I anticipated having a slow roll-out for this blog before tackling big issues but… such is not the state of our world. Let me introduce you to Bill H4 4323. This bill would reduce “aid to public libraries that host drag queen story hour.” It would frankly punish libraries financially for having this kind of programming. It’s been proposed in the Minnesota Legislature as of today, likely in response to a flurry of panic that went around last fall after a drag queen allegedly flashed a group of children at a Hennepin County Library. That absolutely did not happen, but it didn’t stop fear-mongering from child projection groups and anti-LGBT groups from shaking their fists and being enraged.
Let me break this down a bit before I jump into the action piece of this. For those who don’t belong to the LGBTQ+ community or who have never met a drag performer, the idea of drag is likely synonymous with sex. The entirety of LGBTQ+ identity is generally conflated as such (which as a demi biromantic queer gal, is absolutely not the case).* There is so much more to people than an interest in sex and drag, generally, is not sexual. There may be some performers who like more sensual moves or make bawdy jokes during shows. But these are clearly not the kind of performances being given to children.
Drag performers are like any other kind of performer – they have personas but their persona is different depending on the setting. Brad Pitt may act one way in a movie, but it doesn’t meant that’s who he is as a person. Lady Gaga may act or perform something in a music video and be completely different in an interview on 60 minutes. Drag performers are no different – they just generally happen to be defying gender norms as they do it.
I could dig into the all the ways that gender normativity is seen as frightening or dangerous, but I would be here all night (besides, there are far better book about it out there. I’m reading Jacob Tobia’s book Sissy right now and I can’t recommend it enough). The fact is that groups with more power are speaking out against performers they don’t know and events they don’t understand. Drag Time Story Hour promotes literacy and exposing children to diverse voices and different ways of being. It is meant to embrace all the different perspectives in the world and acknowledge that gender is not just black or white – it’s many different complex colors. People are complex and library events like this help enrich children as they build a mental landscape of what our world is like. It’s not dangerous. It’s not deviant. The LGBTQ+ community is the safest place I know, where I can be myself, love myself, and fight for the world I want to live in, a world where no one has be afraid of who they are.
I’m asking you to take a moment and contact your representatives (which you can find here) or contact the Education Finance Division who influences this decision. As a librarian who fiercely defends programming to allow many voices and new experiences to exist, a member of the LGBTQ+ community, and a fighter for our rights and freedoms in this country, please reach out to your representatives. These experiences did not exist when I was a child but I can only imagine what it would have been like for me to see someone embrace reading and femininity in the way that drag story time performers do. It honestly would have changed my life. Please keep this programming in Minnesota and allow libraries to do what they do best – serving people, challenging censorship, and welcoming diversity and inclusion.
*Please note that as a queer activist I may use a lot of terminology that may not be familiar off the bat. Never be afraid to ask a question (you won’t look stupid and I’m happy to answer what I can, though I’m not an educator exactly). And also feel welcome to dive into your own research (whether it be library or Wikipedia)!
Hi all. It’s been a hot minute since I updated anything on here. If you’re stopping by, you’ll notice this site looks a little different. Okay, it looks a lot different. For one thing, there’s a lot of books pictured on the home page. The menu options are different. Large chunks of it are under construction.
You might be asking, “What in tarnation is happening here?” (Does anyone really say tarnation or was that just Yosemite Sam from Looney Toons?)
Let me explain: Last fall, I had an epiphany. After leaving one job to take another and realizing I had no idea what I was doing in my life, I did some soul-searching with my friend Devin. I realized something I had been dancing around for years – I wanted to be a librarian. In fact, it was the only job aside from writing that gave me any joy. I wasn’t getting anywhere in theater administration, teaching wasn’t in my future, and I needed something to fill my days when I’m plagued by writer’s block (and to, you know, pay the bills). So I decided after some thought to apply to St. Kate’s masters program in library science. I got accepted and started classes this February. And that’s what I’ve been focusing on for the last month and a half.
You might be wondering what that’s got to do with this website. Well, initially this was meant to further my career as a playwright and review theater. I’ve stopped reviewing and I’ve essentially stopped writing plays – but not stopped writing. I’ve dived deep into fiction and poetry (I have a novel draft mostly completed thanks to National Novel Writing Month and some poems I’m hoping to submit to a contest). I have a complicated relationship with theater and right now, it isn’t giving me joy. And since my career energy is focused on libraries, why not revamp the site and relaunch the blog to write about what is really driving my heart and mind? After all, this is still the Room Where it Happened – the room has changed, but the social issues surrounding libraries are greatly important and the Hamilton metaphor is apt. I’ll continue sprinkling writing posts in as I see fit but otherwise will be bringing in posts about libraries.
All my previous posts about theater will remain on this blog – I love a lot of those posts and it’s important to see the journey I’ve gone on. But from now on – welcome to the library zone.
Hi there. It’s me. The blogger. For those of you who might be new here, here are some things to know about me: I’m a Hufflepuff. I’m starting a new job. I have watched Good Omens about five times in the last three months and I’m not about to stop rewatching it so help me God. I’m a trauma survivor who’s spent the last year completely reorganizing my mind and my heart and my life, which means I’m returning back to myself in a way and rediscovering/uncovering things about myself. One of these things is demisexuality.
I’ve known for a long time that I have a complicated relationship with sexuality. I didn’t really experience anything that looked like sexual attraction until my late teens/early twenties and then it was built a lot on just wanting someone to be attracted to me and/or someone who wanted to kiss me. Growing up as a young woman in a certain social context (Catholic school up through half of fifth grade, a grandmother who asked me every Christmas starting around age 10 or so if I had a boyfriend, a society focused on wanting women’s bodies to look slim and fit and fun like Jennifer Aniston from Friends or one of the Spice Girls) I felt a certain pressure to meet certain socially constructed goals or expectations – have a partner to take to Homecoming and eventually Prom. Get married in my twenties. Have a family? (Okay, I could never see myself having kids, but I did entertain it for a very short time.) I struggled a lot with loneliness in the last twenty years (as an anxious, shy, only child who didn’t make friends easily, there were a lot of reasons for this) and, as the dominate narrative I saw in stories involved romance, I began to yearn for a significant other by the middle of high school. Up until then, I couldn’t understand a boyfriend. I genuinely thought boys my age were gross and didn’t really feel any sort of interest in anyone other than Aragorn in The Lord of the Rings and Ewan McGregor. I had a few awkward crushes on people in my life, generally because I cared about them a lot and, as I wasn’t good at sorting my feeling but I was good at ruminating on them, I dwelled on them and thought they might be crushes (they weren’t – not really. It was a platonic kind of love we don’t discuss enough in the world. But that’s another post).
By college, I began to to panic. I had never been kissed. I had never had a boyfriend. I decided college is when this would happen. College was, instead, a landslide – moving aside the rubble of who I thought I was and trying to uncover the true person underneath, the person I’d buried under graphic t-shirts and sarcasm in high school because I was afraid of being seen as week or vulnerable. During this time, my crushes on actors continued (notably, John Barrowman, Benedict Cumberbatch, and Tom Hiddleston) and I explored the world of Tumblr. Around this time, I first heard the word asexuality. Thanks to Tumblr and Sherlock Holmes (and the BBC show Sherlock), this identity became present in my life – the absence of sexual attraction, not due to physical issues or trauma, but because one simply did not experience it. I found this incredibly relieving – as someone who had a sort of a sex drive but didn’t feel compelled to act on it, who didn’t feel attracted to anyone, unless I knew something deep or significant about someone. I became very good at getting weird crushes-that-weren’t-actually-crushes on people I wanted to like admire or like me. Meanwhile, the only romantic thoughts I actually had were towards fictional characters, usually played by notable British actors, because I learned a great deal about the characters in the course of whatever media I was consuming. As people began to act weird about the “never being kissed thing” (one friend’s boyfriend notably remarked, “How? It’s not like it’s hard”) I began to think that maybe I didn’t approach physical interaction and attraction the same way as everyone else.
I struggled with a great deal of body image issues (that’s not actually past tense – I still struggle) that made it hard for me to think that anyone would be attracted to me. I believed men (because yes, right now, I thought I was only attracted to men) were attracted to certain types (tall, blonde, generally looking like Rachel McAdams – which I understood, or Taylor Swift – which I didn’t understand). I had been led to believe I was not attractive – or at least was not the ideal attractive type, and never would be – and thus I would be alone forever. This on top of simply not experiencing attraction beyond deep connections with fictional characters was… a lot. I cried about it. I panicked about it. My (then) undiagnosed anxiety went mad about it. I thought there might be something actually wrong with me. I tried to read about asexuality, greysexuality, and demisexuality (which I related to most and told a few people I might identify as) as much as possible, but I still felt like I was doing something wrong.
I began to worry about time – if I didn’t get kissed/ get a boyfriend/ have sex by a certain time, it’d be weird. I’d already become an old maid in the eyes of my grandmother, I’d already spent the entire semester of my Human Sexuality course panicking about being the only virgin in the room, and I was also trying to figure out how the hell scientists could research sex without feeling super weird about it (note: I’m still trying to figure that out. Looking at you, Bill Masters). The entire idea of porn revolted me and made me scared. Seeing someone naked also scared me. My own body scared me. There was a lot of fear.
And then I fell for someone, a real in the flesh person, in 2014. I got my heart broken, and I acted like an idiot, but it was real. I had my first sexual experience, which threw me into a literal and figurative tizzy. And then my brain did something very, very stupid – in threw out all the things I thought I might new about how I felt about sex and decided that I was up for anything. I had two one night stands (which I felt humiliated about and still do, despite arguing that I have no reason to). With my ex, I wanted to experiment – I’d recently come out as bisexual, realizing that I was actually attracted to all genders, now that I was feeling attraction (albeit in a still pretty limited sense). I’d already had certain negative experiences with it – there seemed to be a sense that bisexuals were into free love, multiple partners, and rough sex – which simply wasn’t the case. I’m embarrassed now that I felt such a pressure to have sex and a yearning to explore it (and try to convince myself that it could be good) that I wouldn’t say no. Of course, there was the added caveat of this being a toxic relationship and that when I did try to place limits, I was cajoled into other actions. It was like a bit of overcorrection – I went from not wanting sex to thinking I wanted sex all the time. And it caused me a lot of stress.
I regret that I didn’t see what I see now – that I wasn’t comfortable doing what I was doing and that I didn’t communicate that. On one hand, I wanted to explore my sexuality, and I thought I would get that. But I got exploring it only on my ex’s terms. I kept expecting things to change and they didn’t. There’s a whole lot more going on here than not really allowing myself to be honest with my ex and myself (bad communication all around and lots of other stuff as discussed in previous post), but there was probably an underlying layer of this tension throughout. True, my body was keen on exploring sexuality and it felt good thinking about it, but the actual experience was… well, simply put, it was not great.
Post-break up, I was back to being disgusted by sex. I thought it was an inability to be attracted to anyone else due to heartbreak, then later shame and regret when I realized how upsetting what I’d done and what I’d been through was. Months later, that lack of interest in sex is still there. And, thanks to the reemergence of asexual narratives in my life (can I hear a wahoo for Good Omens?) I started thinking about the asexuality spectrum again. Because, like other sexualities, it is a spectrum. I know that bisexuality is a spectrum – though I struggled through not feeling bi enough, there is no one way to experience it. Likewise, asexuality is a spectrum. Being attracted to someone threw me off and, while I do have some sex drive and interest in physical behavior, by and large I am far more interested in emotional connection. I prefer cuddling and talking and establishing intimate bonds more than anything else. As I’ve learned from my weird British actors crushes (again, thanks, Good Omens, for another realization), it’s easier to establish feelings when I know something about someone (or a character) – and the more I know, the easier it is (fictional characters or people you don’t actually know have the added benefit of allowing you to write scripts about them in your head and, as you don’t actually know them, they won’t disappoint your or throw off your scripts). Though I thought my sexual experiences and behavior meant I couldn’t be demisexual, I was wrong – again, it’s a spectrum, and what I might do is not indicative of my entire sexual preferences (this was discussed in a film I saw recently – You, Me, and Him – I have mixed feelings about it overall but this part was a nice touch). Also, it’s an ongoing process – I’ve learned things about myself I didn’t know before. And, thanks to articles like this wonderful piece from The Guardian, there’s a lot more discussion and representation out there about the asexual spectrum, and a lot more for people like me to read and help them understand themselves (side note: Dan Savage is mentioned in this article and I used to fervently listen to his podcast. While he’s on the money about some things, trans and asexual identity are not it. But more about that another time).
I also want to focus on being single – something I hated when I was younger and love being now. Being single is nothing to be ashamed of. There’s nothing wrong with it. In fact, I’m a far healthier and happier person being single than I ever was in when in a relationship (that was indicative of the relationship of course, but point being – don’t be in a relationship if it’s shitty simply to avoid being single). Some people never want to be in a relationship. That’s fine. Some people never want to be in a romantic relationship. That’s fine. Some people only have sexual relationships. That’s fine. Some people only have romantic relationships. That’s fine. There’s a lot of ways to be in this world. And we need to start accepting them all far more.
The new piece for me to grapple with is bisexuality and demisexuality – because I am both. Or at least, I am a demisexual who is attracted to all genders – at least in the sense that I could have relationships with all genders. I suppose technically I am a demisexual – biromantic (which is represented in the first of the images at the start of this piece). Or can I simply say I’m a bisexual-demisexual? Can’t I be both? Can’t I show that bisexual people are not all focused on sex? At the end of the day, words fall a bit short. But I know more of who I am than I did just a year ago. It’s another coming out – but coming out is a never-ending process, really, especially when you have identities that are misunderstood or thought to not real. I always felt drawn to bisexuality being represented by mermaids, but I really feel keen on making narwhals be representative for my specific identity. I’m not a myth but people think I am and no one really understand the things I do. But I know and I’m happy. And that’s what matters.
I hope to keep writing about my experiences with this intersection of identities and I hope to further represent the ace spectrum. But I’ll start here. I’m the blogger. I’m demisexual, bi, and I’m done being what people think I should be. I’m me and I’m perfect as I am.
I have a complicated relationship with the film Midnight in Paris. It was one of my favorite films in college, mainly because I loved that it featured 1920s Paris, time travel, and a plethora of my favorite actors. However, my feelings towards it have become more complicated as I’ve grown to understand more about Woody Allen’s films and who he is as a person. Generally speaking, I’m not a Woody Allen fan and, while from time to time I like his films, he portrays a vantage that’s a specific kind of white male centric. There’s a lot of controversy about his personal life and, while I generally try to separate personal life choices from someone’s work, there are times when I just can’t do that. This is one of those times. He’s simply exactly a creator I’m keen on supporting. While I dislike cancel culture, I also dislike supporting people who knowingly do harm and it distinctly colors the way I look at what they create.
That being said, Midnight in Paris was a film I continued to return to despite my dislike of Woody Allen. Now, revisiting the plot in a world where Trump is president, I’ve realized the story leaves a lot to be desired for me. It’s absolutely fun and I delighted in this just a short time ago. But looking at history with a 2019 vantage, where how we tell history and the dangers of nostalgia are a great deal more visceral, I began to think about what I would do if I were to re-envision Midnight in Paris.
In my heart, I have been and always will be a fanfic writer. It doesn’t seem absurd to me that I would take a film like this and want to tell a different story – one that expresses my view of the world. Now of course, I didn’t make this film, but when you’re already conflicted about a creator, sometimes fanfic becomes move of a reinvention process, rather than an expansion process and it feels powerful to take ownership of something which you feel distorts or hides certain voices. If you’re a fan of Woody Allen (and if you are, you are entitled to your opinion but I would ask you to think about the effects of men like Allen on masculinity and filmmaking), you’re probably furious that I’d dare change a film by a “great American filmmaker.” Midnight in Paris it’s own thing though – I’m here as my tired queer femme self to brainstorm some different ways to telling stories and create something else. So let’s begin.
Let’s start with our protagonist. In Midnight in Paris, we follow Owen Wilson’s character Gil as he tours Paris and travels back in time to meet some of Paris’ most famous residents. Gil, like many of Allen’s films, would seem to be a projection Allen’s ideal man – down to earth, sheepish, who’s really kind of a “nice guy.” I’m not terribly interested in this protagonist (sorry Owen Wilson). I am, however, interested in Paul, played by Michael Sheen in the film.
Paul is meant to look like an elitist, someone upper class who has lots of highfalutin knowledge he has to show off. And he does this well in the film – maybe a little too well. He becomes one of the better informed people on the trip (as opposed to the “Ugly American” stereotypes of Gil’s would-be in-laws who don’t know anything about the place they’re visiting). I propose that he’s a far more interesting person to fall into the time traveling plot line for a number of reasons.
For one, he has a lot of white privilege. If we’re going to talk about time travel from my view, we need to talk about white male privilege. In almost every narrative I’ve read about time travel, the person doing the traveling is a man (with the exception of Doctor Who, Outlander, a manga series called Fushigi Yugi, and Octavia Butler’s Kindred. Also, if you know more stories about time traveling women, share them with me). Perhaps this is because a lot of time travel stories are written by men. Perhaps because it’s “safer” or less suspicious for a man to be alone, making a story easier to tell. Time travel would be complicated for me for a number of reasons – I’m queer, I’ve got nine tattoos, dyed red hair, glasses, and some serious generalized anxiety disorder. Most eras in time are not going to be kind to me. I’m white, so I’ve got that privilege, and I have no physical disability. But if we only write protagonists who are going to have it easy getting sucked into the past, what are we saying about the past? It isn’t inherently better or easier (which I’ll discuss later on as I dig into things).
The point is, we make Paul our protagonist because it sets us up to discuss these things. He’s flawed – he’s really flawed. He’s a bit of a man-splainer, he’s got a whole lot of privilege, but he’s also got access to something we need to rumble with – historical knowledge. Hang on to that – it’s going to come back.
For all intensive purposes, Michael Sheen will stay cast as Paul (don’t give me that look, coworkers, friends and family. I know what you’re thinking. Hear me out). If you, like me, have only recently realized that Michael Sheen is in Midnight in Paris (or only realized by me telling you) and you’re reeling because you’ve seen it three times and each time thought that actor who played Paul was really quite talented and decides he must be some American actor you should look up, only to now discover he’s this Welsh shapeshifter you’ve seen in films for years but never recognize because… well, shapeshifter (but somewhere in your subconscious it’s caught on) – welcome to every experience watching Sheen in a movie ever. Craig Ferguson deemed him the best actor in the world and I’d agree. Thought there were at least three separate actors playing all his roles but no, it’s actually just one. If this alone doesn’t make you feel a little in love with him, I don’t know what to say. Sheen’s not the only actor capable of doing this kind of shifting but perhaps the one who is the most infuriatingly good at it and duped me for almost two decades.
Now that we’ve got that bit of fanning out of the way, let’s talk about the premise of the original film. Allen focuses on how people feel drawn to a certain period of history which is where they belong. Some people belong in the 1920s, some in the Belle Epoch, some in the present. While I too love certain eras of history, I feel no draw to live there (please see: anxious tattooed queer as mentioned above). I also really struggle to romanticize a past where women were trapped in abusive marriages, racism was rampant, and white supremacy was very in (more in than it is today, since it’s never gone away). Rosy retrospection is a real part of looking at history but when it becomes the only way of looking at history… it’s highly problematic.
The part of the movie that always makes me the most upset are the scenes with Zelda Fitzgerald. Notably, I’m viciously protective of Zelda Fitzgerald – this is a woman who never got her due, who struggled with mental illness her entire life in a society that had no idea how to deal with mental illness, whose husband went through her personal diaries to use in his writing, who was kept from writing by her husband and his friends who told her she wasn’t a good writer even though – and I will take this to the grave – she was a better writer than F. Scott Fitzgerald (don’t at me. I’ve read Save Me the Waltz and it’s glorious. Zelda was robbed). Every depiction of Zelda is of a flippant, silly party girl – and any basic research will tell you that there’s so much more than that. Okay, yes, we get hints of her struggles with mental illness in Midnight in Paris, but it feels stereotypical and overdone. This is not an acting issue – it’s a writing issue. We don’t get an idea that Zelda is really a person. Hell, we don’t get the idea that most of the people Gil visits are anything more than historical facades. Sure, Hemmingway talks in short clipped sentences, but are we going to talk about his misogyny or his obsession with masculinity? Are we going to talk about Dali’s radical politics? Or the fact that Gertrude Stein was really complicated but also one of the most prominent LGBT artists of the time (as was Cole Porter)?
Ultimately, one story can’t tell us everything about 1920s France. Nothing can tell us everything about 1920s France. We will never know what it was really like because we are not there. History always sells us a bit short, since it only tells certain perspectives and, as Bernard Shaw says in his introduction to Saint Joan, “The variety of conclusions reached show us how little historians know about other people’s minds.” History far too infrequently accounts of psychology – even historians themselves don’t do this. We are constantly looking back at history with a modern perspective and this changes how we and how historians summarize things. The entire process of creating history (something I’ve studied throughout my academic and theatrical career) is really freaking complicated. We can all look at a historical event and convey it differently. We can all know or read about a person and see them differently. But there are things we can – and must agree on. Though I’m building upon the original premise of the film, this is where things start to deviate a lot.
With Gil, Gil discovers information that only someone personally knew the people he meets in the 1920s would know, which he then shares during one of Paul’s smarty pants tours. Paul is baffled and more or less thinks Gil is making up history. On one hand, this scene is important to how history is made – certain things get remembered, certain things get forgotten. And some things get utterly destroyed or misinterpreted because the story being told is something those making history (generally white privileged men) don’t want to be remembered or accounted for. On the other hand, Paul’s thinking that this isn’t true history has some validity. In a world where facts are not factual enough and “fake news” and “post-truth” are all concepts we have to grapple with every day, Gil’s observations of his own experiences in history seem a lot less… well, trustworthy. History isn’t just what we think or feel is true. It helps that Gil was actually there but… we get into some murky territory with this. Which is important but not addressed other than to make Paul look like an asshole. We might actually need Gil in this case to compare/contrast this in this fanfic-y hodgepodge. Or at least references to the previously made film.
There’s a lot to to dig into here. And Paul can get really meta juggling through it all. Plot-wise, this film probably doesn’t look too different from the original – an American in Paris, though in this case who knows why Paul is there (you pick – is he traveling with Rachel McAdam’s Inez? Has he chosen to be an ex-pat like the historical figures he’s destined to meet? Is he doing some research that’s brought him here?). Either way, a magical cab takes him back in time. On some level, these are the people he’s read about – Fitzgerald and Hemingway and Zelda are what he imagined. But they aren’t. Because history can only tell us so much – and what we learn isn’t always the full story. Tom Hiddleston gets to play a complicated, dislikable Scott Fitzgerald, same goes for Corey Stoll’s Hemingway, and a far more interesting and sympathetic portrayal for Alison Pill to nail with Zelda Fitzgerald. And if I don’t get a queer Kathy Bates with Gertrude Stein, what’s even the point. Also incredibly necessary are more diverse representations – Paris wasn’t all white, heteronormative, cis, upper class, or of the same physical ability. Showing that only goes to reinforce the ideas of telling history we’re battling against. Josephine Baker and Jean Cocteau are two notable figures I found in a minute’s worth of research who’s stories deserve to be told – and I’m sure there are countless others.
Added on to all of this is the concept that history is not a stagnant thing – our perception of it changes as our understanding of the world changes. Historical facts are facts, but how we discuss them and analyze them evolves (ex: my generation feels WAY different about Christopher Columbus today than my parents’ generation, thanks to the discussion of his journals and personal feelings to indigenous cultures that previously was glossed over). The most important thing in discussing history, I believe, is that it’s not just one thing – you can’t make it look simple or pretty or nostalgic or simply say the past was better than the present. We can’t whitewash or sterilize history or leave out the parts we don’t like. Nor can we ignore the things we don’t know or the voices that have been obscured or the things that have been forgotten. It’s complicated and messy and we should show it in all its glory.
When, then, would I take something like Midnight in Paris to do this? Why not create something entirely new? Fanfic is a jumping off point – it’s a way to take something familiar and change it into something unfamiliar. Which is how the creative process works in general. All things are fan fictions in one way or another. Because this film has some lovely stylistic things to play with and Paul seems like the quintessential time traveler historical to challenge and change, I like starting there. But we don’t stay there. We need more perspectives – a fellow time traveler who joins Paul and shows him what it’s like to not be white, to not be a man, to have a different kind of body and set of experiences. White men aren’t the norm or the center of the world and this is really important to understand this if we want to transform our understanding of history and the world.
The more I think about this, the more fun I think it would be to create a graphic novel series around this concept – Paul might be a returning character, but maybe he’s not the central character. Maybe he gets swept up into someone else’s story, someone else’s reckoning with time and history. Each novel could be written by a different voice with a different perspective. And by the end of this you’ve got an entirely different story – which is generally what happens with fan fiction and why I love it so much. It takes a story and makes it change and evolve – not unlike what history and time does. If you’re still here after this long ramble about how to pull apart and lovely film and rebuild in a way that aesthetically would simultaneously please and displease Oscar Wilde (here I am taking something that’s art for art’s sake and going all historiography on it. Sorry, Wilde – you’d love/hate it, methinks), I thank you. I encourage you what else in culture can benefit – either for our own personal enjoyment or to enrich cultural conversation – by fan fic-ing or adapting known works.
Note: I will be adding more fan fiction analysis of art and culture along with more essay-type posts as we go along here. Fan fiction got me where I am a writer and I feel it’s important to pay homage to that legacy – especially since I’m still writing fan fiction. I’m open to feedback but I’m pretty set on including these pieces, so I hope you enjoy them!
For those of you wondering: is this going to be a personal blog now? Here’s the answer: No, note entirely. But also yes. Yes and.
In order to write about writing, theater, and the arts in general, I need to show where I’ve come from. The past couple years of my life have drastically changed me as a person (somehow simultaneously bringing me back to a more authentic self, more connected to who I was when I was growing up and also someone different – a little less afraid, a little stronger, a little more scarred and accepting of my scars.
I’ve changed greatly as a writer too – I used to have this sense of blockage that kept me from writing frequently. Post-heartbreak, post-world turned upside down, I don’t have this same struggle. Finding time to write is a continual issue but, after a lot of work soul-searching, and writing when I didn’t feel like it (especially when I didn’t feel like it), I have more ideas than I can handle. Not that I was short on ideas before but wasn’t like this. Have I exorcised what was blocking me or am I possessed by something new?
Everything in my writing goes back to current events and my personal philosophy that is growing and evolving with me as I evolve and grow. This is also why it’s important to know the background of where I’m coming from, why current politics have greatly effected my writing, and why it makes writing all the more important. Many of my friends who are artists and I sit around wondering how and what we create in a world where every day is like a fight to survive. The world has always been this way for many of us, of course, more so for some than others. It’s wound tighter now and it’s more visible than before and many of us who have privilege are experiencing this struggle for the first time. Some of us are more likely to take risks and say things we were afraid to say before – because if not now, when?
So – yes, this is a personal blog. This is a theater blog. This is a writing blog. This is a blog for me to rant and hope and fight for change. This is me to talk about fighting against mental health stigma, against ableism, against homophobia and biphobia and transphobia. This is a place to reckon with white privilege, to denounce racism and white supremacy, and to recognize how it continues to work on me – and resist it. This is a place to support femme and nonbinary voices, resist the patriarchy, and fight against toxic masculinity. These things have become clearer than ever for me and I expect they will become more clearly expressed on my blog. And so away we go.
In a transition between my last bomb-drop of a post and whatever is to come, I’ve penned this letter to myself as a retrospective look back and recognize how far I’ve come. There will be more about theater and writing soon, but for now, this is what I have for you.
Dear 2018 me,
Hi. This is you in 2019. Believe me when I say things get better for you. You’ve gotten your first or second significant crush since “the break-up” (which has earned its scare quotes quite strongly, I might say). So what if said crush is on an unattainable Welsh actor who’s been on the periphery of your awareness for the last decade and has now overwhelmed you with their talent due to a certain mini-series which, due to the excitement it will cause you, I won’t name and will leave you to discover for yourself. The point is, the crush – regardless of who it’s for – is an important sign of growth, a realization that your heart is healing, has healed, is moving on.
How did you get from floored heartbreak that you never thought you’d recover from to this? It’s a strange evolution. And one that is difficult to track.
Part of you is still filled with concern writing this. As you scrawl away, you feel somewhere that it is a betrayal of trust, that you have somehow hurt him. You are already concerned that your Instagram stories and posts have hurt him. Perhaps this will too. But on a scale of damage, this is small compared to what you could do, what you have been tempted to do which, thankfully, 2018 self, you do not do. Though you hate to compare different experiences of pain because each experience is different, you have aggrandized his and ignored yours in the past and you cannot downplay the damage he has caused you anymore.
One of the last texts you will receive from him before you stop responding (it will not be ghosting, I want you to know – ghosting is dropping out at the middle or beginning of a relationship, not in the dumpster fire that has been the end in order to make a clear finish and give yourself the boundaries you deserve) will be “sorry that I caused you pain.” You will wish it was a genuine apology – but you will sense that it is not. Not after months of stringing you along after breaking up and promising to have a conversation that never happens. You will refused to go down with this ship. You will not let this destroy you – you will break free and find a better place to journey to and a better way to get there.
Lord willing, one day you will stop writing about this. You very nearly have. You have written a hundred plays no one will ever read about what has happened to you and it has done you so much good – both in terms of your strengths as a writer and as a person. You have discovered whole new stories you never though of writing before – in fact, you are writing now more than you ever have before. You have discovered new books and shows and things to fill your life with that have helped you recover, not just from this but from years of buried memories and abuse. Books like Good Omens, Goodbye Sweet Girl, The Hating Game, Cinder, and Carry On will fill your life with utter joy. Pure joy is not something you have felt in a long, long time and you will be amazed at how good it feels.
You have reclaimed Neil Gaiman as one of your favorite writers. When you were with your ex, it was something that somehow belonged to him. You bought him a copy of a Gaiman book one Christmas, one you hadn’t read yet, thinking he might read it and share it with you. You’re not sure he ever actually did read it. Now you’ve bought yourself your own copy, allowed yourself to delve back into fandom, and have watched Good Omens five times, despite the fact that you were afraid to even watch it once, thinking it would remind you of your ex and one of his favorite authors. But it didn’t. Neil Gaiman was yours long before you ever knew your ex liked him and Gaiman has always belonged to you, as have all the other things you care about that overlapped with your ex. You regret on one level that you gave away a few copies of Gaiman novels and short stories but you’re glad those who took them will enjoy them and you know it was part of a grieving process, one that led you back to a stronger, better you. If you gave those books away, would you have ever bought your own copy of View from the Cheap Seats? Would you ever have made it back to the place where you can happily read Gaiman and celebrate fandom and talk happily about the days when you liked Twilight? How long has it been since you’ve allowed yourself to enjoy things without caring what some would-be partner thought?
You will beat yourself up for taking so long to have these epiphanies and realizations and waking up from what feels like a very long bad dream. It is only after months of therapy, a great deal of arguments with yourself, lots of side-eye from friends and voices of reason, having him not show up again and again and again for you (especially in the wake of a family death and graduation from grad school), and sobbing through a Brandi Carlile concert – which will most clearly define the shift in your grieving process to one of moving on – that you can see more clearly how you feel and what has happened. Time gives a sort of clarity, one that brings a whole new lens to your life. You are ready to remove toxicity from your life – not just your ex, but others who don’t respect your boundaries, jobs that don’t value you, and systems which have made you feel broken and wrong. You will be come stronger, weirder, queerer – and you will feel the most authentically yourself you ever have in your life.
You hope by writing this you are throwing a life vest to someone who deeply needs to leave an abusive relationship or needs assurance that things get better. Or maybe for those who need to see some hope or just need to hear the truth. As one of your favorite actors in the Twin Cities said about your previous post, “You could be someone’s Jessica Jones.” This might be the nicest thing anyone has ever said about your writing. If anything, you are doing this for yourself, to remind yourself how far you have come, how much you have grown, and how much growing you still have to do. You will no longer shy away from the hard conversations. You will no longer be afraid to speak your mind. You are amazing and you are finally able to see it.
Content warning: This post discusses assault, rape, abuse (physical and emotional), toxic behavior, and codependency. Please take care of yourself while reading and please reach out if you need to talk.
After getting involved in the CTC boycott, I’ve sat with the idea of opening up and sharing my experiences of being an assault survivor. I’ve continued to argue with myself about timing, if this is something I really need to share, if it’s appropriate, and so on – all the techniques that have kept me silent until now. I know I don’t have to share but I want to in the hopes that it will help someone – a survivor trying to take action or cope, or someone who is struggling to understand how what happened at CTC doesn’t just disappear.
When I was quite young – likely no older than four or five – I stayed over with my grandmother while my parents went to a concert in another city. My grandmother had remarried (my grandfather having died long before I was born). Her second husband’s name was Ed. He lived on a house on a lake and I remember him having a seaplane. I have always remembered this lake, long before I remember where this memory was from.
My memory of what happened is fuzzy and jumbled. I remember a bedroom in a wood-paneled room and lying on the bed with someone beside me. I remember wearing a faux-denim dress with no back and someone’s hand resting on my bare back. I remember a pink sparkly bikini swimsuit and taking it off in a bathroom. I remember suddenly refusing to wear both of these clothing items later on and feeling sick and revolted at the sight of them. I remember a figure standing in a doorway at night, silhouetted by light behind them.
This is all I remember. It’s more than what I could recall a year ago. In fact, I would have never remembered much of this except for a series of events that unfolded over time – my parents mentioning rumors from my aunt that Ed had been to court due to allegations of pedophilia, which confirmed some fear I’d had of a name of a person I’d all but forgotten. That I had always ben Ed’s “favorite.” Hearing my grandmother relive her experiences of abuse at the hands of her second husband. And then the sudden intense end last year – my grandmother dying a week after my then-boyfriend broke up with me, citing a return of repressed memories of familial abuse as to why he couldn’t be in a relationship. Later that summer, I met up with my ex for a painful night (in more ways than one). The following night, while celebrating the end of grad school, I had the worst panic attack of my life, triggered no doubt by not being sober but also from events the night before. In between thinking I’d been drugged or that I was going to die, I had cyclical memories return about my ex and about Ed until I fell into the arms of one of my friends, screaming.
Here is what I know:
I will probably never remember entirely what happened at Ed’s. I was young and whatever occurred is deeply buried somewhere deep in the recesses of my mind. Whatever did happen, it was bad and my mind is still fumbling to understand it.
I have struggled with body image – from my weight to body dysmorphia to feeling like my body is not my own to feeling like I didn’t belong in my body/sort of dissociation. This came from somewhere. And given that I refused to wear anything that revealed my back until late in high school and didn’t wear a bikini again until after college, I have drawn the conclusion that whatever happened with Ed planted this in me.
I have had some questionable encounters and made questionable choices in my life. I have felt inferior to every partner I have been with, whether through their treatment or my own treatment of my body. I have had encounters that became nonconsensual at some point and I continue to struggle at how to describe them. As people discussing these issues continue to say “nonconsensual encounters are not a thing – just call it rape” – I feel like a terrible feminist for not wanting to use that word. I also feel like it is not mine to use – that some how it is a far worse thing than what I have experienced. But at what point, when something starts as consensual and becomes nonconsensual and you never feel that you can or should speak up to stop it, do I need to stop worrying about how to describe the experiences and care more about how I felt and how to move on from them? Or do I need to know how to define them? How much do my words matter if I only share these stories with myself, running the narratives over and over in my mind until I feel like I can’t breathe?
None of my partners know about my past trauma or about my feelings of nonconsensual activity with them. I never got the chance to discuss it with any of them, though I planned to with my recent ex and never got the opportunity.
I am still recovering from all of this, especially the break-up in what I now see was a toxic and codependent relationship. He is going through is own experience with trauma but, at some point, his dealing with it was harmful for me. It is a difficult situation and one I still struggle to discuss openly – perhaps because I fear what words can do, what talking about something had so many ambiguities might do. Some memories cause more pain than others – perhaps the one I continue to struggle with is a conversation is the first night we met up when he discussed a scene in a Fringe show he’d done a few years back, describing a scene people thought was a rape scene. He argued it didn’t depict rape, that instead it showed when things go too far between couples. At some level I think I knew this wasn’t right but I made myself agree, thinking that maybe I didn’t understand, didn’t know enough. And I made myself believe this for too long.
I don’t have answers. I only have my experiences, trying to open up about this, and more questions than I know what do do with.
Certain pop culture elements in my life have made me realize what kept me in a place of toxicness and what helped me wake up. “Jane Eyre,” “Twilight,” and and other Gothic romantic narratives gave me poor expectations as a teen, but now read like warning signs I didn’t quite see. “Jessica Jones,” the book Goodbye, Sweet Girl, and the poetry of Amanda Lovelace helped me realize the trauma that lived beneath the surface and gave me a place to sit and feel all the emotions I had buried beneath the surface.
I have learned that abuse doesn’t always look the way it does in film or TV. Sometimes it’s dark and insidious and hard to see in the moment. It’s hard to talk about now, because the narratives of Ed and my ex are so intertwined, with both “waking up” moments (so to speak) in my mind occurring at the same time. They are very different experiences and yet they mirror each other in an abuse of trust. Ed is now dead (he died a good ten years ago or more) so I have no fear talking about him. But talking about my ex – and issue I continue to dodge and avoid, for fear of sounding like a broken record who can only harp on about the same issue, for fear of what happens when people learn who he is and what I think, for fear of repercussions, of not being believed, for being criticized for not knowing better, not speaking up … the list of fears go on and on.
I have waited too long to talk about these experiences. I wanted to wait until I would feel comfortable, trying to write them in diary entries and deleted blogs and plays I never finished. There are numerous nonfiction pieces and abandoned novels sitting on my laptop that I can never return to because they’re just too painful. I was never going to feel comfortable talking about this- I decided today to dive in and do it, because it’s been a year since this all came to light in my mind. And it’s time to get it out of my mind and truly find a way to move on.
I would be lying if the moment I hit the publish button on this post, I won’t shake and panic. Talking about this is the scariest thing I’ve done. I’ve tried to make this post more readable, make it clearer, more concise, less jumbled. This is not a story or a set of experiences that can be made clear. I can go only so far to share my experiences here – this is so much left unsaid, so much I haven’t described, only because some details are too much for the online world. And they’re too much for me for what I’m ready to tell. If anything, I hope that this gives a better understanding for what kind of struggles survivors carry with them. I have only recently begun to understand how trauma has shaped my life and framed my experiences. I have only recently begun to resist the expectations my anxious mind has made for itself. I hope that if anyone out there reading this is a survivor, it gives you the confidence to keep fighting and to know that you are not alone.
I wrote this post last March but hadn’t gotten around to typing up and posting it until now. Why? Excuses mainly (busy, not ready, other self-sabotage to share it I suppose). While I enjoy reviewing, I really want to expand this blog to talk about playwriting and theater-making in a larger way, especially about my own writing process and current struggles and thoughts about making theater. So, here we go.
Writing, at times, is like screaming into a void. You’re not really sure anyone is listening but there’s something inside you that needs to be released and something you hope is eventually heard.
I initially wanted to write a post like this in February but I felt blocked and unsure where to start. So I posed this question to my Instagram story: What do you want to know about playwriting/writing? I began to get worried as I got no responses. My anxiety kicked in, saying, “No one cares. You’re an unproduced playwright. No one cares about playwriting – it’s not interesting like acting. After all, it’s not rocket science, you just slap some words on a page.”
Fortunately, my rationale kicked in, reminding my most of this is invalid. After all, 25+ people viewed this post and, while I eventually noticed I got one response, I realized that maybe no one else knew where to start either. If I as a playwright can’t decide, how can anyone else?
So I’ll start by yelling into the void – this is a job where most of the world is done where no one sees us, as Christina Ham wisely told our MFA group my first year at Augsburg. We may not be very glamorous, but I love what I do and I think it’s fascinating. Playwrights want to be heard and seen – especially with new plays – and I hope to provide a little more visibility to the work we do.
Hello friend, blog readers, and those of you stumbling across this expecting to find something about the musical Hamilton:
You might have noticed there’s been a steady decline in my reviewing over the last couple of years. As I focus more on my own writing and work more nights and evenings in my “day job,” it’s become harder for me to keep reviewing. After much though, I’ve decided to officially move away from reviewing on my blog. There are a number of reasons for this decision, which I’ll illustrate below:
It’s getting harder and harder to ethically review plays in town without being influenced by people I’ve worked with or know who might be working on projects. Generally, this has only been good – it means I’m excited to share something that a friend is in or want to let audiences know how much I’ve enjoyed it. But after going through some rough patches in my personal life, I don’t want to put myself in a place where I feel like I need to criticize something because of someone working on it. And I also don’t want to only review shows because I know someone in the cast.
Time and money are big factors. Unlike journalists who review, I’m not paid for anything on this site (just the opposite, actually). Financially, I’m in a place where I need to work as much as possible in order to get myself in a more stable place post-grad school.
I desperately need to focus on my own writing more. I’ve done a great job of doing that after graduating from my MFA program, but it’s come at the cost of letting my blog lapse. I want to keep writing here, but I’d rather write about being a writer and talking about the day to day life of a playwright (who also writes in other genres).
I would be lying if I wasn’t making this decision off the affects speaking out about Children’s Theatre had about me. The blog post (in which I shared Laura Stearns-Adams statement about CTC) was the most visited post I’ve ever had on this site. It also was the most stressful. I was removed from CTC’s press list and it caused me to think about what I want to do in order to engage with issues and causes I feel strongly about in town and in the world at large. I can’t stay silent and I want to share and strengthen my voice. But I also don’t want to do it from a position where I will be ignored or alienated for speaking out. I also don’t want to burn bridges if I don’t have to and I feel it’s easier if I do it from the perspective of a theater artist and community member.
I’m changing and growing a lot as a person. I’ve been working through some difficult personal experiences over the last year (much of which as been stimulated again by the CTC issues). I believe I eventually want to write posts about these experiences but I’m struggling with my comfort level of being able to do so. Putting aside my work as a reviewer somehow makes it easier, paired by the fact that the number of press releases I get is stressful to me. There is so much theater in town to see and I know I can’t see it all, but feeling like I have to see it in order to support the community is something I’m struggling with. In short, there’s a lot of struggle in my mind.
All in all, I’ve decided to step back and work on different kinds of writing about theater – primarily about playwriting and craft, perhaps with a few performing arts and pop culture posts sprinkled in here and here. I hope you all will continue reading and also supporting the other Twin Cities Theater Bloggers who put and incredible amount of time and dedication into what they do. I’m honored to have been among them and grateful to still be an honorary member.
So that’s what’s new with me. Until next time- happy theater-going!
Note from the blogger: For those of you who have been working in the Twin Cities theater community for some time, you may know about the abuse scandal at Children’s Theatre Company that occurred in the 1980s. For those of you like me, you may have only learned about it shortly before or after the Laura Stearns Adams, a former child actor and coworker of mine at the Guthrie, sued the theater and the matter went to court. The theater was found negligent but not liable and overall the matter seems to have been concealed once more. Thankfully, that is not the case. While public media is by and large not discussing this, many of us in the theater community have discussed it over and over, especially with the recent death of John Clark Donahue. Now, Laura Stearns Adams has spoken out again on her Facebook page about her experiences. As someone who has recently started attending CTC, an advocate for survivors, and an abuse survivor myself, I knew this was not something I could stay silent about. I asked Laura’s permission to share her post, the entirety of which is below. Please read and share. I myself am joining the boycott and will no longer be attending CTC. Rather, I will speak out and advocate for Laura and other survivors. And for those of you looking for more information about the case and for resources about abuse, please visit this post written by Chris Peterson at OnStage Blog. #boycottCTC
A CALL FOR BOYCOTTING CTC:
I am a patient person. Some might say too patient. I am also a person who wants to see the best in people. I am not a pessimist. I want to believe that people are intrinsically good and I give the benefit of the doubt. That is, until proven otherwise. I now have all the proof I need to call for an all out boycott of The Children’s Theatre Company in Minneapolis.
Here are some facts to help you understand why;
-In December of 2015, I filed a civil suit against CTC and Jason McLean for the sexual assault that happened to me in 1983 while I was a student there. I filed it because of the MN Child Victims Act which allowed for my case to be brought fourth in the civil court, not the criminal court.
-Seventeen people filed civil suits because of abuse they endured at CTC. Hundreds could have.
-In order for the truth to be revealed about what happened to the students at CTC back then, we needed to have the legal platform of a the civil court, otherwise we could be sued for slander.
-If I could have done this in a criminal court, I would have.
-Because years we’re going by with no resolution to any of the cases filed against the theater, I was required to go through all of the difficult hoops again. Some of those hoops include probing depositions and psychiatric evaluations. Trust me, they are not fun.
-We were not allowed to present evidence at trial that showed that McLean’s criminal activities extended beyond me. Victims of his that were abused after May of 1983 were not allowed to testify at my trial because the defense objected to it saying that McLean’s activities after my abuse was irrelevant and the judge ruled in their favor.
-I have been sexually assaulted four times in my life by four different men. My lawyers argued for me to not have to give testimony of the rapes that happened after McLean. The judge did not agree and I was required to describe every one of my sexual assaults at my trial.
-Kim Motes, the current Managing Director of CTC, was allowed to testify at my trial, giving testimony to how great they are today and how they only have an operating budget around $8m. My lawyers objected on the grounds that her testimony is irrelevant to what happened back in the 1980’s and would prejudice the jury. The judge overruled and allowed Motes to testify.
-Because the law requires that juries NOT be instructed about who has to foot the bill of what ever they deem fair as a judgment, they only need to worry about the number, they were not told that the Insurance companies who covered the theater at the time of the abuse are the ones who would be required to pay. Unless they already knew that, which most people don’t, there would be no way for them to know that this is an insurance liability issue.
-In January of this year, after a 13 day trial, CTC was found negligent for their part in my abuse as a student at CTC back in the early 1980’s
-I was awarded a judgment of $3.68m but because the jury did not find CTC liable, only negligent, the payment of that judgment would fall to Jason McLean, the man who raped me.
-I will likely never see a penny of that judgment because McLean was allowed to sell his properties, the Varsity Theater and The Loring Pasta Bar, to his business associates, and flea the country. He currently resides in Cabo San Lucas and can not be extradited because this is civil court not criminal court. His assets are safely out of the country.
-My lawyers have filed for a mis-trial, citing several reason in a court hearing on Friday, not the least of which is the fact that the judge allowed Motes to testify and that never should have been allowed, especially in light of the fact that he would not allow the two Jane Does that were assaulted after me to testify.
-On Friday, I sat in a courtroom and listened to CTC’s lawyers argue that I should have to pay $283,792.25 of CTC’s trial fees. This is called “taxation of cost” and is only allowed to be an option to the prevailing party in a trial. CTC was found guilty of negligence. I’m not sure how this is even allowable.
CTC’s administration and board would have to sign off on this request for taxation of cost. They know they got off the hook by the jury not finding them liable, and now they are going after me. So, in a nutshell:
CTC was found negligent in the case against them, that proved that the institution placed children in harms way, and now they are going after me, the childhood sexual assault survivor who was harmed because of that negligence, to pay cash dollars out of my own pocket, for proving their own negligence.
It is the last straw for me. I know that these kinds of cases are very much in the hands of the lawyers. This is their arena. So I have sat patiently waiting to see how CTC’s current administration would chose to respond to all of this. What the survivors of CTC want is for them to own their part. To apologize. Not say how sorry they are for what happened to us and wish us well, but to publicly own the fact that their very existence as an institution today is because the well being and safety of the students was sacrificed for the INSTITUTION ITSELF! They would not EXIST if the kids hadn’t been silenced. If the right thing was done back in the 1980’s, when all of the shit hit the fan, the theater would have gone under. Instead, the board of directors and administration saved the theater and vilified the children who came forward at the time, saving the theater and their reputation, which never deserved to be saved. The BCA investigator who testified at my trial referred to the place as “a cesspool”. My lawyer says that in the 35+ years he has been doing this work, he has NEVER seen anything like what they have found through their investigation. They should have gone down. They didn’t. They survived. Those of us who were assaulted there still have nightmares. CTC needs to help those that were harmed, take a real stand, not deny their culpability and put “policies” in place, but take some damn initiative to make things better for children all over! Stop hiding from the past! They want to own their legacy of 50+ years, OWN ALL OF IT!!!
I have taken the high road through all of this, trying to give CTC a chance to do the right thing, not wanting to make things ugly because I believe healing happens in the light and we don’t need more discourse. But this personal attack on me is enough evidence for me to take a different kind of stand. I ask that you not buy tickets, send your kids to their classes, audition for their shows, accept jobs or support them in any way until they do the right thing by the survivors. If you work there, ask yourself if you want to work for an organization that would do this to the survivor of sexual assault who brought the truth to light. Other theatre companies, make a point of reaching out to employees of CTC and offer them work so they have other options around town. To the other theater owners, artistic directors and administrators, board of director members around town, call on CTC to do the right thing. Many of you are my friends. Do you think this is right? If you are okay with it, ask yourself if you would be okay with it if I were your daughter.