Songs for the Struggling Artist


What I Was Supposed to Get Out of Jury Service and What I Got Instead

People like to tell you that being a part of a jury for a trial gave them a new sense of appreciation for the court system. The videos preparing you for jury service like to report that people say this as well. I might have thought this would happen to me, too, but in fact, it was something like the opposite. The whole experience made me incredibly sad. Now that it’s over, I can tell you why. Warning: there’s a lot about bowels in this case.

I was selected to serve in a civil suit brought by a patient who’d had to have bowel surgery on the heels of his colonoscopy. His lawyer claimed that the doctor had poked a hole in the man’s colon while performing the test. The man had had to use a colostomy bag for six months and had a miserable time. This man had been living with HIV since 1989 and at times lived in shelters. He is an incredibly vulnerable man, who also, it became clear through his testimony, just didn’t really understand what had happened to him. For him, events sort of blurred together so he felt that he went to sleep for a test and woke up the next day with a colostomy bag attached to him. He’s a man who has struggled enormously and the way our system works, rather than find a reasonable way to get this guy the care that he needs, he’s been seemingly pushed into bringing a malpractice suit against his doctor. He would not seem to have any real means of support and an absence of community to catch him when he falls. It sounds like, after his surgery, he just stayed in his apartment, unable to go anywhere for six months. And our government, rather than find a way to help this guy, somehow thinks it’s better to have him sue the doctor who gave him a test?

It was clear to me from the start that the doctor was actually exemplary in his care. The doctor’s office made sure the man was okay when he left their office and when the man went to the hospital the next day in pain, the doctor came to the hospital to see him again. Honestly, if I had a doctor who just gave me a test turn up to the hospital for me the next day, I’d be shocked but then, I’m used to pretty haphazard care. The doctor ordered a CAT scan to check for a bowel perforation and the radiologist reported “There is no evidence of a perforation.” Twelve hours later they did another CAT scan and he’d developed a perforation. Why? The gastroenterologists we heard from explained it was something called ileus, which is when your digestive system just quits moving. It’s pretty dangerous. I mean, I think of what Dr. Moshe Feldenkrais said, “Movement is Life,” and then he goes on to discuss that it is movement that is the way we know something is alive. So when things like the colon stop moving, there’s big trouble.

Anyway – I don’t need to tell you all the (incredibly tedious) details of this trial but what may already be obvious is that this poor guy, with all his troubles and cognitive issues to boot, was continually on display over the course of this trial. We saw CAT scans of his entire torso from lungs to rectum. We heard about his gas, his bowel movements, his fecal matter and more. For a man who could barely bring himself to say any bathroom words on the stand, it must have been brutal to be so exposed. I tried to make myself feel better by thinking, “Well, he brought the suit. I guess he asked for this.” But did he? A man this vulnerable?

The trial seemed to go on and on for no good reason. We’d hear an hour of testimony in the morning, after waiting an hour, and then be done for the day. It took a week and a half until we were finally put in a room to deliberate. The deliberation took us less than 45 minutes – mostly because the question we had to answer was so simple. It was something like, “Did the doctor deviate from standard medical practice and use too much force to push through the wall of the colon during the colonoscopy”? No. Obviously no. We were unanimous and we were not required to be.

Honestly, I resent that we had to be asked, that we had to sit in a courthouse for a week and a half to say so. A man had an unfortunate health event and rather than find a way to support him through it, to help him understand what happened and give him good resources to deal with it – our system thought it would be better to give him some false hope about getting a bunch of money from his doctor through the court system. The system is fine with putting out all these resources for this specious case instead of caring for a vulnerable man. Trials are expensive! If all the money spent on the trial had just been handed to this unfortunate guy that would have been money well spent. I would be happy with my tax dollars helping out a vulnerable person. They’re gonna pay me $240 for my week and a half of jury service. It’s not a lot but I bet this guy could use that even more than I could. How about DON’T call me in to listen to a lot of poop talk and just give the money to the man who needs it?

It’s just such an appalling mis-use of resources. And this how we do it. The doctor was compelled to hire a fancy malpractice defense lawyer. The jurors were compelled to disrupt their lives to come in and listen to this business. The plaintiff was compelled to listen to lawyers talk about his colon for a week and a half. What was the point of all of that? Is this justice? We rendered a just verdict, I think, but who benefitted from it? No one. It was just a colossal waste of time and resources. So, no, I have no new respect for our jury system. It was an impersonal, needlessly invasive sad state of affairs, that exposed not just the inner workings of the plaintiff’s guts but the ways our government fails the most vulnerable. Sorry, no. Especially with the Supreme Court becoming the travesty it is, I am not gaining new respect for our system. I have lost a lot of faith in a system I might have once had hope for.

We looked at an image like this for a week and a half.
I can tell you a few things about the Sigmoid Colon now and can’t believe they left out the Cecum on this diagram.

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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This Reboot Sucks
February 13, 2022, 11:15 pm
Filed under: American, art, economics, pandemic, theatre | Tags: , , , , , , ,

I guess I never imagined a dystopia would be so dull. Dystopian novels are full of marauding bands and dramatic battles. This is like sitting in the waiting room of a corporate marketing agency, waiting to join a focus group you really don’t want to join but are hoping they’re going to pay you enough to make the trip worthwhile. Just sitting here. Waiting for someone boring to call your name. In a mask.

When the pandemic hit NYC in March of 2020 – and all of the performing arts shut down, when nearly everyone I know here lost work, when everyone fled to the country or back to their parents’ houses in other states, I imagined this decimated arts landscape might be radically reconfigured when we got back to it. I thought we might experience the good parts of the post-pandemic life, like in the novel, Station Eleven, with fewer horse drawn carts. I thought – oh – maybe the city will return to its kind of dirty, gritty, scrappy, sort of affordable form like in the 80s. Sure, there might be a parallel crime surge or something – but I did start imagining a future like in After Hours or Madonna’s life in Desperately Seeking Susan – but in theatre, of course. Downtown would rise again. We’d put on wild buffoon shows or cartoon craziness like we used to. It wouldn’t cost a year’s tuition to just put on a little something, so we’d get out there and make some old fashioned passionate cheap art.

It’s not like that. I mean, the pandemic is, for sure, not over – but even from here I can tell we’re not going back to a more artist friendly time. We’re already leaning harder into all the things that sucked before. Some shows came back but only the giant machine sort of shows can afford to run in this environment. So mostly that’s all there is. When and if I did get back in the game of producing shows, I would now have far fewer venues to choose from and the spaces for rehearsal would also be much diminished. Will they be cheaper to rent? I doubt it. Every single one of these places has had to endure total shut downs for nearly two years, without any significant support from government. They couldn’t possibly be cutting prices in that kind of environment.

It feels like everything that sucked about the performing arts world has not only remained – but gotten much worse.

And it’s not just theatre, of course. The wealth gap has widened enormously, not just because the poor have gotten poorer but because billionaires have gotten 62% richer. And we get a new billionaire every day. This was a problem before but now it is much much worse. I’m guessing this is true for most things.

Are the arts elitist and only for the most privileged to find success in? Now more than ever. Were there few opportunities to pry open the closed doors before? There were very few before and now those are even fewer. Was it hard for artists to make a living before? Yes! And now it’s ten times as hard! And might you need a day job, my sweet artists? Well – Teaching Artist jobs are almost non-existent. Food service is a highly risky dangerous environment. Many of the fantastic, affordable restaurants frequented by nice people have closed because it’s mostly assholes out there at the tables now. Your favorite little home away from home is probably gone but that asshole factory is doing great! Offices don’t tend to hire temps to work from home. I would imagine that dog walkers have lost business because their clients are home and happy to walk their pets themselves.

Our current mayor ran on beating back the crime wave he felt was happening and I guess others agreed with him because he won. Maybe this is naïve – but I wouldn’t mind this city getting some of its old school crime back. Everyone just seems too comfortable to me. I saw a guy put his computer in the back of his car, leave the hatchback OPEN and then walk way to get something in his apartment. He left a COMPUTER ON the STREET in New York City and you know what? It was fine! Nobody stole it. I was tempted to – just to prove a point, just because – you SHOULDN’T leave your shit out if you don’t want someone to take it. We apparently now live in a city where people don’t know that anymore and I don’t mean to be a cranky “back in my day” kind of person but I don’t really like this version of New York.

Because all this “safety” is of course, an illusion. And the people in need have been pushed by this city’s fucked up economics farther and farther to the margins of the place in more ways than one. The more divided our classes become, the more likely it becomes that actual violence will break out. The fact that someone could leave a computer on the street here without consequences suggests to me that we have too uniform a population where I live. No one would steal that computer because we all have our own at home, which is nice for us but terrible for those who can no longer afford to live here and who certainly don’t have a computer at home.

Is there more crime? Maybe? A little. I mean – the drugstore locked up the toothpaste (and the soap and the deodorant) the porch pirates are active and my local gourmet corner store now has a security guard peering over folks’ shoulders at all times – but these are all signs of economic strife, more than anything. People are mostly stealing hygienic items and food. Maybe if folks could get a little economic relief out there, those things would even out. But what do I know? I’m just an artist who hasn’t set foot in the place of my primary art in almost two years.

Back when I had a band – and this was 20 years ago so take this with a grain of salt – we sometimes rehearsed at one of our band members’ studio apartment in the East Village. We couldn’t imagine how he managed to afford to live there because the rents were so high. (I tremble to imagine what they are now.) But on the street were also the Hell’s Angels’ headquarters, numerous old school grandmas and grandpas and families that had grown up there. Our bandmate was the anomaly on that street. The street’s culture was old and established. I haven’t been on that particular street in a while but I know, as a whole, the atmosphere of the place has changed dramatically. A young person from elsewhere is the norm there now, not the families or the Hell’s Angels. Now the norm is for people with money to burn, now the culture is for the new arrivals, most of whom wouldn’t think twice about leaving their computer on the street. All I’m saying is, I’d trade the safety of that computer for a richer culture and more affordable living for everyone.

Could we have both? I don’t know. I guess that would be nice?

I guess I was hopeful for a minute that the crisis would lead to a beautiful rebirth and now I’m looking at a world that is putting itself back together with all its worst features. Not a horse drawn performance stage in sight.

No, this is totally fine. Just leave your computer anywhere. No one will take it. Perfectly safe apparently.

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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Thrashing Acceptance
January 19, 2022, 11:47 pm
Filed under: pandemic, resistance | Tags: , , , , , , ,

As winter approached, I freaked out a little. The idea that we were looking down the barrel of a third pandemic winter just zorked my feelings up. (Yes, I know that’s not a real word. I had to make one up; That’s how zorked up my feelings were.) I wanted to run but there was nowhere to run to. The pandemic is freaking everywhere. You can’t escape it. It’s better in some places (a lot better!) but those places sure as hell don’t want my New York ass in their uncovidy environs. I had a couple of panic attacks. I freaked out. A friend who called to check on me got an unexpected sobber on the phone. It was a rough couple of weeks.

But somehow I turned some kind of corner. Despite everything being very bad and some things even worse than I could have imagined, I’m in a state of what I can only call Thrashing Acceptance. That is, I have accepted that this is my reality and with that acceptance is a kind of peace. Simultaneously, I hate it. It makes me furious and I occasionally have to flail my limbs around. That’s the thrashing part. It is a full body response.

I had some plans to get out of here. They’re pretty much shot. So much for getting out of here. And now is not the time to find that indoor swimming pool I was hoping to find. I accept it. I am at peace with the truth and sometimes I just need to shout and throw things.

It’s horrible. It doesn’t feel good. But I’m going on as if it’s all fine, even though it isn’t. It is what is it and Arrrggghhhh!

That’s Thrashing Acceptance.

It’s like I’m a shark, right? And some aquarium captures me out in the ocean and I thrash and thrash in their net, trying to escape and then at a certain point, I just get tired and take a break from thrashing. Then they put me in the tank in the aquarium and sometimes I swim around peacefully and sometimes I just thrash around for no particular reason because I may not be in a net anymore but I’m still trapped, really, and I can swim peacefully but sometimes I just have to thrash it out. It’s like that.

I can’t stop this pandemic. It’s continuing to happen whatever I do. I am told we are turning a corner but at the same time, every day, multiple people I know get a positive diagnosis. There may be hope. I hope there’s hope. But it currently still stinks. And it stinks even more because we’re basically on our own out here. No one will make the hard calls so all the schools and all the restaurants and a lot of shows are still open but there’s this shadow closure that’s happening, where shows are closing, performing artists, and all the people who work to make the performing arts run, are losing their jobs, having gigs cancelled or just no audiences, restaurants are going out of business and schools have to limp along without the necessary staff. There’s no relief to be had for anyone because everyone is expected to still be out there pulling themselves up by their bootstraps and toughing it out. People are having to make hard calls all on their own every day and it is painful to watch this car crash in slow motion. Most people I know are just planning for when they get Omicron, not for if. We’re not locked in the apartment this year but maybe we should be? Hospitals have been stretched thin again. This is all very very very screwed up. I’m making peace with it but it is a very noisy, very thrashy peace.

I don’t have much more to say about it, I guess. I just thought I should share the concept with you in case any of you are in a similar state. Somehow it feels good to have language for accepting what one cannot change but still having feelings about it. Thrashing Acceptance is my new way.

 

This shark make look peaceable but if it’s anything like me, it’s going to start thrashing ANY minute now.

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.

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

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

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Click HERE to Check out my Patreon Page

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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.

****

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.

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.

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

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

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Want to help me make some Gen X circles?

Become my patron on Patreon.

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A Grant Ain’t One

You may not be shocked to learn that the City did not give me one of its 5k City Artist Corps Grants. I did end up applying for it, after all that sturm und drang – and two days after my birthday – I got a rejection email from them. Happy Birthday to me!

Well, I guess I got 99 problems but a grant ain’t one.

You may be saying to yourself – “Well, Emily, perhaps if you hadn’t publicly complained about this grant in two previous blog posts, maybe they would have given it to you! Maybe badmouthing grantmakers is not a great strategy for receiving their bounty.” And you would be absolutely right about that. I know I’m saying stuff that does not endear me to people who give those things out. This is why most artists don’t say anything. This is why they can be pathologically POSITIVE! OPTIMISTIC! Because, yes, it’s true, talking about our challenges with these things is probably not a great way to get these grants.

The thing is, though, I have a kind of freedom, as a marginal artist, to say whatever I want. I know that very few people are listening and that the odds of my grant panel actually reading a single word of this blog are very very slim. After all these years of doing this, I feel even more comfortable in my relative anonymity than I did when I started. I’ve had only a very small handful of blog posts land in front of arts folk with power and if they do end up there, it’s because I said whatever I said in such a way that it spoke to those folks and got passed around between them.

I can almost guarantee you that no one from that City Corps committee read either of my posts about their grant. I doubt, very highly, that it was a factor in my rejection. It’s much more likely that my project just didn’t sound like what they had in mind for this thing. Or that they were turned off by the fact that I have a company when they’re trying to help individual artists. But – of course, despite the odds, I still wonder if these posts somehow tanked my chances. It’s hard not to guess at things when you know nothing. It won’t stop me telling these sorts of truths in the future, though.

In fact, the only way I can see myself stopping talking about these uncomfortable nitty gritty arts realities is if they gave me one of the big grants. That is the most reliable way to shut up a troublesome artist – just give them your resources and the criticism will likely dry right up. It’s the artists with something to lose who will keep quiet, blow smoke or do whatever they have to do to remain within the good graces of the goods givers. I’d like to believe I would continue to speak my truths no matter what resources were given to me – but I also recognize that part of the reason I can do it is that I have absolutely nothing to lose. I can see how easy it would become to say nothing when to say something might actually register with the people I was receiving grants or funding from. I know this is true because I’ve already done it. If a hand is feeding me, I do not bite it. Grants like these, however, are not hands that feed me – just hands that might feed me one day if I got extremely lucky. God willing and the creek don’t rise, which the creek always does, so, you know, it’s unlikely to happen. This blog, on the other hand, is a hand that actually feeds me (through Patreon) and so the choice feels very clear. I write for the hand that actually feeds me, not the one that MIGHT.

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

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Become my patron on Patreon.

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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

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A Night at the Wet Opera
August 8, 2021, 1:23 pm
Filed under: art, community | Tags: , , , , , ,

All day, it had been threatening to rain but we decided to risk it and go to the park to see the opera performance. Neither of us had seen a show in person since the shut down so it felt like a big event.

We showed our vaccine passports at the vaccine entrance of the Bryant Park lawn and were directed to the folding chairs and tables we could take and place anywhere in the area. There was a cordoned off section way at the back for the socially distanced chairs set up for the non-vaccinated. (This event, btw, was the first time I got to show my vaccine passport. I was so excited.) We found a table and settled in. Almost immediately, we were reminded of what New York audiences for free stuff are like. (Very annoying – there’s always some intense rule enforcer who’ll enforce rules that don’t even exist.) Several people asked if we were using our table and were miffed when we said yes, despite the fact that were many freely available scattered around the edges of the lawn. There was a family in a line in front of us who seemed to be playing musical chairs and they were taking non-stop selfies with one another. And then it started to rain. Only a little bit at first. The selfie family started trading umbrellas around instead of just chairs. And almost no one left the park. The show was about to start after all!

It rained. The show started. If the response to its starting was muted, it’s only because everyone had umbrellas in their hands. By the time Carmen finished her aria, the audience had figured out how to cheer in the absence of clapping and there was some very cathartic cheering.

Because, of course, we weren’t just cheering for Carmen; We were also cheering for ourselves, this audience that would not be pushed around by some rain. A lot of rain by this point, btw. We are sitting in the rain in a park watching a fair to middling opera performance and I was weeping my face off. To hear a performer singing after so long, just cracked me open. A lot of it was not very good but I honestly did not care at all. I was so grateful for their cheeseball narration and hokey costumes, for their two person choruses attempting to stand in for the usual giant choruses.

Next to us, the young women in their sun dresses who’d been sharing some crackers and cheese at the start, huddled together under a clear plastic tarp. They eventually just dispensed with their tarp and let the rain pummel them while the toreador sang his song. They happily drank their hard seltzers, soaking wet.

The older man in a sweatshirt, his cane leaning against his leg, let the rain soak through his hood for a while but he finally surrendered and left his single chair.

Then the thunder started and so, before the toreador could conclude his number, the Artistic Director appeared ruefully onstage, clearly there to end the performance, and so the toreador made his own impromptu conclusion with a flourish.

The singers took their bows. The audience cheered and then flooded out of the park. Almost literally. The puddles were ankle deep.

On the subway steps before us, the little boy was joking with his family about his remarkable experience at Wet Opera.

Wet Opera was really quite beautiful. I was so moved by this crowd that would not move. We were told we were at the first opera performance in NYC since covid and it felt like that really meant something to this crowd. This crowd did not strike me as a particularly opera opera crowd. They didn’t seem to be particular fans of any of the singers or have a relationship with this company. They just felt like it was important to sit in a park together and see a show. Rain or no rain.

During one of the arias, a few tables away from us, someone popped a champagne cork. They all started giggling from the embarrassment of having made a big noise in the middle of a show and the giggles were contagious. We’re all so unused to being together like this – a simple thing like a cork pop just reminded us we’re all here together. We’re all hearing this music. We’re all feeling this rain. We see the rivulets streaming on the backdrop. We definitely all heard that cork and the giggles around us. Whatever happens, we’re all feeling it together.

Even the thunder, which sends us home.

In the moments before the Wet Opera began and became really wet.

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

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A $5000 Grant Would Be a $5000 Problem
July 5, 2021, 6:24 pm
Filed under: art, Art Scenes, Creative Process, dance, music, theatre, writing | Tags: , , , , , , ,

A day after applications opened, the email notifications of the grant’s existence came out. After a lot of hype, the City Corp Arts Grants applications were live! I waited until midnight to look at the tab I’d left open all day. I confess I didn’t have high hopes for it. But around midnight, I finally got the will to check it out. When I finally understood what its parameters were, I cursed and shut it all down again. There was no way I could do what it was asking. Another opportunity that I was just too uninspired to take on. Sigh. I’ve been here before. Ah well.

But then we started talking about this “opportunity” and I started to realize what a mess it was. It’s not that I’m uninspired. It’s that this grant is ridiculous. First – it’s been billed as a way to support artists after a devastating year with no support and, for performing artists, having our entire field shut down. It’s been pitched as a parcel of funds to help counteract the losses we endured. It is $5000 for 3000 individual artists. That’s nice! It’s a lovely idea. If I had $5000 to give to 3000 individual artists, I absolutely would do it. What a boon for those 3000 artists! But the catch is – they’re not just giving 3000 artists 5K. It’s not a gift. For 5K, they expect a return. They want live performances. They want murals. They want workshops and celebrations.

They’re trying to buy a summer full of art with a last minute investment. Because it’s not just that they want a show of some kind; They want it starting immediately. These performances have to happen between July and October. This timeline and this budget are impossible. I can’t make a show for $5k in NYC. I don’t know anyone who can.

If I were to sign up to try and get this grant, I’d be signing up for a $5000 problem. First this $5000 would not go to me, the artist (though this is the stated goal of this grant). The first place it would need to go would be a rehearsal space. And if we need to rent a performance venue, that’s it. The grant money is already spent. But let’s say we’re going to do this outdoors, guerrilla style – maybe on one of these Open Streets they set up this year – then maybe there’s enough money to pay some of the performers. If we want it to look good in the photos we’re required to provide for the city, we’ll need to hire some good costume and scenic designers, not to mention a photographer to document this street performance. I, personally, the artist who applied for this thing that is meant to help me, will likely not see a dime. Not to mention that I’ll have had absolutely zero time to prepare. I’d be expected to find a venue, cast a show, find a place to rehearse it, and put it all on, at warp speed. On top of that, I’d, for sure, need to raise more money to get anything really done. It’s not a great deal for me.

Now – if this grant gave me 5K and a free rehearsal space and just wanted a couple of photos of whatever I came up with, that might be something. That would be a grant that encouraged the creation of art rather than demanding some kind of product. A city that gave its artists funds to just do whatever would yield some really exciting interesting art. I fear the opposite is about to happen with this grant.

One of the requirements for this grant is to provide evidence of sustained art making here in NYC. This seems very reasonable. But it would be much better for the state of the arts here in general if instead of the asking those NYC artists with a track record to come up with a product with no real budget in a hurry, they just had a lottery for those artists and checked in with the winners after a little while to see what they came up with.

I’m sure everyone involved in this grant has the best of intentions – but it does feel a little bit like, after a brutal year, we emerge from our caves, our entire field blunted by dis-use and tears, and the city of NYC says, from the audience, “Showtime!” and we’re just pushed out on stage with no preparation. I don’t know how to say, “I’m sorry but I’m depleted and discouraged and I’ve got nothing for you.”

I would like to receive $5000 from the city of New York. I have been making art here for over two decades. It would be nice to receive a little something in honor of those years of contributing to the culture. But I just don’t have an idea for how to pull off this impossible task, for not enough money.

It’s not me, it’s this grant. This grant wants to see us dance and we are still limping back from the wars. Do we want to be dancing? Of course! There are just certain realities that we have to acknowledge. Dance costs money and it takes time to create. I feel quite sure the grantmakers imagined a summer of dozens of dancers, leaping through the streets, actors staging epics on corners, murals being painted everywhere. It is a beautiful fantasy.

I think it’s more likely that there will be a lot of solo artists, doing whatever they can in random corners. There are going to be poets and magicians and lone cellists in the streets and if we have an abundance of poets and cellos this summer, that’s cool. But I feel fairly certain that’s that this grant was not meant to be exclusively poets and cellists. And as mad as this “Dance, Artist, Dance” grant makes me, I’d still apply for it if I had even the barest semblance of an idea. I try to imagine it. I picture getting sparked by something – but then I have to find a rehearsal space and I can imagine making those calls, discovering who is still here and who has lost their space. I picture trying to find a venue and confronting the same difficult reality. None of it gives me any joy or hope, really.

I’m sure there are artists among us for whom this will be very helpful and I am very glad for them and look forward to seeing their work. But for those, like me, who might feel demoralized by these grants that were theoretically created to help us, it just feels important to acknowledge that these are not helpful for everyone.

In thinking about this, I found myself weeping harder than I have in months. And while I appreciate a good cry, I’m not sure I appreciate a grant whose very existence makes artists feel inadequate and uninspired. Intellectually, I know that I’m not artistically dead. I know that not being able to come up with a show for an impossible grant for not enough money does not mean I’m empty forever. But – it sure feels like that. I just can’t seem to stop crying whenever I try and access the inspiration well. I know that the inspiration well depends on my feeling safe and secure and stimulated and after this year I am none of those things. It is not the job of the City of New York to be concerned with my inspiration well. But – the safety and security of thousands of artists here have been compromised and I would wager that lots of artists might be in tears about their inspiration wells today. The City of New York missed a big opportunity to actually help artists, to give us a sense of safety and security that might actually make space for inspiration and instead it just wants us to smile and put on a show.

This is one empty inspirational well.
Too bad the city of NYC won’t be giving me $5000 to help fill it.

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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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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A View from a Small Apartment in NYC

It was when I noticed I was pushing our building door open with my hip that I started dedicating clothes for inside or outside. With the pandemic raging outside, no extra precaution seemed too crazy at a certain point. So I take my clothes off at the door and go wash my hands before putting on the inside clothes. When Scott started wearing outside pants, I thought it was overkill but then I noticed all the times I made contact with the world when I went out in it – like that door and my hip.

I’ve started to realize that things are a little different for folks in other parts of the country and world, and so, in the interest of preventing other places becoming an epicenter like this, it seemed like maybe a little recounting of what has become normal for us might be useful.

It’s different in NYC, in part, because we are all so pressed together here. If you go out into the world at all, there is no escaping other humans. Take a walk around the block, you will likely pass at least twenty people. New York grocery stores are tiny and the shelves are pressed together to save space. One other person in an aisle is a crowd. You cannot pass someone without getting very close to them. Other humans pass through our apartment buildings every day – even if it’s only for each family to get a daily walk in. And we need to get a daily walk in because many of our apartments are small. The longest walk I can take indoors is seventeen paces and that’s if I walk from the bathroom, through the kitchen, living room and into the bedroom. Getting 10,000 steps by just walking around one’s home is not going to happen for many of us.

Outside, I walk more or less the same route now. It’s the one that seems least populated. It does have its pitfalls. The souvlaki truck on the corner is always surrounded by guys who seem to have very little concern for masks or social distance. They will happily eat the souvlaki right next to one another. Same with the bagel shop. There’s a fruit and veggie stand that juts into the sidewalk and is always surrounded. But about halfway through this route, there is a bleeding heart bush in front of someone’s house. I have developed a relationship with this bush. I visit it. Say hello. I notice when its blossoms fade and when it puts out new ones. Towards the end of this walk, if I need to, I go to the grocery store. It is not the best grocery store in our area but it is the least crowded and unlike all the other ones, there is never a line to get in. The produce section is a little too tightly packed, though, so I have often waited a lonnnng time to be able to dart in to collect some spinach or berries.

Before this hit, NYC implemented a plastic bag ban but nearly everywhere has given up on it and will give you plastic, just automatically. I mean, those reusable bags are a little dangerous now suddenly – especially if you reuse them. I have two and as soon as I’ve used them, they go in the laundry.

Once a week, we do our laundry at the laundromat down the street. They were closed for a month or two and we had to go to the smaller and more treacherous one around the corner. We try and only touch surfaces there with rags but it’s not easy. I use a new rag every day to go in and out of our building. Watching our neighbors open the doors with their bare hands reminds me to toss the rags in the laundry as soon as I’ve used them.

There were weeks wherein every trip outside felt like stepping out into speeding traffic without a crosswalk. We did our best to be careful but were highly aware that we could be hit at any moment. We developed some dark jokes about being careful not to step in any coronavirus out there – as if it were just sitting in easy-to-avoid puddles instead of lying in wait for us on any possible surface or in the air.

Our friends from afar want to know if we know anyone who has it or if we’ve lost people. I have a fair number of acquaintances who probably had it but cannot be sure – but, as far as I know, no close friends have been struck too low.

But we are all deeply impacted – if only by the refrigerated trucks that are parked outside our local hospital to store the dead. If only by the sheer risk in taking a trip outside. If only by being confined to our neighborhoods because of the treacherous quality of public transportation right now. And for most of us, public transportation is really our only transportation, so here we are. But where would we go? It’s actually hard to imagine going anywhere right now. Especially somewhere far from here. I feel like a walking virus. I would not want to bring what’s here anywhere else.

I see photos of friends and family sitting on their porches, out in their gardens or on walks through the woods that they were able to go to via their perfectly safe cars and I realize how wildly different our experiences of this are. I can see how abstract this virus might seem to someone who lives in a house that is not pressed up against another house and can get in their private automobile and go many places where there aren’t many other people. I can imagine that it’s harder to understand why you can’t get your haircut or go out to dinner when so much else is the same as it’s ever been. I don’t think it’s an accident that these bizarre protests of the lockdowns are coming from folks who live in less densely populated areas. They’re not used to worrying about what the people around them are doing. If you drive from your bubble of a house in your bubble of a car, it probably seems like everywhere you might go is still in your safe bubble. Why would you wear a mask if you cannot conceive of the danger?

But here, we are (most of us) acutely aware of what the people around us are doing. I give the souvlaki guys a wide berth and cross the street to avoid the overly busy fruit stand. But I still go out every day because I need to get more than seventeen paces of walking in. I’m sure there are people who are truly quarantining that look at my daily walks as a luxury or a crazy risk, in much the same way that I look at someone going to (even a socially distanced) party right now in North Carolina. I keep thinking about this piece that Dahlia Lithwick wrote about how the country’s responded to NYC now and how it responded after 9-11. The difference in response is extreme. I was here for both and this time we’re on our own.

And I’m not at all interested in sympathy for our situation. We are the lucky ones here and we know it. We live here because, usually, when we’re not in a pandemic, this city has an abundance of things to offer that we cannot get anywhere else. It may be tight quarters but it’s not as tight as a refrigerated truck and I know how lucky I am not to be in one.

Did you see that post that went around Facebook by Carlos Avila, when folks first started to protest lockdowns? Well, it is a work of sweary glory about what it’s like for us here and what opening things up prematurely seems like to New Yorkers. All we want here is for other places to take this seriously as we know it is. Just because most other places are naturally more socially distant than us here in NYC doesn’t mean you won’t get clobbered. Just because it’s easier for people in other places to hang out in your gardens, doesn’t mean you should leave them. Probably, nowhere is likely to get hit with the relentlessness our city got hit with just because of our density of population – but that doesn’t mean other places won’t get hit. I keep thinking of that choir in Washington State that had one fateful practice and lost at least two of its members to the virus, with 45 members contracting it. Please please don’t get complacent. And don’t let itchy thoughtless governments pull you out of safety if it’s not time. This virus has had plenty of time to spread out and make itself comfortable in communities far beyond New York. If the scientists want you to stay home for a while longer and you can, please do.

Drive your car bubble out to the woods and shout at the trees about how much you hate wearing a mask (I hate it, too) but then put it back on around other humans. For now. We all want this nightmare to end. And the longer we resist the things that will help, the longer it will be. Check your state’s numbers on the Johns Hopkins coronavirus map and if your little tracking chart isn’t going down, maybe stick around your house for a while if you can.

For us sheltering here in NYC in our tiny apartments with little respite or escape, all those protests seem especially absurd. Oh, are you tired of roaming around your yard? That must be tough. Are you tired of driving out to look at the lake already? Yes, of course, send hairdressers back to work then! Makes perfect sense. Welp – there are plenty of refrigerator trucks here. We’ll send them to you when we’re done with them. And no, we’re not done with them yet.

 

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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Invite Me to Your Party
September 20, 2019, 12:16 am
Filed under: community, space | Tags: , , , , ,

Are you having a party? Invite me. I would like to come. Can I guarantee that I will make it? No. Stuff happens and sometimes migraines happen to me. So I am unfortunately not a terribly reliable guest anymore. Also if it’s super late and the trains aren’t running again on the weekends, it can get a little sticky but please invite me anyway.

I can make no guarantees but I am watching my social net develop a lot of holes so I need to get out more and I’d like to do it at your party.

I don’t always love parties. Since it became cool to be an introvert, I think a lot of us have become more comfortable confessing that sometimes a night in is more pleasurable than a party. But that doesn’t mean we don’t want to go to parties at all. It certainly doesn’t mean we don’t want to be invited to them. If your introvert friend confessed that they don’t love a party, it doesn’t mean they won’t go and maybe even enjoy themselves! Invite them anyway!

I don’t know if it’s my age or where I live but no one seems to have parties anymore. My Gen X peers used to throw some real good ones – but maybe everyone’s too busy with their kids and/or parents to throw a party anymore?

One of the factors here in NYC is that it is tricky to find a space big enough to throw a party in. Those lofts in Williamsburg where eight artists used to live together and throw parties are now owned by a hedge fund manager – and he’s not inviting us to his parties. I used to know people with lofts. No more.

I mean, I’d invite you all over but my apartment is so small – just one extra person in it makes the place an obstacle course. No one likes a sardine party. Unless we’re playing sardines in a big old house in the country with lots of space and fun nooks and crannies. People like those parties.

I understand why people have fewer parties than they used to. It’s often expensive to throw a party and these days it’s really hard to get people to show up for anything – even free food and booze. To go to all that expense and trouble for nothing?

I mean. I have had gatherings wherein no one showed up. Not one person. For my most recent birthday I invited 40 people to come out with me and only one of them made it. (I didn’t really want a 40 person party but this isn’t my first birthday rodeo. Previous ratios suggested that if I invited 40, I’d get 4.) I have put on shows that I have had to cancel because no one came. I know many other theatre makers who have struggled to get people to show up for them. I heard about a party wherein the hosts had offered to pay for housing and flights to Europe for their weekend birthday and most of the guests cancelled at the last minute. I mean, if you can’t even get people to show up for an all expense paid trip to Europe, we’re in a bit of social crisis.

I think, with all the social media at our disposal, we have come to feel as if our social needs are taken care of – because we have a thousand Facebook friends, or followers on Twitter. It’s CLOSE to being with people – but it’s not close enough. We need to have times where we are face to face. We need to go to parties even when we’d rather stay home and watch GLOW on Netflix. I know I need to be more social. I need to get out and start knitting up the holes in my social fabric. The holes are nobody’s fault – it’s just shifting norms, living in a migratory city and the traffic patterns of urban life.

So if you’re having a party. Please invite me. I am usually pretty fun at a party. If you need someone to start the dancing, I’m your girl. If you stopped inviting me because I never came, try me again. I’m trying to be better. I think a lot of us are. I can count at least three friends who have said that they are trying to be more social these days, too. Invite us all! We’ll have a good time! And hey, if you’d just rather watch GLOW on Netflix, invite us over for that. Let’s watch it together. A quiet TV watching party is fun, too! Just – if you have the space and you were wondering if you should have a party, you should. And you should invite me.

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

They also bring you the podcast version of the blog.

You can find the podcast on iTunes, Stitcher, Spotify or wherever you get your podcasts.

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

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