Songs for the Struggling Artist


The Face I Made Up
December 28, 2021, 11:21 pm
Filed under: Imagination, masks, pandemic | Tags: , , , ,

In the year or so of going to this café, I have only ever seen the owner in mask – until yesterday. Yesterday, he was outside working on his shed and he was without his mask. For the first time, I saw the lower half of his face and if he hadn’t greeted me warmly and started chatting, I would never have recognized him. I am fascinated by this trick of my brain.

Put a piece of fabric over this guy’s face, I could easily pick him out of a crowd. Without it, I think I’ve never seen him before. It’s clear that my brain made up a face for this guy, one that has nothing to do with his actual face. The face I made up doesn’t exist and I can’t really describe it but if I saw someone with it or something like it, I could have pointed to it and said, “That one.” It’s not just that I didn’t know what this guy looked like, it’s that I thought I knew and I was super super wrong.

The face he actually has is as good a face as the one I made up for him but it somehow tells a different story? I feel as though I’ve uncovered a strange secret of how my brain works in grappling with the discrepancy of what he actually looks like compared to who I imagined.

It turns out that I’m making up stories about people based on their faces. It’s not just that they might have a different face than I imagined, it’s also that I assume they must have a different story. Subconsciously, I’m going, “This person is like this. That person is like that.” based on nothing other than the shape of their chin or whatever. I can’t yet really unpack what my assumptions are or were – but they have to do with social class, geographic origin, personality, upbringing and who knows what else? Like – the guy I imagined was from Connecticut and the actual guy looks like he’s from New Jersey. What does this mean? I could not tell you. The only thing I know is that my brain cannot stop making up stories – both metaphorically, as in the story of the lower half of this guy’s face, and more literally – like what that face I made up means. I feel like this is where the root of prejudice must live – because surely I am not the only one making up stories, making up associations, making up characteristics, based on someone’s face. We do this, surely, for everything and do not know we’re doing it. It’s not just facial structure. It’s bodies. It’s skin. It’s hair. It’s a movement pattern. We think we’re being intuitive or sharp but really our brains are just imaginative chunking association machines.

I’m not sure what we can do about it except perhaps to recognize that it happens and to wonder at how wrong we can be. I’m certainly not one to try and silver lining this pandemic. It sucks and I hate most things about it. I hate all the dark things it has revealed about a lot of humans. However, as uncomfortable as it makes me, I suppose it is a kind of gift to start to see the assumptions my brain makes – to see them in process and to question myself because of it. I can question my own notions of what someone from New Jersey looks like. I can perhaps assume less at the get go and try not to make up so many stories based on faces.

For some reason, I don’t make up faces for masks like this. Like, I literally have no theories about what any of these people look like but give me half a face and my brain’ll go bananas.

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

They also bring you the podcast version of the blog.

It’s also called Songs for the Struggling Artist 

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

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

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Become my patron on Patreon.

Click HERE to Check out my Patreon Page

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Making “Something”
August 15, 2021, 10:38 pm
Filed under: art, Creative Process, Imagination | Tags: , , , , , ,

In response to my post about the $5k arts grant, several sweet well-meaning people offered some suggestions for stuff I could do to take advantage of it. There were project suggestions and ideas for ways to game the system. But the parts I can’t stop thinking about are the suggestions that featured “making something” because that “something” is exactly the thing that’s at issue. The art happens in the “something.” That’s the place where the idea happens. Deciding what the “something” will be is the hard part. If you have a good something – a lot of things can start to fall into place. But finding a good “something” is not easy.

Generally, I don’t have much trouble coming up with ideas. Ideas have, historically, come pretty cheap for me. I foster the environment for them to turn up and they do, often in numbers too big to execute. But an idea is not a “something.” An idea is not necessarily a thing I can make. I had an idea about a Butoh barista once but that little nugget had nowhere to go. It wasn’t anywhere close to a something. Let’s say this little nugget of an idea were to grow up into a play. Then I could imagine the places it needed to develop and it becomes a show in my imagination. That’s still not really a something. It could be somebody’s something but if I don’t have an idea about how to produce it, it’s just a full idea in my computer. I have bushels of those. They only become something I can make when either the conditions are possible OR I feel so fired about it, I’ll find a way to make it even without the right conditions. It is a long journey from an idea to SOMETHING and that journey is often a whole lot of work. But because it’s the kind of work no one sees it seems like the something just emerged fully formed out of my head, like Athena being born to Zeus. But you get a something the way you birth an actual baby – with a lot of pushing and crying.

I don’t know if maybe artists have somehow made what we do look too easy? Is this why people think we can make things by just wishing for them? Most art takes a ton of work. You want a swank artistic mural on your public square’s wall? That’s awesome. But settle in because it’s going to take a while. It’s not just the time it’s going to take to paint it. In a way, that’s the easy part. Your muralist is going to have to come look at the site, measure the wall, get a sense of the environment it’s in and maybe then, they can start playing with some ideas. They’ll have to draw the idea they settle on, figure out how it will work in the space and THEN get the approval of the person who commissioned it. That’s a lot of work before the visible work of standing in front of a wall with a paintbrush happens. Most of the public will think of the something as that time with the paintbrush but most artists think of that part as the easier bit. It’s the performance that people see, not the months of prep and rehearsal. The something appears to be the show but, in fact, it’s the whole process, even from that first nugget of an idea.

When you make something, context matters. You make a different mural on a door than you would on the walls of the National Palace. If you’re putting on a show, you put on a different something on a Broadway stage than you would on a street corner.

It’s not that I have no ideas. If someone said, “Hey – I’ll give you a Broadway stage and a Broadway budget,” – I’ve got six shows ready to go. What I don’t have in my back pocket are the ideas for no budget, no fuss, quickie street performances. I have had those ideas but I’m fresh out at the moment.

But let’s say you make stuff out of popsicle sticks. Maybe it’s not so hard to just make something because all you do is just sit down with your single material and see what happens. But even for a singular popsicle stick artist, with a grant like this, you’re going to have to make up a context for it. Figure out where to have your popsicle stick show or figure out how to involve an audience. You’ll need a whole something that isn’t just the making of your something.

Is there something I could make for this grant? Actually. Turns out there is. I applied for it a week ago. But do you know how that something came to me? Three weeks in a quiet place with access to a swimming pool. That’s how it came to me. My brain needed that kind of quiet and pleasurable movement before it could put any water in my well of inspiration. So this story had a happy ending but only because I happen to be lucky enough to be gifted such time and space. I don’t like the chances of the rest of New York’s artists to get the same sort of opportunities. Not everyone gets the chance to replenish depleted creativity wells and see a something emerge.

I feel like the thing to hold on to here is that somethings come out of resources. If someone said, here’s $5000, go make something; that would be a whole different world of inspiration. I would have $5000 to make something and something would emerge. If a Broadway producer gave me a theatre and a Broadway size budget, I would make a Broadway sized something. As it happens, I had a different sort of resource that allowed me to come up with something for $5000 but I needed those resources first. That’s why all arts funding is backwards. They ask us to tell us what we’d make with next to nothing when really, if we had the resources, we wouldn’t need to invent anything. The well would be full and ideas and somethings would pour out of it.

Oh look – Something hasn’t magically appeared on this page! How odd.

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.

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 make Something?

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



Terry Gilliam in the Toaster Oven

“Mum! Dad! It’s evil! Don’t touch it!”
This is the final line of one of my all time favorite movies, Time Bandits. I loved Time Bandits as a child and in the many subsequent viewings of it, as an adult, it has not diminished in my estimation. It is a delightful film made by one of my favorite filmmakers.

And I didn’t just love Terry Gilliam’s Time Bandits, no. I also admired his Brazil, The Fisher King, and even his relatively unknown and under-appreciated, Tideland. Tideland is a deep cut in the Gilliam oeuvre and I was a big fan.

After reading his interview in The Independent, to say that I’m disappointed in him is a massive understatement. I’d heard he’d said some pigheaded garbage before but this was sustained pigheaded garbage. This was relentless pigheaded garbage.

As a feminist, I found it pigheaded enough to never want to hear from or see him again. I’d honestly prefer to have read his obituary than to have read his opinions on #MeToo. If it had been his obituary, I’d have cried and mourned the loss of his brilliant mind. As it stands, I guess I have to re-evaluate everything he ever made. Why, Terry Gilliam, why?!

Listen, he’s never been a particularly woman-friendly artist – but he hasn’t been actively terrible either. Sure, there are only a few women in Time Bandits but the main ones are Shelley Duvall and Katherine Helmond and they are remarkable. I didn’t mind that Time Bandits was a boy’s story. I really didn’t. It was perfect. The battle between Good and Evil, a test of the system, as it were, featuring an adorable kid and six hilarious thieves. But now that it’s clear that Gilliam has no idea that women are human, I’m going to have to sit in some discomfort. I don’t think I will love Time Bandits any less but I have to love it knowing the man who made it thinks that MeToo is a witch hunt, that Weinstein’s rape victims chose to be assaulted and that white men are the real victims here. The man who made some of my favorite films is basically an MRA. (Men’s Rights Activists are not actually activists for men. They’re the folks who bring us many violent acts against women and some incredibly toxic thinking.) Gilliam’s become like the chunk of pure burning coal sitting in the toaster oven at the end of Time Bandits. Poisonous and Vile. I’m finding it particularly difficult to reconcile.

It’s not as if I haven’t had to reconcile this sort of thing before. I could probably still recite whole Bill Cosby routines from his albums. I was a fan of Louis CK. I have appreciated some Roman Polanksi films. And, unlike those guys, we have no actual terrible deeds from Sir Terry. We just have his terrible thoughts. And his terrible thoughts suggest that he thinks my entire worldview is ridiculous. His terrible thoughts suggest that he has never thought of women as anything more than sex objects or archetypes. His terrible thoughts suggest that he thinks the systemic oppression of women and people of color are a joke. It breaks my Time Bandit loving heart.

It also strikes me as impossibly stupid. Because I am his fan base. I am his audience. And he just lost me. Who will go see his movie now? All of 4Chan? The darkest reaches of Reddit? The incel chat boards? Is that who he wants for his audience? I’m sure as hell not going to see his movie now and I’m sure I’m not alone in being suddenly very disinterested in what he’s made.

It matters what he says and thinks. If I’m going to go sit in a movie theatre and spend a couple of hours in the world someone created, I want to trust the mind of the person who made it. I wouldn’t go see a Brett Ratner or Bryan Singer movie. I no longer want to sit through the work of Woody Allen. The writer/director’s thoughts are intimately connected to the work they make. I know because I do those things onstage. If you don’t like how I think, you won’t like my creative work. How I think is intrinsic to how I make things. That’s true for most artists.

The upsetting thing about this Gilliam situation is not that Gilliam said some dumb shit and may now be canceled, it’s that he’s revealed himself to be the opposite of what I imagined him to be. Instead of a hero of creativity and bold imagination, he’s a stinky old dinosaur reinforcing the patriarchy. And he must have been all along, in such subtle ways, even I, who am very vigilant about these things, failed to sniff him out.

I have found myself re-evaluating much of his work through this newly revealed lens of his. I’m looking for the dark threads of misogyny and racism that must have been there all along before he laid them bare. I’m also working hard to somehow explain what feels inexplicable. I think, “Oh, he’s just trying to be funny. He’s enjoying being provocative. He’s purposefully sounding like an asshole because he enjoys making mischief. He is doing that classic buffoon style of clowning or something.” This is how I’ve explained away countless other asshole clowns but I don’t think it’s an in-the-past explanation that can fly anymore. I mean – it may explain the why but the why doesn’t matter.

It doesn’t matter why, in Time Bandits, Kevin’s parents reach in to the toaster oven after they are warned by their son not to. It doesn’t matter if they ignore his pleas to not touch the evil because they are contrary or because they always ignore him or because they think it’s funny. They reach in and touch the evil and the consequences are predictable.

Gilliam has surely been warned not to touch the evil in the toaster oven (he’s said some dumb things before) but in the end, he just couldn’t resist. To predictable and sad results.

But what does it matter? Why not just enjoy the films I used to like and forget about the man that made them? Well, it’s actually important that I look at this and not just forget about either Gilliam himself or his work. I have to dig in to some reflection on it because his work was so formative for me. I can draw a direct line from Time Bandits, from Gilliam’s sense of humor, from his aesthetic, to my own work. I can see the threads of his influence in a lot of my plays and fiction. I may have unconsciously interwoven some of the threads of his misogyny or racism along with his aesthetic. Unfortunately, learning what he really thinks about things means I have to be extra vigilant about the foundations of my own work. He was important to me when I was a child and has continued to be important. I can’t just brush off this development. It is a great loss and it will be a great project of reorganization. Even though it’s evil, I still have to look at it. I will not touch it, though! I know better than that!

Mum! Dad! It’s Evil! Don’t touch 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.

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 sort through my problematic influences?

Become my patron on Patreon.

Click HERE to Check out my Patreon Page

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All the Times I Wrote My Last Thing

As I thumbed through the first draft of the zine that I make every year for my Patreon patrons, I thought “I actually wrote some good stuff this year.” In the same breath, I thought “That’s probably all I have. I’ve written all the best things. The well has run dry. I’ve just been coasting the last month and I don’t see how I could possibly get my mojo back. It was nice while it lasted but all I have left to write are sad documentary posts about the rejections I receive.”

I’d worry that I was in the middle of writer’s block if I hadn’t felt this same way many times before. I have felt this way and then a few months later, wrote something I was very proud of. It is normal, in fact, when you’re not feeling particularly inspired to be convinced that that feeling is permanent and you will never be inspired again. I felt it when I finished my novel. I feel it whenever I finish a play. I feel it about a couple of times a year with the blogs. Every time I write a song, I’m sure it’s the last one. Last year, I wrote a lullaby, brushed off my hands and said, “That was a good one to end on.” But just a few weeks ago, I wrote a song for the year’s final podcast.

I don’t know why this is a pattern. But I don’t think I’m alone in this. The fear of dry wells may have something to do with respecting the capriciousness of the muses. They’re not always going to show up and they’re not going to always give you your best. Sometimes I write good things. Sometimes I write mediocre things. On some bad days I write bad things. I show up at the page every day and write something whether I feel inspired or not. Sometimes something that I think is pretty routine catches fire in someone else’s imagination and goes. Sometimes I write something that I think is marvelous and it disappears like a puff of smoke.

I know it is not up to me to decide what is good or bad or even what comes out of me. I just write and release. I make the paper airplanes and float them out the window. Sometimes they fly because I’ve expertly crafted them but most times they fly because a powerful breeze appeared at just the right moment. I won’t stop making my planes just because I don’t feel inspired. I often feel that the plane in my hands will be my last…but it never is. I’ve made enough Final Planes to know that I probably won’t make my final final one until I make my final one, if you know what I mean.

Anyway – if you’re sure your well has run dry and you’ve made your final piece of art, just know that I understand, I sympathize and I don’t believe it for a second. It’s not over til it’s over.

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.

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 make some more paper airplanes?

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



Why, Yes, I am Unhinged. Thank you for Noticing!

Over the last couple of decades, in my sessions with my Rubenfeld Synergist, I have found myself returning to a theme of “keeping it together.” Why do I think I have to clutch my thigh, immobilize my shoulder, turtle my neck? Because I must “keep it together.” Because I don’t want to “lose it.” Everything might “fall apart.”
I experienced my body as all buckled in, strapped together, contained by the proper restraint.
Over and over, I have learned to allow myself to let go and over and over I have returned to discover that I have contained myself again.

My synergist will often ask something like, “What would happen if you fell apart? What does losing it look like?” And I had no idea.
I have some idea now. And, truthfully, it looks great. It looks like freedom.

*

On a long walk after listening to Soraya Chemaly talk about her book, Rage Becomes Her, my friend and I talked about the power of imagination, of art, of dragons and how witchcraft made a man leave us alone just from a small hand movement and a funny whooshing noise. My friend said, with obvious appreciation, “You’re unhinged. In the best possible sense of that word.”
And I am. I am. I absolutely am. Completely unhinged.

And it feels like freedom. Unhinged is one of the many words we use to call people crazy but it is most often applied to women. It has a soupcon of benevolent sexism in it – as if the person using it is minutes away from calling the funny farm. It also tends to be deployed to dismiss a woman expressing an opinion. The Republican Senators call Kamala Harris unhinged when she calls them on their bullshit. Elizabeth Warren gets called unhinged for telling truths on the regular. Maxine Waters’ incredibly calm “reclaiming my time” moment also earned her an unhinged label, despite the logical, measured way that moment evolved. There’s something about “unhinged” that suggests that if the person would just fall in line, just climb back into the slots of a door hinge, all would be well. “Just calm down, little lady, you catch more flies with honey. Why don’t you smile more? We’ll just line up these hinges for you and you’ll be back in your place in no time.”

I keep thinking of something that Rebecca Traister pointed out in Good and Mad: The Revolutionary Power of Women’s Anger – and that is the language overlap of madness. That is – to be mad can mean being angry or crazy. And, really, it’s both. Because if a woman is angry, she is seen as crazy. Madness (that is, anger) in women is seen as madness (that is, craziness.) Men’s anger is seen as cathartic – the cleansing wind that gives us noble revolutions. Women’s anger is seen as madness no matter how righteous the cause.

After all these years of being hinged, strapped in, appropriate, self-contained, I have released myself. I am unhinged. The straps with which I kept myself within the proper bounds have fallen away and I have let go of a wide range of behaviors and norms that I just don’t care about living up to anymore. I realize that all this makes me look unhinged and I find that rather than being worried about it, I am delighted by that perception. I suspect that the line between crazy and free is much more narrow than we like to think. Maybe crazy just means refusing to accept society’s unjust rules. I know that if I were living in the Victorian age, I’d have long ago been locked up for hysteria. (Whether it would be my novel reading, or my anger that would get me put away, I can’t be sure.)
If I were feeling the way I’m feeling now in the middle ages, I would have long ago been burnt at the stake.

Non-compliance is dangerous. To those who are attempting to re-invigorate the patriarchy, women who feel like me are nothing but trouble. I am un-hinged, non-compliant, unbought, unbossed, undone and free.

After all those years of keeping it together, I have been set free. To some, that freedom looks like madness. A free woman may well be unhinged but I think that’s a compliment. I take it as one. But I also no longer really care what anyone else thinks. I’m free. That’s it. You can’t strap me in, hinge me down and you can’t convince me to do it to myself anymore either.

This blog is also a podcast. You can find it on iTunes or wherever you get your podcasts.

If you’d like to listen to me read a previous one on Anchor, click here.

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

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

*

Want to help me navigate the world with more freedom?

Become my patron on Patreon.

Click HERE to Check out my Patreon Page

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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 (but aren’t into the commitment of Patreon) and would like to give a dollar (or more!) put it in the PayPal digital hat. https://www.paypal.me/strugglingartist

 



Real Talk About Imagination

Real Talk. I am not actually a dragon. I wish I was one. But I’m just a human lady person who is impossibly angry. I am not actually a witch, either. Surprise. I have often dreamed of having such powers but I don’t, in fact, possess any particular skill in magic.

What I do have, though, is a well-practiced imagination and an understanding of the powers of make believe. Sometimes pretending makes things better.

I mean, I have been a rage fountain these last couple of weeks – just spinning around and round, watching rage pour forth from me like a sprinkler. It comes out in situations that do not merit such a response and after a lifetime of being nice and sweet and making things easy for everyone around me, I do not really know how to handle my new rageful reality. Imagination and embodied expression are my only safe outlets. And what’s wild is how it actually works sometimes.

For example, as my friend and I stood talking next to the subway entrance, some man in khaki pants seemed to find us terribly compelling. He walked by us a couple of times and finally started to approach us. We did not stop our conversation or look at him but I opened my hand, made a little whooshing sound and combusted him in my imagination and darned if he didn’t just turn around and walk away. That’s magic.

The thing of it is – now is the time for fierce imagination. It is not going to be possible to free ourselves from the dystopia ahead of us without some really bold and vivid dreaming.

In simply imagining a world wherein I am as powerful as a dragon, wherein the world is re-made with women unafraid to walk down the street at night or anywhere, everywhere, I find it very hard to return peaceably to the world we live in. I cannot tolerate the old stories. I cannot stomach victim blaming. I am newly and freshly furious that women have had to accommodate ourselves to a world that has not seen us a human beings for five thousand years. It’s as if I’ve woken up in new horrible world but I’ve been living here the whole time.

I don’t want to see one more woman raped or murdered on screen. I don’t want to see any more harassment on the street. I don’t want to see a single woman disempowered. I don’t want to watch one more wife in a sitcom get laughed at and dismissed. It feels like the only thing I can tolerate now is some other more imaginative world.

We need our dreamers now. We need our sci fi creators, our afro-futurists, our utopian other worlds. I have no stomach for anything else. I know it is virtually only in our imaginations that women can have real authority or agency or power – but imaginations can turn into reality and can lead to real life transformation. It’s time to get to work with high level imagination.

This blog is also a podcast. You can find it on iTunes or wherever you get your podcasts.

If you’d like to listen to me read a previous one on Anchor, click here.

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

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

*

Want to help me imagine the future?

Become my patron on Patreon.

Click HERE to Check out my Patreon Page

*

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 (but aren’t into the commitment of Patreon) and would like to give a dollar (or more!) put it in the PayPal digital hat. https://www.paypal.me/strugglingartist

 




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