “acrimonious” parting forever – no matter what I said.

And here’s why I hate that and why I wanted to tell you about it. It felt like such a clear example of someone changing my story – something that happens all the time, especially to women and people of color and changing it in such a way where I was no longer the hero with a powerful exit. I thought I had a story like that air steward who pulled the escape hatch and slid down the inflatable slide to quit, but now I was in a story where I was just a pain-in-the-ass ex-wife.

And the fact that this guy still works at that theatre and seemed to enjoy the telling of the story he made up made me worry about all the people I still know there with whom I have good respectful relationships. I know how these stories get around.

I’ll explain my concern with a story of another job I quit. When I was in my early twenties, I was working at a theatre that suckered me in by telling me I’d be playing a leading role in a big play and then, when I arrived, stuck me into the box office 6 days a week, with a small chorus part on the occasional evening. It was one of those theatres staffed almost entirely by similarly suckered young people and in the house we all lived in, the others told the story of the one who came home for lunch one day, packed up their stuff and never went back. This person was a legend. Everyone seemed to admire their heroic departure. Everyone told the story again and again.

I left that theatre myself after two weeks, though not in a cloud of mystery. I spoke to the Artistic Director. (Yes, the one with the veil of rumors about his behavior with young women.) I talked with him once after the first week (when he told me I should meditate) and then again when I’d definitively decided I was leaving. Even though the Artistic Director tried to get me to stay, he finally conceded that if I was going to go, he couldn’t stop me and to get on my horse and ride. I packed up my car and drove out of there. It was a sexist and racist place to work and I was glad as hell to escape into the sunset.

Fast forward to my next acting job in a different state. In the new company of actors, there was an actor from the city where I’d left that shitty job. I told him I’d worked briefly in his city at that shitty theatre and he said, “That was YOU?! You’re a legend.” This was a year after the fact. And this guy didn’t even work at THAT theatre. Stories stick around. They can spread and grow until they cease to have anything to do with the source. And you know – I liked how that exit story came back to me from the other state. This actor’s story about me supported the vision I had of it. His story was like mine in which I was the hero who rode off into the sunset inspiring others to follow.

But back in the present day – this new story of my acrimonious split at the usher’s theatre makes me angry because it takes away my agency in it and it does not reflect my experience of leaving a place to make a stand. It frames me as a woman in Fatal Attraction instead of Karen Silkwood or Erin Brockavich. I left that theatre on principle and I’m hearing it reflected back to me as a spat. Repeatedly. No matter what I say to correct it. And he will tell his version of his story at work and he might tell it often and I don’t know what it will be by the time it comes back to me.

And this happens to women’s stories all the time. All the time. Wondering how it is that no one believed women when they came forward with their harassment and assault stories? This is how. This is how.

You can help me keep telling my story

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Click HERE to Check out my Patreon Page

kaGh5_patreon_name_and_message*

This blog is also a Podcast. You can find it on iTunes. If you’d like to listen to me read a previous blog on Soundcloud, click here.screen-shot-2017-01-10-at-1-33-28-am

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Writing on the internet is a little bit like busking on the street. This is the part where I pass the hat. If you liked the blog and would like to give a dollar (or more!) put it in the PayPal digital hat. https://www.paypal.me/strugglingartist

 




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