Songs for the Struggling Artist

Be the Weirdo You Want to See in the World

Look – I’ve always been a LITTLE bit weird. I wore my tutu with pants and an engineer’s cap to school when I was a kid. (I might still wear this, given a chance.) I don’t care much for social conventions or fashion trends or behavioral controls. I’m sort of constitutionally an artist and a certain amount of difference discomfort is just a normal part of my life experience.

But recently, I’ve been feeling like I’m much weirder than I used to be. Or rather, I’m as weird as I’ve always been but I seem to seem weirder to the outside world.

I get a lot more quizzical looks than I used to. I get more heads turning in my direction if I make a sound. I feel like I’m weird everywhere I go. Even in weird New York, which has not historically, been worried about weirdos in its midst.

I’m not concerned about it for myself. I’m a comfortable-with-myself woman in my 40s, I don’t really worry about what most people think of me. But I am concerned about the weirdos behind me. I am concerned that if even my lowest level weirdness is drawing attention, the less comfortable weirdos, the young ones who are still finding themselves, will feel less and less comfortable becoming their full weird selves.

It feels like the world is bending toward a conformity that makes me very nervous. The current bent toward the collective sometimes means more policing of behavior, I think. People seem more inclined to try and fit in somewhere than to just rock who they are wherever they are. This may be a generational preference. Much of my generation would rather walk into the sun being 100% true to ourselves than conform to the crowd.

There are absolutely advantages to the group choice – but I worry about the loss of those sun-walkers. It feels like it makes the world less interesting, less vibrant, less alive.

It’s not just my feelings that are signaling that I am weird. I got a notice at the end of last year – a sum up of my listening on Spotify. They described me as 100% different. This tells me that the bulk of Spotify listeners are playing highly conventional tracks – that there are not nearly enough people venturing down the less traveled hallways there. Because, sure, I like to explore music from around the world and will happily venture into unknown musical territory but there are surely musicians with more adventurous tastes than me. At least I hope there are because I am really not that weird, musically. I don’t want to be a lonely weird music listener.

I’ll give you another example. I went to an author event. It was a big crowd and while the subject matter was intense, the author and interviewer were making jokes and being engaging humans. Being the human I am, I laughed at the jokes, gasped at the astounding facts and clucked at the reported bad behavior of some. But I was literally the only one making ANY sound. People turned to look at me. I was a sound-making weirdo laughing and responding instead of sitting in the silence of the rest of the room. I know I seemed like a weirdo in that room but to me the room was weird. Who just sits in silence while someone makes a joke? They’re just going to let them flail up there on the stage? A laugh after a joke is polite, especially if it’s genuine. (My clown training prevents me from laughing at theatre folk who aren’t actually funny but I will still laugh as a social lubricant in a social or lecture setting. Clown rules do not apply to the general public.)

Anyway – I walked away from that event feeling as though the world had changed in a way that has made me less welcome in it. It has become a world wherein I’m weird everywhere I go no. Not just because I wear asymmetrical dresses but because I bring all my human self with me wherever I go.

Those kinds of things seem to happen more and more and I don’t know what to do about it. Luckily, I am already comfortable with being different, with being weird – but I want to make space for all the other weirdos. I want to find a way to support those who want to laugh but feel silenced by the group. I want to live in a world with more fully human humans and a whole lot more weirdos.

BTW – the image they used for this is of Fatoumata Diawara whose music you should definitely listen to.


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The Discomfort of Being Different Part Two

Occasionally, right after I push PUBLISH on my blog, I get a flood of additional ideas on the topic. I start to think of ways I should edit it or concepts I want to add. Sometimes I’ll go back in and edit or add – other times I’ll just let it lie. And sometimes I need to continue the thought in an entirely new blog post. That’s what happened when I opened up the floodgates on sexism in theatre. Thoughts just kept rushing in and I had to write follow-up-post after follow up. Some of those were based on the feedback I was getting and some of it was the swirl of it all marinating in my brain.

This post is of the marination variety. In thinking about being different – from the social science around non-conformity to my own history, I realized there was an additional factor that I didn’t factor in to my initial thoughts on the subject. That factor, in my case, was gender.

Because, in theatre (as in almost everywhere else,) the best way to be the Same – to conform, is to be a middle class white man. The numbers mean that nine times out of ten when I’m in a theatre doing someone else’s show, I’m in the minority. I am already different, just by being born a woman. And because of that, there is an added pressure to fit in, to do things the way they’ve always been done. Working female directors (all 22% of them!) mostly make their names directing plays about men. Women playwrights get more productions if their plays are about men. In order to assimilate, one has to take on the dominant culture – and that culture is male and white. (This all applies to race, too, but I will save that post either for someone else or the moment after I push publish on this one.)

What this all adds up to for me is the sense that I’m already a foot behind in the FITTING IN GAME and it is tricky to be perceived as the Non Conformist I am, rather than the woman who doesn’t know the rules because she’s a woman. There is a presumption, right at the outset, that I don’t know what I’m doing, based on my gender. There are theatre companies who will baldly state that they don’t hire women. So if I’m DOING the job of directing, for example, I’m expected to be too feminine, to be doing things wrong. There’s a sense that I should be doubly aggressive to make up for my gender.

The fact that I refuse to do this has been a problem throughout my career. And I think it’s a problem throughout the culture, too. We lose so much potential by leaving out the female experience of leadership. Jill Soloway’s work on The Female Gaze is the FIRST TIME in my decades on the planet, that I have heard a woman in a position of prominence able to advocate for a female aesthetic and style of leadership. It is incredibly inspiring. And incredibly unusual. It requires a great deal of tolerance of that discomfort of doing things differently. Soloway asks her camera operators to feel with her subjects. She hires a crew that can cry. I can only begin to imagine how the established film crew guys react to that. What I don’t know is how she manages those confused and angry folks used to doing things the usual way. That is the trick I’d like to learn to master.

I think a lot of that finessing of the world around one comes with age. The older I get, the less I care what other people think – that is, the desire to fit in has begun to diminish dramatically. At the moment, I’m still straddling the line. I’m not yet able to wholly reject the dominant culture. Probably because I’m not really part of it.

Soloway, having already achieved traditional success in film and TV has the credentials to tell the patriarchy to go fuck itself. She can say something as radical as: men should just stop making movies and make space for women’s voices and while I’m sure that blowback is intense, she can perhaps, watch it roll by from the top of the heap. I’m still hoping to make a little mark and it is hard to do from the fringes. So – time, I hope will help me to tolerate more and more the feeling of my own differences. Every decade I live, I lose more of that people-pleasing shame that limits me now.

photo by Cassidy Kelley


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