I Need a Nap (Because Sexism)
If you follow me or the drum corps world, you know what happened this week with Phantom Regiment. They released their show concept for the 2019 season, based (veeeeeery loosely) on Joan of Arc, using the tagline “burn it all down” and claiming to be focused on women’s empowerment. The show repertoire accompanying this announcement revealed that Phantom would be performing this “empowering” show to a soundtrack of music written exclusively by men. I and many others critiqued the decision and battled harassment and cyberbullying in the comments sections of posts for three days before Will Pitts, head drum major of the fan-favorite 2009 Spartacus show and current head honcho at Phantom, put out a statement addressing the whole ordeal. While it was appreciated, it said little more than expected: Phantom isn’t changing its show, they didn’t realize the optics would work out this way (emphasis mine), they considered works by women composers, blah blah blah.
Let’s be clear: I in no way expected Phantom to change repertoire. They are less than a month from the start of their season, and even if they wanted to add a piece by a woman, I doubt there are many female composers (whose work they would want, anyway) who would be willing to go near them with a ten-foot pole right now. Those arranging permissions would be expensive. This announcement, while maybe preventing them from further putting their feet in their mouths, is a full two days late and several dollars short. But as much as I hope Phantom and its creative team learns from this experience and significantly reconsiders how they program their shows, experiences like this that are so widely visible both remind me why I do what I do and reinforce that as much as my own experience and perspective understands perfectly well why we should center some voices over others in artistic works, most people are not engaging with art and music on that level yet. There is still work to be done.
This week has left me a little at a loss for words, even though I’m performing in Disney Hall(!) on Noon to Midnight(!) the day this post goes live (sorry; if this is the first you’re hearing about it, you’ve already missed the show). I can’t properly explain to you what it feels like to spend days defending your humanity, your creative practice, and your gender’s right to honest narration to strangers on the internet, but I can tell you what it’s done to my body and functionality: I’m dissociating more, my mood changes every hour, my stress levels are up (duh), parts of my body that usually ache a little have begun to ache more, I’m less inclined to dance or go for walks or generally leave the house, I’m blasting jazz through my headphones (which . . . is not a thing I’ve done in the last two years), and I get more work done with the administrative side of my art while being chronically blocked from the actual creative process (despite the ever-growing number of sticky notes adorning my monitor). Most of these things are manageable—at least, I’ve learned to manage them—but they also majorly suck. Overall, my fire is dulled, because I can’t use it for the things I’d like to.
Here’s the thing about living in Los Angeles, going to CalArts, and knowing I’m about to rejoin a Phoenix community that not only values and seeks to understand my art but appreciates what I bring to the table as a human and communicator: most of the time, I am free to take risks, because I’m surrounded by people who will catch me if I fall (literally or metaphorically). They inspire me to reach for the best version of myself—the edition of me we’d get if my gender did not impact my opportunities and limitations, the one who’s not forcibly androgynized but free to be as herself as she wishes, the one who holds the dark in one hand and the light in the other without being consumed either way. (The idealized version of myself appears on lots of covers of fantasy novels.) I fully understand what a privilege and a blessing it is to have collaborators and creative partners who support me in these ways. And I appreciate it all the more during weeks like this one, when the weight of the world makes itself known again.
Which way, specifically, does this one hurt? It hurts because I create narratives about gender marginalization and violence against women especially, and I am not the only one doing so (hell, Ellen Reid won the Pulitzer this year for that work), but organizations and ensembles still choose to ignore the authentic voices we bring to the table in favor of a Greatest Hits Plus Thirty Seconds to Mars playlist. It hurts because I deal quite often with men in my field bemoaning how there shouldn’t be women-only opportunities because it denies them chances to showcase their own work. It hurts because as a junior in college I wrote a ten-page paper about misogyny in jazz and how early lyrics (written by men, sung by women) reinforced misogynist tropes and contributed to the hypersexualization and exclusion of women from the jazz performance model, and I didn’t know I’d be referencing that in a tired, exasperated blog post a full three years later. (On the upside . . . thanks, Dr. Wells, for pushing me to do the work on that one!)
And it sucks, because I know there’s a new piece inside me somewhere that’s gestating because of this, but for once in my life (my creative life, anyway) I want to be able to process trauma and misogyny at my own pace instead of being thrown from loudly public sexist misstep to loudly public sexist misstep with all the chaos of a lone sock in a washing machine. I have dozens of works to write on the subject, but I can’t find the time between events to process long enough to put them down on paper or get them out my throat and onto the mic. I’m running on 40% energy a lot these days, no matter how much sleep I get or how well I take care of myself. I run the risk of scaring away my friends, partners, collaborators, and confidants because I spend so much time walking through the darkness that I speak its language to everyone else without thinking. I make sure I have the support I need, be it therapy or a solid routine or plenty of new books to read or committed time for playing with makeup or working on my split tones, and I’m still running on 40%. And a lot of women are. That’s not because I’m a woman composer; right now, it’s because I’m a woman going through the damage that this world is putting us through. And I’m doing it all wearing the cutest flats I own even though I taped three of my toes and put Band-Aids on my heels because they’re not quite broken in yet, and that’s the level of Things That Make Me Cry Currently, so you know how emotionally exhausted I am.
So, if you all could be so kind, bear with me. As much as I try to write and put out general guidelines for things relating to the personal and professional treatment of women, right now I do not have the emotional energy to contribute like I usually do. I need to sit down with my microphone and my DAW and music some of this out before I come back to those ideas. I’ve got prewritten content and some more things I’d like to explore on the blog this summer, so I don’t anticipate any interruptions, and I might look more or less the same on social media, but please just be aware that I am not functioning where I’d like to be right now. I’ve got a lot of plans for this summer, including a tentative EP I’m putting together that I’d like to get out into the world before school starts back up in the fall, and that’s where my focus is going. And as ridiculous as I know this is because it’s something I should absolutely not be apologizing for, I need to take a break from burning the candle at both ends. I, the general force of nature, will be back. But, as with everything I’m returning to this year, it’ll be a measured comeback on my own terms.
Thanks for your love and patience. I appreciate y’all to the moon and back. ♦
Thanks for reading! When I’m not super tired and exasperated and generally down in the dumps, I write about sexual assault and musicianship and interpersonal relationships. Oh, and I compose music about those things, too. Have a look around while you’re here, and if you decide to stay awhile, welcome! To follow my ramblings and creative process in real time, or to support the work I do as an artist and advocate, you can find me on Patreon and @honestlyeris on Instagram.