Songs for the Struggling Artist

Owning Our Expertise: One Way Zephyr Teachout Is Inspiring Me

There are dozens of reasons I want Zephyr Teachout to be the next Attorney General of New York (see her endorsements in the New York Times or New York Daily News for some of those reasons.) I have admired her for years and am thrilled to be able to vote for her for a job she is so right for. I’ve never been very interested in political mechanics but I canvased for the first time ever to help get her elected. She could be running against all the great fictional lawyers of all time combined into one person and I’d still be zealously in support of Teachout’s campaign. (Vote on Thursday if you live in New York state!)

But aside from things like refusing to take corporate donations and campaigning while pregnant, one thing I keep being impressed by, every time I hear her speak, is how she talks about her expertise. She specializes in corruption law. She wrote a book about corruption in America. She teaches the subject at a law school. She is legitimately an expert in the field. And she does not hesitate to claim it. I can’t tell you what a thrill it is for me to hear a woman say “I am an expert in…” without the slightest hint of apology or hesitation. To hear a woman, who is about my age, declare her proficiency and prowess inspires me tremendously. Every time I hear her say, “This is my area of expertise –“ I get a little shock. I am also impressed by how often she says it and I get that little shock every time.

I recognize that there are those in the world who will get that shock in a less pleasurable way than I do. I imagine that there are many who hear a woman unapologetically declare she is an expert and take an instant visceral dislike to such a person. I suspect that such people exist because of all the misogyny that’s wriggled its way to the surface these last few years. I also know such people exist because this sort of language from a woman is so unusual. I know many women who are, in fact, experts in many things but would never dare to say so. Many of us have learned to downplay our accomplishments, to soft pedal our expertise or diminish our achievements. Women who don’t soften their proficiency are often vilified. So to hear Teachout own her own skill and expertise in such a powerful way has been one of the great thrills of election season for me.

I’m going to try to claim my own expertise more and I hope to hear other women follow Zephyr Teachout’s lead in declaring theirs.

Please, please, please, if you’re in New York, please vote in the Democratic Primary on Thursday, September 13th. I would love to see Zephyr Teachout in office, as well as Cynthia Nixon and Jumaane Williams. All of them are running their campaigns without any corporate money and they need all the support they can get – especially when real estate companies are pouring money into their opponents’ campaigns.

But whomever you vote for – the more people vote, the more voice we’ll all have in New York’s democracy. The state has been rife with corruption. (The way real estate interests have played a role in our state politics probably has a lot to do with how we ended up with Donny Twimp on a national level.) Participation is key for making changes. And here in New York – most of the real decisions happen at the primary level. This is also where turnout is the smallest. Doing my small bit of canvassing, I saw just how small the primary voter numbers can be. So if you want to make the most difference – turn up on Thursday. Help us get more expert women (and those who support expert women) into office. Please and thank you.

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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


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How I Learned to Be a Savvier Voter
December 3, 2017, 1:31 am
Filed under: resistance, Social Media | Tags: , , , , ,

The first thing I heard about the Constitutional Convention Proposal in New York State was this:

New York friends, please be aware that on Election Day(11/7), the back of the ballot will have a referendum to vote on a NY Constitutional Conference, or, “Con Con.” It’s a raw deal! It’s very expensive, your legislature and representatives would be paid double their current salary, and all public employees (teachers, police officers, firemen, librarians ,city and state, etc) stand to lose a great deal.
You have to turn the ballot OVER to vote. If you don’t vote, it won’t cancel the yes votes and would cost taxpayers a crapload of money$$$$$.
If you love public service employees, city and state, please vote NO!!!! And copy and paste to pass this on.
This vote is Cuomo’ s attempt to takeaway parts of your pension whether you are working or retired. He refused to put it on the front. So turn it over and vote no.

It sounded terrible. And it lined up exactly with my views – yes! Those corrupt guys in Albany WOULD do something sneaky and we could lose all our rights! It’s exactly what I feared would come next – like the precursor of the Gestapo’s boots. But I’ve heard about the fake news situation and I know Bad Actors are out there trying to spin things – so I did due diligence, folks. I clicked on the link and watched the video from the coalition for No and it featured a lot of groups I like – the New York Teachers Union, for example. So I thought, “Yeah, seems legit.” And then I shared the post on Facebook, pretty proud of myself for having clicked around a little bit before kneejerk sharing.

Then, the next day, my friend mentioned the segment he’d heard about this proposal on the Brian Lehrer show and it made him ask, “Who’s FOR it? If the unions are all against, who is advocating for it?” And the answer seemed to be no one, really. The argument seemed to be between progressives – and no one was paying to trigger a yes vote. This was a question I had not thought to ask. I just assumed what I’d read was true and the proposal was sponsored by the bad guys. But the further we dug, the more those kinds of answers were illusive.

Then I learned about the history of the New York constitutional convention and how it works. It’s built into the state’s system that every twenty years, New Yorkers can vote on whether or not to have a constitutional convention. The proposal on the ballot was happening because it had been twenty years since the last vote. No shady back door dealings. It wasn’t being hidden on the back of the ballot to trick us. It’s just a thing that happens every twenty years. Like – a china/platinum 20th anniversary party. There’s nothing particularly nefarious about it. It’s just a question, a way to take our legislative temperature that Thomas Jefferson suggested. That’s it. And I was mad that something so procedural had been sold to me as an attempt to trick me. I’d been tricked about being tricked. And I will tell you that I do not like to be tricked. That kind of thing makes me mad. And I realized that they’d gotten away with this trick by capitalizing on my (and many people’s) tendency to reduce things to the simplest answer.

This year I’ve had to pay attention to politics in a way that I never have before. I’d really rather not. I’d rather make my art and never read the news – but I don’t have that luxury anymore. I have to pay attention. And I HAVE been. But I realize now that I am still vulnerable to misinformation – so through this – I’ve learned some things to look for.

This isn’t really about the Constitutional Convention; I’m sure this same lesson might have been learned on another issue or candidate. But I want to take you through my experience so you can avoid the traps that I fell into.

FIRST QUESTION I have now about something like this proposal: Who is paying for the campaign?

In this case, unions paid millions of dollars to encourage people to vote no. No real bad guys here. But what about the Yes Campaign? Um. There wasn’t one, per se. There were a few progressive groups that got behind it as well as the New York State Bar Association. The League of Women Voters was in support. But no one was funding a campaign. I didn’t see a single Yes flyer in all of NYC in the weeks before the election. Not one. I saw some sweet homemade videos and some super geeky academic analysis but no one was funding a yes campaign. Meanwhile, there was a giant “No” magnet stuck on the mailboxes of our apartment building.

SECOND QUESTION to ask: Where did this proposal/bill/petition originate?
This one was an automatic ballot proposal triggered by time.
A separate proposal about the Adirondacks came from the small towns who were unable to repair their bridges without going ten feet into protected land. Every environmental group in the state supported it but it almost doesn’t pass just because no one was out there educating folks about it.

THIRD QUESTION: Who has the information?
You know who wasn’t explaining how the “Con-Con” would work? Everyone advocating “No.” I saw a lot of “protect our pensions” and “Don’t risk it!” but I didn’t see any – “It works like this – so vote no.”

The only people really explaining were journalists and every single “yes” advocate.

There was a huge imbalance of information.

FOURTH QUESTION: What is the campaign trying to make me feel?
The No campaign suggested I feel afraid – unwilling to risk our current system. The folks I watched and listened to on the “yes” side were aiming for a “yes we can.” One advocate was ebullient about the possibilities of addressing systemic racism. One article I read suggested deciding how to vote based on your personality. Willing to take risks? Yes. Needing security? No.

I learned from my experience with this ballot proposal that I need to be a savvier voter than I have been. I have become aware of my own desire for easy answers. (Oh, the Unions are for it? Then so am I!) I learned how few people really took the time to look at this question. And also how once people have taken a side they can kind of be jerks. The day after the election when the constitutional convention failed with more than 80% voting no – someone responded to my tweet from the previous day in support of the convention with a dismissive comment. The election was over. “Yes” had lost, soundly, and yet someone had taken the time to respond, like a jerk, to the losing opinion.

Now – I want to just pause here and say, I fully understand why a person would have wanted to vote no to this question. There is, built into the question, a level of re-examination of our democracy that not everyone is into. If you weren’t feeling it, I totally get it. It’s a hard time to have faith in voters. I get it 100%.

But I am disappointed in the knee jerk jerkiness that paints every yes voter as an agent of the corruption in Albany. That’s not the case. Everyone I know who voted “Yes” are advocates for democracy. They were incredibly well informed and they ranged from law experts to activists for women, people of color, LGBTQ folks, people with disabilities and economic justice. The video of these two women answering questions about the convention was the highlight of the election season for me.

But no one paid for a Yes campaign and so most New Yorkers voted No. Which would have been fine with me if it had been a fair fight. But since it wasn’t it made me a little sad. (Not nearly as sad as the situation in Washington right now, obviously, but still sad.)

I emerged from the experience, especially when the news was so good in so many places on the same election day, wiser and more vigilant with a set of questions to ask. And if I’m still here in twenty years when the convention question comes up again, I’ll be curious to see what happens, to see if we’ll have found more complex ways to look at complex questions. At the very least, I am more aware of my own impulse to go with the herd, to accept easy answers and not do my own investigating. I will be a better voter for having had this experience and so I am grateful for it.

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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 and would like to give a dollar (or more!) put it in the PayPal digital hat.


Health Care and the Struggling Artist

American Health Care Horror Stories are all so abstract until it happens to you. Every time I heard about another failure of American health care, I was horrified anew – but because I was healthy, it was like reading about an atrocity on another continent – terrible but distant. I spent most of my 20s and 30s so healthy that I went without health insurance for the better part of both of those decades and got away with it. A couple of ankle turns and an X-ray or two and I got away with spending a whole mess of a lot less than I would have if I’d been paying for health insurance. Like, a LOT. When you’re a struggling artist, gambles like this make sense for a while. (If you’re lucky.)

But, luckily, the ACA happened before I got unlucky and it was finally possible for me to afford insurance. Through the NY Health Exchange in the last few years, I have been insured through three different insurance companies as well as the expanded Medicaid program. I am a direct beneficiary of Obamacare. And I am grateful. And, for the first time in my life, I really need the insurance as I started dealing with my first real health crisis. What’s funny about having insurance after not having it for so long is how shockingly unjust it can be. When you are without, you think – ah, well, if I had insurance, it would be better. Ah ha ha ha!! Not so fast!

I have been stunned to see how little of my healthcare has been paid for. When I learned that the one medicine that halts my migraines was denied by my health insurance company as “not medically necessary,” I was shocked. And I was shocked again to learn that if I bought it myself, it would cost me $600. For NINE doses. The drug company offers coupons for it but because my insurance is tied to Medicaid, I am not eligible. In other words, because I don’t make much money, I am not eligible to save money and my access to a truly beneficial medicine was denied. At every stage of this process, I was surprised anew at the madness. But my situation is not unique. So many Americans face obstacles of this kind (and usually much much much worse) that these stories are the norm. We become immune to each others’ health woes because they are so normal.

The ACA isn’t great. But it’s better than the nothing I had before. And with health insurance companies in the mix. I don’t know how it could ever be better. Obviously, Universal Health Care is the much better option but it is not yet an option in these baffling United States. My state keeps passing a Single Payer bill in the State Assembly but every year it gets rejected by the more conservative Senate. Fingers crossed for this year. (Call your Senator, New Yorkers!)

Being sick in America is incredibly expensive. The majority of bankruptcies are health care related. It’s ridiculous of course. But denying coverage for 23 to 24 million people is not the answer. Returning to the Wild West with denials for pre-existing conditions, like being a woman, for example, is not the way. My most recent insurance company was terrible. But it was better than having no insurance at all. If I were un-insured I could not have even seen the doctor who gave me the samples of the medicine that works. My insurance meant I only had to pay $330 for the hour with my doctor instead of $550. It’s still terrible. But not AS terrible with insurance. And luckily, I was already in the process of switching insurance companies when this craziness with my medicine went down and not only did my new insurance company approve my prescription on the first day of my coverage, my amazing pharmacist brought the medicine to me because we live in the same neighborhood. There are extraordinary heroes in this very flawed system.

As for those who would deny coverage to those who are suffering, I found myself fantasizing about giving them that Virtual Reality migraine simulation headset, of which my friend sent me a video. It appears to give a replication of the visual migraine experience (minus the pain.) In the video, you see people quickly requesting the removal of the headset. But in my fantasy, when the health care deniers ask to take it off, I refuse, because it is not strictly medically necessary. In real life, I know I would cave pretty quickly but in my fantasy, I get them to sign approvals for all migraine relief meds for everyone before I let them take that thing off.


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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 and would like to give a dollar (or more!) put it in the PayPal digital hat.


Location, location, location
September 30, 2008, 12:08 am
Filed under: art, dreams, Entries with songs attached, music | Tags: , , , ,

“Turns out, it’s not where, but who you’re with that really matters, that really matters.” – Dave Matthews Band, The Best of What\’s Around

I’ve quoted this line to myself so many times in my life, it’s a little bit ridiculous. It’s a lesson that I apparently need to learn over and over and over and over again. I have gone on multiple searches for the perfect place, the perfect city, the perfect community. I drove up and down the East Coast looking for a place to move my theatre company in 2002. I interviewed cities as if they were candidates for marriage before ending up back in New York. Years before that, I went searching for a theatre town I could settle down in and make my home. I tried out Atlanta, DC, San Francisco and Chicago, looking for the perfect spot. Then I moved to New York on a whim, because I was in the mood and because most of my friends seemed to be there. “Turns out: It’s not where but who you’re with that really matters.”

Then I left NY to go get my MFA in California and found my way to London, where for the first time, I thought, “This is it. This is my community. This is the place.” Everything I did after that was an attempt to get back there to this perfect location for my art. The reasons were many. Some were logical, some not. Some were illusions, some truths. And I found myself there last year fully intending to put down roots and stay for the rest of my life. I thought I had found the perfect location. Immigration law thought otherwise and so six months later, I was back in New York. I was, however, just as determined to get back to this place I had been searching for all of my life. I put all my efforts into the scheme to return. And return I did, this summer (with a show in the Edinburgh Fringe to facilitate my re-entry) and spent many weeks afterwards searching for ways to survive on the restrictions of a tourist visa. In brief, I’ve been fighting for this location for well over a year. Maybe two years, actually. And I’ve surrendered.

This hasn’t been easy. I am deeply attached to place. I think of cities like lovers and leaving them feels like breaking up. In my dreams, if I remember nothing else, I am likely to recall a sense of place: the shape, the architecture, the feel of a place. Location has been everything to me, just as it is everything in Real Estate. To be in the right location, I have sacrificed space, amenities, and so much more. But when there comes a point where the sacrifices outnumber the benefits so extremely, it’s time to shift. And it turns out, it’s not where, but who you’re with that really matters.

I’m back in New York now (bruised and battle-scarred from my attempts to stay in London) and I have so many extraordinary people here welcoming me back, offering up the best of themselves, displaying incredible generosity and compassion. In the face of that, it is hard to really bemoan my location (especially since this particular location has a lot to recommend it all on its own.) I also left lovely generous people behind in London, which is what makes leaving the most difficult. The new friends, the ones who would be close if there was time, the old ones, the ones like family. . . it hurts to leave them. “Turns out. . .” But these friends here, these OLD friends, the ones I’ve been through fire with, they are the balm, the reflection, the encouragement and the hope of THIS location. It has been these friends that I created with in the past. It was these friends who’ve seen me through all the phases of my art thus far. It is these friends who ask after some dusty corner of my art and wonder how it is. It is these friends who have seen me through all these locations thus far.

“Turns out, it’s not where but who you’re with that really matters. . .”

To that end, here’s a song about a shift in how I think about my relationships with people in general, learning how to accept help like this, etc.  Interdependent

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