The State of the State of Virginia, Among Others

August 13, 2017 § Leave a comment

As native(ish) Marylanders, Mr. B and I have a natural distrust and hatred for the state of Virginia. However, due to the fact that I don’t fly well and intellectually we know better than to hate a whole state just because the football team of our alma mater play(ed) the football teams of its resident universities, Mr. B and I honeymooned near Charlottesville. It was wine country, and it was beautiful. The chef and co-owner of the B&B we stayed in was Israeli and he regaled us with stories of his travels and how he came to his particular multi-cultural style of cooking. His son drove us around Nelson county from winery to winery, the proceeds of this business going to music education in local public schools. It rained, and it was a 4 hour drive our home, but it was our honeymoon and therefore it was perfect.

We didn’t go to Monticello. It rained the day we had planned on visiting, but I didn’t mind. We had a picnic on the porch of the B&B and listened to the rain, which was so much better. Better because I got to spend that time alone with my new husband, eating local cheeses and watching the rain pelt the rolling green landscape, and better because Fuck Thomas Jefferson.

Fuck Thomas Jefferson and his legacy of white supremacy and violence and rape. Fuck “all men are created equal,” which translates too well to “all lives matter.” Fuck that ugly side of America’s history, and present, that is brushed aside, excused, or worst of all, celebrated. Fuck every single one of the bottom feeders, the homegrown terrorists who marched and hurt and killed in Charlottesville this week.

I’m angry and heartbroken but not surprised. Never surprised. I once was that White and Sweet-Natured Liberal who got teased for turning red and getting visibly upset (though not saying anything; never saying anything) when other Whites said the shitty things that White people say to each other behind closed doors. I have since learned to be less sweet-natured. It has closed many doors of communication in recent years, but honestly, fuck those doors.

I am good at communicating. I am very good at finding common ground among people with whom I disagree. I am very, very good at empathizing, and seeing kernels of good in otherwise crappy individuals. But some people don’t deserve saving; they can save themselves or drown. Rain is cleansing, and cool, and life-giving, and deadly.

I hope they save themselves. But if they don’t, I hope they drown.

 

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A short story

January 3, 2017 § Leave a comment

I put this up as a status on Facebook and then thought, well this is an actual piece of writing. I should respect it as such. And maybe if I post shorter quips and observations, I won’t be so intimidated by my own blog. Because this year is going to be my year of artistry; so as my my shop manager says, if less is more, more is fabulous. Anyway this is my little observation of the day. 
Today I was sitting in the lobby of my new therapist’s office, and there were two women in it describing some mundane experiences to each other, I think as some sort of exercise but maybe that’s just how they are all the time, and my ears pricked up because they were talking about Fences. One was saying how she really enjoyed it even though it was a play, or it didn’t seem like a play, or she didn’t know it was a play and it surprised her, something. 
And the other was prompting her and steering the conversation in this smooth transitional way, and together they briefly discussed theatre and film in what legitimately sounded like a stream of consciousness experimental script for some avant-garde or absurdist theatre company. Think Grey Gardens, but sitting calmly in the lobby of a therapist’s office, speaking in hushed tones about Denzel Washington. It made me think about how in Shakespeare’s scripts you can tell two characters’ relationship if they step all over each others’ lines and finish each others’ beats. 

It was kind of amazing, and I wish you all could have been there to experience it with me. But I’m also glad I got to experience it all by myself and then describe it to you because I can’t get it out of my head. 

Art comes in all forms, y’all.

Sweet Zoey 

November 5, 2016 § Leave a comment

My mom called me today to tell me one of our cats passed away last night. It was sudden but not entirely unexpected; she had not been feeling well as of late and she had not been in good health for at least a year now. I find in some ways it’s almost harder to lose a pet when you don’t live at home because it’s hard to feel it, and then it hits you weeks or months later when you finally do walk into that house that is just a little bit emptier than it was when you left, and everyone else has gotten used to the feel of it but you. 

I knew she wasn’t doing well the last few times I went home and I tried to be extra sweet to her and give her good pets before I left again, thinking of other times in my life when I left a pet or person, not knowing it was the last time I would snuggle them. 

Zoey was born almost exactly 16 years ago, within 24 hours of our first arrival in Maryland after a three week family road trip/cross country move with a very recently post-knee surgery bulldog (semi-unplanned) and a very VERY pregnant teenage Siamese cat (extremely unplanned) in tow. A few months prior our black cat Sadie, my first love cat, the first cat who was truly mine, and who had been mine since I was five years old, had disappeared. The circumstances around her disappearance are still unknown as far as I know, but after weeks of searching, we knew she was gone. I still have her Christmas stocking and a part of her collar that I used to wear as a bracelet. I still miss her. 

Then, at the culmination of our latest great family adventure, our second cross country move in two years, our tiny little slippery Siamese who had slipped out of the house during her first heat gave birth to two giant kittens: one who looked just like her, and one striped greyblack misfit who was immediately mine. 

There’s a running joke about twos in our family. Two kids, two puppies (several times over), two kittens. Twos when we wanted more, but the two we got are the two we love with passion unmatched. Zoey was mine, Sam was my brother’s, Mika was my mom’s, and all the animals loved my dad best. 

We grew up and left home. I moved out at 18 and never permanently came back. But Zoey was still always “my” cat, even if she wasn’t truly mine anymore. She was a sweet thing except when she was mad, like me. The older she got the more she struggled with her weight, like me. She loved being outside and she loved being near humans, like me. And she really loved eating while laying down, less like me but we laughed at her expense as much as my loved ones make me laugh by laughing at my quirks. 

She was a good cat. She was a sweet cat. And I am sad now, but I am really going to    miss that greyblack stripe half Siamese roly poly girl’s presence next time I go home. 

ignorance is a privilege

July 7, 2016 § Leave a comment

I was driving in the small downtown area of the Maryland suburb where I used to work a few years ago, and pulled out in front of a police cruiser. I barely noticed this because I wasn’t speeding and I was thinking ahead toward the show I was planning on seeing a few of my friends in that night. I pulled into the small dead end street where the theater was, and the cruiser turned with me, parking in the middle of the street about a car’s length behind where I parked on the side. This felt odd, but since the lights for the cruiser weren’t on I couldn’t tell if it was there for me or for some other unknown reason, so I sat in my car for a minute or so to see if the officer would get out or move. He didn’t, and I was worried I would miss curtain if I didn’t go in, and I still wasn’t sure if I was sitting in my car eyeing this idling cop car for no reason.

So, cautiously, I started to open my door and peek around. The officer then leaned out of his car and gesticulated wildly at me, yelling at me to get back in the car. I did, hurriedly, a little freaked out but mainly confused. While I waited, two more police cruisers showed up with flashing lights, and when the officer finally came over to my window he asked me get out of my car. He had me put my hands on the hood of his cruiser and proceeded to lay down four tickets related to driving with an expired license plate sticker, all totaling to several hundred dollars’ worth of fines and one required court appearance that, if I were not to follow through, could result in jail time. My heart jumped at the phrase “jail time,” and then the tow truck showed up. I had been a bit surly before but at the sight of the tow truck all pride left and I panicked, desperately asking if there was anything I could do for them to not tow my car. He said no, this was all already in the works, and I began to get hysterical. Another officer on the scene recommended I contest every single one of the tickets I had just received. They towed my car away as I pulled my phone out, pacing furiously on the curb.  My officer asked if I needed him to call someone to get me, and I snapped at him that I would take care of it. They left me standing on the curb by myself, still trying to find someone who could come pick me up, stunned and near hysterics.

My husband, who was police for another government body at the time, had no pity for my sob story. “You did wrong,” he told me, “officers are allowed to choose to be lenient, or they can ticket you to the full extent of the law. It’s not malicious, he didn’t owe you anything, and you probably scared the crap out of him when you tried to get out of the car.” But I was furious. I railed against the town police, and I told everyone who would stand still long enough my story of gross injustice. I couldn’t believe the callous way I was handled for something so minor. I couldn’t believe a dumb mistake like not realizing my updated sticker had been sent to my parents’ house instead of my own should result in fines that went above and beyond my paltry artist salary, a towed car, and time in court. I told everyone who would listen, “he made me get out and PUT MY HANDS ON THE CAR,” and “they just LEFT me there, BY MYSELF,” and “why did he think he needed THREE COP CARS for ME?” and at this part I would open my arms and step back, displaying my apparently non-intimidating figure as evidence of the aggressively unfair treatment I had received.

It wasn’t until a year or so later, in one of those mind wandering moments in the car or the shower, that it suddenly dawned on me that maybe I was so shocked and upset because he hadn’t treated me like a white person. He had pulled me over for wrongdoing and prosecuted to the full extent of the law, giving me no lenience, no preferential treatment, and no extra niceties like making sure I got home safe, and I was furious because for the first time I had not been afforded special treatment for being a petite, attractive white woman. I have gotten my share of tickets and fines in my driving life, and it never occurred to me that I had still yet been getting preferential treatment the whole time. Even now, rereading what I’ve just written, I realize he offered to help me find a ride home, and the other officer was extremely helpful in giving advice for how to deal with the financial blow I’d just been dealt.

It took even more time, more subconscious rumination, for me to have the jarring, terrifying realization that if I were a different person, particularly a nonwhite person, that small confused moment when I opened the driver’s side door, or later when I became agitated and snappy with the officer, or when I jerked my phone out of my pocket, may have gotten me seriously injured or killed.

I consider myself an ally, and I hope those I consider myself allied to also feel that I am their ally. But it took me almost two years (on top of a lifetime of privilege) to realize just how privileged I was in that first tense moment, and in the moments after. I don’t know if that officer would have taken me down if I were someone else, I honestly don’t feel he would have, but I do know that my whiteness almost ensured that he was not going to seriously harm me, no matter how erratic I behaved. I know this because I know in my head the statistic that an armed white man is less likely to be killed by police than an unarmed black man, but in my heart I know this because with all my studious enlightenment and so-called liberalism, my first and foremost feeling regarding this policeman’s call for backup was incredulity. “Why did he think he needed THREE COP CARS, for ME?” Opening my arms and stepping back, reveling in my perceived innocence, taking a full 365 days to realize exactly what the subtext of that statement is: I am observably harmless because I am white.

When that realization first came to me, it was like a physical slap. I was disgusted with myself. I was horrified and embarrassed and I didn’t know what to do, how to fix this broken part of myself that until that moment I had no idea I had. But once I realized this the first time, it was like a shade had been drawn back and I started noticing it in myself and fellow whites more and more.

I sometimes get teased now by other white people for continually and constantly attempting to check my own privilege, for being hyper-aware of my impact as a white person in any situation, for “thinking about race all the time.” But I’ve never had a non-white friend tell me I go too far, or that my personal quest to know my own privilege is obnoxious or off-putting, or that thinking about race all the time is wrong, so I soldier on. I know I don’t do enough. I know I let moments pass by when I could have stepped in and said something. I know I say things that are ignorant or wrong or muddled and I get embarrassed when I realize it, usually way after the fact. But all I can do is try, and fail, and try again to overcome my programming.

I think this is a systemic problem; a general reluctance to empathize and a reluctance to look deep inside ourselves and face what is ugly. I think it is our civic duty to try, because I truly feel this is less an issue of police brutality, but white brutality. I hope to be an ally, and a helper, and a bringer-about of change, even if the only person I manage to change right now is me. I will vote of course, and try to raise civically-minded, empathetic children when the time comes. And I will try to put a little more understanding into the world through conversations and attempting to stand up to my ideals in rooms where I am made to feel uncomfortable by the shitty remarks white people make to each other when they think they are alone (and not apologize when someone inevitably says, “uh oh we’re making Bee uncomfortable can’t take a joke hah hah”). I will try not to despair, because it is not my place to despair, and because it is not helpful for me to do so. I will try really hard not to be an asshole. And I will send as much love as I can muster to my friends who are despairing this week.

Black lives matter. Friends, acquaintances, strangers: YOUR lives matter. I am sorry it took realizing how much my life matters to me, and how cavalierly I had been taking for granted the system rigged in my favor, to connect the dots.

The most common question I hear from  whites, both liberal and conservative, when someone points out a personal story of a person of color struggling under our oppressive system is, “Are they a good person?” and I find that maddening. A person shouldn’t have to be a model citizen or “good person” just to not deserve to be shot in the back by a person of power. We, white people, have so far to go on the road to decency, where can we possibly even have room to judge?

Nonwhite friends, I don’t deserve patience, nor have a right to your understanding, but I do appreciate your giving it while I muddle through this very intense, very personal struggle.

White friends, we have to do better. We have to. Put yourself on your own journey if you haven’t yet, or push yourself past your comfort zone if you have. The Equal Justice Initiative compiled an enormous list of lynchings and the reasons for them from the last century. Read that list, look at the photos. Look into the eyes of those manic grinning white faces and take your defenses down. Recognize your personal benefit from that evil.

Empathize, and love thy neighbor, and fix this fucking broken system.

coping with grief and the news, grief at the news

June 15, 2016 § 1 Comment

I’ve been walking around like an open wound this week, and I can’t properly tell where exhaustion meets summer cold meets grief. I genuinely don’t know whether I’m sniffling because my sinuses are clogged or because I have been crying intermittently for 60 odd hours. I can’t figure out if my body feels like it’s shutting down because I went straight from finishing my first year of grad school to a film set, or because I gave a pint of blood on Sunday on a weak immune system, or simply because my nerves are so raw.

What I know, is that Sunday morning 49 young, vibrant people were murdered in cold blood at Pulse nightclub for the crimes of being themselves, and having fun, and seeking out the solace and safety of numbers, and I cannot come out of this despair.

It’s strange, because if I wasn’t here in Pittsburgh I wouldn’t be in my car so much listening to the news all day. I wouldn’t be experiencing these out of body moments when I breathe deep, clean up my face, turn off the news and arrive in time to be privy to conversations ending with sentences like, “so I’ll get back to you over costs and which items are replaceable, and that will tell us who can lose an arm and who can’t.” I wouldn’t be back in my home for the summer with my aunt, weeping with her while we watch grieving mothers, thinking of her own son.

If you have read this blog before or ever talked to me for more than ten minutes, you know I am an Anxious Person. I am forever waiting for The Worst to happen; I have lost nights of sleep to an unplaceable surety that a bomb will go off nearby, or our house will crumble on top of us, and I am determined to not be caught unawares. I was told once by a therapist to avoid watching the news so I could sleep. But how can I avoid hearing the stories of these people when their stories so deserve to be told and heard over and over again? They deserve my attention, and my worry, and my tears.

I am feeling this one deeper than the others. Maybe it is because I am finally starting to give in to despair over the rhetoric in this political season, or because I am finally starting to think that nothing will ever get better. I think though, it is because as an artist I feel a particular love and kinship with the LGBTQIA+ community. So many of my colleagues, collaborators, friends and peers could have been there that night. I could have been there that night. I am thirty years old and in what feels like my short time in adulthood I have watched and supported as friends and colleagues went through the highly personal, completely individual processes of coming out. I underwent my own journey of learning about allyship and activism, and trying to find where my supportive role in this should be.

I still don’t know. I don’t know what I can do to help or to support. That morning, like another morning 15 years ago, I heard the news and my mind slid over the gravity of it. I thought, “Oh, sad,” and then we turned on the news. We wept at the kitchen table, I signed up for the last slot of the day at the blood bank. I gave blood in Bethel Park, PA thinking, maybe it won’t go to Orlando but it will go to someone. I kept listening to the news. My husband called last night while I was watching the Facebook Live feed of one of the victims, newly returned from the hospital and telling his story, conveying his own shock at what he had just lived through saying, oddly self aware and understandably detached, “so I guess I’m going through these PTSD symptoms now…” Haunting stories of investigators wading through a cacophony of cellphone rings, stories of loved ones called in moments of panic and terror. What can I do?

Everything happens so fast now, and each slice of news is picked apart so immediately and cleanly it can seem callous and circus-like; a sick parody of a foreboding science fiction movie from the 1950s. But each of these people, these victims and witnesses, has a voice through social media and it’s kind of amazing. I’m watching my other artist friends working through their grief in real time; I’m ingesting the art they are producing as fast as they can post it.

What I’m hearing and feeling this week is that this is all we can do: be us. Be artists. Be queer. Be the way we were and are and proudly continue on, speaking out in the face of unspeakable tragedy. When I talk to artists who came of age in the 1980s, they still discuss the AIDS crisis in hushed, serious tones. They talk of friends and loved ones lost, and their hatred for Reagan, for the President who turned his back on their entire community. They talk of so. much. talent. snuffed out overnight. But they also talk about the community rallying, of furiously huddling together in the face of the unimaginable.

I didn’t watch the Tonys because I had an early call time, and because #Tonycanyouhearme, and because I don’t have a lot of love for awards shows, but I did pay attention to the highlights the next day.  And while I think some events in our recent past, namely the abuse scandals at Profiles Theatre, as well as personal experience as a woman in the field prove some of James Corden’s rousing words to not be entirely true, I was moved by the sentiment and inspired by my community coming together, making art like we always do because it’s how we survive. To tell us not to post, or rally, or speak out, or politicize is to silence us in a way that we cannot, and I believe should not, be silenced. Each of the victims, each witness or other member of that embattled, underserved community who wants to talk about their experience to anyone who will listen, should be listened to. And artists, we should be listening and feeling and grieving and then translating all of it to something useful.

Give blood, volunteer, write your Congressman, and make art. Build empathy; forge connections. It’s all I can think of to do, but I think it’s something.

Where I Am, Right Now

January 28, 2016 § 2 Comments

I just started a post entitled “Gender Politics and the Dishes (Which I Still Haven’t Done)” and pasted a half-thought Facebook comment in to the body paragraph and thought, Oh Lord this is what my life is coming to.

Grad school is terrible but let’s not talk about that. Actually let’s talk about it for a minute. Grad school is terrible! But I am learning so much, basically what gets me through each minute is the same thought, phrased exactly the same way every time: “I have learned so much in the past [accurate number of the moment] months, that if I quit right now it will still have been worth it.” That, and, “after this semester, I only have 4 more to go.” For some reason these comfort me.

I have never been a person who actively, for-sure wanted to go to grad school. In fact, I avoided it for as long as I could, right up until the moment when Mr. B sat me down, held me by the shoulders, looked me in the eye and said, “If you don’t go this year, you are never going to go. And if you never go you’re going to regret it for the rest of your life. And if you do that, I will never, EVER stop hearing about grad school.”

Everyone I talk to who is either currently in grad school or recently left it has the same reaction to my brand new realizations that grad school is terrible. They are like YES IT IS SO TERRIBLE YOU ARE ONLY THE MOST RECENT PERSON TO KNOW THIS. And I take comfort in this a bit, but then I have to wonder, why? Why does it feel harder to be in grad school than in normal real life? Like, normal real life is HARD AS SHIT. Real life has things like medical emergencies in The Great Recession, and credit card debt, and unemployment, and emotional breakdowns during work hours, and bad phone calls in the middle of the night. Like, in real life, if you don’t get enough jobs to pay your bills you might not have a house. Those are some high stakes compared to to getting an AB from your mentor.

So what is it about grad school, this seeming vacation from real life, that somehow feels harder?

Is it because I thought I was going to get a vacation from real life, and real life just kept going while also grad school happened? Is it because I am sequestered away from everything that was familiar, and I am learning that everything I did before was terrible and why did anyone ever want to work with me? Is it because our governor thinks that higher education isn’t important and a toxic work environment has sprung up out of the financial quagmire he created? Is higher education naturally set up to create toxic work environments, no matter who is governor? Is the American system naturally set up to create toxic work environments everywhere, and as a recently minted not-quite-so-young-person am I just the latest to hear the news? Is the emotional toll of learning just that much heavier when you’re a grown ass adult who actually cares about what is going to happen when you get that piece of paper?  I don’t know. I haven’t even finished a full year of grad school yet why did you even ask.

Oh I asked. Well anyway, I don’t have the answer.

I uprooted my husband and moved us across the country, and he is the one who most consistently feels that what we have done was the best idea. My mind and base artistic skills and knowledgebase are expanding so quickly sometimes it’s all I can do to just feel terrified in the rush. Sometimes it’s all I can do to think, “Well, I ended up ok last semester, so this semester might end up ok too; maybe my art will be really cool by the end of all this.” I hope these are all just first year thoughts. If they are I am so ready for second year thoughts. If not, I want to learn how to have fewer, less consistent and horrible thoughts. I am tired of having an existential crisis every day all the time, over art.

Because the thing that keeps needling at me is, it’s just art. Art is important: it is life changing, and it is transformative, and it is so important. But at the end of the day, it is Just. Art. So why haze entire generations of artists, just to make art? Why push people to their very limits, just to see if they deserve to keep struggling to live paycheck to paycheck and hold a day job while they scratch our their existence on practically-free shows in someone’s basement?

Is it that I’m now working toward something better? Is it better because it makes more money? Will making money make me a better artist? These are not leading questions; I really don’t know the answer. My ennui in this is so powerful.

Anyway. I had all these feelings and wrote them down instead of reading and ingesting more things, like I should. Like is in my calendar. But like it or not, here we are, past bedtime and worse for the wear because I still haven’t done the reading I had planned for myself. But now at least you know about it, and I do feel a bit better having said it. So with all that behind me, I guess I’ll just keep reading about, exploring, and explaining art. I guess I’ll just keep obsessing over this lifelong obsession and trying to make connections to the human condition, like Solving Art will solve everything. Or anything, for that matter.

And I hope it goes without saying, if you have answers to any of my questions, ANY of my queries, I await your elucidation with bated breath.

 

 

 

2016 and the Present

January 11, 2016 § 1 Comment

I drank caffeinated tea too late today, again. Self sabotage is a thing I need to work on. Self sabotage, and anxious thoughts, and procrastination, and disorganizedness, and, mainly, inherently, self sabotage.

I don’t know why I am so intimidated by the prospect of growing as an artist, when that’s all I’ve wanted for so long. Or, it feels like so long, I’m not actually sure how it all translates in real time. Last year was so long. It was so. Long. I feel like I lived so many lives in those recently past 365 days, and made so many leaps and changes and agonized over every single moment of it.

Last year we moved from Maryland to DC, from DC to Madison. We went from employed to unemployed and back again. We did so much moving and decision making it makes me a bit dizzy to think about it, and I have to remind myself to breathe. And that it’s all really fine. It’s exactly what I wanted to do, and where I wanted to be, and how I wanted to be spending my shiny new 2016.

Just a reminder. Don’t sabotage yourself so much. Black tea is delicious, but so is hibiscus. Your decisions were sound, and you’re doing good work. Your art is improving, and you have time. Your friends love you, your family loves you, the internet is a useful too for communication, and your husband and your cats are your home.

Go to bed.