Songs for the Struggling Artist


The Women’s Lane

Rebecca Solnit recently posted this essay that Mary Beard wrote back in 2014. It’s about women speaking in public and the ways classical culture was built around telling women to shut up. Also about how that trend has continued.

It’s brilliant for all the reasons Mary Beard is often brilliant but the thing that feels like new information for me is the bit about women generally only being allowed to have a voice on matters that pertain to women. The one exception to the impulse to silence women is when they speak of things that are in their lane. Women are (sometimes) permitted to talk about women’s rights but not about the war.

This makes me think about Phyllis Schlafly. Or at least the Schlafly that was depicted in the (somewhat problematic) TV series, Mrs. America. Schlafly was very interested in foreign policy. One might even call her an expert in it. While I certainly wouldn’t have agreed with her about it, she did seem to know an awful lot about these things. She ran for Congress twice. And lost. But then she gained fame by campaigning against the Equal Rights Amendment (ERA). That is, when she started focusing on women’s issues, then folks took notice. (Much to the detriment of American women.)

I’m trying to figure out how this concept of a women’s lane applies to my own writing practice. I haven’t seen a lot of success on any subject, really – but I have seen a relative spike in recognition on subjects related to women, usually some wrong that’s been done to me or to women in general. In other words, I get listened to the most when I’ve been the victim to someone or something. I’ve always assumed that I’m just at my best when I’m fired up about feminist issues but now I’m not so sure. Is my furious writing on women noticeably better than my fired-up writing about artist’s issues or, say, PDFs? I’m not sure it is, frankly.

As a woman who struggles to be heard, to be noticed, to be recognized, I am always alert to what factors might be supporting my visibility and what factors obscure me further. I have often felt that my tendency to write plays about women, with a bald-faced feminist slant, is what has kept me shut out of the pipeline. My sense has been that theatres don’t tend to want to produce overtly feminist work. But this doesn’t square with what I’m learning about this women’s lane. Or does it? I guess, in the theatre, it’s the women’s plays that are explicit about their woman-ness that cross over into the mainstream: The Vagina Monologues, ‘Night Mother, Crimes of the Heart, Uncommon Women.

Now that I think about it, this does help me to understand something that has often felt mysterious to me. How did a play like The Vagina Monologues break through when so much of American Theatre is so hostile to women and women’s work? How was it that theatres put on seasons of almost exclusively men, and also The Vagina Monologues? It’s very logical, I realize now. You cannot get more in the women’s lane than The Vagina Monologues. It’s a kind of apotropaic magic, a spell against feminist criticism. You put on The Vagina Monologues – which is cheap to produce and markets itself and no one can excuse you of sexism for at least a few years. It is the perfect balance for your Mamet season. Most theater companies would rather produce The Vagina Monologues many times over than to produce a woman’s play about something not particularly womany.

Maybe I just need to write a play called The Woman Woman. I mean, The Women is a fabulous (and very successful) play from the 30s. Maybe it’s really just a matter of laying out the category in the title? It’s something to consider. Look forward to my upcoming trilogy: The Woman Woman, Girls and Women and Girls and Ladies in Ladyland. It can’t be so simple, can it? Honestly if this worked, I’d change so many titles in a flash.

My play about Medusa could be called Girls Getting Stoned or I could just rename any old play Women’s Bodies. Or Boobs. My next play is now called Boobs.  

This is an illustration from Oscar Wilde’s Salome. If he was a woman, he’d just have to call it Boobs.

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

*

Want to help me get out of the women’s lane?

Become my patron on Patreon.

Click HERE to Check out my Patreon Page

*

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” (or several!) on Kofi – ko-fi.com/emilyrainbowdavis



Theatre, Celebrities, Hope and What We’re Doing Now

Part of the reason I just went ahead and went full steam ahead with this podcast idea of mine a few months ago is that I thought, well, with all the theatres shut down, theatre journalists will have absolutely nothing to talk about – so maybe a little indie theatre company making work in the middle of this storm will suddenly be of interest. Maybe, I thought, this is our opening. We are, after all, still making theatre of a kind – even if it’s in solely audio form. Theatre lovers will want to hear it, I naively thought.

Turns out what theatre lovers want is celebrities. Turns out theatre lovers would rather watch cast reunion zoom meetings. They would rather gaze at Kristin Chenowith’s bookshelves than engage with some off-off Broadway something or other. Big companies would rather air the stuff in their vaults than point the way to smaller companies who may have already been working in the digital space. Theatre lovers would rather listen to a podcast of people talking about famous theatre than actually listen to theatre via podcast.

With all of theatre sitting on the sidelines, it has become incredibly clear who has been driving this bus the whole time and it isn’t the non-profit world or the fringe.

A collection of interviews about the future of theatre made the social media rounds among my theatre friends recently. And a lot of them found a great deal of hope and comfort in it. I can see why – there are a lot of people reading idealistic, formative texts like The Empty Space and thinking about how to boil theatre down to its essence. They are dreaming of a new and better theatre and I really hope that can be true – but I am incredibly skeptical. It’s not because I don’t believe it’s possible to do things differently; I 100% believe it is possible. The reason I’m skeptical is because it’s already not what’s happening. The funds and resources and attention are, for the most part, going to Broadway and celebrities and theatre celebrities. The National Theatre in England is asking for donations in sharing its work and getting them. Meanwhile, that is a publicly funded organization. So, we have a major, tax payer funded organization sharing its work internationally and raising money. Not to say that I’m not enjoying getting to see shows I couldn’t get across the ocean to see but an organization like that has a built-in audience, thousands ready to click on it and has already invested buckets of money in high quality filming of their work.

The digital space is being dominated by the winners in just the same way that our live space was. The winner take all philosophy has been ruling our theatre world for ages and given the way things are going digitally, it does not look likely to change. I’m glad people can be hopeful about it and that they’re re-reading Towards a Poor Theatre – but I can tell you, as someone who has been making theatre without many resources for the last two decades, resources are what make the difference.

It feels to me like folks are interested in a Poor Theatre Empty Space sort of world as long as they can have Patti LuPone in it. They want to make “poor theatre” but with all the usual rich ones. (Not that I wouldn’t get a kick out of seeing LuPone in some freaking experimental basement empty space production. I would.)

And, of course, I started writing this piece before American theatre really started reckoning (or, in many cases, pretending to reckon) with its racism and watching that continue to unfold might give me a kind of hope, except I have yet to see any particularly profound shifts. Everyone is saying, “We’ll do better when we get back.” But I don’t see a lot of people doing better now.

Look, I know there is no theatre right now. But a lot of places still have budgets and are still paying their (mostly white male) artistic directors while their artists are unemployed. There are things to be done. Instead of writing up toothless diversity statements, maybe they could commission some BIPOC writers to create some new work or hire some BIPOC directors and designers to begin pre-production work on a socially distanced show of some kind. I know there’s no theatre. But I’m a tiny theatre company with a four figure budget; If I can figure out how to make something, I know that the million dollar organizations can, too.

I have yet to see a leader in American theatre do anything even remotely close to what the guy from Reddit did and actually give up some of their own power. It’s all well and good to write a diversity statement but it’s meaningless without action – and action is actually still possible even though theatre as we’ve known it is still on lockdown. What we do now is a clear reflection of our values and interests. If all we’re promoting are celebrities on Zoom, then that is what will we have upon our return to the stage. What we nurture will grow and it’s become clear to me that celebrity, even just theatre celebrity, is what drives the clicks so it is what is driving our theatre. I get it. I like clicks, too.

So – I have a solution. We just gotta lean in to it. If celebrities want to help and “take responsibility” like they said in that video, then let’s do that. Let’s give every major theatre a celebrity sponsor. And that celebrity sponsor lends their name and their platform to the show and pays for it. They pay for the BIPOC writer and director and cast and they get to say, “Julia Roberts presents” over the title but that’s it. The theatre gets the celebrity boost, the clicks and the cash to make sure they actually keep their freaking promise to produce more work by BIPOC artists.

Or – and this will be a lot easier to get going – we go ahead and start promoting the BIPOC artists and work that’s already being done right now.

Or – and this is the one that I know that nobody’s going to do – all the white folks who’ve been leading our major institutions all these years and drawing six figure salaries and above, can quit those jobs and name BIPOC successors, preferably artists, who can run those institutions in their place. And it’d be okay with me if we just broke those big institutions up and just funded a bunch of artists instead. The buildings aren’t doing anyone any good at the moment.

But that’s me dreaming. I know how unlikely it is that change that dramatic could shift what’s happening. It’s never been more clear how the theatre business has actually worked thus far and it is rather dramatically a winner take all world.

The way things are now, theatres that survive this will be the ones who can suck up the most resources. The ones who can survive long enough to grab all the funding that might be left in a year will be the winners. And maybe those of us who are used to making things with a cardboard box and a piece of string will survive, too.

Cardboard and string have gotten us this far without resources – maybe there’s hope for us, too. I don’t know, though. I would love a more meaningful theatre climate but based on what’s happening right now, I think we’re looking at a future of Google, The Musical and Amazon! The Story of Jeff Bezos! And it is unlikely to move a single one of us.

The Theatre Development Fund is raising money, not to develop theatre, but to keep itself afloat. There are currently no grants for making things, just grants to cover rents and administrators for our big buildings. Those who are innovating in new venues are unfunded. What we do now is what we will do in the future. If we want a more accessible, open theatre when we return, we can’t just hope for it. We have to be working toward it now. We’re in the middle of a good conversation, where artists and freelancers are finally feeling free to tell some of the truths about working at these big institutions but until there is actual action, with actual resources, until someone with power hands some of it over to someone without it, we’re just doing things the same old way. We can’t just hope that when we come back things will be different. We have to make it different. It’s already started. It’s already happening. We have to make it different now.

I keep thinking about this passage from Rebecca Solnit’s Hope in the Dark:

“Hope is not a lottery ticket you can sit on the sofa and clutch, feeling lucky. It is an axe you break down doors with in an emergency. Hope should shove you out the door, because it will take everything you have to steer the future away from endless war, from the annihilation of the earth’s treasures and the grinding down of the poor and marginal… To hope is to give yourself to the future – and that commitment to the future is what makes the present inhabitable.”

Now is the moment to give ourselves to the future.

One of the most inspiring theatre things I’ve seen during this time is the Virtual Toy Theatre Festival by Great Small Works. Someone give those folks a pot of money please! (This is a toy theatre from the olden days.)

 

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.

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

*

Want to help support this theatre artist?

Become my patron on Patreon.

Click HERE to Check out my Patreon Page

*

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

 



A Bereft, Heartbroken, Furious, Hopeless, Bad Mood

 

The morning after Super Tuesday, I woke up with a song in my head. It’s a song I put on my feminist playlist a while ago and every time it comes around I think, “What is this? And what is it doing on this playlist?” Then the line about the glass ceiling comes along and I understand why it’s there but then I have to see who it is. Many times I have said, “Miley Cyrus? Really?!”

But now, I know “Bad Mood” so well, I will never forget again. I’ve been listening to it on solid repeat and I’ve been crying. I feel ridiculous about it but I am in a bad mood and feeling very discouraged about the possibility of any glass ceilings ever breaking. Miley Cyrus is, weirdly, helping me through it.

I know I shouldn’t take Warren’s losses to heart but I just can’t help it. I was invested in her and her candidacy and I hoped she would win. The good news is that I apparently haven’t lost the capacity for hope in this current climate. The bad news is that feeling hope can lead to a big let down. I’m accustomed to hope hangovers but this one is a doozy.

In this case, the hope led directly to a feeling of hopelessness. To see a candidate, as qualified and capable and clear and prepared as Warren, be rejected by so many American voters, and specifically Democratic, liberal voters, is just devastating. I think if it were just the rejecting, I’d be alright. But it’s not as simple as American voters rejecting my candidate. I’m here listening to “Bad Mood” on repeat, crying and trying to piece together why.

Sometimes, it’s little things – like some dumb Tweets before Super Tuesday suggesting Warren would make a good Secretary of Education or Secretary of the Treasury and should therefore have dropped out of the race. Those jobs may technically be prestigious but mostly it seemed like a way to suggest that a lady shouldn’t be in charge. Why can’t she just be a secretary like the other ladies? Why does she want to be President? She could serve the president instead. Maybe bring him his coffee.

There’s also the Methinks-They-Do-Protest-Too-Much-ers who say “Why do you have to bring gender into it? I’m not sexist, I just didn’t like this one.” If you think gender isn’t playing a role in your choice to choose man after man, you are fooling yourself about that “something” you happen to like over and over in men. (It’s unconscious bias and Rebecca Solnit wrote a great piece about it last year.) What you see as “leadership qualities” are actually gendered. You’re just missing it. I know there are plenty of people who chose the white man they did for very important reasons but a lot of people chose the white man they chose because they thought other people would choose him. This is called pluralistic ignorance and it’s basically everyone assuming everyone else is going to make the less sensible choice so they all make a choice they didn’t want together.

“Would you vote for someone just because they were a woman?” People love this one. And obviously the answer is no. I would not vote for Tulsi Gabbard or Marianne Williamson. I did not vote for Sarah Palin. But when a highly qualified woman shows up who could do the job better than I can even imagine, you bet your ass I’m going to vote for her. Millions of people DIDN’T vote for her because she’s a woman. Not because they’re sexist, no, but because they’re sure their neighbors are. In other words, while feminists get hell for voting for women, people are, en masse, choosing candidates because they are men. So, yes. Warren’s womanhood was a big factor in my enthusiasm to vote for her.

But guess what? I can’t. I couldn’t. Because our voting system is so ridiculous and disenfranchising, I didn’t get to cast a vote in the presidential primary and my choice was eliminated. And I feel absolutely cheated. (My sense of disenfranchisement is, by the way, nothing compared to people who lost their polling places and had to wait eight hours to vote. We have a lot to fix. Help Stacey Abrams defend voting rights here.)

When I started writing this post, it wasn’t yet clear what the Warren campaign was going to do. But, even before the nail was in the coffin of her candidacy, I knew a lot of people were going to be jerks about it. They were jerks about it immediately. Many of them are still being jerks. Almost every woman I know is grieving, deeply, and the internet is not helping the situation one bit. I started snoozing people on Facebook when someone implied that if we weren’t tough enough to take some abuse on the internet, then maybe our candidate shouldn’t be president. Oh, don’t get me started on the ways women are targeted on the internet. I don’t have the strength to break down how attacks on a female candidate can feel like surrogate attacks on her supporters. Suffice it to say that this shit is personal. Sometimes women can be afraid to say who they are supporting for fear of these much publicized attacks. It happened in 2016 and it happened just now, too. I’m struggling with how much misogyny there is to go around.

I mean, the guy most people voted for is a guy who has a LOUSY track record with women. And you might roll your eyes and say, “Oh, that touching thing? He’s just a touchy feely guy. Big deal. MeToo has gone too far!” But it’s more than him not respecting the bodily autonomy of women and children. He has, in his many positions in government made women’s lives harder. He threw Anita Hill under the bus and thereby threw women experiencing sexual harassment around the country under the bus and got a serial harasser on the Supreme Court – the repercussions of which we are still dealing with today. He sold out women’s reproductive rights in so many ways. Aside from his vigorous support of the Hyde and Hatch Amendments, he named an amendment after himself that would have limited foreign aid to biomedical aid that might connect to abortions. He liked that bill so much he named it after himself!

I mean, of course I’ll vote for him if he’s the nominee, of course I will, relax, ok? But for all the talk of women making progress (women getting elected to Congress, Women’s Marches, etc) – this is one area there’s been not even a hint of progress. For all the talk of #MeToo “going too far” – only a handful of people have experienced any real consequences. There’s just as much sexual harassment to go around, it’s just that now it includes the extra “joke” of a “I hope I don’t get #MeToo-ed!”

I’m just so mad. I’m mad, again, about the voters who said “I’m not sexist but I think other people will be.” Which is just…You’re right. They were. But you just voted for sexism. You were like, “Sexism, I see you and rather than fight you, I will encourage you by voting for you.” Thanks a fucking lot.

People are out here voting like it’s a horse race and they’re worried about the money they have on the winner. Actually that’s what IS happening for the democratic donor class – but if you don’t have actual money riding on these people, you can just vote for who you want! That’s ideally how it should go. But, no. Hordes of my fellow democrats felt that they needed to bet on a winner and now I’m not going to be able to vote for my choice in April. Thanks. Thanks a lot. You strategized my vote out from under me. And now I’m not just mad about Warren. I would love to have had a chance to wonder if I should vote for Julian Castro or Kamala Harris or Kirsten Gillibrand. But this system chewed them up, too.

I’m taking this all very personally. It feels like the world keeps inventing new ways to tell American women that we don’t matter. The 2016 election was the first major blow, the Kavanaugh hearings were the second and now this loss feels like the patriarchy held up the football for us and told us to kick it, go ahead, and then knocked us down like Charlie Brown.

Go ahead girls, you can do anything! You’re strong, you’re smart, you can achieve anything you set your minds to! Go for it! Except we’re going to put every possible obstacle in your way and when you fail we will make a long list of all the ways you failed. Girl Power! #GirlBoss #WomenOnTop

In addition to the Miley Cyrus song, I’ve found myself listening to Taylor Swift’s “The Man: as well. (Maybe because of this video of it featuring Warren. Don’t watch it if you don’t want to get sad.) I’ve been thinking about how odd it is that two of the major female pop stars of the last decade are expressing feminist ideas. It’s not that I thought that they didn’t experience sexism – more that I thought their success within the system would make them unlikely to challenge it. But age and experience makes feminists of even the strangest beneficiaries of the patriarchy. The rest of us might look at Swift and Cyrus and say they’re at the top of the pile but they know all the ways they have been held back and they’re old enough now to be brave and sing about them. What I’m trying to say is that even the world’s best #GirlBoss is still being held back by the patriarchy and she knows it. Taylor Swift may already be The Man by some standards but she knows how much more The Man she could be. I don’t think these are the ladies who will provide the anthem songs when American women finally reach absolute capacity for sexism and start a bloody revolution (Is it now? It’s not now, is it? I didn’t buy a machete yet!) but for this moment, when we’re looking at these large scale losses, they’re doing some #GirlConsoling.

Anyway – I read this article that came out this week that demonstrates that 9 out of 10 people are biased against women. So that’s nice. There are only 5 countries that have equitable sensibilities. America is, no surprise, not one of those countries. Not even close.

I don’t know what to do with this information. We are losing ground. Even the countries that experience equity are losing ground. It feels like there’s not much to hope for now. We can hope one of these white guys defeats the horrible white guy in the president’s chair and thereby maybe regain some of the footholds we had before – and we will, of course, work to do that. But –


Personally – and this is, really, all very personal…all I can do is write through it. This is long and messy and that is surely how my healing and mourning will go. I have less hope now than I did but it’s good to know I CAN hope after the blows we’ve experienced.

I could start falling into the conspiracy theorist’s tunnel here, if I let myself. You know the theory? It’s the one that recognizes how incredibly terrified of a Warren presidency so many special interest groups were. Warren’s plan to cancel student loan debt on the first day of her presidency was simple, clear and lays out exactly what would happen. When I saw the headline on her website, I thought, “Wow. That’s a big promise. How could she possibly do that?” Turns out, she’s spotted the way to use executive power to do it and she explains it step by step. It’s so clear, any president who doesn’t do it now is going to look like a real jerk. If the potential to have student debt canceled didn’t make the loan companies quake in their predatory boots, I’m not sure what would. The same is also true for a multitude of immoral businesses – like health insurers and Wall Street brokers. Many of whom are political donors. My conspiracy theory brain leads me to suspect that a lot of these places made sure that Warren’s campaign didn’t get coverage in a lot of media outlets.  So much so that they just left her out of their graphics of primary results. (What, is she the Gen X of Presidential campaigns?)

Or it could just be sexism. Just regular old boring sexism. Just everyday, every minute, every second sexism. Others have documented the many ways sexism tanked this campaign but for me, the bits that are most painful are the ways Warren’s language was so willfully misunderstood by the sexism machine. It feels like an attempt to gaslight voters – to tell them: “No, no, you’re NOT listening to a reasonable clear speech suggesting how we might change the world for the better, you’re listening to a shrill harpy with boundless craven ambition.” I think you’d need an Orwellian level of denial to see her that way but we are maybe moving ever closer to the 1984 style of denying your own eyes and ears so I guess that a little of that messaging actually fucking worked? And I suppose, one of the things that shakes me most is how it makes clear that this funhouse mirror is happening to all of us – even the ones who aren’t running for president. That is, even at my most reasonable and clear, I will be seen as bitchy and shrill. No matter what is actually happening. I used to think I could sweet talk my way out of gender bias. But now I understand that a lot of people have a filter that hears women’s voices as duplicitous, annoying and overly ambitious no matter who is speaking or what we are saying.

The bulk of the terrible media coverage was mostly just erasure and not the old school “but her emails” sort of thing. Leaving her out of highlight reels and lists and things was seemingly the most effective strategy. Maybe that’s because we’re not actually at peak “deny your eyes and ears” levels yet. So maybe that’s the good news?

There’s been a lot of great articles and a lot of press now that it’s safe to talk about Warren without risking actually having her give us health care. Here are some of my favorites from Lauren Duca, Megan Garber, and Elie Mystal. Warren is the most popular she’s ever been, now that she’s lost. Apparently this is a thing we do. In the closing of her book about the 2008 election, Rebecca Traister points out that women only win when they’re losing. Clinton’s popularity soars when she’s lost something. Gloria Steinem explained it to Traister this way. “It’s always been okay for women to sing the blues, just not so good for us to win. We all know deep in our hearts if we want to be loved we have to lose.”

Rachel Maddow managed to make me feel a little better when she asked Warren about all the women who are just “bereft” at this development – because that’s me, that’s so many women I know. Maddow included us in a national conversation – which felt sort of monumental in a moment wherein I feel as though I’m being reminded (again) of how little I matter. Warren’s loss made me feel as though I don’t matter as a woman and it made my actual vote not matter because I live in New York. I know I do matter and that my vote in April WILL matter to the man I choose to give it to – but wow, do I feel tossed aside! And learning that so many other women I know were also bereft, also paralyzed, also weeping, also raging, also just done, done, done…well, it helps.

I get it. I got it. The GOP have basically taken the country hostage by saddling us with this administration and blocking witnesses for the impeachment and refusing to vote on vital legislation. With this many guns to our heads, Democrats are not inclined to take risks. Rather than thinking about who would be the best at planning and negotiating our escape from our captors, American voters are just trying not to get shot. We’re all huddled together and Elizabeth Warren says, “I have a plan to get us out of here.” And a lot of people say, “Shhhhh. Why do you have to be so shrill?” and Joe Biden says, “I think I know these guys. I can talk to them.” And a lot of people seem to have made the calculus that the captors would like the candidate most like the captors themselves. And I don’t know. At the moment, I’m not thrilled about our odds of getting out of this hostage situation. Nor do I have any hope that I would ever be listened to with my lady “school marm” voice.

One of the reasons I find Warren’s loss in the primaries so distressing is because I hoped her competency, her passion and skill would shine through the sexist ocean we swim in and the country would follow her light out of the murk. I take this personally because I also have competencies, passions and skills that get obscured in the sexist ocean and if Elizabeth Warren can’t shine through, what the hell hopes have I? I’m not running for president but trying to survive in the arts has pretty low odds as well. After so many years of struggling and the patriarchal set backs of this hostage situation, I’ve lost a lot of my fight. I felt like I was just starting to get it back watching Elizabeth Warren take on the bad guys. I know she wants us all to keep fighting and of course, we will – but I don’t feel very up to the task right now. Which is why I need “Bad Mood,” I guess. The lyrics aren’t particularly deep but they do the job. Here are some of them.

And you know I’m never giving up
I ain’t stopping till I know I’m free

Oooh, I wake up in a bad mood
Oooh, I wake up in a bad mood
The glass ceiling’s gotta break
All together, want to hear you say
I don’t know how much more I can take

You know it’s gone on way too long
And you know it’s wrong
But I know I’m strong
I don’t give up
And when it gets rough
I get tough
I’ve had enough


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.

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

*

Want to help me keep fighting?

Become my patron on Patreon.

Click HERE to Check out my Patreon Page

*

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

 

 



Something About Warren

About a month ago, I saw a tweet that made me sob for much longer than I expected a tweet could. The tweet featured a photo of a little plastic action figure nestled into a child’s bed. It reads, in part:

I found my 5yo daughter’s Elizabeth Warren action figure in her bed when I was making it this morning. When I asked her why, she said “I was scared and she makes me feel brave”.

Because the thing of it is, Elizabeth Warren makes me feel brave, too. I am in solid agreement with this small child. I haven’t felt brave in such a long time but something about Warren gives me hope and strength and a sense that safety could come again.

I know not everyone feels this way about her. It’s clear from how the primaries have been going so far that a lot of people feel safer with other candidates. That’s their choice, of course, but I feel as though I’m watching the possibility of a braver safer world slip through our fingers. I know 95% of us haven’t voted yet and there’s still hope but I’m scared. I need an Elizabeth Warren action figure to make me brave again.

I’m continually surprised at the misogyny and sexism that continues to bubble up on the regular. I’d thought we’d sort of hit the apex of virulent misogyny after the last presidential election but there’s still so much to go around. If you’ve somehow missed the multitude of articles pointing at the bizarre erasure of Warren in media polls, news, etc – take a stroll down google lane and you will find many a think piece that has been largely ignored by more mainstream media.

The latest bit of nonsense that is really getting under my skin was a hashtag that was trending suggesting that Warren should drop out. I’ve seen a lot of tweets that suggested that if Warren were really progressive she would drop out and support Bernie. This makes my blood boil so hard. Because I’ve been reading Rebecca Traister’s book about the 2008 election season, and, let me tell you, we have been to this exact same rodeo before. Back then, very early on, people went on and on about how Hillary should drop out and support Obama – which, of course, she did do, eventually, once the votes were in. But the sense of it is profoundly sexist. No one was shouting at Buttigieg to drop out and support Biden. (They apparently just had a nice manly chat about it yesterday and it was done.) When Warren was ahead, no one was shouting at Sanders to drop out and support her. It is clear that, still, in 2020, women are expected to support men, to sacrifice themselves for the good of a powerful man.

I should not be surprised at all the misogyny bubbling up  – the erasure, the sexist language, the dismissive comments. I knew it would happen. I knew it would happen in 2016. I voted for Bernie in the 2016 primary, in part, because I knew that there would be a tidal wave of misogyny if Clinton was the nominee and I didn’t think I could handle it. (BTW – Gloria Steinem had similar reservations at first in 2008.)

And I was right. I couldn’t handle it. I don’t think I’ve recovered yet. It feels like 2016’s election season was like watching an enormous boil of toxic patriarchal misogyny get larger and larger and then finally burst all over us in November. And I guess maybe I thought that since the boil had burst, we were maybe on a healing path, where a woman could run for president without wading through a pool of toxicity. But the pool is alive and thriving.

I keep thinking about this thing I read in the Hollywood Reporter by a member of the Academy who said,

“When I fill out my ballot, I’m asking, “What movie did I like the best?” I believe all of our members do that. I’m not asking, ‘Is it a woman? Is it a person from a diverse background?’ I’m very proud of the Academy for nominating the movies we did this year.”

And guess who just happened to be under-represented at the Oscars this year?

It’s clear that this guy has never heard of unconscious bias in his life. He’s thinking, “I just vote for who I like! And if I happen to almost exclusively like stuff by white guys, that’s just because that’s what’s good.” It never occurs to him that his response to the people he just doesn’t connect to is probably due to his unconscious bias. It also would never occur to him that it might actually make sense to ask yourself such questions. It does make a difference when someone is a less represented person.

And I think that same principle is happening for some people with Warren. There’s a lot of “There’s just something about her I don’t like” and I’m sorry to tell you but that something is probably an unconscious bias and a world that privileges some folks over others. We all have unconscious bias. All of us. Check your bookshelves. Who do you read? Even women have unconscious biases against other women. We’ve all of us been marinating in patriarchy for a long time – so it is hard for a lot people to get behind women leaders. I know this is true but it is still incredibly difficult to watch the one candidate who gives me hope and makes me feel brave when I’m scared be sidelined and told to drop out.

There are so many reasons I am excited to vote for Warren. She’s my dream candidate, as Rebecca Solnit put it. I admire the way she has reached out to so many communities directly and personally and then come up with plans for each and every one of them to address their concerns. I admire the way she acknowledges mistakes she’s made and continues to work to redress them. I admire her ability to adapt and learn. I admire how fierce an advocate she can be. I love that she’s a progressive who came to it later in her life. Her progressiveness is practical and hard-earned. Ever since she got kicked out of the senate confirmation hearing for Jeff Sessions, for reading Coretta Scott King’s letter and then read it to a camera right outside, I have admired her fighting spirit. Many people remember the line that emerged from this event – “Nevertheless she persisted.” But there’s more of it. Mitch McConnell said, “She was warned. She was given an explanation. Nevertheless, she persisted.”

Many people continue to give her explanations and warnings and nevertheless, she persists. That sort of commitment makes me feel less scared. It makes me feel brave.

The kind of person who can take on an entire banking system, who will speak truth to power over and over again even when no one will give her the floor, that kind of person makes me feel safe. And I know that she is working hard to help others who may have never felt safe in this country to one day experience some safety. She embodies everything I look for in a leader. I cannot understand how people are not lining up to vote for her.

But I know not everyone is like me and the little girl who keeps her action figure close by for safety. There are those who don’t need to feel brave because they’re not scared. There are those who just want a return to the old familiar status quo. I understand the impulse. Warren’s vision of America involves change and change isn’t everyone’s thing. Her vision involves bending some things to make the country work for more people than it is. It involves health care for all and universal child care. It even includes artists (sign an artist endorsement here). It is really scary for billionaires and scary for a lot of Republicans. That’s not safe for them. But it would be for me, it would be for me.

Image by @DirtyDucko via Twitter

 

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.

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

*

Want to help me be brave?

Become my patron on Patreon.

Click HERE to Check out my Patreon Page

*

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

 



A Better Way to Read On the Internet?

I thought this one post I wrote was pretty good. I know they’re not all winners. There are some that I just sort of throw together and some I really work at and this one sat somewhere in the middle, in that it had the flow of something that just emerged but the shaping of something I’d considered for a while. I guess what I am trying to say is that I was proud of it.

But when I put it out – nothing happened. I shared it on all the platforms, all the social medias it goes to. And I could count the views on one hand. I tried to goose the algorithm on Facebook – since that’s the place I usually get my views. I tried to like my own post (looks like Facebook doesn’t allow that anymore though I was able to like it via the Songs for the Struggling Artist Facebook page) and I used the algorithmic golden word “congratulations” in the comments.

Crickets.

I know better than to take Facebook’s algorithmic selections personally but still – having so few views made me question my own perception of quality. Maybe the post was no good after all. (Again – I know better. Some really great posts have only 4 views total. I know, I know the two things are disconnected. And yet.)

Then one of my friends commented, liked and shared it. Suddenly a post that had had only one view thus far that day had 18.

This is, on one hand, indicative of the reach my friend has but also suggests the power of one person sharing in the algorithmic battle for attention many of us seem engaged in. (Don’t underestimate the power of your share, like and comment. I am heartily grateful for every one. Your click will take my views from 4 to 5. Your share will take my views from 4 to 12 or 18 or more if others share it.)

This all makes me think about what a terribly imperfect way of sharing writing the internet is. It’s also a terribly imperfect way of reading. Facebook pitches its stream of posts as a NewsFeed and it does feel like it has become the place I receive a lot of news – and not just the news – but also the essays and articles and blog posts about things I care about.

But because of Facebook’s algorithms, it decides what I see instead of me. I miss so many things while simultaneously having the illusion that I’m current with the writers I like. But I know that I’m not. I follow Rebecca Solnit there so I see a lot of her writing but I know Facebook doesn’t show me everything. KatyKatiKate is a blogger and podcaster like myself and I want to support her work however I can – but I know Facebook is only showing me a third of what she writes. I wonder what genius posts she’s over there crafting and Facebook isn’t showing me or anyone else because of the algorithm’s quirks. I’m gonna guess she has a few of those orphan posts, too.

In the years before social media, I found it hard to follow writers and bloggers. I felt like I had to remember to go to various websites, various blogs. I just couldn’t remember all the places I wanted to go on the internet to read things I cared about. So when Facebook came around, it provided this very useful service of aggregating those articles, blogs and such. It’s just that it does that so BADLY. Like So Badly.

Twitter is even worse. People don’t really click on articles on Twitter. My sense is that it just moves too fast. The views I get on Twitter are negligible. And I don’t even understand how to share writing on Instagram.

So…what I’m waiting for is some kind of feed for writing. Does it already exist and I just don’t know about it? I want to be on it with my friends. I want to see what they recommended and be able to share pertinent news, as well as indie writing, like KatyKatiKate. The algorithmic bias of Facebook means it will really only promote what is shared – but as much as I love KatyKatiKate’s work, I’m not going to share every single piece. I don’t expect that of my readers either. But I want to be able to at least know about every piece that KatyKatiKate puts out. I want to click like, or love or star or heart or whatever, on all of them and I want to have a list of writers that I love listed on said site or some kind of extra boost for them. How our writings are shared matters and the way they are read and shared at the moment is really not working well.

I rely on Facebook to promote my blog and podcast and we all know how problematic it is. But if it went away tomorrow – or if everyone just deleted their accounts en masse, I’d have no readership whatsoever. I’m dependent on it, at the moment, and I do not appreciate how much control the Facebook algorithm has over who gets to see my work. And, due to the foibles of a writers’ brain, sometimes the control the algorithm has has a great deal of impact on the way I feel and my assessment of the quality of my work. It happens that way sometimes and I do not like it. I’m looking for another way.

 

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

They also bring you the podcast version of this blog.

You can find this podcast episode on Apple Podcasts, 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

*

Want to support my writing?

Become my patron on Patreon.

Click HERE to Check out my Patreon Page

*

If you liked the blog (but aren’t into the commitment of Patreon) 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



Why Giving Up Art Is Not an Option

The actors stood up and I started crying. The house lights went down to start the show and moments later I was moved. It took a moment to shake me out of my familiar world.

But it wasn’t just the moment, of course. There was a world of history behind the moment. It was the skill and finesse of a lifetime of theatrical practice that knew how to bring that world into a moment. It took extraordinary expertise and sensitivity to make something so simple so powerful. It took mastery.

After giving me such a powerful moment right out of the gate, I thought, “There might be nothing else as good as this in the rest of this show but if this is all it has to offer, it would be enough.” But it was definitely NOT all it had to offer. I saw a play that exquisitely resurrected the past while shining light on our present. It made me weep so often I wished I’d brought a box of tissues with me. And I almost never cry in the theatre. All around me, I heard the quiet sound of other people taken over by their emotions.

When it was over, the audience did not leap to its feet. On Broadway, a standing ovation is practically a reflex. But this Broadway audience was too moved to leap to its feet. Many of us were too moved to move at all. An usher had to ask us to vacate our seats. A transformative art experience is not always met with cheers.

In fact, if you’ve really struck an audience to the soul, they will likely not be able to hoot and holler. A transformative art experience is usually so personal to an audience that they may not be keen to talk about it, they may not tell all their friends, they may just want to keep it to themselves. A transformative art experience may not draw a crowd, it may not generate a profit for its producers, it may not make a big noise. It may shine briefly in the firmament before winking into memory. But it will continue to do its transformative work for a long time after it has faded. The magic of Indecent is that it both shows us that story of continuation and is likely to be that story as well.

The marketing department for the show seems to be trying to boost sales to this show by talking about why #ArtMatters and while this is perfectly in line with what I took from the show, a hashtag feels like such a diminishment of what is actually at stake. This is not a hashtag sort of experience. It’s not an instagram moment. It’s not suited for 140 characters.

But certainly art matters. And this show helps remind us how much it can matter. And aside from all the mattering it does, it also made me want to keep working at being a better artist. Indecent helped me see how a lifetime in the theatre could refine and invigorate the form. There are so many moments in my theatre life that make me want to give up, that make me question whether I’ve dedicated my life to the wrong art. Over the years, I’ve seen so much crap, so much compromise, so much ego, so much selling out, so much shady dealing, so much sexism, so much racism, so much shouting, so much soullessness. There have been so many times that I’ve wondered why I continue to let theatre break my heart. Because theatre breaks my heart pretty much every time I put on another show and each time I do, I ask myself again, “Why do I do this? Why do I put myself through this agony? Why do I think I love theatre when it clearly doesn’t love me?” And then I saw this show and I remembered why.

If I write plays that no one but me wants to produce with any regularity, if I direct plays that I can’t convince many people to see, if I devise work that only touches a handful of people, that doesn’t make me a failure, that makes me an artist on a journey. The experience of seeing this show reminded me of a truth that I find I have to return to again and again, that worth is not equivalent to popularity.

This show moved me not because it is on Broadway, but because it is the collaboration of artists working at the height of their powers. It shows me that I could make the best work of my life over twenty years from now. That even though I have often felt that my prime has passed (I have, to my regret, internalized that only young women are valuable) my prime is much more likely to be in the future. I learned, from my seat in the balcony, that a lifetime in the theatre could distill an artist into the clearest, most concise expression of theatricality. I see that time, rather than just battering me and graying my hair, might distill this cluster of longings and ideas and furies and hopes into something transformative – not just for me but for an audience.

In a world wherein I often feel that I’ve seen all the tricks, that I’ve had all the glitter fall from my eyes to reveal the familiar old men behind all the curtains, this show gave me hope and surprise.

It reminds me of Rebecca Solnit’s essay, “Protest and Persist: Why Giving Up Hope Is Not an Option” which explores how change really happens. In it, Solnit unpacks how an initial movement for change may fail in its immediate goals – but that the change achieved by future generations is built directly on the work of our predecessors. It is the same in art. The God of Vengeance (which Indecent invokes) was on Broadway for a blink in time but that blink was a pebble in a pond that echoed to create something new and potent in a time when we needed it.

I don’t know if Indecent will get a long run (I hope so though I worry about those empty seats behind me on a Friday) but even if it closes tomorrow, it will have dropped a mighty art pebble into the art pond and the ripples will be rippling for years after the artists are gone.

This show gave me the long view at a time it feels like we are in an ever-alarming, ever-panicked present moment. And it showed me that though we very well might be forgotten when we are gone (or even forgotten while we are here) someone somewhere in the future, might resurrect us for their transformative art. We keep creating in the darkest hours. We make because we must, because something captivates us, even if it breaks our hearts.

Photo of Indecent by Carol Rosegg 

 

Help me keep me in my art long enough to get as good as I want to be

Become my patron on Patreon.

Click HERE to Check out my Patreon Page

kaGh5_patreon_name_and_message*

This blog is also a Podcast. You can find it on iTunes. If you’d like to listen to me read a previous blog on Soundcloud, click here.screen-shot-2017-01-10-at-1-33-28-am

*

Writing on the internet is a little bit like busking on the street. This is the part where I pass the hat. If you liked the blog and would like to give a dollar (or more!) put it in the PayPal digital hat. https://www.paypal.me/strugglingartist

 




%d bloggers like this: