Songs for the Struggling Artist


I mean, Me too, of course. But this is it, right?
October 16, 2017, 7:07 pm
Filed under: feminism, resistance | Tags: , , , , ,

Sunday evening, after an intensive weekend of teaching – a weekend of showing up in one of my professional guises and remembering – “Oh yeah! I’m pretty accomplished actually. It is gratifying to be able to pass on my expertise!” – I came home, opened up my social media and fell into a river of “Me, too.” My sense of professional accomplishment faded away and suddenly, again, I was in the midst of a conversation about sexual harassment and assault. And I saw women I love who had just opened shows, or just had babies, or just gotten married or were celebrating their honeymoons and in the midst of their celebration, they found themselves, too, in that river. Wedding photos and “Me, too” sit side by side in their profile. That’s going to be forever. And that sucks forever.

And I’m of so many minds about all this. On one hand, I felt a little glimmer of hope. I thought, maybe THIS TIME, maybe this wave will finally topple the patriarchy! Maybe all we needed was for thousands upon thousands of women to come forward and share that it’s all of us. That would be super great. And if that’s what’s about to happen – I am HERE FOR THAT. I will “Me, too” up and down all over the town if I knew for a fact that this was the tidal wave that changed the world.

But I am skeptical, y’all. See, we’ve done this before. Recently. Just about a year ago. In the wake of the shitty audio of Billy Bush laughing along to reality show star, D. Trump, tons of women shared their stories of when some jerk assaulted them. And what happened? Some of those ladies voted for him for President anyway. Previously, we went down this road with #YesAllWomen. Remember this? We laid out the shitty ways women negotiate with the rape culture, the harassment, the unsafe conditions for us out in the world. Anyway – we dug into our past, we thought it might help, that maybe, just maybe the numbers would convince the fish that there was water and we were all wet. But you know, #NotAllMen…so…

So I’m not counting my Me Too chickens here. Because what happens when we do this – for a lot of us – is that we go through our past to find these moments and sometimes that means re-living them. And I find myself returning to things and thinking, “Yes, but was that assault? Does that count?” Or “Would I define that as harassment?” I didn’t at the time but now….I know better. And then suddenly I’m feeling lucky to have escaped being raped, to have been driven home instead of getting assaulted but then I feel bad because My God, I was in such vulnerable situations so often and so many of my friends didn’t escape those same kinds of situations. How I dodged so many bullets and only got grazed when I was in that war zone. And I’m trying to remember the first time someone touched me without my consent but it’s hazy and how I have blessedly forgotten so many things that are in this territory and how much it does not help me to remember them. It takes me off track. This Me Too parade has taken most of us off track. And I don’t know, y’all. I think it’s important, if it works, but at the same time – it has completely destabilized most of the women who are all that is standing between us and the harassment stew that is boiling over in the White House. The Resistance is (mostly) Female and this is a river of awful that touches all of us, of all genders – whether we say Me Too or not.

I don’t know how to negotiate with this continual re-triggering, re-visiting of our painful moments or atmosphere or memories. I’m proud that so many women are adding their voices to the chorus and mad as hell that they feel like they have to. But damn it, damn it, damn it.

Back when I was in college making feminist theatre like “Roar, the Women’s Thing!” we talked a lot about the statistic that one in three women would be raped in her lifetime. That was scary and also, very few people outside of our circle seemed to care about it at the time. That statistic has not changed. And also this likely means that one in three men will do some raping or assaulting or harassing in their lifetime. It would be nice if we could just blame the serial predators that come out in the news for all the assaults but I gotta tell ya, Weinstein, Trump and O’Reilly didn’t commit every one of those one in three. I know we’d all prefer to believe that that was the case, that we caught the one serial predator after twenty years and now he’s in rehab so we’re all safe now. But all the Me, Toos in your Timeline know that that’s not true.

I am so pissed to be writing this right now. I had so many other plans for things I was going to do today. But the river is flowing and I cannot ignore it. I peer in at it, feel the horrors and the waves of yuck and then I step back out again. I mean, me, too, of course. But I don’t want to talk about that. I don’t want a like or a heart or a wow face on it. I’m not interested in having that conversation. But for my friends who do want to have that conversation, who need support, who need resources for helping, or someone to punch pillows with, I am here for you for that.

I wasn’t shocked by the Weinstein stuff. I wasn’t shocked by the Access Hollywood tape. I am not shocked by a single Me, too. I think most of us who have been paying attention to systemic sexism over the years are pretty much only shocked that suddenly people seem to care about it when it has been dismissed for so long. I keep thinking about Soraya Chemaly’s incredible article from a few years ago about how we teach kids that women are liars. If you are shocked by this stuff and you need something to do about it, that article is a great place to start. Also, this list.

And, of course, Me, Too, you know – that is, if this is really and truly the last time we do this. Once we’ve dismantled the patriarchy, let’s never do this again.

One thing you can do to help with these things is to amplify women’s voices.

You can amplify my voice by becoming my patron on Patreon.

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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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Feeling American

Never do I feel more American than when I travel abroad. At home, my identity tends to be more specific – the city I was born in, the state I’m from, the city I live in or the borough in that city or even the neighborhood in that borough. I don’t feel American in America – partly because I have always felt so countercultural. Americans are like THIS and I am like THAT. I have tended to identify more with other cultures. I have even (unsuccessfully) tried to emigrate in order to be in places that align more closely with my interests and values. If European countries had looser immigration policies, I would have moved there long ago. But…I am American. And going abroad always helps me appreciate the good side of that, in times I’m mostly seeing the bad. I have enjoyed those moments when my Americanism becomes obvious – when my friends abroad tease me for my optimism or my accent.

During my recent trip abroad, I found myself in a new position with my European friends. American politics are in the news everywhere there. As one friend told me, the first story of every news broadcast is whatever crazy thing Trump did that day. Before any news of their own country, they get news of ours. My friend was understandably frustrated by that. Trump is happening to everyone in the world, not just to us Americans. My friends felt the need to vent about him, to imitate his speech or his mannerisms. They are laughing about the horrors they’re seeing and they want to laugh with me, their American friend.

The thing is, though, I’m not finding the current political situation funny. It is not amusing to hear imitation after imitation of the man who makes my skin crawl, to hear his faults listed and marveled at and analyzed – as if he were just a character in a play. To me, it feels as though 45 or Lil Donnie T or He Who Must Not Be Named (see why here…) is an arsonist who has set fire to my house and is blithely watching it burn. Every time someone imitates his speech or his gestures, it’s like looking at another face of the person who traumatized me. Objectively, I understand that he’s funny (or maybe more precisely – buffoonish and ridiculous) but emotionally, it’s horrifying.

I’m from here. I live here. My house, my America, however embarrassing it can sometimes be, is mine. Having this house, this America, was something that I could always rely on in the past. I had a certain amount of privilege in that house and others could not rely on it as much – but there were certain things we expected to remain. I grew up with a relatively stable government and a kind of classic American optimism that justice would prevail, even when all evidence pointed to the contrary. It wasn’t a perfect house but it was mine and now it is on fire. Every day I do something that I hope will help put out the fire but I fully expect the place to be a pile of ash before too long. I throw a thimble full of water on the fire, next to dozens of others, all of us, hoping to put it out…but knowing that it might take much more than our water to do it.

On election night last November – I fully expected us to be in the middle of the new Third Reich by now. I was emotionally preparing for concentration camps and firing squads. I am not convinced we are free of that threat. Our issues may seem funny from a distance but here inside, we are watching a man with the ability to push a button and start a global nuclear war pick fights with everyone from kids on Twitter to world leaders who have similar access to weapons and who might be very glad to see Imperial America get its comeuppance. And if you believe that our famous checks and balances would prevent a nuclear holocaust, I would point you to this terrifying episode of Radio Lab.

We are watching what we thought was an increasingly tolerant and progressive nation become entrenched in increasing white supremacy. My seemingly peaceful hometown has become a site that white supremacist groups are targeting for their parades and rallies and celebrations. (And I would like to point out that I wrote the previous sentence back in July, before the Nazis showed up.) Even NYC, which, we who live here think of as a bastion of tolerance and diversity, has seen a disturbing trend of hate crimes. SPLC reports that hate groups have risen dramatically.

From where I’m standing, America is on fire and it will be ashes before too long if we can’t stop it. “Is there any hope?” my European friends ask. Sure. Yes. I guess. Every day a new batch of amazing people throw water on the fire. The resistance is persistent and powerful and fighting like hell. If you want to watch some extraordinary fire fighters in the middle of the government, follow Representative Maxine Waters, Representative Ted Liu, Senator Kamala Harris, Senator Elizabeth Warren. There is perhaps some hope that our Checks and Balances will find a way to check this fire. The on-going Russian investigation, the increasing calls for Impeachment, the way one Republican Congressman described how he could not go anywhere without women getting up in his grill…there are drops of hope and maybe all the drops will eventually put on the fire.

But meanwhile, please remember that our house is on fire and most of us are just barely keeping it together.

We need your help. Especially those of you who have lived through repressive regimes, through corrupt governments. You could be forgiven for just wanting to laugh at us, for just wanting to enjoy the schadenfreude of watching a nation that has been acting a bit too big for its britches finally get a comeuppance. America was probably due a reckoning given the way our governments have tended to go about the world like we owned the place – but remember that you have friends who were as dismayed by that, then, as you were. Perhaps more. It may be pleasurable to watch some madman set fire to the gaudy mansion on the hill – but remember that there are people inside, burning. People are dying now. Literally. We need the wisdom of the past so we do not end up repeating it. As Americans we have enjoyed an incredible amount of freedom and privilege before now and some of us were not prepared for the revocations of any of those things.

I learned, not long ago, about David Goodhart’s idea that culture is dividing into two worldviews – people from anywhere and people from somewhere. He defines Anywheres as mobile, educated, autonomous, open and fluid. Somewheres are more rooted, less well educated and value group attachments, familiarity and security. It is his explanation for Brexit in the UK. It also makes sense for our American situation. And I am very much an Anywhere. One thing that this burning-house-feeling has done for me, as an American Anywhere, is to make me feel my American-ness as acutely as I do when I’m abroad. I feel simultaneously more American than I have ever felt before and also deeply alienated from it. In the chaos, my sense of my Anywhere-ness has led me to become more of a Somewhere. When my hometown was attacked, I felt more from there. As my country struggles, I feel more from here. This year has made me feel as American as I feel when I’m away. It is a curious shift from being so firmly in the Anywhere camp to suddenly identifying with my Somewheres.

I am American, for good and ill. But I am from somewhere. And it’s here. While there is still a here to be from, I am from here.

You can help this American

Becoming my patron on Patreon.

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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. And I usually sing at the end, if you want to hear that.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



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

 



Will You Wish You’d Been There?
August 31, 2017, 12:19 am
Filed under: resistance | Tags: , , , , ,

Listen you guys. I hate going to protests. They’re loud and shouty and there are crowds there – usually big ones – and that’s sort of the point.

But sometimes I make myself go despite my natural inertia – you know, that thing that makes it easier not to go than go. And given that there are protests nearly every day now, it can be hard to figure out whether it’s a time to hit the streets or a time take care of myself. My barometer has become: Will I Wish I’d Been There?

Here’s the thing. When it became clear what was going to happen in Charlottesville on August 12th, people were advised to stay away. From what I understand, the recommendation was that only those with appropriate training and a whole lot of willingness should show up. In general, the Southern Poverty Law Center’s advice is to steer clear of assembling hate groups. The SPLC is a bad-ass organization and has been tracking hate groups for a mighty long time. They’ve been in the trenches of this a whole lot longer than most of us, so people are usually inclined to heed their advice. And that advice rather conveniently lines up with most people’s natural inertia. It is much easier to sheetcake than to risk your life by going where the trouble is.

But. But. Many who heeded that advice in Charlottesville now regret that decision. Despite all the horrible things that happened, I know a lot of people who wish they’d been there. Not to kick-ass or knock-heads but to support, to help, to be physically present for vulnerable people.

I thought I’d be glad I was 500 miles away when this was set to go down but now having endured it at a distance, part of me wishes I’d been there, if for no other reason than to hand medics water and hug people who needed hugs. Simultaneously, I’m glad as hell that no one in my family was too close to the fray.

It is an incredibly odd sensation – to wish vehemently for everyone you know to stay as far away from harm as possible and to somehow wish yourself there.

And no one is more surprised about this response than me. I am not a rush into a fire sort of person. I hate conflict so much, y’all. I can’t even watch a heated debate without my heart-rate escalating and getting super anxious. I am an HSP (Highly Sensitive Person) with a precarious health situation. I do not really belong at a protest that has the potential to become violent. Given all of that, I thought I would have wanted to be as far away from such things as possible. But – I find I wish I’d been with my friends in the middle of the most dangerous moment in my hometown that I’ve ever known about.

I’ve heard from a lot of people that feel the same way. There was that article in the New York Times from the parent who made the decision to steer clear because of their child but now regrets that choice.

“I now believe we made the wrong choice. Does my status as a parent make me special? It shouldn’t. A young man named Dre Harris was ambushed in a parking lot and took dozens of blows by club-wielding thugs. He took them so I wouldn’t have to. Next time I will stand on the street with my neighbors, even at the risk of injury or death. It’s the least I can do to repay those who stood bravely this time.”

It is always easier to choose not to show up. And those who have been going to these sorts of demonstrations know better than anyone what sorts of risks are involved. That’s why they have to advise you not to go.

And everyone has their own acceptable level of risk and their own metric for participation in fighting for good.

My metric is clear now. It is “Will I wish I’d been there?” And most times the answer is no. But when it’s yes, it’s time to go. On one side, is my personal safety – but on the other side is a fight for the greater good. Sometimes it’s better to be there.

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Side note: The news cycle has moved on (as it does) from Charlottesville to Texas. I’ve seen a lot of folks wondering how to best support the folks in Houston. I recommend this list: http://noredcross.org/

And while the national news has moved on, Charlottesville is still reeling and regrouping. This is the most comprehensive summary of ways to support folks there:  this list on Google Docs.

Will you wish you’d supported me later?

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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



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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Generation X Part 3 – Islands in the Stream

When magazines used to write about Generation X, they were pretty darn concerned about how much time we spent on our own, unsupervised. The Latch Key Generation may not have really stuck to us as a name (I imagine this was partly because, what’s a LATCH key? When does anyone use the word “LATCH KEY”? It’s clearly an old fashioned word. It’s a key, guys.) but, yes, a lot of Gen X kids went home from school by ourselves because our parents were at work.

You could see this as a problem. (Oh, those poor lonely unsupervised children!) Or, you could see it as a gift. (What independence! What self-reliance!) Leave us alone for long enough, we tend to solve our problems on our own.

The kids in The Breakfast Club start their day in detention as adversaries and by the end of it, they’ve come together to challenge the authoritarianism of their school. The movie opens with a voiceover.

“Dear Mr. Vernon:
We accept the fact that we had to sacrifice a whole Saturday in detention for whatever it was we did wrong, but we think you’re crazy to make us write an essay telling you who we think we are. You see us as you want to see us—in the simplest terms and the most convenient definitions. You see us as a brain, an athlete, a basket case, a princess, and a criminal. Correct? That’s the way we saw each other at seven o’clock this morning. We were brainwashed.

By the end of the film, they are the Breakfast Club and recognize that despite their very disparate identities, they are each a bit like the others.

I wonder if Gen X is in a little bit of a life-long Breakfast Club experience. We start off thinking we couldn’t possibly be like our peers. The guy with the Mohawk couldn’t possibly have anything in common with the guy in the tie who wants to be a lawyer. Hardcore and Hip Hop, Grunge and folk punk are not even the same generation, man. But then the guy in the Mohawk becomes a lawyer. And the guy in the tie discovers his inner punk and their kids now go to the same school. And we’re all writing letters to the administration, telling them we think they’re crazy.

Gen X has never been one culture and we have always been highly aware of our plurality. We are ever Freaks and Geeks. But every generation is full of this variability.

Generation painting is always a broad brush. Once you start looking at the details, it all falls apart. Broad brush generation thinking only lets us see a single stroke of color. Boomers are like this. Millennials are like that. And most people stopped worrying about Gen X in the 90s. But like an audience of people watching a show, there isn’t any real uniformity. I told a millennial man a statistic I’d read that suggested that Baby Boomers were leading the Resistance – that they were protesting in significantly larger numbers than the rest of us. The millennial was shocked because he’d just read an article about how Baby Boomers created the mess we’re in, particularly environmentally. He couldn’t reconcile the two ideas. But both things can be true. We may think of the Baby Boomers as protesting the Vietnam War but not all of them were into that. Some stayed inside. Some fought in the war. Some went to work for their family business. Some became evangelicals. Some became Presidents. We are none of us ever only one thing.

As much as I wish it were not so, Paul Ryan is Generation X. I have to allow that some Gen X-ers were not characterized by non-conformity and individuality, or at least not in the ways that we think of it. I doubt Paul Ryan was wearing black in high school or rocking out to Tupac or Nirvana. Frankly, I wish he’d read more David Foster Wallace and less Ayn Rand. But there’s not much to be done about that now. Every Generation has its villains and its heroes. If Gen X has to claim Paul Ryan, then Millennials have to claim Milo Yiannopoulos and Boomers have to claim Lil’ Donnie T. The bozos in culture are multi-generational. And so is the resistance.

We are not the same. But we’re not that different either. A generation is a culture. There are things we share and things that vary. And the overlaps can be interesting.

I read an article about Gen X from the BBC and it referenced major touchstones in British Gen X culture that defined the generation but they were things that never made it across the ocean to American Gen X. We share some culture, we share some touchstones, but we don’t share them all. But despite the major differences in our cultural tipping points, I recognized the British Gen X as the Gen X I know. I don’t know what Gen X was like worldwide or if I’d recognize Bolivian Gen X with the ease that I recognize the British Gen X but I am very curious about that. I lived in Italy in peak Gen X years and in retrospect, I see Gen X echoes in my Italian peers. I met an Italian the same age as me recently and I see the Gen X in him.

But what IS that Gen X thing I think I see? Is it our sense of humor? A spirit of heightened realism? There are things in the stereotype of Gen X that I actually like. I like the pragmatic realist, the skeptic, the cool, the anti-authoritarianism. But am I self-selecting the traits that I like and calling bullshit on the ones I don’t?

Gen X questions everything. Did we get called slackers simply because there was a popular movie called Slackers? Do we have a cynical rep because Reality Bites was a popular movie made about us? It’s all culture. It may all be bullshit. But it’s somehow meaningful bullshit.

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This is Part 3 of a multi-part series.

You can read Part 1 here and Part 2 here.

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Why Giving Up Art Is Not an Option

The actors stood up and I started crying. The house lights went down to start the show and moments later I was moved. It took a moment to shake me out of my familiar world.

But it wasn’t just the moment, of course. There was a world of history behind the moment. It was the skill and finesse of a lifetime of theatrical practice that knew how to bring that world into a moment. It took extraordinary expertise and sensitivity to make something so simple so powerful. It took mastery.

After giving me such a powerful moment right out of the gate, I thought, “There might be nothing else as good as this in the rest of this show but if this is all it has to offer, it would be enough.” But it was definitely NOT all it had to offer. I saw a play that exquisitely resurrected the past while shining light on our present. It made me weep so often I wished I’d brought a box of tissues with me. And I almost never cry in the theatre. All around me, I heard the quiet sound of other people taken over by their emotions.

When it was over, the audience did not leap to its feet. On Broadway, a standing ovation is practically a reflex. But this Broadway audience was too moved to leap to its feet. Many of us were too moved to move at all. An usher had to ask us to vacate our seats. A transformative art experience is not always met with cheers.

In fact, if you’ve really struck an audience to the soul, they will likely not be able to hoot and holler. A transformative art experience is usually so personal to an audience that they may not be keen to talk about it, they may not tell all their friends, they may just want to keep it to themselves. A transformative art experience may not draw a crowd, it may not generate a profit for its producers, it may not make a big noise. It may shine briefly in the firmament before winking into memory. But it will continue to do its transformative work for a long time after it has faded. The magic of Indecent is that it both shows us that story of continuation and is likely to be that story as well.

The marketing department for the show seems to be trying to boost sales to this show by talking about why #ArtMatters and while this is perfectly in line with what I took from the show, a hashtag feels like such a diminishment of what is actually at stake. This is not a hashtag sort of experience. It’s not an instagram moment. It’s not suited for 140 characters.

But certainly art matters. And this show helps remind us how much it can matter. And aside from all the mattering it does, it also made me want to keep working at being a better artist. Indecent helped me see how a lifetime in the theatre could refine and invigorate the form. There are so many moments in my theatre life that make me want to give up, that make me question whether I’ve dedicated my life to the wrong art. Over the years, I’ve seen so much crap, so much compromise, so much ego, so much selling out, so much shady dealing, so much sexism, so much racism, so much shouting, so much soullessness. There have been so many times that I’ve wondered why I continue to let theatre break my heart. Because theatre breaks my heart pretty much every time I put on another show and each time I do, I ask myself again, “Why do I do this? Why do I put myself through this agony? Why do I think I love theatre when it clearly doesn’t love me?” And then I saw this show and I remembered why.

If I write plays that no one but me wants to produce with any regularity, if I direct plays that I can’t convince many people to see, if I devise work that only touches a handful of people, that doesn’t make me a failure, that makes me an artist on a journey. The experience of seeing this show reminded me of a truth that I find I have to return to again and again, that worth is not equivalent to popularity.

This show moved me not because it is on Broadway, but because it is the collaboration of artists working at the height of their powers. It shows me that I could make the best work of my life over twenty years from now. That even though I have often felt that my prime has passed (I have, to my regret, internalized that only young women are valuable) my prime is much more likely to be in the future. I learned, from my seat in the balcony, that a lifetime in the theatre could distill an artist into the clearest, most concise expression of theatricality. I see that time, rather than just battering me and graying my hair, might distill this cluster of longings and ideas and furies and hopes into something transformative – not just for me but for an audience.

In a world wherein I often feel that I’ve seen all the tricks, that I’ve had all the glitter fall from my eyes to reveal the familiar old men behind all the curtains, this show gave me hope and surprise.

It reminds me of Rebecca Solnit’s essay, “Protest and Persist: Why Giving Up Hope Is Not an Option” which explores how change really happens. In it, Solnit unpacks how an initial movement for change may fail in its immediate goals – but that the change achieved by future generations is built directly on the work of our predecessors. It is the same in art. The God of Vengeance (which Indecent invokes) was on Broadway for a blink in time but that blink was a pebble in a pond that echoed to create something new and potent in a time when we needed it.

I don’t know if Indecent will get a long run (I hope so though I worry about those empty seats behind me on a Friday) but even if it closes tomorrow, it will have dropped a mighty art pebble into the art pond and the ripples will be rippling for years after the artists are gone.

This show gave me the long view at a time it feels like we are in an ever-alarming, ever-panicked present moment. And it showed me that though we very well might be forgotten when we are gone (or even forgotten while we are here) someone somewhere in the future, might resurrect us for their transformative art. We keep creating in the darkest hours. We make because we must, because something captivates us, even if it breaks our hearts.

Photo of Indecent by Carol Rosegg 

 

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