Songs for the Struggling Artist


Circles of Gen X Friends

Someone in the Gen X subreddit proposed a “dating” app for making Gen X friends. I expressed my enthusiasm for it, saying it appealed to me because most of my Gen X friends have moved out of NYC. Someone replied that they still had a lot of Gen X friends in NYC and I did not respond to that person with a hearty sarcastic, “Well good for you! Aren’t you a lucky one?” Though I wanted to.

I did not say, “I guess most of your friends didn’t move to NYC to chase their theatre dreams or their art dreams or their music dreams or their poetry dreams or their film dreams or their dance dreams and I guess everything worked out for your people, huh?”

Now I don’t mean to imply that stuff didn’t work out for my friends. They moved here to follow their dreams and then they followed them to other places. They run theatres in their hometowns or their adopted cities. They have poetry programs and dance companies around the world. They make movies in their native mountains. They make paintings and sculptures of their new neighborhoods. They bring their big city dream-following perspective to young people in far flung spots. It’s working out for them.

But the fact of those folks leaving does mean that any community that formed when we all moved here has been scattered and lost. I imagine that this happens to every generation at some point. Everyone moves to NYC like they’re going to be here forever and then they leave after a handful of years. I guess that’s the norm. Contrarian that I am, I moved here like I was only going to stay a year and here I still am, over two decades later. I miss the leavers and need to find (or reconnect to) more stayers.

That’s why a Gen X “dating” app for friends sounded really good to me. That’s why (prior to the pandemic) I wanted to be invited to your party. That’s why I joined multiple book clubs. That’s why I joined a knitting/crochet group, even though I am VERY BAD at crochet. I will tell you – in every single instance of attempting to make friends in this city – I was always the lone Gen X-er. Every single time. So, sure, this random person on Reddit may still know a lot of Gen X-ers who live here but they probably travel in much different circles than I do. Maybe they’re high-powered lawyers or over-committed doctors. Maybe they belong to the Yale Club or Soho House and hang out drinking martinis with fancy people. That’s nice. Sounds like fun. I used to hang out at Dojo where you could get a whole carrot-ginger dressing-covered dinner for less than $5.  It’s harder to find Gen X-ers here, in general, and even more challenging to find some who would have felt at home on the St. Mark’s Place of yore.

It’s not like I don’t have any Gen X friends here. I still have quite a few. It’s just that I used to have a community of Gen X friends, or rather, communities. Two decades ago, I had circles of friends. I had theatre friends, music friends, circus friends, education friends, college friends, Shakespeare friends, random friends, friends from my home state. There were circles that intersected and some that never would. I have lone friends now. The communities have gone off to more hospitable climates but one lone friend usually remains. Often, I am that lone friend.

Also, the friends I still have here are New Yorkers and therefore usually impossibly busy. Most of them are also parents so they don’t have acres of time for galavanting around NYC with the childfree likes of me. It’s not that no Gen X-ers are here. It’s just that they are busy and the social nets of our communities have vanished and so we stand a vanishing chance of just happening to be in the same places together at the same time.

So maybe I don’t need a Gen X friend app. I need a Gen X circle creating app. It’s not that all the dream followers have followed their dreams elsewhere – some of us are still here – it’s that the communities that formed around those dreams have dissipated and there’s no good way for those of us whose circles have vanished to build new circles.

Frankly, I think it’s a problem that this city spits out as many artists and dream chasers as it does. It may be good for the places it spits people back into, but it is terrible for the artistic life of this city.

We lost artists from multiple generations this last year and a half. The city failed to support most of them in their darkest hours and now we’ve lost them, probably forever.

Most Gen X artists already left when they were in their 30s and now most Millennials are in their 30s (the eldest ones are turning 40 this year) and what with the abysmal way this city supported its artists recently and the inevitable waves of NYC spitting out its dream followers, I think there’s bound to be an exodus in the next decade. Maybe I’ll be in it, who knows? (Unlikely, where would I go?)

Will Gen Z artists and dream-followers even bother coming here? If they do, I hope this circle dispersal doesn’t happen to them, too. I read recently that we know a city is dying when young people stop moving there to chase their dreams. I’m not loving the prognosis for NYC that way right now. Maybe let’s get that circle app going, pronto.

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In case you’re new here, I wrote a whole series about Gen X a few years ago. It starts here and expands in many thematic directions. Or you could search the whole range of Gen X writing here.

Just a circle of Gen X childfree friends galavanting around the city like we used to. We’re going to go get a soy burger at Dojo after.

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Arts “Coming Back Strong”

Hey artists of New York! Have you had a rough year? Did the pandemic kick your ass all the way down the road? Well – have no fear, the city of New York tweeted out that the Arts Are Coming Back Strong so whatever you’re feeling about things, forget about it because the city of New York thinks we’re doing great!

This tweet also linked to an article about a Broadway vaccine center run by a stage manager so…I guess we’re supposed to think that having a theatre-specific vaccine center is supposed to mean the Arts are doing great? They’re not. The Arts are coming back limping, maimed, much diminished, ill and incredibly demoralized. To say The Arts are coming back strong is to say a thing we might wish were true but is not, by any stretch of the imagination. In order for the Arts to come back strong now, someone would have needed to have done something in the past. We would have needed a bit more support than a few ad hoc emergency fund grants.

We would have needed a full-on Arts Relief Package. We would have needed to cancel the rent of theatres and rehearsal spaces. We would have needed to cancel the rent of individual artists – or found funds to cover it.

You can’t do NOTHING for the artists of New York and then proclaim that the Arts Are Coming Back Strong. That’s a lie. The Arts are coming back, of course, but we’ll come back from the wars, having lost scores of our brethren and sistren – if not to illness, then to more hospitable locations or graduate programs in other fields.

Those of us who are still here are strong, sure – but it is a fantasy to declare the field as a whole to be strong. It is in the worst shape it has ever been in any of our lifetimes. But sure…we can go get our vaccines at a theatre-specific site. That’s nice, I guess. And it’s in Times Square? How nostalgic. Hardly any theatre folk live there – and since Broadway shut down over a year ago, there’s no reason for folks to put up with going there – unless they’re in subsidized housing of some kind. But thanks so much. I hope the six people who still live there get extra doses for their friends.

Meanwhile – what exactly do you think the arts are doing that indicates we’re coming back strong? A few brave souls are making shows for the out of doors. There are a few who are diving in to this Open Spaces program that is basically the only nod this city has made toward its formerly economically beneficial industry. Come on, guys. You can’t gaslight us into believing everything is great. I know it seems like you could Positive Think your way into a new vibrant art scene but even though theatre folk, for example, are some of the most positive thinking people around, you can’t fool us that hard.

I know there are some theatre folk who will protest, “No, no, I am coming back strong! The city’s right! Look at me, I made some zoom shows and a piece at a drive in!” And I mean no disrespect to those people who feel like theatre never went away – but also – look around you. Take stock. Who have we lost? Which spaces have closed or will close by the time we can safely open theatres again? Where can you no longer rent a rehearsal studio? I appreciate that technology has made International collaborations happen and that people’s “Let’s put on a show” enthusiasm continues –  even when there is no barn to put the show on in and neither is it safe to gather in the barn.
That’s all survival. That’s all folks stepping into the small cracks of possibility and making something anyway. I applaud you. And it’s not an example of coming back strong.

It feels like, here we are, trooping back from the wars, bleeding, our limbs in slings if we still have them, our friends left behind in the trenches and the city looks at us and says, ”You’re coming back strong!”

Go fuck yourself. We’re coming back, sure. We all saw Les Misérables, we know how to keep moving forward even after we’ve lost. I believe it involves barricades, flag waving and inspirational songs. But to say we’re coming back strong, after you did nothing to help us, is just enraging. We are coming back. We’re coming back tougher and angrier and hungrier and hopefully kinder and wiser. And I hope, we’re also coming back honest. The least the City of New York could do is to be honest as well.

Let’s start by acknowledging our losses, not trying to pretend everything is going great. It isn’t. It is still a disaster. We are strong and we are coming back but let’s not get ahead of ourselves.

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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Want to help me give more strength and honesty to the arts?

Become my patron on Patreon.

Click HERE to Check out my Patreon Page

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You’re Late. I’m Late. Let’s Get to Work.

Warning: This post has got a lot of swears in it. And it’s kind of a mess. But aren’t we all?

I don’t know what to say right now. We’re in a revolution which was long overdue and I feel invigorated and glad that changes are already being made in some way in some places. I also feel terrified and alarmed by the power of the police state which is acting out in the worst possible of fascist ways all over the country and particularly in my city.

The NYPD used terrorist tactics and ran their SUVS right into a crowd of protestors and our motherfucking useless-ass pseudo-progressive mayor, who ran on a platform of stopping this horror-show policing, defended them. In Charlottesville, town of my birth, a few short years ago, a white supremacist terrorist murdered a woman and injured many more doing this same thing. That guy was convicted and sentenced for the murder he committed.

Here in this police state of New York City, we got a curfew instead of arrests of those SUV cops. This curfew allows the police to arrest anyone at their pleasure as soon as the sun starts going down. Last night in the Bronx, they penned in a group of protestors twenty minutes before curfew and then proceeded to pepper spray and beat them before arresting them. They took them in hot crowded transport to a whole different borough in the middle of this pandemic. And all of this is just the tip of the fucking iceberg.

Am I stirred up about it? You bet. We need these cops off the streets immediately. Like, now. Their unfettered violence needs to end. There are so many activists who have been working on this stuff for ages and sure, we should have been helping them before and we’re late but we can still pitch in.

I keep thinking about how whenever I’ve been late to a rehearsal, say, and everyone’s super pissed that I’m late and I feel bad that I’m late but at a certain point, we just have to let it go and get to work. I don’t decide to give up and go home just because everyone’s mad I’m late. And we can’t waste any more time talking about how late we are.

I feel like right now I’m seeing a lot of my white friends wringing their hands and self-flagellating and you know, sure, you’re late. You didn’t get it before. You didn’t understand what Black Lives Matter was actually trying to tell you. So -you’re late and some people are pissed at you for being late. I’m late, too. Or maybe I was on time (I retweeted some of the first BLM tweets, that makes me on time, right? Didn’t I show up on time? My god, it’s so embarrassing how much I want to have been on time.) but I failed to learn my lines or bring my props. (I didn’t put my body on the line or call my reps.) In any case, we’re all fucking late and people have a right to be pissed off about it. But now it’s just time to go to work.

Interestingly, I’m noticing that my friends and family in Charlottesville aren’t doing quite as much handwringing as the rest of the country and protests there have gone smoothly, without incident. It feels to me, from 500 miles away at least, that Charlottesville having gone through the reckoning of 2017, has learned that it just needs to get down to work. And that statue of Robert E Lee that was the beacon that summoned all those white supremacists will likely finally come down. The bad guys there gave up their dumb campaign. The governor ordered a similar statue removed in the capital. There’s hope in there. There’s hope in a lot of things. And some of it is complicated as hell.

For example, here in NYC, we have these things on the streets that Google paid to have installed. We call them Propaganda Sticks because they broadcast messages and images 24-7 and are also surveillance devices. Before I stopped being able to touch my face, when I passed one, I touched my nose in the classic gesture of “I know what you’re up to.” If I was going to be caught up in a surveillance net, I wanted them to see me seeing them do it.

I would not be surprised to have confirmed that all the cute little trivia and art that shows up on them is just there to make people look at it, so they can get better facial recognition data. As you can see, I am not a fan of the propaganda sticks. I’m concerned about all the ways they could be used for ill. I don’t trust Google not to be evil just because they once had a catchphrase reminding them not to do it and I don’t trust New York to protect anyone’s privacy.

This week, the propaganda sticks are slowly just flashing the names of people who have been murdered by police around the country. It’s a black screen with each person’s name in white. And even though I hate those propaganda sticks, it’s actually very moving and we thought the sticks had maybe been hacked by an activist group, which would have been cool. They have been hacked in many interesting ways before. But, no, it’s an official LinkNYC thing. But even so, it’s moving. I about lost it in the street when Tamir Rice’s name went by. And then Eric Garner’s name came up. And on one hand, it is amazing that the city is broadcasting an acknowledgement of these murdered people and on the other hand, this is the same city that allowed Eric Garner to be murdered by police in the first place and then did absolutely nothing about it for five years. You don’t get to have your death agents murder a man for selling cigarettes and then flash his name in protest like you had nothing to do with it. Is Eric Garner’s name flashing on the propaganda stick next to the police assembling their riot shields and teargas? It could be. And is that good? Does it remind them to do the right thing? Or does it just incite their violence further? Given what we’ve seen so far, I’d guess the latter. 

Everything is just intersecting right now and I’m not going to lie, I’m a little freaked out. The police state, the surveillance state, the capitalist state, the digital dominance.

A few years ago, I was in a café when everyone’s phones starting making alarming sounds all at once. It was an alert that a snowstorm was coming and I found myself disturbed by the reach of this alert. I worried this might be used for ill in the future. I could imagine a future when our proto-fascist “president” turned full fledged fascist and would broadcast his cruel messages to all our devices at once. Then this week, we got alerts that New Yorkers were under curfew and we had to be in by 11pm. The next day, there was another alert, declaring all New Yorkers needed to be in our homes by 8pm and it would last all week. Meanwhile, most of us have been stuck in our homes for two and a half months due to the virus. And that’s when I figured out how to turn off my alerts. (So if there’s a genuine emergency and not just our local government acting like dictators, please call me to let me know, as I have now opted out of state sponsored communication.) While protestors are able to track police using things like the Citizen app, the police are also able to track protestors through their phones.

Anyway – there’s another place to get to work – because wouldn’t you know, Black activists are vulnerable to being labeled “Black identity extremists” which is a thing the FBI made up to track Black activists and they are certainly using all the digital means at their disposal to surveil the people who have been doing such important work. There are layers and layers of awfulness and it can be overwhelming looking at a list of places you should donate to and when you don’t have many donation dollars, you might just throw up your hands and go home. I’m tempted to throw bricks at the propaganda sticks like this guy but I know that’s not productive and would, in fact, be destructive to the cause and also I’m late, I’m late, I’m late, so late.

So I’m gonna go donate to the Center for Media Justice to help them defend Black activists and end surveillance because I guess that’s something I can do about this digital concern I just discovered I am especially worried about as I write this. And then, just, you know, I’ll get to work on more stuff, too, one thing at a time. Even if I’m late and everyone’s mad. I’m late. You’re late. A lot of people are late. Let’s get to work.

You want to look at that, right? Look, they put nice art on it. It says it’s Art to the People! You like that sort of thing. Just look another second…there! They got your face. But, ha! We’re all wearing masks now, so ha ha ha! Foiled the surveillance machine!

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Normally, in this space here,

I write some related line to suggest you become my patron on Patreon. 

But I’m skipping it today. Instead of asking for a tip, I’d love to suggest you donate to the Center for Media Justice or a Bail Fund or Nourish NYC which is getting food and supplies to protestors. 



Performing Arts Going Dark

Have you all read Station Eleven? I mean, don’t, if you haven’t. Even the author recommends waiting a few months to read it. It’s a little too relevant right now. It hits a little too close to home. It begins with a pandemic that leads to the radical upending of civilization. You can see why you might want to wait a minute to get into it. But I’ve been thinking about it a lot this week – not just because of the pandemic – but because of what happens after the pandemic. The heart of the story is a traveling Shakespeare company that tours the devastated country. When nothing is left, we have the arts.

At the moment, with all the performing arts cancelled, it can feel like our work is unimportant or inessential. Suddenly, it is, technically, palpably dangerous to do what we do. Suddenly, it has become reckless to gather people in a room and share things with them. Suddenly, the very thing that makes the performing arts so magical is the thing that makes them dangerous. Almost everyone I know in New York works in the performing arts in some capacity and almost everyone I know is in a state of absolute disarray. As show people, we are built with an intense drive for the show going on. We are used to pushing through any numbers of difficulties in order to make it to the stage. To have the stage pulled out from under us is counter to everything we feel in the very fiber of our beings. The show must go on! It can’t be cancelled! It goes on! Isn’t it better to do a show? Isn’t it always better to do a show than not do a show? Won’t the arts save us all? Not in this case, no. Not in the way we’re used to.

What’s happening for us is not just a crisis of economics (though it is that and quite a serious one at that) but also a crisis of faith. If the shows don’t go on, who are we? What is all this for? How can it not be good to gather a group of people together and share art with them? To laugh? To cry? To tap our toes to the beat together? To have our heartbeats sync up as we watch? How? How? How?

But, of course, in a pandemic, it is very bad for us all to be in a room together. I am interested in the connections we share with other things that have had to shut down recently. Sports and religious gatherings are experiencing the same unilateral canceling. We are all shut down together – all the things that bring people together, that unite us, are dangerous.

But this does not mean they are inessential. Things that bring people together, like the performing arts, like sports, like religion, are key to our survival, to our thriving as a species. It feels to me that in losing that ability of being all together in a unified state, I’ve come to appreciate it anew.

Sometimes, you may have noticed, I get a little cranky about theatre. I see shows and they make me angry and sometimes I tell you about it. I get mad – partly because I want shows to be better and partly because my ability to make shows has been hampered over the years so I get mad about shows that have a lot of resources and squander them.

But here we are in the middle of a pandemic and almost all theatres have been shut down. And it becomes instantly clear that I would rather watch the worst show there is (It’s Bike. You know it’s Bike.) over and over and over again than have no theatre at all.

For all my ranting, I do love the stuff and I’m sad for even the worst show that has closed. It suddenly feels very important to me to know that shows are running, even ones I’ll never see, even ones I hate.

I hope that when this is all over, there will be a renewed appreciation for the performing arts and their important place in our culture. We were all shaken by how quickly the entire theatre business was shut down here in New York. It was as if someone flicked a switch and thousands of people lost their jobs and thousands more lost their dreams. Like that. In an instant. But this doesn’t mean the arts are a frill that get dropped in a time of crisis. It’s just that being with people is what the performing arts are all about and suddenly being with people is dangerous and so the performing arts become the most dangerous. And not because theatre people are some of the most touchy feely people out here, either. It’s because a bunch of people breathing the same air is the heart and soul of the work – and right now that air is treacherous. So we have to stop.

But maybe, once this has passed, we can come to appreciate what we lost when the theatres went dark.

Maybe it doesn’t need to be as extreme as Station Eleven – where survivors form a community building Shakespeare company. Maybe we don’t have to wait for the destruction of civilization as we know it to support the performing arts. Maybe we can support them right now so that theatre spaces will be able to open again, that shows can continue their runs, that freelancers can survive this terrifying downturn. As this article in Vulture says, “As concert halls, theaters, and museums around the world go dark, we all need to move quickly to ensure that when it’s finally safe to emerge from our lairs, we still have a cultural life left to go back to.”

Personally, I’ve come up with a project to keep some theatre folk creatively engaged with a project that we can do from our homes. I was working on it prior to this disaster in another form and it just happens to be possible this way. So I’m just rolling forward on that and it’s already delighting me.

The skills that help us bring people together in real life are stepping up to help keep us together while we are separated. Here are two that I know about – The Social Distancing Festival and Musicals from Home. Many many theatre folk are going to find this social distance thing very very difficult (as I’m sure most people will – but I think it hits our community driven community especially hard.) I feel quite certain this will drive a lot of them to become very inventive to create distance community and whatever those inventions are will benefit us all in the long run.

There will be theatre when this is all over. And concerts. And dances. And hopefully we will all appreciate them and being with each other all the more.

Look at all these theatre kids touching each other. We can’t do this right now. And it sort of made me tear up just looking at them. Photo by Mauricio Kell via Pixabay

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.

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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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View from the Women’s March NYC 2018
January 25, 2018, 1:16 am
Filed under: feminism, Leadership, resistance | Tags: , , ,

The woman at the table next to us at dinner said she’d checked out the Women’s March that afternoon, after her spin class, but it wasn’t as much fun as last year, so she left. Aside from finding this whole way of thinking completely counter to the purpose of the march, I also found it baffling. Why on earth would she think a March was going to be fun?

I did not want to go to the Women’s March. I did not think it would be fun. I don’t like crowds. I don’t like shouting. I don’t like waiting in large groups of people. But I went anyway. Because I knew I’d want to have been there. I knew my future self would be glad I’d gone and I knew I’d feel better for having added my voice and my moving feet to the movement. I knew it would feel good to have done something but that did not mean I wanted to do it. And it did feel good to do something and it was maybe even a little bit fun at times. More than fun, though, I found the experience to be moving and surprising in several different ways.

First, it was surprisingly cathartic to walk by the Trump Hotel, giving it the finger, singing “Ole, ole, ole, ole, Fuck Trump, Fuck Trump.” And chanting “New York hates you (clap, clap, clap, clap, clap.)” I mean. It felt good to give directed voice to the fury I’ve been feeling for so long with so many other women. But that was a relatively brief moment of catharsis (repeated, when we passed the next Trump property.)

However, most moving to me was the way I saw the crowd around me take care of one another. For a crowd averse person like myself, this is no small matter. It struck me that a women’s march is full of people who have been socialized to look after one another and so it was an unusually conscientious way to be in a large group. When problems arose, they were quickly solved. For example, a woman behind us was looking a bit frantic and apologized for moving a little too quickly through the crowd. She’d lost her son. She described him and we all looked around. She called his name and within seconds, every woman around her had added her voice to the call. We all shouted for Ziggy together and before too long, the lost boy was found.

Over on 6th Avenue, a woman in a pink coat was hurrying alongside the edge of the route and tripped over the leg of one of the metal gate blockades. Within seconds, every woman around her had stopped to make sure she was okay. She was fine and hurried along ahead but we laughed at how immediate the response had been. It was like a flock of sign-carrying, concerned birds had suddenly surrounded her.

All over the march, children were welcomed and given pride of place. The photos of the march on the event’s Facebook page are dominated by adorable children with their home-made signs. It made me wonder what a world run by women might actually be like. Would there be more places for children to be a part of the lives of their parents? Wouldn’t the participation of parents and their children in our most important affairs make for a more compassionate and considerate world?

Boys with their mothers, girls with their fathers, whole families marching together, all made me feel hopeful about the future for the first time in a year. We had a sweet moment with two little girls and their fathers. The girls were very interested in our percussion instruments and wanted to know why we had them, what they were for, how they worked. We let them play them and they developed this hilarious move where one of them would hold the rattle in one hand and the shaker in the other and jump in the air to create a flurry of sound as she descended. Then the jumper would hand them to her friend and then the friend would jump and then she would hand them to us and we would jump and finally to the shy boy, holding on to his dad, so shy we hadn’t even noticed him, encouraging him to play too.

That part was fun. Watching two bold, curious, caring girls explore a new thing and share it with everyone nearby was absolutely fun but also inspiring. Because if we don’t blow up the world before they get there, it will be girls like those who might one day rule the world. They will be inclusive, compassionate, caring leaders – who look out, not just for themselves, but for the vulnerable, for the marginalized, the mothers, the fathers, the other children and they will express gratitude to those that shared with them. I marched so that that future stands a chance of coming to be.

And what about that woman, fresh from her spin class, who didn’t find the march fun enough to join? Did we need her there? You know, as much as I’d like to say no and never have to march alongside such a person, I think we probably need everyone right now. We’ll none of us ever agree on absolutely every issue, or every methodology, or how much fun it is or isn’t to go be heard on the street, but if we cultivate a kind, caring, compassionate future, we can make space for even the people we find distasteful. We can call for their children if they get lost. We can help them up if they fall. And if it’s fun, while we do that, that’s nice, too.

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Where I’m From

When I worked as a teaching artist, I traveled to about 300 different schools around New York City. They were wildly divergent places and environments but on bulletin board displays in hallways, in all five boroughs, I often saw the same writing assignment appear and it never failed to move me. It was called “Where I’m from…” and students would recount the smells, the sounds and sights of their homeland. For kids who’d lived in the city their whole lives, the sound of the ice cream trucks was often the birdcall of spring. Because New York is so beautifully diverse, this assignment would often paint a whole world of elsewhere, as well. The sights of Egypt. The sounds of the Dominican Republic. The smells of Uganda. The temperature of Poland. No matter where students came from, even if they had to flee their homelands because they were not safe there anymore – the formative power of home rang out from their writing.

I’m not from here. New York City is where I live and where I feel at home but where I’m from is a small city in the hills of Virginia. It’s the kind of city that sometimes gets called cosmopolitan – not because it’s a bustling metropolis but because it has a vibrant arts culture and an intellectual fire. This place is as much a part of me as my leg is. My hometown feels like part of my body.

Where I’m from is green, green hills, green lawns, trees and trees and trees. It is people gathering under fairy lights on a red brick road. It is a place where you can see the stars in a backyard. It is a place in which sometimes you feel like you know everyone and a day later feel as though you know no one anymore. People will smile at you and say hello when you walk past.

I’m from crickets on a summer evening. I’m from parties out in the country. I’m from wood smoke in winter and cigarette smoke on the bricked pavement in summer. I’m from jazz pouring out of one restaurant/bar and frat rock pouring from another, just steps away. I’m from a wall so thick with paint it was possible to peel-off a corner of it and keep it as a sculpture souvenir. I’m from craft fairs and festivals. I’m from the bells shaking on the legs of the Morris dancers. I’m from late night wanderings over green lawns. I’m from Greek letters on steps. I’m from dodging crowds of students who flood the city like water pouring into a glass. I’m from orange V’s on asphalt. I’m from libraries. I’m from community theatres. I’m from community radio. I’m from a folk scene, a bluegrass scene, a jazz scene, an old time scene, a rock scene, a pop scene, a classical scene, a women’s music scene. I’m from used bookstores and used record stores and independent community business. I’m from fireworks in the park on the 4th of July put on for us by the fire department. I’m from honeysuckle. I’m from musicians on the Corner and musicians on the Mall. I’m from deer by the railroad tracks. I’m from crayfish in the creek. I’m from red dirt and several shades of brown dirt. I’m from hummingbirds. I’m from dogwood trees. I’m from field trips to the art museum. I’m from book sales and yard sales. I’m from hot humid summers, exuberantly flowery springs, winters that bring snowstorms and autumn leaves with a top note of apple cider.

And I’m also from a place where neighborhoods are black or white. I’m from a school system that tracked its students, that sent its white students to the top and the black toward the bottom, that encouraged young minds to think that this was just how things were, that white students were more likely to be “advanced” and black students more likely to be “general” or “basic.” I’m also from a place that tried hard to believe that Thomas Jefferson’s slave was his mistress. I’m from a place where visiting a landmark important to a black leader meant visiting the tobacco farm where he was born a slave. I’m also from a place where I could go see a kid’s magician in a thousand seat theatre and see only white people in the audience. I’m from a place where we don’t talk about that much, mostly because it’s not polite. And where I’m from, politeness is important.

And now here I sit in Queens, New York – the most linguistically diverse place in the world and one of the most ethnically diverse places in the country – but where I live now isn’t any better, really. It feels good and blended on the train or in the grocery store but the school system in diverse NYC is the most segregated in the country. While we think of ourselves as models of tolerance, diversity and unity – the hate and violence has visited us here, too.

See, the story is that I’m from a place you’ve possibly only heard of because some hateful Nazis decided to target my hometown. And when they did, they broke the hearts of not just the brave souls who stood in opposition to them and those who had to go to work and those who prayed with Cornel West and those who were away but also all of us who feel that Charlottesville is a part of us. Those of us who were born there or grew up there or went to college there or even just lived there for a few years – it feels to us, too, as if the dirtiest boots just trampled over our hearts.

Charlottesville isn’t perfect. The racism runs deep there, yes. (Read about that here.) But before you start thinking my hometown had it coming, that it asked for it, that it shouldn’t have worn that short skirt if it didn’t want to be invaded, search in your own city’s past. I’m going to guess that no city in America has completely clean hands when it comes to racial discrimination.

The deck is incredibly stacked against people of color in America. It took me too long to work out how much. For me, it took going to college and learning about white privilege and starting to understand that being nice was no excuse for accepting injustice. I thought that because I was nice, I was immune to racism. You see where I’m from, we’re nice to everyone. We’re polite. We’re courteous.

And maybe you’re thinking, “Ah! I see now! This terrible thing happened there because the people of Charlottesville let it. They just didn’t say “no” loud enough.” And you’d be wrong. The people of Charlottesville have been preparing for this for months. The folks I know there have been, for months, strategizing and debating, trying to figure out the best way to make it clear how unwelcome the “Unite the Right” were. From what I understand, Charlottesville’s Black Lives Matter was organized in June to help address this invasion. Petitions were circulated. Injunctions were filed. Violence was suggested and rejected. Dozens of peaceful demonstrations and events were organized to prepare.

The people of Charlottesville didn’t throw open the door and welcome this mess. It showed up unannounced on the doorstep in May and they did everything they could think of to prevent it, at every stage. So when I see people say things like, “I’d like to see them try that in my hometown,” I think, “No, no, you wouldn’t. You wouldn’t like it at all.”

You wouldn’t like this mess of feelings that I’ve had to negotiate, not just these last four days when you started paying attention but since May when those assholes with torches first showed up. It is a combination of despair and fury and fear for my loved ones. A few months ago, on video, my mother asked a Trump supporter at a rally about his “Kekistani” flag and the look of pure hatred that he gave her made me quake. You don’t want to know the mixture of pride and terror that seeing such things inspire.

You don’t want to sit 500 miles away as you watch militant Nazis with advanced military gear taunt clergy people kneeling at the edge of a park you used to play in. You think your people are tough? That these highly organized, armed jerks with nothing to lose will somehow be stopped from waving their flags by your gang of guys with bats? I mean, I wish that were true. But I don’t think it is. These people punched clergy-folk. They taunted them and tried to do worse.

This is the future I was worried was coming as soon as I saw where the world was turning on Nov 8th. I was figuring we’d have ourselves a Nazi-like state by now. I didn’t expect ACTUAL Nazis. But otherwise – this is what I feared most. And yet I never expected it to start in my hometown. So I’m not surprised that this happened. I saw it coming. I just didn’t see it coming for my hometown first.

I hope you’re not next. The country is racist. My hometown is racist. The city I live in racist. And so is yours. Those guys came from all over the country. If you’re just realizing this a problem, you’re late. But if you’re late, we still need you. In fact, you may be the best link to the people who are going to be later than you.

Dealing with the racism in your town (or the racist people in your town) isn’t easy – especially since it’s usually systemic and those structures are hard to see and take a long time to dismantle. If you’re new to these concepts – if you don’t know what systemic racism is, then this is a great time to start learning. Seeing the ways that your town or your city or your county has perpetuated white supremacy over the years doesn’t mean you love your town any less. In fact, the more you know about where you’re from, the more meaningful your relationship with it will be. Forewarned is forearmed and knowledge is power.

I know that terrorists primarily want to strike terror in people’s hearts and the terrorists who came to my hometown stated plainly that this was their goal. I do not want to give them what they want. I’m from Charlottesville and I live in New York. I was in NYC on 9/11. I was not cowed then and I will not be cowed now.

But I am afraid. I cannot deny it. I have not slept much since the racists with torches surrounded a church service Friday night and essentially held them hostage. I had family in that church. And friends. I was in that church in spirit.

Here in Queens, I heard some folks swear they’d never cross the Mason-Dixon line again. I understand the instinct. It’s a way to say – “Oh, that’s them over there. I’ll be safe if I just stay here.” But I don’t think geography will save you. I would never have thought, in a million years, that white supremacists would march through where I’m from. And here in Queens, many years ago, Donald J. Trump’s father was arrested as he marched in a KKK rally. In Queens. New York. It’s not about location, y’all.

Here in Queens, I’m devastated about what’s happened where I’m from. And there is no shaking off this sense of violation. But if there’s anything that gives me hope in all of this, it’s watching the way the community in my hometown has come together over this series of events. From the clergy linking arms and marching in silent protest, to the swelling numbers of white people at teach-ins and Black Lives Matter meetings, to the giant crowd at Heather Heyer’s memorial service, there is a unity brewing that many never thought possible. Where I’m from, folks are trying to be better. I’m from that. I’m from where brave, nice people try to be and do better. That’s where I’m from.

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This is a great list of resources if you’d like to help the people of Charlottesville.


Normally this is the spot in my blog posts where I ask folks to support me on Patreon. But today, I’m requesting instead that you go to help the many people who need your help in my hometown. Go to this list on Google Docs.

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This blog is also a Podcast. You can find it on iTunes by searching for Songs for the Struggling Artist. If you’d like to listen to me read this post to you, you can listen on Soundcloud by clicking here.screen-shot-2017-01-10-at-1-33-28-am

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