Category Archives: random

It’s Pride Month. We’re still being erased.

My wife Cynthia and I saw Fun Home on tour over the weekend.

We’d seen it on Broadway (I surprised her with tickets for her birthday) and loved it. So when friends who hadn’t seen it suggested that we go see the touring production together, we said yeah!

But there are some real problems with the touring production.

First, there’s everything laid out in Sinister Woman’s excellent post about the de-butching of Fun Home. Big Alison’s awful , un-butch costume made us both angry. How can this be the culmination of the girl who wanted to wear nothing but t-shirts? The girl who argued with her dad about wearing a dress, a barrette in her hair? The girl who sang “Ring of Keys” because she saw something of herself in the delivery woman at the diner?

Even more importantly, the actor just doesn’t do justice to the part. Kate Shindle has a great singing voice. But that’s all she brings to the role. Her stance, her gestures, her walk: none of them read as butch. She lurked around the stage, watching her younger selves without adding anything meaningful (more on that below).

The other thing Cyn and I both noticed was the de-sexualization of the character. The moment that Alison and Joan get together can be so powerful. College-kid I’ve-never-kissed-a-girl-before awkwardness gives way to sweet affection and sexual longing. On Broadway, that moment was hot. It felt real. I loved it.

But now they’re playing it for laughs. Alison is all flailing limbs and slapstick hilarity. There’s nothing sexy about it. This is the *one* moment of the play that shows lesbian romance and sexuality. And they threw it away for comedy, presumably so they wouldn’t make Middle America uncomfortable. This production has decided that lesbians can’t be sexual, and that same-sex love can’t be romantic. It must be minimized. It’s better when the audience can laugh at it.

Here’s the thing about lesbians. We fall in love. We have sex. With each other.

Minimizing those things leads to a lot of misunderstanding. It affects how people perceive us. We are people, not a punchline.

As I mentioned above, we went with friends who hadn’t seen it before. One of them commented that she hadn’t expected it to be so much about Alison’s father. It was an interesting comment, and it made me think.

Grown-up Alison spends a lot of time on stage, watching her younger selves, reflecting on her childhood, and coming to terms with her life through the cartoons that she is creating. When the actor playing Alison lurks without introspection, when she recites captions without illuminating the journey that each one reflects, she erases her own character’s role in controlling the story. That upsets the balance of the show, so that it feels more like Bruce’s story, told through Alison’s eyes, rather than Alison’s story in which Bruce plays a major part.

I did love seeing Fun Home again. It’s a brilliantly written show that holds so much meaning for me, and to countless other queer women who can finally see aspects of their own coming out on stage. But this production is problematic in a number of ways — each one directly linked to the parts of the show that make it meaningful to queer women. It’s a betrayal of the very reason I loved the show to begin with.

Also, it’s Pride Month. We still have plenty to fight for.

{This post wouldn’t exist without many conversations with Cynthia. These are her thoughts, too.}

 

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Apostrophe Day

(Today isn’t the official Apostrophe Day, but who cares?)

From @samtanner:

“An apostrophe is the difference between a business that knows its shit and a business that knows it’s shit.”

Meanwhile, the New Haven Public Library has sent out a flyer stating that it is “accepting donations for it’s big book sale.”

No!

Library people, please consult one of your many books. Or The Apostrophe Protection Society.

And finally, for amusement, I offer you:

Apostrophe Catastrophes.

 

 

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Influence, schminfluence.

As  I was just looking at Klout and finding great amusement in its assessment of my online influence.

screen-shot-klout

According to Klout, I am influential about:

  • Music (duh)
  • Homosexuality (hello, gay now!)
  • Photography (yes, I take pictures)
  • Instruments (musical?)
  • Blogging (welcome to my blog!)
  • Family (I have parents and a brother and a sister-in-law and aunts and uncles and cousins, and once I wrote about my family’s Thanksgiving…)
  • War

War?

I’m influential about WAR? Continue reading

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In the woods

ladyslippersI went hiking yesterday last Saturday [I forgot to finish and post this, of course], and it was the most confusing hikes I’ve ever done. It was also beautiful.

About the confusing part: the trail and blazes didn’t match the map after a couple of miles, so even though the trail was clear and we kept following the blue blazes, we couldn’t figure out why we were in a low pine wood getting eaten by mosquitos instead of climbing Lamentation Mountain.

Then we heard cars, and pretty soon we came out to a road. The same road, we realized, that we’d driven in on. So we were a mile or two away from our starting point – by road – and not all that close to our intended end point, where my car was waiting for us.

So we followed the road, taking a little detour around a pond and through a cemetery and then back to the road, and it started to rain, and a car honked at us (for what? Walking? Existing?), and just as the rain turned to a downpour we reached our starting point. And drove to my car, and tried to figure out where the trail had diverged.

We found out later that they’re in the middle of moving the trail but haven’t gotten around to, oh, putting up signs saying that you’re about to go in a huge and confusing circle.

Anway, for the good part. We saw:

  • Tons of ladyslippers. I’ve never seen so many in one day. And a bunch of jack-in-the-pulpits.
  • Three snakes. Two of them were a pair, a pretty big one paralleled by a slim little young thing, sunning themselves on some rocks. They might’ve been black rat snakes. The other one was pretty small.
  • A mama quail acting like a spastic, injured freak in order to distract us from her babies. But soon the babies startled, too, and about six tiny dark chicks jumped up and starting running deeper in the woods, crying, “peep! peep!”
  • Two families of geese and their goslings. A pair of swans and their cygnets. A bunch of ducks, including mallards and one white duck.
  • A great blue heron, taking off in slow motion above a lily-covered pond.
  • A low-lying pine grove, damp and cool and lovely. And full of mosquitoes, but that’s okay.

I’m heading back into the woods this weekend. Can’t wait.

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Comedy is truth, truth humor.

“Actual comedy, the good kind, comes from truth telling, from skewering the status quo, from pointing out hypocrisy, and from a place where the butt of the joke is the powerful, or the comic themselves.”

– Metafilter user SassHat

(full comment. It’s a totally different context, but.)

For that reason, please go see Hong Kong Dinosaur at the Yale Cabaret this weekend. It’s by my friend Amelia, and it’s fabulous.

I laughed so hard, and damn, did I need to laugh. I cried. Go do the same.

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On the role of arts journalism

I wrote the Roundtable column for the January/February issue of The Arts Paper, a paper published by the New Haven Arts Council. The column isn’t on the Arts Council’s website, so I thought I’d post it here in case you’re not able to pick up a copy.

Roundtable:
On the role of arts journalism

I’ve been writing about music for
years, but I had to stop and think when
I was asked recently: Why do we need
arts journalism? The question might have
surprised me less if it hadn’t come from
a career music critic in a room full of
arts writers. Yet it was worth asking: Why
do we need reporters and critics when we
can just go out and enjoy a performance?
In the words of Rocco Landesman, chairman
of the National Endowment for the
Arts: “Informed voices, in whatever media
venue they reside, are critical to the
health and vibrancy of the arts.” Those
informed voices tell us what’s important
in the arts world and why it matters.

To read the rest: click here to download a pdf or here to view a jpg.

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See you next year.

Me and Mt. Everest.

I’m not usually one to spend the end of December getting all sentimental about the past year. It’s around Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur (which fall in September or October) that I look back on the past twelve months, what I’ve done, what I’ve accomplished, and what kind of a human being I’ve been.

But the other day, as I was getting ready to lock up my office for the break, I realized just what a rocking, fabulous year 2010 has been.

I spent a gorgeous week in California with the wonderful people that are my brother and sister-in-law.

I took an online travel writing class and loved it.

I organized a drag king night in New Haven and had a blast performing in drag for the first time in years.

I went to Nepal and rode elephants and lost myself in the swirl of Kathmandu. I went to Tibet, where I walked through countless monasteries and drank yak-butter tea with Buddhist nuns and hiked at Everest Base Camp.

One of my blog posts got Freshly Pressed, and hundreds of people came here and wrote wonderful, supportive comments.

I spent lovely summer hours listening to live music.

I was selected for the 2010 NEA Arts Journalism Institute in classical music and opera, so I got to spend ten blissful days in New York City going to concerts, hearing lectures, attending workshops, and writing about music.

I wrote my first food reviews, and I wrote for new papers and blogs.

I played piano for a new show with a fun, intelligent local theater company.

I opened my first photography exhibit.

And on Sunday, I’m taking off for a trip to the Galapagos Islands. I’m going to ring in the new year with tortoises and lizards and blue-footed boobies.

I’m a lucky, happy gal. And I’ll see you in the new year. (I’ll bring pictures.)

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Reading Obituaries

Last week, Elizabeth Edwards died. Last night, Richard Holbrooke died. And I’ve been thinking about obituaries.

Reading about Elizabeth Edwards last week in the Washington Post started this whole musing. When a public figure dies, people like to point out that it’s a shame they get more notice after their death than they did during their lives. And it’s often true. I’m conscious of that every time I read an obituary of someone I didn’t pay much attention to during his or her lifetime. Henryk Gorecki is one of those figures. I have a CD or two of his music, but I wouldn’t have made the effort to listen again recently if his death hadn’t brought him back to my attention.

A month ago, I don’t know how much attention I would have given to a news story about Edwards or Holbrooke. I might’ve read it, I might not have. But when I came upon Edwards’s obituary, I read the whole thing. Consciously. And I stopped to wonder about what I was doing. I was aware that I cared more because she had died. Reading her obituary was a form of tribute. It was likely the last time I’d see a substantial news piece about her, and so I read every last word.

I thought of this again this morning, when I was listening to a piece on Holbrooke on NPR. I remember when he was appointed special envoy to Afghanistan and Pakistan, but I didn’t remember his role in the Dayton agreement – I was still in high school while he was bringing about peace in the former Yugoslavia. And I wasn’t paying vast amounts of attention to world events. (Some attention, yes. I vividly remember my uncle explaining the history of the Bosnian-Serb conflict as we garnished gefilte fish with cherry tomatoes and bias-sliced carrots before some large family dinner for some Jewish holiday.)

It occurs to me now that obituaries are complete stories. News is news: always in flux, always developing new perspective on the past and new offshoots into what is always the present. There’s a satisfaction, then, a completeness, in reading a story of a life complete. There may be regrets of things not done or wondering about what may have been. But the life itself now has an ending. The arc is complete, and the narrative becomes a story.

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T-Day Report

I offer you a snapshot of Thanksgiving with my fun and kooky family.

We had enough food to feed about three times as many people as we had: turkey, cranberry, stuffing, brussels sprouts, corn muffins, mashed potatoes, sweet potatoes with pecans, green beans with almonds. Apple-blackberry crumb pie, chocolate pecan pie, and chocolate truffles. Plus the hors d’oeuvres we started with, pita chips and crudité and hummus and guacamole and olives. Oh, and wine.

We talked about TV shows I hadn’t heard of. It’s scary when I know less about pop culture than my mother does. In the middle of a particularly frivolous conversation, my cousin said, “Remember when our holidays were just talking about the Holocaust?” Which is true, because my grandparents were Holocaust survivors, and my uncle is a scholar about (among other things) the Holocaust, and so genocide is a perfectly normal conversation topic for my family.

Once, at a different family holiday, my younger cousin burst out, “Whenever anyone in this family wants to be funny, they just say something in a Yiddish accent!” True. Guilty as charged.

I played piano while my cousin and our stray guest sang numbers from West Side Story. Later, around the table, we sang a couple of spirituals. My uncle translated a few Christmas carols into Yiddish. My cousin did a hilarious Justin Bieber impression. Not everyone had realized how much Bieber resembles a 22-year-old lesbian and thought it was hilarious when I brought it up, even though it was hardly my idea.

My uncle fell asleep on the couch, and we all chuckled when he snored. One of my aunts disappeared for a while; I think she was taking a quieter nap on a more remote sofa. We put on some stupid TV show in the background while we digested dinner and tried to rally for dessert. Which we did, finally. And then cleared the last round of plates, packed up leftovers, and called it a night.

And then I sat down to finish writing a column that was due Friday. It was a long night.

 

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Applause

Applause is weird. How and when did we decide that making noise by slapping our hands together is the best way to show our appreciation for something taking place before us – a performance, a speech, or an anticipated event like an unveiling or ribbon-cutting? And not just the event itself, but the introduction of a speaker or performer? The delivery of a great solo in the heat of a jazz set, or the articulation of a shared goal in the middle of a speech?

Some classical music fiends hate when audiences applaud after, say, the first movement of a multi-movement work, deriding that the applauders must not know the piece isn’t over yet or moaning that the continuity of the performance has been interrupted?

Other times, it feels like there isn’t enough applause. Watch the New York Philharmonic audience after a concert sometime. As soon as the last note sounds, the subscribers are up and out of their seats. Not for a standing ovation, but to grab their coats and stride up the aisle like they’re on a desperate mission.

However it’s come to be, applause is a sign of respect. (I’m going to explore the concertgoing experience more in a future post.) But sometimes applause feels wrong, especially in a sacred space (I use the word “sacred” reeeeally broadly) or at a solemn occasion. You want to show your appreciation, but it feels so brash and disruptive to applaud. Ever sit in the wake of a moving speech, itching to applaud to show how powerful it was, but holding back because applause would shatter the moment?  A friend of mine once told me that at his summer camp, they would rub their hands together at moments like these. Out of the silence after a moving moment would come a gentle susurrus. Our hands might draw together almost automatically, but the sound doesn’t shatter the peace.

I’d like to make that more widespread. Anyone want to join me? Rub your hands together if you do.

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