I had a beautiful opportunity to go to New York for just one short day this week. One of my favorite performers, Sierra Boggess, is wrapping up a run in my all-time favorite musical Phantom of the Opera, and I felt a strong call to go see her perform.
I’ve been aware of Sierra’s work since I impulse bought a ticket to see Phantom during its Las Vegas run. Then I had the good fortune to impulse buy myself into another of her performances, this time during her Broadway debut as Ariel in Disney’s The Little Mermaid. Both times, I felt incredibly lucky to have run across such a special performer.
This was the first time that I’ve intentionally gone to see her: flying more than 6,000 miles in the course of three days and treating myself to a front row seat. I really needed a spark of inspiration (it’s been a rough summer) and the generous world provided. My incredible husband Noah was willing to use some of his hard-earned airline miles to put me on an airplane and my good friend Piet let me crash on his couch for a couple of nights.
Sierra made every ounce of effort worth it. As a performer, she has that incredible power that comes from a fully realized gift and the courage to share it with the world. Offstage, she lives by a philosophy of “you are enough, you are so enough, it’s unbelievable how enough you are,” a mantra that she learned from her vocal coach, Mary Setrakian.
I figured I could use some of that good medicine, so I met up with Mary for a private lesson the afternoon before the show. Mary instantly picked up on some of the technical and artistic challenges that I have the hardest time with. We did some methodical, compassionate, effective troubleshooting over the course of the next two hours that was both emotionally rewarding and incredibly inspiring. I found myself doing things vocally that I previously hadn’t thought I was capable of.
And in the end, it came back to being enough. Mary’s essential message to me was that I don’t have to prove myself or impress anyone. I just have to own what I already am. I don’t have to try to control every note and every breath consciously, the control is already all right there in the tenderest spots in my guts. “Tae,” I have to tell myself, “you already are.”
That’s a message that’s very easy to send, but incredibly hard to receive. I still wonder why on earth it is so hard for me (and for us all) to accept that we truly are enough. But when that acceptance comes, the results are profound. It’s an ongoing process for me; but just like flying to see Sierra, it is worth all the effort.
Major Update, August 14, 10:00am – last update here
See the Facebook event for continued information. (click here)
Major Update, August 11, 5:00pm: We’ve found a venue!
When: 4pm on August 14th – with 60 seconds of silence at 4:20pm, followed by song Where: Queen Anne Baptist Church (2011 1st Ave N) What to bring: Candles, signs expressing solidarity, photos of the slain. What not to bring: Bullhorns, protest gear, signs that express hatred towards the police, etc.
Please use good judgement. This is a vigil, a community gathering to express our feelings. It is not an opportunity to start shit with the cops or incite a riot.
Update: August 11, 11:00 am: Here’s a Twitter archive about #NMOS14 Seattle. I’ll keep this up to date with the most recent information.
Update: August 11, 9:15 am. A group of folks, including myself, @OhDianeMarie, & @RevMindi are reaching out to local leaders and organizations including:
The local NAACP chapter
The local ACLU chapter
Mount Zion Baptist Church
First African Methodist Episcopalian Church
Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial Baptist Church
Mothers for Police Accountability
Our goal is to find a black-led group that will organize a vigil for Michael Brown on Thursday. We will signal boost as allies by hooking this group up with the national online conversation taking place under the #NMOS14 hashtag and do anything else that this group asks of us to make a vigil happen peacefully, safely, and with turnout and media attention that reflects a tragedy of this magnitude. I have created a Facebook event as a placeholder so that folks who are interested in showing up for this gathering can do so and spread word. This event will be turned over to whoever takes on the leadership role in making this event happen.
We’ve a special request from the Brown Family to the entire Internet: Please remove any pics of Mike Brown laying prone when he was shot.
In compliance with this request, I have removed the photo of Michael Brown after he was shot that was originally posted below, and replaced it with a photo of him at age 16 with his baby brother.
Update: August 10, 4:47 pm. The plan at present (as discussed with @OhDianeMarie) is to reach out to black community organizations that already exist here in Seattle, find out what they may already be planning, and offer to hook them in to the #NMOS14 online discussion if they have not yet heard about it. What you can do: Talk to your neighbors, especially those who are hooked in to the racial justice conversation locally. Ask if they’ve heard of anything being organized here. I live in the Central District, so I’ll ask around at some of the local churches, cafés, barber shops, gyms, etc. here and see if I can get some information. I’ll keep updating this post as I learn more.
Another young black person has been shot dead because someone presumed them to be guilty of a (minor, petty) crime. Nationwide, groups are organizing gatherings for a national moment of silence (#NMOS14 on Twitter) on Thursday (August 14th) evening to express public outrage and grief at this ongoing national disaster.
There has been a lot of “if you don’t see a gathering scheduled for your city yet, make it happen!” talk on Twitter, and that seems like a challenge worth rising to. I feel really uncomfortable because (to state the obvious) I am not a black person. I’m not interested in centering myself in this conversation. Police / vigilante violence is not a major concern for me when I leave the house. But I haven’t seen anybody talking online about a gathering in Seattle yet, and I want to at least start the online discussion about Seattle’s participation in #NMOS14 rolling.
Here’s a suggestion: A peaceful community gathering somewhere central in Seattle (Downtown? Capitol Hill?) on Thursday afternoon (4pm Pacific Time = 7pm Eastern, which is when most people are doing this). We hold up photos of Mike Brown and Eric Garner and Renisha McBride. We hold up signs calling for an end to the criminalization of black people and other people of color and the inevitable translation of that criminalization into violence. We hold one another and we express our grief and our outrage. We don’t have a PA or a bullhorn. We don’t have speeches. We don’t start shit with the cops. I would much rather be a foot soldier helping a black-run group to put this together. If a gathering emerges that is centered in one of our black communities here in Seattle, I’m going to:
Update this post and point folks to the gathering that is being run by black people.
Volunteer to help with that gathering.
Not organize any competing events.
If nothing else comes up, we’ll move forward on whatever front makes sense to those of us who chimed in. So, questions:
Where can we gather that is central but doesn’t require a formal permit? (I think Westlake Park requires a permit, yes?)
What media outlets need to hear about this?
What organizations locally should we contact to get the word out?
What else should we be asking?
Please leave your thoughts in the comments or e-mail them to me at taephoenix at gmail. Thanks!
I’m going to spend some time talking about sex work in Seattle. As a musician, I am fully invested in my community, and this is an issue that has deep implications within my community.
Sex work is a complex issue, and it taps into most people’s deeply-held values on a number of topics, mine included. Before I dive into the situation in Seattle, I want to expose my biases. I am an ally to sex workers. I have several friends who do this kind of work, and I think that sex work is perfectly acceptable, so long as everyone involved is a consenting adult and being respectful. I do not believe that all sex workers are victims. Consent is the magic ingredient that separates victims from voluntary workers in the sex industry.
A few years ago, I found myself in the unfortunate position of breaking up with someone I was engaged to; and when I changed my relationship status from “engaged” to “single,” the ads got nasty. I mean really nasty.
I was enraged by the way that predatory advertisers were using of social data to take advantage of my broken heart and feelings of insecurity, so I started buying my own targeted ads. My goal was to call people’s attention to the fact that advertisers were using information like their age, gender, and relationship status in this predatory manner.
In May of 2011, I gave a talk at Ignite Seattle about my Subvertising project.
Since then, I’ve run the odd campaign here and there, especially around Christmas, Valentine’s Day, and other times of year when the romance-industrial complex and wedding-industrial complex are particularly active in their advertising efforts. But I haven’t been very systemic about it.
Lately, I’ve been seeing a rash of ads that are even worse than the original ads that provoked my original campaign, so I’m back at the subverting game. Here’s the ad that was the straw to break the camel’s back.
If you’ve been seeing ads that are clearly meant to make you feel like crap about yourself, please screenshot and share them. Call them out to your friends and followers. Let’s spread awareness of how these ads get in front of our eyeballs and what they are meant to do.
We don’t have to take this kind of advertising lying down!
Update 6/27, 12:30pm: Here are a couple of other problematic ads folks have sent me that have come through their news feeds.
I have two parallel streams of thought about Macklemore’s Grammy win last night. The first one goes something like this:
This is an awesome time for Seattle! Our football team is going to the Superbowl and our musicians are winning big at the Grammys! I’m so proud of my friends Katie, Pete, and Andrew who were instrumental in making “The Heist” successful! Go Seattle!
But there’s a much more complicated stream of thought going on too. It’s subject to the anxious understanding that there are some fucked up power dynamics in play when it comes to Macklemore’s success. We need to look closely at why a cis-het white dude is the one winning the awards for using a historically black form of music to “save” the genre from its own homophobia. Especially when there are queer artists of color (Frank Ocean, anyone?) who have been moving this ball forward for so much longer than Macklemore.
The conversation on Twitter about this issue last night went something like this:
Good white liberals: “If anything, Macklemore had to be better than the black rappers to succeed in the rap game. Plus he’s had hard times too so that erases any privilege he may have as a white male.”
Lots of people of color: “White musicians have been stealing our music for years and making it acceptable to a white audience with their own whiteness. Meanwhile this culture still treats us like second class citizens. This is bullshit.”
Last night was not the first time I thought (and got deeply anxious) about this issue. As a (mostly) white singer-songwriter whose music is heavily influenced by the blues and jazz, I am excruciatingly aware that I am swimming in the same deep, problematic waters as Macklemore. Daily, I ask the question, “what do I need to do to have it be okay that I am performing this music?”
For my own sake, I have to believe that the answer is not as simple as, “stick to opera, white girl, and leave the blues to black people.” After all, all art is appropriative to some degree; and while the power dynamics in this situation give me great pause, I’m not sure I can do anything but make this kind of music. It’s in my bones. How can you tease apart the social context from the artist’s responsibility?
I don’t have an answer yet. I may never have an answer. I have a sneaking feeling that I’m going to get (and deserve) a lot of criticism for performing black music if my next album, “Outside the Lines” is any kind of success. I’m bracing for it, because I’m going to release the album anyway. It’s good music. I’m proud of it.
But I still don’t have an answer. If anyone does, please let me know.
My politics are rooted in my belief that all human beings possess equal worth.
My music reflects my politics. Among other things, I write and sing about gendered double standards, domestic violence, child abuse, and poverty.
I recognize that my work contains musical themes that were introduced to the world by artists of African descent. Like all of us, I stand on the shoulders of the giants who came before me. It is not my intention to appropriate the incredible work of these Black artists who have inspired me (including Etta James, Cleo Laine, Whitney Houston, BB King, and Muddy Waters) but to attempt to add something of value to the great musical conversation.
The table below reflects my current awareness of my own intersections of privilege and the lack thereof:
Upper middle-class background
Pass as white
Pass as straight
I recognize that my privilege creates blind spots in my experience of the world. For instance, I may be entirely blind to something that a Black woman would look at and say, “hey, wait a minute, that’s white supremacist bullshit.” When I get it wrong, I want to be the first to acknowledge my errors and learn from my critics.
I do not want to be blind to my own privilege. I am struggling every day to open my eyes and lean into my discomfort because I want to leave the world better than I found it for all of us beautiful, equally worthy human beings.
By and large, we artists are a sensitive lot. We internalize thoughts, emotions, ideas and tensions from the world around us more deeply than many folks do, we get intense about our feelings, and we often get carried away in moments of inspiration or despair.
To help me cope with these traits in myself, stay productive, and maintain a healthy balance. I’ve come up with these four rules for living a healthy, artistic life: