PUT A PRICE TAG ON US
We went to school
We were taught to fight for fair causes
To appreciate and embrace cultural differences
To always question and stretch the limits of what we think we know
To see the world for what it is and not for what “the powerful” want us to believe it is
To load ourselves with knowledge and critical tools to free our creative thought processes
To understand why it is important that we overcome oppression and inequality together
To understand why it is important that the world becomes a better place
To take ownership of our ideas
To learn from art
To make art
To use art
So, I ask you, how much are we worth?
Posted in Sunday
Tagged activism, art, artist, artists, blog, debt, economy, education, inspiration, Job Search, life, loans, Master's degree, New York City, Performance studies, Philosophy, poetry, Student loan, United States Department of Labor, writer
One of the joys of living in New York City is that inspiration lives around every corner. There are thought provoking, challenging, beautiful events happening all over the city on any given night. Hell, they’re even happening on the street and in the subway if you’re looking for them. I bring this up because I bought a discount ticket on a whim to attend an event at the Public Theater. The event was part of the Public Forum, the “Theater of Ideas,” and featured a talk by Sarah Lewis, followed by a conversation between her, José Rivera, and Carrie Mae Weems. I didn’t know much about these people, and I wasn’t sure if I should spend the money, but something pushed me to go. Ticket for one please.
And it was exactly what I needed. I won’t go into the long talk I had with new friends after the event, or even the highlights of the event itself. Instead, I will share a story by Jose Rivera. It was exactly what I needed to hear at that moment, and maybe it will be what you need to hear too.
Preface: José was raised in a Catholic tradition (cue sympathetic pat from Weems), and he was always intrigued by the creation myth.
As we all have learned, God created the world in 7 days. On the first day, he separated light and dark, blah, blah, blah. So on the seventh day, it was good, and it seemed complete. There were a few bunnies on a hillside watching the sunset, but the thing was, they couldn’t enjoy the sunset. All they could think about were where their next carrots were going to come from. That’s when God realized that things weren’t actually complete. He needed someone to enjoy all the beauty he had worked so hard to create, and someone to help others see that beauty. And so, on the eighth day, God created the artist. An artist’s job is to finish creation—to help others find the beauty that already exists.
Thank you José.
By an incredible stroke of luck, I found myself on all-expense-paid business trip to wine country in Puglia, Italy. But let’s be honest, I don’t belong on this trip. I am not an importer, I am not a distributor, I don’t even work at winery but at a small independent retail shop in Brooklyn. “Just drink the wine and learn as much as you can. No pressure,” my boss told me. While deliriously drinking in the beauty surrounding me just as earnestly as I knocked back my Primitivo, my hedonistic aspirations come to a crashing halt when I realized This Is Not A Vacation. I was to pretend to be an importer and I didn’t know the first thing about acting that part- my boss sent me on this trip completely unprepared. So I shakily bluffed my way through interviews with winemakers and didn’t; get much of a rush from it. I was afraid of sounding stupid and for them to call me out as a fraud- which a few did, to my total mortification. All of this is added to the fact that I was a young, attractive American woman at least 15 years younger than anyone else on this trip. I stuck out like a sore thumb among the 60 year old European men which constituted 90% of the group. The thought plagued me, “Who the hell would take you seriously?” When I expressed my anxiety to my senior associates they consoled me with “Don’t worry, use your looks to your advantage. You’re here to taste wine and learn about this industry. Don’t let these people intimidate you, just give them a smile.” I was frustrated with my own ignorance and the feminist on my shoulder telling me if I was a young man I would be treated much differently. Flattered by the chivalrous treatment and downright spoiled by the Italian lifestyle, but I still felt uncomfortable treating this whole thing with such flippancy. I thought that if a young man were in my position, more would be expected of him so that he wouldn’t embarrass himself and the company sponsoring his trip. But as I a young attractive American woman, everyone is concerned that I am enjoying myself. No doubt everyone else is enjoyed my refreshing presence among the usual suspects. My goal is to be taken seriously, and all I can do right now is fake it till I make it. All of my audition techniques proved very useful on this trip because handling so many situations such as this all comes down the basic principles. Dress the part you’re going for, practice your lines, research your part in the context of the entire script and when show time comes simply react. After recently attending his show at the Brooklyn museum, I thought that Jean Paul Gaultier’s idea that “our body, the way we present ourselves—it’s a form of communication. Our clothing, hair and body decoration reflect our true identity” is very much true, unless you’re trying to adorn yourself in order to disguise. But, even the way you walk, it’s always giving yourself away. Self-conscious musing and constant mirror checking don’t satisfy my anxiety that I’m presenting the image I want. Your headshot can say so many different things and your audition could completely contradict or highlight those facts. We’re in the business of appearance and here every details counts. I feel accomplished that my efforts to be taken seriously were at least noticed in the fact that I behaved with demure, refined manners, unlike my fellow loud-mouth American attending this trip. It was a great lesson in self image and providing a benchmark for how much I know versus how much more I have to learn.
I received my first PhD rejection letter a few weeks ago. It was from Brown. Honestly my heart wasn’t set on Brown; the program wasn’t exactly what I was looking for and I can’t say I was thrilled with the prospect of moving to Rhode Island. But, the letter carried a certain foreboding weight; the way people say death comes in threes. It had an air of Après moi, le deluge (after me, comes the flood). Sure enough the rejection letters trickled in, and I was flooded with feelings of self-doubt. After Brown, was UT Austin (the hardest blow), and then Columbia. I suppose rejections come in threes as well. I’m still waiting to hear back from two schools, but it’s not promising. The first moment you open the letter and read “We regret…” is the worst. Your heart sinks; your stomach turns. Columbia really knows how to kick a dog when it’s down. Its rejection letter was the most pretentious letter I’ve ever read. No really, I had to look up one of the words they used. As if all of us reading the letter don’t feel stupid enough. I spent about $500 applying to schools and about $80,000 on a fancy masters degree and so far I’m three for nothing. At first I felt so disappointed in myself. I kept telling myself that this past year of shitty jobs and too much Netflix was ok because come September I’d be hitting the books again, getting a PhD. I moped for a couple days and of course because life has a cruel sense of humor, and because I work with babies, who are really just receptacles for viruses and bacteria, I was sick as well as academically rejected. I contract a stomach virus and Hand, Foot, and Mouth Disease (a virus that usually only toddlers get) I had a fever, soar throat and a painful, itchy rash on my hands and feet. Between stress about not getting into schools and the painful rash, I couldn’t sleep. I paced back and forth in my apartment in the middle of the night, rubbing my itchy, red hands together. Who would have thought that a toddler’s virus could make me look like lady Macbeth in the “out damned spot” scene. Needless to say it’s been rough.
I allowed myself a couple days in the flood, but then it was time to come in out of the rain. Now I’ve decided to look at my rejection letters as acceptance letters to a new life adventure. After my interview with UT Austin, when I thought it might be a possibility, I got my hopes up and started researching the city and, being that I have a tendency to be over zealous, I started looking at apartments on craigslist. After living in my crappy, unheated, Bushwick apartment for the past year, all the less expensive places in Austin seemed luxurious. I found myself getting excited about things like a washer and drying in the building and stainless steal kitchen appliances. Performance as Public Practice at UT Austin is my dream program. Living in Texas would have been economically more comfortable than my like in NY. My girlfriend would look pretty hot driving a truck, and I think I could really pull off turquoise jewelry and a pair of cow girl boots, but I am not yet ready to be the kind of woman who is excited about stainless steal kitchen appliances! That’s how it all starts; first a great apartment in a safe neighborhood, then I’d get my PhD, and hopefully start my career, and before you know it I’m all settled down and having my girl friend’s baby! Maybe these rejections are for the best. Maybe I need another year in this liminal space. I’ve always been so responsible and structured. Maybe I need a little chaos, more time off, an adventure! I want to travel. I want to be the abnoxious American sipping coffee in a Parisian café, while reading Molière (I imagine Jacque Brel somehow playing in the background). I want to eat paella in Spain and see a play at the globe theatre in London. My girl friend and I have no money and I don’t even have a passport but I know we will make this happen! Sometimes after the flood comes clarity.
I currently have 5 jobs.
- I am assistant editor for a scholarly theatre journal. I spend 15 hours per week editing the articles of some of the smartest theatre scholars around the world, handling the permission and copyright issues in order to get things printed, and securing image files.
- I am contributing editor for a big-name theatre publication, where I review theater and manage the 4 print editions of the magazine every year.
- I am the sole editor of a new theater guide that is being built from the ground up. I’m writing every theater listing and article in the entire thing.
- I am assistant producing an Off-Broadway show that goes up in June.
- I am the production manager to a large-scale production that goes up in September.
But wait, I haven’t said that I’m a writer.
I am one of the lucky ones. I am busy working in the industry I love, using the skills I have worked so hard to train.
I did not make enough to cover my living expenses in Brooklyn this month. With five jobs, I can’t pay my rent, my insurance, my bills, and afford to pay back my student loans.
You say artists are lazy. I say we are the hardest working. You say we are selfish. I say we know how to make sacrifices.
After a 10-hour workday, I go home to finish off some production emails. At 2 am, I lay down in bed, as my lonely book project sits staring at me from across the room. I want to go to you. I want to get at least 5 hours of sleep. I close my eyes.
I am one of the lucky ones. What can I do?
A blank page is inviting/intimidating
The sight of it makes you feel inspired/empty
It holds so much promise/fear
Your first sentence is exciting/forced
The words are magical/dull
You’re dying to continue/quit
What comes next is tantalizing/terrifying
What you’ve done is admirable/awful
When you write, everything else disappears/interrupts
With these words, you can do anything/nothing
The words are all you need/have
The rest of the world doesn’t matter/care
What you say is important/irrelevant
You speak your mind with conviction/uncertainty
You share your heart honestly/shamefully
You are elated/exhausted
Your work makes you feel proud/embarrassed
You have achieved so much/little
You keep pushing/backpedaling
You never give up/enough
Your goals are attainable/unrealistic
You are in control/despair
The possibilities are endless/few
Your dreams only get bigger/farther away
Your limits are imaginary/real
Think of the possibilities/obstacles
Fill that blank paper with life/nothing
Choose words that are bold/flat
Don’t hold back/your breath
Make the page your canvas/worst nightmare
Let the words be your guide/enemy
With time you’ll stop worrying/trying
Your words will make you smile/scowl
You’ll create worlds that are unique/boring
Others will be amazed/unimpressed
Your heart will swell/drop
You’ll feel peaceful/disgruntled
You will have learned/failed to see
Every blank page will be inviting and intimidating.
The sight of it will make you feel both inspired and empty-headed.
It holds so much promise and so much fear.
Your first sentence is always exciting, if forced.
The words are sometimes magical, sometimes dull.
You’re dying to continue; other times you’re dying to quit.
What comes next is tantalizing and terrifying.
What you’ve done is admirable, though some might be awful.
When you write, everything else disappears, until life interrupts.
With these words, you can do anything, but some days, they’ll do nothing for you.
The words are all you have, but they’re all you need.
The rest of the world doesn’t matter. The rest of the world doesn’t care about your flaws.
What you say is important. Cut out what’s irrelevant.
You can speak your mind with conviction, even through uncertainty.
You can share your heart honestly and shamefully.
You will always be elated and/or exhausted.
Your work can make you feel proud or embarrassed, or proud AND embarrassed.
You have achieved so much, in so little time.
You must always keep pushing, but sometimes backpedaling is necessary.
You must never give up. That’s enough.
Your goals are attainable. Who says they’re unrealistic?
You are in control. Don’t despair.
The possibilities are endless, but you only need a few.
Your dreams only get bigger, even if they seem farther away.
Your limits are imaginary. Your potential is real.
Think of the possibilities, not of the obstacles
Keep trying, even when (especially when) you’re hesitating.
Fill that blank paper with life. Nothing is stopping you.
Choose words that are bold. Choose words that are flat.
Don’t hold back. Stop and catch your breath.
Make the page your canvas. It’s not your worst nightmare.
Let the words be your guide, not your enemy.
With time you’ll stop worrying. With time it won’t even feel like you’re trying.
Your words will make you smile, and will make others scowl.
You’ll create worlds that are unique. It’s impossible to be boring.
Others will be amazed, though some will remain unimpressed.
Your heart will swell. Don’t let it drop.
You’ll feel peaceful when you’re done. Don’t get too disgruntled along the way.
You will have learned a lot, even if you failed.