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Friday, January 24, 2014

Perform disturbing gender experiments on yourself

I've written before on this blog about being a woman composer. In case it isn't blindingly obvious to everyone who stops by, I'm a proud feminist, and being part of the struggle for equal rights and equal respect for people of different genders, races, and sexualities is one of the things I am proud and happy to do with my life.

Something that has always bugged me is the way the Western human brain, as it's currently encultured, is pretty bad at judging quantitative equality. In smaller words: our society is so geared towards white men that we have trouble noticing when minorities are underrepresented. Most of us can look at, for example, a room full of American Congressmen and not feel particularly concerned that it is only 18% female.

This has been reported most recently thanks to the efforts of Geena Davis (who is the fucking bomb). She has established a whole institute devoted to gender in media whose job it is to point out uncomfortable truths such as: only one-third of speaking roles in films are for female characters. So for every woman speaking, there are two men. One of the statistics she highlights is particularly fascinating:
Crowd scenes [in films] are only 17% female; one study found that men have come to perceive that 17% ratio as 50/50.
As I mentioned in my previous blog post, I sometimes feel that women in music are lost in a sea of men (with brown hair and glasses). I feel a responsibility to be more visible to set an example and make up for the fact that there are so few women writing new art music. The trailing edge of that visible sword is that once the number of women reaches about 17%, a lot of observers—who aren't actually counting, but just looking—will think that equality has been reached. No more to be done here! Women have all the representation they need now, right?

Are you a comfortable feminist? Feel like scaring yourself a little? Next time you find some kind of gender-neutral "list" of people, scan it and try to decide what the percentage of women to men is. I came across this silly list "49 Creative Geniuses Who Use Blogging to Promote Their Art" on the horribly named website "boostblogtraffic.com" [shudder]. Hey, it was linked on a Reddit forum; I was curious who had been included.

http://boostblogtraffic.com/promote-your-art/?inf_contact_key=f17e5f9f8f2d07435fc1d49f899e6d26e3d01ff3702c094e47753161c8719b8d

I scanned through the list very quickly, taking particular note of the musicians. But when I reached the end, I suddenly thought of the statistics on female representation and perception and saw an opportunity to test myself.

Stop. Don't look at the list again for a minute. Did you feel that women were well represented? Yes, I thought to myself. It ... it seemed pretty even, didn't it? I began dreaming up a theory that perhaps women, being members of traditionally the more social gender and the gender which, at least when I was a kid, was prone to keeping diaries, were on equal footing when it came to blogging about their experiences as artists. Certainly, I read blogs by just as many women as men, don't I? Don't I? Amanda Palmer! That's who I immediately think of when I consider artists who have used their blogs to connect with their audiences. She was on the list, of course. And there were lots of other women there too, from many different disciplines. There were even some women of color. The leading picture was even a ... clown woman with a megaphone (that's an analysis for another day). So it must have been fairly close to even.

OK, time to tally. No cheating.

There were actually 50 people on the list, since one of the entries was a husband-wife team.

Number of women: 18.
Number of men: 32.

SHIT. My heart = on the floor.

It's not quite a 1:2 ratio, but it's close enough.

I am a feminist who considers herself aware of issues of female underrepresentation. But I'm also part of a culture where I have internalized this warped perception, where I see a pie divided into two-thirds and one-third, and I think it's split right down the middle.

Everyone should do this. You have to catch yourself after you look at a crowd, though, to make sure you aren't subconsciously counting. Do it so you understand how far we have to go.

Monday, January 20, 2014

Modern art gives me IDEAS

Last week, before we attended Waiting for Godot, we walked up to 53rd Street to grab some delicious street food from Halal Guys (so freaking cheap and great) and bumped into MoMa. There was a banner hanging outside for a Magritte exhibition that caught my eye because Godot and Magritte have bowler hats in common. It had been quite a few years since we'd been to MoMa—so many, in fact, that we weren't even sure if we had definitely been there, or if we were confusing it with a modern wing of the Met or some other art museum.

We also noticed that there's a Fogo de Chão right across the street. I'm pretty much always in the mood for Fogo de Chão. This calls for a second Manhattan date.

So we made a reservation for dinner, and yesterday, we drove up to NYC for the second Sunday in a row to take advantage of free parking and discover if we had been to MoMa before (yes, we had, but who needs an excuse to go again?). Unfortunatelyyyyyyy, the Magritte exhibition closed last Monday! Sadface. But looking through the glass doors of the roped-off gallery, we could see that they hadn't quite finished packing it away, which was honestly pretty interesting in its own way.


One of the things I love most about modern art is that it always gives me design ideas that I can use around my house. For example, after seeing the white paintings at the Guggenheim, Matt and I went all Rauschenberg in our living room:


A lot of people don't find modern art (or modern music) very accessible, but for DIY, it's a godsend. Hey, that design looks cool, and I can totally copy it, at least until I become a multimillionaire and can afford to support more artists by buying their stuff (unless they're dead, in which case they don't really need my support).

Here are the works I saw during this trip to MoMa that tasted ripe with DIY inspiration.

Joseph Cornell, Untitled (Bébé Marie), early 1940s

Joseph Cornell, Untitled (Hôtel Beau-Séjour), 1954

I saw these and immediately thought, OMG, I need to make some sweet dioramas/shadow boxes to hang on the wall, stat. Then I came home and read this post from user nickyskye on Metafilter:
[...] I was introduced to Cornell when I was 11. The person who introduced me had been told by a renowned art collector that "Joseph likes quiche lorraine and little girls". I was taken out to his place, 37-08 Utopia Parkway, Flushing in 1965 with that person, who had also purchased a quiche lorraine for the occasion, in case I wasn't a suitable offering. She wanted his art and I was going to be the bait used to procure it...
And now I feel a bit ill. Still. Dioramas.

Mondrian (duh), Broadway Boogie Woogie, 1942-43
Two words: Lego recreation.

Donald Judd, Untitled (Stack), 1967
Mmm, I can totally make a smaller-scale version of this by ombre-painting some Ikea Lack wall shelves. Total cost: maybe $70.

Here is something that might be my new favorite thing at MoMa (it was just installed last year):



If you want to see the video by itself, you can view it on YouTube, but I kind of loved watching it with the noise of the MoMa cafe close by and people walking past and little children meowing at the screen, so I've posted the crappy video I shot. This makes me want to make little films of all our cats and write some piano music for the soundtracks. And then project them looping on all our walls, all the time.

Speaking of cats, this sculpture reminded me of two of ours, Nairobi and Inky, who play-wrestle with each other constantly.

Maria Martins, The Impossible, III, 1946

While I'm veering off topic, I also want to mention the exhibition about women's influence on applied design and art that yielded some great feminist stuff like this:


...and this AMAZING music video, which caught our attention as soon as we were within earshot because you can sing Down In It to that beat all day. (Hrmmm!) Once we were within eyeshot, we were like, HEY that platinum-wigged lead singer kind of looks like me. (Crazy trivia: she is now a real estate agent in Austin.)



Finally, this piece brings this post and our consecutive weekend dates full circle.
Clearly, this man is waiting for Godot (even though he predates Godot by more than thirty years):

Elie Madelman, Man in the Open Air, c.1915


Tuesday, January 14, 2014

Samuel Beckett is dead, which is good

On Sunday, Matt and I drove up to Manhattan to see Ian McKellen and Patrick Stewart in Waiting for Godot. We paid a rather obscene amount of money to sit second row house left (I find that theater blocking tends to favor downstage right in many productions, so it was a deliberate choice) and it was worth every penny. I love those two men. I love them. I want to be their friend so badly, but I would never, because I'm not worthy.

I'd also love to be in Godot one day, a fact not lost on my many acting students, male and female, whom I have forced to read Godot with me. Frankly I don't think any of the characters require a male actor, but I especially identify with Didi, who as far as I am concerned, might as well be a woman.

Or maybe I watched too much Hunter growing up.
Of course, Godot's cast is traditionally comprised only of men. Fun fact! Beckett was totally an asshole about this. In 1988, when a Dutch theater company wanted to mount an all-female production, Beckett responded by instituting a ban on all productions of his plays in The Netherlands. Can you fucking imagine. He was especially cranky about women playing Didi, who frequently leaves the stage to urinate, because, as he puts it, "women don't have prostates."

Dear Dead Samuel Beckett: as a woman who has pissed razors every five minutes as a sufferer of countless urinary tract infections (far more common in women than men), as a woman who has seen how childbirth affects continence in so many women, including, for example, my own mother: FUCK. YOU.

If I didn't love the actual play so much, and Beckett weren't dead, I would probably be angrier about this, but as it is, I think the best revenge might be to just ignore the creator's stupidity and take his creation beyond its restricted intention.

I would hop back on the boards for Didi. Also Richard III and Mark Antony, in case anyone is wondering.

Friday, January 10, 2014

What does the brain say? FIZZ FIZZ ZAP ZAP ZAPZAPZAP APPLIQUE

Update on the stupid bloody depression thing: I am slowly weaning myself off Cymbalta. I've been leaning toward doing this for some time because I'm not convinced it's doing much good. I think I've given it a pretty good try (well over six months, at this point). Also, after going off all hormonal birth control a couple of months ago and feeling like that might have made more of a difference, I have a notion that maybe I should try resetting to no meds to see what it feels like. I would be both relieved and kind of pissed off if it turns out that NuvaRing was what was making me depressed all along. Like, really? I went through seven years of garbage brain and pill-popping because of a fucking baby-preventing vaginal jelly bracelet? And nobody bothered to suggest that it might be the source of my problem?

Anyway, as it turns out, getting off Cymbalta is fairly annoying. There are plenty of posts on the internet that describe exactly what I'm going through, so I won't bore you with the details, except to say that I get brain zaps like woah. And also to mention that I think this might be affecting my computer.

OK, not really. Superstitiously. But ... I mean, the thought is there.

I have always sort of vaguely half-believed—or at least been fascinated by—the notion that you might be able to affect your computer with your brain. I read about fringe-y studies that show some kind of mind-effect on computers back in 2001, and I used to joke about it back when I worked in IT. What else could explain how some people seem to have such trouble with computers, while others don't? Haven't you ever had an experience where you do something over and over again on a computer but can't the result you want, and then someone comes over and does the exact same thing, and suddenly it works? (No, don't ruin my train of thought with you skepticism and logical explanations LALALALALA.) I swear I've seen this effect in action so many times. I used to demonstrate it with printers pretty regularly when I had an office job. I would just kind of hang out with a troublesome printer for a while, peer into its guts maybe, and the next thing you know, it's printing without a hiccup. They called me the Printer Whisperer.

Anyway, I have gone through periods of my life where my computers have refused to behave as intended; generally, these have been pretty dark periods for me, mood-wise. There was one ex-computer in particular, a Compaq Presario I dated, I mean, owned from 2000-2002, that regularly brought me to tears, and which I credit for teaching me how to build a computer because it broke so often. As I mentioned in a post last month (coincidentally—or not!—around the time I started stepping down my Cymbalta dose) my current set-up has started to give me grief after 18 months of very smooth sailing. First, it was the capacitors in my speaker. Then the battery in my UPS completely bit the dust. Soon afterward, my desktop refused to boot; actually, it refused to even POST. After exhaustively disassembling it and testing and retesting every single damn component for hours, I narrowed it down to the motherboard and bought a replacement. Hooray, it POST-ed, but then came hiccups with the BIOS, and now the video card, which is causing the system to freeze and shutdown automatically without error codes. I'm currently waiting for a replacement video card to arrive.

In other words, since beginning to experience Cymbalta withdrawal, I've had to buy new capacitors, a UPS battery, a motherboard, graphics card, and thermal paste; I'm out well over $250.

It feels like the ghost of that Compaq is coming back to haunt me. Or maybe my serotonin-starved brain, zapping away every few seconds, is doing bad things to my electronics.



I got away from my desktop today, since I seem to be breaking it with my mind constantly, and instead taught myself how to do applique. Behold! My first applique, which now adorns the front of an old sweatshirt with toothpaste stains on it:


I used a pre-made llama from Etsy and gussied it up with teeth and a saddle and the Andes and shit.

Other things I did this week, that give me hope that ditching Cymbalta will turn out OK:
  • Watched some opera, via the Metropolitan Opera On Demand service. I forgot to mention in my previous post about depression that it also makes me not really want to listen to any music at all, so this was kind of a big deal.
  • Popped some Dramamine to tone down the dizziness and stumbled out of my house to visit the kung fu place. I officially start training tomorrow. This is probably an even bigger deal.

Saturday, January 04, 2014

I got married when I was 23, and it was freaking awesome, you dope

Someone on facebook posted this "hilarious" blog, "23 Things To Do Instead Of Getting Engaged Before You’re 23," and by "hilarious," I mean "dumb." Normally I wouldn't take the time to respond to "dumb" things, but I am sick and my desktop is on the fritz, so what the hell.

I'm 33, and I got married 10 years ago — when I was 23! It was not something I expected myself to do, but funny thing: it has been freaking awesome. As you can see from previous entries on this blog, we have a total freaking blast being married.

I'm not even going to touch the actual post, with its statistics that are older than the author, and bizarre assumptions that we stop developing dreams and selves after marriage. I'm just going to look at the author's funny-ass list.

1. Get a passport.

Hahaha, guess what, I got an EXTRA passport when I got married. Now I have TWO. Beat that, sucka!

2. Find your “thing.”

Assuming you mean life calling, yeah, I found that (music composition) the year after I got married. Getting married and moving halfway around the world actually helped me find it.

3. Make out with a stranger.

I guess I did that semi-regularly back when I was an actor; again, I only started acting on a regular basis after I got married. But I can tell you from my teenaged experiences that sometimes this action leads to glandular fever a.k.a. mono, and that is definitely not something you really want to do, so no, I do not recommend.

4. Adopt a pet.

Does five cats count? Huh? FIVE CATS? (One died.) Did you know: adopting four-cats-at-once as a couple makes you only half as crazy as you would be if you adopted four cats as a single person. It's science.

5. Start a band.

Hahaha, I started a band WITH MY HUSBAND, booyah.

6. Make a cake. Make a second cake. Have your cake and eat it too.

I do this all the time. Also, when we got married, and at our tenth anniversary party, we had five-plus cheesecakes in different flavors, and we ate the shit out of them, together.

7. Get a tattoo. It’s more permanent than a marriage.

OMG, I got a tattoo this year, and also the year before, check them out! My husband says they are cool:


8. Explore a new religion.

I'm not sure what you mean by "explore," but I find this a little culturally appropriative.

9. Start a small business.

I did. It's cool, my husband helps out.

10. Cut your hair.

Pshaw, I am so much more hardcore. I cut my own hair, and I dye it too. And I cut my husband's hair when he asks. (Right now he has a mohawk, because marriage is so punk rock like that.)

11. Date two people at once and see how long it takes to blow up in your face.

This is a really stupid idea. Unless the two people are into it, in which case, it is called polyamory, and some people are OK with that, and that is OK.

12. Build something with your hands.

I renovated our goddamn house. Myself. With my hands. My husband helped. It was cool. Then we rented it out, which makes us landlords, or as I prefer, "landed gentry."

13. Accomplish a Pinterest project.

OK, you got me, I don't really know what this means. I guess I married too young to understand.

14. Join the Peace Corps.

I could not have joined the Peace Corps because I was not a US citizen before I got married! I guess I could join the Peace Corps now but I am kind of busy becoming a doctor.

15. Disappoint your parents.

Hahaha, done and done: I'm not becoming that kind of doctor!

16. Watch GIRLS, over and over again.

I can't; I don't have HBO and I don't feel like pirating it. Can I just watch the X-Files again?

17. Eat a jar of Nutella in one sitting.

Pffft, why not get married AND eat a jar of Nutella in one sitting?

18. Make strangers feel uncomfortable in public places.

We have done this so many times since getting married it is not even funny! My husband's special is donkey noises.

19. Sign up for CrossFit.

We have friends who are really into CrossFit, but I would rather sign up for kung fu. No offense to CrossFit people, but ... I think kung fu is cooler than CrossFit. Is that because I married so young? Who knows.

20. Hangout naked in front of a window.

Every morning, baby. The window has blinds though. Well, sometimes when the blinds are open, my husband and I make jokes about showing our privates to everyone in the neighborhood, and how we shouldn't really do that because our privates are for EACH OTHER ONLY because MARRIAGE and SANCTITY.

21. Write your feelings down in a blog.

...

22. Be selfish.

Oh god, you're a freaking Shruggalo, aren't you?

23. Come with me to the Philippines for Chinese New Year.

And hang out with a Shruggalo? Pass.

Friday, January 03, 2014

Being depressed: a really boring non-epic saga about a really boring problem

As I've mentioned on this blog a couple of times, I suffer from depression.

BOOOOOOORIIIIIIING.

Really, it is, though. It is fucking boring and annoying. I suppose one expects depression to be a little more dramatic than it is. But what I have is not even slightly dramatic. For example, I am able to be base-line functional most of the time. I am not suicidal. I suppose I have had thoughts about simply "not existing" occasionally, but that is a very passive thought and a long way from suicide. (I can understand how some people suddenly become suicidal when starting depression meds and passivity yields to activity, however.) Also, I don't do things like self-medicate with alcohol or illegal drugs, I don't have psychotic breaks (one time I had a weird and very brief dissociative episode, but that might be a PTSD thing), and I haven't yet become a hoarder.

Here are some things that my depression has caused:
  • anhedonia, oh god, so much shitty, shitty anhedonia
  • feeling like I'm thinking through a fog
  • headaches
  • hating nearly everything I have ever composed
  • hearing something I have composed that I do like, and being convinced that I have no idea how I did it and will never write like that again
  • sleeping/waking inertia i.e. sleeping for 15 hours sometimes because I can't be bothered waking up; staying awake until 5AM sometimes because I can't be bothered going to bed
  • not being able to read more than 10 pages of a book at a time without falling asleep
  • exhaustion after any kind of social interaction
  • not wanting to talk to anyone, even nice people
  • not wanting to answer any e-mails, even good ones
  • horrible anxiety when compelled to engage in unpleasant communication
  • horrible anxiety when compelled to make a decision, even about unimportant things
  • not wanting to leave the house
  • sitting in my underwear watching bad television for days on end
  • getting overly emotional about bad television while being unable to feel anything about my actual life
  • realizing that all my depressive symptoms are irrational and indicative of something being wrong with me, and loathing myself for being unable to think in a way that isn't irrational and wrong
Here are some things I have done in an attempt to get better:
  • Prozac (awful, nearly cost me my marriage)
  • therapy (helpful, I really like my therapist, though the depression persists)
  • meditation/yoga (not helpful; kept falling asleep)
  • Wellbutrin (speedy as hell and helpful at first, although it caused me to lose 10% of my body weight despite shoveling cheeseburgers and lard pastries into my mouth in between venti caramel macchiatos with whipped cream; then it kind of stopped working so well and the anhedonia came back)
  • vitamins (all the vitamins, but especially D and fish oil; no tangible effect at all)
  • gluten-free diet (no physical or mental effect, except I missed bread too much)
  • light therapy (fairly helpful)
  • Cymbalta (is it working? I honestly have no idea)
  • removed NuvaRing and went off any hormonal birth control for the first time in 16 years (may be helping, not 100% sure yet)
Recently I realized the "not wanting to leave the house" symptom has led to me becoming the most skinny-fat person in America, especially since I am ABD and internet-savvy and thus don't actually have to leave my house, ever. So I am thinking about taking up kung fu again. (I used to do it a long time ago in Harrisburg before I got overwhelmed and quit in a sort of cowardly way when my dad died. Probably a depression precursor or something.)

A few weeks ago, I messaged my friend who is going to a kung fu place near me. Writing a message = huge step. Today, I visited the kung fu place while Matt and I were in Chinatown for lunch. I know, crazy; I left the house. They weren't open, but I am pretty proud of myself for going up to the door and looking at the photos posted outside. What an achievement. My ultimate goal is to one day walk in while they are open and speak to the sifu about attending. I have a lot of anxiety about that. It's a depression thing. I guess. I hate myself.

Here's to 2014!

This is what I looked like when I did kung fu years ago.
Just looking at this makes me feel kind of hopeless.

Alcohol: Been There. Done That.

[Has someone already done this? I wasn't sure, so I figured I'd do it myself.]

[For reference.]

A picture of David Brooks,
apropos of nothing.
For a little while in my teenage years, my friends and I drank alcohol. It was fun. I have some fond memories of us all being silly together. I think those moments of uninhibited frolic deepened our friendships.

But then we all sort of moved away from it. I don’t remember any big group decision that we should give up alcohol. It just sort of petered out, and, before long, we were scarcely drinking it. 

We didn’t give it up for the obvious health reasons: that it is addictive in about one in six teenagers; that drinking and driving is a good way to get yourself killed; that young people who drink go on to suffer I.Q. loss and perform worse on other cognitive tests. 

I think we gave it up, first, because we each had had a few embarrassing incidents. Drunk people do stupid things (that’s basically the point). I drank one day during lunch and then had to give a presentation in English class. I stumbled through it, incapable of putting together simple phrases, feeling like a total loser. It is still one of those embarrassing memories that pop up unbidden at 4 in the morning. 

We gave it up, second, I think, because one member of our clique became a full-on alcoholic. He may have been the smartest of us, but something sad happened to him as he sunk deeper into alcohol-soaked life. 

Third, most of us developed higher pleasures. Drinking was fun, for a bit, but it was kind of repetitive. Most of us figured out early on that drinking alcohol doesn’t really make you funnier or more creative (academic studies more or less confirm this). We graduated to more satisfying pleasures. The deeper sources of happiness usually involve a state of going somewhere, becoming better at something, learning more about something, overcoming difficulty and experiencing a sense of satisfaction and accomplishment. 

One close friend devoted himself to track. Others fell deeply in love and got thrills from the enlargements of the heart. A few developed passions for science or literature. 

Finally, I think we had a vague sense that drinking alcohol was not exactly something you were proud of yourself for. It’s not something people admire. We were in the stage, which I guess all of us are still in, of trying to become more integrated, coherent and responsible people. This process usually involves using the powers of reason, temperance and self-control — not qualities one associates with being drunk. 

I think we had a sense, which all people have, or should have, that the actions you take change you inside, making you a little more or a little less coherent. Not drinking, or only drinking sporadically, gave you a better shot at becoming a little more integrated and interesting. Drinking all the time seemed likely to cumulatively fragment a person’s deep center, or at least not do much to enhance it.
So, like the vast majority of people who drink, we aged out. We left alcohol behind. I don’t have any problem with somebody who gets drunk from time to time, but I guess, on the whole, I think being drunk is not a particularly uplifting form of pleasure and should be discouraged more than encouraged. 

We now have a couple states — actually, all of them — that have gone into the business of effectively encouraging alcohol use. By making alcohol legal, they are creating a situation in which the price will drop substantially. As prices drop and legal fears go away, usage is bound to increase. This is simple economics, and it is confirmed by much research. The United States of America, in other words, are producing more alcohol drinkers. 

The people who debate these policy changes usually cite the health risks users would face or the tax revenues the state might realize. Many people these days shy away from talk about the moral status of alcohol use because that would imply that one sort of life you might choose is better than another sort of life.

But, of course, these are the core questions: Laws profoundly mold culture, so what sort of community do we want our laws to nurture? What sort of individuals and behaviors do our governments want to encourage? I’d say that in healthy societies government wants to subtly tip the scale to favor temperate, prudent, self-governing citizenship. In those societies, government subtly encourages the highest pleasures, like enjoying the arts or being in nature, and discourages lesser pleasures, like being drunk. 

In legalizing alcohol, citizens of the United States are, indeed, enhancing individual freedom. But they are also nurturing a moral ecology in which it is a bit harder to be the sort of person most of us want to be.