Removal of Obstacles

There is No Getaway

I’m staying a few days in my godfather’s cabin on a lake in far upstate New York. I took a drive, looking for something to eat but am not ready to do indoor dining and no one here has outdoor seating. I considered take-out but all the restaurants were surrounded by mask-less white men on Harleys which for me is an unsafe vibe on several counts, so I went to an organic farm market and eatery for some stuff to take home. Hippies are safe, right?

At the checkout there was a flier with bullet points putting 200k Covid deaths in a diminished context with other larger health and social issues: flu, heart disease, cancer, suicide, abortion, missing kids. The closing point on the printout, to provoke discussion, was: shouldn’t we be more focused on Monsanto, substance abuse, nutrition to boost immune system, mental health…?

I wasn’t going to say anything, but she saw me reading it, said she just did the research herself last night, and I read the words: “this new flu.” 

“But…it’s not a flu.”

“It’s not? I thought it was.”

I wasn’t going to say anything but then I said everything, which I will say again here.

“No. it’s not. It’s not a flu. Some early symptoms in some people look a bit like flu. Trump calls it a cold or flu to minimize it as you have also done here. No doctor or scientist calls it that. Now they know, it is not even respiratory. It’s vascular, affects blood as it flows through every part of your body. And people who get it, even if they don’t die, may have a lifetime of other health issues: compromised breathing, heart and other organ failure, amputation, stroke, other things we don’t even know yet. Flu doesn’t do any of that. Flu mostly kills when it overwhelms a person with other health issues, it’s not especially deadly itself, and many flu deaths can be avoided if more people get a flu shot. But there is no vaccine for Covid. Covid kills and affects the healthy who have no underlying conditions, and we know it can last up to 9 months, or more, we don’t know yet, not the few days or weeks of the flu and then you forget you had it. It’s not a flu.”

She took it all in as her preteen kid came in and out of listening range. She put on her mask after I told her I was from NYC. (I tested negative a few days ago, and was of course wearing my mask I mean come on.) She seemed to be very affected by all I told her, as if she was hearing it all for the first time. She asked me about how things were in NYC, then, and now. I told her honestly but also that there is no before and after. It was bad, it got better, but it’s not over. It is spiking again in neighborhoods and places throughout the country where people don’t take it seriously because they let their politics, religion, or self-interest interfere with common sense, scientific truth, the collective good.

She didn’t find this info even when she was doing research on it. The info is there, but many people aren’t reading actual news, instead getting disinfo from foreign enemies’ memes, clickbait headlines, and angry opinions. Am I adding to the disinfo, the noise right now? I am not a doctor or scientist. I’ve read a few articles. My only Covid agenda is trying to understand and fight this, which should be everyone’s agenda unless you are rooting for Armageddon, which I know so many are. I can’t think of any other explanation for the covid denial, climate change denial, electing Satan himself. That means Jesus is coming!

I suggested she do more research and encouraged her to continue to care about her other issues and work for them in her community but that we need to amplify and keep this issue first, and elect people who take it seriously or we are doomed, if we aren’t already.

It was actually a nice talk. It’s good to get away.

We need to have more of these conversations. We can do this. One person at a time is the new social platform. It might take some time. Can someone else go talk to the Harley guys?

Placement of Obstacles Removal of Obstacles

So Brooklyn

This morning in line at the bakery I got to listen to an out-of-town visitor talking on the phone to someone he loves. I know about the love because he said “I love you” before he hung up, though I have done that and not meant it. Even recently, after a business call that ended in rejection. I was the one who was rejected so it wasn’t one of those, “I’m sorry….I loooove you…” consolation things I’ve done in the past. Being too alone with my brain for too long has just made me weird. Sometimes I think I actually do love more lately, I mean if not, what’s the point of any of this? So I even love people who don’t want me because what does one have to do with the other? Early in the pandemic my sister said goodbye as: “well *I* still love you” which still cracks me up. Who? stopped? loving? me? What aren’t you telling me?!!

But back to the bakery line guy, who I do not love, who loudly said: “it’s just SO Brooklyn that I am waiting in a long line for a bakery!”

First, I hate “Brooklyn” as a facile adjective for something else (hipster, entitled, artisanal, avocado toast) because it erases the many different types of people who are and were Brooklyn before the branding. I accept that I’m who he meant, fire fire gentrifier, fancy as fuck in my daisy shirt and khaki shorts, because I had to actually get dressed today to walk cousin’s dog. Though am I a yuppie if I’m broke and no longer young or professional…..who am I now when I was self- and outwardly- defined by my work, my city, my people who I cannot see anymore? Who is anyone anymore?

Second, I have lived in Brooklyn 22 years I have never once waited in a bakery line. (Peter Pan is a donut shop.) I figured out how to avoid most NY lines through strategy, connections, denial of self, but mostly by just not giving enough of a fuck to think anything was worth waiting for when there’s another good option a block away. (That is people’s complaint about dating in NYC, too. The rest of you, picking are slim and you’re stuck with one another. Here, endless options!) The pandemic created lines and crowds I had to accept, to get groceries, to do laundry, to get tested, to get fresh air. No more secret downtimes when other people were working to do things, no going out after dark because streets too empty for me, no bars so no magic night hours between when people go into and then come out of the bars. Those hours were always my favorite, back when I was one of the people inside the bars, and then when I was one of the people wandering the streets and avoiding the people in bars.

Today I was so attracted to the line, happy to join the people in it. I was a joiner. I am a joiner. I was happy when La Bicyclette Bakery reopened for awhile last month after been closed for most of the shutdown, and the other day I saw the sign saying they’d be back again this week. This line seemed much less the old bougie brunch crowd and more neighbors supporting neighbors. Everyone is so grateful we have people like them making a go of it, being safe, figuring out solutions, employing people, saving us from 5 hours of bread making you all seem to love so much. Since I have the time, I will wait 20 minutes to get a $2 baguette to support this small local business a few blocks away from the Whole Foods monsters that continue to profit from pandemic while putting nothing back into the local community via taxes or outreach or donations or anything.

I know I started out talking about how loving I have become, but with more social interactions that is becoming more difficult, and it was hard to have love for a guy who comes here (undoubtedly from one of the quarantine states, without quarantining), but I always try to recognize that these jerks are my teachers. I felt like he was making fun of us for being Brooklyn, when I know we’re the only city and state in this whole country that took the virus seriously, shut down as soon as we could, as much as we could, to protect the most vulnerable among us, at great expense to ourselves and maybe the survival of the whole city, and even so still lost over 20, 000 of us, and affected countless numbers with still unknown future health issues, mostly in Brooklyn, Queens, the Bronx. We did this not because it was hip or easy or fun or because we liberals love to follow government orders (huh?), but because it was the right thing to do. Mutual aid groups popped up everywhere because city services were sapped or reeking of mismanagement and corruption and federal government abandoned us. North Brooklyn Angels brought food to hospital workers because cafeterias and restaurants closed. Vinny’s pizza took donations to deliver to essential workers. Crowdsourcing flourished. It is all still flourishing. People are cleaning the parks and picking up garbage while the city tries to remember how to govern, having given up the notion with the rest of the country that government is to serve the people, not for political or economic gain by any individual. I’m getting involved in local government at a very low level and it’s just amazing to me what people are doing for one another in the name of public service.

We have met and will meet in the streets to protest and to mourn and to make things better. We look out for one another. We choose to live in a place where we can keep our carbon footprint low, travel by subway or walk or bike, and mix with all kinds of people to keep our minds and hearts open, alive, growing. We wait in lines with one another even without talking, because we love one another and we just need to be present with others, sharing this experience. Maybe sometimes two dogs will stop and say hi to one another and that, plus a hot baguette, will be a highlight of an otherwise very difficult or lonely day. We give a fuck. We are so Brooklyn.

Removal of Obstacles

Shows Don’t Tell

Last night I was finally rolling up some audio cables and mics that I had left on the floor too long, neglected in a depressive defiance that no one would be coming over ever, what’s the point of straightening stuff up. Plus obstacles add some adventure to my 250 square feet walkabouts.

I had pulled out the stuff to experiment so I could tell people how to improve their Zoom sound for livestreams and podcast recordings. My take, though you didn’t ask: for zoom only, for voice-only (music is another thing), probably not worth the hassle for most people. Wired earbuds mic were almost as good as my Shure or Sennheiser boom or lav, computer/phone mics ok if you sit close, airpods add some compression but really everything is fine nothing matters there is no perfection in a pandemic use what you got doing whatever you can do. It was a fun distraction getting to that answer via careful scientific method.

Then a wave of sadness at the realization that I probably won’t need this audio-recording go-kit, so carefully organized in ziplocks in a fashionable green plastic tote, selected just for me in Mexico by my lil cousins who live 6 blocks away but I can’t see anymore at weekly family dinner. Probably I should put everything back in the drawer? But I put the cables back in the tote, and stuffed the tote deep in the closet, unwilling to make that call right now.

March 5 was the last pre-pandemic live show I helped produce. I was already fearful of the news of the virus and feeling very alone in that. I had walked through the East Village without umbrella in a chilly mist, stopped at the Puerto Rican coffee roasters, walked the three flights up to the little speakeasy space, all routine daily life things, dipping maybe even into the negative end of the psychic meter, but now that scene would make me cry with longing if I saw it in a movie. I sprayed alcohol on everything especially the mics. A friend started talking to me and helped me unfurl cables which created more untangling work because they started at the wrong end. It was kind, and I was kind back, and didn’t jump on the teaching moment like I sometimes annoyingly do, just let it go, and said thanks. Already I was sensing that none of this seemed important. I did chuckle to myself that I finally get why sound people are usually such dicks when you touch anything.

All this remembering and emotions in my solo brain vacuum fueled a nightmare where the same thing happened but with even more complications. We were producing and live-streaming the last Broadway stage show of Harry Potter. Not too long ago I hung out with one of the cast and another comedy hero, at one of my favorite bars from a lifetime ago, Brooklyn Inn. I brought 3 pints of fancy ice cream to share, and it stands out as a very vivid “this is who I am and why I live in NYC” night, so that’s maybe why that got into the dream. I was also, in this dream, producing an equally important comedy karaoke show in a very small room. 

Everything was going wrong and all the helpful help wasn’t helpful. Someone *coff Marianne coff* put away all of my gear that I had laid out, moved my backpack (backpack!? What about my fashionable tote?) which then cost precious seconds looking for things and coming up with all my “no it’s great, thanks for looking out” fake assurances to the helpers. (I love you MW and we’ve shared so many producing adventures and travels together, and we had that last great NYC day and night together and that’s surely why you made a dream appearance, not because you have ever fucked up my shit, quite the opposite! Truly, thanks for looking out!)

I said important comedy karaoke show which of course is ridiculous but in my dream it was true. Of course anything you’re ever doing and want to do well is important. But none of this is life or death, no one will die, is what we say to comfort ourselves (and only ourselves) but the client thinks it is, and the clock is ticking, people are asking questions you already answered in the email—why doesn’t anyone read emails—and every person and every person’s concerns are equally valid, except they’re not. The show itself is its own creature and you’re the one tasked with making sure it goes on, because it must go on! And meanwhile, you have to keep smiling to keep everyone else calm, a surface attitude that once made talent holler at me that they didn’t think I was taking concerns seriously because I was so calm and looked like I was having fun. Can’t win!

Despite the anxiety dream, I love putting on a show. I love the facsimile of doing that online though it’s not the same and that’s probably why I’m dreaming about it. Shows are bodies in rooms, community, a commitment by the audience to support and attend, everyone putting in so much effort before, during, after, that goes beyond clicking a button. And after, there is the relief. The audience leaves (hopefully wanting more) and is off to the next place because the night is young and the show was only a ruse to get out, to be out, to be one with the city. For me the relief is a nod or a hug from people I love, even love just for the show, because theater creates that instant surrogate family. And it was all a ruse to get that love from the show, the city, more than the individuals. When it’s over — and it will be over one way or another — you realize that highs and lows, mistakes and all, you pulled it off. As my mentor would say, whether after a trainwreck or a truly transformative artistic experience : “Well, we fooled ‘em again.” 

I recently took a break from full-time booking, promoting, producing other people’s things, because I wanted to give myself a chance to make and produce my own work, as my nature (maybe from traumatic nurture) is always to put other people first and hide my own messy artistic vision under professionalism and perfectionism. Ok Artist Way, I’ve been trying to get through that book for 5 years and I think it’s starting to sink in. I’m not a shadow artist. I’m an artist. I’m messy. These times are messy. No one is running the show. And that’s not ok, but it’s also not my job to fix it. No hitting the streets in protest or putting on a show will fix it*, and it’s hard to feel so powerless. I can figure out ways to be useful and helpful, to help put better people in charge. And I can show up every day for myself which is also ultimately for others, to do the slow steady writing work I need to do. And I can also spend some of my time helping people who want to put on a show, to help others feel lighter, normal, sane. Who don’t know what else to do about any of this either, but maybe can raise money and awareness for good causes.

Usually when I write something like this I try to find something more universal to connect my experience to what others might be experiencing. I have no idea what anyone else is experiencing so I’ll just leave it here. I cleared an obstacle on my floor and I see that I have some more psychic obstacles to remove, through dreams, throughout this global nightmare. None of this is life or death except when it actually is.

*written before people started hitting the streets after George Floyd’s murder, which of course did change things, continues to change things. I meant then, hitting the streets to specifically protest the pandemic. “Whose streets? Covid’s streets!”

Political Elephants Removal of Obstacles

Ashes of America

Posted to FB April 12, 2017   after a fire at my venue

I wondered to my therapist why I’ve been so emotionally triggered by the smell of smoke from coworkers coming back to the office after being in our fire-damaged venue. No, I don’t think I ever experienced a real fire trauma.

Well, there was the time when I was 6 and my big brother had the idea to create a Used Christmas Tree Lot, dragging the neighborhood’s discarded trees to our tiny back yard. We practiced lighting some needles and putting them out, until we failed and the dry trees went up in flames, out of control. I ran and hid at a neighbor’s house, wisely avoiding my normal hidey hole in the crawlspace under my house, where I played with matchbox cars in the thick dust and ash. My sister ran to the kitchen and came out with a single useless glass of water. Fight. Flight. Paralysis. Process. No, that wasn’t traumatic and no I don’t want to talk about why I played under the house.

Then there was the time as adults when arsonists developers were torching our rapidly-gentrifying neighborhood. We sat on a curb watching our next-door neighbor’s building go up in flames, and I said with sincerity: “I’m gonna get us the hell outta Dodge.” Medium scary, yes, we moved, but no, that doesn’t really register as a triggering event. Dad died that year so it was all just a chaotic mix of grief and laughter and insanity and creativity, constant soundtrack of Peggy Lee’s “Is that All There Is” to a fire? Then let’s keep dancing.

No, no, really, I insisted, dismissively, apologetically, these things do not trigger me…then suddenly:

OH! September 11th!

Right. September 11th. Windows open, my Cobble Hill apartment was filled with paper debris and the dust of buildings and humans. I used the FEMA vouchers to get an air filter and vacuum, which I still use. The fires burned for months. It always smelled in Chelsea where I spent all my time drinking and making comedy and when the wind shifted it smelled at home. I kept the windows closed, used my FEMA A/C unit. They said, never forget and we knew we’d never forget. We couldn’t. We tried.

I’ve been using all my powers of suppression since the election, suppression of my fear of our government again, suppression of fear of the actions this government is provoking, suppression of my deepest fear that it’s all over for America, a place I really had such high hopes for. And I have a very real fear that we’re just not going to make it. Lots of us didn’t. Lots more don’t everyday from the same forms of greed and hatred. And even if we do make it, we’ve got the disastrous effects of climate change, where we were already too late and now we are moving backwards. We are not going to make it.

It takes a lot to suppress this fear and get to the silly but somewhat meaningful business of my life. Just yesterday I was asking myself if I am too fancy for wanting a new vacuum, and I dated mine to Sept 2001, so it’s not like I don’t remember it happened, every day. I just didn’t remember the smell, or the emotions, or how I was purposefully trying to forget, every day.

Thank god for therapy, doesn’t take much to scritchy scratchy at the layers to get to the heart. And now I can say: THIS is not THAT. This smoke smell is not that smoke smell. But this fear IS that fear. This empathy is that empathy. This America is not that America, which was just starting to grow up but then went the other way. I wouldn’t be surprised if we saw Americans cheering if it happened to NYC today, as Trump did that day. So many sick maniacs in charge and out there, but let this be our national bottom. Let this be the fire we fight and rise up from.

But yeah I’m getting a new vacuum, I mean sheesh.