Songs for the Struggling Artist


Remembering What Might Have Been

There was a moment there, in the early days of last year, where it felt like we could have had something different. In looking back at my posts from then, I see how we were poised on this needle of possibility. There was a funny kind of hope – a kind of excitement almost – that we could fundamentally alter how we do things. We could turn our weird dystopia of an experience upside down and have a transformed society.

It felt like there was a moment where we could have canceled rent, could have saved untold people and businesses, could have paid folks to stay at home and created a space for a transformative moment in society. There was a kind of giddiness in the possibility – a grappling with our values and seeing how we could have a society that really cared for one another. I feel like it was close enough to taste.

But of course – we didn’t choose that way. We chose to go full dystopia and let half a million people die, many more to get sick, or lose their homes or their jobs. It didn’t have to be this way. But it’s what we did.

I can’t say I’m surprised. I can get pretty cynical about our American default settings. What I was surprised about was how palpable the other way was for a moment. It was modeled by other countries, for one thing. There were many places that sent their populations home and paid them to stay there. There were places that swung into action in looking after its vulnerable populations. There were places that developed ways for the whole to look after one another, even in isolation. There were places that supported artists specifically – knowing their livelihoods were decimated. Watching so many countries find ways to help their citizenry gave me a glimpse into a world where our lives might actually be valuable, instead of disposable. It helped me imagine a kinder world – one that didn’t require the claws and teeth of a constant struggle for survival.

As a Struggling ArtistTM I have long felt the strong undertow of Darwinian Economics. It feels like my entire career in the arts is pervaded by the atmosphere of a herd constantly being culled. Life in the arts is a giant dance audition where you’re waiting for your name to be called to see if you’ve been cut or made the cut. If you make the cut and survive to dance another round, you do not mourn those who were cut in your stead, you celebrate and dance another day.

Many years ago, I remember one of my NYC theatre company peers declaring that if there were companies folding, it was for the best – because it cleared the field for those of us with survival skills. I pushed back on this at the time – I was concerned by the loss of our elders and how much the system favored the privileged and the young, to say nothing of the white and the abled. Survival of the fittest, in theatre, often means the survival of the richest and most privileged. It doesn’t make for good art. It doesn’t make a vibrant community.

Survival becomes a badge of honor and the badge gets more impressive the longer you wear it. You either make it or you don’t. And while we think of “making it” as the mark of success, it’s also just – did you make it? Did you make it out of the scary place alive? Making it can just be getting to the end of the movie when so many of the other characters were lost.

I sort of thought this was just an arts thing – but watching our various governments handle this pandemic, I’ve realized that it’s everywhere. But now it’s actually life or death. The arts feel that way but you won’t actually die if you don’t make the cut. You might feel like you’re dying in being separated from your art but you still survive. In real life now – if you don’t operate with a certain amount of privilege – you might well actually die. Those who fled to their second houses are living through a very different pandemic than the ones who continued to work in the essential (and dangerous) jobs. Those were the people who the culture deemed no big deal to lose. We certainly didn’t pay them much better for the risks they were taking. Hazard pay was haphazard and we lost a lot of people. One of the things I keep thinking about is something Zeynep Tufekci said in her article, “5 Pandemic Mistakes We Keep Repeating.”

The poor and minority groups are dying in disproportionately large numbers for the same reasons that they suffer from many other diseases: a lifetime of disadvantages, lack of access to health care, inferior working conditions, unsafe housing, and limited financial resources.

Many lacked the option of staying home precisely because they were working hard to enable others to do what they could not, by packing boxes, delivering groceries, producing food. And even those who could stay home faced other problems born of inequality: Crowded housing is associated with higher rates of COVID-19 infection and worse outcomes, likely because many of the essential workers who live in such housing bring the virus home to elderly relatives.

Individual responsibility certainly had a large role to play in fighting the pandemic, but many victims had little choice in what happened to them. By disproportionately focusing on individual choices, not only did we hide the real problem, but we failed to do more to provide safe working and living conditions for everyone.

The Atlantic, February 26, 2021

It is chilling to realize how ready to sacrifice others so many people are. This notion of personal responsibility allowed us to blame individuals rather than the systems that were killing off large numbers of people. The problem was not so much that the disease was intractable but more that our systems are so full of holes, we were bound to lose a lot of people through them and we did. But because as a nation, we seem to find the notion of disposable people acceptable, we just let them all get sick and let many of them die. It feels like somehow we’re in a war and are prepared to accept great losses for some reason.

One of the places that this country was seemingly fine to accept great losses was in the arts. The field has been decimated. The country just shrugged. No more arts? Fine. The Performing Arts have been closed for a year and only the most established and supported of organizations (or the smallest and most nimble) could survive such brutal depletion. But it’s just artists. No great loss.

It just – didn’t have to be this way. Certainly, we can blame part of it on the terrible leadership at the national level last year and also on terrible leaderships at the state and local levels as well. My governor cut funding to hospitals in the middle of all this. Does that make any sense? But as a people, I feel like we were all that dog with his coffee cup surrounded by flames saying “This is fine” when it was very clearly not fine. Much has been made of the great revealing of holes in our social net with all this. The pandemic has shown us so many failings. But it also showed us some hope for a different way of doing things there at the beginning. The solutions that were offered then would have fixed a LOT of things. If we’d paid people to stay home at first, fewer would have had to risk their lives out in the world and we’d have beat this thing by now. That simple choice would have been cheaper than all the scrambling stop gap measures that came after if we’d paid out the 1.9 trillion that just passed back in April of 2020, we’d already be back in business. But this country really does value money more than people. All those re-openings are not for people, they are for money. One of the riskiest things you can do is sit inside a restaurant – and yet it is one of the first things to come back, ostensibly to keep restaurants in business. But no restaurant can stay in business at 25% capacity. If we want to save restaurants, the way to do it is to cancel their rent. But landlords’ money is more important than restaurant workers’ lives and so the dystopia continues.

Sorry. Living in a dystopia where people are disposable is kind of getting me down. But remembering that moment of hope, from early on, where we could have made other choices, actually gives me a little boost. We could still make choices like that. We don’t have to be in a pandemic to do it. We could live in a kinder world, one where everyone gets to dance and no one gets cut.

This dance audition was so brutal, they cut ALLL the dancers and just left the studio behind.
Also, the studio has been cut as well.

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

They also bring you the podcast version of the blog.

It’s also called Songs for the Struggling Artist 

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

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

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I Guess I Have to Talk About Cuomo

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

They also bring you the podcast version of the blog.

It’s also called Songs for the Struggling Artist.

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

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

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The Difference Between A and Z and Progressive Politics

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

They also bring you the podcast version of the blog.

It’s also called Songs for the Struggling Artist.

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

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

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

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Want to help me keep writing?

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.

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How to Help Artists the Most

As a self-described struggling artist™, when the pandemic struck us and people suddenly started worrying about struggling artists, many folks thought of me. I appreciated it very much. It was quite remarkable to suddenly receive support I didn’t explicitly ask for.

But as a Struggling Artist™ (just kidding, it’s not trademarked,) I have felt some ambivalence about the resources for us that I’m seeing emerge. The bulk of them are emergency funds and they are incredibly necessary for so many people. I bow down to those who are raising those funds. But one thing I’m thinking about a lot is how few artists I know who would actually apply for these sorts of resources. Everyone I’ve talked with about them is leaving them for someone who is in real need.

See, what constitutes an emergency for many artists is fairly extreme. Is it just not having the income to pay rent? Because we’ve all been there before. Is that really an emergency? It is. Sure. But it’s a familiar one.

There were also a lot of institutions out there talking the talk of raising money for artists but essentially paying themselves and/or making artists prove their worthiness for the money raised. The best resources for artists seem to be the ones generated by other artists who are streamlining their processes dramatically. There are also some supports emerging from the unions and guilds. What’s sticky about all this is that the people who can make the best cases for their emergency funding are people who lost something. The actors who suddenly lost their Broadway gig, the playwright who had their show cancelled. Those are clear and obvious things to redress.

But as an artist who did not have a job to be fired from or a production to lose, the loss for me is just sort of normal. Sure, I can’t do some of my day jobs – but for the most part the emergency happened several years ago. I’ve already lost many things. My time for emergency funding has passed. I think there are many of us in this state. Artists who were already living on the edge, who already had our fall.

It’s like, we’ve been compelled to walk a tightrope for all these years and suddenly, now that there’s an earthquake, everyone’s like, “Oh, here’s a little net.” Not a particularly robust net – just a net that might allow you to fall without getting smashed to pieces in one go. And you have to search for the net store and fill out a bunch of paperwork and very possibly have to sit on the phone with a broken unemployment system for hours at a time. And the funding you might have been eligible for as a freelance self-employed person has already run out, thanks to corporations like Shake Shack and Harvard who bogarted the money.

And of course, of course, we’re grateful for the net but also it would have been nice to not have had to walk a tightrope in the first place. And in my case, I already fell. So asking for a net now feels silly. I’ve been knitting one that works down on the ground for years. I’m okay. Not amazing – but I’ve had some surprising nets appear in the last couple of years so I’m okay.

For a brief moment, it looked possible for this country or state to do the things that would have helped provide a real net for everyone, not just artists. They could have canceled rent. They could have provided a UBI. But those ideas seemed to have vanished as quickly as they bubbled up. The real relief has not come, so now it’s emergency grants, left and right. Artists are applying for $500 here and $500 there, which will be helpful in the short term but will only break the inevitable fall.

I saw one resource that would have provided a substantial amount of money to an artist. It stipulated that it was for an artist in “dire financial need” and it made me think about how sticky “dire financial need’ Is. How dire is dire? Some things are obvious. There are those without health insurance or who can’t afford groceries. We know that’s dire. But I know artists who are in a cold panic about what they will do after they’ve paid this month’s rent out of their savings – but, of course, they have a savings. Had. They won’t for long. But meanwhile, someone who’s unable to make payments on their summer cottage may see their situation as dire. Dire is relative and a lot of artists live so close to dire already we don’t necessarily know it when we see it.

I’ve been thinking a lot about all the emergency funds that have sprung up and how reluctant many artists are to take advantage of them. I remember reading an article about artist housing and some jerkwad commented on it, railing about how artists were always looking for a hand out. It made me mad then and it makes me madder now – because not only are artists generally not looking for hand-outs, many can barely be convinced to take them when they are offered with the explicit purpose of helping them. In my experience, artists just want to be paid for their work, like anyone. We literally just want someone to pay us for the thing we do. We want to be paid for our writing, our performing, our music, our art. We would like for folks to buy our book or our album or (when we’re not in a pandemic) tickets for our shows. But the problem is, while most people like and care about art, they’re not inclined to pay for it. So – even now, in this moment where art that can be enjoyed at home is the thing that is making most people’s quarantines bearable, most of it is free.

So artists, not inclined to take a hand-out are languishing, unpaid, for work that is the lifeblood of the culture. The amount of creativity bubbling up out of our sudden removal from capitalist everyday life is really quite staggering and beautiful. I mean – the guy who made a restaurant for squirrels? Come on. No one would have ever given him a grant to make such a thing. But many an artist is too panicked about survival to create a squirrel restaurant and emergency funding to a handful of them who already had access to some resources isn’t going to solve it.

I keep thinking about this funding scheme invented by some artists who have already achieved notable success. They are creating content that people will apparently pay to watch (will they, though?) and then those artists select other artists to receive the money. It is a nice idea. Except it definitely feels like a way for the cool art kids to pass on some resources to the just about to be cool kids, like the kids who have a couple of fancy credits but not a Broadway show yet. Listen, I’m cool but not the kind of cool that Taylor Mac is likely to give a 10k grant to. That grant is def going to the latest indie cabaret star most like Taylor Mac. It just is. And I mean no disrespect to Taylor Mac. If I were in charge of selecting art, I would be more likely to fund the work most like Emily Rainbow Davis, no matter how hard I tried not to. So – the resources are swirling around the places there were resources before, of course. And that makes sense. We can’t fix the whole field while the whole field is benched, can we? Can we? I doubt it. I’d like it if we could. But I doubt.

So how can you really support artists at this moment? You could donate to an emergency fund. There are a few that really do deliver such things. I am a fan of the Indie Theatre Fund and personally know an artist who received funds from them quickly. But the best possible way to support an artist is to pay them to do what they do. If they have a book for sale, buy a few. Get one for you and a couple for your friends. If they have music for sale, buy a few albums. If they have a Patreon, sign up to be a part of it. If they make visual art, buy some! If they’re a performing artist and you can hire them for some video work or voice work, do that. Or you can always follow the advice of Raja Feather Kelly and just ask them what they need.

And, listen, if you don’t like the artist’s work, but you like them, maybe buy their work anyway. Buy it and give it to someone you know who will appreciate it. Hell, I’ll take it. I want everyone’s art! Everyone seems to always be making decisions about whether art is good or bad and they’re very sketchy about paying for art unless it pleases them precisely. Generally, people won’t donate to fundraising campaigns unless they’re really sold on the project. I think they feel like their dollars are the arbiters of taste. Just donate. You don’t have to think your friend’s project is the best thing in the world. We don’t have any national funding for individual artists; sometimes fundraising campaigns are our only hope. You don’t have to like everything to support one.

I feel like sometimes people treat art like it’s furniture and they won’t buy anything unless it absolutely fits with the rest of the house. They won’t buy the book, or the album or the fund the project if it isn’t exactly to their taste. And yet the same person will worry that an artist won’t be able to afford to buy groceries this month and donate to some arts organization that will use it to keep the lights on at their institution. If you want to really and truly support an artist, pay one for something they do. It’s that simple.

For me, there are a multitude of ways to do that. That’s the net I’ve been knitting. Patreon is the frontline. There, my patrons pay me for these blogs and the audio version of the blogs that is the podcast. And, at the moment, I’m fundraising for the audio drama podcast I’m making. This is my big work right now and it is what is allowing me to pay a bunch of OTHER artists to do what they do best at a time when there is not a lot of work on offer. Will it buy me groceries? Not until I’ve paid everyone else. But, yes, eventually, if I can get the whole thing made, it could also buy me groceries. Not yet, though. If you’re worried about me eating, hit me up on Patreon, PayPal or Kofi. But I’m fine. I have a net with Patreon but not everyone has been knitting all this time. That’s why it’s not a terrible time to be this Struggling Artist™ – because I’ve been around this work-drying-up-block a few times and I know how to show new folks around the neighborhood. I also know how to help them and now you do, too. (Buy their art!)

Like this photo? I downloaded it from Pixabay for free but you could pay this photographer for their work. My goal is to pay for the photos I use in the blog one day – when my net is a wee bit less porous.

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

They also bring you the podcast version of the blog.

It’s also called Songs for the Struggling Artist.

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

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

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

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Want to be a part of my net?

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 on Kofi – ko-fi.com/emilyrainbowdavis

 



You Don’t Have to Write Your Lear. Or Your Venus and Adonis Even.

As soon as the theatres shut down, the King Lear memes started. Over and over, people urged us not to bemoan our sudden retreat to our houses because Shakespeare wrote King Lear during the plague. This was meant to encourage us to believe that it might be highly productive to be sent home. Instead, it gave a lot of people anxiety about having to produce a masterpiece while navigating the challenges of social distancing.

I suspect some historical context might be useful and since most Shakespeare scholars are busy trying to figure out how to adapt their courses for Zoom, I thought I might offer some interim thoughts on this topic.

First, Shakespeare only PROBABLY wrote King Lear during the plague of 1606. The only evidence we have is that it was produced at the end of that year. It’s entirely possible he wrote it before the plague broke out – along with the other plays that came next, Macbeth and Antony and Cleopatra. So, it’s not, like, hard fact that he wrote those plays while people were sequestered and/or dying nearby.

Second, the Lear/Macbeth/Cleopatra plague was not Shakespeare’s first plague. During the 1592 outbreak, Shakespeare wrote poems. He wrote Venus and Adonis and The Rape of Lucrece then. In her book, Shakespeare’s Wife, Germaine Greer theorized that he wrote these erotic poems out of dire financial need. She compares the poems to porn of the time. That is, without the theatre to sustain him, Shakespeare didn’t write his masterpieces, he wrote what he hoped would sell or get him a patron. He hustled to keep his family going.

I think this is important. For a lot of us, this is our first plague. This is the plague where we worry about paying the rent (good god, Cuomo, please hurry up and #cancelrent) and resorting to whatever schemes we can come up with. This is our Venus and Adonis plague, not our Lear/Macbeth/Cleopatra plague. If we have another one (lord, please let’s NOT have another one) and we’re a little more financially secure, maybe we can write our masterpiece. Meanwhile, I think the key for this one is survival.

I mean, if you have a King Lear in you to write, by all means, write it. But most writers I know are paralyzed with fear or worry or anxiety and none of that is conducive to productive writing. Frankly, I’d be pretty grateful to write a Venus and Adonis in this moment. Or even just one freakin’ sonnet. Lear can come when I’m less worried about my neighbors dying and my friends getting evicted, you know?

And maybe you’re laughing at me writing this because you know I’m already knee deep in a creative project that I started as soon as we started social distancing. “Ha ha!” you might laugh. “You say not to worry about being productive when you’re over there producing a podcast!” Which is true. I am. But I wrote it last year. The conceiving, the writing, the editing, the dreaming all happened in a non plague time and now is the time I got practical. “Ah,” I said to myself, “if I produce it now when theatre journalists have literally nothing to talk about, it might stand a chance to get a little press.” So… it’s actually a crass practical choice, not a burst of inspiration type choice. It’s Venus and Adonis, not King Lear. Also, starting and making things is apparently what I do in crisis. My theatre company was born on 9-11. When a boat starts sinking, I grab onto creativity for a raft. That’s just my way, I’ve come to realize.


An artist’s life is almost always a mix of the fanciful and naked practicality. I think it’s important to remember that even Shakespeare didn’t write King Lear in his first plague and he may not have even written it in his second.

Macbeth, though, that’s definitely a plague play.

Just kidding – we don’t know for sure about that one either.

And listen, I don’t want to be discouraging, but Shakespeare wrote an awful lot of really terrific plays before he wrote the plague ones. He already had Hamlet, A Midsummer Night’s Dream and Richard III under his belt by the time he had to flee the plague. So, if you haven’t written your Hamlet yet, maybe don’t worry about your Lear. Get started on everyone’s favorite, Henry the Sixth.

Side note: He also likely didn’t have to look after his children or meet with his colleagues over Zoom for his day job.

Write if it helps you. Don’t if it doesn’t. It might not meme quite as well as Lear in a plague but it might get you through and that is the important thing.

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

They also bring you the podcast version of the blog.

It’s also called Songs for the Struggling Artist.

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

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

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

*

Want to help me survive the plague?

Become my patron on Patreon.

Click HERE to Check out my Patreon Page

*

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 on Kofi – ko-fi.com/emilyrainbowdavis




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