Songs for the Struggling Artist


Anger Is My Superpower
January 16, 2019, 1:54 am
Filed under: feminism, Uncategorized | Tags: , , , , ,

Up until my mid 20s, I would have sworn to you that I did not feel anger. And I didn’t. I didn’t experience what I felt as anger. Mostly I cried. There were tears, lots and lots of tears and since I thought tears meant sadness, what I felt was sad, not mad. Anger was so foreign to me during my prime acting years that I worried about playing parts that required me to be angry. I could play anything but anger. My, how times have changed. Now, anger is my super power.

All my life, I’d been trying to avoid it. I’d pushed aside any hint of it, suppressed it, repressed it. Then – through this very blog, I began to express some of the things I was “frustrated” by, injuries that made me “upset.” And then I reached a breaking point and I wrote a very angry blog post. That anger led to the most views I have ever gotten.

Again and again, I find that when I let loose my anger, the world responds positively. Some folks appreciate the quiet, considered, intellectual type analysis of things – but the angry posts are the hits. The angry posts have fire in them.

Anger fueled my return to the theatre after a year’s absence. Anger writes me songs. Anger gets me moving. In their recent books on anger, Rebecca Traister and Soraya Chemaly both discuss the stigma against anger – how everyone has always said that anger is bad for you – when it is, in fact, the reverse. Anger can be very very good. Soraya Chemaly talks about her search for anger management for women and how all those classes are really for men. The anger classes women need are how to access our anger, how to feel it, how to direct it, how to use it.

There is a profound release in expressing anger – whether it be on the page or in person. Simply acknowledging its existence is powerful. For a lot of women, the simple act of declaring our anger is profound. Traister pointed out that almost every woman she talked to for her book would at some point declare that her anger had passed – that she WAS angry (past tense) and then she channeled it into action and she wasn’t angry any more.

I will tell you right now that this is not true for me. I am angry. I was angry. I am still angry. My anger moves in waves and some days I am angrier than others but this is all current. And I am not about to push my anger down again. It is fuel for me. It makes things happen.

Sure – it may make me seem like a stereotype of a feminist – the kind we have all been declaring we’re not like, the kind so many women would like not to be. But I really don’t give a damn. Those bad-ass angry ladies were (and are!) fierce warriors and they were fighting for rights that I have benefitted from. I should be so lucky to be seen in their ranks.

I may still look nice and approachable and accommodating to the outside eye. I still smile broadly. I still look friendly. But I tell you what, I don’t mind walking down dark streets anymore. Part of me is waiting for some asshole to try me – just so I can unleash all my fury on him. I learned a nice trick involving a key to the eye recently and my fingers itch to use it.

I mean – not really – of course. I don’t really want to be attacked. But anger is getting me through my days (and nights!) unmolested. It is getting me out of bed in the morning instead of sinking into hopeless despair. It’s getting me fans on the internet. I wouldn’t go back to my earlier life “without” anger for anything. Life with anger is immensely more powerful and rich than life without.

Is this possible for everyone? Nope. Getting to feel and express anger is a privilege. Both Chemaly and Traister point out how this kind of expression is not possible for the vast majority of women. Women of color especially are prevented from expressing their anger from multiple sides.

So…since it is my privilege to be angry, I feel it is my obligation to use my righteous anger on others’ behalf and to express it every way I can to at least be a vicarious channel for others who are not permitted the space to be angry. For those who don’t feel like they can be angry? I can be angry for them. I am angry for all of us.

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 a previous one on Anchor, click here.

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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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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Generation X: Stuck in the Middle With You

While visiting a small town, I found myself at a local restaurant, where a band was playing their Saturday night gig. The band’s leader sang about being a kid in 1992 which helped me place him as a member of the Millennial generation. The audience was mostly represented by the Baby Boomer Generation, with a handful of the band’s Millennial friends in the mix. When the band played a cover of a hit song from the Baby Boomer’s youth, they filled the room with exuberant dance. And the Millennial men in the audience turned red from containing their laughter.

There was an atmosphere of these two generations trying to communicate with one another and find some kind of balance between them. There were pleading songs of a young man to an older one. A white haired man came up onstage while the band played to adjust their levels. These two generations were simultaneously at odds and in cahoots. And, as far as I know, I was the lone representative of my generation, Generation X. In fact, I realized then that I had spent my entire week in this small town as the lone Gen X representative. Where was the rest of Gen X in this town? Were they all home with their kids or had the town been vacated by Gen X years ago? If this party was for Boomers and Millennials, where was the Gen X party? And nationwide, maybe even worldwide, where IS the Gen X party? Where is Gen X hanging out? And why wasn’t I invited?

Until this moment in the restaurant/bar, I had not given my generation much thought. In fact, like 59% of Gen X, I didn’t really identify with the category at the time. But that has changed in recent years, ever since I started to read articles like “Why Generation X Are Just the Coolest“, “Generation X: America’s Neglected Middle Child”and excerpts of a book called X Saves the World: How Generation X Got the Shaft But Can Still Keep Everything from Sucking and I found myself suddenly feeling an incredible kinship with my Generation. I’d read these things and think, “Yeah! I AM like that! Yes we WILL save the world! Why DO people underestimate us?!”

Like the atmosphere in the small town bar, the big generational stories in the press tend to be about the more populous generations – the Boomers and the Millennials. The thrust of the Gen X narrative boils down to “What about us?” The underlying soundtrack to every Gen X article is the Simple Minds’ song from The Breakfast Club soundtrack “Don’t You Forget About Me.”

Simultaneously, the comments on all of these stories tended to boil down to decrying making generational distinctions as bullshit. Gen X-ers would appear to call bullshit the most. But Gen X calling bullshit may be the epitome of Gen X-ness. (Contradiction? Yes. But wrestling with contradictions is apparently also a Gen X trait.) Generations (generally) are probably bullshit. But they are somehow meaningful bullshit.

When we were kids, magazines used to write about us too. We were pretty fascinating when we were the subjects of teen movies and post college romances. The older generations worried about us and the lyrics of our music. (What was this new rap music all about? You call it hip hop? What is this stuff? Grunge? What is wrong with these kids today?) We were worried over, got called slackers and malcontents. Time magazine’s cover story in 1990 wondered if we were “Laid back, Late Blooming or Just Lost?”

But decades later, as a generation, the press don’t much talk about us anymore. We have to talk about ourselves.  And while we may not have embraced the label of Gen X at the time (it was 1991 before we had a label, coined by a guy who was born in ’61 and therefore not even Gen X by most measurements) but in this moment it is a convenience. Would we be more recognized if some of our other names had stuck? What if we were still called The Baby Busters? Or The Latchkey Generation? Or the Video Generation? Gen X is pretty neutral as nicknames go and accepting our Gen X identity seems to make us more visible.

But we are technically middle aged now. Perhaps middle-aged people are always invisible? Maybe the Silent Generation turned forty and thought, “Hey what about us?”

The other sticky bit is that “middle-aged” is generally used as a pejorative. Say “middle-aged” and I picture a paunchy guy in clashing plaids sitting on a couch. It strikes me that maybe we don’t really know what 40 and 50 looks like. I saw a comment about the amazing Michaela Watkins (Gen X) in Casual. The comment said something like, “This character is turning 40? She looks like she’s 60!” And I realized how few 40 year old women this person has probably seen. The commenter had no sense of what 40 might look like, or, for that matter, what 60 might look like. Some Gen X-ers look like the generation behind us and some look like the generation ahead. I was recently mistaken for a college student. At the gig that kicked off this whole Gen X exploration, I got carded. A couple of years ago, I was asked for my hall pass at a high school. Meanwhile, Michaela Watkins who is 2 years older than me somehow looks like she’s twenty years older? We stand in this very odd middle space.

I now feel about Gen X the way David Rackoff discusses being Canadian in that This American Life story – you know the one – where whenever someone mentions a famous Canadian, a Canadian feels compelled to chime in to say, “You know they’re Canadian.” I feel like I do that for Gen X now. Tina Fey? She’s Gen X. Amy Poehler? Gen X. Ava Duvernay? Gen X. Tupac Shakur? Gen X. Melissa McCarthy? Gen X. Samantha Bee? Gen X. Jennifer Lopez? Gen X. Kurt Cobain, David Foster Wallace and the Brat Pack are maybe more closely identified with Gen X but Gen X is everywhere. Ever since I started researching Gen X, I have found myself compulsively looking up people’s birthdays to check their Gen X status.

I may have resisted the blanket identification before but as I watch my generation ignored, treated like the “middle child” and generally dismissed – I feel a responsibility, particularly as a woman (at an age when women start to become invisible) to be vocal and highly visible and to be unapologetically Gen X.

This is Part One of an eight part series. Each part is titled with a song title. I recorded each of those songs for the podcast. You can listen to Stuck in the Middle on Spotify or most digital music platforms..
Listen to the Podcast version of Part One.
Read or listen to Part 2 – We Belong ,
Read or listen to Part 3 – Islands in the Stream,
Read or listen to Part 4 – I’m the Only One,
Read or listen to Part 5 – It’s the End of the World as We Know It,
Read or listen to Part 6 – Selling the Drama,
Read or listen to Part 7 – Born at the Right Time,
Read or listen to Part 8 – We’re Not Gonna Take It

 

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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

 



A Tale of Two Coffee Shops

When I go home for holidays, occasionally I get a chance to visit my old hometown’s local coffee shops. There weren’t any, really, when I was growing up – but there are several to choose from now. Usually I end up at the one closest to my mom’s house but sometimes I end up Downtown and I have to find a place to write down there. My first choice is generally a place that’s been around for a long while – all my old friends go there. I’ve had friends work there. It’s the cool coffee shop. I always run into people I know there. And it is always crowded.

This is why I don’t go there when I need a place to write. Crowdedness makes the hip coffee shop impossible for my purposes. Instead, I end up at a coffee shop that is remarkably un-cool. They play “relaxing” New Age music (with bird sounds.) The walls are painted with a color palate that suggests a beach house in North Carolina. There’s a fireplace.  Like the cool coffee shop, it has original artwork for sale. The paintings though, are very conservative. They are barns and cows done in a technique I can only describe as Grandma Style. There’s just something about this place that says who it is for. And most of the customers in the shop seem to know. I heard, while I was there, conversations about the old Christian Bookstore and stories on Fox News. All told, the place feels like it’s the Republican coffee shop in town.

In my home town – I clearly BELONG at the cool coffee shop and clearly do NOT belong at the Republican coffee shop. And yet I choose to write where I do not belong. Mostly because it’s less crowded but also because it’s an interesting anthropological opportunity. It leads me to interesting questions. How did this cafe culture develop? Are they marketing themselves on Republican listservs? And how conscious are the people who create these businesses of the culture they are creating around their business? Is the un-cool coffee shop trying to be cool?

These two coffee shops in the same town draw two very different crowds. And I’m fascinated by it. I now live in New York City and I frequent many different coffee shops. None of them have this sense of a unified personality. The people who go to them vary dramatically. In a world with so much diversity, coffee shops don’t seem to create so much culture around themselves. I don’t belong in any one of them – and I belong in all of them. City living creates a kind of contradiction in belonging/not-belonging. That is, I think, part of the appeal of city life. You never belong and always do. All at once.

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This is stock footage of a coffee shop and represents none of the coffee shops mentioned in this blog post.

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Also – this blog is now a podcast that (at the moment) only my patrons will be able to hear. If you’d like to hear a podcast version, become a patron!

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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

 



The Most Important Thing in Theatre You’re Not Talking About
December 3, 2014, 8:06 pm
Filed under: Uncategorized

This isn’t mine. This is from Bitter Gertrude. (Subscribe/Follow – she’s great!) But I stand behind it 100%. Read it. And take action if you’re so moved.

Bitter Gertrude

There’s a massive disconnect between theatre intelligentsia– bloggers like me– and what’s actually happening on the ground.

Theatre writers have been doing an excellent job drawing attention to issues of inclusion and diversity, issues of copyright and contract law and copyright/contract violation, issues of audience demographics, issues of access to arts education, issues of season selection, issues of censorship, especially in schools. Those are crucial, vital, important issues about which we need to continue to write. I have no plans to stop writing about any of those, nor do I expect (or want) anyone else to stop.

But we’re all avoiding the elephant in the room, probably because it’s simple, and boring, and all too painfully obvious.

THEATRES ARE CLOSING.

Nonprofit theatres all over the country are in trouble. While larger theatres are doing better than they were during the recession, a jaw-dropping amount of small, indie theatres and even…

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Scarcity like a Pain in the Shoulder
May 20, 2014, 11:33 pm
Filed under: Uncategorized | Tags: , ,

I woke up with a pain in my shoulder yesterday and as I attempted to manage that pain, it occurred to me that this is what scarcity is like. I finished reading Sendhil Mullainathan and Eldar Shafir’s book, Scarcity, not long ago, so the concept has been on my mind.

When you’re suffering from a physical pain, a great deal of your attention (or “bandwidth” as the authors of Scarcity would say) is captured by it. You do your best to concentrate on other things but the slightest adjustment in your position brings it quickly and forcefully back into focus.

So it is with scarcity – when your mind is busy working on the problems that having too little money or time brings, it is ever occupied with the issue. You may try to concentrate on writing or other tasks but the slightest suggestion can bring your circumstances back to the forefront. Before you know it, your whole afternoon is derailed by the little twinge, the constant reminder of your difficulties.

Those who have never experienced the panic of having only $15 in the bank when the rent is due might not easily be able to understand how all consuming that worry can be, how it can derail all other plans and intentions. But most people, no matter how blessed with abundance, have experienced the debilitating effects of pain.

They feel almost the same to me. One is physical, one is mental, but both pains capture attention I’d much rather be placing elsewhere. And like a pain the shoulder one can find a way to live with Scarcity long term if one has to. But even if you’re used to it, it never goes away entirely. It severely limits what you can do – your movement, your flexibility.



September 12, 2012, 12:32 pm
Filed under: Uncategorized

Brilliant. Important. And for us youth-worshipping Americans with our refusal to acknowledge that class even exists, this is even MORE important.

Not Writing But Blogging

There was an interesting discussion yesterday on twitter, on the concept of Ageist Arts (#AgeistArts).
I’m not sure if it was prompted by this announcement from ACE or if it was simply a spontaneous discussion, but I joined in when it was drawn to my attention, because it’s something I am very interested in.

First off, I need to say I care deeply about the needs of youth right now, I appreciate the economic state we’re in has made things very difficult for many young people, I have worked with the NYT on three large-scale projects over four summers, I have worked with many other youth theatres, and often do schools visits (usually as a writer, but not always) … you can tell there’s a ‘but’ coming, right?

But … I truly believe we need to replace the word YOUNG with NEW or EMERGING. It annoys me immensely every year…

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Full Support
April 1, 2011, 11:59 pm
Filed under: art, business, theatre, Uncategorized | Tags: , ,

I was at a grant orientation meeting a while ago (they make you go to a meeting just to apply!) and listened as the well-meaning program associate read the grant application and guidelines to us. There was nothing extraordinary about it – pretty standard grant application stuff – but I was struck by her reiteration that this organization “Does not fund whole projects.” They want to give you a portion of what you need and want evidence that you’re gathering the rest of it elsewhere. This is identical to almost every grant in the city (and probably the country.) No one wants to fund your entire project. They only want to help you a little bit.
This struck me as absurd all of sudden. Every granting organization wants to know they’re not the only one and they’re all afraid to support something or someone completely.
This means that an artist with a project to make must spend the bulk of his or her time writing multiple grants and soliciting more and more funds for one single project. This means that an artist is never fully supported.
In my company’s nine year history, we’ve received multiple grants in a year maybe once or twice. Otherwise, we struggled forward with a quarter of the funds we needed. We got a grant for $500 a couple of years ago. This wasn’t even enough to help us begin our project – yet we had to do it, without any support, because we had $500 to spend or lose our standing with the granting organization.
I understand, to a degree, why funding bodies want company when they fund something. They want to know the artists are serious, that they really will do the project and make good use of those foundation dollars. I get it. It’s a safety measure.
But I think its cowardly. If you want to support artists, support them. Give them what they need. It’s like, a hungry person comes to your door and you say, “I’m not going to give you a meal – but I will give you this plate and if you can find a fork and a potato from my neighbors, you’ll have a meal!”




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