Songs for the Struggling Artist


Is This a Dragon Zeitgeist?
July 5, 2022, 10:49 pm
Filed under: art, Creative Process, feminism, Gen X, Imagination, podcasting, writing | Tags:

As many of my readers will be aware, back in 2018, provoked by the Brett Kavanaugh hearings, I wrote a piece called “I Am a Dragon Now. The Fear of Men Is My Food.” A few months after that piece went around, elements of it poured themselves into a piece that became The Dragoning, an audio drama podcast. The podcast came out in the spring of 2020 and Season Two just launched.

I’m taking you through this timeline because here, in 2022, an award winning author has published a novel called When Women Were Dragons, in which there is an event known as The Dragoning. A friend sent me a review of this novel because it sounds an awful lot like my piece. Not identical, of course, but close enough to be uncomfortable.

Has, bestselling author, Kelly Barnhill STOLEN my idea? I doubt it. I suspect dragons were in the air and we both reached for them. I think of Elizabeth Gilbert’s idea about ideas. She unpacks this notion in Big Magic. This is her theory that ideas just sort of float through the air and they visit whomever they think will realize them. The ideas visit lots of artists at once, just to be sure they are born. My guess is that The Dragoning was in the air and it chose both me and Kelly Barnhill. I got the idea out faster but Barnhill will spread it wider.

It is slightly uncomfortable, of course, to find that something that came from my brain also appeared in another person’s brain – and a woman who is exactly my age, no less. It’s like the idea was flying around in 2018 and was like – “I need a 44 year old woman to take this and run with it” and maybe it wasn’t even just me and Kelly Barnhill. Maybe there are a dozen more 48 year old women who were visited by the dragoning fairy four years ago.

Is it possible that Barnhill consciously or unconsciously lifted this idea from me? Like maybe she read the blog, which did go pretty viral, especially among Gen X women and thought, “I can imagine a world based on this!” And off she went. It is possible. Same thing happened to me! But, do I think she STOLE this idea from me as every novice writer is always convinced will happen to them? I do not. I’ve read Barnhill’s work. She has no shortage of imagination. She’s not out here trying to steal anything. She doesn’t need to. Her brain makes up lots of neat stuff on its own. She does not need to steal. I’m incredibly confident in her ability to make up her own magic.

But I do find myself in this incredibly awkward position of finding my own work slightly less google-able because someone else, with a much larger platform than me, has written a work with my title in it. They got Naomi Alderman, who wrote one of the most exciting books of the last few years – The Power, to write a review of it in the New York Times. Naomi Alderman is ALSO 48 years old. It feels like all the girls in my class are writing magical feminist speculative fiction and they all joined a club so they’re getting together and hanging out and I’m all by myself over here, quietly declaring I was here with this first.

The other thing that sucks about this is that the only way to find out if Barnhill’s work is somehow derivative of mine is to read it and I don’t feel I should, even though I know I’d enjoy her writing. I loved her novels for young people but I don’t want to mix up the waters. I don’t have any plans to write a third season of The Dragoning but I’d like to have the option and I don’t want to unconsciously take on a different writer’s dragons. So I guess I just have to wonder about it – or wait for my friends to read Barnhill’s book.

I feel like I want Barnhill’s book to be a success because maybe a rising dragon tide could lift all dragon boats. But I’m also not looking forward to being overshadowed by an established writer, who has an agent and an editor and all the trappings that come along with success. I’m proud of my work and it would be very painful if the spotlight shining on that award winning author just cast me further into the shadows. That’s why this is complicated. I am reasonably sure we’re all just part of a zeitgeist in a world where women long for the power of dragonhood, while we watch our rights and hope disappear. But the zeitgeist doesn’t feel great. Maybe just because I’m not in the club.

I’m obsessed with this Paolo Uccello painting from 1470. I love that this woman has the dragon on a leash, like she’s walking it and the knight looks like he’s giving the dragon a COVID test.

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

They also bring you the podcast version of the blog.

It’s also called Songs for the Struggling Artist 

You can find the podcast on iTunesStitcherSpotify or wherever you get your podcasts.

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Every podcast features a song at the end. Some of those songs are on Spotifymy websiteReverbNation, Deezer and iTunes

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What I Was Supposed to Get Out of Jury Service and What I Got Instead

People like to tell you that being a part of a jury for a trial gave them a new sense of appreciation for the court system. The videos preparing you for jury service like to report that people say this as well. I might have thought this would happen to me, too, but in fact, it was something like the opposite. The whole experience made me incredibly sad. Now that it’s over, I can tell you why. Warning: there’s a lot about bowels in this case.

I was selected to serve in a civil suit brought by a patient who’d had to have bowel surgery on the heels of his colonoscopy. His lawyer claimed that the doctor had poked a hole in the man’s colon while performing the test. The man had had to use a colostomy bag for six months and had a miserable time. This man had been living with HIV since 1989 and at times lived in shelters. He is an incredibly vulnerable man, who also, it became clear through his testimony, just didn’t really understand what had happened to him. For him, events sort of blurred together so he felt that he went to sleep for a test and woke up the next day with a colostomy bag attached to him. He’s a man who has struggled enormously and the way our system works, rather than find a reasonable way to get this guy the care that he needs, he’s been seemingly pushed into bringing a malpractice suit against his doctor. He would not seem to have any real means of support and an absence of community to catch him when he falls. It sounds like, after his surgery, he just stayed in his apartment, unable to go anywhere for six months. And our government, rather than find a way to help this guy, somehow thinks it’s better to have him sue the doctor who gave him a test?

It was clear to me from the start that the doctor was actually exemplary in his care. The doctor’s office made sure the man was okay when he left their office and when the man went to the hospital the next day in pain, the doctor came to the hospital to see him again. Honestly, if I had a doctor who just gave me a test turn up to the hospital for me the next day, I’d be shocked but then, I’m used to pretty haphazard care. The doctor ordered a CAT scan to check for a bowel perforation and the radiologist reported “There is no evidence of a perforation.” Twelve hours later they did another CAT scan and he’d developed a perforation. Why? The gastroenterologists we heard from explained it was something called ileus, which is when your digestive system just quits moving. It’s pretty dangerous. I mean, I think of what Dr. Moshe Feldenkrais said, “Movement is Life,” and then he goes on to discuss that it is movement that is the way we know something is alive. So when things like the colon stop moving, there’s big trouble.

Anyway – I don’t need to tell you all the (incredibly tedious) details of this trial but what may already be obvious is that this poor guy, with all his troubles and cognitive issues to boot, was continually on display over the course of this trial. We saw CAT scans of his entire torso from lungs to rectum. We heard about his gas, his bowel movements, his fecal matter and more. For a man who could barely bring himself to say any bathroom words on the stand, it must have been brutal to be so exposed. I tried to make myself feel better by thinking, “Well, he brought the suit. I guess he asked for this.” But did he? A man this vulnerable?

The trial seemed to go on and on for no good reason. We’d hear an hour of testimony in the morning, after waiting an hour, and then be done for the day. It took a week and a half until we were finally put in a room to deliberate. The deliberation took us less than 45 minutes – mostly because the question we had to answer was so simple. It was something like, “Did the doctor deviate from standard medical practice and use too much force to push through the wall of the colon during the colonoscopy”? No. Obviously no. We were unanimous and we were not required to be.

Honestly, I resent that we had to be asked, that we had to sit in a courthouse for a week and a half to say so. A man had an unfortunate health event and rather than find a way to support him through it, to help him understand what happened and give him good resources to deal with it – our system thought it would be better to give him some false hope about getting a bunch of money from his doctor through the court system. The system is fine with putting out all these resources for this specious case instead of caring for a vulnerable man. Trials are expensive! If all the money spent on the trial had just been handed to this unfortunate guy that would have been money well spent. I would be happy with my tax dollars helping out a vulnerable person. They’re gonna pay me $240 for my week and a half of jury service. It’s not a lot but I bet this guy could use that even more than I could. How about DON’T call me in to listen to a lot of poop talk and just give the money to the man who needs it?

It’s just such an appalling mis-use of resources. And this how we do it. The doctor was compelled to hire a fancy malpractice defense lawyer. The jurors were compelled to disrupt their lives to come in and listen to this business. The plaintiff was compelled to listen to lawyers talk about his colon for a week and a half. What was the point of all of that? Is this justice? We rendered a just verdict, I think, but who benefitted from it? No one. It was just a colossal waste of time and resources. So, no, I have no new respect for our jury system. It was an impersonal, needlessly invasive sad state of affairs, that exposed not just the inner workings of the plaintiff’s guts but the ways our government fails the most vulnerable. Sorry, no. Especially with the Supreme Court becoming the travesty it is, I am not gaining new respect for our system. I have lost a lot of faith in a system I might have once had hope for.

We looked at an image like this for a week and a half.
I can tell you a few things about the Sigmoid Colon now and can’t believe they left out the Cecum on this diagram.

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Men Most Macho in the Theatre

When I saw Ray Liotta had died, I was shocked and saddened. I was a fan of his work and he seemed like a good human. In his honor, I listened to an interview he did with Marc Maron on the WTF podcast a few years ago and enjoyed learning more about him and his journey. It did make me think, though. And it did make me wish for change in the way we do show biz. Apparently, Liotta had no real interest in acting when the opportunity to do it presented itself to him. He got talked into auditioning for a show because of a cute girl and stuck around because a teacher encouraged him. Nothing too crazy there. I’ve definitely heard this sort of story before.

But it’s the reason that Liotta theorized that his teacher encouraged him that got me thinking. Liotta had always been a jock and, it sounds like, a fairly macho guy. His teacher responded to him because they didn’t get a lot of guy’s guys there in the college theatre department. He saw a kindred male spirit and a kind of rare bird that they needed on the stage. Liotta really wasn’t that keen on acting in the beginning but he got to play some very juicy roles at his university and it’s not just because he was good. I’m guessing Liotta’s college decided to do A Streetcar Named Desire because they had a guy who could play Stanley Kowalski. They did Taming of the Shrew probably because they had a guy who could do a macho Petruchio. Liotta got to learn how to act by doing some of the best roles in the canon and the college got to do some shows on its list. All very reasonable. Many a school will choose their season based on who they have in casting pool. I get it on all levels.

But it also troubles me – because while I’m glad we had Liotta’s talents to enjoy on the screen – the way the path was smoothed for him (when he gave not two figs for it at the start) and the way it is not smoothed for so many others, just doesn’t feel FAIR to me. The way the American Theatre (and Cinema) fetishizes macho men is disturbing, really. There are endless roles for them, despite the fact that the theatre is largely populated by women and gay men. “Fellas, is it gay to be into theatre?” Maybe a little bit! Yet in spite of the inherent queerness in the form, or maybe because of it, the macho man is embraced, encouraged and given pride of place over and over again.

The American Theatre is dominated by macho plays and macho actors. How many revivals of American Buffalo do we need? A lot, apparently. I loved True West the first time I saw it. And even the second and third time. Then there was that time I assistant directed a production of it at a college of 75% women. Enough’s enough. Anyway, Liotta wasn’t in the theatre for long – because this pipeline between the theatre and film was built for men like him. Macho men from the theatre get snapped up into film, which also has a high demand for men who could be mobsters and so someone who had no interest in acting at first could be swept up into one of the most prestigious careers around. And I’m glad that it happened to Ray Liotta because I’m happy we had him while he was here but I can’t help feeling sad for all the people who LOVED the theatre, who ate, slept and drank it, who would have done anything to have a shot and no one ever took them under their wing and helped them to a wide range of opportunities. No one ever chose a season based on their presence in the casting pool. No one saw them in a play and put them in a soap opera. No one ever saw them in a soap opera and put them in a prestige film. I hate looking at a class full of actors and knowing that the person most likely to find success will be the man most macho, no matter how much more talented or dedicated or passionate his peers might be.  Sorry, ladies, non-binaries and gays, the theatre is dependent on there being thousands like you but it will always choose the macho fella who doesn’t care about it first. The theatre loves a cool disinterested man who can help it grapple with masculinity, I guess. Anyway – RIP Ray Liotta, even if I am a little mad about how your success came to you. One day I’d love to hear a story about a woman who just didn’t care that much about theatre but some teacher just had to have her in the show anyway and she became a big big star.

I mean, I get it. I’d cast this guy too – even if he wasn’t Ray Liotta yet.

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

They also bring you the podcast version of the blog.

It’s also called Songs for the Struggling Artist 

You can find the podcast on iTunesStitcherSpotify or wherever you get your podcasts.

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Every podcast features a song at the end. Some of those songs are on Spotifymy websiteReverbNation, Deezer and iTunes

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Do I Make Media?
June 15, 2022, 10:15 pm
Filed under: art, podcasting, writing | Tags: , , , , , , , , ,

For jury duty, we had to fill out information about ourselves that the lawyers then used as conversation points during jury selection. The first lawyer looked at my occupation (writer, podcaster, theatre maker, performer, Feldenkrais practitioner) and said something that I couldn’t understand at first. He said, as a statement, not a question, “You work in (unintelligible).” As I tried to work out what he’d said, he asked, “You’re a podcaster?”

This I knew what to do with. Yes. I am a podcaster. And in the meantime, my brain had managed to process the word he’d said earlier, which was “media.” I have never, in my life, thought of myself as working in media, which explains why it threw me for a loop. I suppose it might technically be true in that “media” is a kind of broad category but conceptually, it is so far from how I think of my work that he might as well have asked me if I work on Planet Earth. I mean, I do. But that’s not how I usually think about it. I was struck by the discrepancy of the confidence he had in proclaiming that I work in media and my own complete bafflement by the category. And I mean, sure, he’s a lawyer who works on civil cases so maybe overconfidence in categories is an occupational habit but I am genuinely confused by this categorization.

I suppose to his mind, people only work in large categories. He works in law. He’s pursuing a malpractice suit so he’s watching out for people who work in the medical field. He sees “writer,” he doesn’t think “Art,” he thinks “media.” And I guess media was an approved category for him because I got selected for jury service. (More on this in future posts!)

But while I make things that I suppose might be called media, in that I make things in one medium or another that might make their way to the public, when people rail against the media, I don’t even feel slightly implicated. I suppose because I am entirely independent and generally just make things because I feel like it, not because anyone told me to.

But what this experience has made me realize is how foreign my self-identifiers are to the bulk of average Americans. This lawyer would never look at my list of occupations and think, “artist!” For him, I would guess the only artists he thinks of as artists are the ones with paintbrushes and berets. And I think there are certainly more of him than me.

I live in a kind of artist bubble where I hang out with other artists, where I talk with people who actually understand artists even if they’re not artists themselves so I can sometimes forget how the rest of the world tends to operate. Artist isn’t an occupation for them. The expectation is that you have an employer and you do labor for them.

The other juror form we filled out for this situation offered no category for freelancer on its list of types of jobs. It was full time, part time, per diem/commission or unemployed. This is a whole system (that every citizen is likely to make some contact with) that misses out a giant (and growing) category of the work force. It’s not just artists who freelance, of course, but it’s an equally baffling category for a form within such a big system.

You start to see how systems are built and how easy it is to exclude people with categories. Or to include them in categories with which they not only don’t identify but that don’t even make sense to them.

I can see how this lawyer landed on “media.” Probably the only podcasts he’s listened to are Serial and The Daily. Maybe The Joe Rogan Experience, lord help us. To his mind (and a lot of people’s) – podcasts are just another channel from major news outlets. They’re not something a person might make with a mic and a laptop while sitting under a bed. (It’s a loft. But still.) The picture this guy has for what I do is very different than the reality. He thinks I make media. I think I make art and work about art, which okay, I guess is technically media – but I sure don’t think of it that way.

Is this media? It’s certainly using MIXED MEDIA. It is somehow connected to a larger organization so it may be a message for it?

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

They also bring you the podcast version of the blog.

It’s also called Songs for the Struggling Artist 

You can find the podcast on iTunesStitcherSpotify or wherever you get your podcasts.

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Every podcast features a song at the end. Some of those songs are on Spotifymy websiteReverbNation, Deezer and iTunes

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Melt the Guns

Whenever I see a story about gun violence and it makes me feel sad and angry and helpless, I tweet a link to the XTC song, “Melt the Guns.” I don’t say what it’s for. I just tweet the song. It’s not a project. I don’t feel like I need to stay up to date with shootings so I can catch them all or anything. There are too many for that. If you tracked all the tweets, you could probably connect them to the news story fairly easily. Not that there’d be much point in doing that. It’s just, you’d be able to see what a lot of gun violence I have responded to since I started doing this.

I tweet this particular song because a) it’s a really great song and b) it’s a pretty clear directive. What should we do about all these tragic shootings? Melt the guns and never more to fire them. Clear enough. I know it would never work in this world where guns have more rights than women or children. I fear we’ll never find a way to tear the guns from the hands of killers – but as an aspiration, I feel pretty good about the idea of melting the guns. I do not give one solitary fuck about peoples’ guns. Melt them. Seriously.

We’re always trying to compromise. The NRA is always sending people into a panic that we are coming for their guns. A guy I went to high school with posted that he was stockpiling his guns when Obama was elected. Every time there is horrible tragic school shooting, gun sales go up. The NRA have made people absolutely paranoid that every liberal policy will involve taking their guns away. It has never been thus. But, fuck it. Let’s do it. It’s never been on the agenda before but if the gun nuts are so afraid of it, it must be what they secretly want us to do. Maybe they’re pulling a Brer Rabbit and crying out, “Please, oh, please, whatever you do, don’t take my guns away!” Okay. You got it. Time for melting. I don’t care anymore. I had to tweet “Melt the Guns” twice in one day when that asshole shot up the grocery store in Buffalo. Once for that nightmare and again when someone started shooting somewhere else. I can’t even remember where now. That’s how many of these there are. And folks, folks, I wrote this whole piece before Uvalde happened. When I retweeted “Melt the Guns” for that incident, it was still just an unconfirmed rumor that was breaking my heart.

Every other country in the world understands that having a lot of guns around is a problem. If you read a travel advisory for this country, it will warn you about the potential for gun violence here. There’s a Kids in the Hall sketch from decades ago that I’ve never forgotten. It features a tourist explaining he’s from Canada and defines a Canadian as “like an American without a gun” and the other person finally understands. It’s funny but horrifying, of course. The majority of Americans are not into guns. But the ones that are…oh boy. Well, they’re willing to sacrifice the lives of thousands of children to keep buying them so….they have a different calculus than the rest of us. I mean – the average number of children shot per year in this country is a little under 8000. PER YEAR.

And, of course, I know, I know, not all gun-owners. The farmer who needs a gun to shoot wild feral hogs or whatever – that’s fine. I guess I won’t melt your gun since you’re going to save us from marauding porcine creatures.

But the culture that encourages young clueless men to buy guns and then go use them? That culture needs to be melted down. I keep thinking of the odd little explanation for the shooting in The Front Page/His Girl Friday. Have you seen these films? Or the play? The reporters work out that the odd little sweaty man ended up shooting the gun because he believed in “production for use.” That is, as a communist, he believed that things should be used for that they were built for and the gun, being built for shooting, must be shot. I think a lot of gun-owners are like that communist. They shoot their guns because guns are made to be shot. I bet all those gun-owners wouldn’t like to be called a bunch of communists for shooting their guns.

We have a lot of guns in this country and like Chekhov’s famous gun – if you show us a gun in the first act, it’s just got to be fired by the end of the show. The one surefire way to keep people from getting shot up is to not have guns around with which to shoot them.

Like, let’s go back to the feral hogs for a second. Let’s say there were a group of people who really wanted to have some around the town and every time someone suggested that maybe they were dangerous and attacking people left and right, they’d threaten to sic a feral hog on them. A country full of feral hogs is now Feral Hog Land just because some zealous hog lovers felt entitled to them. You can’t domesticate a feral hog, that’s the whole deal with them. They are feral. Same is true for an assault rifle. An assault rifle is an understatement for what it actually does. It is a mass murder rifle. They have to go. And the more folks threaten to use them against those who would seek to take them away, the more apparent it is that they have to go.

Melt the guns and never more to fire them.

I did a search for Melt the Guns and this was the only readily available image. It DOES melt things. And it IS a gun. In the future, our only guns will be the kind that melt glue for us, okay?

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

They also bring you the podcast version of the blog.

It’s also called Songs for the Struggling Artist 

You can find the podcast on iTunesStitcherSpotify or wherever you get your podcasts.

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

Every podcast features a song at the end. Some of those songs are on Spotifymy websiteReverbNation, Deezer and iTunes

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No Right to Be Disappointed in Me
June 2, 2022, 11:15 pm
Filed under: Acting, art, Art Scenes, dreams, education | Tags: , , , ,

An artist friend told me about a dream they had in which one of their artistic teachers asked what they’d been up to in such a way that suggested great disappointment in this artist’s achievements. The artist was stunned and speechless. For a lot of artists, this is a highly relatable dream. Many of us had teachers or colleagues that felt we had a lot of potential in our youth and while most of them don’t come right out and say, “What happened?,” we can feel their disappointment. They thought we were going to make it and we didn’t. How disappointing for them!

I can tolerate this sort of thinking from bystanders. For all the people in my high school classes who told me to thank them in my Oscar speech, I do not carry your expectations heavily. I never thought I’d get an Oscar. I am not sorry I don’t have an Oscar and I’m not worried about my old classmates’ possible disappointment that they never saw me make an Oscar speech. My teachers, though – those responses have always carried more weight. They wanted me to succeed. I wanted to make them proud. It’s a bummer to feel I’ve disappointed anyone.

But the thing – when I look at this from the outside – at other artists’ feelings of disappointing their mentors, I just get angry at those mentors. Do you know how people succeed in the arts? (I mean, aside from being born to celebrities.) They succeed because someone helped them. No one, not even the children of famous people, gets anywhere without help from someone further up the ladder. Success in the Arts is not the wizardry it seems to be. It’s not like a young artist has some kind of magic that will lead them to make it. There is no enchanted sparkle teachers can spot or not spot. A teacher cannot wish a young artist out of obscurity. You can’t just hope your student will make it. If you’re invested in them, you have to actively help them. That’s how they do at Yale and Juilliard and that’s how those places maintain their hold on the American Theatre. Teachers introduce their students to people who can help them. They give them opportunities. I’ve been a teacher. I’ve done this to the best of my meager ability for the students I really believed in. There weren’t a lot of those – but the others, I have no right to be disappointed about. If I didn’t try to help, I get no say.

I had some amazing teachers. Some of them really continued to show up for me long after most people would have given up. They did what they could but when you don’t have a lot of power in a field, there’s not much to do. But if you DO have power in a field and you don’t try and help the students you were invested in? You lose your right to disappointment. It’s hard out there and you know it. If you gave someone an opportunity and they tanked it, okay – you can be disappointed, that’s fair. But you can’t be disappointed in your student for failing to get lucky.

We all hope the magic star will hover over the heads of people we believe in but magic stars are rare. They’re so rare they don’t even exist. People who end up with success end up with those successes because someone helped them. If you’re a teacher, you can be one of those people. Go ahead and help an artist out. You can feel proud of both the artist and yourself! If you’re not one of those people, you better rein your disappointment in, that’s not fair.

Oh wow. Look at that! That tree is going to be the next big thing. I hope it has its Oscar speech ready as it is clearly marked for greatness!

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

They also bring you the podcast version of the blog.

It’s also called Songs for the Struggling Artist 

You can find the podcast on iTunesStitcherSpotify or wherever you get your podcasts.

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

Every podcast features a song at the end. Some of those songs are on Spotifymy websiteReverbNation, Deezer and iTunes

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Want to help me keep people’s disappointments at bay?

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The Ship Is Turning
May 26, 2022, 10:00 pm
Filed under: age, art, Creative Process | Tags: , , , , , , ,

There was a week when a lot of good things happened at once. It felt so strange and I realized that I had grown very used to things going either badly or just sort of going. It felt like I’d been on a giant ship and it had, for years, been headed toward desolation. I’m not sure I was fully aware I was on a ship headed toward desolation. If you’d asked me, “Are you on a big ship?” I’m not sure I’d have said yes. It’s a metaphor I was not conscious of at all until it started to shift.

Now, the ship becomes visible to me as it is starting to turn. It’s a big ship, so it can’t turn quickly. I can still see the shores of desolation off in the distance but the ship is turning. It is turning slowly and (hopefully) surely.

I’m not sure when I got on this big ship. It could have been when I went to grad school, which took an enormous amount of wind out of my sails. It could have been when I realized I’d have to leave London and give up a series of hopes and dreams. Or maybe I just found myself on board one day after one too many rejections and disappointments. All I know is, I am glad this boat is turning around.

I wonder, too, if this ship’s route is related to the U curve. Apparently, most people’s life satisfaction takes a major dip in their mid 40s – but it starts to head back up at a certain point – which is why it’s called a U curve. You hit the cul de sac of the U and then things start to get better.

Maybe the ship’s sailing plan is a U curve. It dips down close to the shores of desolation, makes you think you are definitely ending up there no matter how many dance parties you have on board, and then at the last moment, the ship starts to turn.

The thing about being a struggling artist™ for this long is that it starts to feel like you have a stink on you. It can feel like everyone sees that your ship is headed to the shores of desolation and most people prefer to look away. Everyone loves a winner and everyone wonders what’s wrong with the ones that aren’t actively winning. That is, it’s fine to choose to be an artist, as long as you can show everyone that you are actively winning – stop winning for a bit and folks are going to start asking why you keep doing this. The wins don’t have to be big to keep your sails billowing but they do have to be recognizable to the average person as a win.

That is, I could write a book – but until that book is published and in stores, the accomplishment does not register to most people. It can feel like you’re carrying that book on a big ship headed to the shores of desolation where you might as well throw it into the sea and watch the pages scatter through the waves. Get someone to agree to publish it, though, that ship starts to turn around. (No one’s publishing my books by the way. My ship would probably be turning around a lot faster if that were the case.)

Most people won’t read (or listen to) your book until it’s published and reviewed and vetted by all the major news outlets. They won’t go see your play until it’s on Broadway. They won’t listen to your albums until they’re on the radio. They won’t buy your paintings until they’re on sale at the Biennial. I don’t know why people need their art to be approved of by the mainstream but apparently they do.

I guess what I’m saying is that there’s a U curve for artistic work, too – and it probably magnifies the U curves of age. The relentlessness of indifference, of failing to make an artistic mark in a way regular people recognize, of just pushing forward with so little encouragement can make for a pretty brutal U curve for artists. I know too many who didn’t make it up the other side. They saw where that ship was headed and they couldn’t imagine it would ever turn around.

Frankly, I didn’t have any reason to believe mine would turn around either. I just figured I’d dance on deck until we hit the shore.

But this ship is turning. It’s going slow. It’s creaking. It’ll take some time and effort and it’s probably going to displace a lot of water. But it is turning.

If you have any choice about it, it’s generally a good idea to start turning your ship BEFORE it gets this close to a lighthouse.

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

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My Real Job

For years, I was haunted by a man with a briefcase who followed me everywhere I went. He wore a suit and a hat and he was always popping his head around corners, wondering if I was ready to accept My Real Job. He was kind of creepy and very persistent and, of course, a figment of my imagination. Picture Mr. Slugworth in the Willy Wonka movie from 1971, sneaking around alleys.

He hadn’t always been personified. Before I put a face to him, he was just a concept, a fear that hung around, making me feel really bad about myself, making myself feel doomed, somehow. I think it wasn’t long after I identified him that he finally gave up. I might have told him to get lost or maybe he just ceased to have power over me – but he hasn’t troubled me in a good long while now.

I tell you about him now because I’d told a fellow artist about My Real Job at one point and it seemed a useful and resonant concept for them, too. When you know who you’re haunted by, you can deal with it a little more clearly.

In choosing to make a life in the arts, it’s rare that even the most committed artist knows, for sure, that they’re making the right call. No one recommends going into the arts in this country (except Kurt Vonnegut, bless him) and it is not a choice that is likely to yield big rewards. It is nearly impossible to avoid questioning one’s choices over and over again – especially when you’re not receiving a lot of reinforcement from the world around you.

My Real Job was waiting for me to give up. He was patiently following me everywhere I went, hoping I would fail enough to finally surrender and accept him. Before I was conscious of him, I was plagued by him.

What’s funny is that I don’t know WHAT that real job was – and he surely didn’t either. I think it was in an office somewhere? Maybe?

But the day I really looked at him, the day I examined this belief that giving up and surrendering to him was inevitable, I think that’s the day he started to lose his power. I had some support for that process, as I recall. My therapist asked if I was ever going to take that “real job” and I said NO, with a great deal of force. Not a chance. He could follow me around the rest of my life, laugh at my struggles and all my artistic plans that failed to ignite, sniff at my losses, sneer at my finances. He could do his worst and I would never ever take his job. There was nothing he could do that would make me take his job. It was liberating to say so.

I would love to tell you that getting that clear about all this was the magic spell that cleared the way for mountains of success and good fortune. It didn’t. It didn’t change any of the practical details of my life. It wasn’t an enchantment that I broke. The struggle was intense before and it remained intense after. What vanquishing My Real Job did do, though, was give me a kind of peace about my choices. Even when things have gone badly, when there’s been little to hope for, when I’m up against the wall with how my life is going, I never even look over my shoulder anymore. If My Real Job is there, I don’t see him or pay him any mind. I’m never going to take that job. Not ever. I’m guessing he gave up and started following someone else. If it was you, I’m sorry. But take a good look at him and ask yourself if you’re ever going to take his real job. If the answer’s no, he might just leave you alone, too.

Look at all the money Charlie would get at his Real Job. Maybe he should take it.

Photo by Moviestore/REX/Shutterstock (1637635a) Willy Wonka And The Chocolate Factory, Gunter Meisner, Peter Ostrum Film and Television

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

They also bring you the podcast version of the blog.

It’s also called Songs for the Struggling Artist 

You can find the podcast on iTunesStitcherSpotify or wherever you get your podcasts.

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Every podcast features a song at the end. Some of those songs are on Spotifymy websiteReverbNation, Deezer and iTunes

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Maybe Stick Around Twitter a Little While Longer?

Twitter has never been my drug. I wasn’t into it when it started and I only begrudgingly wade in there now. I used to set a timer for ten minutes so I could get in and get out. I’m not a fan of it but it’s where a lot of people are, so I feel obligated to check in with it and participate. I feel the same way about Instagram and TikTok. I have about five minutes of tolerance on those platforms before I am done. Facebook is stickier for me. Most of my friends and family are there. I love them. I like to be where I can see them. But regardless of my personal taste, these are the places people gather in these times. When I want to know what’s happening right this second, I check what people are talking about on Twitter. When I need to share personal news, Facebook is the answer. And every single one of those platforms is owned by a creepy billionaire. The fact that ownership of Twitter is switching from one creepy billionaire to another one is disturbing, sure, but I’m not sure that deleting our profiles is the answer. (Especially since, as I learned on Twitter, if you delete your profile, you lose access to your stuff but the platform retains it.)

We’ve got battles to fight against these billionaire types and we need ways to gather and organize and unfortunately, right now, the way to do that is ON these platforms owned by billionaires. Until we have other gathering spaces, I think we shoot ourselves in the foot by cutting off our access to other people. Is Elon Musk going to ruin Twitter? All signs point to yes – but given his tendency to not follow through on anything, it might not get that far. And before he ruins Twitter, assuming he does, I think we need to gather ourselves there, subscribe to people’s newsletters, blogs, podcasts or whatever. I don’t want folks to leave Twitter, not because I think it’s so great. I don’t. I have never liked it. But I do recognize its power and the fewer people who might have my back there there are, the more dangerous it becomes for me in that space.

Fact is, I am largely invisible on Twitter. Most of my tweets there have just one like – and that like is probably my mom. (Thank you, Mom!) I continue to cast my net there because you just have to cast your net everywhere when you make “content” on the web. When the people I know leave a platform, my chances of getting more than one like on a post diminish significantly. I know a lot of people deleted their Twitter accounts so as not to add value to Elon Musk’s portfolio, which I understand completely. I don’t want to see that guy get richer either. But the value of one person’s twitter account is NOTHING to Elon Musk, particularly if you’re not doing big numbers there. If you have a thousand followers, I’m sorry but you make not a speck of difference to his bottom line. I am absolutely insignificant in his portfolio with my 927 followers (990 before Musk took over). I don’t matter to Musk. If I had a couple million followers, though, maybe I could make a tiny drop of difference. (Also significantly, these millions of followers would also give me power to do things like get a publishing deal.) But if most of my million followers split, I would lose all of my power to make a difference and Musk doesn’t feel it at all.

I think sometimes people get a false sense of their own importance on a social media platform. They think saying something on Twitter is like saying something to some friends in a room. They think their account is more powerful than it is. This happens whether someone has three followers or a million, though, I’m sure, the larger the numbers, the larger the effect. Getting likes and followers CAN equate to real world power. People have gotten book deals or TV shows from single tweets or just having a certain number of followers. But that doesn’t happen for most of us. Most of us are shouting into a void, heard by a handful of people, if we’re lucky. I’m putting out stuff all the time so I’m used to it. But I watch others share my stuff sometimes with all their hope and enthusiasm and then watch as my stuff meets the same indifference that I experience most of the time. They get one like (from me!) and then maybe their mom (or mine! Thank you, Mom!) and then the thing is over.

But even though they don’t get thousands of likes from sharing my stuff, it is very meaningful to me that they took the time to post it. If the people who do that sort of thing for me from time to time were to leave, there would be no one to share my stuff at all.

It’d be just me, a bunch of famous people and Elon Musk left on Twitter and probably at that point, I’d have to leave, too. Which would be fine if people were engaging with my stuff elsewhere but they’re not. The current public commons are these weird billionaire-owned platforms. You leave the public commons and you leave the rest of us, those of us who feel we HAVE to be there for the sharing of our work, on our own, without any support at all. Don’t stay for Mr. Musk. He’s ridiculous. Stay for those of us with a few hundred followers and tiny social circles. You may not have power to dent Musk’s portfolio but you are significantly powerful for people like me.

Oh look. There’s your absence that Musk definitely doesn’t notice but I feel keenly.

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

They also bring you the podcast version of the blog.

It’s also called Songs for the Struggling Artist 

You can find the podcast on iTunesStitcherSpotify or wherever you get your podcasts.

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

Every podcast features a song at the end. Some of those songs are on Spotifymy websiteReverbNation, Deezer and iTunes

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Want to help me on another platform besides Twitter?

Become my patron on Patreon.

Click HERE to Check out my Patreon Page

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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

Or buy me a “coffee” (or several!) on Kofi – ko-fi.com/emilyrainbowdavis



How to Be with a Grieving Person
May 8, 2022, 9:27 pm
Filed under: advice, grief | Tags: , ,

There are a lot of things I wish I’d known when friends and family have lost loved ones in the past. I wish I could have known them without knowing such grief myself but unfortunately that is how I learned it. I noticed that those who have experienced a loss like mine were the most adept at engaging with me in a difficult time. It is a skill forged in tears, it would seem.

I know people worry about what to say to someone who’s lost someone – so a lot of times folks just don’t reach out at all. The thing is, though, for all the fear of saying the wrong thing, there’s really nothing to say. There is literally nothing anyone can say that will make a death less painful. It is simply painful and words are unlikely to make much difference. Your words will not be the thing that turn someone’s grief around. Does that mean you shouldn’t say anything at all? No. You should say something but you don’t have to say anything original. You can say “I’m sorry for your loss.” You send your condolences. They won’t change anything but they will affirm your presences with the grieving person, which frankly, is all that is required. Show up. Give hugs if they’re wanted. Hold a hand if it’s needed. Pass the box of tissues if the person runs out. If you don’t have anything to say, just sit quietly. Flowers are really nice.

If you’re far from the grieving person, you can send cards. You can send care packages. You can send text messages. You can send flowers. You can send flower emoji.

People kept offering their ears if I needed to talk and maybe there are people who grieve in a garrulous way. But I did not need to talk. There’s just not much to talk about. He’s dead. It’s terrible. That’s it.

But it was really helpful to hear from people every so often. Honestly, just a little flower emoji was all I needed to know someone was thinking of me. I felt like my needs were so basic but they were rarely met by anyone outside of my immediate circle. Most people, if they did anything, wrote a condolence message on my Facebook post about my brother’s death and that was that. I have done exactly the same with my condolences over the years. I’d do it differently now. First, I’d send a direct message of some kind – an email or a social media message. If I could, I would send a card, if I have their address. Cards are nice because you can look at them again and feel as though the person that sent it to you is with you all over again. If the grieving person was nearby, I’d ask if I could stop by and give them a hug. Then, for the people I know well, I would check back in. How are they now? The loss doesn’t stop. It’s okay to send a second or third condolence/check in.

I think people worry that they’re going to trigger more grief by bringing up a loss but what I know now is that the grief is there whether someone is asking after it or not. I think mostly people are worried about making someone cry when they’re not currently crying. I don’t want to speak for every grieving person, I mean, I couldn’t possibly, but I will say for me, I’d rather be asked after than avoid tears. I really don’t mind crying. And I haven’t cried yet at an inquiry about how I’m doing with the loss. The loss (and the tears) are present whether you ask after them or not. It can be a relief just to acknowledge its presence. When someone brings up my brother’s death, I feel cared for because not everyone is willing to acknowledge such a thing.

In my particular case, the dominant response to the situation was silence. I’m not in a community where people bring casseroles. I did not receive a single lasagna. I think I might have liked one – as those rituals of care seem especially poignant to me now. Like, if you don’t know what else to do, bring food. But I really can’t complain. I received many kind messages (and two sweetheart cactuses) and I am so grateful for all the care. I promise I’m not writing this to get a lasagna out of the deal.

I’m really writing this for myself from before – like, all the things I wish I’d known before – when friends or family lost someone. There are so many things that make a difference that I would not have considered. Things like, checking in with someone more than once. Or, just sending a Thinking of You message. Or an emoji.

That’s all stuff I wish I’d done before for people who are dear to me. It’s fine. I didn’t. I didn’t know. And the vast majority of people don’t know, either – so whatever response they had is also truly fine. One thing death does for you is to clarify the stakes and scale of a thing. The really bad thing is the death, any response to it pales in comparison to that bad news.

A lot of people who’ve been through loss like this mentioned that people can say stupid things on the subject. I’m sure that’s true. – but I mostly didn’t experience anything particularly stupid. Honestly, I think something stupid would be better than nothing. If you say something really stupid at least we’ll have something to talk about. If it’s really stupid, we might get a good laugh out of it even.

I mean – the stupidest comments I heard at my brother’s memorial were of the “I didn’t know Will had a sister!” variety, which, you know, sucks for me, Will’s sister – but it’s that person’s truth, so, no big deal. That’s just facts for them.

What I’m trying to suggest here is that showing up for someone in grief is really just showing up, in whatever way you can and doing it in a sustained way. Send that “Thinking of you” text and then after a few weeks, send another one. It’s simple. But it’s effective. You’ll see. I hope you won’t have to see it for yourself.

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

They also bring you the podcast version of the blog.

It’s also called Songs for the Struggling Artist 

You can find the podcast on iTunesStitcherSpotify or wherever you get your podcasts.

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

Every podcast features a song at the end. Some of those songs are on Spotifymy websiteReverbNation, Deezer and iTunes

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Want to help me keep this thing going?

Become my patron on Patreon.

Click HERE to Check out my Patreon Page

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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

Or buy me a “coffee” (or several!) on Kofi – ko-fi.com/emilyrainbowdavis




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