Songs for the Struggling Artist


One Woman’s Dystopia Is Another Man’s Utopia, I guess.

The day that Frat Boy McRapeFace was confirmed to the Supreme Court, when my dining companion asked me what I wanted to eat, I said Senator Grassley’s heart. Not that I’m 100% sure Grassley has one, but assuming there’s at least a little dried up something there, I would like to take a big bite of it then spit it out on the Senate floor.

I’m a little bit upset, I guess you could say. Earlier in the day, I watched the police mobilize and prepare to arrest the women who were protesting on the steps of the capital on the Women’s March livestream. I watched the police line up. I watched them strategize. The troops were mostly men in uniform with their zip tie cuffs – the protestors were mostly women, fully prepared to put their bodies between a rapist and the supreme court seat.

It was a stark illustration of who has authority and who does not. All day and all evening I tried not to sink into despair about the continuing kleptocracy in our country. It feels better to rage than to despair – but despair is close the surface. Living with corruption in every corner of the federal government is taking a bigger toll than I ever imagined.

Anyway – it was already hard. Then that night, at 1 am, these guys somewhere outside who had been indiscriminately yelling for a while started chanting some racist stuff. They chanted: (“F— you, Obama. F— you, Obama. F— you, n—-s.”) I was shocked. And terrified. I mean – I was safe in my apartment, of course. They were out there and I was inside and they weren’t coming for me. But groups of men engaged in hate like that are terrifying for a lot of us – even from a distance.

I felt like I’d stumbled into some horrific dystopian novel that I absolutely did not choose. I mean, I moved to NYC in 1999 and I have never heard anything like that anywhere before. I have heard people shout all kinds of hateful things at each other but never like that. And it felt like the events of the day had unleashed this horrific behavior that had somehow lain dormant, even these last couple of years. It was the final release valve, I guess. I went from fierce dragon to terrified maiden in a minute – not because I thought this pack of douchebags would come for me – but because so many of them have just been empowered – with no obvious check on their behavior. I later learned that that same weekend, hateful anti-immigrant posters had gone up all over Sunnyside, Queens. Were the perpetrators celebrating their racist postering back in my neighborhood? Was that their victory party? Or was that an entirely different group of racist douchebags? Then, too, similar propaganda popped up at liberal arts colleges, where, like in Queens, they are decidedly unwelcome. It all feels of a piece. The final release valve of douchebaggery has been let go. They can take their misdeeds all the way to the Supreme Court apparently.

Roving packs of douchebags have always run rough shod over America but any sense of consequence on their behavior has just been removed. That is why I cried my face off when I heard them across the courtyard.

But if they have been released, they have also been revealed. We know where those racists live. The GOP can no longer pretend to care about women. They can no longer get away with their Benevolent Sexist Protectionist bullshit. They have revealed their cards and they have hands full of bluffs. It is clear that the America they dream of is one where we let the white men do all the shouting and governing, where they can rape and rob with impunity, where consequences only exist for the rest of us. They remain the kings. The rest of us are only here to serve.

As I watched this vision of the future dystopia emerge, I wondered if this is really what they want. Is this the Republican dream? Maybe it is. Maybe white supremacists shouting in the middle of the night is utopia for them. Maybe a depleted environment full of polluted rivers and flattened mountain tops is their fantasy. Maybe all the dystopian stories we read, they see as utopias. The Hunger Games? A story of a pain-in-the-ass girl who disrupts a perfectly balanced authoritarian state. The Handmaid’s Tale? A manual for how to create and maintain a religious autocracy – disrupted by a woman who just won’t obey.

Their dream of America is my nightmare. In their dream, women lose all bodily autonomy, immigrants lose their children and only old rich white men have power and resources. Prior to the last couple of years, I would have thought that the holocaust was a universally dystopian time. But even that horrific hellscape was and is utopian for some.

And very probably my utopian dream for America would be a nightmare to them. In mine, women finally gain equality and have total ownership of their own bodies. Women are believed and respected. There is wage equality, racial equality, economic justice. In my America, people come together from all over the world and are welcomed. Trans people and people with disabilities are especially honored and cherished. We delight in diversity and put our resources in things like the arts and education. In my utopian America, we care for each other. We look out for the most vulnerable. We prioritize caring for the natural world.I know it won’t be easy to get there – especially now – but it does feel important to hold on to a kinder vision of the world I want to live in.

Kavanagh’s confirmation may have signaled to everyone, white supremacists and douchebags included, that we’re headed to that dystopian future. But maybe just, just maybe we can pull it back – to hold tight to a sense of possibility even as the racists and sexists emerge from under their rocks with celebratory screaming.

The thing of it is, a week later, I have figured out what I ought to have done. Instead of trembling and not sleeping for hours, I could have sung into the night. I had gotten all caught up in trying to come up with a scary sound – a dragon roar, a wolf growl – but my voice can be just as loud as the douchebags – particularly when I am singing. I’m sure my neighbors hear me singing all the time (though I try to pretend they don’t) and I know that in the same way that I know there’s an opera singer in an apartment nearby. I know she can be louder than those racist douchebags. What I’m trying to work out now is what exactly to sing in these dystopian situations. It feels key to sing something, if not for myself, then for all the people in my neighborhood who are more vulnerable to attack.

My first thought was to make up a song – something to call to my fellow women outside, something they could join me in singing. I found myself inventing a little ditty called “Ladies, Don’t Fuck a Racist.” However, I realized as I walked past my neighbor’s door, that there were quite a few young children in the buildings near us and maybe this wouldn’t be the best way to support them, even if it might feel vaguely cathartic.

But what is the answer? How to drown out the voices of racist douchebags with the voices of women and their allies? How can we make the racists know we hear them and do not approve and empower our targeted neighbors? What song invites joining in to defeat the forces of hate? I feel like I want a plan in place, in case we really are in a dystopia and this keeps happening. I want a song ready to go so I can skip the maiden trembling and the visions of dystopia and go straight to raising my voice.

This blog is also a podcast. You can find it on iTunes or wherever you get your podcasts.

If you’d like to listen to me read the previous one on Anchor, click here.

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

Every podcast features a song at the end. Some of those songs are now an album of Resistance Songs, an album of Love Songs, an album of Gen X Songs and More. You can find them on Spotify, my websiteReverbNation, Deezer and iTunes

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Want to help me raise my voice against the rising dystopia?

Become my patron on Patreon.

Click HERE to Check out my Patreon Page

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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 (but aren’t into the commitment of Patreon) 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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TV Folks Feeling Uncomfortable

Reading excerpts of a roundtable of TV showrunners made me unexpectedly angry. I found myself throwing down the magazine. There seemed to be a general consensus that the “Me Too Climate” was inhibiting their work as comedy writers. Showrunners, male and female, bemoaned the PC atmosphere.

And it made me mad. Not because I don’t understand. I understand that a certain amount of freedom and safety definitely helps the creative process. I understand that continually censoring one’s self can put a big obstacle in front of creation. But….a lot of us have been dealing with that our entire creative lives.

I don’t really feel bad for people who suddenly have to hold back from saying their misogynist joke or their racist joke or whatever ugliness they feel they should be able to just let loose with.

I don’t feel bad about these folks who suddenly have to be a little more self-conscious for fear of saying something inappropriate.

Some of us have had to be self-conscious this whole time. Some of us know how to make jokes in an inclusive way. (If you don’t think it’s possible to be funny and also kind, listen to the comics on The Guilty Feminist podcast. It is entirely possible to be funny and sensitive to power dynamics, race, gender and ability. Or listen to Cameron Esposito do crowd work. She brings everyone in with inspiring warmth and hilarity. And, of course, if you haven’t seen Hannah Gadsby’s Nanette, get on that.)

But the folks running TV shows have generally been in The Business for a while. They came through the ranks when the ranks required a comfort and ability with working with the status quo. They are the Establishment.

In order to become a part of the Establishment, you have to have had a certain level of comfort, ease and understanding of the status quo. You have to have been okay with the bizarre power dynamics and the bananas world of mostly wealthy white men making the majority of the decisions. Most folks who made their way to the top of a media chain did not get there on the back of nuanced feminist or racial sensitivity. That’s not how you get to the top in TV.

I’m not saying everyone who works in high power positions in TV are complicit in mounting sexist, racist and abelist structures but a lot of them are.

And now as the big players in their industry begin to tumble down, people are looking to them to say something to address things that they are frankly ill equipped to address. There is a shifting of the balance of power happening, for sure. But it’s a looking glass world.

I saw, in this same magazine that I threw down in fury, an advertisement for a conference on change. It was clearly an attempt to help guide people through the shifting sands of power, to address sexual politics and new norms. But of the maybe 12 speakers, there was only one person of color. And one of the lead presenters was a white haired man who appeared to be about 75 and is the “Creative Ambassador” at Barneys. These are the people folks are looking to help them through a changing landscape? I mean…

It just suddenly struck me that rather than reach out to the people who have been historically shut out of those worlds, they’re just asking the people inside the gates to do things a little differently.

Instead of hiring people who have been working for racial equality and gender equality and disability rights and so on, they’re turning to the people who never cared about those things and asking them to figure out how to address them.

And you know, I don’t object to all those folks getting more woke, as it were. That’s great. Let’s wake everyone up! But…I don’t really have the patience or the good will to watch celebrities and TV execs learn about feminism from each other. It’s just not that interesting watching them make mistakes we all made back in college.

I’d rather watch W. Kamau Bell get given four shows to develop and Cameron Esposito and Rhea Butcher’s shows get picked up by a major network and then get three more. I want to see Hari Kondobulu and Negin Farsad on TV all the time. I want Zach Anner to have a show.

I mean…I just don’t feel bad for those still holding on to their comfortable jobs and finding it a little less comfortable. It should be a little less comfortable. It’s your comfort with how things were that contributed to the ickiness of the media culture. Stay uncomfortable. Stay present. And invite some other people in.

And listen, I don’t really have a dog in this race. I have no ambitions to work in TV.

But I do suspect the same mechanism is already at work in theatre, where I DO have ambitions. I’m sure that, as the big companies are making their reckonings, they are not saying to themselves, “Hey I wonder if we could bring in some people who have been working in feminism or racial justice or disability rights and produce their plays, for a change?”

Nope. I’m pretty sure the first order of business will be to turn to the people already inside and ask them to write (or direct or create) something on the topic they’re hoping to improve their image on. Mark my words, we’re going to see Neil Labute’s Me Too play before too terribly long or David Mamet’s. And I’m sure it will sell a lot of tickets, Lord Help Us. But…I’d rather see a big theatre stage all the feminist writers who have writing without reward in the trenches for years. Or hire any number of feminist directors who have not gotten the work offers they should.

But maybe I’m wrong. Maybe this time theatre won’t follow TV the way a little sister follows the older one. Maybe this time theatre can lead the way and invite in all the folks who have working tirelessly on the fringes. Maybe.

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 Anchor, click here.

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

Every podcast features a song at the end. Some of those songs are now an album of Resistance Songs, an album of Love Songs and More. You can find them on Spotify, my websiteReverbNation, Deezer and iTunes

*

You can help support my lifelong work on the fringes

by becoming my patron on Patreon.

Click HERE to Check out my Patreon Page

*

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 (but aren’t into the commitment of Patreon) and would like to give a dollar (or more!) put it in the PayPal digital hat. https://www.paypal.me/strugglingartist

 



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.

You can help me rage productively

by becoming my patron on Patreon.

Click HERE to Check out my Patreon Page

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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

 



Apparently, Being a Sexist Jerk Pays Well

Perhaps this isn’t news to you. Probably especially not this year. Not in 2017 when we’ve seen one of the biggest sexist jerks around continue to profit on his sexist jerkholery. But… this isn’t about that. This is about a smaller corner of the sexist landscape.

One of my feminist heroes is Anita Sarkeesian who has been making videos at Feminist Frequency since 2009. My personal favorites were her looks at Legos and her explanation of the Bechdel test. (This was before the Bechdel test was common knowledge – an evolution that I suspect that Sarkessian had a hand in.) You may have started to hear about her after her Kickstarter campaign to make videos about women in videogames triggered a terrible hate campaign against her. Then the parade of horrors known as Gamergate began to target her as well.

I recently read an article about her experience of speaking on a panel at a video conference and being harassed in person. There’s a lot to take in in this article – but the thing that shook me rather badly was the fact that two of the leaders of Gamergate and Sarkeesian’s harassers-in-chief both make their living from making videos about their harassment and get their support through Patreon. The article reports that one makes $5000 a month from his videos and the other $3000 a month.

Why did this particular fact shake me? Because I use Patreon, too. I think of it as a noble enterprise providing funding for artists of all kinds, a new patronage. Knowing that the architects of one of the most infamous harassment campaigns in the last few years are receiving support on the same platform that I use makes me incredibly uncomfortable. And the fact that they make six times more than I do at it makes me feel even worse.

The disturbing truth would appear to be that being a sexist harasser is more profitable than being a feminist writer. And it has likely always been thus. Patreon is just highlighting a pattern that has been long established in the culture. It seems like capitalism works really well for sexists. That may be one reason the sexism sticks around.

Also, in the wake of recent events, it has come to light that a great many of the men in white supremacist movements got their start in MRA movements, that is – Gamergate was the gateway drug for joining the ranks of white supremacy. The one thing mass murderers and terrorists have in common is a tendency to be domestic abusers. It is the number one predictor of future violence.

I mean, it makes sense. If you begin by not seeing women as human beings, by being cruel and threatening to people you don’t see as people, by fantasizing about violence, why not expand into hating more people? You’ve already begun by hating half the population. You might as well, I guess. There is a major connection between these men’s inability to see women as people and leaning into white victimhood. As this article in The Cut says:

“If you can convince yourself that men are the primary victims of sexism, it’s not hard to convince yourself that whites are the primary victims of racism.”

I wrote the first draft of this earlier this summer, before the invasion of Charlottesville, before the lid was removed from the pot on the depth of depravity of the revitalized white supremacists and some things have changed and some have not. On the plus side, some tech companies stood up and denied service to hate groups they were previously hosting. Patreon sort of is and sort of isn’t standing up on this point. They removed right-wing activist, Lauren Southern, from their platform. This led her supporters to invent something called Hatreon. Where, I guess hate groups can crowdfund themselves in peace? Anyway – turns out this woman didn’t get cut from the platform because she’s spewing hate, she got cut for “risky behavior.” Meanwhile, Sarkeesian’s harasser-in-chief has increased his monthly take on Patreon from $5k to $8k in the last few months. It’s not getting better, folks, it’s getting worse.

When I read this story about Sarkeesian’s experience, I thought – “Should I leave Patreon? Is it right to be a part of a platform that enables sexist harassers?” and I think, if there were another platform like Patreon, I would switch to it immediately. (Like, “Actual Art-eon”? “No Nazis, just Art-treon?” I don’t  know.) I thought Patreon was a place for artists not harassment campaigns …but as no one has yet developed an artist funding platform for feminists, I think my best move is to stay where I am and somehow find a way to at least match the funding of the sexist jerk brigade. So if you want to help this feminist writer do at least as well as a sexist jerk, click here to find out about becoming a patron.

It’s possible right? For a feminist to do better than a sexist? Damn, I hope so.

And it doesn’t have to be me. I want to boost feminists and artists of color and people with disabilities and anyone else who is particularly vulnerable to the evils of hate. I did a search in Patreon and I gotta tell you, my extremely unscientific survey says, it pays a WHOLE LOT MORE to be a sexist jerk than to be a feminist. Or just to be a woman.

Here are some suggestions of some underfunded artists:

Jay Justice. Cosplayer, costumer, builder, gamer, writer, etc

Feministing for Change

Women in Comics Collective International

Disability Visibility Project

STEM and Disability Activism

Transgender Civil Rights Activist, Danielle Muscato

Marina Watanabe – Feminist Fridays

A Feminist Paradise

Feminist Killjoys, Phd

Monica Byrne – feminist sci fi writer

Faithless Feminist

Bree Mae – Disability, Queer, Mental Health advocate

I only knew a couple of these before I started searching, if you are a feminist or intersectional activist I can boost here, please let me know. I want us all to do better than the sexist jerks.

 

The 2016 Best of the Blog and Thank You notes for my patrons.

You can help me beat the sexist jerks by

Becoming my patron on Patreon.

Click HERE to Check out my Patreon Page

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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. If you liked the blog and want to support it but aren’t quite ready for patronage on Patreon, You can tip me a dollar (or more!) put it in the PayPal digital hat. https://www.paypal.me/strugglingartist

 



Where I’m From

When I worked as a teaching artist, I traveled to about 300 different schools around New York City. They were wildly divergent places and environments but on bulletin board displays in hallways, in all five boroughs, I often saw the same writing assignment appear and it never failed to move me. It was called “Where I’m from…” and students would recount the smells, the sounds and sights of their homeland. For kids who’d lived in the city their whole lives, the sound of the ice cream trucks was often the birdcall of spring. Because New York is so beautifully diverse, this assignment would often paint a whole world of elsewhere, as well. The sights of Egypt. The sounds of the Dominican Republic. The smells of Uganda. The temperature of Poland. No matter where students came from, even if they had to flee their homelands because they were not safe there anymore – the formative power of home rang out from their writing.

I’m not from here. New York City is where I live and where I feel at home but where I’m from is a small city in the hills of Virginia. It’s the kind of city that sometimes gets called cosmopolitan – not because it’s a bustling metropolis but because it has a vibrant arts culture and an intellectual fire. This place is as much a part of me as my leg is. My hometown feels like part of my body.

Where I’m from is green, green hills, green lawns, trees and trees and trees. It is people gathering under fairy lights on a red brick road. It is a place where you can see the stars in a backyard. It is a place in which sometimes you feel like you know everyone and a day later feel as though you know no one anymore. People will smile at you and say hello when you walk past.

I’m from crickets on a summer evening. I’m from parties out in the country. I’m from wood smoke in winter and cigarette smoke on the bricked pavement in summer. I’m from jazz pouring out of one restaurant/bar and frat rock pouring from another, just steps away. I’m from a wall so thick with paint it was possible to peel-off a corner of it and keep it as a sculpture souvenir. I’m from craft fairs and festivals. I’m from the bells shaking on the legs of the Morris dancers. I’m from late night wanderings over green lawns. I’m from Greek letters on steps. I’m from dodging crowds of students who flood the city like water pouring into a glass. I’m from orange V’s on asphalt. I’m from libraries. I’m from community theatres. I’m from community radio. I’m from a folk scene, a bluegrass scene, a jazz scene, an old time scene, a rock scene, a pop scene, a classical scene, a women’s music scene. I’m from used bookstores and used record stores and independent community business. I’m from fireworks in the park on the 4th of July put on for us by the fire department. I’m from honeysuckle. I’m from musicians on the Corner and musicians on the Mall. I’m from deer by the railroad tracks. I’m from crayfish in the creek. I’m from red dirt and several shades of brown dirt. I’m from hummingbirds. I’m from dogwood trees. I’m from field trips to the art museum. I’m from book sales and yard sales. I’m from hot humid summers, exuberantly flowery springs, winters that bring snowstorms and autumn leaves with a top note of apple cider.

And I’m also from a place where neighborhoods are black or white. I’m from a school system that tracked its students, that sent its white students to the top and the black toward the bottom, that encouraged young minds to think that this was just how things were, that white students were more likely to be “advanced” and black students more likely to be “general” or “basic.” I’m also from a place that tried hard to believe that Thomas Jefferson’s slave was his mistress. I’m from a place where visiting a landmark important to a black leader meant visiting the tobacco farm where he was born a slave. I’m also from a place where I could go see a kid’s magician in a thousand seat theatre and see only white people in the audience. I’m from a place where we don’t talk about that much, mostly because it’s not polite. And where I’m from, politeness is important.

And now here I sit in Queens, New York – the most linguistically diverse place in the world and one of the most ethnically diverse places in the country – but where I live now isn’t any better, really. It feels good and blended on the train or in the grocery store but the school system in diverse NYC is the most segregated in the country. While we think of ourselves as models of tolerance, diversity and unity – the hate and violence has visited us here, too.

See, the story is that I’m from a place you’ve possibly only heard of because some hateful Nazis decided to target my hometown. And when they did, they broke the hearts of not just the brave souls who stood in opposition to them and those who had to go to work and those who prayed with Cornel West and those who were away but also all of us who feel that Charlottesville is a part of us. Those of us who were born there or grew up there or went to college there or even just lived there for a few years – it feels to us, too, as if the dirtiest boots just trampled over our hearts.

Charlottesville isn’t perfect. The racism runs deep there, yes. (Read about that here.) But before you start thinking my hometown had it coming, that it asked for it, that it shouldn’t have worn that short skirt if it didn’t want to be invaded, search in your own city’s past. I’m going to guess that no city in America has completely clean hands when it comes to racial discrimination.

The deck is incredibly stacked against people of color in America. It took me too long to work out how much. For me, it took going to college and learning about white privilege and starting to understand that being nice was no excuse for accepting injustice. I thought that because I was nice, I was immune to racism. You see where I’m from, we’re nice to everyone. We’re polite. We’re courteous.

And maybe you’re thinking, “Ah! I see now! This terrible thing happened there because the people of Charlottesville let it. They just didn’t say “no” loud enough.” And you’d be wrong. The people of Charlottesville have been preparing for this for months. The folks I know there have been, for months, strategizing and debating, trying to figure out the best way to make it clear how unwelcome the “Unite the Right” were. From what I understand, Charlottesville’s Black Lives Matter was organized in June to help address this invasion. Petitions were circulated. Injunctions were filed. Violence was suggested and rejected. Dozens of peaceful demonstrations and events were organized to prepare.

The people of Charlottesville didn’t throw open the door and welcome this mess. It showed up unannounced on the doorstep in May and they did everything they could think of to prevent it, at every stage. So when I see people say things like, “I’d like to see them try that in my hometown,” I think, “No, no, you wouldn’t. You wouldn’t like it at all.”

You wouldn’t like this mess of feelings that I’ve had to negotiate, not just these last four days when you started paying attention but since May when those assholes with torches first showed up. It is a combination of despair and fury and fear for my loved ones. A few months ago, on video, my mother asked a Trump supporter at a rally about his “Kekistani” flag and the look of pure hatred that he gave her made me quake. You don’t want to know the mixture of pride and terror that seeing such things inspire.

You don’t want to sit 500 miles away as you watch militant Nazis with advanced military gear taunt clergy people kneeling at the edge of a park you used to play in. You think your people are tough? That these highly organized, armed jerks with nothing to lose will somehow be stopped from waving their flags by your gang of guys with bats? I mean, I wish that were true. But I don’t think it is. These people punched clergy-folk. They taunted them and tried to do worse.

This is the future I was worried was coming as soon as I saw where the world was turning on Nov 8th. I was figuring we’d have ourselves a Nazi-like state by now. I didn’t expect ACTUAL Nazis. But otherwise – this is what I feared most. And yet I never expected it to start in my hometown. So I’m not surprised that this happened. I saw it coming. I just didn’t see it coming for my hometown first.

I hope you’re not next. The country is racist. My hometown is racist. The city I live in racist. And so is yours. Those guys came from all over the country. If you’re just realizing this a problem, you’re late. But if you’re late, we still need you. In fact, you may be the best link to the people who are going to be later than you.

Dealing with the racism in your town (or the racist people in your town) isn’t easy – especially since it’s usually systemic and those structures are hard to see and take a long time to dismantle. If you’re new to these concepts – if you don’t know what systemic racism is, then this is a great time to start learning. Seeing the ways that your town or your city or your county has perpetuated white supremacy over the years doesn’t mean you love your town any less. In fact, the more you know about where you’re from, the more meaningful your relationship with it will be. Forewarned is forearmed and knowledge is power.

I know that terrorists primarily want to strike terror in people’s hearts and the terrorists who came to my hometown stated plainly that this was their goal. I do not want to give them what they want. I’m from Charlottesville and I live in New York. I was in NYC on 9/11. I was not cowed then and I will not be cowed now.

But I am afraid. I cannot deny it. I have not slept much since the racists with torches surrounded a church service Friday night and essentially held them hostage. I had family in that church. And friends. I was in that church in spirit.

Here in Queens, I heard some folks swear they’d never cross the Mason-Dixon line again. I understand the instinct. It’s a way to say – “Oh, that’s them over there. I’ll be safe if I just stay here.” But I don’t think geography will save you. I would never have thought, in a million years, that white supremacists would march through where I’m from. And here in Queens, many years ago, Donald J. Trump’s father was arrested as he marched in a KKK rally. In Queens. New York. It’s not about location, y’all.

Here in Queens, I’m devastated about what’s happened where I’m from. And there is no shaking off this sense of violation. But if there’s anything that gives me hope in all of this, it’s watching the way the community in my hometown has come together over this series of events. From the clergy linking arms and marching in silent protest, to the swelling numbers of white people at teach-ins and Black Lives Matter meetings, to the giant crowd at Heather Heyer’s memorial service, there is a unity brewing that many never thought possible. Where I’m from, folks are trying to be better. I’m from that. I’m from where brave, nice people try to be and do better. That’s where I’m from.

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This is a great list of resources if you’d like to help the people of Charlottesville.


Normally this is the spot in my blog posts where I ask folks to support me on Patreon. But today, I’m requesting instead that you go to help the many people who need your help in my hometown. Go to this list on Google Docs.

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This blog is also a Podcast. You can find it on iTunes by searching for Songs for the Struggling Artist. If you’d like to listen to me read this post to you, you can listen on Soundcloud by clicking here.screen-shot-2017-01-10-at-1-33-28-am

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“A True Artist – the Perfect Candidate”

Last year, I received an award that was given to another person as well. We were both selected by the committee to receive the residency in question. I’m a white woman in my 40s from NYC and he’s a black man in his 20s from the mid-west. The residency was for emerging artists (see also my post on Can We Find Another Word for Emerging?) and I was surprised and delighted to receive it, even though I was pretty sure I wasn’t what most people meant when they signed up to support this award.

Throughout our time in residence, I could feel comparison happening between us – sometimes in my favor but mostly not. I thought perhaps I was imagining this sort of outside judgment. And then I saw a post on a Facebook page about my fellow award winner and someone in the organization commented on it, saying, he was “the perfect candidate” and “a true {*Name of the award} artist.”

It probably goes without saying that I did not receive a similar comment. And it probably also goes without saying that by saying someone is the perfect candidate and the true artist, they are also saying that someone else is NOT the perfect candidate or the true artist. In addition to making it plain that he had a clear preference for my colleague, the commenter (who is a leader in the award-giving organization,) wouldn’t even look at me whenever we were all in the same space.

I found myself furious – and frustrated. Like, if you didn’t think I was appropriate for the award, a) you didn’t have to give it to me and b) don’t take your opinion about my worthiness out on me.

And for a moment I was jealous of my co-award winner. But then I realized that this is an incredibly old pattern in the history of our country. Take two marginalized groups of people and pit them against each other. Especially white women and black men. I mean – the fight for suffrage got really reprehensible once white ladies, fighting for their rights, started throwing black folks under the bus. It is a giant stain on the early suffragists – many of whom got their start in abolitionism.

So…in the face of realizing that I was about to do the same, starting to somehow feel competitive with my colleague – well, I reached out to him and asked him to let me know how I could support him. Not because he needs it (he’s doing very well) but because I needed to. I needed to make sure that the prevailing winds of dividing and separating didn’t win, even in my own psyche.

The whole experience has been an excellent exhibit of how complex things become when resources are scarce. I am not at all competitive generally. But I know when I’ve been placed a competitive environment. And I found myself stuck in a strange race I didn’t sign up for. I remember thinking “I would have chosen him, too!”

But…that’s not fair, really. There were two places and we were both chosen. We were selected together. There’s enough of whatever there is there to go around. I feel like this is important to remember in this moment, when we are all fighting for the rights we thought were ours to keep. There’s a way where we could splinter easily into my rights, your rights. I could only fight for the NEA or reproductive rights because those have an impact on me. But we will make a bigger difference by fighting for it all, by fighting for Black Lives, for immigrants, for Muslims, for the poor, for the environment, for everyone under attack.

It will always be easy to make us compete, if we are under attack, if our resources are few and we feel we don’t have enough. But I hope the resistance continues to make the more unifying choice of reaching out to those we are being set up against. My commitment to myself is to reach out as soon I notice a sense of competition this way. I’m telling you now so I don’t forget.

Help me resist the pitfalls of scarcity,

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Theatre’s Loss: Janelle Monaé

From the first time I heard “Tightrope,” I was a fan of Janelle Monaé. I was head over heels for her music and her aesthetic, as well. She was musically exciting and theatrical in her style. Seeing her in concert was an incredible ride. She took the audience on a journey, the likes of which I have rarely experienced at a concert. She is a consummate showwoman and a brilliant connector. I’ve heard her described her as a contemporary female James Brown.

This year, Monaé went from making exciting, surprising music to making exciting movies. I thought she was just trying something different, building on her music career with some film exploration – but in an interview, I discovered what was news to me. Monaé trained as an actor. She started in theatre. In acting, she is returning to her roots – not doing something new. I’d been thinking about this since I learned it. Then I saw a short biography of her on Pandora. It said she trained at AMDA, did some off-Broadway theatre but then moved to Atlanta when she realized that there weren’t roles for her in musical theatre. This blew my mind. It shouldn’t have. But it did.

I mean, of course, there weren’t roles for her. For a whole host of reasons I have surely written about before. BUT. What strikes me, now that I know this information, is how Theatre Lost. We Lost. One of the most brilliant artists of our lifetime and Theatre didn’t have a place for her. I mean, I can’t help but imagine a Cindi Mayweather Musical full of androids and tuxedoed dancers – a Black Lady Ziggy Stardust for the stage. I mourn for what we could have had – how Monaé could have invigorated the entire medium given half a chance. But she wasn’t given half a chance. Her creativity was too much for the American Theatre and there was no place in it for her. This does not speak well of our art.

Unlike Office Depot, which also famously had no place for Monaé, the American Theatre could really have benefited from her perspective, skill and artistry. But we failed her.

Now – I’m not entirely sorry that theatre failed her. If theatre failing her meant that she turned to music, then I’m grateful. I’d rather have “Electric Lady” than Monaé stuck in some production of Wicked forever. But…I think it is entirely Theatre’s Loss. We had this brilliant performer, writer and creator in our midst and no one saw it. No one made space for her to create. This is a problem. Because I know for a fact that Monaé isn’t the only artist that this has happened to. The Doing Things the Way We Have Always Done Them means true innovation is always happening elsewhere. In music, in film, in technology. We have to find a better way to nurture theatrical minds. We just have to. We lost Janelle Monaé. But maybe she’ll come back to us. I will definitely go to an Android Musical and I’m gonna drag you all there with me.

Help keep theatre from losing me, too –

Become my patron on Patreon.

Click HERE to Check out my Patreon Page

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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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