The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle

“Noboru Wataya probably had some special power, and he knew how to find people who were especially responsive to that power and to draw something out of them. How he managed to do it and what the occasion was I have no idea, but at some point Noboru Wataya increased his violent power geometrically. Through television and the other media, he gained the ability to train his magnified power on society at large. Now he is trying to bring out something that the great mass of people keep hidden in the darkness of their unconscious. He wants to use it for his own political advantage.

“It’s a tremendously dangerous thing, this thing he is trying to draw out; it’s fatally smeared with violence and blood, and it’s directly connected to the darkest depths of history, because its final effect is to destroy and obliterate people on a massive scale.”

Haruki Murakami, The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle

Published in 1995, this passage from The Wind-Up Bird chronicle struck me as particularly applicable today. But then I suppose it would. In the book Murakami details atrocities of wars long over repeating themselves throughout history. No matter the war, no matter the conflict, violence, sadism, torture again and again demonstrating our own powerlessness to combat the darkness within us.

So here we are, with a madman in the whitehouse, his one talent, his all powerful weapon, the ability to bring out something that the great mass of people keep hidden in the darkness of their unconscious and use it for his own political advantage.

Is it as hopeless at it feels? Is all truly lost?

Scientists say it is. Too late to reverse the inevitable death of the planet. Well, it’s all connected, isn’t it? Our mistake was in living like it wasn’t.

Movies lie, well, most media lies, particularly when it tells you it won’t. Never trust anyone who says, “You can trust me.”

“What’s the good news? What’s the bad news?” Kurt Vonnegut often asked his audiences, rhetorically of course. He lived the bombing of Dresden; its complete annihilation. Centuries of historic art and artifacts turned to dust in moments. That’s what he wrote about in Slaughter House 5. That and how men fight and die, when they’re lucky. When they’re not they keep living and remembering, carrying a burden of shame. They know what lies within men’s hearts, within their own and now they must try to forget it. How does one know that and return to a normal life?

Men know how men die. Men understand that violence. Let me tell you how women die. It’s entirely different.

No, perhaps not today.

What’s the good news? What’s the bad news? Vonnegut said that Hamlet knew. Hamlet who learned his uncle killed his father to marry his mother, from his father’s ghost. But we all know that ghosts can be extremely unreliable. They may not be who they say they are at all. They may simply be spirits preying upon human weakness, feasting upon the energy of our sorrow. Or they may be nothing more than a manifestation of our darkest dread, the product of a disintegrating psyche consumed with emotion too heavy for the vessel.

Who hasn’t been there?

Nevertheless, it does seem plausible because it feels true. And what is truth except that which confirms the things we already know? Facts be damned.

So Hamlet confronts his mother and kills Polonius, an annoying nat of a man, but father to his financeé, so well, now they have that in common, he and Ophelia, fatherless. Still, not a great way to start a marriage.

Which was never to be because there’s a play Hamlet commissions to shame his uncle into a confession and in his zealotry he humiliates Ophelia for sport, it would seem. Anyway, she kills herself.

Nothing good comes from Hamlet’s actions. I suppose that’s what makes it a tragedy. So what’s the point Vonnegut wanted to make? Something about good things might bring bad results and bad things could bring good ones. I must be leaving something out of his Hamlet analogy because I can’t remember one good thing that comes out of anything Hamlet does. Although, there’s a bigger picture. Perhaps, from Hamlet’s perspective, he is fighting for justice. From everyone else’s perspective, he’s a tyrant-in-waiting ready to behead his political enemies because his father’s ghost told him to.

Our lives are not a hero’s journey. Happy endings are a lie. Yes, that was it. Vonnegut wanted us to know that happy endings could bring bad beginnings, with the reverse being true as well.

So where does that leave us? Somewhere in the zip code of hope? That this terrible thing may not be the end, but the beginning of something, if not good, then at least better?

That’s hard to see. Reality lives outside the realm of imagination and theory. Good news. Bad news. There’s just a lot of bad news. I could go through it, a litany of all the bad things that have ever happened. But I won’t force you to look at it. Heck, I can’t look at it.

The next question. Is it fate or can any of us create the change to bring about something good? Will our actions lead to justice or just more tragedy? Isn’t there a road that’s paved with good intentions, but ends up somewhere bad?

I think, do you want to know what I think? I think we have to try to do something. David Mamet, in 3 Uses of the Knife, wrote that often we prefer to stand up and rush around boldly instead of doing any actual thing that matters. Yes, so instead of marches and Facebook rants, in place of things that look like doing something, we do an actual thing to make the world around us a better place.

I know what you’re thinking, but just listen. This is all I’m going to say. We’re in a battle everyday and whether or not any one of us recognizes the part we play in it, what we think, how we act, the words we say, place us squarely on one side or the other. When someone can use the forces of television and the media to draw out the worst in us, then the reverse must be true. It must be true that if we choose to live, even in the smallest ways, better, kinder, more generously, when no one is looking, we can push back the rising darkness. That’s its vulnerability. It overlooks the smallest of us, the least important, the powerless because it thinks its inoculated us, rendered us useless in society. But it does not have our thoughts and in that way, our actions could create a ripple effect that goes all the way to the top to topple the tyrant.

It’s just something I’ve been thinking about.

Mirror Game Premier

Cybil, Olivia and Melody play a video game with real-life consequences. “Playing With The Big Boys” is a multi-player game designed to teach women how to “make it in a man’s world.” The “man’s world” is a Silicon Valley gaming company. It rewards toxic masculinity while challenging the women with an onslaught of casual and overt misogyny through Tony, the manager and Rohm, the CEO. Cybil, inspired by disgraced Theranos CEO, Elizabeth Holmes, is determined to win at any cost. She constructs an elaborate lie to win the game, but finds it comes at great cost.

Overtly, you could view the women’s journey as a cautionary tale warning women to beware ambition. Yet, beneath the surface lies an allegory that aims to indict the systems that oppress and objectify women and celebrate toxic masculinity.

Silicon Valley, Hollywood, Washington D.C., corporate America–each system fails our culture. The media they produce and the ways they function, strangle innovation and imagination in favor of a brutal and cruel kind of capitalism.

In terms of Mirror Game and the central theme, the phrase, “It’s not personal, it’s capitalism,” is no more than an excuse for bad behavior that negatively impacts both the worker and the consumer, and eventually the one at the top.

As an aside, I encourage everyone, if you haven’t, to check out The 1619 Project. It draws a direct link from slavery to our modern economic systems.

Ultimately, one hopes a piece can speak for itself and that the ideas don’t weigh too heavily on it. Any artistic endeavor, particularly one as collaborative as new opera, must offer the very talented artists it assembles space to articulate their experience. Above all else, this piece must allow the audience member the freedom to discover it and perhaps enjoy it on the way. 

Unbranded

Everyone wants it. That silver-bullet brand that shoots you to the top of search engines, amassing legions. I do. It won’t happen. Does that mean I stop producing, shutter my little vanity project and give over to the inevitability of anonymity? It wouldn’t matter to anyone but me, but the point is, it matters to me.

What Neuroscientists Know

I’ve left, returned, gone away, come back, failed to produce a consistent practice that builds a career. Yet, here I appear again. This time it’s different. I know why I write. I’ve meditated and journaled each morning for a number of months now. Not for self-improvement. Ask my husband. Not sure there’s been much. I did it to finish a creative piece within five months. Digging deep, telling truth, finding organic characters whose complicated desires drive plot–well it could take years. I didn’t have it and wasn’t willing to sacrifice those standards. Your subconsicous has all the answers, neuroscientists argue.

Each night I asked myself to solve the day’s plot hole. Each morning I’d rise, meditate for 10 minutes and mind dump into a journal working out the problems from the prior day. The answers arose, every time and I began a new habit that carried me back to my original purpose. Write with confidence, surety, insight. Write without apology.

The energy and effort branding requires cannibalizes truth’s pursuit every time.

There’s a cost, of course. People only pay for well-branded script. Still, I remain unbranded. That’s ok. I continue to write for hire, now I also write for me. I’m no longer ashamed to admit it. I want to be celebrated like my heroes: Harold Pinter, David Mamet, Maya Angelou, August Wilson, Langston Hughes, James Baldwin, Hunter Thompson, Flannery O’Connor, to name a few, in the order that I discovered them.

The Fight IS the Brand

They grabbed space on a hostile stage and found an audience who needed to be heard. (The white men, the exception. I’ll get to those.) Their fight was more difficult than ours, in a way. We fight search engine algorithms from our living rooms. They played their works to tiny drunken audiences in grimy bars, or wrote tirelessly for a page-10 space in their local paper.

Yet we share the same struggle, growing an audience from a handful of people to a legion. For ego? Sure, but it’s a mixed bag. If you’re any good, you struggle to right wrongs no one else addresses. In that way, you can make a contribution hefty enough to transcend trends and withstand time.

For many of us, writing is a populist medium. In the vacuum of pedigrees, expensive educations and introductions, we write to those who need our voice to make theirs heard. We, the writers who emulate the greats with slavish devotion, understand early that great magpies grow into visionaries.

Hunter Thompson wrote plainly, and created violent prose. He transcribed Hemingway, Fitzgerald and others at his typewriter hours a day, until he heard their rhythms in his head. They unlocked his voice. He unlocked mine.

To any writer who cares little about grammar, don’t be a fool. It is the most powerful writing tool on the planet.

You’ll notice, at times I drop verbs or articles. Write in fragments. Misuse grammar. I hate any tense of “To be.” Passive, lazy, “To be” smacks of early drafts and single thought arguments. Sometimes however, it’s unavoidable. This technique, entirely self-invented, allows the heart of the idea faster passage to the reader. I hope. But we struggle for common ground, you and me.

Language is fluid. Grammar, when you know it, can be broken. I break grammar well. Maybe that’s my brand. Well, I’ve a lot of competition there.

Words Fail, Brands Endure

Thompson, Pinter, Mamet– the white man exception to my earlier argument. These men stepped into the public space with more ease, because, you know, white men. The world’s ear is tuned to their voices. Even in speaking against power, as these men did, they don’t begin from a disempowered state.

Getting on with it.

Thompson, Pinter and Mamet demonstrated a powerful efficiency in emotional expression. They arrived at the heart of the matter, fast. I saw subtext emerge and the depth of human experience visible through craft in a way that gave my own voice permission. Mamet, for example, translated the language of thought. The words emerge in broken phrases, stunted, forceful, speakers overlapping one another, to dominate, control, harm and sometimes soothe. Words, he demonstrates, frequently fail us, often betray us and generally speaking, prove inadequate to translate the truth. His characters live in this constant frustration.

Often the most profound revelations require the fewest well-chosen words. All three men told on themselves and the culture, revealing its flaws at a time when people needed to tear the system down. Yet, they all suffered from a misogyny blind spot. Heroes are problematic.

Brands aren’t. A good one makes you impenetrable, unstoppable, a going concern. Yet truth, conversely, defies branding. It’s unclickable, uncommodifiable, uncomfortable. The writer must choose. The energy and effort branding requires cannibalizes truth’s pursuit every time.

What the Truth Can Do

I mention the white men first, not because they deserve it, but because they don’t. Their contributions proved valuable to me only after I discovered the others on that list. They helped me with the “how,” Maya Angelou, James Baldwin, August Wilson, Langston Hughes, helped me with the “what.” Collectively, they revealed the harrowing truth about my country and my race. In short, they challenged the infrastructures of my narrow paradigm and white-washed education. They spoke and I grew more empathetic, in effect, more human. Truth-tellers, ball-busters, tear-it-down-to-the-foundation storytellers, they each revealed the power of truth-writing. Fearless, justifiably angry, they spoke what generations before them suffered, piercing through millennia of lies and forced silence.

Truth, if you seek it, grabs you by the throat and makes you listen. Fact: great art emerges from great suffering. The privileged classes make pretty things that shine briefly. What do they know? Ease? Comfort? Intellectual pursuits at best. What do they have to say?

My suffering bonafides? That’s a lot to unpack. Here, if you’re interested. I’ve said all I’m going to say on it, for now. What really matters, do I say what I say well? If I do, does anyone need me to say it? Ah, the rub. The truth about branding–without one, I may never know, I’ll never be found.

Well, in the words of Billy Budd, “That’s alright, sir,…I’m content.”

A Rorschach Test

Who do you see in this photo? A female superhero strong enough to kick a whole army of men in the teeth? A descendant of Amazons, female warriors so self-sufficient they don’t need men? To many, Wonder Woman is a symbol of female empowerment–a shining star of feminism in the pantheon of hyper-masculine alpha greats.

To me, Wonder Woman subverts true femininity. Super sexy, gorgeous, daughter of a father god and warrior woman, Wonder Woman has as much to do with actual womanhood as Barbie in a suit. She’s an object of desire, an archetype of cis-male fantasy. Literally a gorgeous Lesbian from Lesbos, she awakens to her true nature (the need of a man) when she meets Pilot Steve Trevor. Aside from her brawn, which I’ll get to in a moment, her greatest power against him is a lasso of truth. Why is this a thing? Men lie, you see, but a virtuous woman tells the truth, something the Lesbians of Lesbos hammer home quite a bit in the film. “The World of Men is evil. It will destroy us all.”

Captain Sexy Names finds he’s utterly powerless against her UNTIL he realizes she’s never had sex–with a man—the only kind that offers one carnal knowledge, right? Her child-like innocence yet another quality of fantasy femininity.

As for her brawn, it’s something every true superhero needs, yes? That’s what makes her a superhero. Yet, unlike Batman, Ironman, Spiderman, to scratch the surface, she was never human. She fell from the heavens, a perfect specimen of purity and sexual potency. Sure, one could argue that Superman is also a god, but it’s a false equivalent. He’s just one of many male figures in this world. Cis-boys of all psyches and shapes can find themselves in DC comics. Wonder Woman is tokenism, and tokenism takes an underrepresented demographic and distills it down to one unattainable ideal–ultimately more harmful than helpful.

Of course I loved her as a child. Of course the thought of her made me feel strong. Maybe she’s a step in the right direction, but as she remains the dominant representation of femininity in the superhero world, she reinforces sexist tropes that infect the DNA of social discourse.

A friend of mine, I’ll call her Tanya, is the new CEO of an arts-related non-profit. She asked a colleague, and frequent art donor, for help. He generously obliged. He wrote her a blank check to cover the cost of their first fundraiser. They’d never discussed her relationship status. It had never come up. Grateful for the support, she thought she’d take their friendship to the next level. She invited him to her wedding. Then things got weird. He was cold, distant and dismissive in their phone calls. He attended the wedding, but went out of his way to blow her off. He walked away when she approached and left having barely greeted her or her new husband.

Another friend, Julie, let’s say, is a Marketing consultant. A CEO brought her in to help him take his company to the next level. He was excited by her work, complimented her on her intelligence and enthusiastically talked of their future together–until he asked her for coffee. She mentioned she and her partner had plans at that time and suggested an alternative day. She never heard from him again.

Jen, another friend, attended a recent conference. During a panel discussion between several men and women, one of the men stopped the conversation to tell the women, “Can I just say, I have a crush on all of you!” Don’t be so sensitive, you may say. He was complimenting them! What’s wrong with that? Because it makes women objects of desire in a space where we seek to engage with our minds. This hurts our bottom line. Men’s desire can literally take the food out of our mouths. They have the luxury to determine when it’s sexy time and when it’s work time. And if women don’t play ball, men take it and go home.

This is the pernicious problem with a figure like Wonder Woman. There are many examples of toxic femininity that get tangled up in the muck and madness of good-intentioned media. I would love to think that movements like #MeToo and #TimesUp might move the needle, but as long as gender disparity is measured in wages lost and careers stalled, I’m dubious.

Mirror Game, An Opera

MIRROR GAME

IN SILICON VALLEY, THE GAME Will COST YOU EVERYTHING

Mirror Game is a new opera by Composer Celka Ojakangas with story and libretto by me, Amy Punt premiering November 29th at Portland State University. 

Gaming programmers, Cybil, Olivia and Melody get transported into a video game called, “Playing With The Big Boys,” the game that teaches you how to make it in a man’s world. In order to escape, they must win. In order to win they must eliminate one another from the game entirely as they compete for the same promotion in a Silicon Valley company. However, Cybil and Olivia are in love. Each must choose between power and wealth and their relationship. 

It is about the silent messages that influence bedrock values driving gender bias.

Overtly the story explores the consequences of internalizing a masculine narrative and subverting the feminine. Cybil, (inspired by disgraced Theranos CEO Elizabeth Holmes) creates a lie that sky-rockets her to fame and success. Yet, it metastasizes within her, perverting the woman she once was. While it first appears she wins the game, once the lie is exposed, she loses everything.

Why this story now?

I saw an opportunity to explore themes that, just a few years ago, didn’t feel culturally relevant to most people. This, despite the personal and individual costs many women pay for ambition, drive and achievement. While pursuing full time careers, women largely remain the primary domestic caregivers. Studies have shown that this decreases their chances at promotion over men and keeps their salaries a full 19.3% lower.

Our culture values men over women by a considerable margin.

A year or so ago I began seeing “Take Time To Be a Dad Today” billboards all over Los Angeles. It was a public service campaign created by World Wrestling Entertainment and the Ad Council. To be sure, Vince McMahon, Chairman of the Board and Chief Executive Officer of the WWE, is well known for his bigotry and misogyny. In fact, it’s his brand. So, if you want to discount this campaign as you consider the source, consider this. The Ad Council developed it on behalf of you and me, the tax-payers. Fatherhood.gov, run by The National Fatherhood Clearinghouse, is a “funded national resource for fathers, practitioners, programs/Federal grantees, states, and the public at-large who are serving or interested in supporting strong fathers and families.”

I appreciate that at one time society may have needed it–in 1962. However, right now, it sends the wrong message. Through it we further the regressive values of Leave It To Beaver-style parenting that continues to place the domestic burden squarely on women. What does this mean? All women, not just the women who have children, pay a price in lost wages and stalled careers. This, in effect, incentivizes women to stay home with the children. I can’t believe this is an accident.

BECAUSE DADS MUST BE REMINDED TO PARENT

To be clear, Mirror Game is not about a woman trying to find balance between domesticity and her career.

Instead it’s about the impact these silent messages have on us all. They influence bedrock values driving gender bias. Our culture values men over women by a considerable margin. Do I spell it out? Money = Value.

Why Silicon Valley?

In Silicon Valley, masculinity reigns in a way that’s somewhat unique. It’s widely felt that young, nerdy, introverted males make the best programmers. The degree to which one reflects that narrative determines the level of her success. The traditional alpha male bombast and frat boy hijinks of say, Wall Street or even Hollywood, doesn’t exist. I’m hoping that placing the story in Silicon Valley offers a fresh and modern take on the misogyny influencing every aspect of one of the most powerful industries in the world.

 

 

 

USC, You Have A Problem

Due to a back injury, I started physical therapy at the USC Verdugo Hills Hospital on August 28th at 1:15 p.m. In a large hospital room designed to serve a number of patients simultaneously, each bed is separated from the others by a curtain. Following my first session, my therapist turned off the light while I lay on an ice pack and relaxed. Across the way, behind another curtain, a therapist, a man, worked with his patient, a woman and senior citizen.  His tone was friendly and professional. They discussed her progress, her heart, and he asked her whether or not she felt any numbness in various parts of her body as, I assumed from her responses, he touched her. It all seemed above board. Then the conversation turned from the professional, to well, something else.

“So, every year to a year-and-a-half or I go with my patients to get a massage,” he said.

“Oh, that sounds wonderful,” she said.

“Usually, I take my patients downstairs to the spa. You know, I wait until the spa has a deal– 20% off or so.”

“I know, they’re so expensive, otherwise I’d get them all the time.”

“Good. So, we go and get a couple’s massage in the evening. How does that sound?”

“That sounds fine,” she said.

“And then we can grab some dinner,” he said cheerfully.

I could barely contain my shock and mouthed, “OH MY GOD!” Two other female colleagues of his were milling about the room. One of them saw my face, looked away and exited the room.

In the spirit of “If you see something say something,” I’d like to say I said something. I did not. Honestly, I’m not exactly sure what I heard. I could be missing something. Perhaps they know one another well. Perhaps there’s a perfectly reasonable explanation. Perhaps…

Here’s the thing, it’s not my determination to make. I will say something, and when I do, it’s in his supervisor’s hands. And therein lies their biggest problem. USC school officials ignored and suppressed evidence of the sexual misconduct and criminal behavior of two powerful campus medical figures for decades.

Dr. Carmen A. Puliafito, disgraced dean of the Keck School of Medicine and renowned eye surgeon, resigned his $1.1-million-a-year post in March 2016 following the drug overdose of a young woman in his presence, in his Pasadena hotel room. After nearly a decade of overseeing “hundreds of medical students, thousands of professors and clinicians, and research grants totaling more than $200 million,” he said he wanted to, “explore other opportunities,” The Los Angeles Times reported July 17, 2017.

It was just the tip of the iceberg. The Times uncovered video footage and photos of Puliafito using methamphetamines and other drugs with criminals and drug dealers spanning his decade as Dean. Times reporters also discovered evidence indicating that the school knew about it all along.

It’s hard to imagine anything more egregious than Puliafito’s behavior, or the school’s aiding and abetting of it. That is until this spring, when The Times published a bombshell revelation that Dr. George Tyndall, a campus gynecologist, had been sexually abusing his patients and harassing fellow employees for nearly 30 years, and, again, the school knew about it. In spite of their public denials of wrong doing and obfuscations, paper trails, discovered by The Times, don’t lie.

USC might want to consider a rebranding campaign: “USC, A Safe Space.”

Which would be a hard sell considering the number of Tyndall’s alleged victims could reach into the thousands. Jon Manly, a lawyer well-versed in mass litigation for sex abuse victims, told The Times, “I have never seen anything like the volume of calls we are getting.”

The details are harrowing in both cases, the coverups worse.

You’d expect then, that the medical professionals at USC might be more vigilant about identifying and rooting out those who behave inappropriately with patients. You might even think that the predatory medical professionals themselves might reserve their questionable comments and suggestions for a time when they are actually alone with their patients. However, Dr. George Tyndall received a large payout after decades of sexually abusing his patients in full view of countless other staff members. If he wasn’t hiding, well, why would anyone else?

What I overheard pales in comparison, but in light of these things, it’s speaks to a troubling pattern at USC. Whatever this physical therapist’s intent, it sounds like he’s taking advantage of his patient’s trust for his own benefit. Let’s be clear. He suggested a patient share an intimate evening with him as if it were medical therapy. I once managed a spa. Psychologists frequently recommended couples try a couple’s massage to remedy sexual dry spells. Follow that with a dinner date and you have the makings of something far outside current models of patient care. You have the makings of a lawsuit.

It makes me wonder if this kind of thing isn’t endemic at USC. Predators seek out professions that offer them easy access to vulnerable populations. I’m beginning to wonder if they don’t also seek out employers that offer them protection as they offend with impunity.

Your move, USC.

Louis C.K. Returns, But Where Are the Women?

Louis C.K. showed up for a surprise gig at the at the Comedy Cellar in New York City on Sunday night. According to the New York Times, he received an ovation before he even began. According to Vulture, there were at least two women who were not having it. And they felt they weren’t the only dismayed members of the audience, but it sounds like they were the minority. One of them reported seeing only four other women in the front row sitting stone-faced throughout his 15-minute set.

It was classic Louis. Surprise visit and 15 minutes of working out new material. He’s one of the hardest working comedians in his industry–and well respected for it. That is, until his fall from grace last year. Following the release of a short statement in the New York Times copping to masturbating in front of at least five women and coercing them into silence, he was dropped by Netflix, Amazon, shut out from the box office and dropped by his manager and previously devoted agent. The very agent who had threatened to ruin the first two women to call C.K. out if they came forward.  And he did. They received death threats, were blackballed from auditions and clubs and lost television opportunities that were all but a sure thing.

The two women in the Comedy Cellar audience reported feeling a similar kind of silencing as the men in the room boomed out their approval. “If someone had heckled him, I think they would’ve been heckled out,” one of them said.”It felt like there were a lot of aggressive men in the audience and very quiet women. It’s the kind of vibe that doesn’t allow for a dissenting voice. You’re just expected to be a good audience member.”

Yes, be a good girl and agree with the men. If you’ve ever been in a room throbbing with testosterone, you know better than to disagree.

The club’s owner, Noam Dworman, told the New York Times, “there can’t be a permanent life sentence on someone who does something wrong.” The social standards about how to respond to errant behavior are inconsistent, he said, and now shifting ever faster, and audiences should have the leeway to decide what to watch themselves. “I think we’ll be better off as a society if we stop looking to the bottlenecks of distribution — Twitter, Netflix, Facebook or comedy clubs — to filter the world for us.”

Dworman’s argument seems logical. Nevertheless, the audience’s response shows how little so many men understand about the MeToo movement, how dominant their voices are and how the needle on predatory sexual behavior hasn’t moved. Sure, men like Harvey Weinstein and Kevin Spacey are gone forever, perhaps leading us to conclude that overtly criminal and predatory behavior has been curtailed. Please. Consider Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas and our Predator In Chief. Nobody talks about Thomas’ well-documented sins against Anita Hill. Why even talk about C.K.? Really, when there are predatory men setting laws that will impact women for generations. Aren’t they the very ones who should be shamed out of office? If anyone?

But I digress.

But do I?

What does C.K.’s comeback mean?

Many of C.K.’s fans and supporters argue that C.K.’s offenses didn’t rise to Weinstein’s level. Yet, that argument fails to address the real issue–that when victims come forward, they face swift and immediate retribution. They face losing everything. The problem with C.K.’s return is that the women involved don’t get one.

As a one time fan of C.K.’s, I always felt there was room in his comedy for me, for women. However, I predict that may no longer be the case. I fear his comeback will widen the gender divide as he pulls away from more inclusive topics. If Twitter offers any insight today, those most vocal against his comeback are women and those for it, are men.  This tweet first Screenshot at Aug 29 16-08-51Screenshot at Aug 29 16-08-17

Screenshot at Aug 29 16-07-56

Screenshot at Aug 29 16-07-25

Screenshot at Aug 29 16-09-32

SNL’s Michael Che, comedians Marlon Wayans and Mo Amer were the first of his colleagues to speak in his defense, but I doubt they’ll be the last. Men are angry and confused. They identify with the public figures who’ve been called out. Even those who say they support the MeToo movement, fail to get what it’s about. An interview last year on MTP Daily with Chuck Todd encapsulated this perfectly for me. Jeff Daniels and Peter Sarsgaard say they fully support the MeToo movement and believe the women who speak out. When asked about Woody Allen and whether the two would do another film with him, Sarsgaard levies a decisive no.  Daniels, however hesitates, yet quickly says he believes Dylan Farrow. Then, this happens: Sarsgaard says, “Throughout history there have been so many artists that had bad behavior. Picasso, I mean my god, it’s just been one after another, right? In all professions, but a lot of artists, right?”

And he was doing so well.

Then he adds, a bit defensively, “I would continue to watch Woody Allen movies, I’ll tell you that. I would go back and watch those movies. He’s a fantastic filmmaker.”

Uh huh. Woody Allen’s films demonstrate the various ways in which women exist to serve men’s needs and desires–something that has existed so long in the arts, we don’t even question it. His female characters succumb to his sexual desire as soon as he arrives. When they don’t they are portrayed as devious, manipulative and untrustworthy. Manhattan, for instance, is about a 44-year old guy who dates a swooning 17-year-old Mariel Hemingway.

That’s exactly the point of the MeToo movement. TimesUp on that behavior. Someone’s genius does not excuse his predatory and misogynist point of view or artwork. It does not give him a free pass to continue to undermine women, while his career soars. His talent or ability should not trump a worldview that feeds a narrative that disempowers half the population.

That said, I don’t believe people should be tried, convicted and destroyed in the court of public opinion. I don’t believe that Louis C.K. should go away forever. Instead, let’s stop talking about him and the men like him. If we’re ever going to move the needle, we need to hear from the women.

Let’s give them the opportunities they lost. Let’s showcase their work and their voices. Let’s find their genius. If we are ever to strike a balance, the Entertainment Industry power brokers, the same ones who vanquished the worst offenders in the MeToo movement, should seek out the women who were wronged and give them their lost platforms. Offer them the same opportunities to prove themselves. If they really believe them as they say they do, put their money where their mouths are.

 

A Message from Rose McGowan on Asia Argento

As a sometimes journalist, I receive emails from publicists multiple times a day. Most of the time, they don’t interest me. However, I found this one noteworthy. In it Mcgowan offers insight into her friendship with Argento while denouncing her actions with/ against a 17-year-old boy.  She strikes the right tone reminding us all that the #metoo movement is more important than ever, particularly in light of these revelations.

When the story broke about Asia Argento’s relationship with a 17-year-old boy, my husband had one thing to say, “Those who are preyed upon often become predators themselves.” He meant that if anything, Argento’s seduction of an underage person proves she was a victim of Harvey Weinstein’s and does not, as Conservative Media opines, nullify her claims.

Growing up I knew boys of the same age who had been involved with older women. They were proud of it. They felt it made them men. I truly wondered what the difference was between girls who were seduced by men and boys who were seduced by women. At the time, no one talked about it.

Thankfully, as far as the law is concerned, nothing–which is what the #metoo movement is all about. Anyone can be a victim and anyone can be a predator. Regardless of what many may debate, boys and girls are different. Boys mature sexually before girls. They’re less emotional. They can’t be damaged in the same ways…The law in this country disagrees.  (The age of consent in the U.K, is 16. Another debate for another day.)

Whether Weinstein’s abuse of Argento influenced her decision to have a sexual relationship with an underaged boy may be something for the courts to decide. One thing is certain, Mcgowan’s observations are correct, while the boy in question solicited Argento with nude photos of himself starting at the age of 12, she allowed them to continue, and by doing so, she preyed upon his vulnerability. We are just as guilty for what we do not do as for what we do.

The law exists not just to protect the young from predators, but to protect them from themselves. 12 is too young to understand a single action’s ramifications, too young to know the far-reaching damage a too early sexual encounter can cause. Who doesn’t remember their first sexual encounter? And who doesn’t understand, now upon much reflection, how much it impacts all the rest that follow.

Email from Rose:

I would first of all like to start off this statement saying thank you for your patience. A lot of people have been demanding answers and a response to the recent events surrounding Asia Argento’s sexual assault case. Many people believe that because we have been close in each other’s lives over the past year that perhaps I am affiliated with this incident or being complicit. I am not.

I first met Asia on a red carpet, but it’s only been the past year through our shared experience of the HW case that we have bonded. Asia was a person who understood my trauma in a way that many others didn’t. We were able to talk through them together and champion each other’s voices. We even got matching dot tattoos! Something I had posted on my IG just about a month ago. It’s no secret to anyone that Im a blunt, candid, brazen individual vocally- and I think that’s what I really related to Asia the most with. They were edgy, confrontational, and strong willed with very little care about how much other’s liked or disliked them. Rare things to find in women in this industry or the world. 

 But then everything changed. In an instant. I received a phone call and series of messages from the being I’ve been dating- Rain Dove. They said that they had been texting with Asia and that Asia had revealed that she had indeed slept with Jimmy Bennet. Rain also shared that Asia had stated that she’d been receiving unsolicited nudes of Jimmy since he had been 12. Asia mentioned in these texts that she didn’t take any action on those images. No reporting to authorities, to the parents, or blocking of Jimmy’s social media. Not even a simple message “Don’t send me these images. They are inappropriate.” There were a few other details revealed as well that I am not at liberty to mention in this statement as investigators do their job. 

Rain Dove said that they were going to go to the police with these texts once we were done speaking no matter what. But that they wanted me to be aware of them so that I may be able to take further actions. I responded with “You have to. You must.” I wasted no time. It wasn’t hard to say or support. What was hard was the shell shock of the realisation that everything the MeToo movement stood for was about to be in jeopardy. An hour after our conversation was finished Rain Dove confirmed that they had turned over the texts and were in conversation with officers. Almost 48 hours later the texts were in the press. 

 I had introduced Rain Dove to Asia Argento last month, three days after the passing of Anthony Bourdain. I was with Asia to comfort and support her. Rain Dove came to support us both. It was an emotionally chaotic time and Rain Dove suggested we go to Berlin for a couple days to take the mourning out of Asia’s home and into a neutral space. So we did. While in Berlin Asia had mentioned that she was being extorted for a large sum of money every month by someone who was blackmailing them with a provocative image. No one in the room knew who the extortionist was. Now we know it to be a reference to this case. 

 Rain Dove continued on communicating with Asia occasionally after meeting her- and their conversations have been their own. I know Rain is a person to whom many high profile entities consult when they are experiencing social pressures because Rain is good at guiding them through the research confrontation, rehabilitation, and solution process. While they are a person who is good at keeping a secret for those dedicated to making things right- they are also justice driven. So it was not a surprise to me that I received that call and the messages from them. I’ve referred to Asia in the past as “My Ride or Die” and said very clearly that their friendship comes first. I know that coming to me with those messages must have been hard for Rain because of that so I commend them for their bravery. 

 To the people who have checked in with me to see if I’m alright- the answer is thank you and Yes. I’ll be fine. Its sad to lose a friend connection, but whats even more sad is what happened to Jimmy Bennet. Whether or not the extortion case is true- it wasn’t fair and it wasn’t right. It is the type of thing I fight against alongside so many. The reason I haven’t released a statement is because I’ve frankly been extremely humbled by this event. I had to take a step back and realise that in my own activism while I fight hard with passion- I need to evolve. In the past I have been occasionally angry. As a victim I was justified in fiery feelings. But I know that those accused are the friends, parents, and family members of other people. There absolutely should be no leeway or tolerance for sexual assault. Hard stop. NONE. Victims also shouldn’t be told how they should react or what they should say about their abusers. However as allies to the victim and voyeurs of an event we should find a better way to balance support of the victim with due process for the accused. I’ve never claimed to be perfect. This week especially has made me come to terms with the fact that we all have a lot of growing to do, including myself. 

 At this current moment it may be easy to focus on the drama of the situation. The conspiracy. But the real focus should be on supporting justice. Supporting honesty. And supporting each other. We can not let this moment break the momentum of a movement that has freed so many people. We must use it to allow us to become stronger. More compassionate. More aware. And More organised. 

 Asia you were my friend. I loved you. You’ve spent and risked a lot to stand with the MeToo movement. I really hope you find your way through this process to rehabilitation and betterment. Anyone can be be better- I hope you can be, too. Do the right thing. Be honest. Be fair. Let justice stay its course. Be the person you wish Harvey could have been.

Fragments On Suicide

I’m 15 and sitting on my bed in my room writing tortured poetry.  Joy Division, Siouxsie And The Banshees and The Smiths play on a loop. Suicide soundtrack. I try cutting my wrists, but a dull knife and a low threshold for pain ruins the romance.  I want attention.

Seventh period study hall, Freshman year. George somebody or other. A tall, wide, redheaded football player, ugly. Really ugly, this guy. But popular. His best friend, Steve, wiry, tan, sun-tipped waves. A tennis player. The Beast and his Beauty.

The teacher, assistant coach of some kind–an alcoholic, barely kept his head adrift and frequently left ten minutes into class never to return. Steve and George found sport in making fun of Lara, a not very attractive, overweight girl with unwashed hair. They drew pictures of her on the board, made the whole class laugh. One day I stood up for her. George made me his target from that day forward. He and Steve drew pictures of me on the board, my face a piece of pizza. They never relented.

Lesley sat in the back on the other side of the room. I’d never met her before the day she found me at my locker and gave me a forged library pass.  “Meet me in the Library for study hall,” she said. I did, and every day after that. She came from money and the right side of town. Her dad had the right kind of job and she had all the right friends–which didn’t seem to matter to her. She saved my life. In high school kids can kill you, but they can also save you.

That you never really grows up. At a certain point she dims, but she never leaves. She hangs around to see how it all turned out, wondering about the longing you told her you’d handle, wondering if you’d make anything of it.

And so you spend the next several decades reaching for it. Until you’re tired and you’re here again, on the page, facing your high school self blank-faced and empty-handed.

“Sorry.” I say. “At least the weather’s better here.” We’re in L.A. Not Chicago.

I’m starting to bargain with the past. It won’t work. I’ll change gears. Try to put it another way.

This thing with Anthony Bourdain and Kate Spade, well how do you make sense of it?

And the news makes you feel like a child again, because it was a longing to become something big that kept you going and now it’s betrayed you.

Celebrities carry the psychic weight of the public’s needs.  They embody our aspirations, and they feel that pressure. They know their role. Perhaps then, celebrity suicide is a fundamental rejection of us and our fantasies.

According to a report in the Daily Beast, Spade told a friend she didn’t want to seek professional help for depression. She feared it might compromise her brand of bright colorful bags and charming charms telling women we’re one in a million. I wonder if she thought that through to its natural conclusion, that her brand was more important than her life, her daughter, her husband…

I spent 15 years in the beauty industry working for a Spade adjacent company–Bobbi Brown. There’s a kind of symbiosis between them–clean, strong lines, bright pops of color, classic taste. If you wanted to project power in the early 2000’s you wore Donna Karan, carried Kate Spade, and made up your face with the neutral power of Bobbi Brown.

Now look at them. Bobbi no long sells makeup. Karan came out in public support of Weinstein, and Spade is dead. Well, Spade’s death reveals a timeless truth about her industry, negative emotions have no currency. Traffic in them and you’ll lose everything.

Be positive, relentlessly, powerfully, positive. Successful people do it well. Until they don’t.

I wonder if, right after the moment of decision and right before their last, Bourdain or Spade regretted it, remembered their children, thought about their loved ones. People who have survived the 245 foot fall from the Golden Gate Bridge have reported regretting it the second they let go…And hanging isn’t painless…You have time to reflect on not being able to turn back.

Have you ever been depressed–seriously, clinically, you can’t move from your bed depressed? Your thoughts eat themselves. Enormous black feelings cannibalize every breath and you wish you could stop existing.

That’s rage, my friend. Inverted rage at your powerlessness to effect meaningful change. Round and round you go and each time you feel better you know it’s not for long. Right around the corner lurks a trigger–snap, bang, drag, fall and there you go again down the drain and out to sea.  So you dream of the end when you can stop trying and simply let go. It feels so much easier than fighting your way back. Reaching out requires honesty, vulnerability, strength. Depression wears you down until you feel like a thread.

It wears everyone around you down too. At a certain point you’re as tired of you as they are.

A Mourning Dove sits on a power line directly in front of my balcony where I watch. Every morning she sits for hours saying very little. What happened to your love? Where is your home? Why do you like this power line?

I think about suicide because of Kate Spade. That’s its contagion. No matter what you know or how smart you think you are, suicide seduces the damned. Obsessed with Robin Williams’ death, Spade read everything on it. Two years later here we are and there she’s gone. I read three articles on her death then stopped. It gets deep in your head. You can’t leave it alone, like that loose piece of skin on the roof of your burned mouth, you keep bothering it.

But I won’t. Suicide makes those you love angry. You’ve ruined their dream. You’ve killed their hope. You’ve robbed them of a piece of themselves. They will never again feel how you made them feel, and they may never forgive you for it. The violence of your last act chars your memory forever. Each time you come to mind the acrid odor of suicide follows until it’s just too painful to remember you as clearly or as regularly. You fade, forever damned by your last most significant act. Suicide as legacy.

These are all just words scraping the surface of something I’m trying to work out, but can’t. Something is stuck and I’m caught writing childish journal entries–anything to loosen the words and locate the story. Perhaps more of this to come. Stay with me and we’ll find the thread together…

Julio

Jose. Juan. No, Julio. Perhaps. I remember images, but not names. Never names. I worked at The Bailiwick Repertory, a Chicago theater in Boys town that featured plays and baudy shows celebrating the LGBTQ experience long before it was an acronym. It was a holdover from the 80’s, when the transgendered weren’t acknowledged, much less talked about, and being gay was a death sentence.

The Bailiwick also programmed works of new playwrights and gave new directors, like me, opportunities. But Aids had decimated the artistic community and by the early 90’s The Bailiwick grew desperate for more main stream audiences. No one came to see gay theater on the main stage and the only people interested in new works were other theater people. An artistic director and acting coach of mine once said, “You can get comped to death in this town.” His theater went under.

But before that, Julio. Yes, Julio. He came through town touring with a Mexican theater group one icy February. It was an Irish play translated into Spanish. Something haunting. Maybe a Yeats poem or a Wilde play. All male. The performers were gay, except one. Perhaps the straight guy was Jose? Nope. Can’t remember.  Simply a vacuum behind the face and the hot sinewy arms late at night as we slept out a storm on a wooden floor, the snow too blinding to leave. Julio slept in the bed above. He was sick. He warned me. Or simply told me. “He sleeps with someone in every town.” I think he said. Or maybe I asked.

The following day in rehearsal No Name no longer looked at me. He’d wanted one night and I wanted forever. I alway wanted forever. Once rejected, I no longer existed. A hole opened up within me, a familiar sinkhole. It stole my breath. It followed me everywhere anyway. I experienced momentary relief in the eyes of beautiful men who considered me beautiful, until they didn’t.

I found Julio elsewhere in the dim theater and sat next to him. I half expected him to leave. Instead, he turned and gently touched my arm. “Hi, Amy.” My name never sounded like that. I felt seen. Have you ever needed that so much in your life you thought you could die and just at that moment someone offers it? Without needing anything in return?

I don’t know if I said anything. Words often felt like sharp rocks in my mouth. I’d just as soon spare myself the agony of saying them. But I must’ve. He must’ve. Because at some point, as we sat together, he said, “You slouch. You’re so pretty. Do you try to sit up?” I thrust my chest out and sat up straight. “No,” he smiled. “Not like that.” He touched the back of my neck with one hand and my abdomen with another. “Take a deep breath.” I did. He tipped my chin forward and pulled the back of my head up. “Release your breath and tighten your tummy like this.” He demonstrated. “Pretend you have a cord from the ceiling holding you up here.” He tugged a little on my neck. “There. That feels good? Now breathe.” I sat up straight, my body felt right. “Everything feels loose, but like it’s supposed to,” I said. “Yes, you’re open now,” he said.

He was dying. Aids. In my memory he’s wearing white linen. But that can’t be right. It was a brutal February. Nevertheless, every time I see him, he’s in white linen and his feet are bare. He could’ve been 40. It’s hard to know now because, while his eyes shone like jet, his face was gray. He died that year I think. But one brief conversation left its mark.  I can recall the warmth his touch generated in my body even now. Not erotic. Something else, like the warmth sunlight offers after a storm. That’s not right. Too sentimental. I don’t have the words.

But the moment got lodged deep. Each day, at least once, I stand up straight the way he taught me. It’s involuntary. That’s what’s odd. I do it and think of him in his white linen on that freezing February day, wind howling through the walls. And I don’t know. It’s like, just the memory of him, and I can breathe. I don’t know what any of it means.