No Honor Among Theives (Nor Among the Rest of Us.) What a World We’ve Created.

No honor among thieves. No honor among Americans.

This might one day appear in a “News of the Weird” article. A Brazilian thief’s loot and getaway car were both stolen by another thief.  “We can’t even live a dishonest life anymore,” he was quoted as saying.  The article is below:

Ah, yes, a dishonest life. It is a life some choose when they find that the honest, legal, socially-acceptable options just aren’t viable anymore. Some people who can’t find decent, living-wage jobs, for example, will resort to thievery or some other illegal activity just to survive. It won’t necessarily be a choice. They may feel guilty about it, and it may be hard for them to do it, but when people are hungry and thirsty, when people are in pain, they need to relieve their pain. Unable to find a job to pay for that food, unable to find friends or relatives willing to help, some might feel compelled to steal it.  (Others will drown their consciousness in drugs and alcohol to make the reality of poverty go away.  Still others will suffer mentally, commit suicide or resort to abuse or violence.)

This, of course, is well-known in psychological circles outside of the USA. An internet search on suicides related to poverty and unemployment will reveal many articles about people in other countries committing suicide due to financial difficulty. However, articles appearing here in the US that actually admit that poverty leads to an increase in suicide rates here in the US are sometimes harder to find.  Spain  Greece  India  Sri Lanka

However, I did find a few articles acknowledging a rising suicide rate in the US due to this Second Great Depression:

Often, however, such articles are packed with denial. We are still being told that people commit suicide here in the US because they are suffering from “depression” (more like the results of the Second Great Depression, if you ask me. Ah, but you didn’t, so never mind.) Of course, the pharmaceutical industry wants us to believe that depression is caused by a chemical imbalance in the brain that can only be corrected by taking their drugs. And since the pharmaceutical industry gives money to our media in exchange for advertising, they are one of mass media’s biggest  customers.

Point is, the corporation-controlled media would have us all believe that Americans who are suffering, losing their jobs, their dignity, their homes and, in some cases, everything, are mentally ill if they commit suicide. (What they really need to do is take some anti-depressant drugs, you see.  To correct a chemical imbalance in the brain, of course. But also to correct an economic imbalance in our society. Big Pharma employs a lot of people. We don’t want them to get laid off, right? So let’s buy their drugs!)

People aren’t depressed as a result of events occurring in their lives, you understand. They’re depressed due to a “mental illness” caused by “chemical imbalance.” The solution to that is to give more money to the pharmaceutical industry by pumping these people up with drugs.  (Oh yes, that will do a great deal of good in terms of solving the problems we’re experiencing in today’s America. Let’s just get everyone who’s suffering “high” on antidepressants. That way, we won’t have to work at solving the problems ’cause there won’t be any problems ’cause we’ll be too drugged up, too high, to notice ‘em. Get it? The pharmaceutical industry does. And I suspect, Wall Street understands this logic very well also. Our wonderful friends in the White House know all about this too. As we experience more shootings, more violence in this country, our government and the corporate media just blame guns. Never mind the lack of access to health care, people with mental illnesses being denied therapy and just being pumped up with drugs, problems not being faced and solved, etc.)

But seriously? Are the suicide victims the ones who are mentally ill? Or maybe it’s just the rest of us who are the crazy ones. And truly we are crazy if we don’t see how much pain and suffering there is right now in this country being caused by this “recession.”  If we don’t work toward creating a society of people who help each other instead of blaming each other and touting “self responsibility” while ignoring social responsibility, i.e., the responsibility we all have for each other, our role in society and our community, then our entire country is mentally ill. Perhaps we should just commit the entire United States of America–but there are no looney bins for countries, are there?

Our life as Americans is becoming unsustainable as well as unbearable. Life is becoming increasingly impossible for many Americans while the other Americans, the ones who are still doing well, continue to turn their heads, look away, and pretend that nothing is wrong. Soon even the dishonest life will not work, as the Brazilian thief found out the hard way. We need as humans to be able to trust each other, to be able to cooperate, to work together, to rely on each other. When that changes and we cannot trust our fellow human being we have created a very dangerous society in which to live. No amount of policing, surveillance cameras or military force will change that. (Though I predict that Americans will continue to demand more of just that.)

When even the dishonest life is impossible, where will people turn? Don’t ask your neighbor for assistance. Don’t tell your friends about your problems. Don’t even seek out counseling. No psychologist will see you unless you can pay the bill. No doctor will operate or even prescribe you the drugs unless you can afford to pay. Remember, it’s dog-eat-dog. No one in the US seems to care about each other anymore.

(And what many elitists aren’t considering is that eventually no one will be able to pay for their services either. Then the psychologists, doctors, and even some CEO’s will be out of work. )

I looked up the definition of “honor” on Merriam Webster’s web site. (Sorry luddites, the computer is just faster and easier… Yep, I love books, read them as often as I can. Yep, I prefer the book, don’t want to lose the paper and pen. I like a good, old-fashioned newspaper too. But sometimes looking it up on the web site is just more convenient.) Okay, enough of this disclaimer nonsense. Here it is:

Def. 8:  “Honor” —  “a keen sense of ethical conduct: integrity <a man of honor>…one’s word given as a guarantee of performance <on my honor, I will be there>”

But I really like this definition from  “honor”  — “honesty, fairness or integrity in one’s beliefs and actions…”  Another definition listed on the site is: “high public esteem; fame; glory…”

That’s right, honesty, integrity, and fairness were associated with fame and glory. There was a time when such qualities were recognized and lauded. I use the past tense because I believe that that has, quite sadly, changed–at least here in the US, but perhaps in other places too.

And with that societal change, eventually, the definition of the word itself will change. Perhaps one day “honor” will come to mean “selfishness, greed, lack of regard or concern for others,” as people in possession of those qualities are esteemed and praised more and more in our society. Or by contrast, “honor” may come to mean weak, impotent, scorned and bullied–as our society increasingly lauds aggressive bullies and looks down upon those who are democratic, capable of negotiation, rational thought and, of course, honor.

Yes, words change along with the people who use them. Language changes because it is merely a method by which people express themselves to each other.  A native English speaker reading a Shakespeare play that hasn’t been translated into modern English will need a Shakespearian dictionary to understand what he or she is reading.  Technically, the language is the same:  English.  But it is Olde English as opposed to Modern English.

So on this day of December 21, 2012, the only dramatic event that has occurred for me so far is that outside it is snowing and it hasn’t snowed much yet this year.  (Very unusual, actually.  But let’s not start talking/blogging about climate change. We’re in denial about so many other things in this country. Why would we recognize that as a problem when we’re unable to notice the very many and severe problems we’ve been denying for decades now?)

I don’t believe this day will be a dramatic one. But I do believe that the years to come will be very dramatic indeed. Most of us won’t live through the worst of it all. Our children and grandchildren will. But why should we be concerned about future generations? There are plenty of antidepressants available for all the hungry, sick, needy children. The pain of hunger, poverty and despair won’t hurt at all.

Take a deep breath, America, and suck it all in. Yeah, suck it.

Musical ‘isms’ — Conform, DIY, or you’re screwed…

Check out this blog:

As a DIY-er, I found this blog about female musicians (as well as male musicians) who’ve faced discrimination in the music industry inspiring. I think the elitist manner in which the entertainment industry, in general, operates is the primary reason why many of us have chosen the DIY alternative. Want a record deal? Want to succeed in the music industry? The “arts” and entertainment industry? Then here’s what you need to do:

First, you don’t need to listen to music or even to like music.  You don’t need to practice your guitar, bass or drums, and you certainly don’t need or want talent.  You don’t even need to be a “good” musician. Musicianship isn’t important. Money and material things are.

So, you must own the most expensive equipment available. If you’re playing a cheap guitar or at least not the most expensive on the market, then you are not a “good” musician and you can’t make it. Sorry.

Second, you need to be very, very young, preferably under the age of 21.  ’18-to-look younger’ is the trend in Hollywood, and Hollywood is where it’s happening in the entertainment industry here in the US. So once you hit the ripe old age of 21, it’ll be all downhill from there. Sorry, but that’s the way it is. Also your musicianship will get better as you age and gain experience. That’s not good. Remember, good musicianship is not important. It’s the money you have to spend on equipment that matters.Yay, unregulated capitalism! Please have a nice, good running car (worth at least $10,000 is best) and lots of expensive musical equipment: mics, amps, p.a.’s, guitars, etc. must be worth $1000s of dollars at the very least.

Second, if you want to be a rock musician you have to be male. So get together some money for that sex-change operation or just forget about pursuing music. Women make great teachers and nurses, for example. And don’t go on some feminist rant. This is not sexist. Male musicians who are black or Asian can’t be rock musicians either. Also men who weren’t born with money and connections are going to have a hard time too. So don’t say this is discrimination against women. Lots of men are being discriminated against too.  So there.

Sheesh! These crazy feminist types with their outrageous rants!

Oh, and those hippies!  “The quality of music will suffer because the best musicians can’t succeed. Only the musicians with the most money and the ‘right’ race and gender can make it. So all that good music will be lost.”

Ah, yes, I’ve heard you hippies rant before. Quality music? Quality music? Listen, how much did Mozart pay for that harpsichord?  Do you really think we need another Mozart? Another Beethoven? I think not.

Come on, we’ve heard all that before. We’re moving on to a new age here in the US & perhaps beyond–a New World Order, if you will. It’s not very democratic, but I guarantee you music will still exist. It will be the music of the monied. It will be music composed by people who own lots and lots of things. People who are contributing to our society by buying expensive guitars, amps, chords, mics, effects pedals, and, of course, cars. Mozart didn’t own a car but that’s only because cars hadn’t been invented yet. It’s hard to believe, but both he and Beethoven composed music without many of the material things we take for granted today. How on earth did they do that? Well, don’t worry, that won’t happen again. Today’s Mozarts and Beethovens won’t stand a chance. First of all, most Americans can’t spell their names, so the names aren’t marketable, and second of all, their music was composed inside their heads–without expensive gadgets, so they weren’t contributing to society by buying more equipment. They studied music theory, learned to read and write music and actually listened to music. (What a waste of time! Most American schools don’t even teach music or art anymore. Studying that stuff won’t prepare you for a job!) When Beethoven lost his hearing, he could only listen to the music in his head, but he was able to write it down and compose more songs since he’d studied music theory. But so what? That was a long time ago. People actually listened to music then. Nowadays, there just isn’t enough time.

Female musicians didn’t stand a chance in those days, and most musicians born into poverty didn’t have a chance either. But the minority of white males with enough money could pursue music on a deep level, to study it more thoroughly than we can in today’s instant gratification-materialistic-greed-based culture, and their work was appreciated for centuries following them. But I do believe that is about to change.

We’re returning to the days of sexism, racism, classism, etc., etc., but we won’t return to the days of valuing the arts so that they are deeply appreciated and studied. Women, minorities and poor people are being deprived as usual but without at least the saving grace of a few successful people who could make an impact. Nope, we won’t see anymore Mozarts or Beethovens.  But we will see a lot more Britney Spears. (Isn’t that wonderful? Because after all, she is NOT a political activist. The last thing she would do would be to rock the status quo. She also offered a lot of support to George W., I understand, so she is patriotic, compliant and conformist. Those are important qualities for any American to have these days, so she truly is a role model.)

She once was a terrific singer, from what I hear. But that wasn’t getting her anywhere. So she stopped focusing on developing her singing, dyed her hair blonde, got really skinny, took off most of her clothes then danced around on stage for all the pedophiles who dig her ‘sound.’

Oh yeah, we’ll see lots more of that. Eventually, Mozart and Beethoven will long since have been forgotten, just like Britney’s once great singing voice lies dormant so that her breasts and midriff get the attention they deserve.

Pay no attention to that man behind the curtain. He’s just the guy who’s “creating” music by hitting his computer keyboard. He’s the guy who did the market research and found out what sells and what doesn’t. He’s also the guy who uses technology to manipulate the singer’s voice so that it sounds like she can sing when she cannot. He studies what makes a song and “writes” songs based on that research. There are no real songs written anymore. Just hits.

And there is no real art anymore..that anyone can see. Because the few amongst us creating real art can’t earn a living. They’re marginalized and disenfranchised while we’re bombarded everyday with advertisements masquerading as art.

Britney, I give up. You won.

My blog response below:

So glad to see a blog about this!  No one believes you when you say it, but sexism (and more recently, classism) can prevent you from succeeding. There’s just nothing you can do about it if ppl choose to disrespect ur talent because of what u look like. It’s a choice they make, so it’s out of ur control. All u can do is try to find a way to succeed in spite of the obstacles. (And the DIY way is best, I think.)

I’m a guitarist who’s been playing for many years and I actually get paid to perform but I’m always a solo artist. My dream has always been to play in a band but whenever I try to get musicians together (they’re usually guys, haven’t found many female musicians in my area) the guys either hit on me or their gf’s are jealous, and when I show that I’m not going to sleep w/them or date them, they drop out OR they are condescending, criticizing my equipment (guitar, amp, etc.) for not being expensive enough or trying to compete w/me to make themselves appear to be better in some way (after all, they are guys…)  It’s heartbreaking actually. I’ve seen teenage boys who’ve only just started playing guitar get booked gigs, find bands to play with, etc., and are able to perform publicly a lot more. I have been playing for more years than I care to admit to and get compliments when I perform, actually get paid to play, but I can’t find other musicians to play with, so my opportunities are very limited.

The guys just don’t feel comfortable viewing me as another musician. They either see me as someone to sleep with or not. It’s very frustrating. I’ve also noticed that a lot of musicians care more about how expensive your equipment is and whether or not you have a nice car than they do about your musical ability–classism! A male musician recently just lectured me, telling me that he took the time to listen to my music but that most musicians wouldn’t have done that ’cause my amp looked so small…? He was very condescending. He was also concerned that I don’t own a car. Well, I rent a car or pay a friend to drive me to my solo gigs, so I have no problem commuting even to other cities and states. Recently, I crossed the border and performed in another country! But, hey, whatever happened to carpooling? I guess that would mean sharing and maybe Americans have forgotten how to do that? (Honestly, that is very disturbing. Also this belief that ur nothing if u don’t own expensive things is scary too.)

I mean, seriously, I’ve attempted to audition for bands who wouldn’t even listen to my guitar playing–yep, I never made it to the audition, ’cause they found out I didn’t own a car or that my amplifier wasn’t of a particular brand or make. Yep, I’m telling you these people would rather play with a musician who is less talented and capable but has more expensive equipment or a nice car than they would perform with a musician with many years of experience who also writes songs and gets paid to play just because SHE doesn’t have a car or an expensive guitar and amp.

But then again, that’s what isms are all about, right? Sexism, classism, racism, etc. It’s all about preventing talented, capable people from succeeding based on some attribute they were born with that has nothing to do with their abilities as people to contribute to society. (I don’t see very many black rock musicians either.) Frankly, I think the US in general is getting very conservative and the ‘isms’ are getting worse. I’m finding it easier to jam with older musicians who remember the 60s era. They seem less threatened by me as a female musician. That’s pretty sad isn’t it? I’ve also found that I enjoyed playing in another country and it’s made me think that perhaps I could have more opportunities as a female musician elsewhere in the world than here in the US. Again, pretty sad, eh?
BTW, I blogged about my experience here:

Hope it doesn’t offend anyone. I like male musicians–just not the ones who disrespect women. Unfortunately, those are the ones I usually meet.

Today is Nerd Pride Day!

Woo hoo! If it weren’t for the Internet, I never would have heard of such a thing. Bring out the thick glasses and books!  (I wear contact lenses myself. And, yes, by “glasses” I meant eyeglasses, not glasses of wine, beer or wherever your mind was going…)

Actually, some people are calling it ‘Geek Pride.’  Semantics, you say? Nerd alert!

I’ve had people try to convince me that I’m not a nerd (as though being a nerd were a bad thing.) Frankly, I’m proud of my nerdishness (nerdiness?) Considering the fact that Americans deem anyone who’s intelligent, independent and nonconformist a “nerd,” I’d take that as a compliment. I wonder whether other countries devalue intellect as much as the U.S.

The fact that our society disparages intelligent people, that intelligent kids are often bullied in school and called the “n” word (“nerd!”) demonstrates how joyfully dumbed-down our society really is and is one of the main reasons we’re having trouble today. Why not elect intelligent people, i.e., nerds, into positions of power rather than people who just look good on TV, uttering bland, uncontroversial, nonsense, so as not to offend (or inform) anyone so that anyone will vote for him/her?

And I was much encouraged by a book’s title I came across via my Internet search on Nerd Pride:

“Nerds: How Dorks, Dweebs, Techies & Trekkies Can Save America and Why They Might Be Our Last Hope” by David Anderegg

I’m also currently reading Michael Moore’s “Here Comes Trouble.” Guess what? Yep, he’s a nerd too. (Sort of a hippie-nerd.)



So I celebrated today by watching Weird Al Yankvic videos. Now there’s a nerd to celebrate! I wonder whether he realizes that if he were just starting out today, he’d never ‘make’ it. Many years ago, Yankovic sent his own amateur recordings of his songs to a DJ called Dr. Demento who, although Yanovic was just some kid from nowhere, decided to play this unknown kid’s songs on the air (for national broadcast.) Seriously, people, no one in the U.S.A. plays music created by an unknown artist without access to high quality (and expensive!) recording equipment on commercial radio. Sure, some of the college stations might do it. I suppose there are some rare exceptions, but typically, it just doesn’t happen these days. So Al was pretty lucky.  Yes, he’s extraordinarily talented–no doubt! But he was also born in the right place and time–a freer and more democratic time. A time we may never see again here in the U.S.

Anyhow, here I go again, going off on one of my nerdy tangents.  (Thinking again, sorry!)

Check out the links below (and I apologize for any cool links I may have missed.) Yes, links pertaining to nerds are “cool.”:

It’s open mic, not open “Mike,” dang it!… Guitar Women Have No Place in this World…

Okay, so I just hit up two open mics today–not one, but two.  Oddly, there were very few female performers at either. The performers were decidedly male.  (Not that I mind males. I like males.  It’s just that women comprise of half the population, so when I see no or few women, I can’t help but wonder why?) This is not the Middle East. This is the USA…  So why are women afraid to speak out? Have we lost our voice?

Or is it just that once you realize no one’s listening you stop talking altogether? There’s that stereotype of the woman who talks too much. Women talking is supposed to be a bad thing. Why? The nagging woman. Gossiping women. Stop talking. Stop. We’re not listening. We’re men. So let us do all the talking. Listen to us. Hang on our every word. Or else. Or else, you are the nagging woman you’ve heard so much about. And you don’t want that.

The first open mic was for poetry, yet there was only one other female present. That really surprised me. Isn’t poetry supposed to be “feminine”? If there aren’t many women musicians, surely there are women poets, er, poetesses?

Anyhow, it wasn’t my intention to be militantly “feminist” today, nor was it my intention to post another blog.  It’s after 1a.m. for God’s sake. And it’s been ages since I’ve posted. Yet here I am, not drunk, though perhaps a bit tipped and blogging out into the universe. Ranting and raving out my blogospheric comeback. (But haven’t you heard? The universe has no ears. Nor eyes. And, obviously, no justice. Forget about peace. Piece? Peas? Pees? See? Can’t even spell it!)

The universe will not read my blog. Nor will it hear my mad typing. If a tree falls… If a blogger writes/types and there’s no one around to read it, does the blog exist? I would say no. What are your thoughts? (If they’re derogatory then please don’t share them, at least not now. Not tonight, dear. I’ve got a headache. And it’s the incurable type.  So rant on yer own friggi’ blog.)

(Oh, and by the way, if a female musician is talented but never has the chance to play in a band so that other people can hear her then does she really make a sound when she strums that guitar? When no one is around to listen?)

Just askin.’

Anyhow (or is it any who?), I’d been goin’ to these open mics for nearly two years now in this city, and I announce sometimes on the P.A. before or after I play that I’m looking for musicians–drummers and bassists in particular–and would anyone be interested in jammin’? And most of the time the answer is no. Just no. No one shows up. No one approaches me and talks to me except to tell me I’m “good” and they like my playin’ and maybe they want to hit on me. But no one hops on stage to accompany me. I’m jam-less. (Though not jammie-less as it’s nearly 2 a.m. now, heh, heh…)

(I’ve posted ads on the tried-and-true craigslist, as well as on good, old-fashioned bulletin boards in music stores. You know: “musicians wanted, blah, blah, blah.” Could it be that I live in the belly of the rednecked beast where no woman dare play musical instruments, lest the evil sexism devil rear his smelly head and breathe stinky, rednecked, potbellied man-your-momma-warned-you-about breath all over your tattoo-less, feminine neck until you pass out drunk with disgust?)

Should I just go ahead and give up playing guitar already? Not if you tell me I should.

But maybe it’s not because I’m a female musician. Maybe it’s because I play originals and maybe my originals are just too esoteric. Perhaps I’m a one-woman art band. And who in the US likes art anymore? “Perhaps if I just played some old Beatles songs, I’d attract the jammers,” she thought knowingly (and naively discounting songs currently played on the radio as fly-by-night one hit wonders.)

And so, heart in her hand (or is it hand on her heart? Well, her hand was somewhere anyhow) and brain heavily sedated, she showed up once again at an open mic to do the deed: to bravely go where only a few women have dared go before, to play guitar as every woman should, but as many women do not do publicly because, for some reason, for some reason she cannot fathom, and for some reason that irritates her greatly, women musicians who are not primarily vocalists are treated like sh*t.

Yes, that’s right, I said “sh*t!”  Oh, did you want me to leave out the asterisk? Oh, did you want me to cuss more politely? Oh, do you think that ladies shouldn’t cuss? Oh, well, then let me say it again: “Sh*t! Sh*t! Sh*t! Sh*t!      !SH*T SH*T SH*T SH*T!”

Has a nice ring to it, eh? Perhaps I’ll recite it loudly then save it as a ring tone to announce my cell phone calls loudly to others whilest I await my bus some morning on my way to work.


Ah, that feels better. Feels mighty good not to be lady-like. Mighty good.

Don’t make me come over there and take out that asterisk!  (Actually, I’m not on drugs. I stay away from that stuff. But, funny, why do you ask? ;)

She brought out her electric guitar and began strumming. Alright, she didn’t sound like Metallica, but hey, it was an open mic, alright? Just a girl and her guitar. How rock ‘n roll do you expect it to sound? And what really got her, yeah, what really got her was that a bunch of musicians she’d seen and spoken with at other open mics showed up, spoke with each other, noticed they were all guys, checked out each others crotches ‘n’ all and agreed to get together and jam on stage.  So, much to her surprise, these guys who were never at all willing to accompany her on stage, got up on stage and jammed with the other guys, backing each other up on songs even though they’d only just met and weren’t familiar with each others songs.

Oh dear, these guys must have left that open mic thinking about how friendly it was and how easy it was to meet other musicians there. And two of them got a gig out of it too.  Well, that’s cool. They got a gig. And they got some other musician friends to jam with.

That’s great.

I’m ever so happy for ‘em really.

But my question here is:

(Drum roll please… unless, of course, you feel uncomfortable jammin’ with me on this blog. Maybe my being a female musician and all will make you feel uncomfortable. It’s tough to focus on playing drums when you know the guitarist-blogger is a woman, right? Of course, your wife/girlfriend might get jealous and… Oh never mind. Just forget the drum roll, okay? I don’t need a drum roll. No, never mind. It’s getting too complicated. Just forget the friggin’ drum roll!!!!) I’m a SOLO artist. Forget the bloody drum roll. Just roll it up your a**. Yes, I said a**. You’re right, earlier I said sh*t too. Not very lady-like of me, was it? Aw…

Where is my guitar? I just want to pick it up and bang it over your head a few times just to test it out and make sure it can handle the strain of touring and public performance. You don’t mind, do you? It’s for the sake of the music, dang it. The music. Think of the music. Yes, that’s better. Thank you.

Thud! <X%*#@! Bang! XZXOOM!

Wow! Your head nearly cracked open! Don’t worry, the bleeding will stop eventually. And  my guitar is perfectly fine! No damage done at all! I knew my guitar could handle it.


But my real point is just this: why did I have a completely different experience than did those guys at that open mic?

I mean, I’ve been going to these open mics on and off for nearly two years now and these guys just walk through the door, their first time in the joint, and a couple guys approach ‘em, ask ‘em if they’d accompany ‘em on bass and drums and they’re thrilled to do it. But why did they refuse to accompany me on previous open mic outings?  Hmm… (puts thumb on right side of chin and taps then caresses her chin lovingly with the thumb as though trying to understand something utterly profound…  Or perhaps she’s some kind of a pervert who gets a cheap thrill out of touching her own face… Hmmm… Guess we’ll never know. Or will we?)

It’s no biggie or anything. Not as though I want to be a professional musician or anything. Obviously, that can’t happen as I go to the bathroom differently than most musicians. I mean that’s really it, isn’t it? It’s not about whether or not I can play the guitar, drums, bass or whatever. All that really matters is whether or not I go to the bathroom a certain way. And I choose not to. I’m a grrl, dang it! I’m not going to exaggerate it by undressing on stage and playing guitar in the nude but then again I’m not going to pretend to be a boy either. (A woman musician I’d met many years ago bragged she faced no discrimination as a female musician whatsoever. Only problem was she had to wear turtle necks to hide her lack of Adam’s apple, wear a tight band around her chest to hide her breasts and take voice lessons to practice speaking in a lower octave bass tone without permanently damaging her voice. She also had to legally change her first name to “Pat” and sit with her legs spread wide open occasionally touching her crotch area as if to adjust something there…  Okay, okay, I’m kidding. She didn’t have to do any of those things. The woman was naturally androgynous. I don’t think it took any effort at all on her part.)

But really, in the grand scheme of things, none of this matters. I could die tomorrow in abject poverty. No one will ever know if I could play this or that on the guitar. And even if I became rich and famous tomorrow and actually got credit and recognition for what I did, I could still die tomorrow and it wouldn’t really matter, right? Can’t take it with me, n’est-ce pas?

I’m just saying….

After I played, I got a really good response, people complimenting me on my playing, etc., they really liked my voice, they liked my music, etc. But the musicians–all of them guys–weren’t willing to jam with me, not even at an open mic, so I’ll never be able to take my music up to the next level, unless I use technology to sound like other musicians. (Hmm, now there’s an actual thought.) They already had their little jam buddies. And that’s cool. That’s cool. Guess I need to get my own jam buddies in the form of technology, prerecorded music I make myself.

But then I just like to observe people. And this has happened to me many, many times before. These guys just walk into a joint. No one’s heard them play yet. Nobody knows if they can even play well or not so well. Maybe they’re the worst guitarists in the world but because they go to the bathroom a certain way, other musicians approach them and invite them to play with them on or off stage. Sometimes they get invited to jam sessions. Sometimes they get invited to play at other open mics or to perform with or open for other bands. It’s amazing how easy it is for these guys to get a chance to perform. They don’t even have to be talented or have much technical skill. All they have to do is go to the bathroom that certain way and they’re in. What a life!

All I can say is, I must be a terrific guitar player, ’cause I hit the glass ceiling at measly open mics. I mean that glass ceiling hits me hard, before I even have a chance to go out there. Boom!  When I look for management or hook myself up with gigs I often hear, “We prefer bands to solo artists.” Yep, they prefer bands and they need to be male. I mean, think about it. Allowing female musicians to perform necessitates the installation of female restrooms that are clean and furnished with toilet paper. Think of the thousands of dollars in toilet paper and cleaning staff that are saved every year by preventing women musicians from participating in the musical process. And there’s less flushing with an all male crowd too. Discriminating against women is fiscally responsible, people! Better for the environment! Better for Republicans! Rush Limbaugh likes it!

I think I’m going to turn to sarcasm for comfort. From now on, I’m going to start responding with, “Does it matter how I go to the bathroom? ‘Cause I use toilet paper. I think that (toilet paper usage) makes me original as a musician.  Adds to my sound. Not too many of us toilet paper users out there playing electric guitar. There are a few of us. But some of us get terrible headaches. Terrible headaches make it hard for us to concentrate on our playing.”

Hey, if I’m going to be original by being female AND playing electric guitar then I may as well be original in my responses to ignorant people too.

Again, I’m just saying…

You see, when your head hits that glass ceiling as hard as mine has, it makes you a little dizzy. Sometimes you can go into a trance. There are those who’ve gotten concussions from hitting such ceilings.  You have to be careful of how it hits you. Angling your head the right way is very important. Don’t let it hit you in the wrong spot. It’s dangerous to be a woman in the music business. Heck, in any business these days.

Tonight, on my way home from the open mic (not supposed to be spelled with a man’s name, as “mic” means microphone and microphones are androgynous), I pondered purchasing some sleeping pills. How many would I have to take and with how much beer and poison? Not that I was truly considering offing myself, mind you. It was just an idea I’d pondered briefly as I watched my life slowly pass me by as it does with each beyond my control experience. Events that just happen to happen can change your life or refuse to change your life at all. And there’s not a thing you can do about it. Sorry that you don’t want to hear this, but you can’t control what happens to you in life. Things will happen when you least expect them to and, yes, they will happen to you. Resistance is futile. Welcome to your life. Please, sit down, relax and just hope for the best. Fasten that seat-belt, though, because the worst might happen instead.

You’re supposed to review your life after you die and meet The Lord. But I review my life frequently. There’s just so much to think about, so many reasons to ask myself why. What could I have done differently? And if I had, would it have made a difference at all? Perhaps our lives are planned out for us before we’re even born and no matter what we do or how we do it, everything will just happen as planned, whether we like it or not. Ah, cruel world, I wish I could say ‘goodbye’ for one last time.

Ah, but that would be silly. The afterlife is probably just as sexist and narrow-minded as this one. In fact, the afterlife is probably like San Francisco–too expensive to live there, all the single men are gay and, oddly, no one who lives anywhere else believes you when you try to tell them this. (Instead they try to convince you that it only seems expensive because you haven’t tried hard enough to get a good job or that you just aren’t working enough. And you’re single because you don’t get out enough. I mean, hello, I go to open mics every week, my friend. I think I’m “getting out” enough.

But “putting out,” on the other hand… That’s another story.

What they really mean is, “Girl, you ain’t slutty enough. Just roll up that skirt till it’s almost a thong around yer butt and plunge that neckline, baby. Show ‘em what you got! Jiggle when ya’ wiggle and maybe you’ll get some.”)

Well, I am showin’  ‘em what I got but not in a physical way. Why can’t I show ‘em what I got in terms of writing or musical ability?  Nerd alert!

Enough of this self-pitying, self-mutilating banter. Admittedly, I learned to play guitar when everyone was telling me, “Girls can’t (trans. “shouldn’t”) play guitar” on purpose.  I knew it would offend ‘em and that’s why I did it.  (Just as I know I’m offending you now. Oh, the joy!)  But isn’t that why most people, male and female, play guitar–especially the electric guitar? Playing electric guitar should be a “rebel yell” loud enough to shake up the proverbial status quo, non?

How did our society get to be so conformist, so unimaginative? How did musicians, presumably creative, artistic people, get to be so conservative?

Well, I am done with the open mic scene–at least for a while. Okay, for the next few days anyhow.  I’m getting out the drum machine, prerecording my backup band and taking myself, my one-woman art band out on the road. I’m not asking anyone to jam anymore. Ain’t no way, Jose. I’m playin’ with myself. Er…I’m playing guitar alone. Solo. I’ll write the songs. (Perhaps this is where Barry Poodle Manilow got his inspiration?) I’ll sing. I’ll play. Heck, drum machines give me no trouble. They never hit on me (not even when I’m drunk), and they’re always on the beat. None of them criticize my songwriting skills and I don’t have to worry about ego conflicts.  And they won’t need any of my toilet paper.

So there.

Very revealing… but should it be?

Below is a comment I wrote to in response to a post dated March 15th. Her blog, called “Snotting Back,” made it to the “Freshly Pressed” section on WordPress. Blogs posted on “Freshly Pressed” appear on WordPress’s main page. That means that everyone who goes to WordPress to write a blog or set up a new blog site or just because they’re WordPress curious will see a picture and a title from every blog site chosen to appear on that page. It’s sort of a free advertisement for bloggers, so it’s pretty cool, and WordPress bloggers strive to one day appear on the site’s main page–brings over lots of readers, you see.

In any case, I decided to comment on this blog because it started me thinking about a dilemma I’ve been pondering. When you reveal yourself, put yourself “out there” for all the world to see on a public blog, some people won’t like it. That’s right, some people won’t like you no matter what you do, no matter how “nice” of a person you are. And anything you do or say can and will be used against you by those people who’ve decided they just don’t like you.

But in order to make friends, quality friends at least, one must put one’s self out there. One must announce to the world: ‘this is me–take it or leave it!’ Because if you don’t reveal who you really truly are then like-minded people won’t be able to find you. They’ll see you as someone different from them, not like-minded at all, because you’re hiding your true self. Your soul mate won’t find you, but your nemesis will. So, while you’re trying to avoid conflict, you end up drawing it to you just by running away and hiding… (Bullies are attracted to those who run and hide from conflict. They view runners as weak and, therefore, easy targets.)

So what to do?

Well, one must put on one’s thick skin and plunge right out into the world as one’s tried and true self, of course.  And this is something many of us have trouble with. When we’re surrounded by those who are very different from us, it is easy for us to want to hide, to conform, to strive to get them to like us. It doesn’t occur to us that there might be people out there who’ll like us exactly as we are but that we’ll need to take the risk of being disliked by those who are different from us before we can find them.  So now, here it is: my wondrous comment. This time I’m quoting myself:

“What strikes me as making this an effective blog is your courage in revealing something personal about yourself (i.e., getting drunk) and that’s something we can all relate to.

I often struggle with this dilemma. I maintain two blogs and one is highly political (and therefore, attracts the haters) while the other is more lighthearted.  (At least I try to keep it that way.) I blog because I need to. (Pathetic, isn’t it?) But yeah, I’ve been writing most of my life ’cause I feel a mad desire to express what I think. And, frankly, most people don’t want to listen to my verbal rants and ravings on my theories as to why we’re all here and what’s right or wrong with the world. So I blog out my ideas (rather than talk about them) and then I feel better. Yet sometimes I stay away from the blogosphere as I fret (probably needlessly, as I’m not exactly famous) about how much I should reveal about myself. Should I reveal the city and state in which I reside? My legal name? The type of work I do? What if my current employer comes across my blog?

Yep, I’m over-thinking it all. We have to take risks in life and writing a blog is sort of a written performance. Some people will like it. Some won’t. But that’s a risk we all need to take. If we want to reach out and interact with the world, we need to understand that not all of the world is going to be receptive and pleasant toward us.  So while I remain cautious about revealing certain things, I’ve learned (from blogs like yours) that we do need to be honest and forthright about some things ’cause otherwise our blogs won’t be interesting and other people won’t be able to relate to what we have to say.”


In Search of the Perfect Woman…(hint: she’ll never, ever exist)

One of my favorite movies is Cameron Crow’s, “Almost Famous.” As a musician and sometime musical historian, I found so many things to love about the film. The script was well-written, cinematography superb, the story was written with love for the characters, love for the music, love for the time period. In today’s world in which love is just a corny, impractical, idealistic notion that doesn’t bring in much money and, therefore, isn’t valuable, i.e., doesn’t sell magazines or products advertised on TV, I found the loving way in which this movie was made to be impressive (and rather lovely, I might add.)

The actors, of course, were all brilliant. Even those with small roles. I can’t forget the man who portrayed the hotel clerk who informed the aspiring journalist that his mom had called and that, “She freaked me out.”

So I was very impressed to have just read that the actress portraying the kid-journalist’s older sister in the film, Zooey Deschanel, had written the following letter to “Vogue” when she was only 17:

“Why would you want to limit the spectrum of beauty to an ‘ideal’ when you, as a popular women’s magazine, have the opportunity to expand it? I don’t think any woman should have to feel as if she needs to shove herself into an ‘ideal’ to be beautiful. Beauty should be something that is celebrated and something that is enjoyable, not something that people should feel uncomfortable about achieving. Most of the women, and certainly most of the adolescent girls, in the United States do not feel completely secure with themselves, especially with their appearance; is insecurity something you want to advocate? As American women, we don’t need discouragement but inspiration.”

–Zooey Deschanel, Los Angeles, CA

Indeed!  It seems the stereotypes of women who must be physically perfect, perfectly thin, skin perfectly clear, hair perfectly soft (no frizz!) and perfectly cellulite-free will never end. When will women stop buying those fashion magazines? When will women cease to being just sexual objects? When will we ever be people?

Perhaps never, I’d say, optimist that I am.  Because whether you are “beautiful” or not it seems that as a woman it is impossible to feel good about yourself.

The beautiful woman is resented by other women who are jealous. “Who does she think she is? She’s asking for it.” And she’s stereotyped by men who may enjoy her body and the general appearance of her physique but will not allow her respect in business circles.

Certainly the Anna Nicole Smiths of the world will earn a decent living–to the extent that they will use and be used by lonely/dirty old men. But what of the beautiful woman who refuses to give in? Who refuses to be objectified? Who says no to the old man and tries to make it in the business world while remaining herself, remaining physically attractive but not ready to “sleep her way to the top”?  My question is, do such women make it to the top?

My memory goes back to a seminar I attended years ago. It was a gathering of women musicians. The topic for discussion? Discrimination against women in the music industry. “Oh, you’re a girl!?” was the response one woman got when she showed up for a band rehearsal. They’d unwittingly allowed a girl to enter their inner circle.  While female singers are widely accepted, most of us women musicians, particularly those of us who play rock/pop music, face insurmountable obstacles to success. Some people just don’t believe women should play the guitar, bass or drums. It’s just that simple. Can we change people’s minds? No, they can only do that for themselves. Sorry, but we can’t change other people’s minds.

I once performed at a small club and a friend attended my performance. He told me that when he went to the men’s room another musician approached him, assumed he was a musician as he had long hair, and invited him to a jam session the guys were attending. I then noticed this musician handing out flyers to other men in the audience. Although I’d played that night and received a good response, the man avoided me. In fact, he excluded. I was not invited to jam, but my friend (whom he’d never even heard play, didn’t even know for sure that he was a musician) was invited. His qualifications? He went to the bathroom differently than moi.

But back to the seminar. Many women musicians spoke up about being excluded from jam sessions, from collaborating with other musicians, from forming bands, etc.  But there was one woman who’d been excluded from all this sexism.

Finally, after many women had spoken about their own horror stories as female musicians, she got the courage to speak up.  She seemed pretty much beside herself when she said:

“I don’t know what you women are talking about. I’ve never faced discrimination as a woman musician!”

Why, oh why, did I not speak up?  Because you see, there was something very different about this woman, a reason, perhaps, as to why she did not experience discrimination. No, it wasn’t her fantastic skill or her flair for irrelevant speech. It was something almost laughable and, frankly, I mentally kick myself now for not having spoken up against her accusation that we women were just imagining that male musicians were disrespecting or discriminating against us in any way.

You see, she was, herself, in fact a man.  Well, not really. But she looked exactly like a man. Short hair, flat chested and dressed in a plain shirt and pants, men’s clothing, she gave her femininity away simply by announcing it. Her voice was androgynous–could have been a man with a high voice or a woman with a low voice.  Her throat was hidden by a collar so we couldn’t search for an Adam’s Apple.

So there she was, this man-woman, androgynous creature, this woman who’d given up her femininity, her womanhood, so that she could be successful in the music industry.

“I don’t face discrimination!” She might have stated self-righteously, but was this really true?  If we need to give up who we really are, to suppress ourselves, and become like men in order to succeed then in what type of success are we really achieving?

I remember auditioning for an all-female band expecting I wouldn’t face the discrimination I’d felt from male musicians only to be told, “You need to lose weight.” They didn’t hear my guitar playing and weren’t interested in my guitar playing at all. My weight interested them more. At the time I may have been 10-20 pounds overweight so I wasn’t exactly a human balloon and wasn’t exactly what others would call unattractive either. In fact, many men enjoy my voluptuous physique. But it was women discriminating against me, enforcing the “Vogue/Cosmopolitan/corporate American/fashion industry/Hollywood code for female beauty upon me.

And my question is, why do women do this to ourselves, to each other?  If we really want the world to change, we need to be the change we seek.

Now, as the years have passed me by, I realize that I felt old when I was young, fat when I was voluptuous, and ugly, yes ugly when I discovered that everyone around me considered me to be the “pretty girl.”  When I lived in Los Angeles, I was told that I was a little “on the big side” of things when I fit into a size 4 skirt. (And that was for the part of a movie extra, an actor rarely seen and kept merely in the background of a film.) They decided that even though I was “big” they’d use me in the background of one of their crowd scenes because there just weren’t enough size zeroes that day.

And that size zero fascinates me too. It’s as though they want us women to disappear, to get smaller and smaller until we’re a zero, a nothing.  And then we barely exist at all.

Also in Hollywood, I watched a 19 year old girl turned away from a modeling agency because, as she was told, she was “too old.”

Oh, and believe you me, I have a lot more stories I could tell.  I’ve had the strange experience of talking to man who stared at my breasts (not my eyes or any part of my face, but my breasts) the entire time I spoke to him.  Once, I walked down a street in Los Angeles, wearing a t-shirt and jeans, not very glamorous I can assure you, and a woman who happened to pass me by stared at me up and down then glared at my breasts disapprovingly.  You see, I am what some people refer to as “well-endowed.”  That is just the way that God made me, nothing artificial there.  But it is amazing how much hate I’ve received from women who apparently, do not feel good about their own bodies and are reminded by how much they hate their own bodies whenever they see women like me. And there are the men who hate us for not being the sluts they’d like to call us. We refuse to “sleep around” choosing instead to earn good grades in college and pursue our careers. They hate us because we defy the angry stereotype they’ve created.

I suppose that beautiful women make them feel vulnerable. It must be hard for them to be attracted to women who are not attracted to them in return. And so they take back their power by demeaning the attractive woman. They call us bitches or witches. We’re unruly women, women who refuse to be controlled or used by men. They love the Anna Nicole Smiths of the world because they give in and allow men to use their bodies. But those of us who remain pretty and voluptuous but choose to emphasize and cultivate our minds rather than our bodies…well, we seem to pose some sort of threat.

And so it hurts to be beautiful just as it hurts not to be beautiful. But really what is ‘beautiful’ anyway?  The late, great comedian Richard Jeni once joked about how while we women neurotically fret about our physical appearance, men always think they’re attractive, even when they’ve become old, cranky, and pot-bellied.

“This is my theory: women use different mirrors than men. Women look in the mirror, and they always think that they look worse than they look in real life.       Guys look in the mirror, and they always think they look substantially better than they look in real life.  No matter how much of a three-toed, furry-knuckled troglodyte that guy is, he figures he is 4 or 5 sit ups from being in a hot tub with (model) Cindy Crawford…”  –the late, great Richard Jeni

This hearkens me back to yet another L.A. experience.  While shopping in a store, I was approached by an elderly man with a hunched back and uncontrollable tremor.  Hobbling up to me with his feeble, shaky hands barely grasping hold of his cane, he appeared to be in his 80s and resembled Dracula’s Renfield.  “Would you like to go out?” he asked me. Yep, he was asking me out on a date.  He saw what appeared to be a pretty, young starlet and thought that as an 80-year-old great-grandfather he’d be a perfect match for her.  But that’s not all.  When I politely declined, he actually got persistent.  “Are you sure?”  “Yes,” I replied.  “I’m sure.”

How is it that even the most stunning woman is preoccupied with that pocket of fat, or newly-formed wrinkle but an 80-something old man still thinks he’s “hot.”  I can honestly remember feeling old, fat and ugly when I was 12. Well, I’m a lot older than 12 now and, oddly, I’m starting to feel younger.  That’s because I rarely watch television anymore and I avoid advertisements like the plague.

I think we’ve all seen countless films depicting a hapless, unattractive nerd who somehow ends up with the most beautiful woman in the film.  The message is always the same: men don’t need to improve themselves or to be attractive in any way, but women, on the other hand, must always, always, always be perfect–even to attract the fat, sloppy, goofball sitting in the corner.  Yep, a guy can “let himself go,” grow that belly, burp loudly in public, and be a total creep but he dreams that the prettiest girl, the one with perfect skin, perfect teeth and hair, and perfect figure will choose him. He isn’t ready to make himself better for her.  He’s not working out at the gym or refining his manners but just expects her to do all the work of living up to his standards while she need not impose any of her own standards on him (lest she be called the “b” word–rhymes with “witch.”)

Lost talent, lost art… And the entire world loses.

I found them in my grandmother’s little cottage–beautiful  sketches, drawn by a talented artist.  They were drawn with great detail, using multi-colored pencils.   ‘Where did you find these?’ I had asked, thinking she’d bought them at an art museum in the city.  “Your dad drew them.”  My dad?  An unknown genius?

Yes, my dad was a talented artist and no one knew that except my grandmother, and now me.  My grandmother passed away as did my dad, so now I’m the sole survivor, the last in the world to know of my father’s greatness.  (Of course, my dad was great in many other ways too.)  And the world will never, ever know about my dad’s talent because the sketches he drew died along with all my grandmother’s belongings, hastily divided by my highly dysfunctional family who aren’t capable of love, not even loving themselves.  (They later argued with each other over who should take what from my grandmother’s leftovers.  Mind you, my family is poor, so these were not items worth a great deal of money.)

Lost talent, lost art. Like a lost love, it hovers over our society like the broken heart we never new.  And that’s the subject of this blog.  There are probably millions, perhaps billions or trillions of lost talents scattered all over the world.  Who knows what talents lie dormant in the children starving in the African deserts or the poor inner-city kids who get involved in street gangs and drug dealing and end up in jail or dead before they reach 25.  How many of them were meant to be painters, dancers, actors, or great scientists, like Marie Curie who fled her native Poland (where women didn’t have the right to go to college) to obtain her education in France.  Marie was lucky.  She had the support of her family who helped her take that tremendous risk of leaving her homeland.  (Oops, did I just use the word “homeland”?)

But how many women, lacking support from loved ones, were forced to remain in Poland where they could never attend college and, therefore, never pursue careers in medicine or science that required a college education. How much talent went wasted away? How many of those women became frustrated and despondent? How many committed suicide? Or turned to alcohol or drugs? Or became abusive to their husbands and children? What happens to undiscovered, uncultivated genius living in a society that holds it back, prevents it from contributing, from flowering into the magical, wonderful greatness of a discovery or work of art or cure? Where does that dormant genius go?

I myself gave up playing guitar because I thought I wasn’t any good at it.  People weren’t encouraging me and telling me I was good at it, but even if they were–and this is very important, so please put down your short attention spans for a moment and read and re-read this very carefully–I just didn’t think that playing guitar was a practical thing to do.  I kept running away from my creativity because here in the US (as in many countries around the world) if you weren’t born into a wealthy family you really don’t have the freedom to be an artist.  It’s nearly impossible to earn a living in the arts unless you were born with money and connections in the first place.

People say you must “pay your dues.” But most grocery stores won’t give you free food just because they think you’re a great guitarist, painter, writer or actor.  And that’s a sad reality every artist no matter how talented or motivated must face in today’s aristocratic world.  And if you end up homeless, your guitar and your paintbrushes can get stolen or smashed.  Even if you find a way to keep your artistic supplies, where will you find a quiet place on the street to practice your art?  Artists appreciate and are inspired by beauty and there certainly isn’t much of that on most urban streets or homeless shelters.

I suppose that’s why many American schools just don’t bother to teach the arts (especially music) anymore. Where is the practical, monetary value?  Money is everything here in the USA.  If you don’t get paid in money for the things that you do than your accomplishments mean nothing.  That’s why welfare mothers are forced to “work” at paying jobs.  The work they do of raising their children means little to this society.  So their children grow up motherless as well as fatherless.  Often they get into trouble and flunk out of school.  But their mothers are working at paying jobs, so our society is satisfied.

There are still a few of us who understand the importance of the arts and would like for our society to be more egalitarian.  But we are few and far between here in the States.  Placing value on the arts is in itself a lost art.  As artists, we are losing this struggle to be rewarded for “paying our dues.”

But what our society doesn’t get is that it is also losing.  We need the arts.  We need entertainment, beauty and joy.  We need to be reminded to think “outside the box,” to see the world to which we’ve become accustomed in a different way, to be pushed out of our complacency and into a new world of imagination and dreams.  The arts are a form of healing. A good comedian, favorite song or even a well-crafted cartoon can make us laugh in our darkest moments. Art can reach the autistic, the mute, those whose senses are numbed.  I once visited a friend in the hospital and watched in amazement as a mentally disabled child, unable to communicate with anyone, moved to the sound of music playing on a nearby radio.  She talked to no one but she felt the music and in some way the musicians had reached her.  Some therapists use the arts to heal the disabled for this very reason.  The arts can help us all–disabled or not–to find that which we’ve lost within ourselves.  Your heart’s just been broken and then you hear Adele sing, “Never mind, I’ll find someone else like you…” and suddenly you realize that you’re not alone. Her heart has also been broken. She may be rich and famous and a lot luckier in life than you but she too has been hurt. As humans, we like to know that we’re not alone. So a singer/songwriter tells us of his/her own heartbreak and we feel better about our own.  We didn’t know the pain was there but it was deep down inside us all along, and that’s why the song makes us cry.

“If you want to view paradise,

Simply look around and view it,

Anything you want to, do it.

Wanta change the world?

There’s nothing to it.

There is no life I know

To compare with pure imagination.

Living there,

You’ll be free,

If you truly wish to be…”    (“Pure Imagination” from ‘Willy Wonka & The Chocolate Factory’)

If you’re wondering why there are so many problems today in this world, take a look at what is happening to the arts.  Dictators always want to control and subdue the arts.

Why?  Because the arts make us think.  And thinking, using our imagination, challenging ourselves to look, look again then re-look, develops our mind.  The pharmaceutical industry wants us to believe that our brain chemistry can be “corrected” with all sorts of de-depressing medicines.  But in reality, we can alter our brain chemistry with art.

Read a book, analyze the contours, the texture, the blends of color, the topics presented of a great painting, imitate the gestures and speech of a great actor, memorize a poem and analyze its meter, word choice and message, learn to play a musical instrument that you love the sound of–whether or not you are “good” at it, dance as if no one is watching, live like today is your last!  And your mind will grow.  And your brain chemistry will change.  You will be completely de-televised.  (Watching television will alter your brain chemistry too, but not in a “good” way…)

As I mentioned earlier, I too had given up playing guitar.  Though I still owned a guitar and strummed it now and then, I was not musically-inclined as I was convinced I couldn’t really play the darn thing.  One day, I knocked on the door of a theater and asked them if they needed any more actors (yes, I do crazy things like that.)  Turns out the theatre was owned by a very nice man who still believed in mentoring actors, regardless of their financial and “connected” status. He invited me–a perfect stranger–in to talk.  They were putting on a modern vaudeville show, he told me.  There would be a variety of performers, some dancers, perhaps a juggler, a comedian, a magician, musicians, etc.  Did I do anything besides act, the theatre director wanted to know.  ‘We have too many actors already,’ he explained.  Well, acting was what I wanted to do, really, really wanted to do…but I did play a little guitar.

‘Well, bring it in!  We want to hear you.’

And that’s all I needed to hear.  I went home and picked up that guitar again.  I really wasn’t very good, so I thought.  But maybe I could play a few classical pieces.  I returned to the theatre on the designated audition day and played for the director.  He was, surprisingly, impressed.  “We’re going to get you a Renaissance gown,” he said.  “We’re opening the show with you.”

So I wore this long, Shakespearean gown.  It really was a magical moment, me dressed like the Renaissance, leading the show (until some of the other performers grew resentful and I was bumped forward out of my lead spot.)  I didn’t even think I could play guitar well, so I was puzzled rather than upset about my demotion.  I wonder to this day where the jealousy came from.  “You’re better than all of us,” one of the other performers said ruefully when she heard me play.  I sensed her sadness and almost apologized for being good.

I’m sorry, sorry for being good.  Sorry if my being good at something makes you feel bad.  Really.  But, honestly, why can’t you feel good about yourself without me?  Why do I have to feel bad about myself in order for you to feel good about yourself?

But in fact, this really was a wondrous moment for me.  This kind man who ran the theatre had, unbeknownst to him, started a revolution–in my soul.  I began to believe that I could play guitar.  Who would have thought it?  I forced myself to play at open mics (a painful process, as I suffered from extreme social anxiety and stage fright.  Somehow playing guitar in front of people was different from reciting scripted dialogue as an actor.)  But I got over the fright because people kept telling me what a good guitarist I was.  Now I perform all the time.  Not because I like playing guitar but because other people like hearing me play guitar, and I actually enjoy playing guitar in front of people now.

Point is, we are not rugged individuals.  No man (or woman) lives on an island, as the saying goes.  We are influenced by the people around us, for better or worse.  When everyone around you tells you that you’re terrible, you’ll start to think that you are terrible until someone comes along and tells you you’re great.  Yes, you might doubt the critics somewhere deep, down inside.  Yes, you might recite platitudes and affirmations to yourself daily, look yourself in the mirror and tell yourself, “I’m great!”  But until someone else comes along to love you, well, I’m sorry, but you really aren’t going to feel so great.

I realize this defies everything Americans believe.  A lot of people don’t want to hear this.  You might turn the page, as it were, by clicking to another web site across the top of your computer screen.  How dare I say something so self-defeating?  How dare I suggest we need other people?  I don’t need anyone but me, the average American will defiantly assert.  Some American psychologists will concur.  Perhaps they’ll read this blog and psychoanalyze me.  She suffers from —XYZ— Disorder.  Yes, that is clear.  She seems to think she needs other people.  What the BLEEP is wrong with this blog writer?

Well, yes, there is something terribly wrong with me, and, yes, I refuse to take any medication or get any therapy for it.  My diagnosis is this:

I’m human.

And as such, as a human, I have a need for other humans.  I need touch, I need the sound of someone else’s voice.  I need to be heard.  (That’s why I maintain this blog.)  I like knowing there are others (not too many but a few) out there who think as I do.  I like knowing I’m not the only human in this dark, increasingly menacing world.  And yes, I need approval.  It does feel good for me to know that someone likes what I have to say or is interested in reading what I’ve written.

Yes, yes, oh yes!  I admit it wholeheartedly, I am human!  Hear me roar!

Sorry that I won’t take the pill, drink the koolaid, watch the bad television or otherwise maintain the status quo.  I just refuse to be controlled, brainwashed or turned into that other species I often encounter on the streets of the poor city where I currently live.  I may be heartbroken to see some of the changes I’m being forced to see in what was once a great country, a place where I once felt lucky to be, but I will not be spirit-broken, and I am firmly resolved to be like the young man who:

“drop by drop, squeezes the slave’s blood out of himself until he wakes up one day to find the blood of a real human being–not a slave’s–coursing through his veins…” (Anton P. Chekov)

It’s a painful process and really quite lonely (ironically) sometimes, but I highly recommend it to any lost or losing soul out there.  Do you feel really quite alone?  Different from anyone else?  No one to whom you can relate?  Here’s something to learn:  You won’t be less alone by conforming and trying to make everyone your friend.  When you try to get other people to like you by becoming what they want you to be you’ll find yourself one day very detached from yourself and very unhappy but unable to determine why.  Why are you so unhappy? Because you aren’t really you. You have become what you thought other people wanted you to be.  And so you attract more and more of those people who secretly don’t love you, not the real you, into your life.

Because you aren’t being you, not the real you.  Those who love you as you really are and were meant to be–the real you– don’t know you because you’re hiding behind this facade.  They see you and are turned away by this false persona.

Understand?  (Am I being perfectly clear?  Absolutely not!  Oh pop psychologists would have a field day with this blog.  Hope no American psychologists are reading this now.)

Point is, being yourself seems so difficult, but really it is quite easy.  It only feels difficult to us when we’re surrounded by critics who don’t like us the way we are and who keep trying to make us change.  We know they won’t like us for who we really are.  We see the rejection coming.  The challenge is to trust that “our people” are out there somewhere and to just take the plunge.  Dive in.  Be you.  Not tomorrow or next week but NOW.  Sure everyone around you might dislike it.  But (as long as you’re not hurting anyone else) this is your only chance to really live.

How is all this related to lost talent, lost art?

(My intention was to write about lost talent and lost art, how our aristocratic society rewards a wealthy (and lucky) few for their talents and gifts but prevents everyone else from achieving their potential and, as usual, I seem to digress. Ah, but things are not always as they seem…)

Art enables us to be ourselves in spite of ourselves.  Our inner censor tells us not to smile but we can’t help but smile when our favorite comedian tells that joke a certain way.  We try to come across as refined and restrained but we can’t help but move our bodies in all sorts of exotic ways when our favorite music is blaring on the radio.  We might even find ourselves singing out loud!  Inappropriate indeed!  Art heals the wounds in our souls, the wounds that make us retreat, retire, and hide our true nature from our censorious society.  Art frees us to enter that world of “pure imagination,” to explore other ways of thinking, self-expressing and doing, if only for a few seconds at a time.

Our favorite poems, songs, paintings, films, etc., reveal a lot about us and our true nature.  And we can learn so much about ourselves by simply making a list of our favorite art forms and artists.  Art is healing and empowering to the people as it is influential over the people.

Disdain for the arts is one of the early warning signs of fascism, and artists around the world are persecuted by disapproving dictators.  They understand the power of art and seek to remove or at least control it.

When we allow the arts and artists to be unsupported we allow our own freedom and initiative to be unsupportive–the freedom to be our own unique selves, to tap into that suppressed self, to heal, to entertain, to enter “pure imagination” where anything is  possible–even changing the world.

“Wanta change the world?

There’s nothing to it…”  Willy Wonka

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