Songs for the Struggling Artist


I Am Literally Making All This Up

When I apply for artist residencies, I am almost always asked to describe the project I would work on while there. Sometimes a rather substantial word count is suggested for such things. I suspect that the application lives or dies based on my ability to pitch a possible project. (Mostly my applications die – so it would seem I am not great at this part. Either that or the application ACTUALLY lives or dies based on the résumé, in which case the project may not matter at all.) But the truth is, whatever I say in these project descriptions, I am just making things up.

When I say I’m going to work on my Witch/Hysteria play and then list all the things I’m going to be doing, all those things are things I made up as I wrote the application. The only exceptions are when I list things I have already been doing. For example, in the applications for which I’ve applied with this Witch/Hysteria play, (Failed to Burn,) I can tell them I’ll be reading Malleus Maleficarum and The Discoverie of Witches because I have already begun to do that. I’ve been applying with this play everywhere – not because it’s my top choice for development but because I think I have a decent pitch for it and that pitch is not one I have to make up anew.

As I write this, I am in the middle of one of my DIY writer’s retreats. My friend offered me her house for the week so I happily arrived without a single plan for what I would work on. I’ve recently finished several projects so it wasn’t clear at first what I was ready to dive into. I’m on the Waitlist for a Residency where I said I’d work on Failed to Burn there so I’m keeping that project in reserve. Just in case. That left me with 5 to 6 projects in various stages of abandonment. They were all equally sticky, tricky and in dire need of the gift of dedicated time. How to choose?

None of them was calling to me particularly. I tried to reason my way through it. Maybe I should choose the thing that was the least pitchable. Maybe I should choose the oldest. Maybe I should choose the one that had gotten furthest along. You can see how I might be able to spend my whole residency deciding instead of writing.

In the end, I found a random decision generator and put all the choices into it. WheelDecider chose a project for me and I was delighted with what it chose so I went with it. (If I found I was not delighted with the decider’s choice, I would have removed it from the selection and then spun the wheel again.) I have happily been working on it ever since. I don’t have a plan for it. There was no outline and no proposal. The play is telling me what I need to do. It is the optimal way for me to grapple with a creative work. If I were to retrospectively write down all the things I actually did to develop this project, I’m sure it would make an impressive project proposal but I’ve already done them and I could not have known what I needed to do until I was knee deep into the project.

There’s not a single thing I could apply for with this bit of truth. “I would like to come to your prestigious artist retreat without any particular project in mind and just spin the decision wheel when I get there to make the choice. Or I could spin the wheel before I come. That’s okay too. But not too long before. I’m not always sure what I’m going to be working on 6 months in advance.” That application would stand even less of a chance than my already slim chances.

But just once I’d like to able to apply to something with a list of possibilities instead of a well formulated “plan” for some work’s development. I mean, the fact is, for me – if I get as far as a reading list, or a plan, or an idea of how I am going to proceed, it will be very hard for me to not just go ahead and proceed. I don’t have plans for working, I just work. I am literally just making all this up. Just like the people who make up these applications for me to fill in. Just like everyone with everything. We are all just making all this up.

 

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

They also bring you the podcast version of the blog.

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

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

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A Rejection in a Decadent World

The theatre company that rejected me most recently is one that was founded a year or two after mine. I know this because they interviewed my puppet designer for one of their first productions. They didn’t hire her (their loss) but due to their timing and their mission, I have followed their journey pretty closely.

They do good work. Let me say that, first. But I have always felt like they had some leg up when they began that I could not quite identify at the time. (I can guess now that it’s probably mostly being male. The leg up was maleness. Man-osity. Boy-i-tude.) I resented them for a long while – because I felt like they came up behind me driving a hot rod trike while I was running a three-legged race and they surged ahead before I even knew what the game was. But they won that race so long ago now, I’m finally over myself and I swallowed my resentment and pride to write them a ten minute play on spec for their short New Play Festival. I don’t do this usually – but – like I said before – they do good work and fundamentally that is the most important thing to me. More and more, I feel I don’t have the will to produce my own work the way I used to, so I have my eye on people who do good work. Anyway, despite my little play’s “high merits from our readers” it did not make the final round.

This letter concluded with my old (least) favorite: Keep Writing!

The problem with the specificity of the requirements of this short play festival is that it means the play I wrote for them is really not likely to be to the taste of anyone else. I mean – maybe I’m wrong and someone out there is dying for a ten minute companion piece to The Changeling by Thomas Middleton. (Don’t all come clamoring at once!)

Asking for these kinds of things feels like the height of decadence – the ultimate artistic rent seeking (this is an economic concept I’ve talked about before) and in this case it is for such a small reward. Because here’s the thing – I’m almost certain my little play (“The Apothecary’s Daughter”) will never see the light of day anywhere else – which is fine, I have a lot of plays like that. But I can’t help thinking of the other ten minute companion pieces that other writers wrote for ‘Tis Pity She’s a Whore and Women Beware Women and The Spanish Tragedy and such and how every year “record numbers” of playwrights churn out a record number of plays in this vein and how there’s just a storehouse of Jacobean themed ten minute plays sitting in the files of playwrights around the country and more are added to that rather useless collection EVERY YEAR.

And this is just one tiny short play festival. All around the country there are multitudes of other plays written for other people’s highly specific specifications that then go on to accumulate dusty storage deaths and I don’t know – this is one hell of a decadent world to ask so much of a bunch of theatre people without a lot of open doors available to them.

Anyway – I guess I’ll keep writing anyway since the producer of this short festival told me to but I’m feeling a little sad for all those lost short plays out there. Not sad enough to produce them myself, mind you. But sad.

*Wondering why I’m telling you about rejections? Read my initial post about this here and my patron’s idea about that here.

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

They also bring you the podcast version of the blog.

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

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

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Medusa Long Shot Rocket Rejection

I started working on my Medusa play sometime around when I started my theatre company, which was close to 18 years ago. I abandoned the play after doing a reading of it but then picked it back up a few years ago when an actor, who’d read one of the parts that first time, asked after it. I don’t know if it had been a full decade at that point but the fact that it had stuck with him after so long made me feel like it was worth grappling with.

After much wrestling, I got the play into shape and did a reading in Brooklyn and after it, I felt like I still wasn’t sure if it was worth anything. One of my listeners pointed out that I might not really know what was actually there until I had the exact right actors. He suggested I think big.

I knew who I needed. As the person who gave the single best performance I have ever seen, I knew that hearing HER read it would tell me everything needed to know. I also knew that in order to have that happen, I needed to make the play good enough for her. I imagined her reading it as I was writing and the play got better.

I did another reading in Queens with a game group of lovely actors and I got even closer to what I thought the play wanted to be. All along I was thinking of this sort of lodestar of a performer and how to get it to her, how to connect with her, how to strategize for this play’s future.

As time went by, the play was selected as a semi-finalist for the O’Neill National Playwright’s Conference but went no further. All of my attempts to make a connection with my Medusa lodestar failed.

Then I saw that she’d be performing in a public park – so I printed out a copy and brought it with me in case I could be brave enough to give it to her. I was. I was brave enough and it was mortifying. Completely and totally mortifying. I don’t recommend this sort of experience to anyone. But – even though she wouldn’t take the stack of paper in the moment, she told me to send it to her agent. And believe me, it had been suggested to me to send it to her agent before but that information is not particularly easy for an outsider to find so the principal value in standing before the actual person was that I could ask her who her agent was. Then began the tricky task of finding her agent’s information. You realize, when diving in to this sort of world, that so much of it is designed to intimidate and keep you out. The world of agents is built to make it difficult to find them. There are services you can pay to simply get an email.

But with the support of a clever friend, I finally got to the agent. Also, with a lot of coaching from my clever friend, I did some finely crafted emailing to just get this play to the woman who had been its muse. After about a week of back and forth, it was, in fact sent to her.

Just getting that far felt like a great leap. It wasn’t just the labor of the week to get it to her – but the years of putting it on my list to figure out and all the attempts before. I launched the rocket into space.

Within days, the rocket fell to earth as I heard back that the play was not for her.

Strangely, given how intimidating the world around agents is, the rejection was one of the best I’ve received. It was succinct, clear and gentle. I wonder if that agents learn that skill because they never really want to give anyone a hard no. What if Julie Taymor suddenly decided to put my Medusa on at the National Theatre with a million dollar salary? Would my muse be interested then? She might. Or at least there might be another conversation to be had.

So weirdly, I find myself wishing other rejectors could be more like an actor’s agent. Reject us like you might have to make a million dollar deal with us next time – because you just never know.

Meanwhile, here I am watching my last real hope for this play float away. I know it makes no sense to set a bubble of hope on an actor’s interest but it was literally the only idea I had for the future of this play. I can’t produce it myself. It’s too big for the resources I can gather. It’s not the kind of show you can do at your local community playhouse.

So…this particular rejection hit me hard – even though I knew it was a long shot. It was the longest shot. And it’s going to take some time to gather the strength to build another rocket – or even just a wagon. It’s going to take some time to reassemble some hope. Maybe it’ll be another ten years. Or maybe never at all.

*Wondering why I’m telling you about rejections? Read my initial post about this here and my patron’s idea about that here.

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

They also bring you the podcast version of the blog.

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

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

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Become my patron on Patreon.

Click HERE to Check out my Patreon Page

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

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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.

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

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Want to support my writing?

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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

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Announcing My New Podcast (You know – for kids!)

Introducing Reading the Library Book – a podcast in which I read my novel for young people one chapter at a time. Part audio book and part writing workshop, the podcast invites young people to be a part of the writing and editing process of novel writing.

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I wanted to find a way to get feedback from young people about my novel. As a playwright, I am accustomed to being able to watch and sense my audience. This helps me work out what bits are really working and which might be expendable. Due to a novel’s length, it is very tricky to utilize similar barometers for this new project. I can only read so much aloud at a time and to so many people at once. The podcast will allow me to share my work in progress with friends around the world and to (hopefully) receive some thoughts about what young people are responding to when they listen to it.

The podcast will also serve as a commitment device for me. The trickiest part of this novel writing process has been finding the time and the will to do the major editing – if I have a group of young people waiting for me to read them another chapter, I cannot drag my feet.

This process blends a few separate strands of my creative life and practice. While this is my first novel, I’m finding many parts of my identity weaving together in this new venture. Certainly, my experience of podcasting and blogging helped support the speedy launch of this new one and my experience as an arts educator gives me some ways to set up an open, supportive space in a new venue. My theatre practice has given me many ways to listen to feedback and ways to be specific about asking for it. And I even made myself a quick theme song for the whole affair.

If you know a young person who likes books, please share this with them. I’m not entirely sure of the age range yet. (That’s part of the reason I’m doing this podcast. I want to find out!) I imagine it’s somewhere in the 8 – 12 range. But my first listener was six. Basically if you’re reading Harry Potter or The Girl Who Circumnavigated Fairyland, you should be fine. It’s not nearly as scary as those books either.
Thank you!

This is the current blurb:

Leandra spends most of her time in her local library. When the library’s books and librarians vanish, Leandra sets off on a quest to find them. Following a mysterious trail of red leaves through a leaf-pile, she discovers Akita, the fantastical Global Library, where libraries come in all shapes and sizes. With her new friend, Ammon, the Wandering Librarian and his library (a camel,) Leandra investigates the disturbing trend of all kinds of books and libraries disappearing. Are those her books paved into the ballroom floor? And what are those strange books wrapped in burlap and twine that seem to send people to inhospitable places as soon as they open them? Who is behind the cryptic messages and illustrations that keep appearing in her library book? Is it The Chair? Or reclusive author, Dorothea Crane? The fate of them all rests in one young girl’s book-loving hands.

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 Anchor, click here.

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Every podcast features a song at the end. Some of those songs are now an album of Resistance Songs, an album of Love Songs and More. You can find them on Spotify, my websiteReverbNation, Deezer and iTunes

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You can help me with all my creative projects of all stripes

by becoming my patron on Patreon.

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 (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

 



If My Pen is Rockin,’ Don’t Come A-Knockin’

The bulk of my writing practice is dedicated to getting myself primed to write with the most focus I can manage. The practice is dedicated to finding a kind of flow. In an ideal session of writing, I will not stop the pen. I just go. And go. I’m sure that I look busy when I’m writing. I’m 100% sure I don’t look like I want to talk with anyone. And yet. And YET.

Several times in the last few months, I have had white men, both young and old, attempt to talk with me while I was writing. One said, after watching my pen moving rapidly across the page for a while, “Can I ask you a question?” I did not stop moving my pen and said “Not right now.” But even though I kept writing, of course, it very much interrupted my flow. It took me a while to pick my thought back up.

Another one, sitting next to me on a café bench at an adjacent table where I had been sitting and writing for 40 minutes, says, almost right into my ear, “Are you journaling?” And fury passed through me as I paused to turn and tell him “No” and attempted to resume.

Why on earth does someone think a woman busy on her own, clearly engaged with a task, wants to be interrupted? Never once has a woman interrupted me to ask an invasive question or start up a conversation. Nor has any man of color. Everyone but white dudes seems to respect my personal space and engagement.

The good news is that there is literally no activity that I am more protective of than writing. I guard my time to do it. I protect it with ferocity – so if some dude happens to intrude, I don’t fall into my usual patterns of being nice or compliant. If you interrupt me, I will not be polite.

This is also the gift of aging. I do not give any fucks about making men feel alright for being assholes. Not anymore.

But it continues to astonish me that even in personal space NYC, where we all more or less leave each other alone, dudes can take me being busy doing something as an invitation.

I suppose it is the activity equivalent of wearing headphones – and lord knows, despite sending a million signals that a woman doesn’t want to be bothered, she gets bothered anyway. I’m thinking of that article about how to talk to girls with headphones on. And the answer of course is – you shouldn’t. Unless you want to talk with a really pissed off woman.

Understanding that not all space is your space is a hard one for the white boys who are used to feeling welcome everywhere. But it is essential for not getting a pen through the eye one day when I’m really in flow and pissed off that you’ve disrupted it. To avoid a pen in the eye…no talking, dude. If you absolutely must talk to me, you can pass me a note. But I’d rather you didn’t.

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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



Rejection Reframed (The first of a series)
September 30, 2014, 10:40 pm
Filed under: art, Rejections, theatre, writing | Tags: , , ,

After my “Reframing Rejection” blog, one of my (wonderful!) Patreon supporters suggested a possible solution to my application motivation question. [Short version of that post: How do I hook getting rejection letters to something positive? How do I keep motivating myself to receive them?] My patron’s solution?

“If you write a blog post – even one sentence – for each rejection, maybe you can turn it into income via Patreon? Let your patrons cheer you on?”

And so, my readers and patrons, I am giving that a try. I’m not quite sure how this chronicle of rejection will evolve but it starts now.

My latest rejection letter is from The Room of Her Own Foundation for the Shakespeare’s Sister Fellowship. I didn’t expect to get this Fellowship – but gave it a shot anyway, though. Some rejections are painful because you really think you’ll get the thing you applied for and some are painful because of the crappiness of the letter. This one was a particularly shitty rejection letter. There are a million qualifiers, letting me know how stiff the competition was, how qualified the judges are, how I didn’t even make it to the second round and gee, thanks for helping us make the process better. It’s such a clear example of the sort of rejection letter that is written to make the letter writer feel better.

As the receiver of rejection letters, I don’t need any qualifications or the “gosh, the competition was so good” lines. I just want the information. Did I get it? Yes or no. I might like a letter that just said NO or BETTER LUCK NEXT TIME!

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When you don’t have enough money in the bank to make a withdrawal, the ATM doesn’t say, “There are a lot of factors that go in to how your money comes to you, various fees, the salaries of our CEO, etc and unfortunately, your request for dollars was unable to be met. You should know that a lot of other really great people are also asking for money right now and as much as we’d like to give money to everyone, we can only dispense a limited amount. We wish you all the best in your money seeking endeavors. Don’t be discouraged! Keep asking for money in the future!” Nope –the ATM just spits out a little slip of paper that says Insufficient Funds and that is that. I would prefer a rejection letter that was more like a bank slip, for sure.

I particularly hate when rejection letters for writing tell me to keep writing. (This one: “We hope that you will continue to write.”) Give me a break. You think your shitty rejection letter is enough to dissuade me from writing? Sometimes it might be enough to dissuade me from writing shitty applications – but from writing?!? I don’t know anyone who’s quit their art just because some committee didn’t accept it. I can’t really imagine a writer who could be put off writing by a rejection notice but then return to it by the same letter’s suggestion. There he is, crying into his email box about his loss as he reads the opening paragraphs, declaring that he will never write again and then, there in that last line, when they tell him to keep writing – he feels. . . HOPE! Again! “Oh, I WON’T quit writing after all! Thank you, Rejection Letter!”

Anyway, that’s Rejection #1 in the Rejection Documentation Project. Stay tuned for future rejections. I’ve just written a bunch of grants and residency applications, so, fingers crossed for some really good ones.

You can join my little tribe of support and fight the crappiness of rejection. . .

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