Songs for the Struggling Artist


Generation X – Part 5 It’s the End of the World As We Know It (And I Feel Fine)

On the Stuff You Should Know podcast about Baby Boomers, the hosts (both Gen X-ers) pointed out that generations are often characterized by events that shake their collective innocence (e.g. 9-11, JFK, Challenger) They then suggested generations might as well be characterized by the technology that unites them. Boomers were the first generation to grow up with TV. Gen X was the first generation to grow up with video and videogames. Computers, too. And Millennials grew up with more ubiquitous computers and the spread of the internet. Generation Z is growing up with smartphones. So…we somehow define our humanity by the technology at hand. Probably cavemen were like, “Yeah, our young ones are the Fire Generation. They’ll never what it was like for us before we got that life changing Fire stuff. Probably the Fire Generation and the House Building Generation got together and sang songs at each other right over the head of the lone representative of the farming generation, who declared that all this generational thinking is bullshit.

Time magazine called us the Video Generation in our youth. Which is a little bit comical now that there’s something called YouTube (invented by Gen X-ers.) Given the amount of video in our lives now, it is hard to imagine that people were once worried about us watching a couple tapes on VCRS or music on MTV or hanging around in arcades playing Ms. Pacman. It seems quaint now.

Were we the computer generation? While I did learn to program a little triangular turtle in grade school, the only computers I ever touched until college were the ones at school. I went to college with a typewriter and left with a Mac Classic II. I understood that computers were powerful and a little bit scary. The bad boys with keyboards could both start a nuclear war AND prevent one. And neither computers or videogames were really for girls.

There was an interesting anxiety in the air as we watched the Computer Age roll in. Before we all had our own, computers were sort of magical and mysterious, dangerous and exciting. In a movie a lot of us saw, two nerds created a fantasy woman in real life by programming their computers. What would have once been a magic spell was now Weird Science. The nerds of Real Genius used their good computer skills to save the world from evil weapons computer stuff. It was good versus evil but with computers.

I re-listened to Kate Bush’s 1989 song “Deeper Understanding” which was about computers and found myself astonished at how directly it relates to all of us now. In an interview about this song, Kate Bush said she was surprised by how many people assumed she was into computers because she wrote a song about someone into computers. But this is the funny thing about that: at the time, we used to think about computers like this. Computers were an interest, like parasailing. Some people were into them, most people weren’t.

But those that were into computers were busy imagining a wide open world. I didn’t know it at the time (because I was one of those who weren’t that into computers) but Gen X computer kids were full of possibility. They imagined a world in which we could talk to anyone anywhere in the world, in which anyone with the skill could build anything. Gen X kids who were into computers were talking to each other on their computers long before the rest of us. They made virtual spaces made out of their imagination that were endlessly flexible and modifiable. For Gen X computer kids (and some OGx-ers like Jaron Lanier) the way we use our technology now is anathema to what they intended.

While those of us who weren’t into computers were fine to have our options streamlined, to have our websites more user-friendly, to not have to learn the skills to make our own, those who did have the skills were horrified as they watched the wide open world of tech be reduced to a “click yes or no” world. They aimed at freedom and we got convenience and those of us who “weren’t into computers” don’t even know what was sacrificed for that ease.

An iPhone will only let you put apps on it that are Apple approved. And many of the websites that are changing the world aren’t customizable at all. They create paths for us to walk down in which we can only make one choice at a time. For example, Facebook makes most decisions for its users. It gives you only six options for your feelings when it would be just as easy to have you create your own reaction emoticons. Its algorithm chooses which posts you see when Facebook could easily make it possible for you to design your own. But it doesn’t. Its algorithms remain a closely guarded secret and it controls which of your friends you see and which you don’t.

As the years have gone by, we have been trained not to wonder about what it is behind the technological certain. We trade our privacy for connection and ease. We leave the decision making to big corporations or big data.

The promise of a wide-open world where anyone with know-how has become a world full of walled gardens. From meadows and mountains and plains and oceans, our technology became a series of small plots of land, gardened by a chosen few, on the estates of big corporations. And while the gardens inside have clear paths to walk down and very specialized flowers and hey, all our friends are here! – the walls don’t seem to help keep out the jerks. Now instead of wide open space where we might run into a jerk sometime, we are locked up in the garden of Twitter, for example, with torrents of jerks. As one Gen X-er who has always been into computers said, “The people who weren’t into computers won.”

That is, while we now all have tiny super computers that fit into our pockets, the computers in our pockets are often structured to limit our choices instead of expanding them.

We all have computers but we don’t know (or care) how they work or which corporation has access to our data. The Gen X-ers into computers are understandably a little upset about this and it would appear that Gen X-ers are at the forefront of helping us figure out how to integrate technology into our lives responsibly, wisely and consciously. Gen X-er Manoush Zomorodi hosts a podcast that leans into these issues with a characteristic Gen X questioning of accepted norms. Gen X takes nothing for granted. We know that infinite possibilities include some possibilities that are a real bummer.

Gen X programmers built new virtual spaces – things like Friendster, Google, MySpace and Twitter. This may not have been what they imagined back when they first got into computers but they have changed the world. I think we need Gen X technologists more than ever to help us return to the idealism of the Open Source dreams, even as we adapt to the inventions Gen X let loose on the world. Gen X may have been seen as nihilistic and cynical but that is partly just the shadow side of the deep vein of idealism that runs through most of us. If we’re cynical, it’s because we think people can and should do better.

While most generational discussions I’ve seen point to the Challenger explosion as the most influential historical event in Gen X’s youth, I have yet to meet anyone for whom that event loomed particularly large. We remember it, sure – but it doesn’t seem all that formative. What I do think may have been formative was the constant very palpable threat of nuclear war. I was reminded of how real this was for me after I watched the episode of The Americans, in which the family watches the TV movie, The Day After. I don’t remember the movie itself but I do remember the feeling I had that I would not be safe anywhere. I could not be safe under my desk or in my bed. I remember hiding under my covers for some time, knowing it would never be enough – that if someone pushed a button (and it seemed very possible that someone would), none of us would be safe.

The events of the movie Wargames felt like a very real possibility to me and I think most of Gen X had to adapt to a world that might explode at any minute. We had to acknowledge that it might be the end of the world as we knew it and we had to find a way to feel fine. Recent political events have brought this feeling back to the surface and Gen X finds itself once again in a world where some guy pushing a button could end it all for all of us.

When I started watching The Americans, it was an exercise in nostalgia for my childhood. (They used that “Nobody bothers me” ad! We sang that all the time in the 80s in Virginia!) Now watching a show about Russian spies undercover as Americans in the Cold War feels like current events.

I understand the impulse to categorize a generation by its technology or its unique historical events but I suspect that what binds a generation together more is the atmosphere that pervades – it is a collection not just of the music we hear, the movies and TV we watch, but also the politics and the objects that surround us.

Generation X was surrounded by some meaningful bullshit and we thought the world was probably ending but we felt fine. In a world of infinite possibilities, there was a small chance we might get out of our youth alive. And if you’re Gen X and you’re reading this – Congratulations! We did it! We already lived much longer than we ever imagined.

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This is Part 5 of a multi-part series. and

You can read Part 1 here Part 2 here  Part 3 here

and Part 4 here.

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Why I Started Podcasting

You guys. I love podcasts. I can’t call myself a vanguard podcast listener (I wasn’t really in the very first wave of podcast listening) – but I caught on pretty quickly and have been listening for about a decade. And for many of those years, most of the voices in my podcast feed were male. They were the hosts of public radio shows or men interviewing (mostly) men.

In 2012, in the midst of my feminist snap (hat-tip to Sara Ahmed for that term,) I began to really feel the imbalance. I found I was worn out from listening to, almost exclusively, men so I went on a search for women’s voices to include in my podcast feed. That search led me to the Broad Experience (which I love) and for a while things settled there. But then about a year ago, there was a shift…suddenly all the new shows in my feed were hosted by women. And it looks as though I have Public Radio to thank for that.

The fact is, 80% of the podcasts in my feed were public radio shows that were also podcasts. And because Public Radio is publicly funded, they apparently, at some point noticed the imbalance themselves (or savvy listeners wrote in and told them) and took it upon themselves to right the ship by investing in female podcasters. One of my favorite podcasts, Note to Self, is apparently a result of that direct action. The host, Manoush Zomorodi has been talking about this lately in the press and it’s made me really appreciate that we have a publicly funded media that can invest in this sort of thing.

Also, in hearing and reading Zomorodi talk about it, I got inspired to add my own voice to the mix. In the years when I was desperate to hear a female voice on a podcast, I thought I SHOULD start a podcast. Obviously there was a need. But I didn’t want to and I didn’t feel inspired about it. Then Zomorodi started talking about the development of her own voice on her podcast, on the change from being an authoritative, impartial reporter voice to a quirky human one and I thought, “Well, I am a quirky human. Maybe it’s time to do it.”
Simultaneously, I was realizing that even the people who like me the most weren’t able to keep up with reading my blog and I thought, “Maybe people would like to hear it instead. It would mean they could “read” my blog while washing the dishes or whatever.” And so I dove in – at first only for my patrons on Patreon – and then for the public. Some people like it. Some people don’t. Like anything.

But I am glad to be a part of what Zomorodi is calling a feminist revolution. I mean, yeah, if podcasting is a feminist act, then it feels important to add my voice. Both my writerly voice and my ACTUAL voice. Welcome to the podcast revolution. You can subscribe to Songs for the Struggling Artist on iTunes. Or Soundcloud.

So this is about the feminist act of podcasting, yes. The feminist revolution. Allelujah. But also – it’s about how important public funding is. The new trend in lady podcasters happened because public radio is public. Being beholden to the public, publicly funded media has more motivation to right its inequities. I would like for more of our arts to be public. What’s happened in public radio and, by extension, podcasting, is a direct result of a concentrated effort to improve a gender imbalance. We need the same in theatre, in dance, in visual art, in film, in writing… in everything. And we need a concentrated effort through public funding to right all the other inequities as well, to increase racial diversity, for example. Or increase visibility for disability. Public funding for everything. That would be the revolution that would make the revolution possible.

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You can help me stoke the fires of revolution by becoming my patron on Patreon.

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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. https://www.paypal.me/strugglingartist



Doing ONE thing is a Privilege
May 24, 2016, 12:56 am
Filed under: art, business | Tags: , , , , ,

While listening to the Note to Self podcast the other day, I heard the guest promote an idea that I have heard promoted many times before. The expert on the show suggested that the way to achieve success is to choose one goal and only focus on that. His thesis was that multi-focus was impossible and only one goal would do.

This is a popular theme in business literature or self-help guides – pick one thing and focus on it to the exclusion of all else. And it makes me a little bit crazy. I like to follow good advice. I see the value in having a uni-focus. And yet I have tried it and it is not possible for me. I don’t think it is possible for the vast majority of American artists.

You ask me to pick one thing – I pick Art. Every time. But if I pick art to the detriment of everything else, I end up broke and in debt. Every time. I do not have the privilege of being able to devote everything to my art. I must split my focus. I have to devote PART of my attention to making a living. And I also happen to have to split that day job focus in three because neither of the three ways I make a living pays enough to actually add up to a living.

I am not multi-focused because I’m flighty and scattered. I am multi-focused because I have to be.

Sometimes people assume that because I do so many different things that I must not take them all seriously. That if I have many identities, they must all be at half-mast. (i.e. I’m not a REAL theatre artist, not a REAL Shakespeare consultant, not a REAL Feldenkrais practitioner, not a REAL writer.) And I suppose the preponderance of this belief in the ONE GOAL Philosophy is why I sometimes fear they’re right. But – my recent discovery of the multi—potentialite movement gives me some assurance that it is indeed possible to be good at many things. And that it needn’t be only out of necessity. The man who is a child psychologist and a luthier, for example, is likely not in a position wherein he NEEDS that second specialization. He can be an amazing psychologist AND an amazing luthier. I can see how those two professions might compliment one another, in fact.

Would the ONE GOAL-ers suggest that he quit one to focus on the other? Probably – but I’m not sure that would be the right thing to do.

In my case, I don’t have the privilege of quitting. The one thing it would be possible to quit without major consequence is the one thing I will never quit – never not ever. And I find ways to integrate one thing into another. It all gets into my artistic work, no matter what it is, or how.

Focusing on One Thing is a privilege that I hope that I get to experience one day. I know my work would benefit from being able to give it my full attention, all the time…but in the meantime, I find it more helpful to look to the multi-potentialite community to help me make my crazy multi-focused life work. Their strategies are the ones that will actually apply to my life as it is now rather than the one goal life I can only imagine.

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Become my patron on Patreon and, for as little as a dollar a month, you can help me reduce the side projects I have to do to continue to blog and make my art.

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Click HERE  to Check out my Patreon Page

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This Blog is also a Podcast. If you’d prefer to listen to this post, go here.

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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.  https://www.paypal.me/strugglingartist




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