Songs for the Struggling Artist


Posse. Team. Community.

Here’s what I’m looking for: A Squad. A Posse. A Team. Specifically: a squad, posse or team that is ready to mobilize for protests and marches and events.

Here’s why: I do not enjoy protests and marches. I’m a highly sensitive introvert with an aversion to crowds and shouting. But I know they make a difference and I often feel as though I OUGHT to go. Unfortunately, sometimes I just can’t muster the will. The main obstacle is that while there are many many things I am very happy to do by myself – protesting is not one of them.

So going to a protest often becomes the act of trying to find a date for something I don’t even really want to do myself. (“Hey friend – you feel like going to go do something I am definitely not going to enjoy but feel like I should go to and which I’m hoping you’ll say no to so I have a good excuse not to go?”) There are just too many opportunities to forget the whole thing altogether. It’s too easy to NOT go.

What this brings to the forefront for me is how little community I have in my life. I have a lot of wonderful individual friends – but I don’t have a community anymore and it’s become clear that I need one. Or several. Because here’s the thing – if I had, say, a What’s App group of protest buddies, I could just find out where they were meeting at the reproductive rights rally on Tuesday and turn up. Maybe go get a drink after, even.

If I had a squad, I could start the conversation or just show up. Sometimes the community would call me to action and sometime I could call the community to action. I now really understand why so much of the civil rights movement began in churches – because that is a ready made community. You can speak to a room full of people all at once that way. You don’t have to call up each individual church member and ask them to come to the march. You just ask them all at once. And then those people can car pool to the event and the next and the next and if a strike gets called, everyone’s ready to walk. It is very handy for organizing people.

So where’s an irreligious person to go to try and get some community going? Where do I go to find a squad? I tried the feminist book club in my neighborhood but when I mentioned I was looking for protest buddies, I got a lot of blank stares and one person said, “I have to work.” Uh, the protest I was talking about was five days ago. You’re already off the hook.

The thing is – I know I am not the only one who is reticent to go to a protest on my own but who would be easy to include with a suggestion from a community. Humans are social animals – even the most introverted among us still can be brought into a circle by the desire of the group. I need a group to want me to show up – because it is just too easy not to.

I mean – “I have to work.” You know?

What time do I have to work? Oh, you know – um, when’s the protest? Oh. Yeah. Then. Then’s when I have to work.

The times are such that we are likely to need to hit the streets more than ever. Reproductive rights are under fire like never before and we have to get out there to save women’s lives. We all need squads. Maybe you don’t need a squad right this second. Maybe you, like me, live in a state that’s not in too much immediate danger of attacking women’s personhood but I think we have to start building our squads now so we can hit the streets at the drop of a text. Not because they’re coming for us right now but because they’re coming for everyone. We all need a protest posse, I think, even if we don’t think we’re going to go.

And since my feminist book club was a bust, I figure I’m just going to have to start my own squad. So if you’re in NYC and you want to be in my squad, let me know. I’ll drop you a text.  We’ll all hit the protest, maybe get a drink after and call it community.

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Here Is My Blush

In high school, at forensics meets and auditions, people often would look at my chest and get a concerned look on their faces. “Are you okay?” they’d ask. “You’re bright red.”

I had a rather unfortunate tendency for a performer; When I’d get nervous or excited or just pumped up, my chest would turn red or blotchy. I understand now that it’s probably a factor of being an HSP (Highly Sensitive Person) but at the time it was just embarrassing.

It mostly doesn’t happen anymore. I don’t know whether I’ve evened out or have fewer opportunities to perform or when I do, I don’t get nearly as nervous or if it’s the quieting down of an aging nervous system or maybe I just don’t look in the mirror that much but I haven’t seen that bright red chest blush in ages.

Last night though, I went in to brush my teeth, looked in the bathroom mirror, took one glance at my chest, got a concerned look on my own face and asked myself, “Are you okay? You’re bright red.”

And then I realized that in the process of re-engaging with a play I’d previously abandoned, I’d gotten myself as worked up as I used to get when I was performing in high school. I know writing is as physical an act as anything but it’s not usually as physical as that.

But here’s what happened.

Quite a few years ago, I started work on a play about Victoria Woodhull. I worked on it at a residency in Maine and did a preliminary reading there and then back in NYC six months later.

I submitted that play and proposals to work on that play to all the developmental programs and all the residencies and no one gave a damn about it but me and the tiny handful of people who read it or heard it in 2017. Other projects stepped forward and pushed this one aside. I worked on my book for young people during my residency in Vancouver. I wrote a whole new play for the Shakespeare contest at the American Shakespeare Center. The Woodhull play just sort of fell by the wayside. I didn’t actively abandon it – I just never picked it back up to fix those problems in Act Two that revealed themselves after the last reading at Flushing Town Hall. But. I love these characters. I love the play, actually and the pleasure of re-engaging with its difficulties is actually very sweet. And according to my body’s blushing system, it’s a lot more exciting than I realized as well.

Not very many people would seem to be as interested in my play’s questions as I am but after seeing that old high school chest flush return, I know that the re-engagement is as potent as any performance. I also recognize that this is the good part, actually.

Whenever, if ever, this play sees production, it will be as agonizing as sweet to see it realized. While I would surely rejoice loudly and wildly to see it onstage, it will always be compromised, there will inevitably be those moments of agony at misspoken text or misplaced emphasis or whatever details might arise. This writing flush is the play’s purest joy for me, I suspect, and I’m writing this now so that I remember it.

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

They also bring you the podcast version of the blog.

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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Become my patron on Patreon.

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A Highly Sensitive Person in the Arts
October 28, 2014, 11:11 pm
Filed under: art, comedy, music, theatre | Tags: , , , , , ,

A copy of The Highly Sensitive Person fell into my hands recently. I read it with interest – as I assumed that if there was such a thing as a Highly Sensitive Person, I was probably it. I’ve heard “You’re just too sensitive” so many times, it’s like the soundtrack of my youth. A colleague once said, “You’re like an eyeball. You make me feel like sandpaper.” I felt that metaphor was apt. Like an eyeball, I leak tears easily and will turn red under stress.

After reading Dr. Elaine N. Aron’s book on Highly Sensitive People (HSPs) I can affirm that yes, I am one and apparently there are lots of us. (15-20 % of the population in fact.) I knew I was sensitive (I was always fighting it) what I didn’t realize was what a hand biology has in that sensitivity. HSPs have nervous systems that respond quickly and dramatically. Our systems go into high alert – what Aron calls overarousal – in response to things that have no effect on less sensitive people. This means, yes, that we blush easily – but also that the levels of cortisol in our blood get higher in these moments.

Overarousal isn’t all bad. Think about falling in love – all your senses go on overdrive. On one hand, it feels great and on another, you might lose some control of yourself.

According to Aron, HSPs tend to become overaroused when they are being observed or judged and this can have a radical impact on performance. For me? True, true and true. For years, whenever I would audition or compete, my chest would get bright red and splotchy. Evening gowns were an embarrassing costume choice for me. My teaching would turn to shit as soon as someone came in to give me an evaluation. Overarousal causes all these PHYSICAL responses, which explains why so many songs that sounded fantastic in my living room suddenly become strained in performance. My voice can become restricted, my fingers less facile.

For the most part, I learned to adapt to these little quirks. When I played with the band, we would often plan our set list in a way that would allow me to ease into performance. In other words, the first songs we played couldn’t feature my most challenging guitar parts (my fingers wouldn’t behave appropriately at the start) nor could the first songs feature my biggest wide-open singing. I had to begin with songs that sat comfortably in the easiest parts of my range and then move on to more challenging material once my system had calmed down a bit.

I’m thinking this whole HSP thing was probably a factor in my choice to skip the auditioning part of the performing business and focus on making my own work. In my own work, I can be completely at ease. Auditioning for me was always unpredictable. It felt like I had no control over my own system. Sometimes I was on fire, fantastic, blowing people away and other times I’d trip over my own tongue, have trouble breathing, turn red. Now that I understand this HSP thing, I feel like I could find some work-arounds for those quirks if I were starting all over again. (I’m not – there are a whole host of other reasons I make my own work.) I just wish I’d known then, what I know now.

It does feel somewhat liberating to recognize that I am not alone in this sensitivity, that there are others like me and that there is actual value in the the things that cluster around high sensitivity. Many of those things have not been of great value to me in the gladhanding theatre business (it is a loud “Everything is Great!” world.) Nor have these HSP qualities been particularly useful in my work in the loud landscape of the Education Business. However, I am finding that this sensitivity thing is an extremely important asset in my new career as a Feldenkrais practitioner. In fact, long before I’d heard of HSPs as a category, I was coming to appreciate the value of heightening my kinesthetic sensitivity. When I began to study the Feldenkrais Method, I encountered, for the first time in my life, a place where I could not only give my sensitivity free reign but found that I wanted to increase it. Suddenly, my ability to sense subtle differences allowed me to be of service, gave me opportunities to make a difference.

I find, too, that I’m interested in the possibilities of re-framing the benefits of being highly sensitive in the Arts. Sensitivity has always felt like a disadvantage in the marketing stage, the getting it out there stage, the publicity stage but it feels important to honor its benefits in the actual art-making stage.

Most of the work I like best has been keenly observed. I prefer highly sensitive art and highly sensitive artists are my favorite sort. I would like to see more sensitive work, to somehow develop a channel for HSPs to make HSP art and not have to dull their high sensitivity just to have it seen.

And still, even as I write this, I can feel my own internal skeptic sneak in and laugh at the sensitive artist in search of more sensitivity. “Sensitive” has been a criticism for so long that it is very challenging to reclaim it. In fact, what I think that laughing skeptic is responding to is vulnerability. It feels like a great risk to broadcast where I am so tender.

But to SENSE is of great value, especially to an artist. To be sensitive is to have greater access to those senses. And, yes, sometimes they can cause me to over-respond to things (there is no earthly reason that a person yelling NEAR me should cause such a dramatic startle response in my body) but those are the same senses with which I am able to take in the world. The finer tuned my sensitivity, the greater my ability to make something with it.

I would love to hear from other HSPs, I would love to hear about your work-arounds and understand your methods for proceeding through this loud and challenging world.

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And here’s a little 30 second song that I wrote many years ago about being too sensitive.

Just in case you feel like making a mash-up or something, you can download it there, too.

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Also, this XTC song reflects some of my HSP feelings.

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