Songs for the Struggling Artist


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

There was a huge imbalance of information.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Why I Am Indebted to Charmed (Yes, the TV Show)

Whenever I hear The Smiths’ “How Soon Is Now” I go back in time. Not to when I used to listen to The Smiths in college but to the song’s time as the theme song for Charmed, my favorite guilty pleasure TV show of the late 90s and early 2000s. I was embarrassed by how much I loved Charmed. The women’s outfits were ridiculously classic WB silliness (really? You’re going to fight evil in those shoes, in that dress?!) and the plots tended to get pretty soapy but damned if I didn’t love watching three witchy sisters (the Charmed Ones) fighting dark forces while also trying to maintain businesses and appearances of normality.

And I soon discovered that two of my dearest friends were also charmed by Charmed. Those two friends and I started watching the show together and (I think, not incidentally) we also started a theatre company together. We were a three woman team and I think we got a lot of strength from regularly watching a three woman team of witches. The Power of Three was real for us. Charmed helped us feel charmed even if we didn’t have a magical Book of Shadows. I think our company’s existence is wrapped up in the Charmed Ones.

I wanted to tell you about this now because it feels to me as though witches in general are having a bit of a moment and two of the actors who played the witches on Charmed have become powerful voices in the movement for justice for women. I don’t think this is an accident, actually. I think that embodying powerful women, even if that power is fictional, helps show you that you do have power, even if it isn’t actual magic. I think the feeling of pushing back “evil spirits” teaches you how to push back on more pedestrian evil, the kind of evil most of us run into every day.

Once you know what it feels like to shoot magic fire from your hands, I think it is hard to go back into hiding. I’m not saying Alyssa Milano and Rose McGowan are activists for women because they once played witches on TV. I mean maybe they are but I think they probably had that strength in them in the first place, which helped them get those parts as Charmed Ones. (Also, to my knowledge, Tarana Burke never played a witch and she is the originator of the #MeToo campaign and is so badass.)

Of course witches are not the only way to access feminine power – but it does seem like witches are the primary way we culturally will allow women power. This goes way back, of course. And the impulse to burn witches is directly related to the impulse to limit women’s power. The sign at the Women’s March that made me cry the hardest was the “We are the Granddaughters of the Witches You Failed to Burn.”

Witchcraft is growing like hotcakes right about now. Like, there are hexes and spells and gatherings to push back the patriarchal horrors growing around us all the time. That’s a thing that people are actually doing. I love it. I don’t really BELIEVE in it – but anything that makes women feel powerful in a world that tells us we are not is A-OKAY with me.

Back in January, I was invited to a participate in a photo shoot and asked to say when I felt powerful and it took me forever to find an answer. I could not think of a single instance in which I had the thought “I feel powerful.” I could think of a dozen other sort of empowering things I have felt but I couldn’t think of when I felt actually powerful. It felt entirely out of my wheelhouse.

But it occurs to me now that I felt powerful in my Charmed years. That I felt powerful with two sisters by my side, practicing theatre magic, believing I was casting spells of art. It felt good to feel witchy, to feel like Charmed ones. Just recently, I cackled with glee, like full witchy cackled, when I read Lindy West’s article about Weinstein and Allen, et al and she said, “Yes this is a witch hunt. I’m a witch and I’m hunting you.”

In real life, we watch our powerful women get attacked in a multitude of ways. We watch women lose so often. Our victories are small – Rep. Maxine Waters’ “Reclaiming My Time” is about the top of what we can dream of. We watch the Women’s March organizers bring together a record breaking group of women in January but then we watch them get arrested at Trump Tower in NYC. We watched Hillary Rodham Clinton get the historic nomination but then had to watch her eviscerated by the media and painfully lose to a ridiculous man.

So we need our witches. We need to see women who can win. Every time. We need to pretend to be them and know what it feels like to win so we can keep winning. We need our Charmed, even if it might be a little silly.

Some of the lyrics from “How Soon Is Now?” that were in the titles of Charmed were “I am the sun and the air” and “I am human and I need to be loved, just like everybody else does.” And now that I think about it, it’s actually one of the sweetly potent parts about Charmed. It was three exceptionally powerful witches (the sun and air) but they got to be human (just like everybody else does.) They dated or got married, or slept around and just generally had a fun human time while fighting the forces of evil with their magic. The charm of Charmed was being both witch and human, both powerful and woman.

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And a little coda to this post: As many of you know, I record an audio version of this blog via my podcast. At the end of (almost) every post, I include a song. For this one, it was obvious that I needed to do “How Soon Is Now?” so I looked up the lyrics/chords to start learning it and had a funny revelation. The lyric is not “I am the sun and the air;” it is “I am the son and the heir.”  All these years, I was sure it was the sun and air and it’s the son and heir. What I thought was a sort of pagan animistic declaration is, in fact, a lineage of male-ness. Hilarious.

But I think the show’s title sequence is edited in such a way to suggest the more pagan reading of those words. For example, on the word, “sun/son” a much brighter shot appears in the titles, like a light turning on and moments before “air/heir” a candle is lit. So, on a show about the witchy power of women, the theme song takes on a different meaning. That is, Morrissey may be the son and heir but the Charmed Ones are the sun and air.

You can help me access my power

by becoming 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

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

 



I mean, Me too, of course. But this is it, right?
October 16, 2017, 7:07 pm
Filed under: feminism, resistance | Tags: , , , , ,

Sunday evening, after an intensive weekend of teaching – a weekend of showing up in one of my professional guises and remembering – “Oh yeah! I’m pretty accomplished actually. It is gratifying to be able to pass on my expertise!” – I came home, opened up my social media and fell into a river of “Me, too.” My sense of professional accomplishment faded away and suddenly, again, I was in the midst of a conversation about sexual harassment and assault. And I saw women I love who had just opened shows, or just had babies, or just gotten married or were celebrating their honeymoons and in the midst of their celebration, they found themselves, too, in that river. Wedding photos and “Me, too” sit side by side in their profile. That’s going to be forever. And that sucks forever.

And I’m of so many minds about all this. On one hand, I felt a little glimmer of hope. I thought, maybe THIS TIME, maybe this wave will finally topple the patriarchy! Maybe all we needed was for thousands upon thousands of women to come forward and share that it’s all of us. That would be super great. And if that’s what’s about to happen – I am HERE FOR THAT. I will “Me, too” up and down all over the town if I knew for a fact that this was the tidal wave that changed the world.

But I am skeptical, y’all. See, we’ve done this before. Recently. Just about a year ago. In the wake of the shitty audio of Billy Bush laughing along to reality show star, D. Trump, tons of women shared their stories of when some jerk assaulted them. And what happened? Some of those ladies voted for him for President anyway. Previously, we went down this road with #YesAllWomen. Remember this? We laid out the shitty ways women negotiate with the rape culture, the harassment, the unsafe conditions for us out in the world. Anyway – we dug into our past, we thought it might help, that maybe, just maybe the numbers would convince the fish that there was water and we were all wet. But you know, #NotAllMen…so…

So I’m not counting my Me Too chickens here. Because what happens when we do this – for a lot of us – is that we go through our past to find these moments and sometimes that means re-living them. And I find myself returning to things and thinking, “Yes, but was that assault? Does that count?” Or “Would I define that as harassment?” I didn’t at the time but now….I know better. And then suddenly I’m feeling lucky to have escaped being raped, to have been driven home instead of getting assaulted but then I feel bad because My God, I was in such vulnerable situations so often and so many of my friends didn’t escape those same kinds of situations. How I dodged so many bullets and only got grazed when I was in that war zone. And I’m trying to remember the first time someone touched me without my consent but it’s hazy and how I have blessedly forgotten so many things that are in this territory and how much it does not help me to remember them. It takes me off track. This Me Too parade has taken most of us off track. And I don’t know, y’all. I think it’s important, if it works, but at the same time – it has completely destabilized most of the women who are all that is standing between us and the harassment stew that is boiling over in the White House. The Resistance is (mostly) Female and this is a river of awful that touches all of us, of all genders – whether we say Me Too or not.

I don’t know how to negotiate with this continual re-triggering, re-visiting of our painful moments or atmosphere or memories. I’m proud that so many women are adding their voices to the chorus and mad as hell that they feel like they have to. But damn it, damn it, damn it.

Back when I was in college making feminist theatre like “Roar, the Women’s Thing!” we talked a lot about the statistic that one in three women would be raped in her lifetime. That was scary and also, very few people outside of our circle seemed to care about it at the time. That statistic has not changed. And also this likely means that one in three men will do some raping or assaulting or harassing in their lifetime. It would be nice if we could just blame the serial predators that come out in the news for all the assaults but I gotta tell ya, Weinstein, Trump and O’Reilly didn’t commit every one of those one in three. I know we’d all prefer to believe that that was the case, that we caught the one serial predator after twenty years and now he’s in rehab so we’re all safe now. But all the Me, Toos in your Timeline know that that’s not true.

I am so pissed to be writing this right now. I had so many other plans for things I was going to do today. But the river is flowing and I cannot ignore it. I peer in at it, feel the horrors and the waves of yuck and then I step back out again. I mean, me, too, of course. But I don’t want to talk about that. I don’t want a like or a heart or a wow face on it. I’m not interested in having that conversation. But for my friends who do want to have that conversation, who need support, who need resources for helping, or someone to punch pillows with, I am here for you for that.

I wasn’t shocked by the Weinstein stuff. I wasn’t shocked by the Access Hollywood tape. I am not shocked by a single Me, too. I think most of us who have been paying attention to systemic sexism over the years are pretty much only shocked that suddenly people seem to care about it when it has been dismissed for so long. I keep thinking about Soraya Chemaly’s incredible article from a few years ago about how we teach kids that women are liars. If you are shocked by this stuff and you need something to do about it, that article is a great place to start. Also, this list.

And, of course, Me, Too, you know – that is, if this is really and truly the last time we do this. Once we’ve dismantled the patriarchy, let’s never do this again.

One thing you can do to help with these things is to amplify women’s voices.

You can amplify my voice by becoming my patron on Patreon.

Click HERE to Check out my Patreon Page

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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

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

 



Feeling American

Never do I feel more American than when I travel abroad. At home, my identity tends to be more specific – the city I was born in, the state I’m from, the city I live in or the borough in that city or even the neighborhood in that borough. I don’t feel American in America – partly because I have always felt so countercultural. Americans are like THIS and I am like THAT. I have tended to identify more with other cultures. I have even (unsuccessfully) tried to emigrate in order to be in places that align more closely with my interests and values. If European countries had looser immigration policies, I would have moved there long ago. But…I am American. And going abroad always helps me appreciate the good side of that, in times I’m mostly seeing the bad. I have enjoyed those moments when my Americanism becomes obvious – when my friends abroad tease me for my optimism or my accent.

During my recent trip abroad, I found myself in a new position with my European friends. American politics are in the news everywhere there. As one friend told me, the first story of every news broadcast is whatever crazy thing Trump did that day. Before any news of their own country, they get news of ours. My friend was understandably frustrated by that. Trump is happening to everyone in the world, not just to us Americans. My friends felt the need to vent about him, to imitate his speech or his mannerisms. They are laughing about the horrors they’re seeing and they want to laugh with me, their American friend.

The thing is, though, I’m not finding the current political situation funny. It is not amusing to hear imitation after imitation of the man who makes my skin crawl, to hear his faults listed and marveled at and analyzed – as if he were just a character in a play. To me, it feels as though 45 or Lil Donnie T or He Who Must Not Be Named (see why here…) is an arsonist who has set fire to my house and is blithely watching it burn. Every time someone imitates his speech or his gestures, it’s like looking at another face of the person who traumatized me. Objectively, I understand that he’s funny (or maybe more precisely – buffoonish and ridiculous) but emotionally, it’s horrifying.

I’m from here. I live here. My house, my America, however embarrassing it can sometimes be, is mine. Having this house, this America, was something that I could always rely on in the past. I had a certain amount of privilege in that house and others could not rely on it as much – but there were certain things we expected to remain. I grew up with a relatively stable government and a kind of classic American optimism that justice would prevail, even when all evidence pointed to the contrary. It wasn’t a perfect house but it was mine and now it is on fire. Every day I do something that I hope will help put out the fire but I fully expect the place to be a pile of ash before too long. I throw a thimble full of water on the fire, next to dozens of others, all of us, hoping to put it out…but knowing that it might take much more than our water to do it.

On election night last November – I fully expected us to be in the middle of the new Third Reich by now. I was emotionally preparing for concentration camps and firing squads. I am not convinced we are free of that threat. Our issues may seem funny from a distance but here inside, we are watching a man with the ability to push a button and start a global nuclear war pick fights with everyone from kids on Twitter to world leaders who have similar access to weapons and who might be very glad to see Imperial America get its comeuppance. And if you believe that our famous checks and balances would prevent a nuclear holocaust, I would point you to this terrifying episode of Radio Lab.

We are watching what we thought was an increasingly tolerant and progressive nation become entrenched in increasing white supremacy. My seemingly peaceful hometown has become a site that white supremacist groups are targeting for their parades and rallies and celebrations. (And I would like to point out that I wrote the previous sentence back in July, before the Nazis showed up.) Even NYC, which, we who live here think of as a bastion of tolerance and diversity, has seen a disturbing trend of hate crimes. SPLC reports that hate groups have risen dramatically.

From where I’m standing, America is on fire and it will be ashes before too long if we can’t stop it. “Is there any hope?” my European friends ask. Sure. Yes. I guess. Every day a new batch of amazing people throw water on the fire. The resistance is persistent and powerful and fighting like hell. If you want to watch some extraordinary fire fighters in the middle of the government, follow Representative Maxine Waters, Representative Ted Liu, Senator Kamala Harris, Senator Elizabeth Warren. There is perhaps some hope that our Checks and Balances will find a way to check this fire. The on-going Russian investigation, the increasing calls for Impeachment, the way one Republican Congressman described how he could not go anywhere without women getting up in his grill…there are drops of hope and maybe all the drops will eventually put on the fire.

But meanwhile, please remember that our house is on fire and most of us are just barely keeping it together.

We need your help. Especially those of you who have lived through repressive regimes, through corrupt governments. You could be forgiven for just wanting to laugh at us, for just wanting to enjoy the schadenfreude of watching a nation that has been acting a bit too big for its britches finally get a comeuppance. America was probably due a reckoning given the way our governments have tended to go about the world like we owned the place – but remember that you have friends who were as dismayed by that, then, as you were. Perhaps more. It may be pleasurable to watch some madman set fire to the gaudy mansion on the hill – but remember that there are people inside, burning. People are dying now. Literally. We need the wisdom of the past so we do not end up repeating it. As Americans we have enjoyed an incredible amount of freedom and privilege before now and some of us were not prepared for the revocations of any of those things.

I learned, not long ago, about David Goodhart’s idea that culture is dividing into two worldviews – people from anywhere and people from somewhere. He defines Anywheres as mobile, educated, autonomous, open and fluid. Somewheres are more rooted, less well educated and value group attachments, familiarity and security. It is his explanation for Brexit in the UK. It also makes sense for our American situation. And I am very much an Anywhere. One thing that this burning-house-feeling has done for me, as an American Anywhere, is to make me feel my American-ness as acutely as I do when I’m abroad. I feel simultaneously more American than I have ever felt before and also deeply alienated from it. In the chaos, my sense of my Anywhere-ness has led me to become more of a Somewhere. When my hometown was attacked, I felt more from there. As my country struggles, I feel more from here. This year has made me feel as American as I feel when I’m away. It is a curious shift from being so firmly in the Anywhere camp to suddenly identifying with my Somewheres.

I am American, for good and ill. But I am from somewhere. And it’s here. While there is still a here to be from, I am from here.

You can help this American

Becoming my patron on Patreon.

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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. And I usually sing at the end, if you want to hear that.screen-shot-2017-01-10-at-1-33-28-am

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Writing on the internet is a little bit like busking on the street. If you liked the blog and want to support it but aren’t quite ready for patronage on Patreon, You can tip me a dollar (or more!) put it in the PayPal digital hat. https://www.paypal.me/strugglingartist



Will You Wish You’d Been There?
August 31, 2017, 12:19 am
Filed under: advice, resistance | Tags: , , , , ,

Listen you guys. I hate going to protests. They’re loud and shouty and there are crowds there – usually big ones – and that’s sort of the point.

But sometimes I make myself go despite my natural inertia – you know, that thing that makes it easier not to go than go. And given that there are protests nearly every day now, it can be hard to figure out whether it’s a time to hit the streets or a time take care of myself. My barometer has become: Will I Wish I’d Been There?

Here’s the thing. When it became clear what was going to happen in Charlottesville on August 12th, people were advised to stay away. From what I understand, the recommendation was that only those with appropriate training and a whole lot of willingness should show up. In general, the Southern Poverty Law Center’s advice is to steer clear of assembling hate groups. The SPLC is a bad-ass organization and has been tracking hate groups for a mighty long time. They’ve been in the trenches of this a whole lot longer than most of us, so people are usually inclined to heed their advice. And that advice rather conveniently lines up with most people’s natural inertia. It is much easier to sheetcake than to risk your life by going where the trouble is.

But. But. Many who heeded that advice in Charlottesville now regret that decision. Despite all the horrible things that happened, I know a lot of people who wish they’d been there. Not to kick-ass or knock-heads but to support, to help, to be physically present for vulnerable people.

I thought I’d be glad I was 500 miles away when this was set to go down but now having endured it at a distance, part of me wishes I’d been there, if for no other reason than to hand medics water and hug people who needed hugs. Simultaneously, I’m glad as hell that no one in my family was too close to the fray.

It is an incredibly odd sensation – to wish vehemently for everyone you know to stay as far away from harm as possible and to somehow wish yourself there.

And no one is more surprised about this response than me. I am not a rush into a fire sort of person. I hate conflict so much, y’all. I can’t even watch a heated debate without my heart-rate escalating and getting super anxious. I am an HSP (Highly Sensitive Person) with a precarious health situation. I do not really belong at a protest that has the potential to become violent. Given all of that, I thought I would have wanted to be as far away from such things as possible. But – I find I wish I’d been with my friends in the middle of the most dangerous moment in my hometown that I’ve ever known about.

I’ve heard from a lot of people that feel the same way. There was that article in the New York Times from the parent who made the decision to steer clear because of their child but now regrets that choice.

“I now believe we made the wrong choice. Does my status as a parent make me special? It shouldn’t. A young man named Dre Harris was ambushed in a parking lot and took dozens of blows by club-wielding thugs. He took them so I wouldn’t have to. Next time I will stand on the street with my neighbors, even at the risk of injury or death. It’s the least I can do to repay those who stood bravely this time.”

It is always easier to choose not to show up. And those who have been going to these sorts of demonstrations know better than anyone what sorts of risks are involved. That’s why they have to advise you not to go.

And everyone has their own acceptable level of risk and their own metric for participation in fighting for good.

My metric is clear now. It is “Will I wish I’d been there?” And most times the answer is no. But when it’s yes, it’s time to go. On one side, is my personal safety – but on the other side is a fight for the greater good. Sometimes it’s better to be there.

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Side note: The news cycle has moved on (as it does) from Charlottesville to Texas. I’ve seen a lot of folks wondering how to best support the folks in Houston. I recommend this list: http://noredcross.org/

And while the national news has moved on, Charlottesville is still reeling and regrouping. This is the most comprehensive summary of ways to support folks there:  this list on Google Docs.

Will you wish you’d supported me later?

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Click HERE to Check out my Patreon Page

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



Where I’m From

When I worked as a teaching artist, I traveled to about 300 different schools around New York City. They were wildly divergent places and environments but on bulletin board displays in hallways, in all five boroughs, I often saw the same writing assignment appear and it never failed to move me. It was called “Where I’m from…” and students would recount the smells, the sounds and sights of their homeland. For kids who’d lived in the city their whole lives, the sound of the ice cream trucks was often the birdcall of spring. Because New York is so beautifully diverse, this assignment would often paint a whole world of elsewhere, as well. The sights of Egypt. The sounds of the Dominican Republic. The smells of Uganda. The temperature of Poland. No matter where students came from, even if they had to flee their homelands because they were not safe there anymore – the formative power of home rang out from their writing.

I’m not from here. New York City is where I live and where I feel at home but where I’m from is a small city in the hills of Virginia. It’s the kind of city that sometimes gets called cosmopolitan – not because it’s a bustling metropolis but because it has a vibrant arts culture and an intellectual fire. This place is as much a part of me as my leg is. My hometown feels like part of my body.

Where I’m from is green, green hills, green lawns, trees and trees and trees. It is people gathering under fairy lights on a red brick road. It is a place where you can see the stars in a backyard. It is a place in which sometimes you feel like you know everyone and a day later feel as though you know no one anymore. People will smile at you and say hello when you walk past.

I’m from crickets on a summer evening. I’m from parties out in the country. I’m from wood smoke in winter and cigarette smoke on the bricked pavement in summer. I’m from jazz pouring out of one restaurant/bar and frat rock pouring from another, just steps away. I’m from a wall so thick with paint it was possible to peel-off a corner of it and keep it as a sculpture souvenir. I’m from craft fairs and festivals. I’m from the bells shaking on the legs of the Morris dancers. I’m from late night wanderings over green lawns. I’m from Greek letters on steps. I’m from dodging crowds of students who flood the city like water pouring into a glass. I’m from orange V’s on asphalt. I’m from libraries. I’m from community theatres. I’m from community radio. I’m from a folk scene, a bluegrass scene, a jazz scene, an old time scene, a rock scene, a pop scene, a classical scene, a women’s music scene. I’m from used bookstores and used record stores and independent community business. I’m from fireworks in the park on the 4th of July put on for us by the fire department. I’m from honeysuckle. I’m from musicians on the Corner and musicians on the Mall. I’m from deer by the railroad tracks. I’m from crayfish in the creek. I’m from red dirt and several shades of brown dirt. I’m from hummingbirds. I’m from dogwood trees. I’m from field trips to the art museum. I’m from book sales and yard sales. I’m from hot humid summers, exuberantly flowery springs, winters that bring snowstorms and autumn leaves with a top note of apple cider.

And I’m also from a place where neighborhoods are black or white. I’m from a school system that tracked its students, that sent its white students to the top and the black toward the bottom, that encouraged young minds to think that this was just how things were, that white students were more likely to be “advanced” and black students more likely to be “general” or “basic.” I’m also from a place that tried hard to believe that Thomas Jefferson’s slave was his mistress. I’m from a place where visiting a landmark important to a black leader meant visiting the tobacco farm where he was born a slave. I’m also from a place where I could go see a kid’s magician in a thousand seat theatre and see only white people in the audience. I’m from a place where we don’t talk about that much, mostly because it’s not polite. And where I’m from, politeness is important.

And now here I sit in Queens, New York – the most linguistically diverse place in the world and one of the most ethnically diverse places in the country – but where I live now isn’t any better, really. It feels good and blended on the train or in the grocery store but the school system in diverse NYC is the most segregated in the country. While we think of ourselves as models of tolerance, diversity and unity – the hate and violence has visited us here, too.

See, the story is that I’m from a place you’ve possibly only heard of because some hateful Nazis decided to target my hometown. And when they did, they broke the hearts of not just the brave souls who stood in opposition to them and those who had to go to work and those who prayed with Cornel West and those who were away but also all of us who feel that Charlottesville is a part of us. Those of us who were born there or grew up there or went to college there or even just lived there for a few years – it feels to us, too, as if the dirtiest boots just trampled over our hearts.

Charlottesville isn’t perfect. The racism runs deep there, yes. (Read about that here.) But before you start thinking my hometown had it coming, that it asked for it, that it shouldn’t have worn that short skirt if it didn’t want to be invaded, search in your own city’s past. I’m going to guess that no city in America has completely clean hands when it comes to racial discrimination.

The deck is incredibly stacked against people of color in America. It took me too long to work out how much. For me, it took going to college and learning about white privilege and starting to understand that being nice was no excuse for accepting injustice. I thought that because I was nice, I was immune to racism. You see where I’m from, we’re nice to everyone. We’re polite. We’re courteous.

And maybe you’re thinking, “Ah! I see now! This terrible thing happened there because the people of Charlottesville let it. They just didn’t say “no” loud enough.” And you’d be wrong. The people of Charlottesville have been preparing for this for months. The folks I know there have been, for months, strategizing and debating, trying to figure out the best way to make it clear how unwelcome the “Unite the Right” were. From what I understand, Charlottesville’s Black Lives Matter was organized in June to help address this invasion. Petitions were circulated. Injunctions were filed. Violence was suggested and rejected. Dozens of peaceful demonstrations and events were organized to prepare.

The people of Charlottesville didn’t throw open the door and welcome this mess. It showed up unannounced on the doorstep in May and they did everything they could think of to prevent it, at every stage. So when I see people say things like, “I’d like to see them try that in my hometown,” I think, “No, no, you wouldn’t. You wouldn’t like it at all.”

You wouldn’t like this mess of feelings that I’ve had to negotiate, not just these last four days when you started paying attention but since May when those assholes with torches first showed up. It is a combination of despair and fury and fear for my loved ones. A few months ago, on video, my mother asked a Trump supporter at a rally about his “Kekistani” flag and the look of pure hatred that he gave her made me quake. You don’t want to know the mixture of pride and terror that seeing such things inspire.

You don’t want to sit 500 miles away as you watch militant Nazis with advanced military gear taunt clergy people kneeling at the edge of a park you used to play in. You think your people are tough? That these highly organized, armed jerks with nothing to lose will somehow be stopped from waving their flags by your gang of guys with bats? I mean, I wish that were true. But I don’t think it is. These people punched clergy-folk. They taunted them and tried to do worse.

This is the future I was worried was coming as soon as I saw where the world was turning on Nov 8th. I was figuring we’d have ourselves a Nazi-like state by now. I didn’t expect ACTUAL Nazis. But otherwise – this is what I feared most. And yet I never expected it to start in my hometown. So I’m not surprised that this happened. I saw it coming. I just didn’t see it coming for my hometown first.

I hope you’re not next. The country is racist. My hometown is racist. The city I live in racist. And so is yours. Those guys came from all over the country. If you’re just realizing this a problem, you’re late. But if you’re late, we still need you. In fact, you may be the best link to the people who are going to be later than you.

Dealing with the racism in your town (or the racist people in your town) isn’t easy – especially since it’s usually systemic and those structures are hard to see and take a long time to dismantle. If you’re new to these concepts – if you don’t know what systemic racism is, then this is a great time to start learning. Seeing the ways that your town or your city or your county has perpetuated white supremacy over the years doesn’t mean you love your town any less. In fact, the more you know about where you’re from, the more meaningful your relationship with it will be. Forewarned is forearmed and knowledge is power.

I know that terrorists primarily want to strike terror in people’s hearts and the terrorists who came to my hometown stated plainly that this was their goal. I do not want to give them what they want. I’m from Charlottesville and I live in New York. I was in NYC on 9/11. I was not cowed then and I will not be cowed now.

But I am afraid. I cannot deny it. I have not slept much since the racists with torches surrounded a church service Friday night and essentially held them hostage. I had family in that church. And friends. I was in that church in spirit.

Here in Queens, I heard some folks swear they’d never cross the Mason-Dixon line again. I understand the instinct. It’s a way to say – “Oh, that’s them over there. I’ll be safe if I just stay here.” But I don’t think geography will save you. I would never have thought, in a million years, that white supremacists would march through where I’m from. And here in Queens, many years ago, Donald J. Trump’s father was arrested as he marched in a KKK rally. In Queens. New York. It’s not about location, y’all.

Here in Queens, I’m devastated about what’s happened where I’m from. And there is no shaking off this sense of violation. But if there’s anything that gives me hope in all of this, it’s watching the way the community in my hometown has come together over this series of events. From the clergy linking arms and marching in silent protest, to the swelling numbers of white people at teach-ins and Black Lives Matter meetings, to the giant crowd at Heather Heyer’s memorial service, there is a unity brewing that many never thought possible. Where I’m from, folks are trying to be better. I’m from that. I’m from where brave, nice people try to be and do better. That’s where I’m from.

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This is a great list of resources if you’d like to help the people of Charlottesville.


Normally this is the spot in my blog posts where I ask folks to support me on Patreon. But today, I’m requesting instead that you go to help the many people who need your help in my hometown. Go to this list on Google Docs.

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This blog is also a Podcast. You can find it on iTunes by searching for Songs for the Struggling Artist. If you’d like to listen to me read this post to you, you can listen on Soundcloud by clicking here.screen-shot-2017-01-10-at-1-33-28-am

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Single Gender on a Train

On the Politically Reactive podcast, the guest, Michael Skolnik, described being on the train coming home from the Women’s March in DC. He said he’d never been on a train “where there’s such a disproportionate amount of one gender.” And I said, out loud, in response, “I’m sure that’s not true.” That is, I’m sure he’s been on the train with a single gender before, it just wasn’t women and so he didn’t notice.

Why do I feel so sure he’s been on a train or in public somewhere with only men? Because most public space is male space. Because I have been the only woman on a train more times than I can even begin to count. Any woman who spends time in public has had this experience – and when it happens to us – we get very alert, very quickly. Being the only woman on a train full of men is normal – especially after a game or late at night and most of us will do a fairly quick complex assessment of the danger levels of being in a car full of men. We know we’re surrounded in just the same way Skolnik felt very attuned to being surrounded by women. The thing is – that happens very rarely. And there are a lot of good (and by good, I mean legitimate and clear, not good) reasons for that.

First, it’s historical. There have been any number of diatribes against women ever showing their faces in public. In some places, if you were “public women” you were prostitutes. That is, any woman in public is suspect.

As soon as women start gathering, the wheels of patriarchy start really grinding. It’s how we get witch trials and hysteria epidemics and such. Oppressive movements almost always rely on the idea of women staying out of the public eye, being at home, where she “belongs.” From Rousseau to Phyllis Schlafly, the retiring, natural home-maker is encouraged to remain by the hearth, to never gather with other women in public places, to never venture forth without her husband or father. Soraya Chemaly’s talk on space illuminates the sense that the world is designed by and for men, even women’s restrooms.

And there is another factor, there’s the safety factor – that women in public face harassment, or worse, when they venture forth. Danielle Muscato recently asked women what they’d do if men had a 9 o’clock curfew and the answers revealed how unsafe many women feel in public and how much the world would change if men were safely home in bed by 9. It’s an interesting thought experiment.

For myself, my life wouldn’t change too dramatically if men had a curfew. A lot of the things woman said they’d do I do already. But – I live in a city and cities have always provided a safer haven for women, especially in public. (see Rebecca Traister’s All the Single Ladies) I notice, when I travel, that I am a lot more unusual as a woman traveling on my own. In smaller cities and towns, when I go to coffee shops, I often find myself the only woman. That almost never happens in New York. I wonder if one of the major divides between urban and rural is actually how much space women can occupy in public. I wonder if some of the hatred of Hillary Clinton was related to folks coming from places where women are more rarely seen in public. For me, I feel a very stark contrast when I travel from cities, where I am completely inconspicuous as a woman in public, to places where I am suddenly required to have a heightened sense of my femininity. There are endless public spaces that are de facto male only.

So, yes, it is powerful to see only a single gender on a train – but it is a very different experience for a man to be on a train car full of women than it would be for a woman to be on a train in a car full of men. Part of the power of things like the Women’s March is that it brings women into public space and it makes it possible for the world to be re-imagined as a place where women really can do anything, like ride on a train without any fear at all.

Help increase the numbers of women in public,

Become my patron on Patreon.

Click HERE to Check out my Patreon Page

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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

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




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