Archive for April, 2015

The Framing Business

One of the biggest issues I had to overcome in being authentic and true to myself was learning to stop lying to myself. As a trans woman, society certainly gave me good reason to, and continues to show me why, at times, I feared and worried about being myself. But I rarely worried about the economic disadvantages I might face or the fact that I be attacked just for walking down the street as myself. No, I worried whether I’d be laughed at, whether or not I’d fit in, whether I’d be pretty to be honest. And came to the conclusion I would be, I wouldn’t, and I definitely wouldn’t. I turned out to be wrong and they were vain things to worry about, foolish in retrospect. There are usually bigger concerns than wondering whether that dress looks good on you if you’re trans, though sometimes that matters to, and it feels good when it does. I have a hard time thinking of it as internalized misogyny even if it was as I didn’t really think of myself as a woman then, but certainly my idea of who I was or could be was influenced by a misogynistic construct of who or what a woman could be in our society. And whatever that was, I didn’t fit the definition.

Once I stopped lying to myself about who I was in that sense, I realized the other problems in my life were still there. Which perhaps sounds obvious to you and even me now, but at the time, the process of coming out was pretty consuming and I was fairly focused on it. I was lying to myself in lots of ways though. I’d like to think I’m a generally honest person, but who doesn’t? They may have felt necessary at the time, and probably were as I was trying to navigate my identity as a woman and not necessarily ready to share it, but that doesn’t mean they weren’t lies. Perhaps the other ways didn’t get to the core of my identity, but they still mattered. Coming out gave me the tools, but I still had to use those tools to tackle the other issues in my life. I still had to stop lying to myself about the false constraints that I put on myself, about the worship of busy-ness, about “not having time”. After all people with “less time” than me still seem to get a hell of a lot more done. I had to stop lying to myself about what was possible.

Sometimes it wasn’t necessarily outright lying as much as it was framing. I still spend a lot of time thinking about how I think about my life. I’m not that different than I used to be, believe it or not. Or perhaps I am, but the changes have much more to do with what I think is possible, trying to making those things happen, and how I choose to use the time I have in terms of what I do. There are inextricably other factors tied into it that I cannot deny, like where I live or how much I get paid, but they are difficult to separate out at this point. Some I earned; some I did not. I can and should acknowledge them, but like many things in life that I cannot change in the sense that they are what currently exists, they are just factors. I can work to change them in the future, for myself and hopefully for others, and likely they’ll change in ways that are beyond my control, but I try not to worry too much about that. I stay in my lane and try to take care of what I can because there’s so much that I cannot that I’d really rather not spend my energy on. Though you really can get quite a bit done if you think about it.

But back to the framing business. I really do think how we think about the circumstances of things has an impact along with all those other factors. I don’t mean this in a power of positive thinking kind of way, though. You can do all the right things and still fail, still not get your opportunity. Life might not work out and it might be because of circumstances outside of your direct control. Which is shitty when you think about it. I’d like to think we can move toward a world that gives everyone a fair chances, but it’s pretty obvious that’s not the world we currently live in. As an example, consider creative endeavors. There’s a lot more that goes into being a successful musician than writing a few good songs. Lots of people write good songs. There’s some luck in getting them played in the right places. Sometimes tenacity can create that luck; sometimes you just start off with better connections and resources through nothing you did or earned; sometimes you never even get that chance. Sometimes you squander all those resources and it still works out somehow. Which isn’t to say hard work isn’t a factor. It is to say that I think framing something as “if you work hard and put in your best effort, it will work out for you” isn’t any necessarily true, and is possibly a damaging way of looking at things. Though I guess that depends on how you think of things working out. There’s so much we can’t control. You might feel like the deck is stacked against you. And you could be right.

I’ll admit, thinking about things like this occasionally makes me want to throw my hands up in the air and say what’s the fucking point? But as I talked about previously, I try not to look at it in a pessimistic fashion. Of course it gets to me sometimes. But the last several years have taught me that my definition of possible sometimes needs some work. Not in a grandiloquent bullshit “you can do anything” kind of way, though. More in the sense that each day I work harder to be a better person, the person I want to be, and plenty of days I still fuck up at that. The definition constantly shifts. But I know I’m a person who no longer lies to herself about who she is, and philosophically, that filters into the ways I think about everything else. And it’s very easy to look back and realize what you thought was impossible even a few short years ago is something you’ve suddenly done. And while it’s good to have goals, it’s also amazing how much things can change in a year, let alone several.

Of course you still have to try, and of course it’s still good to have goals, tangible goals that are neither impossible nor too easy. Sometimes that means breaking the seemingly impossible ones down into more doable steps. Sometimes it just means taking the time. Sometimes that time is years. That’s how long it’s taken me to get truly comfortable with who I am, both in terms of how I think of myself and who I see in the mirror each morning. There were a lot of false starts, and simply coming to terms with my womanhood definitely did not magically solve them. Some of them have been influenced by the relative fortune I’ve experienced. Some of them have just been influenced by a change in how I think of myself. Some of them have been influenced by taking better care of myself. We all have to find the things that make us who we are, and I am still working to find those aspects. I probably always will be. I may naturally be a competitive person, it may be something I use to drive me. I may get piqued because of it from time to time, but we are all on our own journey and in a lot of ways it’s futile to compare myself to other people. Because I’m me.

For my part, I had to stop saying to myself I don’t have the time. I had to stop saying I wanted to do something in an unqualified manner. I do have the time, I just might not choose to use it. I do want to do that, but not as much as all these other things. Perhaps that isn’t a beneficial way for you to think about life, but I think it’s disingenuous how often many of us say we don’t have the time. They may be little white lies to get out of things, but I also feel that influences how we think about our lives. It’s agency, after all. Choosing not to do something is an active decision; saying you don’t have the time is a passive one. Of course we have to take care of things, we have to make sure we eat and the rent gets paid, and I get that some people have less agency in regard to how they take care of that. I get that a lot of people have to use the time they have to do a lot of things they don’t want to, more so than I do at least, and that there are some people who truly probably do not have time in the sense that they are already using all of it to try and take care of those things. Even a few years ago I don’t think I would have truly been cognizant of that. But that is not something I can say, and I do not feel it is something I should say because I don’t think it’s true of my life. It doesn’t mean I’m always making the right choices, or even using my time all that well. But I’m not this person that things just happen to. I’m this person who makes choices about how she lives her life. I am a person with agency who decides to do these things. Or who decides not to. Some of those decisions work out; some do not. And again, while some of those things are influenced by things I didn’t necessarily do a whole lot to get, some of those things are influenced by things I very much did do something to earn. And I plan to take advantage of those opportunities. I’m going to use that agency to keep trying every day to be the best version of me. Whoever I end up being.

In A Different Place

It’s easy to be cynical about many aspects of modern life. It’s important to be skeptical, but those two practices are quite different even if they end up looking quite the same to many I try to attain for a healthy dose of the latter but I am not always happy when I find the former creeping into my thoughts. As a fan of music, the last few years have given me plenty of opportunities to be cynical, especially as more reunion tours roll out and the cash registers ring. It’s important to realize that what I view as culturally important or vital again is just as likely viewed as a cash grab by someone else. I saw Slowdive three times last year. I thought they were worth the money at the time and I still do now. It seems so obvious to me that it was worth it, but it seems so obvious to someone else that they could just be another band capitalizing on the fact that their music went and got bigger after they went away. Whether it was because the music was prescient or tastes just came around or someone just decided it was important isn’t necessarily an issue. Something changed to make the idea of playing old music again live (and possibly recording new music) a more tenable proposition. And if it is just that these bands can make more money, there’s always one question that sticks with me: So what?

It’s easy for me to talk about artistic integrity, damaging legacies, cashing in, whatever. I wasn’t the one getting fucked over by a record company or an unscrupulous promoter. I didn’t play to 15 people in some long-forgotten venue in Cleveland or Portland or Washington D.C. I didn’t sleep on floors or in a van or nowhere at all. I didn’t give up parts of my life for anything creative that I’m passionate it about. It’s easy to judge, it’s hard to know. What I do know is that we live to evaluate that vitality, what matters, all of those things that we cannot objectively measure but still try to. Who is the best Brit Pop band? What about shoegaze? Best flow of all time? We can try to find science behind some of these things (and some do in fascinating little ways), we can bolster our arguments with numbers, but in the end, we are trying to establish objective measures for something we subjectively experience. How does it make you feel?

That isn’t to say that every show I go to is great, or even good. Many are mediocre and forgettable. Some are truly memorable for the wrong reasons (like watching a train hit a car that hit a deer as I once said about a particular Buffalo Moon set). Some are just pretty great in their own right. Bronze played a far better show than I thought would have come out of some sweaty basement last night. Perhaps it was because it was packed; perhaps it was because it was being recorded; perhaps they were just locked in. The least I could do is put a few bucks into the jar. On Monday, it’ll be more than a few bucks going into the jar for Ride. Is it worth it?

Worth is a tough thing to judge. But do I make money that I believe is worth redistributing to a band that has made music that is valuable to me, that has gotten me through some tough days or gotten quite a few spins on the turntable? Paying to go to a show is just as much about the potential of what might happen as what does. When the two align, it’s a beautiful thing. I’m going to see Ride over the Mats on Monday. Life is full of tough choices. I’m sure they’ll still be great at the Masonic, but will it really be a better experience than the one I had at Midway last September? Probably not. Am I justifying my decisions? Of course. But I’m not mad about it. It’s unfortunate that two shows I really want to attend are at the same time, that the Mats aren’t on Sunday or Tuesday instead of Monday. But they aren’t, and not going to this one show this time doesn’t mean I don’t continue to support them or their music isn’t still valuable to me. It obviously is, considering how much I go back to it. One person will look at my decision and say I totally agree with your logic Jane, the next will say it’s the dumbest justification for not going to see them one more time. Either way, both bands have some meaning to me, meaning that I can easily attach 40 or 50 bucks to for an experience but I can’t do everything; I can’t support every band that has meaning to me all the time in every meaningful way. But one of the aspects of a reunion tour that I think is overlooked in the cynical “these bands are just minting money” argument as that these bands are getting a chance for people to directly support them in a way that didn’t exist before. They weren’t that popular; their fans didn’t have that kind of money; their record label or whoever has ended up with the rights still makes the money when you buy the reissued LP or CD instead of them. And if it does have value to you, what is so bad about expressing that with money? Critical adoration doesn’t pay the rent.

Am I fortunate in that I have a bit more to spend on those things? Of course. There’s no denying that. I understand what it’s like to not really have much extra and still be trying to figure out how to support the music and bands you love. I have been there. I purchased many a six or eight dollar CD on sale at Tower Records or Circuit City because that was as much as I could give up at the time. I still look at records or shows sometimes and say “if that were 15 instead of 20 I’d totally do it”. I am still arbitrarily assigning value to the music that matter to me. We all are. Perhaps music doesn’t matter to you at all, which seems impossible to me, but that’s just one person’s perspective. There’s still an aspect of curation to any of our loves, what we assign value to, what we have to give, and what we are willing to give up in other regards to do that. To a degree, some of that is influenced by the decisions we make, but there’s a lot of luck there, too.

Beyond all that, just like I’m in a different place, so are these bands, whether they just reunited or they’ve been on the road the past twenty years. They aren’t just these monoliths that are making music for me to experience. They are people too. Yes, I’m sure financial aspects do matter into these decisions; but so do all the other things that make us people. Petty arguments that once drove band members apart perhaps don’t matter anymore. The project came to its natural conclusion at the time but is now undergoing a recrudescence. They actually enjoy playing those songs again as opposed to feeling like they are forced to. Records are static; bands are dynamic. A record is a snapshot of a time, it’s an artifact. A band is an ongoing concern, an organism. Even when we think of the memories we love, the great shows we’ve seen, the great tours, those are static remembrances of once-dynamic times. Perhaps a band has something to add to their legacy; perhaps not. Those are subjective experiences we’ll hash out with ourselves as we wear out the grooves on some records over others or with others over drinks as we revisit certain stories over and over and there are other bands we know we’ve seen that we can’t remember. Whether it’s five dollars now in a sweaty basement or 50 at the Warfield, we are paying for the potential and for the experience. The five says I was there back when; the 50 says this is how much it matters to me now. Neither is better or worse, though one quite obviously has a different level of access just by the amount of money attached. That can’t help but create different expectations. It’s easy to shrug off a bad five dollar show as an experience; the 50 dollar one might still be an experience, but we might not be able to laugh about it the same way if it’s not a good one.

In the end, I just want to support what matters to me. Music matters to me, and there are tangible ways I can show it. I may be able to say I saw the band back when they played a 200 person room that was half-full, but I’m not going just to say that. I’m going because I want to see that band, I want to support them, because they make music that has value to me and I want to show that. Someone has to be seeing who will be your favorite band in five years now when they are playing cheaper shows with songs that we may debate are not as good as what will come later. Maybe they’re my favorite band right now. Both claims are valid. You need the incubators just as much as you need the people who continue to show up. I am more of an incubator in my tastes. I like the small rooms and the intimacy. I like that I can go to three or four or even five of those kinds of shows over one at the bigger rooms. I want to see those bands in the bigger rooms too, but time and money are still finite aspects of my life even if they don’t seem that way to you. It’s easy to say that it won’t be better than the last time. It’s easy to overvalue the first time you saw a band, or the first record you heard a record by them exactly because of the subjective confluences that came together to make that experience what it was. Some things I can’t remember for the life of me, but I will never forget the first time I heard the first tendrils of Danse Macabre in that passenger seat of a Saturn on Arbor Street. There’s a lot tied up in the experience of a show or a record or a song that we sometimes forget, or at least don’t consciously appreciate. But music brings me so much joy. It’s gotten me through many rough times. Sometimes it’s a little thing to show that appreciate, sometimes it’s more, but either way, it comes back to the same question for me: why be cynical about showing tangible appreciation for the things I love? I like having a roof over my head. I’d like to help the bands I care about be able to do that too.

Keep Pushing

Every day I fall apart a little bit and I work to put myself back together. There are good days where I have a little bit more energy and can put it into something else. There are days, like yesterday, where I have barely have enough to get back to the bed where I started. There are days where I just don’t have enough. While you might look at that sentiment and see negativity, that’s not how I take it. I can’t remember where I saw it recently, but I saw something about how existentialism isn’t necessarily supposed to be this bleak philosophy. And that makes sense to me. I find that a good way of looking at things. It’s easy to take a pessimistic view of Sisyphus rolling that boulder up the hill. Irrelevant of your belief structure and what you believe is or isn’t beyond, we are all going to leave this mortal coil one of these days. Every day before that, we’re rolling that boulder. It’s going to roll back down. But we’re defined by that toil. What are we going to put in?

I’ve been thinking about that a lot recently. Have I been putting in enough effort? At least in the context that I do not feel like I’ve been putting in enough. It might seem strange to say, I know it looks like I’m doing a lot all the time. And I certainly am doing a lot. But I’m fairly passive about what I’ve been doing. And while that doesn’t make a difference when I go out for a run, of course no one’s going to go to a show or come over if I don’t ask. That’s never been something I’ve been great at, never particularly been something I find comfortable. And while I’d love to say it’s because I’m so self-effacing that I just can’t bear to do it, it’s definitely not that. I just find it enervating to try and organize things with other people at times. Someone’s going to cancel at the last minute, someone’s going to string you along, someone’s not going to bother to say anything at all. There were times in my life were I was better at dealing with that, or at least less bothered by the minor rejections that punctuate so much of life. I understand that we all have our own lives and things come up and all of that, so I don’t take it personally. I just don’t have a lot of success getting things like that going, or at least I haven’t in the past few years.

But more to the point, as I’ve wondered before, I think I may have just gotten too used to doing things by myself. The skills that I used to have to set things up with other people, they’ve atrophied through lack of use. There’s definitely merit in doing what you want to whether or not anyone else will show up. But the board games don’t play themselves. And there’s no one else over here to play them unless I ask. While I might intimate that I want people to come over, it’s rare that I actually ask, or set up something with a definitive time. It doesn’t have to be elegant. It just has to be.

Perhaps I have just been too focused on myself recently. Sometimes I feel lonely, not just alone. Sometimes I feel like things will never work out. It’s hard not to wonder why we toil at times, when it seems like nothing’s going right. Even when most everything is going right but it’s just hard to cut through the miasma of that feeling. But I’m not the only person that feels that. I’d be surprised if everyone doesn’t feel that from time to time. Is it worth it? What am I doing? Why am I doing it? The past few months, I’ve been putting a lot of effort into rewiring a lot of habits in my life, especially in regard to my diet, but just in regard to how I use my time and how I’ve been taking care of myself too. But part of taking care of myself is taking the time to do more with my friends. What good are all these tools that make it easier to keep in touch if I don’t leverage them? One of the reasons I put a few cards in the deck that require other people is to challenge myself to be that person again who reaches out a little more.

If one were to stretch the Sisyphus analogy a bit more, there are certainly plenty of boulders I’ve been pushing. I’ve been toiling, and I’ve been happy with myself in regard to the work I’ve put into creating better habits for myself, or at least habits that feel better for me. Perhaps it’s just tough, you can’t possibly push them all. There are always going to be too many things to do. But there are more things that I just have to push. Life frequently feels like an impossible balancing act, the fact that we do anything together seems remarkable, with so many different aspects taking all of us in so many different directions. But I think I have a bit more energy to give, and I can push a little harder. Or at least I feel like I can focus a little bit more after taking a little time to take a bit better care of myself and my habits. I do not feel like they will suffer. Some days it feels harder than others of course. This isn’t to say that trying to set up a casual gathering with friends should feel like a ton of work. I don’t think it is. But I do have to push. And the next day? I just have to keep pushing. It’s all any of us can do.

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