Friday, December 30, 2011

End of a Year: Smell Ya Later, 2011.

I've never been a big fan of the whole New Year's Eve thing. The partying, the booze, the arbitrary marking of time and reification of that limiting and often demoralizing human construct -- being an introvert, it doesn't really work for me.



I tend to refrain from celebrating or making any acknowledgement the 'new year'. (In the off-chance that anyone ever wondered, that's one of the reasons that I don't post end-of-year 'best of' lists on this blog, that and the fact that it seems like lazy journalism/information better kept to one's livejournal or whatever.) I might make resolutions, but I try to avoid the sort of empty reflection and premature nostalgia that the holiday calls for. Call me weird, but if I can be aware of both myself and the things happening around me, if I can be smart about my behavior, its consequences, and how to modify it for better future results, I'd like to be that way all year, rather than for one night or one week.

But the end of 2011 is shaping up to be the exception. It's been a weird year, people. It's been a long year. It's had its moments, but it was frequently unpleasant, and often lonely. It looks like it's going to have a relatively happy ending, but only after an inauspicious beginning and really difficult middle. So much has happened that it's hard to not look back on it. There's been a lot of change, and I feel like I've learned a lot, so for the past couple weeks I've been trying to process it and figure out how to make use of it all.

In terms of this blog, it's been a quiet year; I only managed to post a few times. I'd like to tell you all more specifics about everything that went down -- you know, a sort of explanation-slash-sharing of what might be helpful information for others who have dealt with traumas.

But like so many people, I'm kinda still tired from Christmas, so, I made a mix instead. There's a song for each month of 2011, to mark both how I remember feeling that month, and what I was listening to at that time. It feels like a bit of a copout, sure -- but to blog more in 2012 is one of my resolutions. So enjoy, and see you all then.

January: Mortals -- "Hellmouth"
February: Bikini Kill -- "Blood One"
March: Seven Year Bitch -- "Give It to Me"
April: Black Flag -- "Can't Decide"
May: Versaemerge -- "Figure It Out"
June: White Lung -- "Shoot"
July: Babes in Toyland -- "Ripe"
August: Sleater-Kinney -- "The Fox"
September: Warpaint -- "Bees"
October: Drive Like Jehu -- "Good Luck in Jail"
November: Refused -- "Tannhäuser/Derivè"
December: Sonic Youth -- "Genetic"

Saturday, December 10, 2011

Do you remember when we couldn't put it away?

I would have posted this yesterday, but I spent most of the day preparing for and then partying down at the (almost) last P.S. Eliot show, WHOOPS!

Back in October I headed over to Brooklyn Fireproof to support my friends and fellow volunteers in Aye Nako. Perhaps out of what could be described as professional habit, I got there early to check out the other bands. (Short report: Mitten dropped off last minute; Troubled Sleep and Once A Pawn? Both worth googling. I'm just saying.) But I really wasn't there in any kind of professional capacity. I was there for friendhangs, not for blog fodder.


[Image: A brown, wide-eyed stuffed monkey sits on a table.]
Flier for Brooklyn Fireproof show. And again, those bands are worth looking up!

So naturally, something reminded me of this internet space that I've been neglecting lately. I was at the merch table to say my good nights to the band when drummer Angie asked me, "So what did you think?"

When a person asks for your opinion like that -- or I guess when I ask someone for their thoughts on something I've done -- it's a request for some kind of reassurance, for support. It translates to, "I'm not feeling great about this, remind why I do this?" The idea of Angie, as in, "Angie Boylan (ex-Cheeky, ex-Very Okay, ex-Little Lungs, Each Others Mothers)", asking me for reassurance seemed bizarre. Trying to recover from my shock, I asked, "What did I think? Uh…why?"

"Well, I care about your opinion," she shrugged. Cue more shock. "You're probably the only one," I said, trying to play it cool. "I doubt that that's true," she smiled skeptically.

Standing at the merch table I considered those words. "Your opinion". There was no explicit mention of this blog, or of my pseudo-career as a music journalist, but those words made me think, Oh, right -- you used to have opinions on everything you listened to, you used to share them via this blog, and at one point it seemed like people actually wanted to know what you thought about stuff.

That time feels like a different life. Back then, I had the time and energy to go to multiple shows every week, to acquire and listen to countless demos and new releases every month, to record my reactions, and to update this blog every single week, sometimes three times in a five day span! I remember being able to do all of that, but only just barely. I certainly can't imagine being able to do that ever again.

But I do remember that I loved doing it. And after what has been a long and strange year, I'm finally starting to genuinely want to contribute to and participate in my community again. I'm slowly starting to remember what and how much all of this meant to me.

So I've quietly begun writing again, for other publications; writing your own blog is a pretty solitary pursuit and what I've needed lately is to work with other people. I wrote a piece for the recent issue of Hoax Zine. I've contributed two reviews to Tom Tom Magazine. Last month I read at Meet Me at the Race Riot: People of Color in Zines from 1990 to Today, and later wrote an as-yet unpublished account of my experience at the event for co-organizer and moderator Daniela Capistrano.

To be blunt about it: I've been really lucky. I'm fortunate enough to be able to do all of this, and to know cool people who are doing cool things, and who are willing to print my work. I'm lucky that after a year of being unable to write, I've started to recover my abilities, and that at least some friends are still interested in reading and hearing what I have to say.

But for as grateful as I am for all of the aforementioned opportunities, and as much as I love writing, I think what I've really wanted and what I've really struggled with is needing a very specific kind of validation from my friends. What I've really wanted is for someone to say to me, "You're going to be okay." I wanted someone to insist that regardless of what I do, whether I blog or not, whether I write I or not, that I'm going to figure things out and that everything will be fine, or some version of it.

No one has told me anything like this. I haven't really asked, because even though I think it's important to ask for what you need, especially emotionally, sometimes it feels weird to request that sort of validation.

What I have been told, more than once, is that I "shouldn't" need that sort of validation, that I "shouldn't depend on people" for it, and that I should be more self-sufficient. And yes, self-confidence and self-reliance are both really important But what I've learned in the last year is that support, especially when you live and operate alone, is pretty fucking important too. If you are fortunate enough to have family, friends, roommates, and co-workers that you see daily, if you haven't had the experience of really being on your own, you wouldn't know this. But I have been on my own, so I do know it.

But what I also know, passive aggressive-soap box-venting aside, is that you can get so wrapped up in what you need that you don't see what you have. I still want someone to tell me that I'm going to eventually be fine, and I consider that to be perfectly reasonable. But that doesn't negate the less direct support and validation I've received.

Friend, co-organizer, and community pillar Kate Wadkins asked me to read at Meet Me at the Race Riot, with the likes of Osa Atoe and Mimi Thi Nguyen, Kate believed that I belonged at that reading, even if I don't really. Friends in other bands have asked about my work, and about writing about their bands, surely out of need for publicity, but also because they must like something about what I do. My bff Cary bugs me about writing in particular on the regular. (Direct quote: "Update your blog, you daft wanker!")

I could write all of this off as empty talk. But, at this point, I choose not to. I choose, instead, to (at least attempt to) be gracious about it, and accept it as a compliment. It only took Angie Boylan randomly asking me for my opinion to get me to realize it.

To answer her question, Aye Nako's set that night was tight, if casual. The band seems to be writing new songs at the moment, and is gradually debuting new material at their local shows. There's a plenty that I could and would really like to say about what I've heard so far, but I think that that's a different post for a different day.

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

The vicious cycle and the single girl.

Last week I spent days -- yes, days -- writing a new post for this blog. It was a post about a discussion that happened in class at rock camp in August, and I completely threw myself into it.

And then…I decided to not post it. I read it back, and decided that even after days of writing it, I just didn't like how it had turned out.

I wish that I could say that this was an isolated incident, or even a routine occurrence of the "they can't call be winners" phenomenon that every artist is (or should be) familiar with. But it's bigger than that. Things have quiet around here for over a month because lately, I don't like anything that I write. Lately, everything I write seems stale and boring, and I can't bring myself to think that anyone might want to read it. And I get that even at what I consider my best, readers, perhaps even most people, will still find my work uninteresting. But at least I used to like what I was writing.

It's not just the finished product, either. Lately, I've found it difficult to enjoy the writing process. I used to feel that I had gotten the hang or, and was maybe even getting pretty good at blogging. I was comfortable with each step of the process, the scribbling down of a few ideas for a post, the shaping of those ideas into an outline, the filling out of the outline, and then the editing and publishing. I used to be able to do it in a few hours spread out over two or three days. But right now I can't even think about that process without feeling overwhelmed, and can't imagine how I used to do it regularly.

So, here is where I find myself: I feel like I can't write a decent blog post about something pertinent to this blog. So I don't. And then not writing reinforces my feelings of anxiety and inadequacy. Which leads to leads to more not writing (or doing anything else productive, for that matter). Which leads to more bad feelings, and so on, and so on, and so on….


Credit: Laura Siragher. Orginally found at her tumblr

As illustrated by this handy diagram, this is a cycle. It has no beginning and it has no end, so how do you stop it? How do you interrupt the cycle of unhappiness and unhappily doing nothing about it?

Trying to answer this question has unexpectedly brought me back to one of the central concerns of this blog: access. This blog has always looked at the way gender affects a person's participation in music, and I've tried to consider how gender intersects with gender presentation, sexuality, nationality, race, and class. Now, I find myself wondering how access and one's ability to participate is affected by one's emotional health or well-being.

I know from experience that emotional difficulties can be a real problem, but a lot of people don't seem to take 'emotions' or emotional health very seriously. Every time that I've tried to talk about how I feel and why I haven't been able to do meaningful work, almost every time that I've tried to talk about feeling anxious, or scared, or alone, or just plain unhappy, I've been told to simply not

To be told to simply not have a certain feeling is pretty much the least helpful advice you'll ever receive. But people still do this, I think because we as a society don't take emotions or emotional health seriously, and we don't know how to deal with it when we have these problems ourselves, and we definitely don't know how to handle it when someone right in front of us is struggling. We don't know how to respond when our friends tell us that they are in pain. So we say stupid, unhelpful things. Or, we try to crack clever cultural references, or we steal them from movies like Reality Bites. "Man," we say to each other, "you are like in the bell jar." Because we don't know what else to do or say.


Girl, you don't even know. Image: a light-skinned, dark-haired woman in a yellow paisley shirt accurately summarizes an unseen character's emotional condition.

I wonder on a regular basis how much of an impact this social resistance to dealing with emotions has on girls and young women (and also, young men). It's easier for me to think structurally, and to worry about other would-be female artists of all types and their inability to get work done, than it is for me to think about my own problems. It's easier to ask myself, "What advice would I give to a friend, or to a student, who's struggling?" than it is to ask myself what I should do.

How do you break a cycle? Whether you're talking about the cycle of anxiousness and low productivity, or the larger cycle of ignoring feelings and not knowing how to deal with them? I don't have a real, solid answer for this question. But if a friend or a student or a camper asked me, I would tell her that I believe that this, as in this sort of post, is the start of an answer. Maybe, rather than jumping back into your work, and expecting yourself to ignore your negative feelings, you need to acknowledge and openly discuss those feelings. Even when it feels like no one else wants to hear (or read) about your feelings, and especially when you feel like you can't talk to anyone about them.

I would write this blog as I normally do if I could. I miss being able to focus on shows and bands and the people I know who are making music, zines, and other DIY media. But I think that first I have to learn to write about how it feels to not be able to write about the things that matter to me. You can't circumvent your own feelings, and there's no getting 'over' them, either. The only way out, it seems, is through.

Wednesday, September 7, 2011

Get in shape, GRRRL: or, Rock Camp, Session II

When I last posted, I was dealing with an unfortunate combination of what one might call post-(camp) partum depression and very real, very serious distress over unrelated, un-processed emotional traumas. So I'm happy to report that, while I currently have a bit of post second-session-of-camp partum depression (which is really 'ugh, summer is over?!' bummedness), I've spent the time between sessions thinking a lot and working hard, and I feel much better than I did then. Camp was much less draining this time around, and I was able to enjoy it a lot more than I did in July.


A fellow volunteer celebrates a victory. Credit: Kate Milford.

I'm sure that the intervening weeks of reflection on my feelings had a lot to do with this, but I can't take all of the credit. Camp was a bit easier for practical reasons: I taught the advanced guitar section, which meant a smaller class, older campers, and some repeat students from previous summers. We also had the indispensable enthusiasm and assistance of our intern, Sophie, to whom I feel indebted.

Less classroom-related anxiety made it easier for me to socialize, as did the return of favorite volunteers from previous summers. Band coach and camp devotee Sarah made hours of kitchen drudgery go by quickly, while many hilarious counselors, both new and old, kept downtime in the volunteer lounge entertaining.

One day while I was in the lounge checking my e-mail, I overheard volunteers Vaughn and Jayne indulging in some bicker-y bantering (you know, the type that only seems to happen between bandmates). "You need to get in shape, girl!" Jayne snapped. Vaughn responded by singing the same thing back, "Get in shape, GIRL…" So of course, I had to butt in, and ask what they were talking about. "Youtube it," Jayne instructed. "Trust me, it's worth it."

I was expecting the line to be a reference to some really inappropriate SNL digital skit or something. Instead, it turned out to be from this:

In true rock camp fashion, Vaughn and Jayne discovered this kind of ridiculous, kind of really offensive, unbearably '80s attempt to capitalize on the health of young girls and set about reclaiming it, and I was there to support them. "It's like saying 'Get it together!'" Jayne explained, a kind of funny, colloquial way to express both concern and support, with both caring and a smidge of irony. We agreed that it's the sort of thing that clearly needs to be said "like, 20,000 times a day", and we got close. By the end of the week, the versatile and humorous Get in Shape! had become camp's new unofficial mantra, and sort of my own personal affirmation, as well.

Good times, for sure, but camp certainly wasn't without its difficulties. It was, as always, exhausting. There were the usual creative differences within the campers' bands, which mediating can be trying for volunteers and staff. And we had a few natural disasters, as well: first there was the earthquake, and then there was the threat of Hurricane Irene, and the transit system shutdown planned for the day of the showcase.


These alerts were all over the electronic highway signs that day. via

August 26, 2011, the Friday of camp week, dawned with the usual combination of excitement, tired, and premature nostalgia, as well as a hint of worry about the predicted widespread flooding of all of New York City. I was on site and multitasking by 8:15, somehow helping to set up breakfast, eat something myself, and help with reception all at once. I remember that day being humid and dreary, and I also remember that I was worrying about what to do about the showcase: I wanted to go, but knew that between the weather and lack of public transport, I probably shouldn't risk going into Brooklyn for it if I didn't have to be there.

Fortunately, I was spared this gutwrenching decision; in a typically bold move, the camp staff decided to hold the showcase not on that Saturday, but to instead have it that Friday, at 5pm, at camp. E-mails were sent to parents and caretakers, and the announcement was officially made at lunchtime, around 1pm.

I doubt I'm doing a good job of conveying it here, but, it was kind of nuts, to show up at camp expecting a normal Friday, and then end up staying for a two hour show, not to mention the volunteer after party. It was a long-ass day; many snacks and great amounts of coffee were consumed. But somehow we all soldiered through it.

We rallied, we had the showcase, and then we partied like the next day a hurricane might wipe us all out. I was a bit disappointed that the campers didn't get to have their day at the Music Hall of Williamsburg, where the showcase is usually held, but I'm also grateful that the campers had their showcase at all, and that I got to be there. One of the staff drew a comparison between our camp cafeteria showcase and a massive house show, which is sort of how it felt, and that's definitely not a bad thing.

I think that there was a general and shared sense of disbelief at the after party. A little disbelief that we'd decided to do things differently, that we'd actually made it work, and that we were all somehow still standing. There was also the usual sense of camaraderie that comes with a week of talking, laughing, and working closely with a small group of people, no doubt intensified by a literally incredible day and the expectation of real catastrophe that same weekend.

I eventually got over the shock though, and at that point, it was hard to be anything but inspired. Camp usually manages to expand your notion of what's possible, of the potential of both individuals and collectives, of how much we can both give and accept in return, of how different the world could look and be (far-flung as that may sound). This time around, camp helped me realize that, within the realm of possibility is my own survival, and maybe even my ability to 'get in shape', so to speak.

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

Everything needs to be illuminated.

I was paging through tumblr a couple weeks ago when I came across this:


I'm not a fan of Bukowski (never did get into his work), but it's hard to not like this quote, or at least feel the truth in it. What isn't addressed in this excerpt though is that there are times when bringing one's own light to a dark situation can be really challenging. Tragedy and trauma can make it feel almost impossible to stay positive and approach things with energy and sensitivity.

I very recently learned this the hard way at rock camp. Last week I had the privilege of teaching guitar and helping out in the kitchen at Willie Mae Rock Camp during their first girls' session of the season. But with everything else that I've been dealing with in my personal life for the past few months, it didn't really feel like a privilege.


A screencap of the Willie Mae Rock Camp website

It initially felt more like an expenditure of energy that I really couldn't afford, and I momentarily considered bailing at the very last minute. But both the guitar classes and kitchen were severely understaffed, and my desire to help trumped my panic. Rather than running, I chose to train my laser-like focus on making the best of the situation, and on being the most helpful guitar teacher I could possibly be.

I could write in this forum that things were great as soon as I made that choice, but I'd be lying. Anyone who's ever dealt with grief and/or depression knows that getting through it takes a lot more than an attitude adjustment. I chose to put my energy and time into rock camp, and found that I had to keep making that choice, over and over again, in a lot of little energy-conscious ways.

In other words: all week, I had to be especially disciplined in the art of self-care, so that I wouldn't totally fall apart at camp. I had to discipline myself to go to bed at a decent hour and get as much sleep as possible, so that I wouldn't be a total crank in guitar class. I had to force myself to get up way earlier than I have in ages so I could drive to camp with minimal traffic and parking-related stress. And then when I got to camp, I would make myself eat a good breakfast and enjoy some iced coffee. Snacking throughout the day to keep up my energy was probably the easiest of these habits to maintain. (Rock camp provides WELL for its volunteers, my friends -- big ups to Marcia and Alison for feeding us!)


Friday morning surprise waffles for the volunteers, yay!

Photo jacked from the illustrious and talented Mal Blum.

Other stuff I did: I got in the habit of taking journal breaks once a day, where I would find an empty stairwell and take a few minutes to scribble down how I was feeling. I also tried to socialize and talk to the other volunteers as much as possible. My co-teacher and I kept up a constant dialogue about how class was going, and we were able to bring whatever issues that came up to the other guitar teachers and in one case, the camp staff. I also tried to talk as much as possible with the other kitchen volunteers while we were working there, and I did try, with varying success, to make some new friends.

Written out that way, all that self-care work might sound exhausting, and like, well, work. Yes, it was a lot of work, especially when one considers that most of it should just be a normal part of daily life -- you know, eat, sleep, hang out, duh -- but it was more than worth it. It took a lot of effort, but in the end, I felt better than I expected to about it.

What's kind of funny is that, for all of that work, the actual volunteer work wasn't that hard. Every morning I would sort of brace myself for guitar class -- I would take some deep breaths and try to let go of any negative feelings I had, and more or less pray that I wouldn't snap at an undeserving camper -- but it was never necessary. As soon as the girls came into the room and starting plugging in their guitars and fiddling with their amplifiers I would relax, and I would suddenly know what to do.

Because the reality, in my experience anyway, is that being supportive isn't really that hard, and being supportive is really what rock camp is about. Teaching is never easy, but listening to someone, simply being present, and then saying "that sounded great -- good job!" to a camper doesn't actually take tons of energy. Simply being present, and offering a snack or some leftover lunch to a volunteer who is hungry, doesn't take tons of energy either.

What required a lot of energy was taking care of myself. To bring it back to Bukowski (and from what I know of him, he would agree with this), sometimes we ourselves are that darkness, and we need to rely on other people's assistance. I think that I was able to get through this week, especially guitar class, because I had the energy of the campers and other volunteers to help me. There are times when we have to let others bring their light to us (frightening though that vulnerability may be); good thing we generally have a surplus of the stuff at camp.

Thursday, June 23, 2011

Out come the wolves.

A few days ago I was dutifully skimming through my Facebook feed when I came across what might be the most important thing I've ever seen on the site. It was a post from the much beloved Slingshot Dakota, which is easily one of my favorite bands of all time, and whose LP I listen to regularly.

Slingshot Dakota at a recent show. Sweet photo jacked from Lauren Matulis

Slingshot Dakota's music is beautifully written, and they and their work are, in my humble estimation, radically positive. That's probably why their post shocked and even momentarily confused me: it was about a guy who's been accused of attacking women at shows on multiple occasions.


I couldn't believe what I was looking at when I first saw it. I had to read the post several times before it sank in -- that this guy has hurt people, that he might be a danger, and that this band is doing their part to warn people about him -- and even then, I didn't believe it. For a second, I wondered if it might be some sort of prank, but I'm pretty sure that the members of Slingshot Dakota wouldn't joke about something like this. They've talked about sexual assault and supporting survivors before; I've even written about it.

And yet, I still found myself kind of questioning the post, if not the band. I found myself having all sorts of messed up, Stockholm Syndrome, rape culture reactions. I thought how scary and dangerous it seems to call a guy out like that, especially in such a public forum. I thought how even if Slingshot Dakota meant well, maybe the original poster was misinformed, or lying, and that maybe I shouldn't judge this guy because I don't really know him myself, or anything like that. Unbelievably enough, I found myself worrying about his privacy.

Since I sort of started to go there myself, despite being a sex positive and radical postcolonial queer feminist, I'm sure that some people would see this as 'unfairly targeting' a guy. But if you think about it, you know what seems way more unfair? When rape survivors are called sluts, whores, liars and much worse after they come forward, and then have to put up with people questioning and judging their sexual histories, wardrobes, drinking habits, and other personal choices.

Because they were brave enough to make that post, Slingshot Dakota really got me thinking about assault, rape culture, and how it affects us all, and I feel like I owe them for it. It got me to thinking that I trust them, and that it's actually kind of really important to make sure you know something about a band's politics if you're going to support their work. I can say unequivocally that I trust them, and take their effort to warn their community about a potential danger seriously.

I've trusted them and taken them seriously since that first time I saw them, that first time that I heard drummer Tom Patterson speak at length about the impact that sexual assault has on both individuals and communities. I don't think I'll ever forget hearing him say, "…there are a lot of wolves in sheep's clothing" in our local scene, because when he said it I knew that he was right.

A video of the song SD usually introduces by talking about assault, from the very show where Tom used the expression "wolves in sheeps' clothing"!!! No introduction on this video, but I still can't believe I found this! Huzzah!

When he talked about how there are tons of punk guys parroting progressive beliefs and using them to find and close in on victims (I'm paraphrasing here), it validated a lot of unarticulated and sometimes subconscious fears and discomforts that I've felt at shows. Tom Patterson validated a lot of 'bad vibes' I've gotten from various guys over the years, and made me feel like maybe I wasn't just being a judgmental jerk. So I owe Tom for that too, then.

Slingshot Dakota's post reminded me that I was totally entitled to all those bad vibes I got, both the ones that I forced myself forget about, and also the ones that I've written about on this blog. We are all entitled, if not obligated, to recognize potential or actual wolves in sheep's clothing. We have the power to call them out -- and to protect each other and demand accountability, safety, and better treatment for everyone in our scenes.

Friday, June 10, 2011

Exile in Lon Guyland.

When I wrote this blog regularly, my posts typically focused on events and musicians based in Brooklyn, and I do sort of still end up there a lot. But as part of my 'quest to heal' or whatever and figure out what to do with my life, I've been visiting my friend Cary a lot out in Long Island.

Cary and I while away the hours watching Daria, talking about sports and philosophy, going through his record collection, and taking the occasional derive. Most of the time, his housemates are there, so I end up getting to hang out with them as well.

A couple weeks ago we were in Cary's living room when he started telling me about the recent RVIVR/Iron Chic show out there. Apparently the crowd got very unruly and violent during Iron Chic's set and the band was unable to calm things down, which bummed Cary out. But RVIVR's Matt Cannino wasn't having it: during their set, it seems that he chastised the crowd, and also called out the Long Island scene's culture of sexist exclusion. He referenced the song "Killing Me Softly", and asked everyone in the crowd to consider the song's themes of appropriation, and he referred explicitly to this coming weekend's Long Island Fest, and the lack of female musicians on the bill.

A great live video of RVIVR, in case you've never had the pleasure.

According to one of Cary's housemates, who was in one of the other bands on the bill that night, Cannino's comments drew the ire of the organizers of Long Island Fest. If I understand correctly, there was a heated confrontation after the show between Cannino and one of the offended parties.

While this whole story kind of sucks, I feel like it's pretty awesome that Cary and his housemates -- both male and female -- and also Matt Cannino were unafraid to critique something that they thought needed calling out. I listened in Cary's living room as he and his housemates expressed their appreciation of Matt's onstage and off-stage comments, and further criticisms of the scene, Long Island Fest, and male defensiveness. It made me feel lucky to know them.

I felt even more lucky later that week when I went to a show in Hempstead, and Cary and his friend Dave joined me in discussing the matter with a Defensive Male. Well, actually -- it's more like Dave tried to have the conversation with this guy, and Cary and I joined him. The first thing I heard was this Long Islander saying "I don't understand why you're making it about there not being girls in the bands. Isn't that putting that before the music? Isn't it supposed to be about the music?"

Dave and Cary were gracious enough to let me respond, even though this guy wasn't really talking to me. I told him that it's not just about Long Island Fest, but that it's about the larger, structural issues that prevent girls from participating fully in their local arts communities. Bro said "Okay, fine, I understand that," and I said "I don't really think that you do," and he said, "Okay, fine." I told him that bands and artists have a responsibility to their audience and community, and he said "Okay, fine," to that, too. He was civil, but just barely, and though I don't even know this person, it felt to me like he was pointedly refusing to listen to me or consider anything that any of us said.

I feel grateful that Cary and Dave let me speak, and that they supported me. I feel grateful that they made their own arguments, and that they challenged him. They didn't try to shut me up, and they didn't try to shield me, either. They held to their critiques, and they didn't back off when this guy said he felt they were 'ganging up' on him.

I might have been most grateful for Dave's final comment though. He said something to the effect of, "Three days and not a SINGLE girl in the lineup? What kind of message does that send?" This question cuts straight to what I believe is the crux of the matter. Both Cary and Dave asked why there aren't any bands with female musicians playing Long Island Fest when the island definitely has its share of talented female performers. Defensive Male claimed that it just happened that way, that it's just a coincidence, that it's not his fault that none of these bands have girls in them -- but we know that that isn't entirely true.

Three days of bands comprised entirely of dudes is absolutely NOT an accurate representation of Long Island's scene. Worse, that complete lack of representation of female musicians actively discourages would-be and aspiring Long Island girl musicians from getting involved, whether or not Defensive Male gets that. (I'm still pretty sure that he doesn't.)

Remember those larger, structural issues I mentioned earlier? Well, this is one of them: the disproportionately low numbers of girls involved in music aren't given the credit they deserve, they aren't represented, and it keeps other girls from trying to participate. If you're already disadvantaged, if you lack support, and then you don't see other girls managing to get onstage and makes themselves heard, why would you think it's possible? Why would you keep trying?

It's because of this myth that punk and hardcore is only for straight white male middle class audiences, and the continuing limited visibility for female artists in the genre, that I really want to continue writing here despite how absurdly complicated my life is right now. I'm certainly not the only person talking about these issues, but there is strength in numbers, and I want to contribute my voice.

But in case I can't: I want to use this space to encourage any one who might be reading who feels like they are being marginalized in their scene to say something about it. Because trust me, you are not alone. If you see something that makes you feel unsafe or uncomfortable or disempowered, say something about it, somehow. Because that's how you'll find other people who feel the same way and who will support you. My experience is that that's how you stop being and/or feeling like an exile, wherever you are.

Monday, June 6, 2011

DON'T CALL IT A COMEBACK…because I'm not sure if I can come back at this point.

So, I decided that I needed to take a break from blogging back in November. I really didn't expect for that 'break' to last seven months though.

Initially I stopped blogging because I wasn't able to enjoy it anymore. My posts felt forced, and reading them back was painful and slightly embarrassing. But after a certain point I wasn't able to write anymore. It started early last winter, I think in December. I wasn't able to concentrate enough to write or read, especially the dense, theoretical literature that I was supposed to be reading for school. I would look at a blank page, put a pen to it, and then no thoughts or words would come to mind. Or I would look at a printed page, and the letters would run together and swim in front of my eyes. It was terrifying.

My powers of concentration were destroyed by an emotional trauma that I am still dealing with right now, and that I will be dealing with for a really long time. It's been difficult for me to accept this: both to deal with the loss, and to attempt to move on and be and feel 'normal' again. For a very long time, I couldn't really think about anything else, even organizing and publishing new content here.

After a few weeks of being 'on leave' I read a blog post that Jessica Valenti wrote about the traumatic and nearly fatal birth of her first child, Layla. In it Jessica mostly describes the birth and how she and her family have been affected, but she does briefly mention her experiences in relation to her occupation as a writer: "It feels strange not to write something so life changing. Because truly, I am not the same person that I was before Layla was born…I think there's something about trauma that just shifts your consciousness."

After reading this piece I realized that I do want to write about what I've been through. Even if it doesn't have anything to do with punk and gender. Even if it's really personal and it's scary to even think about sharing it with other people. Even if it seems like a dangerous blurring of the private/professional line.

But it's a lot harder than I thought it would be. I just haven't been able to find the words to describe how I've felt for the past six months, and I get frustrated every time I try. So I've kind of been putting it off. The frustration makes me nervous; It makes me worry that even if I want to, maybe I shouldn't be writing here, or anywhere. Maybe I don't have anything to contribute anymore, or at this point.

But the problem certainly is not a lack of material. A lot of stuff is happening, both in my local community, and on a national, if not international level. In the past six months there has been a proliferation of punk feminist activity on the internet, on the printed page, and in 'real life': the release of the International Girl Gang Underground zine and launch of the accompanying website, the ongoing I Live Sweat blog series, the emergence of Permanent Wave, Girl Gang Gig Volume, and yet another Anti-Valentine's Day Riot Grrrl Cover Band Show are just some of the ones that I've been following or involved with. I know that there's a lot more out there; that doesn't even begin to cover actual bands or releases.

This is important, not only for its own sake, but also because it helps me to relax a little bit about all of this. There are other girls and young women paying attention to issues of female participation in punk and arts communities, and they continue to do something about it and also to invent new ways of facing these issues. There are other people documenting these phenomena, and the dialogues that I was interesting in opening up are happening in various places. As I sit here, struggling against a blank page and a cluttered brain, the scene thrives, and will continue to do so. Whether I come back or not.