Songs for the Struggling Artist

Migraine and the F-ing Patriarchy

Warning: There’s a lot of swearing ahead. If swearing bothers you – just skip this one. There are very few sentences below without expletives. If you love swearing, keep going. This post is for you.

This week, I watched a series of videos as part of the Migraine World Summit. One of the doctors asked a question that made me sit up and take notice. It was “What is the migraine trying to protect me from?”

I wrote it down. I decided I’d think about it, maybe write down some ideas, see what bubbled up in a long contemplative session with my pen. Maybe I’d uncover some deep secret about the migraines that came into my life in 2016. Maybe something about a food allergy or an environmental trigger. Maybe it’s my hormones?

On my way to go do this, as I was walking, I just sort of casually asked myself, “What is the migraine trying to protect me from?” And the thought came through like a shout. It was “THE FUCKING PATRIARCHY!”

I laughed out loud in the middle of the street. Oh. Okay. I guess it’s the fucking patriarchy – no long self-examination needed. I hear you. It’s the fucking patriarchy.

I can’t say I hadn’t thought of this before. My migraine situation kicked in in the summer of 2016 when the election was kicking up extraordinary misogynistic dust and I was sneezing a lot and every time I sneezed, shooting pains ran up the sides of my head.

But maybe it was my eyes? Maybe it’s my age? Maybe it’s the weather?

For almost two years, I’ve been wrestling with a mysterious migraine climate in my head, a world with seemingly no clear triggers, a world that has been disabling in many ways. Because I have been relatively healthy before this late onset patriarchy allergy, I have not been clear about how I want to talk about the experience. Because the American Health Care system is an immoral mess and we’re living in a surveillance capitalist dystopia, it felt like maybe keeping my diagnosis under wraps was the safest move.

But after listening to doctor after doctor on the Migraine World Summit describing the stigma their patients endure, I just can’t be quiet about this anymore. Not now that I know the migraine is trying to protect me from the fucking patriarchy.

“But Emily,” you may be saying, “how does a condition that compels you to stay home in a dark room with ice on your head protect you from the fucking patriarchy?”

Well, if I don’t go out into the fucking patriarchal world, my only exposure to it is what I let in via the internet and what not and even that is a little too much patriarchy for me these days.

“But Emily,” you say, “this is crazy. Migraine is a neurological disorder that people have had for as long as we have recorded history. It can’t be an allergy to the patriarchy, probably even some patriarchs got migraines!”

Well. Maybe those patriarchs were allergic to themselves. But seriously. I’m not saying everyone’s migraines are trying to protect them from the fucking patriarchy – but mine are.

“But Emily,” you say (and when I say you, I mean the part of me that is also resisting this idea) “just because migraine is mysterious in its causes and mechanics doesn’t mean you can just go attributing it to the fucking patriarchy. There are many possible factors, environmental conditions, foods, stress, etc.”

Yeah, see – it’s that stress component that makes me think it really could be the fucking patriarchy. Because you know what really stresses me out? The fucking patriarchy. I mean, sure, it always has – but before 2016, I really thought we were on a positive wave away from misogyny and sexism and the fucking patriarchy. It was very stressful to realize that was not the case. And I’m thinking the migraine was like, you know what? Fuck this. We’re out. Take a break, let’s see if we can skip this fucking patriarchal clusterfuck that’s coming down the pike.

Would I prefer to not have the migraine protecting me? I would. I would rather have strength and will and many pain free days to kick the doors of the fucking patriarchy down. However – the migraine just wants to protect me from the fucking patriarchy; it’s not a logical rational thing that can distinguish when the appropriate time to do this is.

One of the doctors in the summit described the migraine as the “Check Engine” light of the body. He described a car going down the highway and when it begins to overheat, you have to pull over, take it off the road and give your car a rest. In other words, migraine isn’t so much the problem as the response to a problem either within a person or in the environment. The problem can be inside or outside. One doctor described the migraine brain as being a RESPONSIVE brain. It’s not just sensitive, it’s reactive.

That is, if the fucking patriarchy kicks into high gear all of a sudden in 2016, my migraine brain has a fucking response. When the fucking patriarchy is having the best couple of years it’s had in my lifetime, like it’s having a fucking patriarchal parade/rave/party, my brain will not allow me to go on, business as usual. The fact that I do not like the response, that the response is disabling and frustrating and all kinds of upsetting is a bit beside the point. My check engine light is on and I have to do something about it.

The difficulty is that this is not a diagnosis I can bring to my neurologist.
“Do you have a sense of what brought this on?”
“Uh, the fucking patriarchy?”
I don’t think this would go over very well in my doctor’s office. And even if my doctor was like, “Damn! Another patriarchy trigged migraine patient!” I’m not sure there’s much they could do about it. But the fact is, they can’t do much about it now.

Migraine is already woefully under-researched and underfunded. And the fact that 75% of migraineurs are women suggests that the medical field tackling this already have their own battles with the fucking patriarchy. Probably adding “the Fucking Patriarchy” to the list of possible migraine triggers, next to red wine, aged cheese and cleaning products won’t really help our case.

For me, though, hearing directly from my body’s inner voice that it’s the fucking patriarchy really clears a lot of things up. And I start to realize that the stigma and risk around disclosing something like migraine is also a factor of the fucking patriarchy. The fucking patriarchy suggests we should all work ourselves to death, never acknowledge “weakness” of any kind, never have an unproductive minute. The fucking patriarchy is Jeff fucking Beauregard fucking Sessions the fucking Third telling people with chronic pain to just take an aspirin and get back to work and the entire fucking GOP who worked like hell to deprive millions of people of their health insurance. The fucking patriarchy thinks having health insurance is a fucking privilege – it thinks that only fucking wealthy white dudes should get to be healthy – and even then only when they “man up” and do the jobs they think are fucking macho enough.

But I digress. That’s one of the fucking symptoms of my fucking migraines – a lessening of my ability to focus, a brain fog, a blunting of my sharpness and an occasional swiss cheesing of my brain that happens when I try to deal with the fucking patriarchy.

And hey, all my fellow migraineurs (and there are a lot of you, I’m learning – 1 in 7 people) I obviously have no idea if the fucking patriarchy has anything to do with your migraines the way it does mine but I don’t think it would do us any harm to blame it anyway. If for you it’s red wine or dehydration and not, say, the fucking patriarchy, I mean why not just get a kick in for the fucking patriarchy. I don’t have a lot of hope that the fucking patriarchy is going down in my lifetime but I will happily kick it every chance I get.

When I’m lying in the dark with ice strapped to my head, fantasizing about a head removal service, I think I might just be able to muster a “and by the way, fuck you, patriarchy.” This morning, when I woke up with a different style of headache than I’m used to, one which I wasn’t sure was actually a migraine, I still blamed it on the fucking patriarchy. And you know what? I felt a lot better every time the words “fucking patriarchy” came out of my mouth. I blame the fucking patriarchy and I didn’t even care if this most recent headache was not its fault. But it probably was.

This blog is also a Podcast. You can find it on iTunes. If you’d like to listen to me read a previous blog on Soundcloud, click here.


Every podcast features a song at the end. Some of those songs are now an album of Resistance Songs, an album of Love Songs and more. You can find them on Spotify, my websiteReverbNation, Deezer and iTunes


You can help me fight the fucking patriarchy

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My Hagification has Begun
January 5, 2017, 1:18 am
Filed under: feminism, resistance | Tags: , , , , , , ,

The patriarchy won big time on November 8th, 2016. Enough voters and enough Russian hackers wanted the patriarchy to win. Enough people were like – “Yeah, the primal expression of the patriarchy is for us!” and voted for it. It’s pretty fucking awful but the patriarchy won. And I hate it. It made me cry big sloppy tears. And I was paralyzed and horrified and ready to hide in a basement for as long as was necessary.

But then a switch got flipped. And I realized that just by existing, I am a middle finger to the patriarchy. The guy who won the contest is the straight up Id of the patriarchy and he has a lot of opinions about how women should look. As does the culture, in general. I do not fit most of his criteria and am therefore, like his opponent in the election, nasty. And like many of my sisters in the fight, I am embracing my nastiness. Because when the Patriarch Elect called Clinton a nasty woman we all knew what he meant. And we all knew that for him, nasty woman was redundant because “woman” means nasty to him, just by itself. We know he means women are gross, with body fat and hair and blood coming out of our where-evers. He’s offended by any woman who isn’t aesthetically pleasing to him. He is on record on this point going back decades.

All my life, I’ve struggled with the feeling that my body wasn’t culturally acceptable – that I was not pleasing to look at in one way or another and therefore failing at being a woman. That’s what the patriarchy wanted me to feel. That feeling is, in fact, what entire industries are devoted to invoking. The patriarchy wants me to spend all my time shaping my body –with Spanx, with diets, with razors, with creams, with make-up – in order to make it the most palatable for the patriarchs. It wants me to spend all my money on clothes, on weight-loss products, on cosmetics. It wants me in heels. It wants me in hair and make-up for a couple of hours every day.

So now my body becomes a signal. My body, my body hair, my clothes, are all a signal that I do not comply. Now more than ever. I’m thinking of going full-on hag to really magnify the effect. I want to develop 12 warts and some super gnarled fingers. Maybe I’ll start wearing a pointy black hat. I will no longer be aesthetically pleasing for the patriarchy. I am interested in full-on hag-i-fication.

All my life, some part of me was still struggling to please the patriarchy. Will the patriarchy still like me with this haircut? Am I shaving my legs correctly for the Man? Is this the right dress for the patriarchy?

(Side bar: I am going to start adding “for the patriarchy” to my fortune cookies – replacing the standard “in bed” – so I’ll see such fortunes as “You will soon go on a great journey. For the Patriarchy.” You can play, too! It’ll be fun!)

This new regime is a Shit Show but its extreme patriarchal nonsense is such that it has finally liberated me from some of the last bits of the Patriarchal Pleaser in my subconscious. I don’t care if the patriarchy likes me. In fact, it’s better if it doesn’t. I would take it as a point of pride at this point to be dismissed by the patriarchy. I am done cultivating my image. I am done worrying if I’m pretty enough, if I’m fitting in, if I am aesthetically pleasing. I had decades of that and now…I am embracing my inner hag. And she is pissed. And NASTY.

And I am not alone in this feeling, I have recently discovered. After I wrote the first draft of this post, I read an article by Madeline Davies in Jezebel, essentially pointing to the same impulse. Women on the street, the sorts of whom have never given me a second look, are suddenly smiling at me and nodding. I think we recognize each other now – the dissidents – the patriarchal warriors. When I go out into the world now, I strap on my beat-up boots (Snaps Missing; 4, Fucks Given: 0) and feel like I’m gearing up for battle. This doesn’t mean that I’ll never wear lipstick again or that I’ll never wear that sexy black dress. But it does mean that I’m only putting that stuff on for me. The patriarchy can go fuck itself.

The good news is that I can fight the patriarchy just by existing, just by walking around in my body. And for every “fat bitch” that gets shouted at me, just for taking up space in the world, I am now receiving nods and solidarity from my fellow warriors in equal measure. It’s a fight out there, for sure – but I am hagged up, geared up and ready to go. The patriarchy may have won this round but the fight’s not over.


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This blog is also a Podcast. You can find it on iTunes. If you’d like to listen to me read a previous blog on Soundcloud, click here.


Writing on the internet is a little bit like busking on the street. This is the part where I pass the hat. If you liked the blog and would like to give a dollar (or more!) put it in the PayPal digital hat.

A Day Without Immigrants
December 31, 2016, 2:28 am
Filed under: Racism, resistance | Tags: , , , , , , , ,

UPDATE: I’ve noticed that some people are ending up at this blog after searching “A Day Without Immigrants” or “A Day Without Immigrants NYC.” The good news is that it is actually happening on February 16th. The bad news is that it seems to be more well publicized in Washington DC. I’ve heard rumors that there will be another Day Without Immigrants in April. But meanwhile – this article may get you the info you’re actually looking for:

Now – back to the blogpost from a couple of months ago:

London. 2016. The day after the Brexit vote. The city was in shock. I was visiting and that day I saw multiple friends, coincidentally all of them born in other countries but residents of the UK for well over a decade. One of my friends proposed a response to all the immigration hysteria gripping the UK. She suggested organizing everyone who had emigrated/immigrated to the UK to pick a day to not go to work. The country would inevitably grind to a halt – and everyone would see what a vital contribution immigrants make. I thought this was a brilliant idea.

NYC. 2016. My own city is devastated by the news that our election yielded us a xenophobic, racist, sexist, internet troll who ran on an anti-immigrant platform. It seems that a lot of my fellow countrymen voted against immigrants.

I’m heartbroken for a lot of reasons that it will likely take me years to sort through. Meanwhile, the most heartbreaking emails come from the college where I do some adjunct work on occasion – they’re about how to help undocumented students, how to assure immigrants’ safety, how to get the message out about keeping them safe so they can get through the end of the semester. The xenophobia is already destroying people’s lives. Already. And it’s only just begun.

And then – on the subway – I see tourists whom I imagine made this horror waterfall happen. (I know, I know, #NotAllSoutherners, #NotAllMidwesterners) And I can’t help feeling my own version of xenophobia – a fear of xenophobia – a fear of xenophobes. Is there a word for this ? Xenophobicsphobia?

And then I hear these tourists talking about where they’re going to find good Thai noodles in the city and I become irrationally furious. It kicks off a whole imaginary rant in which I tell them:

“Oh? You voted out of fear of immigrants? And now you want to eat Thai noodles? No. You don’t get to. You can’t eat Thai noodles or Chinese dumplings. You definitely shouldn’t get to have tacos anymore or burritos. No hummus. No pita bread. If you’re afraid of immigrants, you shouldn’t get to benefit from their contributions. Why don’t you commit to your old school America? You can now only eat the foods of your white ancestors from Britain. It’s Hard Tack and Ale for you from now on. Maybe you can have some canned veggies but be careful! Most of our agricultural goods are farmed by migrants – so if you want to really commit to your traditional white-only ways? You’re going to have to grow your corn yourself.
And you’ll need to turn in your iPhone. The founder of Apple was the son of a Syrian refugee so his work is not for you. Turn it in.
Like Broadway shows? Too bad. There are a lot of immigrants on Broadway stages. And not just white ones, either. Plus, given the concurrent homophobia that travels with xenophobia, you’re going to have to give most culture a miss – because we sure have a lot of gays in the theatre and I know how you feel about them. You’re not allowed at the theatre anymore. Or the ballet. Or the opera. Or popular music – which, by the way has been very much influenced by people of color who are really what you’re afraid of let’s face it. So – sorry – you can’t listen to pop music, not rock, not hip-hop, not R&B, not country. It’s only English folk songs for you from now on.
If you can’t support the people who make the things you like, you shouldn’t get to have them. You wanted new rules? You get them.”

But of course I know this would be exactly the wrong strategy to take. I know it is through art and food that bridges can be built and it would be counterproductive to deny their diplomatic power to people who need it the most.

It is, perhaps, lack of exposure to this sort of difference that causes people to behave in this nationalistic isolationist way.

There’s a Trump voter I know who, when I knew her, was a big fan of the word “different.” If she had a food she’d never had before, she’d report it was “different.” And if she saw a show she’d never seen before, that too was “different.” For her, even just a new flavor of Dorito might qualify as “different.” There was a hint of both excitement and distaste in her use of this word. And I think she is not alone in her response to things (i.e. foods, people and culture) that are different. I think that’s maybe what she was afraid of. Difference. At the heart of xenophobia is just a fear of difference.

But everything was new and different once. Even original flavor Doritos.
And it is that difference that has historically made the United States great. It is that difference that a lot of us embrace and celebrate. Maybe anti-immigrant voters embrace more than they realized as well. If we take their tacos away – their Thai noodles and culture – maybe they’ll start to appreciate them and the diversity of the people who make them.

We can’t do that, I know. Not yet anyway. But maybe my English friend’s post-Brexit protest idea would work here as well. One day without immigrants – documented, undocumented, long term and new. One day.


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“Art under fascism is good, actually”

As soon as it became clear that the worst had happened on November 8th, my friends and fellow artists began saying things like, “Well, it’s horrible. But at least we’ll get some great art out of this.” and “Repressive regimes make for great art movements.” Ethan Hawke in a recent Hollywood Reporter interview said, “The Artistic Community thrives when fascists are in charge.
While I understand the impulse to look on the bright side, this is not really a bright side. Nor am I 100% sure that this is true. I think, artists make great work in repressive regimes in spite of the repressive conditions, not because of them.

It might be comforting to imagine the great art ahead but meanwhile, every artist I know is practically paralyzed by the current political climate. Everyone I know is just barely holding on. Where is this great art going to come from?

Listen, I’m marginalized already due to my gender. People of color are marginalized already. People with Disabilities are marginalized already. People without economic privilege are marginalized already. If we’re not in the mainstream now, how will our voices be heard when all the progress on social issues starts to fall apart? We’ve been making the greatest art we can on the margins but in the new landscape, what hope is there?

If feels like the most vulnerable artists, already straining to break through, are now vulnerable on multiple fronts. Sure, there were some great Jewish artists during the Holocaust. But not as many as there had been. And where are the great women artists of the fascist era? Trans artists? Artists with disabilities? I mean – sure. Let’s celebrate the possibility that we MIGHT survive and we MIGHT make great work despite the oppressive regime that we are likely about to experience.

Sure – yeah – let’s get excited about some paintings that a white dude might make in response to the very real life threatening conditions for women, for Muslims, for LGBTQ people, for people of color and people with disabilities.

It is cold comfort to me. My feeling is that mainstream culture wasn’t listening to us before and I have no real hope that we’ll be listened to now that we’re looking at a fascist future. Before November 8th, the real I hope I held for my work as an artist were all the progressive policies that encouraged and supported the inclusivity of women. I bet the same is true for other marginalized communities.

If we’re busy fighting for survival, if all the resources are engaged in fighting for justice, I don’t see a lot of hope for making inroads in artistic equality. We have been making great work all along and the mainstream culture gave no shits. Why would it start listening now, as alarms are ringing, as people are screaming, as the sprinklers rain down on the burning building?

In times of crisis, most things return to a kind of status quo. People rely on the familiar when the chips are down. And the familiar is sexist, racist, homophobic and ableist.

Is there a way to shift this? Is there a way to respond to the four alarm fire in politics and simultaneously make space for artists on the margins? I don’t know. But I certainly don’t expect it.

I will keep making art, as I have always done but I don’t do it with any hope or expectation of it being recognized as great at some point just because I’m doing it in the new repressive world order. And I will not celebrate the loss of progress for all the vulnerable, marginalized artists, already at the edge.


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This blog is also a Podcast. You can find it on iTunes. If you’d like to listen to me read a previous blog on Soundcloud, click here.


Writing on the internet is a little bit like busking on the street. This is the part where I pass the hat. If you liked the blog and would like to give a dollar (or more!) put it in the PayPal digital hat.

We Almost Had It. 38 Years to go now.

Ever since I read Marge Piercy’s Sex Wars: A Novel of Gilded Age New York, I have been obsessed with Victoria Woodhull, the first woman to run for president. I’ve read numerous biographies of her and her sister, Tennessee Claflin. Despite there being no shortage of plays, stories and movies written about them, I have been unable to resist writing my own version of their story. (It’s either called Public Women or Hamlet, Without the Ghost.)

When I read these histories, I see this extraordinary moment when women ALMOST got the vote, when Victoria Woodhull could advocate for “Free Love” and when women’s rights ALMOST happened in an expansive and profound way. And it didn’t happen. The backlash was forceful and intense and rather than ushering in a new age for women, it led to a more repressive age and women didn’t get the right to vote for another 38 years.

Victoria Woodhull was a very modern woman in the late 1800s. She was a fierce advocate for women being able to divorce their husbands, for women to have access to birth control and to be able to control their own lives. With their newspaper, she and her sister wrote about the cruelties many women were compelled to endure at the time. They told truths others were afraid to report. She insisted that she be allowed to speak to Congress. She and her sister were the first woman to run a stock brokerage, one specifically created to serve other women. (How many of those have there been since?)

Woodhull wasn’t perfect but she was inspiring and a kicker open of doors. Part of my despair at the election results this year has been related to my sense of history. Hillary Clinton got much closer to being president than Woodhull ever did but I fear the blacklash will be the same or maybe worse because of it. History is full of these moments of women lifting their heads out of the fray and then being fiercely pushed back down.

For one short day in November, before the horror kicked in, I could imagine what life would be like if we had a woman as president. And not just any woman. A highly capable, intelligent woman. And on that day, I felt like my life might be valuable, that I might finally be able to make a contribution to the world in a meaningful way that there was hope for us. And then the hammer came down. And I am afraid that the repression that will follow will be a lot like what happened all those years ago. The same tropes have already emerged – punishing women for getting abortions, decriminalizing sexual assault, making birth control less available. It’s an old old strategy. And I am very afraid that the glorious freedom and future I imagined is now beyond the scope of my lifetime. That’s what history suggests. I hope it will be different this time. But….history is history.

In the end, Victoria Woodhull landed on her feet. She moved to England and had a jolly time of things with her third husband. But…but – what could have been for the rest of the country? That’s the heartbreaker.

The stories that have moved me the most in the aftermath of this election are all the little girls who watched their mothers devastated by the news and who will grow up to do something about it. I have heard numerous stories of tiny daughters proclaiming their candidacy for the future. This is gorgeous and encouraging and I have faith that those little girls will make a better world for us. But we’ll have to wait for them to grow up. I assume, given history’s likelihood to repeat itself, that we will have to shoulder the burden of the patriarchy another 38 years just as the women of the 1880s did. I hope it will be sooner. But given the circumstances —I doubt that it will.


Want to help me get through the next 38 years? Become my patron on Patreon.

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This blog is also a Podcast. You can find it on iTunes. If you’d like to listen to me read a previous blog on Soundcloud, click here.


Writing on the internet is a little bit like busking on the street. This is the part where I pass the hat. If you liked the blog and would like to give a dollar (or more!) put it in the PayPal digital hat.

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