Songs for the Struggling Artist


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 

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I Guess I Have to Talk About Cuomo

The governor of New York, where I live, is all over the news again and as much as I’d really rather not think too much about Governor Andrew Cuomo, I’m seeing so many bonehead responses to this story that I think I’m going to have to say something.

I will say, just right off the bat, I am not a fan of him. I have not been a fan. I have voted against him every chance I’ve gotten. I found him tolerable for the first time when he became a voice of reason in the early pandemic times – but even his reassuring statements about what day of the week it was were not enough to turn me into a “CuomoSexual.” I understand why people got crushes on him but his history of throwing women’s reproductive rights under the bus, for example, kept me from any particularly warm feelings. I just didn’t hate him as hard while he was telling me it was Tuesday back in April.

I’ve seen him in person (when the new subway line opened a few years ago) and I will tell you, he was like a bag of oil in a human suit. I’ve never seen anyone oilier. And I was once the person a drunk Kevin Spacey needed help from.

I think Cuomo’s been a lousy governor. It’s not just the absolute disregard for accountability or compassion for the folks living and working in nursing homes during the pandemic, though I find that stomach turningly reprehensible. I am not a fan of his alignment with real estate interests (always – but in the last year especially when he killed all chances for the Cancel Rent movement to give a bit of relief to suffering unemployed and underemployed people). His association with the IDC was another real blot on his leadership. If you need more reasons, I highly suggest this article from Rebecca Traister about the climate in his office and how it prevented actual governing getting done, this article from Teen Vogue last spring about why he shouldn’t be your pandemic crush or this one from The Guardian about why he’s a mini-Trump.

So I’ll acknowledge that I’ve been ready for this bag of oil to go for some time. Then the first story about his sexual harassment of his employee came out. Again. It came out months ago on Twitter but I guess no one cared then. This time, his former employee wrote a piece about it herself and it hit.

It’s the kind of story that is so common that it allows a lot of people to dismiss it. It’s the kind of story that if it happens to you is, it’s a total misery and when you tell people, they’ll either tell you it was no big deal or want you to report it. It’s been so recently normal for dirt bag men to behave that way that scores of people line up to dismiss it. “Who hasn’t been harassed like that?” they say. “What’s the big deal?” And then they say the one that’s been driving me craziest. “If we aren’t going to prosecute Trump for his pussy grabbing, we shouldn’t worry about Cuomo’s harmless flirtations.”

And this, my friends, is why Trump getting away with the 22 rapes and multitudes of sexual assaults should have been prosecuted years ago. The bar is now so low that no one could possibly suffer consequences for any reprehensible behavior.

Is Cuomo as bad as Trump? No. But Trump is REALLY TERRIBLE. You’d have to be really really bad to be as bad as him. (Though I did just listen to a podcast about a guy who was even worse than Trump in this department. I mean. It seems there’s always someone who is worse and got away with something for longer.)

To me it sounds like: “How can we hold this guy accountable for stabbing his buddy when that other serial murderer down in Florida got away with killing so many people? It’s just a little bad behavior.” It’s classic whataboutism, really.

Is this one story about Cuomo being a really terrible horn dog boss enough to take him down?

Unfortunately, no. But the behavior that was described by Lindsey Boylan is such that it was obvious that there would be more. Long before anyone else came forward, we knew there would be more women with similar stories. Because this sort of behavior is a pattern and it reflects a general disregard for women. Also, one brave woman tends to lead to more brave women willing to come forward. So I certainly expected more to appear. And more certainly did. When I wrote this, there were two more. As I type this, there are 5 more. Who knows how many more will emerge by the time I push publish?

But for people who love Cuomo, it doesn’t seem too bad. They’d LIKE for him to flirt with them! They WISH Cuomo would put his hand on THEIR lower back and then grab their faces and ask if he could kiss them. That sounds nice to them! They’d definitely say YES to that request! It’s like if George Clooney slid up to them at a party and offered to take them home. It’s sexy! For them.

But for women who reported these incidents, it was NOT sexy. It was entirely unwanted. And, in at least two cases, it was further complicated by his ability to fire them or ruin their job prospects. For these women, it’s not like their boss is George Clooney and they feel lucky to be the focus of his attentions. It’s like their boss is George Costanza. (Also, I would, for sure, rather be hit on by George Costanza than Andrew Cuomo. I know how to push off the Costanzas of the world. Cuomo would be a lot harder to escape.)

The problem is not that Cuomo just got a little too flirty at some parties or his job. The problem is that he has demonstrated a lack of respect for women, for women’s bodies, for women’s boundaries and their agency. He has demonstrated, by his behavior with the women who have reported, that he has little respect for half the population of the state he governs. This isn’t some leftist plot to treat liberal politicians with more stringent guidelines. And it turns out he’s actually terrible to everyone, not just women. He’s just terrible to women in particularly sexist ways.

This kind of behavior is a clear indication of his lack of ability to govern with discernment and care. That lack of care has been clear to me (and so many others) for some time, but for some, this is the first time they’re getting the picture. In regards to his failures around the nursing homes last year, he said, “But who cares? 33, 28. Died in the hospital. Died in the nursing home. They died.”

Honestly, he should resign off the back of that wretched statement alone but if it’s the sexual harassment that gets him, that’s good, too.

There are reasons to put a check on this behavior, even on politicians we like. If it turns out that Elizabeth Warren, who I admire greatly, was out there abusing her power with her staffers, I’d be very surprised, of course, as it would be very far outside her character – but I’d expect her to resign as well. This isn’t about who we like and don’t like. The thing is, if there are no consequences, then the behavior just continues. And it usually gets worse, since the harasser feels a sense of impunity. If you want to hear a chilling example of this, I recommend listening to the series Women in the Room which explored sexual harassment in New York politics in years previous. The story of Vito Lopez’s office was particularly horrifying. He was once my representative, too, back when I lived in Brooklyn. When he first faced accusations, he was (metaphorically) given a pat on the back and told not to do it anymore. This emboldened him to make even more overt demands of the new women in his employ.  In his wake, a slew of women who had wanted a career in politics but had it harassed out of them by a guy who just enjoyed a little flirtation, who just needed a little “support,” as he put it. A little massage. Some company in his lonely hotel room. No need to worry that saying no will lose you your job and any future in politics you might be looking for! It will definitely do that! And then some!

Cuomo needs to see some consequences to his actions because all of those who are harassing below him need to see those consequences. We need to ensure that Cuomo experiences consequences because he will be the reason someone else won’t be accountable for THEIR terrible behavior. In the same way that Trump not experiencing any consequences from the rapes of 22 women and girls is allowing many a bozo to justify not holding Cuomo accountable for sexual harassment.

A woman is the Lieutenant Governor and would finish out Cuomo’s term. New York has never had a woman governor. If we’d like to show New York’s women some respect, Cuomo should resign. If he won’t resign (which it looks like he won’t) then we need to impeach him. I, for one, would be very relieved not to have a sentient bag of oil for our governor anymore.

Pour some oil in a skin suit and you’ve got yourself a governor!
(Photo by Leandro Callegari via Unsplash)

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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Some Invisible Gifts of Theatre Training

A lot of my theatre friends have been working in other fields lately, partly due to not being able to actually work in theatre in these times. I’ve had a fair number of conversations about how weirdly non-theatre people do things. (Apologies to all you non-theatre folk. I know we’re really the weird ones but you’re weird to us in some ways!) This has made me think about some of the things the performing arts train us for, that aren’t just singing high notes and how to do pas de Bourrees.

One thing I’ve really come to value about theatre people (and performing arts people in general but I’m going to let theatre people stand in for everyone since I know them best) is our ability to collaborate. And I know, blah blah, we all know collaboration is a thing. I can’t tell you how many theatre education meetings I’ve sat in where we sell the fact that we teach kids how to collaborate. But what does that really mean? We teach folks how to work together. Okay. Who out there in the work force thinks they didn’t learn that? Everyone thinks they know how to collaborate. The thing is that theatre people know how to collaborate in a very particular way. We know how to work with a group of disparate people with multiple specialties and work together to get something done on time and on budget.  Theatre people are always on time and on budget when it comes to deadlines. This means we not only know how to collaborate, we know how to do it quickly. The curtain is going up at a particular time on a particular day and we are built to make sure that happens to the best of everyone’s ability. Show folk know how to do things quickly. We know how to get on with it. We know how to make it fast and we know how to pivot on a dime.

Example: We can’t afford the orange shoes? Ok. Maybe we get some white ones and dye them or shine an orange light on them and how much do we really need these orange shoes? Can they be purple or can we just do the show without them? And show people will make that call in a few minutes.

One thing I’ve noticed about meetings or collaborations with non-theatre folk is that even the smallest decisions can often take an unholy amount of time. And by unholy I mean infinitely frustrating to a theatre person who is used to working quickly. If you are in a meeting with a theatre person, you should know that they are very likely imagining clapping their hands and thinking, “Go, go, go, go, go!” Sometimes I feel like half of the job of theatre directing is telling everyone to pick up the pace. And I’ve also wanted to say it at every non-theatre meeting I’ve ever been to.

Another thing I’ve come to appreciate about theatre is our understanding of the need for a leader. I think this is related to the awareness of the curtain time. Even the most collaborative of processes, the most communal of groups, recognizes the need for someone to be the voice of leadership even if they’re not the boss. We have stage managers who will make sure we take a break. We have directors who make the final call on a lighting question the designer’s been wrestling with the costume designer about. There is always someone to decide. There is always someone running the show. And if no one is running the show in another context, outside of the performing arts, I can almost guarantee you that the performing artist will step up for that role if they care at all about what the group is doing. Theatre people sense a leadership vacuum and almost everyone will step in to fill it if necessary. If the dance captain is not there to run the rehearsal, someone else will do it. Same goes for the marketing meeting.

Theatre people would almost always prefer to be doing instead of talking about doing. We want to get through a meeting quickly because we need to get back to rehearsal. And we open in three days! Also, moving quickly is a great way to actually make things happen instead of getting stuck in talking about them. Sometimes I think 90% of my work as a theatre educator was just shouting “Five more minutes” even if we actually had ten. I’m sorry I lied to you, students – but it was the best way to get you moving.

Another obstacle my theatre friends are running into in other fields is a lack of creativity, particularly in problem solving. Theatre folk love to solve a problem. Sometimes we make problems just so we can solve them. Ever hear about someone making drama? That’s us. (Though we really do prefer to keep it onstage.) But really, we make problems to solve. Sometimes those problems are relationship or story problems (What will the Prince do when the ghost of his father tells him he was murdered by the current king?) and some are design problems. I used to describe the heart of my theatre making as just problematizing. I’ll give you an example from my real creative life. First day of rehearsal/devising on a project. I brought a bunch of newspapers, tape and string and asked my actors to stage scenes inspired by several highly visual paintings. This is a problem. There isn’t a logical solution. Whatever they invent is not going to look anything like the source material. But results are a study in creativity. That’s exciting stuff for me.

Theatre people are built to find a way. It’s part of the reason we can be kind of annoying when someone tells us something is impossible. We can make the sun rise in a small space using only light and imagination. We’re not inclined to believe that things aren’t possible.

In other fields, when someone says, “Oh, we can’t change that rule because we don’t have the data,” the non-theatre folk will shake their heads and say, “That’s too bad. Oh well.” The theatre person asks, “How do we get the data?” And eventually this leads to a heist movie with six union reps breaking into an administrator’s file cabinet. No, no, it probably doesn’t. But we would entertain it as a possibility! Theatre folks don’t give up when a problem is on the line.

This is part of the reason that I’m convinced that if someone had entrusted the vaccine rollout to theatre people we’d all be vaccinated by now. Seriously, there’s an entire field of people out of work who are used to managing large groups of people, who do things quickly and efficiently and are not daunted by impossible tasks. Let’s get ourselves a new WPA and our first show is The Vaccine Rollout.

Can theatre people be annoying? Yes. The most. We are the worst. But we tell good stories and there are a lot of things we learn to do that are worth every silly penny of our theatre training education.

It might seem like I’m here to pat theatre folk (and therefore myself) on the back – to give out some awards in a year where there definitely won’t be any – but really, it’s a plea to recognize that some of the gifts of an arts education are not obvious and yet also extremely valuable. Arts funding has been gutted. Money for arts education in the city where I live is gone. I understand why that happened. (How do you teach theatre on Zoom? Personally, I don’t know but I know a lot of people who’ve figured it out, so hey – bring it on back!) but the results have an impact on things far beyond the artists who lost their jobs or the students who lost their art class. Every time I hear about my theatre friends’ experience in other fields, I am reminded of the gifts of an arts education that even I hadn’t noticed. Sometimes we try to sell our work as good for collaboration! Or great for teaching empathy and tolerance! Or – I don’t know what we say any more. But maybe we need to get more specific. Maybe we need to lay it on the line. Talk ourselves up. Give ourselves some awards.

Also – if you’re looking for an employee who completes projects on time and on budget, who knows how to take charge in a group and who can problem solve creatively and quickly, might I suggest a theatre person? They’re all out of work right now. You could probably get any one you wanted. And you’re sure to get some good stories to go along with them. Just be prepared to pick up the pace.

When you can’t afford a real dragon, just make one out of lamp shades and hula hoops.
Photo of Research and Development of Messenger Theatre Company’s The Door Was Open by Kacey Anisa Stamats

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

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Howard Dean Came for Gen X. It Did Not Go Well for Him.

Well, well, well. Would you look at that? Howard Dean decided to come for Generation X on Twitter. He claimed we were a moral shipwreck and as evidence, cited all such examples as the recent additions to the Supreme Court, Ted Cruz and Marco Rubio.

Well, yes, those people are all Gen X, sure. And Dean deleted the tweet after Gen X roasted him soundly – but of course, as your Gen X blogging source, I cannot let this go by.

Generationally, all the conservative dirtbags Dean namechecked, are kind of anomalies. They’re highly visible but they are also exceptions. They are the kind of exceptions the rest of us made fun of in high school. Like, seriously.

And I think it may be important to think about this systemically. Let’s take the two new (horrible) additions to the Supreme Court, who are, yes, Dean, I agree, moral shipwrecks. These two are not judges because they are exceptional jurists. They were groomed, from the get-go by the Federalist Society, when these two shipwrecks were young (unpopular) conservatives.

As a Generation, we pretty roundly rejected these sorts of people. They’re corporate tools, lame, uncool posers who we would never invite to our parties. Also, Brett Kavanaugh was a creep who would definitely drink all your beer.

But you know who DID invite these people to their parties? Conservatives in your generation, Howard Dean, and the generation before yours. These folks were welcomed and trained and made to feel like conservative kings. They were raised up, supported, given mentoring and jobs. And here we are, with these lame corporate tools in office and on the Supreme Court.

There was no one doing this on the left, Howard Dean. There were no lefties welcoming passionate leftist politicos when we were young. No one was waiting anxiously for Rashida Talib to grow up so they could give her a judgeship. I’d wager no Young Democrats association gave Ayanna Presley a scholarship. No one escorted Julian and Joaquin Castro to the Yale Club to get them some funding.

If you don’t see a lot of leftie Gen Xers, Howard Dean, it’s a) because you’re not looking, because I just named four of them and b) because leftie Gen X-ers were left to fend for themselves. We are, in fact, famous for this skill at fending for ourselves. We were known as the Latchkey Generation for a while before Gen X stuck as a name. Leftie Gen X has always been pretty anti-establishment but if anyone had bothered, I bet we could have organized. We’re a bunch of Billy Bragg fans. We’d fight for the union. If conservative Gen X is more visible, more morally repugnant, more famous, it is because older generations boosted them up the ladder in a way that they never did for more liberal Gen X, who are, I think, in the majority.

You made this moral shipwreck, Howard Dean. You did. You were in a position to lead and support and mentor Gen X and you let it slip by and so we are left with a bunch of Gen X corporate tools in positions of big power, that none of us would let in to our parties. You could try to blame us, the way conservatives try to blame the kids who didn’t befriend the kids who became school shooters. Like maybe we should have been nicer to those sociopaths in high school – but ultimately – the lure of money and power would have won them. Even if someone had given Amy Coney Barrett a punk make-over, it would not have been as powerful as the internships, the scholarships and the job that the Federalists had in mind for her.

There is no Generation that is as obsessed with cool as Gen X. Every Gen X-er was judged by how cool or not cool they might be. Would you say Ted Cruz was cool? How about Amy Coney Barrett? Is she cool? Brett Kavanaugh? Cool guy? Not by our standards, my friends. These are not cool people, Howard Dean. They are not the best of our generation and the fact that you think they represent us, suggests to me, Mr. Dean, that you don’t know us at all. You may know our might now that you’ve come for us. I don’t know what my generation mates may have said to you on Twitter to get you to delete your tweets and back down but I know it must have been fierce. Gen X is cool like that.

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

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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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Everybody’s Favorite Nice Guy Has a New Gig

You all remember the guy who inspired my blog post about Sticky Benevolent Sexism? (It was a few people’s favorite. It’s about the time this guy asked all the ladies to stand up so the men could applaud us.) Well, I just got an email from an organization that is trying to reckon with its own racism and sexism and this guy is apparently part of some learning group on the subject. In the email, he recommends some podcasts to listen to for this racism/sexism reckoning.

I happen to agree with his recommendations so I can’t fault him for his choices. But there’s something about this particular brand of white guy leading this conversation that just makes me want to start throwing plates.

He’s the darling of this organization. One of the Favorite Sons. Everybody’s favorite nice guy. I bet if he’d spoken to me, I’d have found him nice and charming, too. It’s not about him, I promise.

It’s how this particular pattern is playing itself out around the world. Rather than figuring out how to include all the people who have been left behind due to their race, class or gender, the white men who have the power are figuring out how to talk the woke talk so they can hold on to their positions of power.

They’ll still have the jobs, the gigs and the opportunities but now they’ve learned how to say that we should be hearing from a BIPOC or a woman instead of them before they start their speech. They’ll hang their heads a little bit and bemoan that it is they in front of us, instead of, say, a black woman. “It’s just too bad,” they’ll say. They’ll coat their power in a layer of guilt so we still like them and let them keep their jobs.

Rather than going back and collecting all the people this organization left behind over the years, it’s beefing up the current members with woke language and talking big talk about all the people they’ll include in the future.

And maybe they will! I don’t know. But as one of those people that got left behind, I know I will never be collected. There will never be a moment when they say, “Hey, where was that nutty feminist from a few years ago? Think we should ask her back to help us improve our sexism problem? She might know a few things about that.” It will NEVER happen.

Instead, they’ll have the newly woke white guy explain it to them.

It’ll happen for BIPOC folks as well. The reckoning won’t pull an artist back in who understood how racism was operating there. They won’t call up that artist and ask them to make a piece about what it’s like to be excluded.

Nope. The newly woke white guy will lead everyone in a white guilt seminar instead.

And maybe, just maybe, they will make a change and the place will be full of the work of women and BIPOCS, as well as work by working class or disabled artists. Maybe this place will become a beacon of egalitarian art.

But they won’t come back for me. They won’t come back for all the BIPOC, working class or disabled artists they left behind.

As an artist in my 40s, no one’s coming back for me. I know that. If I’m not the Favorite Son now I never will be. All the privileges, that got Mr. New Woke Bae where he is, passed me by and he will continue to benefit from what got him there. He may begin to try to make space for the artists on the horizon who fit his mold but all the women and BIPOC artists who got displaced in the water, because his boat was coming through, are drowned forever.

Except we’re NOT drowned forever. We’re still here and available. But those who got drowned in the wake of this guy’s big boat are poison somehow. We’re too angry. We don’t strike the right tone.

(Sorry about all these boat metaphors. The Trump parade at Lake Travis is fresh in my mind and the way all those big boats caused the submerging of the little ones, really stuck with me. I mean it’s just so apt, metaphorically speaking – those big boats having no awareness of the others’ distress as they happily motor along, throwing up damage in their wake.)

Anyway – congratulations on your new wokeness newly woke white guy. I look forward to your blogs about feminism – because heaven forbid you just amplify mine.

The plates I have hurled in my imagination.

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 Difference Between A and Z and Progressive Politics

My State Assembly member has been kind of amazing at her job. Let’s call her A because this is about her but not really about her. She is amazing, though. She’s super progressive and has gotten some really sticky legislation passed. She’s kind of heroic that way. Every time I’ve sent her emails through ResistBot or something, when I wasn’t QUITE clear who was supposed to handle the thing I was concerned about, she has responded to those emails immediately and almost every time, the response has been something like, “Thank you for your message. I sponsored a bill about this and am working to pass it now.” It’s happened more than once. She’s ahead of me every time. She’s remarkable. So – that’s A.

Z showed up a few months before the primary elections. We started to get flyers from him and see posters. I couldn’t figure out whose seat he was running for because he was pitching himself as a progressive change candidate and both of our state reps are some of the most progressive reps around. Like, who is he trying to unseat? Our progressive State Senator who kicked off the Cancel Rent movement? Or our state Assembly Member who has been helping the senator to get it passed and co-sponsored the police accountability bill? But it turned out it was A that Z was running against – our amazing State Assembly Member.

From the start, something about Z’s campaign rubbed me the wrong way and it made me feel very strange. I agreed with his positions, sure, but those positions were basically the same as our current rep. What case could he possibly have for replacing a seasoned, highly capable progressive woman?

Well – we found out soon enough that his narrative was that she had taken money from Real Estate after pledging not to. That was pretty much it. And, yes, that real estate business did give me pause. It seemed out of character for her to do such a thing but you know – she’s a politician, you can never be sure. But, most importantly to me, if she had taken money from real estate, it hadn’t impacted any of her legislative choices. She remained a fierce advocate for tenants and for canceling rent.

Z was saying stuff I believe in but A was doing stuff I believe in and has been for 9 years. So – after considering them both carefully. I filled out my absentee ballot enthusiastically for A.

And I cannot stop thinking about these two, especially now that preliminary election results are trickling in and he’s ahead of her by 600 votes. Because here’s the thing – there was no reason for him to run. Everything he wants to do, A is already working on and has the colleagues in Albany and the consensus in the community to do it. She’s good at her job – and he’s never done this before. Why is he running? It feels like he’s running because he can. Because he has friends in high places who want to help get him into politics and maybe he’s got a little bit of a hero complex.

Z is very charming. But for a guy who has a “Feminism for All” platform on his website, it feels a little out of alignment with his ideals to try and unseat a highly capable older woman who fought like hell to get where she is and continues to fight like hell for her constituents. She’s on the young side of Gen X. He’s on the young side of Millennial. This whole campaign has the flavor of the young man turning up and expecting to be hailed as a king for doing the thing the woman has already been doing for almost a decade. She’s a lifelong member of this community. He moved here a year and a half ago. There are things in our freezer that have lived here longer than him.

And there is another layer. We don’t have class here in America. (Boy, do we ever not have class!) But if we did have classes (and I’m kidding, of course we do, we just pretend not to) she would be from the working class and he would be from the ruling class. Her parents ran a deli. His parents are a renowned professor at an Ivy League college and an Academy Award nominated Hollywood film Director.

So – now we’re looking at a working class Gen X woman just beginning to experience the erasure that kicks in for women in their 40s being possibly pushed out by a ruling class interloper Millennial man.

And fundamentally, their positions are almost exactly the same. They disagree about almost nothing. In their on-line debate, he pretty much wanted the same stuff she did but felt it wasn’t done fast enough. A pointed out that until last year they’d been blocked by a Republican senate and were playing catch up a bit. It’s as if Z had no awareness of what had come before. As if he had never heard of the IDC (faux democrats who blocked progressive legislation) that A had to fight so hard to change. But he’s been out, chalking the streets, blanketing the neighborhood with his expertly branded flyers – repeating all the slogans of the moment. In this debate, he proclaimed that we must defund the police and I could almost hear the hashtag. A agreed that yes, we do need to reallocate funds from the police to our schools and such. She’s been working on it.

This whole campaign feels like a big picture version of a woman sharing her idea at a meeting and then a man says exactly the same thing a few minutes later and everyone ooohs and ahhhhs. Except in this case, not only has the woman just said her idea, she’s also already done all of the work for it. And then the man swoops in and gets the applause. The more I think about it, the more enraged I get.

The gender dynamics are one thing and the class dynamics are another. Z’s campaign is sponsored by the Democratic Socialists of America (DSA). And theoretically, the DSA should have some awareness of class. Theoretically, the DSA, as a left leaning organization, should have some affinity with the working class – but rather than offering their support to the current working class woman Assembly Member, they threw their weight behind a ruling class man. The DSA has had some real struggles with how their gender politics are perceived throughout the Bernie Sanders campaign. They’re really not doing themselves any favors in that department here. Anyway – A had the endorsement of almost every union – that is, the support of labor. Z had the endorsement of celebrity members of the DSA. And why on earth is the DSA not aligned with labor? Isn’t that the whole point of socialism? To support the working class? Oh man. This whole thing gets me so worked up.

Because here’s the thing. A has been one of the most fierce advocates for women in our state. She got major sexual harassment legislation passed and she co-sponsored the Reproductive Health Act. I just noticed in her latest email newsletter that she’s pointed her constituents to where they can get free period products – addressing period poverty – a thing I’ve heard almost no one talk about in this country. She’s not out here bragging about it because frankly, she’s not that great at self promotion. She’s a classic Gen X woman, just getting the job done. If we lose her, we will lose one of the best feminist lawmakers I’ve seen.

This should be a highly local race – but Z’s donors include many celebrities who not only don’t live in the neighborhood, they don’t even live in the borough. A’s donors are mostly local. And yes, she did take some money from the police union but they’re a labor union too, so it’s complicated – and she gave it back. As for those hotly contested donations that Z accused A of receiving from the Real Estate Developers – they discussed them during the debate. Let me remind you before I tell you this story, that these donations have literally been the centerpiece of Z’s campaign, they are what all his volunteers have been primed to speak about and the issue that has been on all his materials. Just remember that.

Now – they’re on this Facebook live debate and Z names these two donors and proclaims them to be the most egregious real estate people in the area. Let’s call them George Smith and Carol Jones. When A is given the opportunity to respond, she lets Z know that what he doesn’t know is that here in the Greek community, lots of people have the same name. So George Smith is not George Smith the Real Estate developer but his cousin, George Smith. Z is stunned and asks her about the other one, Carol Jones. Turns out, Carol Jones owns not one piece of property and works as a paraprofessional – in other words, about as far away from a real estate developer as you could get.

The central issue of Z’s campaign against A is not real. It’s a giant mistake and it’s a mistake that reflects a lack of knowledge about a very large swath of our historically Greek community. It was a hell of a moment. Now – did Z apologize? No, no, he did not. It was as if it had never happened. And even though he learned this days before the election, all of his volunteers were still declaring that the reason to vote for him was because his opponent said she wouldn’t take real estate money and then she did. But that’s a lie. It was a mistake before. Then it became a lie. And it burns me up. Especially because it seemed to have worked, for at least 600 more people than I would have liked.

The thing is, though, this is a super local race. So local. You don’t know A and you don’t know Z (though you probably know his mom since she’s a super famous director). Whatever the results, it will likely have no major impact on anyone outside of New York State. But the pattern, folks, the pattern. This pattern keeps repeating itself and repeating itself. And now it’s repeating itself between two ideologically similar candidates.

We fall for the charming ruling class young man who swoops in to “save the day” while the working class women who’ve done all the hard work are erased and I am so done with this.

I don’t know what’s going to happen with this particular election. Two thirds of the votes were absentee and haven’t been counted yet and I know at least two of them are for A but I’m mostly just mad at the DSA for running Z here. Take that condescending ruling class meme-itude somewhere that needs a progressive candidate. We have one. She’s great. She may be unpolished (and boy, I know she’s unpolished – A, blunt lawmaker that she is, when asked what she’d do first in the legislature brought up the reclassification of rape. In the process, she probably said the words “anal rape” four times. No political advisor in the world would have advised that.) but she is amazing. I enjoy the lack of polish quite a bit, actually. It is very refreshing.

Why on earth did the DSA, if they wanted a candidate in this neighborhood so badly not just ask her if they could endorse her? If there was something they wanted to get done that she wasn’t doing, why didn’t they just lay that out to see if it’s something she could work on? I really do not understand at all why an organization that is supposedly for the working people would try to displace a lefty working class woman to install a ruling class elite man.

As A said about the DSA in a local article, “I don’t disagree with any of the issues that they’ve put forward, from criminal justice reforms, to decarceration, to making sure that we expand healthcare, to making sure that we protect our environment — I don’t know how you can run from the left of me. There is no room.”

It’s definitely not the first time a man has pressed his way into a woman’s space when there was no room for him there.

Coincidentally, there is another as yet undecided election in our area with oddly similar demographics. In the congressional race, another handsome South Asian Millennial man is running to defeat the older white woman incumbent. But, in that case, there was ample room on the left. The incumbent there has voted with Republicans on several things and is closely tied to New York Real Estate interests. I was very happy to vote for the progressive man challenging her. He would replace a woman who’s done some racist things, some anti-vax things and I would be very happy to see the back of her. In this case, the younger man is actually more progressive. So I’m not saying no young man should ever replace an older woman. Some should absolutely be replaced.

But this situation is not that other situation. In the case of A and Z, when their views are essentially the same, it mostly just feels like an intense example of sexism, as well as classism and ageism. It reminds me of that classic cartoon of a group of people at a meeting and the man at the head of the conference table says, “That’s an excellent suggestion, Miss Triggs. Perhaps one of the men here would like to make it.” It feels like the electorate is saying, “Nice ideas, A, is there a man available who could make them?” And lo and behold, one arrived and here we are, possibly about to lose one of the most feminist lawmakers we have.

“Yeah, guys, this one prop piece of paper is gonna do the trick, along with these empty file folders. We’ll just put on these outfits and the votes will fall at our feet. It’s just a woman we’re running against. Nothing to worry about.”

This post was brought to you by my generous 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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A Bereft, Heartbroken, Furious, Hopeless, Bad Mood

 

The morning after Super Tuesday, I woke up with a song in my head. It’s a song I put on my feminist playlist a while ago and every time it comes around I think, “What is this? And what is it doing on this playlist?” Then the line about the glass ceiling comes along and I understand why it’s there but then I have to see who it is. Many times I have said, “Miley Cyrus? Really?!”

But now, I know “Bad Mood” so well, I will never forget again. I’ve been listening to it on solid repeat and I’ve been crying. I feel ridiculous about it but I am in a bad mood and feeling very discouraged about the possibility of any glass ceilings ever breaking. Miley Cyrus is, weirdly, helping me through it.

I know I shouldn’t take Warren’s losses to heart but I just can’t help it. I was invested in her and her candidacy and I hoped she would win. The good news is that I apparently haven’t lost the capacity for hope in this current climate. The bad news is that feeling hope can lead to a big let down. I’m accustomed to hope hangovers but this one is a doozy.

In this case, the hope led directly to a feeling of hopelessness. To see a candidate, as qualified and capable and clear and prepared as Warren, be rejected by so many American voters, and specifically Democratic, liberal voters, is just devastating. I think if it were just the rejecting, I’d be alright. But it’s not as simple as American voters rejecting my candidate. I’m here listening to “Bad Mood” on repeat, crying and trying to piece together why.

Sometimes, it’s little things – like some dumb Tweets before Super Tuesday suggesting Warren would make a good Secretary of Education or Secretary of the Treasury and should therefore have dropped out of the race. Those jobs may technically be prestigious but mostly it seemed like a way to suggest that a lady shouldn’t be in charge. Why can’t she just be a secretary like the other ladies? Why does she want to be President? She could serve the president instead. Maybe bring him his coffee.

There’s also the Methinks-They-Do-Protest-Too-Much-ers who say “Why do you have to bring gender into it? I’m not sexist, I just didn’t like this one.” If you think gender isn’t playing a role in your choice to choose man after man, you are fooling yourself about that “something” you happen to like over and over in men. (It’s unconscious bias and Rebecca Solnit wrote a great piece about it last year.) What you see as “leadership qualities” are actually gendered. You’re just missing it. I know there are plenty of people who chose the white man they did for very important reasons but a lot of people chose the white man they chose because they thought other people would choose him. This is called pluralistic ignorance and it’s basically everyone assuming everyone else is going to make the less sensible choice so they all make a choice they didn’t want together.

“Would you vote for someone just because they were a woman?” People love this one. And obviously the answer is no. I would not vote for Tulsi Gabbard or Marianne Williamson. I did not vote for Sarah Palin. But when a highly qualified woman shows up who could do the job better than I can even imagine, you bet your ass I’m going to vote for her. Millions of people DIDN’T vote for her because she’s a woman. Not because they’re sexist, no, but because they’re sure their neighbors are. In other words, while feminists get hell for voting for women, people are, en masse, choosing candidates because they are men. So, yes. Warren’s womanhood was a big factor in my enthusiasm to vote for her.

But guess what? I can’t. I couldn’t. Because our voting system is so ridiculous and disenfranchising, I didn’t get to cast a vote in the presidential primary and my choice was eliminated. And I feel absolutely cheated. (My sense of disenfranchisement is, by the way, nothing compared to people who lost their polling places and had to wait eight hours to vote. We have a lot to fix. Help Stacey Abrams defend voting rights here.)

When I started writing this post, it wasn’t yet clear what the Warren campaign was going to do. But, even before the nail was in the coffin of her candidacy, I knew a lot of people were going to be jerks about it. They were jerks about it immediately. Many of them are still being jerks. Almost every woman I know is grieving, deeply, and the internet is not helping the situation one bit. I started snoozing people on Facebook when someone implied that if we weren’t tough enough to take some abuse on the internet, then maybe our candidate shouldn’t be president. Oh, don’t get me started on the ways women are targeted on the internet. I don’t have the strength to break down how attacks on a female candidate can feel like surrogate attacks on her supporters. Suffice it to say that this shit is personal. Sometimes women can be afraid to say who they are supporting for fear of these much publicized attacks. It happened in 2016 and it happened just now, too. I’m struggling with how much misogyny there is to go around.

I mean, the guy most people voted for is a guy who has a LOUSY track record with women. And you might roll your eyes and say, “Oh, that touching thing? He’s just a touchy feely guy. Big deal. MeToo has gone too far!” But it’s more than him not respecting the bodily autonomy of women and children. He has, in his many positions in government made women’s lives harder. He threw Anita Hill under the bus and thereby threw women experiencing sexual harassment around the country under the bus and got a serial harasser on the Supreme Court – the repercussions of which we are still dealing with today. He sold out women’s reproductive rights in so many ways. Aside from his vigorous support of the Hyde and Hatch Amendments, he named an amendment after himself that would have limited foreign aid to biomedical aid that might connect to abortions. He liked that bill so much he named it after himself!

I mean, of course I’ll vote for him if he’s the nominee, of course I will, relax, ok? But for all the talk of women making progress (women getting elected to Congress, Women’s Marches, etc) – this is one area there’s been not even a hint of progress. For all the talk of #MeToo “going too far” – only a handful of people have experienced any real consequences. There’s just as much sexual harassment to go around, it’s just that now it includes the extra “joke” of a “I hope I don’t get #MeToo-ed!”

I’m just so mad. I’m mad, again, about the voters who said “I’m not sexist but I think other people will be.” Which is just…You’re right. They were. But you just voted for sexism. You were like, “Sexism, I see you and rather than fight you, I will encourage you by voting for you.” Thanks a fucking lot.

People are out here voting like it’s a horse race and they’re worried about the money they have on the winner. Actually that’s what IS happening for the democratic donor class – but if you don’t have actual money riding on these people, you can just vote for who you want! That’s ideally how it should go. But, no. Hordes of my fellow democrats felt that they needed to bet on a winner and now I’m not going to be able to vote for my choice in April. Thanks. Thanks a lot. You strategized my vote out from under me. And now I’m not just mad about Warren. I would love to have had a chance to wonder if I should vote for Julian Castro or Kamala Harris or Kirsten Gillibrand. But this system chewed them up, too.

I’m taking this all very personally. It feels like the world keeps inventing new ways to tell American women that we don’t matter. The 2016 election was the first major blow, the Kavanaugh hearings were the second and now this loss feels like the patriarchy held up the football for us and told us to kick it, go ahead, and then knocked us down like Charlie Brown.

Go ahead girls, you can do anything! You’re strong, you’re smart, you can achieve anything you set your minds to! Go for it! Except we’re going to put every possible obstacle in your way and when you fail we will make a long list of all the ways you failed. Girl Power! #GirlBoss #WomenOnTop

In addition to the Miley Cyrus song, I’ve found myself listening to Taylor Swift’s “The Man: as well. (Maybe because of this video of it featuring Warren. Don’t watch it if you don’t want to get sad.) I’ve been thinking about how odd it is that two of the major female pop stars of the last decade are expressing feminist ideas. It’s not that I thought that they didn’t experience sexism – more that I thought their success within the system would make them unlikely to challenge it. But age and experience makes feminists of even the strangest beneficiaries of the patriarchy. The rest of us might look at Swift and Cyrus and say they’re at the top of the pile but they know all the ways they have been held back and they’re old enough now to be brave and sing about them. What I’m trying to say is that even the world’s best #GirlBoss is still being held back by the patriarchy and she knows it. Taylor Swift may already be The Man by some standards but she knows how much more The Man she could be. I don’t think these are the ladies who will provide the anthem songs when American women finally reach absolute capacity for sexism and start a bloody revolution (Is it now? It’s not now, is it? I didn’t buy a machete yet!) but for this moment, when we’re looking at these large scale losses, they’re doing some #GirlConsoling.

Anyway – I read this article that came out this week that demonstrates that 9 out of 10 people are biased against women. So that’s nice. There are only 5 countries that have equitable sensibilities. America is, no surprise, not one of those countries. Not even close.

I don’t know what to do with this information. We are losing ground. Even the countries that experience equity are losing ground. It feels like there’s not much to hope for now. We can hope one of these white guys defeats the horrible white guy in the president’s chair and thereby maybe regain some of the footholds we had before – and we will, of course, work to do that. But –


Personally – and this is, really, all very personal…all I can do is write through it. This is long and messy and that is surely how my healing and mourning will go. I have less hope now than I did but it’s good to know I CAN hope after the blows we’ve experienced.

I could start falling into the conspiracy theorist’s tunnel here, if I let myself. You know the theory? It’s the one that recognizes how incredibly terrified of a Warren presidency so many special interest groups were. Warren’s plan to cancel student loan debt on the first day of her presidency was simple, clear and lays out exactly what would happen. When I saw the headline on her website, I thought, “Wow. That’s a big promise. How could she possibly do that?” Turns out, she’s spotted the way to use executive power to do it and she explains it step by step. It’s so clear, any president who doesn’t do it now is going to look like a real jerk. If the potential to have student debt canceled didn’t make the loan companies quake in their predatory boots, I’m not sure what would. The same is also true for a multitude of immoral businesses – like health insurers and Wall Street brokers. Many of whom are political donors. My conspiracy theory brain leads me to suspect that a lot of these places made sure that Warren’s campaign didn’t get coverage in a lot of media outlets.  So much so that they just left her out of their graphics of primary results. (What, is she the Gen X of Presidential campaigns?)

Or it could just be sexism. Just regular old boring sexism. Just everyday, every minute, every second sexism. Others have documented the many ways sexism tanked this campaign but for me, the bits that are most painful are the ways Warren’s language was so willfully misunderstood by the sexism machine. It feels like an attempt to gaslight voters – to tell them: “No, no, you’re NOT listening to a reasonable clear speech suggesting how we might change the world for the better, you’re listening to a shrill harpy with boundless craven ambition.” I think you’d need an Orwellian level of denial to see her that way but we are maybe moving ever closer to the 1984 style of denying your own eyes and ears so I guess that a little of that messaging actually fucking worked? And I suppose, one of the things that shakes me most is how it makes clear that this funhouse mirror is happening to all of us – even the ones who aren’t running for president. That is, even at my most reasonable and clear, I will be seen as bitchy and shrill. No matter what is actually happening. I used to think I could sweet talk my way out of gender bias. But now I understand that a lot of people have a filter that hears women’s voices as duplicitous, annoying and overly ambitious no matter who is speaking or what we are saying.

The bulk of the terrible media coverage was mostly just erasure and not the old school “but her emails” sort of thing. Leaving her out of highlight reels and lists and things was seemingly the most effective strategy. Maybe that’s because we’re not actually at peak “deny your eyes and ears” levels yet. So maybe that’s the good news?

There’s been a lot of great articles and a lot of press now that it’s safe to talk about Warren without risking actually having her give us health care. Here are some of my favorites from Lauren Duca, Megan Garber, and Elie Mystal. Warren is the most popular she’s ever been, now that she’s lost. Apparently this is a thing we do. In the closing of her book about the 2008 election, Rebecca Traister points out that women only win when they’re losing. Clinton’s popularity soars when she’s lost something. Gloria Steinem explained it to Traister this way. “It’s always been okay for women to sing the blues, just not so good for us to win. We all know deep in our hearts if we want to be loved we have to lose.”

Rachel Maddow managed to make me feel a little better when she asked Warren about all the women who are just “bereft” at this development – because that’s me, that’s so many women I know. Maddow included us in a national conversation – which felt sort of monumental in a moment wherein I feel as though I’m being reminded (again) of how little I matter. Warren’s loss made me feel as though I don’t matter as a woman and it made my actual vote not matter because I live in New York. I know I do matter and that my vote in April WILL matter to the man I choose to give it to – but wow, do I feel tossed aside! And learning that so many other women I know were also bereft, also paralyzed, also weeping, also raging, also just done, done, done…well, it helps.

I get it. I got it. The GOP have basically taken the country hostage by saddling us with this administration and blocking witnesses for the impeachment and refusing to vote on vital legislation. With this many guns to our heads, Democrats are not inclined to take risks. Rather than thinking about who would be the best at planning and negotiating our escape from our captors, American voters are just trying not to get shot. We’re all huddled together and Elizabeth Warren says, “I have a plan to get us out of here.” And a lot of people say, “Shhhhh. Why do you have to be so shrill?” and Joe Biden says, “I think I know these guys. I can talk to them.” And a lot of people seem to have made the calculus that the captors would like the candidate most like the captors themselves. And I don’t know. At the moment, I’m not thrilled about our odds of getting out of this hostage situation. Nor do I have any hope that I would ever be listened to with my lady “school marm” voice.

One of the reasons I find Warren’s loss in the primaries so distressing is because I hoped her competency, her passion and skill would shine through the sexist ocean we swim in and the country would follow her light out of the murk. I take this personally because I also have competencies, passions and skills that get obscured in the sexist ocean and if Elizabeth Warren can’t shine through, what the hell hopes have I? I’m not running for president but trying to survive in the arts has pretty low odds as well. After so many years of struggling and the patriarchal set backs of this hostage situation, I’ve lost a lot of my fight. I felt like I was just starting to get it back watching Elizabeth Warren take on the bad guys. I know she wants us all to keep fighting and of course, we will – but I don’t feel very up to the task right now. Which is why I need “Bad Mood,” I guess. The lyrics aren’t particularly deep but they do the job. Here are some of them.

And you know I’m never giving up
I ain’t stopping till I know I’m free

Oooh, I wake up in a bad mood
Oooh, I wake up in a bad mood
The glass ceiling’s gotta break
All together, want to hear you say
I don’t know how much more I can take

You know it’s gone on way too long
And you know it’s wrong
But I know I’m strong
I don’t give up
And when it gets rough
I get tough
I’ve had enough


This post was brought to you by my generous 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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Something About Warren

About a month ago, I saw a tweet that made me sob for much longer than I expected a tweet could. The tweet featured a photo of a little plastic action figure nestled into a child’s bed. It reads, in part:

I found my 5yo daughter’s Elizabeth Warren action figure in her bed when I was making it this morning. When I asked her why, she said “I was scared and she makes me feel brave”.

Because the thing of it is, Elizabeth Warren makes me feel brave, too. I am in solid agreement with this small child. I haven’t felt brave in such a long time but something about Warren gives me hope and strength and a sense that safety could come again.

I know not everyone feels this way about her. It’s clear from how the primaries have been going so far that a lot of people feel safer with other candidates. That’s their choice, of course, but I feel as though I’m watching the possibility of a braver safer world slip through our fingers. I know 95% of us haven’t voted yet and there’s still hope but I’m scared. I need an Elizabeth Warren action figure to make me brave again.

I’m continually surprised at the misogyny and sexism that continues to bubble up on the regular. I’d thought we’d sort of hit the apex of virulent misogyny after the last presidential election but there’s still so much to go around. If you’ve somehow missed the multitude of articles pointing at the bizarre erasure of Warren in media polls, news, etc – take a stroll down google lane and you will find many a think piece that has been largely ignored by more mainstream media.

The latest bit of nonsense that is really getting under my skin was a hashtag that was trending suggesting that Warren should drop out. I’ve seen a lot of tweets that suggested that if Warren were really progressive she would drop out and support Bernie. This makes my blood boil so hard. Because I’ve been reading Rebecca Traister’s book about the 2008 election season, and, let me tell you, we have been to this exact same rodeo before. Back then, very early on, people went on and on about how Hillary should drop out and support Obama – which, of course, she did do, eventually, once the votes were in. But the sense of it is profoundly sexist. No one was shouting at Buttigieg to drop out and support Biden. (They apparently just had a nice manly chat about it yesterday and it was done.) When Warren was ahead, no one was shouting at Sanders to drop out and support her. It is clear that, still, in 2020, women are expected to support men, to sacrifice themselves for the good of a powerful man.

I should not be surprised at all the misogyny bubbling up  – the erasure, the sexist language, the dismissive comments. I knew it would happen. I knew it would happen in 2016. I voted for Bernie in the 2016 primary, in part, because I knew that there would be a tidal wave of misogyny if Clinton was the nominee and I didn’t think I could handle it. (BTW – Gloria Steinem had similar reservations at first in 2008.)

And I was right. I couldn’t handle it. I don’t think I’ve recovered yet. It feels like 2016’s election season was like watching an enormous boil of toxic patriarchal misogyny get larger and larger and then finally burst all over us in November. And I guess maybe I thought that since the boil had burst, we were maybe on a healing path, where a woman could run for president without wading through a pool of toxicity. But the pool is alive and thriving.

I keep thinking about this thing I read in the Hollywood Reporter by a member of the Academy who said,

“When I fill out my ballot, I’m asking, “What movie did I like the best?” I believe all of our members do that. I’m not asking, ‘Is it a woman? Is it a person from a diverse background?’ I’m very proud of the Academy for nominating the movies we did this year.”

And guess who just happened to be under-represented at the Oscars this year?

It’s clear that this guy has never heard of unconscious bias in his life. He’s thinking, “I just vote for who I like! And if I happen to almost exclusively like stuff by white guys, that’s just because that’s what’s good.” It never occurs to him that his response to the people he just doesn’t connect to is probably due to his unconscious bias. It also would never occur to him that it might actually make sense to ask yourself such questions. It does make a difference when someone is a less represented person.

And I think that same principle is happening for some people with Warren. There’s a lot of “There’s just something about her I don’t like” and I’m sorry to tell you but that something is probably an unconscious bias and a world that privileges some folks over others. We all have unconscious bias. All of us. Check your bookshelves. Who do you read? Even women have unconscious biases against other women. We’ve all of us been marinating in patriarchy for a long time – so it is hard for a lot people to get behind women leaders. I know this is true but it is still incredibly difficult to watch the one candidate who gives me hope and makes me feel brave when I’m scared be sidelined and told to drop out.

There are so many reasons I am excited to vote for Warren. She’s my dream candidate, as Rebecca Solnit put it. I admire the way she has reached out to so many communities directly and personally and then come up with plans for each and every one of them to address their concerns. I admire the way she acknowledges mistakes she’s made and continues to work to redress them. I admire her ability to adapt and learn. I admire how fierce an advocate she can be. I love that she’s a progressive who came to it later in her life. Her progressiveness is practical and hard-earned. Ever since she got kicked out of the senate confirmation hearing for Jeff Sessions, for reading Coretta Scott King’s letter and then read it to a camera right outside, I have admired her fighting spirit. Many people remember the line that emerged from this event – “Nevertheless she persisted.” But there’s more of it. Mitch McConnell said, “She was warned. She was given an explanation. Nevertheless, she persisted.”

Many people continue to give her explanations and warnings and nevertheless, she persists. That sort of commitment makes me feel less scared. It makes me feel brave.

The kind of person who can take on an entire banking system, who will speak truth to power over and over again even when no one will give her the floor, that kind of person makes me feel safe. And I know that she is working hard to help others who may have never felt safe in this country to one day experience some safety. She embodies everything I look for in a leader. I cannot understand how people are not lining up to vote for her.

But I know not everyone is like me and the little girl who keeps her action figure close by for safety. There are those who don’t need to feel brave because they’re not scared. There are those who just want a return to the old familiar status quo. I understand the impulse. Warren’s vision of America involves change and change isn’t everyone’s thing. Her vision involves bending some things to make the country work for more people than it is. It involves health care for all and universal child care. It even includes artists (sign an artist endorsement here). It is really scary for billionaires and scary for a lot of Republicans. That’s not safe for them. But it would be for me, it would be for me.

Image by @DirtyDucko via Twitter

 

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What to Do When Weinstein Shows Up at the Bar

When I read about the three people who challenged Harvey Weinstein at a show for young artists, I tried to imagine what I would have done if I’d walked in to an event and found him there. I hope I’d have been as brave as Kelly Bachman, Zoe Stuckless and Amber Rollo but I don’t know.

Would I be the first person to say something to him? Probably not. I’m not particularly confrontational. But I would have, I’m fairly certain, created a hex on the spot and I would have quietly but forcefully cast some kind of spell. I’m not a witch – but I think I’d just become one if I were put in a room with a monster.

What I do know I would have done if I were in the room with the repugnant Weinstein and the heroic three, what I do know is, that I’d have backed them the fuck up. I hope I would have been a first follower – as Derek Sivers put it in his video. Watch it. It’s great. It’s all about how the first person to exhibit anomalous behavior can be seen as a weirdo or pariah when they break the norms. When the first guy starts dancing, it’s weird. It could go nowhere. It probably will. But then someone comes and joins him and that someone basically starts the movement. That first follower teaches others how to follow and invites them in. Before long everyone is dancing.

In order to change rape culture, we don’t all have to be as brave as Bachman, Stuckless and Rollo (though lord knows I wish we could be) but we do all have to get better at backing brave people up. We need to be first followers.

That story would have gone a lot differently if the room had supported those women. If Kelly Bachman, the comedian, had been cheered more robustly instead of booed (she was cheered but only after having been booed!) or if the others came to stand behind and beside those who confronted Weinstein instead of trying to pull them out of the room, we could have had a story about how the people of New York just won’t stand for predators instead of a story about just three brave humans.

It’s clear that, fundamentally, not much has changed in the culture if women challenging a known rapist, harasser and predator are booed and kicked out of a club for doing so. They should have been supported. The room should have rioted as soon as Weinstein walked in. But it didn’t. Social norms took over and (almost) everyone decided that politeness was more important than anything else.

The people who confronted him broke the social norm of politeness and since there was no first follower, the room expressed its disapproval and spit them out.

What was needed in that room (besides Weinstein just simply not being there) was a First Follower. Someone to bring the room along, to maybe get a chant going after Bachman’s set.

Maybe a “Remove the Elephant from the Room” or “Rape whistle! Rape Whistle! Toot toot toot!” And just scream it until Weinstein gets his predatory ass up out of that cushy booth and hightails it out of there.

It’s not a surprise that this particular room was the way it was. In other places, Weinstein might have been booed the minute he walked in the door (as he should be) but there is not a more malleable sycophantic population than a bunch of show people trying to make it in The Business. In this particular room, everyone but the three women decided that they’d rather have Weinstein see their work, maybe even give them a gig, than deal with his problematic presence. I know that many people sitting there were thinking, “Sure, he’s a horrifying monster but maybe he can put me in a movie!” That’s how he was able to get away with so much for so long in the first place.

But some things are most important than politeness and the people who challenged him knew it. Unfortunately, the rest of the room did not and they will probably live with the shame of that for some time. They’re going to wish they’d stood up and joined in. They’re going to wish they’d been a First Follower, rather than part of that shameful crowd.

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

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

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Who Gets to Rage in American Theatre? Or, Some Stuff I Learned from American Moor

The show nailed the standard white American male theatre director so well, I found I had fantasies of kicking his head down the road a few days later. Forgive me the violent imagery but I guess I’m a little bit furious.

American Moor is a show about an actor grappling with the weight of Othello. Caught in a tug of war between the demands of the racist American Theatre system and his African American peers, the character rails and resists. He wants to rage against the injustices that rain down but he keeps himself in check. He also attempts to audition for the role.

The last half of the piece is a glimpse of both that audition and the internal struggle of adapting to its demands.

While much of the show addresses the specificity of this actor’s experience – specifics that, as a white woman, I do not share – I found myself relating to it deeply.

One of the themes that kept arising was the way the actor’s black male body was a source of fear for white theatre makers. This character had to continually manage the racist fears of the people around him. His getting a job depended on his presenting a minimized self – a nice, safe, unchallenging version of himself, one that has never known anger and would never need express it.

I relate to this despite the fact that, much to my dismay, no one is ever frightened of me. No one assumes I am powerful and aggressive. Not ever. I don’t have to adjust my presence in a room to placate that fear – because no one ever fears it. I have, however, in my acting days, turned myself WAY down in order to appear ladylike, like I could be an ingénue. I have shrunk myself into a girlish form so as to be seen as a possible object. I know what it’s like to bring all my intelligence to a part and then be asked to ingratiate myself, to seduce, to giggle, to be more malleable. And anger? What is anger? Why would I be angry? I’m sweet! And nice!

I know what it feels like to have to hide myself and defer to the patronizing white guy with all the power and authority. It is, fundamentally, why I stopped acting. Because being asked to do only one thing when I am built to do 20 others things was more frustration than I was prepared to handle. And, for entirely different reasons than the character in American Moor, I, too, would never be allowed to express my rage in the theatre.

As I watched the show, the director in me wanted to push aside the character of the patriarchal dolt in charge and take over his show. “Oh, you can’t recognize the opportunity that is in front of you? Oh, you can’t set aside your own limited understanding to make space for the human being in the room with you? You don’t know how to do that? Well – I do. Get out of my damn way, dude.” And in part, this is why I quit directing. There are too many pricks in power. They kept wanting me to be like them.

So much of my experience in and out of classical theatre in America suddenly made sense. It made a kind of sense that made me want to run screaming through the streets – but still…sense!

Seeing the racism that this performer encountered in the worlds I have touched down was chilling. I have seen some of it with my own eyes and failed to recognize how awful it was. I have seen classical scholars or theatre makers look black men up and down and ask, “Have you played him?” I’ve seen that. It happens ALL the TIME. Just the other day, I saw a post about Denzel Washington’s upcoming performance as Macbeth and someone commented that he’d rather see him as Othello. Fact is, that commenting guy already sees Denzel Washington as Othello. It’s the only part that guy can imagine a black guy doing.

This is not something I have had to deal with. There are 1-4 women in each play and there is not one whose race is specified. No one will ever ask if I’ve played “her.” No one would know who they meant. I am lucky that way.

By the end of this show, tears were streaming down my face. I wasn’t entirely sure why. In part, I think, it’s because it ended with a possibility of transformation. The show had a hope, for a moment, that the white guy director could see a way to change and help bring forth that change. I think I was crying, though, because I didn’t believe for a minute that that guy was going to change. I knew he wouldn’t. (Spoiler Alert: He didn’t.) And I came all over mournful for the state of American Theatre and how little hope I have for its doing anything much different than it has always done. I mean, sure, the #MeToo Movement has made waves and we’ve ousted the most egregious examples in the theatre but mostly, if dudes managed to keep their hands more or less to themselves, it’s still their sandbox.

One of the themes of American Moor was how the character, pigeonholed into Othello, really wanted to play Titania and Feste and Juliet. And honestly, if I had my hands on a theatre with a budget, I would cast him that way without even hesitating. I think a lot of us on the outskirts of the American Theatre would make that choice. But the mainstream is stuck in a world where everyone has to look the part, where Desdemonas have to be tiny, beautiful and blonde and black men can only play Othello and it shall always be thus, now and forever.

And maybe it seems like it’s just classical theatre that is like this – but it isn’t. Many of the plays that continue to march through our stages enforce similar status quos. Every theatre wants to do their artistic director’s True West and almost every artistic director is the same variety of white man. White guys raging at each other is American Theatre’s brand.

There are changes coming, I know. I know there’s a wave of people of color stepping into authority at theatres across America – but while it’s still news, still an exceptional shift, it feels like that change is a very long way off.

Anyway, I’ll be over here kicking an imaginary white guy director’s head down the road for a while and hopefully someone stepping into new power and authority will cast the guy from American Moor as Titania soon. I hope his Titania rages.

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 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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