“Because I’m crazy. This is my crazy message to the world, all right?”

Posted in Uncategorized on May 6, 2015 by graysea

I’ve spent some time with a couple incredible women over the past weeks. (Okay, more than a couple, but there’s only the two I want to write about today.) One of them is dead. The other one is an actress in my current show.

The dead one is Valerie Solanas, who died the same year I was born. Labeled as a raging feminist and a lesbian, often dismissed and swept under the rug as “crazy,” considered famous only because she tried to kill Andy Warhol. After even the smallest research into her life and her work I realized that she was actually a raging anarchist (who happened to hate men just a little more than she hated most women) and defined herself as rather a-sexual. “You’ve got to go through a lot of sex to get to anti-sex.” Crazy, perhaps, but in that way that a character like Batman’s Joker or Tyler Durden of Fight Club is crazy. Brazen honesty in a fucked up world is usually labeled as “crazy”, until somewhere down the line, she starts making sense. It’s terrifying to admit it, and I’m not about to shoot anybody, blow up parliament, nor worship at the alter of 1970s separatist feminism… but I do like spending time with my new friend Valerie. Which is good, because that’s who I’m playing in this current production.

Another woman on my radar is the actress at the center of the production, who shares a dressing room with me and about 7 other people. It’s tougher to get close to real, living people, since they tend to refrain from handing you a one hundred page booklet of their life philosophy. The first time we met we were rehearsing, me late to the game and frantically searching for lines, her genuine and supportive and ready for me to be a total fuck up for those first few insecure rehearsals. In the show she plays Edie Sedgwick, heiress, socialite, superstar, fashion model, everything that Valerie wanted to fix. “I have something you should read,” I get to say to her on stage, referring to my “form a female militia and kill all the men” manifesto. I get to give her advice about how the world really works – ruled by men, fucked over by the patriarchy, you have to reject it all and build your individuality from the ground up. That experience is in  my bones somewhere, because it’s how I survived middle school. I rejected all the things “feminine” was supposed to be and figured out “how to be a woman” from the comfortable, neutral ground of 90s flannel shirts. Valerie jumps off the page to me. Edie does not.

This is why I don’t get cast as Edies. I could probably wear a mini skirt and a pair of heels convincingly in a photo, but when it comes to walking around in that life, breathing it and being it convincingly, “socialite superstar” I am not. Better to cast someone who doesn’t need half a year of training in order to portray that girl. In fact, there’s plenty of men who could play a woman like that better than I could.

If Valerie and Edie ever really did meet, Valerie would have seen a weak little Daddy’s Girl in need of some radical anarchy. Not entirely false, but it was easy for Valerie and Edie to be on opposite sides of the spectrum back in Warhol’s New York… Not so with the two actresses behind the scenes. It’s been a while since I shook my head in shame at women who can’t walk out the door without their makeup bag – those days are over. Especially since I really started to get to know more actresses, and at least one dropdeadgorgeous model with incredible fortitude and bite. The first time I saw our Edie put on the skirt, the shoes, the makeup, I was impressed. She’s willingly entering a world that I’ve only failed at. And she’s damn good at it, because it is a skill, after all. The overly feminized beauty is a layer on top of some incredible Audrey Hepburn-esque fragility. An extremely well-constructed mask covering some truly terrifying back story not totally unlike Valerie’s, which is probably why Valerie sees right through it. She picks out Edie, in our play, over everyone else around her. “I have something YOU should read.”

How do actresses do it? Especially after the reviews start coming in. This might be a little of my Valerie speaking, but yes, all the current reviews are written by men, and yes, 90% of them seem to struggle with how to describe our Edie actress without first describing how pretty she is.  Any review of a woman’s body over her talent reads to me as “Dhuuuurrrrrrr…. couldn’t pay attention to play cuz BOOBS/LEGS.” It’s a small comfort somewhere in my mind that shitty journalists make it onto Valerie’s kill list, somewhere after rapists, politicians, and lousy musicians. (It’s interesting to note that during an audience interaction portion of the show, one reviewer looked at me, put his hands in the air, and said “don’t shoot.”)

  “val10…uses her enigmatic and fragile presence to portray a relatively gripping character without a lot of stage time to do it in.”

“appropriately insecure … trademark mini dress and chandelier earrings”

val5“… exudes effortlessly charming inner integrity in the role, which makes her unfortunate path in the arc of the plot that much more tragic and heartbreaking. … has kind of a Audrey Hepburn feel about her that’s genuinely charming. …Hepburn was 5’7”. [Actress] is…well she seems considerably taller than both of them, which is why intermission was a bit dizzying for me… Here’s a very tall and very charming and very convincing Sedgwick who reminds me a lot of Audrey Hepburn and she’s towering over me, graciously offering myself and others champagne.”
val0
“…rather sublime. Charming, a tad ditzy, with a pair of spindly little legs, the actress seems to enchant the audience with her every move.

I think Valerie would like 2015. I think she’d like to meet our actress, who, like many women, has learned how to play the beauty game while simultaneously keeping her individuality, her genuine nature, intact. It would take her a while, but maybe Valerie would stop judging beautiful women so harshly, maybe she’d dig the freaky body modifications and face tattoos of today, maybe she’d watch Ru Paul’s Drag Race and laugh her ass off, maybe the options open to women and men in these times would puzzle and confuse her often black-or-white, male-or-female sensibility of right and wrong. And that’s a nice thought. That maybe one doesn’t have to reject all things feminine to be a person first. (Even if stupid reviewers are keeping that world intact.) Maybe we don’t have to shoot Andy Warhol to get our point across these days.

Maybe.

Do I have to?

Posted in Uncategorized on April 6, 2015 by graysea
https://i1.wp.com/blog.amandapalmer.net/wp-content/uploads/2015/02/unnamed-830x664.jpg

This was my yin-yang of balance for 2014: the quiet and black-clad writer type artist and the wild red-headded punk type artist. Both amazing archetypes, but I’ve been attempting to lean more towards the left side of this picture. Be quieter. More patient. More focused. I love that they actually create a spiral right in the center of this image.

The internet is just full of ideas and sayings and motivational tips and life plans that feel very  inspirational when I’m listening or watching or reading, but at the end of the day it’s like everything else on the internet. (And maybe in life?) Ephemeral and meaningless. Or, for shorthand, “lolcats”. Puppies vs. Stairs is undeniably the most memorable and touching thing I’ve found next to Nietzsche Family Circus and Garfield Minus Garfield. But none of these things helps me make any decisions about my life, or make better art, or be a better person. No, not even the absolutely brilliant, supportive piece of internet called Amy Poehler’s Smart Girls. The internet is still just lolcats all the way down.

Still, I have about 4 hours a morning to sit in front of it. And be angsty. Even though it’s springtime, and I should be thinking about flowers pushing up from the ground and fluffy yellow chicks hatching. I’m thinking about staying cramped up in an egg where it’s warm and dark and nice and safe. “Solitary as an oyster” came to mind as a pleasant thing until I remembered that it was a Dickens reference to Ebeneezer Scrooge.
I found a couple things this morning that were the last ingredients in this mess of angst in my head. Nothing compared to the teenage angst I felt ten (god, ten) years ago, but maybe it’s my approaching birthday that’s getting me screaming DO SOMETHING, DO SOMETHING, DO SOMETHING. Amanda Palmer addressed this in a February blog post.

should we be surprised that we are all FREAKING OUT when we are basically the first generation in thousands of years to actually HAVE all of these choices between careers, marriage, kids, art, and so forth, instead of just towing the party line?

add our parents expectations on top (who can blame them, many were raised in a mono-culture of nuclear-family-or-be-rendered-outcast) and it’s enough to drive you to drink.

Hence it goes. After a long line of questions for 30ishorsomething women freaking out about to baby or not to baby, among other things, she puts the Elizabeth Gilbert quote “To be fully seen by somebody, then, and be loved anyhow – this is a human offering that can border on miraculous.” I found this quote about as helpful as the book Eat, Pray, Love, which Gilbert also wrote. That is to say, not at all. Ugh, more lolcats. Really, Amanda? You’re supposed to have all my answers!

Even the brilliant Amanda Palmer can dole out a piece of the solution, a short respite from all the freaking out, in a bite-sized quotable, and then a few days later post a video asking for funding so she can MAKE ALL THE THINGS. She hasn’t really found the solution to freaking out, either. As if deciding on one thing will Be Better and Make You Happier or More Productive than ANY OTHER DECISION. And some internet quote is going to help me make that magical decision. Amanda’s decided a few things, gotten really good at a lot of things, had to become her own venue-maker/party-planner/art-coordinator/boss-person in order to get the things made, and there’s no denying she works really hard. At what, though? At being a song-writer/performer/artist/game-maker/book-writer/poet/troubadour/entrepreneur/traveler/wife/bloggist/e-mail-answerer/MOTHER/lover-of-all-things/whatever-she-wants-next… she’s good at being Amanda Palmer and made a career out of it, and there’s really no formula for that, let alone a quote. Nor am I really sure that that’s the model I want to emulate, though it sure as hell looks like a lot of fun. You get to just keep making All The Things, being a raucous punk, marry Neil Gaiman, and then create what I’m just going to assume will be the world’s best possible person? (A Neil Gaiman Amanda Palmer baby? Someone is going to base a religion on this.) Where do I sign up for that life? That totally neurotic, unfathomably frightening, exhaustingly romantic life? I do the things! I make the art! I work real hard! Do I just go about making All The Things like I’ve been doing? Failing at things a little less often than I succeed at them? Cuz that certainly feels like my wheels are spinning and spinning and spinning…

Finding new challenges is important – and I haven’t found any new ones in a while, so I guess I have to start inventing new challenges.

Moving forward has a funny thing attached to it. When you move you must always be moving towards something.

And here we swing back around to the other side of the balance I’ve found, back to Neil Gaiman’s formula for approaching art. The above piece of lolcat information, bite-sized and utterly digestible, sounds a bit like his Make Good Art speech, which is substantially less forgettable.

Something  that worked for me was imagining that where I wanted to be–an author, primarily of fiction, . . .–was a mountain. A distant mountain. My goal. And I knew as long as I kept walking towards the mountain I would be all right. And when I truly was not sure what to do, I could stop, and think about whether it was taking me towards or away from the mountain.

When I got to college I heard a lot of that. Pick a major. Decide what you want to do and then do it. And I never did. (Well, I picked “theatre” which, in my opinion, was a narrow enough focus.) And I’ve still been doing plenty. My life did not come to a screeching halt because I didn’t climb a ladder or start a career or get pregnant or married. (Is that what we’re worried about? Everything coming to an end, rather than a new beginning?)

BUT. I have been living in post-college land for quite a while now. This land looks less like a mountain and more like a series of hills, which I like a lot, or I have been liking a lot in the past. I get a project done, I work on another one. I teach for a summer. I pick up a job that has an end date. The steady job I’ve had for 5 years now is minimum wage and just about the easiest thing I’ve ever done. The shows I do blur together, and I actually forget about them some times. My heart may not be in this particular scene anymore. Maybe I need a new challenge. Maybe I need one, big, single thing to look at and move towards. Like a distant mountain. Something scarier than a hill. Something looming. A bigger risk if I fail it. “The purpose of life is to be defeated by greater and greater things,” after all. (Thanks, Rilke.)
Thing is, my future looks a little like this:

That’s not one distant mountain! That’s a wall! That’s a WALL of ROCK. Unless I want to go for the one in the way distance. But surely once I get close enough to that one it will ALSO look like an insurmountable WALL of ROCK. (I could just live in that little cabin on the hills next to the mountain. Come outside every morning and look at the mountains I never climbed.)

How he hell am I supposed to know which one is my mountain??

“Decide what it is you want.” Ptchhh. It’s always the first on the list. It’s never the whole quote. I have a problem with STEP ONE of my thousand step journey. Which direction should I go? Which direction do I WANT to go? Do I put what I want before what everyone else wants?

Women’s liberation did not, I think, take into consideration the paralyzing effects of indecisiveness. But what a nice problem to have, at least!

living in the gaps

Posted in Uncategorized on March 25, 2015 by graysea

The curtain speech is over and the audience, however small, applauds – the sound is like rain, either a sudden thunderstorm or a little spring shower, depending on the show. The lights go out. I’m standing by a velvety leg curtain in complete and utter blackness. Womb-like darkness. There’s a second of it, before the intro music, before the lights fade up again on the interior of an apartment or a public square in Verona, before everything begins. I have two seconds to check in with my pounding heart, my breath. I check in with the play and my lines in the next moment, when things begin to move, but before all that there is this moment of silence and darkness when I can clear everything out and just Be. A caterpillar in her cocoon before the first wing busts out. A boiling pot of water going quiet before the first big bubbles. The top of the roller-coaster’s first hill. It’s a moment of absolute stillness, and it’s my favorite part of every play, no matter what I’m doing for it – even as an audience member. It’s the moment between reality and imagination.

this would be a very different story if their fingers were touching

God made man a creature of undetermined nature, and, placing him in the middle of the world, said to him: The nature of all other beings (creatures and species) is limited and constrained within the bounds of laws [of nature]…Thou [humans], constrained by no limits, in accordance with thine own free will, in whose hand We have placed thee, shalt determine for thyself the limits of thy nature. We have set thee at the world’s center that thou may  more easily observe whatever is in the world. We have made thee neither of heaven nor of earth…so that with freedom of choice and with honor, as though the maker and molder of thyself, thou may fashion thyself in whatever shape thou shalt prefer. Thou shalt have the power to degenerate (worsen) into the lower forms of life…thou shalt have the power…to be reborn into the higher forms which are divine.

The Dignity of Man (Giovanni Pico Della Mirandola, 1486)

I live in the spaces between things.
I grew up playing in the space between the tall pine trees, in the space between two divorced parents, in the space between two tall big sisters who had seven years to build their own world together before I ever came along.

I was home-schooled in the gaps between being shuffled around various schools.
When being processed through the public school system, I would consistently find ways to get around boring assignments, to make work more interesting by always choosing the other option or creating a new one, and I’d often ignore classes if they didn’t interest me or challenge me – “slipping through the cracks” they called it. I would skip class to attend other classes. I would float between lunch tables because my different groups of friends never sat together. I was either unruly or gifted, depending on how you define the two – teachers have found me in hallways sleeping in the sunshine, or crying and frustrated about being pushed around by other students. Hallways, guidance counselor offices, the Special Room, the library, even the front lawn… that’s where I’d be if you couldn’t find me in class. By myself. Staring into space.

I grew up between two parents in two different homes, often those homes shifting at various intervals, and once those homes were half an ocean apart. I found the spaces between – the room in the airport with all of the other “unaccompanied minors”. I’d never see them again, but we shared stories like old friends. When you live in-between, you sort of cling to what you have when you get it.

I’ve never felt my age. I’ve always felt “almost something else” or “not quite what I was.” Maybe I’m catching up to myself, maybe I am exactly the child-adult that the world expects me to be right now, but I still feel not exactly the grownup I should be but certainly not part of the young people I see on a college campus.

I’ve always found public transportation interesting. I LIVE on the milwaukee county busline. (Okay, not as much as the people who actually live on the bus.) I love sitting in air ports and watching how other humans deal with being in-between things. Are they panicked? Are they on a mission? Or did they wear their pajamas here, to shift from one place to the next in a bleary-eyed stupor?

old town and new town

The Edinburgh Fringe Festival must be my favorite place on the planet because everyone there is in-between. I find that my experience of the world is not totally unique. The country is in-between two governments, the city itself has an ancient medieval side and a new, posh, shopping mall side, a face of above-ground shops and tea houses and a below-the-surface creepy past. The venues are jammed inside church basements converted to coffee shops, the people are traveling amateurs with professional skills, the whole city seems suspended in time just for us. We wander around and stumble upon doorways crammed in-between two buildings, find a poetry session taking place in some damp vault, or a play jumping out of a suitcase before the acting space turns into a club. If it pours down freezing rain, people cram together in warm pockets of roofed-in areas wherever we can find them. We get to know each other for a moment and, eventually, after every wall is saturated with posters, all the ATMs are out of money, and our boots are filled with rainwater, we have to go home. We fill the space in-between and once it’s full, we return to where life was stable.

Home. Where, most of the time, nobody knows what to do with the in-betweeners.

“You don’t understand – that number on my contract, that’s not a per-month wage, that’s the stipend I get at the end of the season.” I’m explaining this to the government worker on the other line – a large, sweet woman, by her mouth breathing and her tone. Maybe she has punk kids at home, I conjecture by the way she talks to me. We’ve already covered the fact that my taxes last year are not going to reflect at all what my taxes might be this year – I switch jobs too often.

“Okay hold on hold on – this job, this one from the catholic school, they not paying you monthly?”

“No.”

“Okay so are you like a teacher?”

“Yes, I teach, but I’m not full-time.”

“Okay, so like… you work for the school but in more like a…”

“I’m a coach.”

“Okay, like in basketball?”

“…YyySure. Yes.”

“And this isn’t a monthly paycheck?”

“No. That’s my check – that’s it, that’s my stipend.”

“For the whole year?”

“Most of it, yeah, until the summer when I try to find other work.”

“…How many other jobs do you have?”

“A lot.”

“And none of these jobs gives you insurance?”

No, they don’t, which is why I was on the phone with her in the first place. Because I live in that space between too poor for the federal government Obamacare, and making too much for my state’s local poverty-aid insurance. Or, I thought I lived there, until I spent over an hour on the phone with the friendly Enrollment Services employee. Most people just put me on hold for ever.

I recently tried for a new job – maybe one that would pay me enough so that I could cut out some other tangental “on call” things, those jobs that I have to give my assumed availability to before they may or may not schedule me. I had an excellent and long phone interview, where I maybe talked too much. “Are you sure you don’t feel over-qualified for this position?” she asked. I wanted to say that I couldn’t possibly be over-qualified for ten dollars and hour with benefits, but instead, I said something like “Not at all – I’d be able to settle into a more stable position rather than have nine jobs at once.” Needless to say, she felt differently, and told me in an e-mail later that she wished a higher position was open so I could be hired there. There’s another in-between: too qualified for a job with health insurance, but just qualified enough for 9 jobs that may or may not pay me stipends.

And once again I question my life in the gaps. Some times it feels like everything, and some times it feels like nothing at all. No one knows how to help you structure your life when you’ve planted yourself so firmly outside of the structure. “Freelance teaching artist” might be a good word for what I do, and I once printed myself some business cards … but I couldn’t decide which of my names to put on them, let alone what kind of job title I wanted to give myself. I wound up printing “Gracie Lee”, which is my middle name, not a name I go by often enough for people to recognize it. I wrote something like “actor, director, teaching artist” on there, because I wasn’t sure who I’d be handing these cards to. Maybe I should walk around with a bag of different business cards, like how I have to separate my professional life into about 4 different resumes?

Am I a chrysalis waiting to be born as a butterfly, but too afraid to chose a color? Too terrified that I won’t be a good enough beauty to share? Choosing stagnancy over picking a path that I might regret later?
Do I pick something and bust out in the best way I know how, chips fall where they may, or do I just repeatedly expect the world to accept me as the little in-between creature that I am?

I want to grow up to be a beautiful not-a-caterpillar-but-also-not-a-butterfly, said no kid ever. 

Posted in Uncategorized on December 29, 2014 by graysea

I’m a shitty receptionist. Okay. Hang on. I’m not the worst receptionist. I’m good at handling situations as they arise. I have good phone etiquette, I’m polite to patrons, I have a good sense of when and how to bother administration, and if anything hits the fan I’m standing by. I can handle an excel spreadsheet and write comprehensive, professional e-mails. Also, when a patron calls and asks me something we have right on our website, I don’t tell them to go find the information themselves, I do it for them – which is NOT something a lot of phone-answerers do.
But there’s a lot of reasons why I’m terrible at this job. I don’t know easy answers off the top of my head, I don’t have anyone’s extension memorized, I don’t pay attention to the schedule, and instead of writing down important things I write blog posts. So. Yes. I’m a shitty receptionist. Some times.

I was also a terrible deli employee. I still don’t know the difference between braunschweiger and liverwurst, even though I was told the difference at least ten times. I worked next to probably the fastest sandwich maker this side of the Mississippi, who had been working at that deli for years, and he could do things about twenty times better than I ever could. He was also really cool and fun to talk to and hated the job more than any other co-worker I’ve ever had, but he still did it, and he still did it really well. Me? Not so much. My biggest accomplishments in that job were doing dishes well enough that no one got salmonella, being nice to customers, and being cool enough that my amazing co-worker didn’t hate me.

I was also terrible at my box office job. That job was difficult for really stupid reasons, including but not limited to the fact that my manager had a habit of screaming at her employees when we were trying to be nice to patrons. That job had me punching walls in the bathroom on my breaks. It’s the only job I ever quit. (It was either quit or wind up with perpetually bloody knuckles and a smoking habit.)

I am not nor have I ever been very good at these jobs. I am good at other things. What makes me good at teaching? What made me good at being a librarian? And why can’t I apply that work ethic to my minimum wage, I’m-just-doing-this-for-some-semblance-of-stability type jobs?

Every time I screw up, I find myself wanting to curl up and cry. I wonder what made me so stupid. I freak out and think there’s something fundamentally wrong with the way my brain works. (Which there might be. Not just the fact that I over-react to making mistakes.) FOR REAL, why can’t I just do everything right? It’s not like the jobs I do are difficult. At. All.

And therein, I think, lies my problem. It’s not because I am fundamentally stupid, but because it’s pretty hard to make yourself care about something.

I know plenty of people who CAN make themselves care – they got good grades in stupid classes in high school because they completed all the crossword puzzles and fill-in-the-blank busywork that I never did. They get promoted to do more work for more pay, maybe, eventually, because eventually, maybe, someone realizes how thoroughly they complete the bullshit. And I know some corporations who try to build in “caring” to their worker’s regiments… a friend of mine was trained to say 8 nice things to her co-workers a day, because apparently, when you’re obligated to get compliments, that makes it easier to be vastly underpaid.

I can’t figure out how to make myself care. I’m good enough, I’m smart enough, and gosh darnit, people like me… so what’s my deal?

Here are a few factors I’ve noticed in other people that help them succeed at their small jobs.

Color in the Lines

Some people seem to just have the natural ability to do exactly what they are expected to do and no more, and they love receiving clear directions and easy tasks to fulfill. These people totally have souls, and they have creative minds, there’s just a gear in their head that takes pleasure in completing simple tasks. Their boss could hand them a color by numbers book and three crayons, and if they were getting paid 7.50 an hour to make sure each page was filled in with colored wax in the proper format, they would happily do it without mixing it up or adding their own ideas, and go home happy because they did everything Right. Someone built the system. I used the system. The system worked well enough. It was easy. Easy is relaxing– It’s almost meditative. Getting paid to punch holes? To operate a machine? To type out what someone dictates? How nice! Why do I need to know what it’s for? Why would I think about trying to cut corners and create a better system? They’re paying me to just do this. I could do this all day!
Well, I got bored with doing things Right when I was in elementary school, when I realized that fucking up and showing off was way more fun. (Teachers put you in Special classes and you got treated like a genius!) I’m not a genius, I was just bored.

I would color these first and, by that way, figure out the answers to the math questions. No wonder I suck at arithmetic.

Are you kidding me with this? There is no mystery. It’s a bird. Can I go home now?

Fun fact of the day: The word “Amanuensis” is a fancy word for “secretary.” Specifically, it’s someone who takes notes while someone speaks, or copies manuscripts. The Latin roots of the word means “within hand’s reach” and was applied to special slaves in ancient Rome. Suh. Laves. Important ones. But slaves.
Paid, comfortable slavery, even if you’re way better off than the other slaves, even if you’re treated very well, even if you love your boss… still slavery.
There’s no room for yourSELF in that job. Plenty of people are comfortable with that because they make room for themselves outside of work. I guess I can’t figure out how to put myself in two different places, or shut myself off around certain company. Everyone else seems to be able to. Even wacky creative types can be totally quiet, accommodating, hard-working, friendly, model employees at their easy, low-pay, stable day job. It’s like acting a role. Why can’t I do that?

Fear of Authority
I’ve noticed something really shitty about massive companies that hire vast minimum wage armies: these companies really love to scare the crap out of their employees. At a big corporate retail job, they take you and other new employees into the “back stage” area where they show you all the pretty feeds from all the security cameras. The guard, puffed up with authority in a real-life Chris Farley impression, will lecture you on what happens to bad little employees if they steal, or worse, don’t turn in their co-workers for stealing. True story, not just an excerpt from Orwell. I actually applied to one of these stores when I was unemployed for far too long. Just the multiple choice questions I had to answer over a computer before I could even talk to a real person made my skin crawl. Not only did you have to answer somewhere between 150 and 300 of those, but they secretly timed you to see which ones made you hesitate. (I mean how many different ways can you phrase the question “Do you ever feel like stealing? Do you ever want to steal things? Do you think stealing is okay some times? Do you think if your friend steals that it’s okay? What if your friend was starving? Strongly agree? Huh? HUH?”)
I have a problem with authority for authority’s sake. I will take orders if I like my boss. I will do homework if I like my teacher. I have never been afraid of authority. I mean, not since kindergarten. (Maybe it was kindergarten that effected me this way – my teacher had anger management issues, so I had to learn pretty fast that when your overlord is screaming, you don’t have to take it personally.) I’ve been pretty well imbued with the sense that if someone I don’t love is irrationally upset with me, I don’t need to care about it that much. Some times it jars me, of course, a patron yelling at me or treating me like I’m an idiot. I don’t LIKE it by any means. But I’m not usually one to tiptoe around for the sake of avoiding totally meaningless admonishments.
I don’t give a shit about your elaborate point system, just tell me how much it’ll take to get me fired. I’m not going to be terrified of your naughty and nice list unless it actually means something. Gonna shake your finger at me? Call me into the principal’s office? What can you REALLY do to me other than force me out of a job I already don’t like? … my knee-jerk reaction to authority does not help me win at being on the lowest rung of the corporate ladder.
Some times, a little fear keeps you from making stupid mistakes. The fear of being poor, for example. I don’t have that. I probably should.

Believe you’re Important

Oh oh I know this one! It’s when you start believing that your unpaid internship is giving you real life skills, (which they will the first two or three times… but there is a point where you have to stop accepting unpaid work), or when someone up top has stroked your ego or puffed you up enough that you accept being underpaid because You’re Special. (I once got a lanyard and a certificate from the library, just because I Was Appreciated. I think the certificate even said so. I was very confused.)
Every single detail about how to roast and prepare the Best Cup of Coffee is not information you will use outside of your barrista gig. No one outside the cafe doors is impressed with you. That’s special knowledge for one job, which should probably be paying you more than minimum if you can make a cup of coffee better than a machine… oh my god instead of just re-hashing it all, listen to this podcast and you’ll understand where hipsters come from. Bottom line: A lot of bored 20 somethings with expensive educations, a lot of debt, no job they want to do, and they just want to feel good at something, so they feel good at being consumers and treat shopping at Whole Foods like it’s their job … which, well, it kind of is.

Anyway. This is the first item on my list that I’m actually good at, and I hate myself for it. I got an expensive education in theatre, for chrissakes, believing that once I got my degree, someone would really care that I know how to build a puppet or play fight with a sword. (“Seriously, just get a degree in anything you want. It’s the degree that makes you hire-able.” Thanks a fucking lot, 2006.) This is the reason why, when someone tells me I’m smart, or an expert in something, I don’t take it as a compliment, because as soon as I start believing that my extensive knowledge about Elizabethan theatre history is actually worth something to society, I’m a freaking hipster and I should just join the ranks of educated homeless kids and move to Portland. At least it’s warm there.

StKidsBW001407112007A-L

It’s this incredibly vicious cycle of logic, and it’s been a downward spiral for me ever since I heard the words “What to buy her for Christmas? Oh, Gracie likes things that make her feel smart” come out of the mouth of someone who really knows and loves me. I want to be recognized for the things I got educated in, I want to be paid for being smart, but I feel incredibly fucking pretentious and entitled if I’m gonna ask the world to appreciate me when they’re busy appreciating, y’know, heart surgeons.

A lot of people I know (my age) solve this icky feeling by overworking themselves as a kind of punishment for being artists. We’re like “AH, gotta keep up! Gotta do more! Seems like everyone on the facebook is doing twenty times more than me! Gotta mean something! Gotta do something Important!”… Oh my god. Maybe saying “screw it” and being homeless in Portland IS the answer.

OR…

Find a job that is actually important.

You could just find a job that has more meaning than the most trivial of tasks. (And while you’re at it, find a unicorn.) Maybe you don’t care about your job because it never challenges you to think. Maybe you don’t get any special projects within your range of expertise, maybe you find yourself doing the exact same thing every day until all the days blur together into a grey puddle of nonessential life events, maybe you’re frustrated because your job has absolutely no meaning. No matter how many coworkers are nice to you, if you don’t feel like your affecting change or making something happen, it could be an existential issue.
Ask your boss for a project. (This is why I rocked at my library job – I had nothing to do, so when I got bored, I got creative, and the creativity was encouraged to the point where my boss started handing me Shakespeare projects and events to plan. It was awesome.)
Get something else out of it. Write stories about the people at work when you get home. Come up with your own reward system that means something. I once survived a whole year of high school gym class by seeing how long it would take for any classmate to realize I never spoke a word and only communicated in Chaplinesque, cartoonish gestures. (Months. It took months.)

You could try to find the magical unicorn of jobs, the one that you want to do and that actually pays. You could stop sitting around waiting for a nice job to land in your life. You could bury yourself in more debt in order to go back to school for a real skill. You could have a baby, maybe that would give your life meaning.

Or you could sit around and write blog posts waiting for someone to notice that you’re kinda smart.

“There are no mistakes. Only opportunities.”

Posted in Uncategorized on December 18, 2014 by graysea

As the kids say: “This. This is everything.”

So, what’s the deal, storytelling media? (Movies, plays, books, things I like to do… you know, that stuff.) Women take up at least half of the population. I teach theater classes that are like 75% young women. There are more tiny brunette actresses in  my town than I can shake a stick at. (Although I wouldn’t shake a stick at them – we’re in competition for the same roles and I don’t want that kind of bad juju.) Women, women everywhere.

Now, name one action star that isn’t Scarlett Johansen. (Damn I want her job.)

Name one comedian that isn’t Tina Fey. *

Name the last story about a woman you saw in a theatre that wasn’t The Hunger Games.

Now name one female director that isn’t, oh what’s her name, Francis Ford Coppola’s daughter… Sophia! That’s right.

Name one script writer that isn’t…. wait… seriously name one script writer…

There are a few problems. None of them include “women aren’t good enough” or “women aren’t funny” or “women just can’t”…. obviously… Even though we still have this idea somewhere in our minds. WE DO. I was JUST talking to someone who said they saw a comedy special about “women stand-up comics” where all the comedians were female, and it sucked. The conclusion was, or at least leaning towards, women just aren’t that funny, or women have to do a weird brand of humor, or women this women that blah blah blah. We didn’t start with “that special just sucked” or “they didn’t pick a diverse enough line-up” or any problems outside of the idea that there is something fundamentally wrong with women doing comedy. We started with “those women we saw were bad, so it must be hard to put together a women’s stand-up special because women are bad at this.” YIKES.

CLEARLY. We rock at shit.

Like.

Duh.

Some times, we win Oscars. Bitches.

And the problem isn’t Men Keeping Us Down. All the men I know in the arts are somewhere between “Why is this even a question?” to, like, raging feminist. All the men in charge fully expect me to be capable, intelligent, and hilarious. And when I’m not those things, it’s because of my own problems, not because of my gender. One even co-wrote (with an equally hilarious female comedian/writer) an action sci fi trilogy with not one but TWO women as the central, ass-kicking heroic characters, AND the villain, and then cast me, and then used my skills to influence the character I was playing.

It’s not men.

It’s us.

“It’s okay to be a human woman.”

The reason why we can’t name more than one Big Name woman in each of the aforementioned fields is because we have some really weird idea that there’s only room for one woman at the top. (*This is changing in comedy!! Tina Fey, Amy Poehler, Mindy Kaling – I CAN NAME THREE! No surprise there. Comedy at it’s core is subversive, satirical, sharp, wildly intelligent… which also all describes my favorite people.)  I’ma argue that we’re all socially conditioned to be too polite to fight each other for the spotlight- which isn’t necessarily “bad”, because that behavior is founded on being nice and giving others a chance and helping each other together rather than punching each other to get on top- but the fundamental idea behind that behavior is what’s messed up. Guys- (Sorry. I mean LADIES.) There’s room for more than one in the spotlight. There’s room for a bunch of spotlights. And why haven’t we figured out how to stand in the spotlight… together? Fey, Poehler, Kaling, all have their own shows. You can’t mix them together. They all had to get there on their own. Why?

It’s the idea that the “woman” part of your own personal character is your biggest defining trait, so if there’s already someone else who’s The Woman, well then what are you? (There’s always gotta be one woman and one black guy on the team, so that we get points for “diversity”, right? Who am I on this team?)

WHO AM I??

So, okay, fine, we don’t want to step on anyone’s toes. (I don’t actually want to TAKE Scarlet Johansen’s job because I’m not Scarlet Johansen and she does what she does very well.) So, well, then, let’s circumnavigate the whole fighting-for-attention thing and just forge our own path. Here we go. “Hey, world, notice me doing cool things over here! I wrote a script, I wrote a book, I wrote a play, I have this script I want to direct, I have this idea for a web series! I have my own spotlight, I built it from the ground up, and it is shining on ME! ME ME ME. LOOK. LOOOOOK!!!!”

Here’s what happens… “What are you saying about women?”

or, in Kaling’s case, “what are you saying about brown women??”

PLUS: “You missed a spot. You could be better. Why aren’t you also ____?”

Here’s the thing, folks. I would LOVE to write a book. I would LOVE to write (another) play. I LOVE directing. And the only way I can get good at doing these things, enough to be a Big Name that People Recognize, (which isn’t necessarily the goal but making money off of the stuff I do would be cool,) is if I put myself out there. A lot. A LOT a lot. And if I suck, which I will, I will suck at things because sucking at things is how you learn how to not suck at things, well then that means that my shitty work will be Representing Women. And people will be angry, because I could be so much better. And people will scoff, because I had the audacity to even try, when I should have known how much I was going to suck.  This is just something I noticed about women’s work – we get torn apart pretty quickly, mostly by other women, for not being enough. So we feel like the work we produce has to be The Best Thing Ever, and if we don’t reach The Best Thing Ever on our first try, we’ll get torn apart. IF I TRY, NO ONE WILL LIKE ME.

When you’re a woman and you want attention for being talented, you have to BE AWESOME RIGHT AWAY, or you suck and your suckiness represents women everywhere and you can never be good at anything again because you missed your one chance. Even when you’re GOOD, people will still find problems with you – usually, the problem being that you’re not doing ENOUGH for WOMEN in your FIELD. (Be better! We are all counting on you to be better! Do something other than bat your pretty eyelids, Zooey Deschanel, you were so close and then you just let yourself be written by generic romcom jerks, you gotta be smarter than that, and I know you’re more talented! BE BETTER! PLEASE! I HATE YOU SO MUCH.)

And when you’re really good, like, you actually accomplish being The Best on what looks like your first try, you then have to put up with “How does it feel being a lady ____?” all the time, on top of probably STILL not getting paid as much as men.

To be recognized for being awesome, it seems you first have to 1) be better than any man doing the same or similar thing that you want to do, 2) be the only woman doing it -which means you  have to exclude all other women from your world, and 3) do all of that without being mean or stupid, ever. Even though your job is hard for just the dumbest, most unnecessary reasons some times.

Being a rockstar does not sound that appealing, when you put it like that.

SO, here’s my early new years resolution: I’m going to suck at things.

I’m going to write a book. Maybe. Or something. Something cool. Yes. A book. Okay fine I’ll write a damn book.

I’m going to learn some new skills. And I’m going to suck at them. Sucking at things is scary – we’re already developing a rehash culture where I shit you not I just scrolled through like fifty comments on whether or not “Merry Christmas” is offensive. (These aren’t asshole strangers’ youtube commentary. I mean, a person I know personally in person wrote something about #waronchristmas and it started a fight. Between people that I’ve probably actually talked to.) Being Wrong makes people angry, and now everyone has a voice they can share because we all sit in front of our computers at work and carry around computers in our pockets. Everyone shouts at each other through written text and nobody changes their mind. Ever. I have never learned anything from a facebook post. (Nor any TED talks, but that’s a different blog post.) I have only laughed at George Takei and adorable cats. (The internet – it’s cats all the way down, people.)

I’m going to be wrong. I’m going to suck at stuff. It’ll be awful. And I have to stop being afraid of that. Because I AM smart and capable and hilarious, and besides that, fuck it, I just want to write a book. As the artist, I’m not supposed to judge whether it’s worthy of an audience, right? Was that Martha Graham? Or Tina Fey…? I’m going to finish projects and show them to people. Artistic projects, that I view as an extension of myself. Fragile pieces of my soul – just by the act of creating and completing them, I will be telling the world, “this project is worthy of your consumption.” This is terrifying, because if the product is GOOD, you are An Artist (yay) but possibly a bitchy bossy militant feminist meany-head about it. And if the product SUCKS, you are all those things plus an overrated egomaniac, which, to me, is way scarier than being a bitch. (Omigod, another girl on youtube learned how to play the ukulele, which is like the easiest instrument EVAARR. Everyone yell at her for being a cliche!!)

Listen: you can’t get GOOD without sucking first. So. I am going to share with the world something that I made. And someone is going to tell me that it sucks. Or, worse, everyone will THINK it sucks and no one will tell me so. Or, the even worstest, it will be A Representation of Women, and it’ll be accidentally racist or accidentally un-feminist or accidentally ignorant in a plethora of ways, and I’ll get beaten with sticks. Or something.

But me being beaten with sticks has got to be better than putting up with this regurgitation of problematic romcom BULLSHIT for the rest of my life. …. so here I go.

An update: I found Katrina Day today. Learned a little about “the myth of women being interchangeable” and how it effects getting cast. New hero.

Part 2 of my new years resolution: Celebrate the other women I know that are creating things and Making Shit Happen. Celebrate them publicly. Make sure people know about them and invest in their work. Make that spotlight HUGE.

“I’ve spent most of my mature life trying to prove that I’m not irresponsible.”

Posted in Uncategorized on December 15, 2014 by graysea

I found this this morning…
“Things Theatre Majors Are Tired of Hearing”
And it frightened me.

Here’s the article in italics and my responses…

1. “What are you going to do with that degree?”
Ah the skepticism that emerges from friends and family when they find out a loved one is majoring in theatre. This comment may have good intentions somewhere deep down, but it comes off as snarky and just plain rude. There’s no magic coursework that makes one major better or more superior than another. Furthermore, the arts are important, and if we’re going to keep them going, we need future generations to continue learning.

What you can say instead:“What would be your ideal job?”

I dunno about you, but I had no idea what my ideal job was when I was in college. My ideal job always changed about once every semester, and it continues to do so at an even faster rate these days.
In college, if someone asked me “What are you going to do with that degree?” I’d respond “Have a shit ton of fun.”
If someone had ever asked me what my “ideal job” is, I’d probably have said something like “live in a gypsy caravan performing one-woman Shakespeare shows in corn fields across the country.” Both these responses freak the crap out of people who value job security.
(WHICH IS SOMETHING YOU SHOULD VALUE.)

My dream job looks a lot like a Terry Gilliam movie. (We did say “DREAM” job, right?)

Be skeptical of kids getting theater degrees. Please. We’re going to have to get used to the snarkiness and rudeness of “Oh, you do… art?” that will happen just about every five seconds from the rest of the world for the rest of our lives. Better hear it from well-intentioned loved ones first. And if watching what people’s faces do after declaring “I want to be on Broadway!” makes you sad or tired or bitter, well, welcome to doing art for a living.

And there is magic coursework that makes some majors better / superior to others – they’re called doctors.


2. “So do you ever have to write any papers?”
Yes. Yes we do. In fact, we write papers on books such as The Empty Space by Peter Brook – a book that non-thespians would probably find bizarre and confusing. This is, of course, on top of 30+ hours of rehearsals a week, most of which don’t end until 11pm. Yawn.

What you can say instead: “What sort of classes do you take?”

So, 19 year old college Freshman Gracie, what sort of classes do you take?
Puppetry. And sword fighting. In Acting 1 we’re learning how to walk through a door.
Did I have to write any papers? Of course. In my non-theater classes. SOME TIMES really excellent theatre teachers would give me assignments like take-home exams, or they’d make me read (mostly plays), but the papers that I wrote in most of my theater courses weren’t any more challenging than the ones I wrote in high school.
College was easier, and way WAY more fun, than high school.
I majored in theater because I knew that would be true.

For the record: I tried to read The Empty Space on my own – no professor ever asked me to- and I got bored pretty quickly. “Non-thespians” (let’s just leave aside the total snobbery that comes with separating people into “thespians” and “non-thespians”, Jesus H Crimony) would also get bored reading it. Because Peter Brook isn’t an author, he’s a director. That book is the equivalent of a very smart man kind of babbling into a tape recorder. It isn’t difficult because it’s high-minded artsy fartsy bullshit that’s too difficult for a poor, unintelligent, non-thespian to grasp… it’s just not that good.

P.S. No one actually reads Brook, Brecht, or Stanislavski. We just learn how to talk about it as if we have. (If you’re REALLY ambitious you will walk around your summer theater internship with “An Actor Prepares” under your arm so that everyone around you knows that right now you’re painting flats and cleaning toilets, but some day… some day…)

3. “But you don’t have to take finals right? You just act out stuff in class?”
Wrong. Our finals are usually analytical questions about the plays we’ve read. We have to respond to essay-based questions about Euripides’ The Trojan Women, Brecht’s Mother Courage and Her Children, and other equally challenging pieces of dramatic literature. This is in addition to performing scenework in front of our peers and professors, after which we get critiqued (aka ripped to shreds.)

What you can say instead: “What do you have going on for finals week?”
No this one’s totally true. I don’t remember fearing Finals unless it was Physics, Art History, or BioPsych, which I took for fun. Everything else I could study for or rehearse the day before and get by eeeeenough.
I hear going through critiques when you’re in the BFA is really tough- because the professors that you spent most of your time worshiping in small dark rooms then give you feedback about what you’ve been failing at… but I didn’t pay a whole lot of attention to that anyway.

Sorry, man, what were you saying about how flopping around this room is going to make me a better Hamlet? I was thinking about the muppets.

Sorry, man, what were you saying about how if I don’t flop around in a unitard with a bunch of these other classmates, I’ll never be the best Hamlet I could be? … I wasn’t listening for a second, I was thinking about the muppets.

I actually had a professor who noticed this about me. I was helping him with a project –during finals week- and I jokingly said “Hey, what kind of grade do you think I’m going to get on your exam?”
He said “You’ll get a C.”
“…What?”
“You’re used to sliding by and studying the night before. My exam will be surprisingly tough. But it won’t be too hard. You’ll pass with a C. Because you’ve never really studied in your life.”
FUCK YOU, I thought, and I studied really hard and got an A.
Reverse psychology might be the only thing that works on punk kids.

4. “You’re lucky you don’t have to do math.”
Yes I am!

Hah! That’s funny. Because when we have to fulfill our technical theatre requirements (or if we’re majoring in technical theatre), there’s actually a lot of math involved. “Measure twice, cut once” is a motto for a reason. There are certain classes that expect us to design a full production, which requires the knowledge of specs. We often have to dig into our recessed memories of high school math in order to make sure things are not just aesthetically pleasing, but also safe.

What you can say instead: “Are you taking that required calc class?”
Hah! YOU’RE funny!
Calc is not required.
The math involved in building a set – at least at the level that I have applied to building a set – requires measuring. Measuring. The drafter did the math, I just have to cut the wood properly. In fact, some times I’m not even the one cutting, I’m just putting it together. If you can do “one of these things is not like the other” on Sesame Street, you can look at a picture and put wood together to make a flat. There are a LOT of specialized skills that go into carprentry, which you can learn on the job. None of them require calculus.
Now, if you’re a designer….. or a master electrician… maybe there’s more math involved. But those are, like, advanced degrees, apparently. Nobody ever asked me how much voltage I could put through a black box space without burning the building to the ground. That requires, like, algebra. Pretty sure.
If someone wants to tell me that their very specific, very difficult theatre job requires a ton of math, I will probably believe you.
But I’ve never needed more than what I can figure out on the calculator on my flip phone.

Actors: this is the closest you will get to math. Posing for a stock photo.

5. “At least you can always teach theatre.”

Yes I can!
There are a lot of jobs for theatre majors that have to do with standing in a middle school class room trying to impart the wisdom of theatre games unto 13 year olds who hate their lives. And the turnaround in those jobs is pretty stunning, so administration is always happy to hire a new forensics coach. Go for it. Have tons of fun. I’ll be interested to see how quickly YOU burn out, because I actually LIKE young people and it didn’t take me that long.

This is true, but there’s actually a lot of work that goes into getting a theatre education degree. We don’t just graduate with our BA and automatically get to walk into a middle or high school teaching job. If we decide that we want to pursue education in a public school system, we’ll have to follow the appropriate steps towards getting our teaching license. This often includes a masters degree (hello, grad school student loans), standardized tests, practicum internships, and a lot of paperwork.

What you can say instead: “Do you ever think you’ll want to teach theatre?”

Read that carefully – if you want to teach full time at a public school, you have to get a teachers certificate. This is true. I almost did it. It would have taken me a couple extra years of school and a lot of work, a lot of beurocracy, a lot of red tape and jumping through hoops. And when I was all done, I would have then had to, well, teach in a public school.


Power to teachers. Thank you, teachers. Teachers are awesome.
If you want to be the person representing a theater company that walks into a classroom and says “yo, push your desks to the side, kids, let’s play some games!”… you do not need a teaching certificate.

6. “So you’ll basically be a waiter/bartender/hostess/receptionist for the rest of your life.”

YUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUP.

This was the best quote from this article: “There’s actually a lot of different ‘day jobs’ that working actors can acquire.” Ones that aren’t waiter/bartender/hostess/receptionist? There ARE? TELL ME MORE! “The skills that we are developing as theatre majors can be applied to many different career paths. Think about it: we’re well-versed in literature, we can build things, we’re creative, we are great at thinking on our feet, we’re well-spoken, and we’re great problem-solvers. That sounds an awful lot like a list of qualifications in a job description, doesn’t it?” YES IT DOES. IT CERTAINLY DOES. And these qualifications have been on my real-person resume for YEARS. Nobody cares.
NOBODY.
CARES.

Try finding anyone currently seeking kids fresh out of college in the job market with all of those skills on their resume. Point me in their direction. Go ahead. Do you have a job for someone who claims that they are “well-spoken”? Do you have a job for someone who wrote “well-spoken” on their resume? Does being “well-spoken” entitle anyone to employment?
NO.
NOBODY CARES.
Nobody cares about you or your theater degree. Get an actual skill in something that people need, and then they’ll respect you. 

7. “What’s your back-up plan?”

This is well-intentioned, but it’s hard to hear and difficult to answer. For most of us, when we’re still in college, we don’t want to think about our back-up plans. We want to believe that we’re going to make it to Broadway, or a successful regional theatre, or wherever our ideal job would take us. If we don’t at least try, we’ll forever be kicking ourselves with regret. Logically and realistically, we’ll work on our back-up plans as we get closer to senior year, but for now, we’re pouring all of our energy into this major, and we’re damned if we don’t believe there’s at least a chance that we can make it.

What you can say instead: “What’s your dream show/role?”

NO. ASK THIS QUESTION. ALL THE TIME. You can ALSO ask them about their dreams, but ASK THEM ABOUT THEIR BACK UP PLAN.
Here’s a brilliant piece of advice: You can have both.
Children in theatre – have a back-up plan. Get used to people asking you what it is. In fact, do your back-up plan FIRST and then go BACK and do theatre. The happiest people I know did this and they have stable incomes. Being anything else first doesn’t make you less of an actor. In fact, it will in all liklihood make you a better actor, because you can’t teach life experience in a studio. If you’re willing to let college be harder than high school, you will eventually have some kind of job security before you do something like dig yourself into school debt so you can have a career in poverty.

Just because Jennifer Lawrence is, what, fifteen years old or whatever doesn’t mean that YOU must start your career being a Hollywood actor NOW. You know what she was doing before Hunger Games? Eating squirrel. She got an agent when she was like 14 and has been terrified of her career ever since, because she knows she won the lottery and it will end soon.

Be worried when your theatre student says they don’t have a back up plan. Don’t go to college for theatre UNLESS you have a backup plan. Plan A, Broadway, plan B, something else – You can hold both these things in your heart.  You should be afraid of “what if it doesn’t all work out the way I expect it to”. Shoot for your ideal job, of course! Go for it! But going for it with all your soul doesn’t mean eliminating all your other options. Betting all your money on one number is dumb. That’s just  statistics. (Which, I know, were not required, so it’s kinda hard to grasp for us.)

If we’re talking “logically and realistically”, theatre degrees have nothing to do with logic nor reality.

I hate the homeless …. ness problem in our city.

Posted in Uncategorized on November 26, 2014 by graysea

billy

Penny: You’re not really interested in the homeless, are you?
Billy: No, I am, but- It’s a symptom. You’re treating a symptom, and the disease rages on, consumes the human race. The fish rots from the head, as they say. So my thinking is, why not cut off the head?
Penny: …Of the human race?
Billy: …It’s not a… perfect metaphor…

Rehearsal is currently located in a shitty part of town. Recently, our local transit system has switched from paper tickets to plastic cards, which is convenient if you can afford one but inconvenient if you want to share. Drivers are still accepting paper passes, though, and in exchange for one of the few paper passes I have left, I get a paper transfer- only good for a few hours. As I’ll be in rehearsal for longer than the transfer dictates each night, I’ve been stepping off the bus and offering the transfer to the people waiting. I’ve been waiting for the “What, little white girl, you think you’re so charitable? You think I can’t afford my own bus ride?” response, but it hasn’t happened. People just say “thank you”.

A bus transfer is a piece of paper worth something to someone else and worth nothing to me. This transaction – transfer for a smile – is easy. It’s welcome. And I feel like it’s my small payment to the Karma fairy so I don’t run into trouble on the four block walk ahead of me, which I have not. Ever. The only “trouble” I’ve ever found in this part of the city is when I am stopped by a concerned stranger, who then asks “sweet heart, are you lost?” as if I’m the only white person sitting down to watch a Hindi film at the budget theater. (Also happens.) Little white girls don’t belong on this side of town, and little white girls don’t go there alone to buy drugs like old white guys do, so clearly, I must have taken a wrong turn.  Anyway, the transaction gets more complicated outside of bus transfers.

This is just the introduction to a long chain of thoughts that happen to me while I’m walking around my city. Someone asks me for spare change and a supernova expands in my brain. 99% of the time, I apologize and move on. I didn’t always used to do this – a few summers ago, when I lived near a hotspot of cultural activity, I took a lot of new friends to the hot dog stand on the corner and bought them a small meal or a large coffee. Here’s what I learned: Fact is, eight out of ten times you get asked for change, the person will appreciate your time – they’re not used to being treated like visible human beings. Even if they’re heroin addicts that can’t stomach an entire hot dog at once, learning their name and asking them how their day went is a huge fucking deal.

But this behavior took a toll on me, I guess. I also used to wave at everyone I made eye contact with on the street, when I was a kid, and I don’t do that anymore either. One friend described this to me as natural waves of empathy – some times you feel like giving, some times you need to protect yourself from giving too much. On one bus ride home, a man asked for and then took the meal I was carrying straight out of my hands and proceeded to eat it in front of me. I should have been happy I was feeding someone. I was not. I was pissed. Not just mildly annoyed – I mean I felt very angry. After that, my instinctive reaction to the plea for change slowly but surely devolved into “fuck you, that’s not my job.” I don’t say this out loud, of course, but the feeling inside me that it’s my personal duty to take care of strangers turned into repulsion. And I didn’t feel shitty about it.

I’ve started to feel fucking terrible about ignoring the needy, so I’ve started to talk about it again. Most everyone I know has some kind of excuse. “They’ll just use the money for drugs/alcohol.” “You’re still a good person, you just can’t save everyone.” “You earned that money with a job, what did they do?” “Panhandlers make more in a year than a minimum wage job, so once you start making more than they do, you can start handing it out.” “People are dangerous and you shouldn’t engage anyone like that.” Honestly… all these excuses seem to me to be part of the same pile of horseshit. It’s just the psychological wall that the people being asked for change build around themselves so that they don’t have to think about it anymore – so that they can convince themselves that they’re in the right, that they don’t need to feel guilty. Well, none of them work for me. I just feel guilty, and I deal with that.

There’s got to be a better way to go about this than just feeling awful every time I walk down the street. Maybe volunteering my time in a homeless shelter is a good idea – but I can’t help but consider the fact that this kind of work would only help me feel better when walking down the street, and it wouldn’t actually help anyone else. The source of the problem is deeper and more complicated, and, eventually, handing out bowls of soup would start to feel like buying strangers their cups of coffee at that hot dog stand. It would take its toll. I’d be back at square one – feeling guilty. And no problems would really be solved.

A few weeks ago, two young girls stopped me on a walk with my boyfriend and simply said “We’re hungry, can you help us get some food?” I didn’t hesitate. I walked them straight into a food market and let them order whatever the hell they wanted. My boyfriend, who had been walking with me, was surprised and in awe and keeps bringing it up like I could have denied them. Kids. Kids with neck tattoos, and the same age as the students I teach. I keep comparing my actions that night to the hundreds of other times I’ve walked past people in need, stepped around sleeping homeless people, hid behind a man when walking in a group, ignored the “I’m a vet, please, I just need a quarter for the bus” story. Am I prejudiced against old, homeless men, and I’d rather help two young women? Yes. Definitely. I see this is a problem. Boyfriend sees this behavior and thinks I’m hyper empathetic. I think that empathetic people get a self-congratulatory high off of helping others. I don’t. Most of the time I grumble and whine about it because, as mentioned before, feeding someone else’s kids shouldn’t be my fucking job.

“It shouldn’t be my fucking job” is on the top of that pile of horseshit excuses, and the one I grab for 99% of the time to push away the guilty feelings. Giving doesn’t make me feel good anymore. But what it comes down to, what I can’t get around, is this: I have it and they do not. Whatever “it” is; a dollar, a bus pass, a hot dog, a pair of mittens… if it has more value for them than it does to me, there is absolutely no GOOD reason to keep it for myself. Plenty of bad reasons – a whole pile of them. And I use those, often. But like the spider in Pandora’s box… the fact remains: I have so much, they have so little.

It sucks. All around.

I’ll come back with updates if I figure out how to fix it.

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