Songs for the Struggling Artist


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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My Pandemic Guide to International TV – Part Two

Last week, I took us (mostly) to Spain, Italy and Turkey.

And now it’s on to France, Germany, Mexico, Colombia, Brazil and beyond.

France gave me some quality TV and Netflix gave them all silly titles in English. (I get the sense that the folks at Netflix thinks Americans are dumb and need dumb titles.) One of the few shows set in contemporary times that compelled me was Call My Agent which I really wish they’d called its French title, Ten Percent (Dix Pour Cent). But no one asked me. So. One of the benefits of watching this show full of French stars was that when one of them appeared in the next French show I watched, I was very excited.

That show was The Bonfire of Destiny (French title: Le Bazar de la CharitéThe Charity Bazaar – which is much more descriptive as this is an important setting/event of the show). It was harrowing at first, since it begins with a lot of people dying in a really terrible fire (at a Charity Bazaar!) but then becomes a really intriguing look at class and gender and culture in 1897. It felt like an adaptation of a classic novel from the old days that never actually existed, with some really complicated romances. There is, I have discovered a Turkish version of this show and now I’d very much like to see that, too.

Then, there was the cold war era comedy delight called A Very Secret Service (in French: Au Service de la FranceIn Service of France, once again, a much better title!) It’s got fewer women in it than I prefer but its bureaucratic idiocy made me laugh a lot. I sing to myself a line from it occasionally for no good reason except that I enjoyed it so thoroughly – “Tamponné. Double Tamponné.”  (Stamped. Double Stamped.) In a giant global crisis, they are most flummoxed by which stamp to use for a form. It was a delight. A sexist delight but I didn’t care. And you know when I don’t care it must have been worth it.

On to Germany!

I started with Babylon Berlin last year. I’d avoided it for a while because I was afraid it was going to be too violent for me and it was too violent for me but my brother was living in Berlin at the time and he liked it so I watched it anyway and I wasn’t sorry, even if I did have to cover my eyes and ears more often than I’d like. I’d been curious about the Weimar era in Germany pretty much ever since Trump got elected so this show successfully brought me into those pre-Nazi times and helped me understand a few things. Also – a lot happens! Stylishly!

I also got hooked into Charité which is a series about a hospital in Berlin, based on historical people and events. The first season takes place in 1887 and deals with doctors’ attempts to cure and/or vaccinate against tuberculosis and diphtheria. It is a very interesting moment in time where some doctors are pushing for cleaning and sterilizing the hospital and the nurses and other doctors are skeptical. It is a fight that has a clear winner but in these times, is interesting to watch play out. Their second season takes place during World War Two and I have to say, watching a World War II show from a German hospital staff’s perspectives was hard but illuminating. Watching well meaning doctors look away from eugenics happening right in front of them or claiming that the harrowing tales of their government that made it to their ears was all propaganda. I guess I understand now how folks like that fooled themselves. I’m seeing people do that now.

But I haven’t just watched shows from Europe.

I’ve told you about Mexico’s House of Flowers already and I’m in the middle of The Five Juanas, which is very silly, soapy and kind of trashy. It’s about five women (named Juana! Surprise!) who discover they all have the same birthmark and therefore the same father. Ridiculous though it may be, it is super interesting to realize that I can sometimes distinguish between accents in Spanish now, after having watched so much TV from several places. I can hear that the Juana from Colombia sounds very different than the one who grew up in Spain, who sounds different from the three from Mexico.

There was a lot of pleasure in Colombia’s Always a Witch, even though its premise was off the charts problematic. (A slave woman in love with the master’s son is set to be burned at the stake for witchcraft but is saved by going to the future where she spends all her time trying to get back to her boyfriend. {Yes, the boyfriend whose family owned her.} Oh, Honey, no.) But the music was great and the witchery was fun and they realized their mistake by the second season but it may have been too late. I’m pretty sure it’s been cancelled. It is fascinating to watch a show screw itself up so badly.

On to Brazil!

One of the most unique shows I’ve seen on this kick I’ve been on was No One’s Looking which is about these bureaucratic angels who start to break the rules. It is an odd odd world and I admired the quirky design a lot. My favorite part may have been when the angel middle manager takes his team to go see some “stand up comedy” and it turns out to be a very sincere motivational speaker talking about angels. The angels watch from the balcony laughing their wings off. If you’ve ever wanted to watch office worker angels dance, take drugs and generally explore being human, this show is for you.

The other Brazilian show was called The Girls from Impanema (in English – in Portuguese it’s Coisa Mas Linda, which is a line from the song “Girl from Impanema”). This show falls in line with my usual interests by being the story of women at work, trying to make things work. The story is of a woman whose husband leaves her and so she starts a club and becomes the center of the Bossa Nova scene in Rio. I almost quit watching the show at the top of season two when they brought back her husband and he took over her club. And I guess this is a spoiler but I know I would have appreciated knowing that she and her girls would turn it around and send him packing again within a couple of episodes. The women in the show are all pretty amazing and do remarkable things. The biggest flaw is that the writers seem to subscribe to the “All Men Are Trash” school where even the good ones do some very bad things. I found all that pretty tiresome but the music and the cool dames kept me going. You’ll want to get out your bossa nova albums after this show.

Other shows I tried:

The Egyptian version of Gran Hotel (Hmmm. Nope. Didn’t do it for me.)

I tried to watch Cathedral by the Sea (Spanish) but if you start your show with repeated sexual assaults, I’m out.

I didn’t get more than 15 minutes into Bolivar (Colombian) or The Last Bastion (Peruvian).

The first episode of Paquita Salas (Spanish) had a quality. But I feel like I’ve seen that quality elsewhere and better in other shows.

There are a lot of cultural holes in my watching that I would like to fill in. I feel like I’m really missing a lot of good things from Asia and Africa. I tried Giri/Haji – which was just too macho for me and I’m interested in Kingdom but just can’t ever seem to face it. Anyone who can point me toward the Korean feminist period drama section of the video store will get a big thank you.

I realize, too, that I am constrained by the limitations of the streaming services. They only show me what THEY want to show me. I’m subject to Netflix’s tastes as much as my own. I may have to investigate alternative international streaming services. After all, Netflix has cancelled a lot of my favorite shows – and removed some great ones from the platform. (Gran Hotel, The Time in Between and I never got to see it but I heard The Ministry of Time was amazing.) I did just read that Netflix has started to open up to the African film and TV world so I’m looking forward to seeing what emerges there.

If you have international favs, please tell me about them, especially if they’re period dramas about women working. I may have exhausted Netflix’s Spanish TV resources and Amazon’s Pantaya service tends to not have English subtitles so I gotta branch out! Or get better at Spanish! At some point, I suppose I’ll want to watch more than a couple of shows in English again but for the moment, I’m just much more interested in the worlds far away from here.

Goals: To see TV from all these places.

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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Want to help me get through this thrashing season?

Become my patron on Patreon.

Click HERE to Check out my Patreon Page

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If you liked the blog and would like to give a dollar (or more!) put it in the PayPal digital hat. https://www.paypal.me/strugglingartist

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

They also bring you the podcast version of the blog.

It’s also called Songs for the Struggling Artist 

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

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

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Here Comes the Wave

When I was in grad school, I brought the guest director from England to see a Moliere piece made by Theatre de la Jeune Lune, on tour from Minneapolis. I’d seen Jeune Lune’s work in their home when I was on tour and fell in love with their production of The Kitchen. If you saw this production you’ll know why. (Plates!) So I knew this visiting director would find something of interest in their Moliere piece. She was very impressed and we talked about that production a lot, even later that year, when I came to assist her on a production in London.

Not long after that, Jeune Lune, after thirty years of innovative work, had to close. Word on the street was that financial troubles had sunk them and they had to disband. Every time I saw this director I’d brought to the show after that, she’d ask me, “Darling, how could this happen? How could they let this wonderful company die? What is wrong in your country that they don’t know they need to take care of extraordinary artists like that?” She was greatly troubled by the loss. I was too – though a lot less surprised, as I’ve come to expect a terrible survival-of-the-financially-fittest in the arts in this country. It’s not the best art that survives – just the stuff that generates the most financially stable footprint.

I think this is backwards, of course. Personally, I don’t need my great artists to be financial wizards. If they’re not great at managing their money, I don’t think that should be a death sentence for a theatre company. I want a company to make great theatre; I don’t need it to make great investments. Anyway – Jeune Lune died and it was a tragedy for their community not to mention theatre in general, and its reverberations were felt everywhere, even across the ocean to a director who’d seen their Moliere once.

Now, here in 2021, a beloved and cherished English company has died. It is one with a similarly storied history, aesthetic chops and full touring schedule. If you saw Kneehigh Theatre, you know you saw something special. And they survived through the pandemic! They made it through the eye of the hurricane! But they could go no further. It’s heartbreaking. I want to call up that director who used to bemoan the loss of Jeune Lune and say, “Darling, how could you let this happen?”

But of course – this is only the first of many beloved companies hitting the rocks, I expect. I expect this is about to happen around the world. There will be companies that quietly folded while we were all at home. There will be companies that held on throughout but could not pick up the pieces here at the end of the road. It’s about to get very sad around here for the performing arts and it’s been sad for some time now but it’s somehow going to be a whole new wave of closures and sadness. Darling how could we let this happen? There are a lot of positive developments in process. Broadway will be back in the fall. The Public is doing some Shakespeare in the Park this summer (featuring one of the actors from the Dragoning! Go see him!) But Jeune Lune is long gone. Kneehigh is shutting down.

As things start to open up, many other companies we love will discover that their futures are unsustainable. Darlings, do we have to let this happen?

It’s probably too late for most of them but if you have a company you love – maybe let them know now, maybe drop them a donation, before they’re gone forever.

This is from Kneehigh Theatre’s Brief Encounter. Waves feature quite prominently in this production. That might be one coming up behind them in that boat. Also, I don’t have the rights for this photo but I hope as it’s in tribute to the great loss of this great company, they might not object to my using 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.

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

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

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Want to help me avoid going down in this wave?

Become my patron on Patreon.

Click HERE to Check out my Patreon Page

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If you liked the blog and would like to give a dollar (or more!) put it in the PayPal digital hat. https://www.paypal.me/strugglingartist

Or buy me a coffee on Kofi – ko-fi.com/emilyrainbowdavis



Remembering What Might Have Been

There was a moment there, in the early days of last year, where it felt like we could have had something different. In looking back at my posts from then, I see how we were poised on this needle of possibility. There was a funny kind of hope – a kind of excitement almost – that we could fundamentally alter how we do things. We could turn our weird dystopia of an experience upside down and have a transformed society.

It felt like there was a moment where we could have canceled rent, could have saved untold people and businesses, could have paid folks to stay at home and created a space for a transformative moment in society. There was a kind of giddiness in the possibility – a grappling with our values and seeing how we could have a society that really cared for one another. I feel like it was close enough to taste.

But of course – we didn’t choose that way. We chose to go full dystopia and let half a million people die, many more to get sick, or lose their homes or their jobs. It didn’t have to be this way. But it’s what we did.

I can’t say I’m surprised. I can get pretty cynical about our American default settings. What I was surprised about was how palpable the other way was for a moment. It was modeled by other countries, for one thing. There were many places that sent their populations home and paid them to stay there. There were places that swung into action in looking after its vulnerable populations. There were places that developed ways for the whole to look after one another, even in isolation. There were places that supported artists specifically – knowing their livelihoods were decimated. Watching so many countries find ways to help their citizenry gave me a glimpse into a world where our lives might actually be valuable, instead of disposable. It helped me imagine a kinder world – one that didn’t require the claws and teeth of a constant struggle for survival.

As a Struggling ArtistTM I have long felt the strong undertow of Darwinian Economics. It feels like my entire career in the arts is pervaded by the atmosphere of a herd constantly being culled. Life in the arts is a giant dance audition where you’re waiting for your name to be called to see if you’ve been cut or made the cut. If you make the cut and survive to dance another round, you do not mourn those who were cut in your stead, you celebrate and dance another day.

Many years ago, I remember one of my NYC theatre company peers declaring that if there were companies folding, it was for the best – because it cleared the field for those of us with survival skills. I pushed back on this at the time – I was concerned by the loss of our elders and how much the system favored the privileged and the young, to say nothing of the white and the abled. Survival of the fittest, in theatre, often means the survival of the richest and most privileged. It doesn’t make for good art. It doesn’t make a vibrant community.

Survival becomes a badge of honor and the badge gets more impressive the longer you wear it. You either make it or you don’t. And while we think of “making it” as the mark of success, it’s also just – did you make it? Did you make it out of the scary place alive? Making it can just be getting to the end of the movie when so many of the other characters were lost.

I sort of thought this was just an arts thing – but watching our various governments handle this pandemic, I’ve realized that it’s everywhere. But now it’s actually life or death. The arts feel that way but you won’t actually die if you don’t make the cut. You might feel like you’re dying in being separated from your art but you still survive. In real life now – if you don’t operate with a certain amount of privilege – you might well actually die. Those who fled to their second houses are living through a very different pandemic than the ones who continued to work in the essential (and dangerous) jobs. Those were the people who the culture deemed no big deal to lose. We certainly didn’t pay them much better for the risks they were taking. Hazard pay was haphazard and we lost a lot of people. One of the things I keep thinking about is something Zeynep Tufekci said in her article, “5 Pandemic Mistakes We Keep Repeating.”

The poor and minority groups are dying in disproportionately large numbers for the same reasons that they suffer from many other diseases: a lifetime of disadvantages, lack of access to health care, inferior working conditions, unsafe housing, and limited financial resources.

Many lacked the option of staying home precisely because they were working hard to enable others to do what they could not, by packing boxes, delivering groceries, producing food. And even those who could stay home faced other problems born of inequality: Crowded housing is associated with higher rates of COVID-19 infection and worse outcomes, likely because many of the essential workers who live in such housing bring the virus home to elderly relatives.

Individual responsibility certainly had a large role to play in fighting the pandemic, but many victims had little choice in what happened to them. By disproportionately focusing on individual choices, not only did we hide the real problem, but we failed to do more to provide safe working and living conditions for everyone.

The Atlantic, February 26, 2021

It is chilling to realize how ready to sacrifice others so many people are. This notion of personal responsibility allowed us to blame individuals rather than the systems that were killing off large numbers of people. The problem was not so much that the disease was intractable but more that our systems are so full of holes, we were bound to lose a lot of people through them and we did. But because as a nation, we seem to find the notion of disposable people acceptable, we just let them all get sick and let many of them die. It feels like somehow we’re in a war and are prepared to accept great losses for some reason.

One of the places that this country was seemingly fine to accept great losses was in the arts. The field has been decimated. The country just shrugged. No more arts? Fine. The Performing Arts have been closed for a year and only the most established and supported of organizations (or the smallest and most nimble) could survive such brutal depletion. But it’s just artists. No great loss.

It just – didn’t have to be this way. Certainly, we can blame part of it on the terrible leadership at the national level last year and also on terrible leaderships at the state and local levels as well. My governor cut funding to hospitals in the middle of all this. Does that make any sense? But as a people, I feel like we were all that dog with his coffee cup surrounded by flames saying “This is fine” when it was very clearly not fine. Much has been made of the great revealing of holes in our social net with all this. The pandemic has shown us so many failings. But it also showed us some hope for a different way of doing things there at the beginning. The solutions that were offered then would have fixed a LOT of things. If we’d paid people to stay home at first, fewer would have had to risk their lives out in the world and we’d have beat this thing by now. That simple choice would have been cheaper than all the scrambling stop gap measures that came after if we’d paid out the 1.9 trillion that just passed back in April of 2020, we’d already be back in business. But this country really does value money more than people. All those re-openings are not for people, they are for money. One of the riskiest things you can do is sit inside a restaurant – and yet it is one of the first things to come back, ostensibly to keep restaurants in business. But no restaurant can stay in business at 25% capacity. If we want to save restaurants, the way to do it is to cancel their rent. But landlords’ money is more important than restaurant workers’ lives and so the dystopia continues.

Sorry. Living in a dystopia where people are disposable is kind of getting me down. But remembering that moment of hope, from early on, where we could have made other choices, actually gives me a little boost. We could still make choices like that. We don’t have to be in a pandemic to do it. We could live in a kinder world, one where everyone gets to dance and no one gets cut.

This dance audition was so brutal, they cut ALLL the dancers and just left the studio behind.
Also, the studio has been cut as well.

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I Am a (Partially) Vaccinated Puppy
April 6, 2021, 11:21 pm
Filed under: Healthcare, pandemic | Tags: , , , , , , ,

I AM DOSED UP! I got a shot in the arm and I am feeling good. Feels good! Feels good! Just like Lionel Richie exclaimed on the radio in the waiting area as I waited for the man with the megaphone to call my number so I could book the appointment for the next dose.

After hearing the podcast where Sherry Turkle described her feeling of overwhelm in being with so many people at her vaccination center after all the months of isolation, I was worried I’d be a nervous wreck. But I was more like an excited puppy, truth be told.

I was excited like I was going to Disney World. And truthfully, I’ve been to Disney World and I was much more excited to get my vaccine than I was to see Mickey and Minnie.

I feel like, historically, I’ve thought of myself as an introvert but the way I perked up with all those people is making me reconsider. I was like a thirsty person who just came in to a bar from the desert. Yes I will drink that pitcher of water, thank you very much. And the pitcher of water is this group of people making it possible to get so many New Yorkers vaccinated. I will drink them ALL up.

I mean. To GET OUT OF OUR APARTMENT and go to a shitty high school and talk to MULTIPLE PEOPLE and get to say thank you to each and every one of them. I was giddy as hell to be there and when it was over, I couldn’t put my jacket back on because I was burning with relief. Was it relief? Or just a kind of joy at being with other people even in the most bureaucratic insane situation. Like, they’re all doing this incredibly tedious job of shuttling people from one place to another – and it’s for me, it’s like – I GET TO COME HERE AND GET A SHOT IN MY ARM THAT EVENTUALLY WILL ALLOW ME TO SEE PEOPLE I LOVE, TO DO STUFF AGAIN. HOW CAN I NOT JUST EFFUSE ALL OVER THE DAMN PLACE? I TOOK THE SUBWAY FOR THE FIRST TIME IN OVER A YEAR AND IT WAS SCARY BUT ALSO MAYBE A LITTLE BIT EXCITING! HI EVERYONE! HELLO! I’m just…HELLO!

Yes – we are in a shitty high school with a shitty cafeteria and a shitty gym and a dirty restroom but I have spent many many hours teaching in such places (not the restroom!) so this was like a trip to the old shitty high school homestead. (But this one has planes parked in their yard?! Man, this school is weird.) I have walked in sunny to such rainy day places before and never have I ever valued that experience more. I know the vibes of school secretaries who are tired of everyone’s bullshit – but in this case – they’re not school secretaries, they’re people trying to move large numbers of humans through a complex maze of patient numbers, lines, second appointments and safety precautions. But it’s like – I walked into that school the way I’ve walked into many a school before it – ready to charm the school secretaries into giving me the key to the rest room. But this time – it worked. First, I didn’t need a key to get into the restroom and second no one working the vaccination site is as hardened as a school secretary. So I felt like a hot knife through butter.

But saying I went in there with my school energy makes it sound like I was doing an act at the vaccine center – and it was nothing of the sort. It was all a surprise to me. I came in fully prepared to freak out about all the people after so long in isolation. I thought I’d be shaking and huddled up in a corner and instead found myself radiating sunshine like a damn solar lantern. Did I fall in love with the nurse who gave me the vaccine? A little bit, yes. I was just so happy to be there and she got such a kick out of me being happy to be there, it was a really nice time. Sure, she stuck a needle in my arm – but she did it with love, man.

I keep hearing people being worried about what it will be like to see people in person again and I honestly have not for a moment worried about that, though I understand the feeling. (“Will I know how to small talk anymore? How do we hang out?”) I’ve been pretty sure I’ll be mostly just delighted to see all the humans I know and from what I’ve seen today, it seems likely that I’ll be an enthusiastic puppy. I mean, I know not to jump on people and I will do my best not to lick any faces but I will be ready to play.

Actual footage of me at my vaccination

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This Sucks

Hey everyone – just in case you hadn’t noticed, this whole situation really sucks. I know this seems obvious and it is. But the fact that it’s obvious and that we’re all experiencing it, doesn’t make it suck any less. It sucks. Totally and completely. I just thought it might be important to acknowledge the suckitude.

I’ve been seeing (virtually, of course, not so much IRL because I don’t see much IRL) a lot of people working really hard to be okay, to make a positive out of this giant negative and I’m seeing a lot of folks really suffer because of it. I think the American strategy of thinking positive and putting on a brave face is starting to really crack at the seams. I was in a shop the other day and when I asked the cashier how he was doing, he said, very brightly, “I have no complaints!” I found it very jarring, frankly. No complaints? Really? None? I did not say so, though. I just sputtered something, matching his cheeriness, like, “No complaints? Wow. Well, that’s great!”

I cannot imagine having no complaints. But of course, just below the surface of this very cheery statement of no complaint was a WORLD of complaints. He didn’t share them with me (nor did I expect or want him to) but he then told me that complaints were for home. Here, at his place of work, he must always bring the positive attitude. He told me he could not share such complaints with other people. I asked, “What if someone has the same complaint? Then you could commiserate.” But he did not see the appeal of this strategy.

I think he may not be alone in that thinking. It is very American to try and Positive Think one’s way out of a bad situation. It seems to have pretty much been the only strategy for dealing with Covid 19 that was employed by the Trump Administration. Think Positive! (“It’s going to disappear. One day it’s like a miracle, it will disappear.”) It continues to be the strategy a lot of Americans employ. The “I won’t get sick. I’m strong! I don’t need to wear a mask! If I just believe it hard enough, I will be fine!”

But even for those who are taking precautions, who are wearing their masks, who are staying at home, who are maintaining social distance, there’s a whole lot of Staying Positive work happening. (“I’m getting so much time with my family! I made bread! I can learn a new language if I want!”) But it’s getting harder and harder to put a positive shine on this business. I think we may need to find some release valves for everyone.

For me – just acknowledging that it sucks is helpful. Every so often just saying it out loud or texting it to a friend or shouting it while doing an interpretative dance can really make a difference. It SUCKS, y’all! This SUCKS. It sucks to wear a mask. It sucks to not see our friends. It sucks to be stuck in a tiny ass apartment with not one single comfortable place to sit. It sucks to have no theatre.  It sucks not to be able to go to the movies. It sucks not to go to restaurants. It sucks not go to concerts. It sucks, it sucks, it sucks. It sucks not to be able to browse around bookstores. It sucks not to recognize people on the street. It sucks to not know when this madness will actually end. It sucks not to be able to sit in cafés and stare out the window. It sucks not to have any use for the lipstick I found in my coat pocket from last winter and still somehow don’t have the heart to remove. It sucks to have every single meal at the same table sitting on the same stool. It sucks to not really know what day of the week it is because it doesn’t really matter. It sucks to not see our families. There are a multitude of ways that this sucks that are beyond just dealing with the realities of the virus.

I think a lot of the people who are resisting the restrictions, who refuse to wear masks or limit their contacts are largely not used to things sucking that they can’t put a positive spin on, so instead of acknowledging the suck, they just get angry and refuse to participate.

The American way has historically been that when things suck, we just forge ahead, pretend that everything is fine – that there isn’t racism anymore, for example, that we’ve solved inequity and everyone can just pull themselves up by their bootstraps, even if they don’t have any boots.

I don’t think this is working anymore. I don’t think we can Positive Think our way out of this. Everyone I know is struggling. We’re hanging in there but it is hard. It sucks. I can’t pretend otherwise. I have complaints and I feel better every time I can share them with someone. What’s that saying? A trouble shared is a trouble halved? I’m not sure it works quite as well as halving a trouble but it does help and if you need to tell someone how much all this sucks, please feel free to share all the suckitude here in the comments.

But what about gratitude? Shouldn’t we practice feeling grateful and lucky? I actually don’t think the two things are mutually exclusive. I feel extraordinarily fortunate to have survived. Honestly, I suspect anyone who stayed here in NYC in April feels a profound sense of gratitude for how lucky we are not to be among the dead or hospitalized. I am awash in my good fortune of remaining healthy and in my privilege at being able to protect myself and others by staying home. And it sucks. I’m lucky to be alive! And every day feels almost exactly the same and that sucks.

I suspect that my current willingness (and need) to express the suckage is partly because the worst part of this storm was almost a year ago for me. The storm is surging elsewhere these days so I do have the space and the air to feel something besides relief at my survival. Others in this country are not so lucky right now. That sucks. That sucks for everyone.

Things suck, in varying degrees, and we have to be able to say so. No matter how much more things suck for someone else, they can still suck for you. I’m not a psychologist but I’ve read enough about mental health to know that saying what’s actually happening tends to be a good idea. Pretending that something that sucks doesn’t suck is a surefire way to twist yourself up.

Partly, I think we’re not talking about how much this sucks because it’s so obvious. What is there to talk about? It sucks in the same relentless way, every day the same sort of suckage. People are connecting with one another less because they have so little to report. “What are you up to?” “Oh, you know, exactly what I was up to for the previous eleven months.” And we don’t want to complain, when so many people are sick or dying or managing their job Zooms and children’s Zooms simultaneously. The specifics of our complaints feel so pointless to share. But I think we at least need to acknowledge that it sucks. Or, as we do in our apartment, joke about how great everything is. We swing between saying, “Hey – you know what? This whole thing sucks!” and “Just in case you hadn’t noticed, everything is absolutely great and everyone is having a marvelous time.”

Things suck right now and while there are reasons to believe they will get better, they still suck for the moment and I think it’s important to say so. At least for me. For my buddy at the shop, he may need to insist on a world of no complaints and if it helps him get through this moment, then that is good. I am not here to take away anyone’s crutch if it’s helping them move forward. But for me, though, this all sucks and I gotta say so.

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“You Can’t Live in Fear.”
February 16, 2021, 12:35 am
Filed under: pandemic | Tags: , , , , ,

I overheard this old school New York guy talking with an old school Eastern European lady at my local bagel shop. He said to her, “You can’t live in fear,” after she expressed her concern about the virus. He was telling her how he went inside for a dinner party and she expressed her disapproval. She doesn’t see her friends. She doesn’t go out. What is he doing? He tells her she can’t live in fear.

Oh no? She can’t live in fear? Yes, she can. So can I.

I lived in fear for the last five years, actually. And I was nowhere near as at risk as many people. How about all those who had to go into sanctuary because of predatory ICE raids? How about those who had to worry about every knock on the door? Or those who could be shot at the whim of a police officer who would never be held accountable for your murder? You think those folks weren’t/aren’t living in fear? Believe me, you CAN live in fear. It sucks but you can do it. Fear can keep you alive in dangerous conditions. That is its prime benefit. You ignore it at your peril.

We are all perfectly capable of living in fear. And honestly, our feelings don’t matter. Whether or not we’re afraid, we should still stay home. Not because of fear but because it’s the way to beat the virus, or at least be one less possible factor in spreading it. It’s such an odd disconnect, this notion that somehow taking care of our fellow humans is living in fear.

A moment after this man told this woman that she couldn’t live in fear, he was telling her to never touch anything to do with electricity. I laughed to myself “Why shouldn’t she try and fix her electrics if she wants to?” I thought, ”She can’t live in fear!”

This guy wouldn’t see why I find his concern for her and electricity a little funny given his lack of concern for the virus. For him, electricity is real, it’s tangible, she could shock herself. But somehow, the virus is not real to him, even though it’s just as dangerous as playing with electricity.

To me, this guy going INDOORS to his friend’s apartment and having dinner parties, where they’re clearly unmasked, is just as risky as having a fraying wire in your electrics. It might not shock you. You might be fine. But it is risky. And not just to you.

Also – staying safe and protecting others is not, actually, living in fear. It’s living in kindness. It’s sacrificing one’s own desire for sociability and normalcy for the greater good. You think the rest of us don’t want to have dinner with our friends? That we’re just hunkering down at home because we’re fraidy cats? No, dude. No.

Personally, I want nothing more than to cozy up with some friends in some tiny apartment where we just eat and drink and sing and hug each other. I don’t really have a fear about doing that but I recognize that anyone involved in that dream dinner party is putting others at risk. To put it in terms you can understand, fella at the bagel shop, we’d be playing with electricity. When you play with electricity, you might get burned. Or you could set your place on fire and the fire spreads. So depending on the circumstances, your whole block could go up in flames.

Living in fear isn’t fun. No one wants to do it. But saying “You can’t live in fear” doesn’t justify taking risks with the lives of the people around you. This guy, who congratulated himself for not living in fear and going to parties, is now having a bagel, face to face, unmasked with a woman who has been taking every precaution. It’s her life he’s risked, really.

Somehow this phrase has become a kind of chant that charms the hearers into silence. All across the country people are congratulating themselves for not living in fear while their neighbors get rushed to the hospital and put on ventilators. You can live in fear. And for those who haven’t yet been afraid, you probably should for a little while. Or at least as long as it takes to actually start wearing masks and keeping your distance.

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Gen X and the Deadly Virus

There’s an article about Gen X thriving in these pandemic times that came out back in March when the lockdown started and has been making the rounds again recently. I haven’t read it since it came out but I remember it as “We’ve been training to sit at home alone eating pop tarts our whole lives. We’re built for this!” If I remember correctly, it spoke to Gen X’s ability to stay home and keep ourselves busy. Our time to shine! At home! With pop tarts!

But I’ve been thinking about this and thinking about this silly tweet that the city of NYC put out last summer where they admonished Gen X for the numbers of cases going up, when it was clear that they did not know who Gen X was. Did they confuse Gen X with Gen Z? On the chart, Gen X lines were sharply going in the right direction. Gen X Covid cases were the lowest on the diagram. I haven’t seen a lot more evidence in this territory but anecdotally, it would seem that Gen X generally has not been hit quite as hard by Covid as other generations, both older and younger. If it’s true, I’m sure the reasons are complex. Maybe we have more of the kinds of jobs we can do from home. Maybe we’re in a weird safe age bubble. But I suspect that Gen X just, generally, does a pretty good job of staying the fuck at home. Why? Why do I think this?

I think we heard there was a deadly virus and the way to beat it was to stay home so we stayed home. You don’t have to tell Gen X how to beat a deadly virus twice. And I think the reason you don’t have to tell us twice is that we came of age during the AIDS epidemic.

When people talk about generational markers, I’ve heard lots of folks claim that the Challenger explosion was a big one for us. That seeing that space shuttle blow up while we watched in our classrooms left a generational imprint on us. And, sure, that was a terrible tragedy – but for me, the deaths of those astronauts didn’t have nearly the impact that the death of Ryan White had on me. I was twelve when the Challenger blew up and I was already terrified of a nuclear holocaust – but the Challenger seemed to me like a dangerous situation that led to a logical conclusion. Going to space seemed risky – of course you might die!

But Ryan White was a kid about my age who had AIDS and – while word on the street was he’d gotten it from a blood transfusion – there was still a lot of confusion about how a person might contract the awful disease that was shaking up the country. We sort of knew we couldn’t get it from touching someone – but we couldn’t be sure. And maybe kissing was dangerous? I mean, maybe not. Probably not. But it could be! And while Ryan White fought just to be able to attend school, I think my generation, or at least a percentage of my generation in the USA, had the bejeezus scared out of us.

It was quite some time before the facts came in on how AIDS was transmitted and I suspect, as a generation, a lot of our nihilism or cynicism is probably connected to our responses to the AIDS crisis. Some lived fast and died young. Some lived fast and survived. And a lot of us just stood off to the side and made fun of everything because that is a lot safer. We are Beavis and Butthead. We are Mystery Science Theatre. We are the footnotes in Infinite Jest. We are Daria. We are Winona Ryder in Beetlejuice and in Heathers and in Reality Bites. Actually, we’re more like Janeane Garofalo in Reality Bites. It’s not her story. She just makes fun of it. I mean, reality bites for us, in part, because we were formed by the presence of a deadly virus – so we are particularly primed for this new one.

That’s why you don’t have to tell us twice to stay home. That’s why we look at crowded gatherings of younger and older people and shake our heads.

You don’t see us out there trying to dodge the restrictions. We’re not throwing parties or “socially distanced” festivals that are really just people hanging out in pretty normal ways. We’re not going out to restaurants as soon as they open. We’re at home. Where science has told us it’s the safest place to be.

It’s not like Gen X folks are generally rule followers. Believe me, we are not. Dumb rules are made to be broken and we break them when it makes sense to. It’s just that when the rules are clear and clearly there to protect everyone – those are good rules and we follow the guidelines. (With some exceptions, of course. You can read about those here.)

Yes, we know how to stay home, entertain ourselves and eat pop tarts (though most of us don’t eat pop tarts anymore, I’d wager) but more than those things, we came of age in a moment dominated by a deadly disease.

I watched a few minutes of the Geraldo show from 1990 where he brought in the Club Kids from NYC’s night life and they were explicit about their fashion being a direct response to the AIDS crisis. They say something like, “We can’t have sex, so we wear crazy clothes.”

Before now, I didn’t think much about the impact AIDS had on Gen X but I do recognize that defending against an epidemic is a familiar feeling and it would explain why Gen X has been more vigilant, on the whole, than other generations. We have practice, actually. We came of age with a deadly virus. We will all try very hard not die of one now, having made it this far.

The Mona Lisa is not Gen X but she does have a very Gen X look going on over that mask.

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