Bi Demi Me: Or, an Exploration in Sexual Identity

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.

Another Midnight: A Reimagining of “Midnight In Paris”

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Source: IMDB.com

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!

An (Incomplete) List of Themes and Issues in Frankenstein

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Top: Frankenstein at MIA’s “At Home with Monsters” exhibit (source: author photo) Bottom: “Frankenstein: Playing with Fire” (source: guthrietheater.org)

I am obsessed with Frankenstein. This is not new. I first read the book in middle school and, though I didn’t understand a lot of it, I fell deep into the rabbit hole of loving Victor Frankenstein’s tragic story and the Creature’s isolation and outsider view. I watched the Universal film from 1931 and its sequel (though both films are nothing like the book). I read a series of books for teens based off the Universal films. I watched Young Frankenstein most Halloweens (and saw the musical adaptation when it toured here). I kept rereading the book. I wrote my own modern adaptation that I self-published as an e-book (please don’t find it; it’s terrible). I grew jealous of everyone who was able to see the Benedict Cumberbatch/ Johnny Lee Miller adaption in the UK (directed by Danny Boyle – I’m finally seeing this November when a live taping is encored by the MSP Film Society at St Anthony Main theater). I’ve read about Mary Shelley and her famous mother, Mary Wollstonecraft, in the book Romantic Outlaws by Charlotte Gordon. Some of my favorite creative types also love Frankenstein (notably, Guillermo Del Toro, who I am likewise obsessed with).

In short, I am a huge Frankenstein nerd and I am very vocal about this. So when the Guthrie announced that they would be doing a production of Frankenstein: Playing with Fire in their 2018-2019 season, I was intrigued and a little worried. I love the story but I’ve seen bad adaptations that haunt me (looking at you, Fringe). But I love the production at the Guthrie, which celebrates the 30th anniversary of the play being written and the 200th anniversary of the book’s publication itself. In fact, it’s probably my favorite show that I’ve seen at the G (and by this weekend, will hold the record of the most times I’ve seen the same production of a show). Because (for all transparent reasons) I work in the Guthrie box office, I won’t review the show. But I have been thinking about the story a great deal and, after rereading the book and spending some time with Carl Sagan’s book The Demon-Haunted World, I’ve had a lot of thoughts about the importance of Shelley’s writing that I wanted to share. Without further ado:

An (Incomplete) List of Themes and Issues in “Frankenstein”

  • playing with fire/ myth of Prometheus/ playing God
  • pseudoscience versus real science
  • environmentalism/ respect for the forces of nature and scientific laws
  • nature versus nurture in the raising of children
  • healthcare (why does Victor leap to the conclusion that the answer to avoiding death is to avoid birthing humans and create life from the dead rather than working to better healthcare? Especially central to the way the play adapts the book where Victor’s mother dies in childbirth)
  • ways in which the Creature reflects what living with mental illness is like (anxiety and depression makes those who live with it feel monstrous, like outsiders, etc.)
  • who really is a monster – what is actually horrific in this story
  • skepticism versus wonder and how they get convoluted
  • overlooking objective truth in order something you want to be true possible
  • having more questions than answers in life
  • education and how we learn/who we teach
  • our lack of understanding around what makes us human/sentient/ personality/ the belief in a soul
  • desire/hunger for knowledge
  • technology and how its advancement is outpacing in our ability to deal with and grapple with it
  • consequences of actions/shame/guilt
  • questions around morality and what is moral

All in all, I really love this story. If you get the chance to see the Guthrie production or the Danny Boyle screening at St Anthony Main, due. And why not pick up the book over Halloween? (I want to get my hands on the 1818 edition myself – I hear it’s better than the more populous 1833 edition.)

Thank you for entertaining my passion surrounding Frankenstein. I’ll be here all October with all of your gothic horror story needs.

Juliet: a poem

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Source: author’s photo

I’ve decided to play around with content out here and start including writing that’s not limited to reviews or thoughts on shows. As I’m working on the Guthrie’s upcoming production of Romeo and Juliet as the literary intern, I’ve been thinking a lot about this play. It used to be one of my least favorite, but not because of the play itself. Because of 9th grade English, Taylor Swift, and Bella Swan, I found myself hating how the play had been appropriated into our culture instead of what the play actually contained. Revisiting it in my reading and research (and planning to see a production of it by Mission Theater Company this Friday) I did some soul-searching and rethinking about what in this play did intrigue me. Turns out I actually really love this play (as I do most Shakespeare) so I wrote a poem about it. 

Juliet
“beautiful flower”
A contradiction
Portrayed so often
as an ingénue who doesn’t know
the pain of heartbreak
(or so someone would like me to believe)
Yet she would rather die
than live without her Romeo
live a life caged in
by iron bars and iron ways

Though she is seen as sweet and simple
her world is pain
filled with relentless violence
senseless hatred
poisoned words and poisoned minds
Perhaps she has learned to hide this pain
(as so many women do)
Beneath bright skin and cherry red lips
a storm rages

Though she fights no battles on the page
she is a badass, a warrior
turning against society’s norms
Bold bright and cunning
she listens to her mind and heart and body
instead of numbing herself to the pain of the world
and doing what she is told

She spurs her family
trading blood lines for life lines
and breaks out of hatred
based on names
based on bodies
based on prejudice

Some claim Shakespeare wrote this tragic tale as a warning
of what happens when fools fall in love
of romantic love overtaking family bonds
and children refuse to listen to their elders
But perhaps it’s a different warning
a warning of what happens
when we refuse to let ourselves love freely
of violence begetting violence
prejudice begetting prejudice
Cycles that repeat because
we cannot break free from the wrong kinds of passion

Juliet
too often reduced to petty love songs
and cardboard characters
in love for the sake of love
Society would prefer me to hate her
(and I did, not so long ago)
because it would prefer me to be jealous
(that greened eyed monster)
jealous of her looks
her innocence
her love
but most of all her freedom
Her fate is not one I want
but if my choice is death or a cage
it would be death that I take
She took her own life
rather than live with hate
with losing the power to make up her own mind
with hatred, the greatest pollutant of the soul
She battled against the darkest of foes
a battle women continue to fight
(we have died that same death a thousand times)
Still that fight goes on

 

 

Music and a Minnesotan Millennial

Music Doodle
Source: northfieldartsguild.org

Today, for a moment, I’m going to deviate slightly from the realm of theater and focus on my relationship with music. This is kind of bio-post and a little odd to share, but it is very relevant to what I do as an artist and something that has been very relevant here recently with my work on shows such as Nina Simone and Complicated Fun, the loss of Prince, and my own realizations through my work and personal life. So, in reaction to the magic that was the Current’s 893 essential albums, please allow me to divulge into my relationship with music.

Back in high school, music was the thing that kept me caring. I found school boring and dull and kind of a terrible place for someone who had anxiety and social issues to be. Playing with the high school concert band gave me a place where I felt that I could fit in and be good at something, as well as developing better communication, finding true friends who would stick by my side and who I would stick up for, and also have the chance to create something amazing. Meanwhile, my own musical tastes were developing – with new technology such as iTunes and the iPod I got for my birthday, I was able to create my own music library and store tunes that influenced me in my childhood – Disney songs, various songs that resonated with me (“Ain’t No Mountain High Enough,” “Take Me Home, Country Roads,” “Brandy”), and my early Broadway show loves – as well as branching out into new music that would stick with me – Kansas, Green Day, Sara Bareilles, to name a few.

My relationship with music wasn’t easy – no matter how hard I practiced, I never felt good enough. No matter what music I liked, it wasn’t cool enough. By college, I would have a lot of tension with  my relationship with music – I’d audition for the School of Music at the U for music education and was rejected, which came as a relief as I’d come to hate the structure of formal music education. I’d be called a hipster or have my musical tastes be criticized as being “bad” or “too pop” or “bizarre.” I would learn to associate songs with people and have a hard time breaking those associations and struggle to listen to songs without being emotionally tormented with the memories they held. I’d have people assume my feelings weren’t valid about music or that my experiences as a musician weren’t serious. I stopped thinking of myself as a musician and I put aside much of the importance that music held in my life.

This was a terrible mistake. Fortunately for myself, I ended up in theater and remembered how important music is to me, through both observing as an audience member and working on shows as a dramaturg. Working on Complicated Fun has reminded me how formative music was for me in my teen years. Listening to the Current and to other stations such as Jazz88 has helped me to connect with others who have broad musical interests, legitimize my preferences without feeling bizarre or hipster-y, and feel a stronger connection to my community. Watching others perform has encouraged me to get back into playing and even branch out to new musical experiences. Though Prince’s loss has been difficult, it has reminded me that, even when the worst happens, we always have music to hold us up. When people leave us and things get difficult, we always have music to support us. “Purple Rain” will never sound the way it once did, but it is eternal and forever powerful.

I truly believe that Millennials have a unique relationship with music. With new technology, new music listening habits, new genres (and the loss of genres), and different relationships with the artists we listen to, I don’t know a single Millennial that doesn’t have a passionate relationship with music. I believe that for us, much like our Gen X counterparts, it is a way of dealing with a strange world and expressing ourselves, especially in counter to mainstream culture (this especially hit me yesterday when both Gen X-ers and Millennials rejoiced at Nirvana’s Nevermind being named the most essential album). And like other generations for since the 1950s, it’s a bedrock for how we identify and complicate ourselves. I’m still feeling the resonances of Kid Simple‘s focus on the importance of sound, and it’s important to take a moment to recognize that sound and music are two of the most important aspects in theater for me as an artist. Because, for me, it perfectly captures the heart of what we do.

The Critic as an Artist

oscarwilde
Source:thestar.com

This is the second in a series of posts I’ll be writing on the topic of theater criticism. In this selection, I’ll be looking at Oscar Wilde’s ideas of criticism and how it can become an art form of its own.

If you happened to see The Critic/The Real Inspector Hound at the Guthrie this March, you know how easily theater criticism can go awry and make it only too easy to poke fun at it. But put this behind for a moment and instead regard the critic differently – for instance, from the view of Oscar Wilde.

I am unabashedly an Oscar Wilde fan.  One of my favorite works of his (aside from the brilliance that is The Importance of Being Earnest) is The Critic as an Artist, an essay written as a dialogue between two men. In it, Gilbert and Earnest discuss whether or not artists should pay any mind to critics and what the whole point of judging art is. Earnest argues that art was best when there were no critics, while Gilbert says there have always been critics, explaining how ancient Greece was a society of critics that recognized “the most perfect art is that which most fully mirrors man in all his infinite variety.” Criticism from one’s self and others, in Gilbert’s view, allows for artists to find new ways to create and recreate while critics “record one’s own soul” by sharing their own impressions. Art becomes part of one’s personal experiences and can be enjoyed beyond what makes it technically great or meet’s someone else’s expectations.

Gilbert continues to describe the art of criticism, stating that “the actor is the critic of drama,” taking a writer’s work, studying and analyzing it and making it their own in their performance. Works of art are living things and, by interacting with them, we change them and allow ourselves opportunities to grow and complicate ourselves. For Gilbert, art is universal, not just for specialists. In fact, Gilbert argues that great artists cannot really judge their work or the work of others because of their vision. It is better then to be an outside observer who is passionate but not a part of the creation process. There’s a lot of truth to this and some fallacies – I personally think artists  make great critics, though there are instances where they can get hung up on certain aspects because of the work they do. Likewise, misunderstandings from outside observers can occur because they don’t know the depth and work put into an artist process. However, in Gilbert’s world where art is universal, it seems there would be better communication about the creative process and the amount of effort put into artist endeavor would not be overlooked.

Then again, Oscar Wilde isn’t concerned about effort and work levels maintained by artists the way my Marxist (i.e.: class)-tuned brain is (which thanks to my undergraduate degree, it’s a frequency I’m always tuned to). Oscar Wilde was quite the dandy and a hedonist. He focused greatly on aestheticism and the beauty of things over the socio-political importance. Much of his ideas of criticism are contemplating the aesthetic qualities of art. However, his arguments work to support the importance of the ephemeral, so to speak, and the socio-political and deeper humanitarian qualities that make art great, whether he likes it or not. Wilde’s ideas still hold up, even for Marxist theory (“Art is for everyone!” especially). I rather hope that he’d appreciate me taking his ideas and creating new concepts with them, rather than being upset for re-appropriating his ideas to philosophies he had nothing to do with.

Of course the real question about Wilde is does he care so much about aesthetics because people think it’s frivolous and therefore unintelligent and unimportant and is arguing otherwise, or does he really only care about that because he’s a dandy? Or both, because people can be contradictory? I vote for both. Regardless, his writing allows us as artists and critics to reevaluate how we see and interact with the art that is so much a part of our lives. It speaks to the communication between artist and audiences that I strive for and breaks down the pinnacle we place both artists (in terms of perfection) and critics (in terms of being the ultimate source of opinion in art). Plus this piece is full of some of Wilde’s best quotes:

  • “Any idea that is not dangerous is not worthy of being called an idea at all.”
  • “What people call insincerity is simply a method by which we can multiply our personalities.”
  • “Yes, I am a dreamer. For a dreamer is one who can only find his way by moonlight, and his punishment is that he sees the dawn before the rest of the world.”

So if you’re looking for a quick, clever read, I highly recommend this. It celebrates art, the creators of it, and the observers of it in the best of ways and allows for a lot of thought, discussion, disagreement, and growth.

A Shared Experience: How Do We Discuss Art?

0316-GeniousOfTaylorMac_640
Source: mspmag.com

This is the first in a series of posts I’ll be writing on the topic of theater criticism. In this selection, I’ll be looking at how we think about the shows we watch and how our use of labels cam be harmful.

On March 19th, I attend Taylor Mac’s A 24-Decade History of Popular Music: The 20th Century Abridged. It was an incredible performance art concert that was incredibly thought-provoking and has kept me thinking long after I left the theater.

At the beginning of the show, Mac described the performance as a “shared experience, but not a homogeneous one.” We may be watching the same show, but we aren’t all seeing it the same way. As audience members, we were encouraged to embrace whatever we felt and that there was no one correct way to react to the show. In a culture that focuses on feeling just one thing or be only one thing or another, Mac explained, it’s important to embrace “both earnestness and cynicism.”

It’s refreshing to be allowed to accept what you are experiencing, especially the range, the nuances, and the contradictions of reactions, regardless of whether it’s what the rest of the audience is feeling or what the artist wants to see. As a critic and an artist myself, it’s often difficult to figure out how to deal with such responses. All too often, “professional” criticism and conversations about shows become focused on the right or the wrong way to see a show or whether it’s good or bad. I’m far less interested in these things. I’m a highly emotional person and I’m more interested in what a performance makes me feel, what it causes me to think about, what it’s saying about the world around me and what resonates with me.

However, those reactions can’t always be put into the categories we’re used to – art that’s good or bad, art that is happy or sad, art that is simple or complex. Mac, who resists normative categorizations, especially in terms of gender and uses judy as a pronoun, is the perfect voice to support the resistance of lumping art off in the same way. It’s unlikely that we’ll ever like all parts of a show and wrong to pretend we do. It feels wrong to use words that hold a moral stance – such as good or bad – to describe performances and it seems too final to think that our opinions on shows won’t change overtime or with further thought. There are many shows I disliked at the moment and grew to like overtime and shows I enjoyed until thinking of further contexts and realized their flaws. Final judgement in reviewing a show is a difficult notion but one that is expected and one that I am drawn to resist. As we shouldn’t segment people into static categories that never change (I’m thinking in terms of labels or personality classifications here), we likewise shouldn’t segment the art they make either.

Mac stated during the performance that judy focuses on humanity rather than perfection. I aim to do that my own creative work and reviewing. For when we put perfection aside, we can begin to think about why we create art, why we watch it, and why it’s important to us. And when we ask those questions, we deepen our understanding not only of art, but of ourselves.