June 28, 2013

Affirmed and Disappointed

My beloved Guinea Pigs played a gig yesterday at Billings Forge Farmers' Market. It's a lovely, small urban market, on Broad Street in downtown Hartford. There were a half dozen or so local farms, some products and crafts, and a handful of food trucks (including my fave, G-Monkey, from which I procured a hearty serving of cold peanut soba noodles, yum!)

We've played this particular market the past few years and it's always a fave for us, with friends and fans stopping by, and folks from the local arts and business community stopping in for lunch or their dose of fresh produce. The market itself serves the local community by accepting SNAP / WIC benefits for fresh local food, and doubling their value for produce purchased at the market (which admittedly does sell for a premium compared to the local mega-supermarket, not that there are many of those in Hartford)

I was affirmed a bit yesterday - a young woman who described herself as a "yoga newbie" recognized me from the studio, and perhaps seeing a free-spirit, artistic side of me that I rarely admit or see in myself, commented that "I need to get more creative in my life". Whatever stories I happen to be telling myself about who I am and how I live my life, I rarely would call myself creative or artistic. Yet this young woman, with her simple "I wish I were more like you" musing, held a mirror up to my own life, especially the choices of the past decade or so. It was very sweet and affirming.

And I was disappointed yesterday. I serve and belong to a "community" through my yoga practice, yet I can count on one hand the times a friend from that world has taken the time to support me, to come see my band play. Occasionally people stumble across me, but only 1-2 times has someone come specifically to see us. I know we're mostly east of the river, so when we do come to this part of town, I guess it sparks a little hope that "this time I might see a familiar face" of the 100s on my Facebook friends list. I'd guess that fewer than 2% of the locals on my 480+ Facebook friends list have ever come to hear me play despite my sharing every single gig since 2010.

I need to look at that a little. Part of it is certainly my own compartmentalizing my life / lives - with separate communities for music, for yoga, for GLBT, for ballooning, with a handful of people, events, and venues that overlap. Part of that is my own strong nature and ability to stand on my own two feet without a lot of support - the folks with needs and crisis and struggle seem to attract and receive both attention and love. And part of that is the complexity of boundaries and relationships in a world where I am teacher, student, client, friend, and employee, and pull back a bit to keep from getting enmeshed in drama.

But over and over, that part of my world continues to break my heart. 

June 26, 2013

The Haves and the Have Nots

With today's SCOTUS decision regarding DOMA, my Facebook and Twitter feeds (both full of the gay) went wild. And I'm happy for the decision - it's right, it's long overdue.

But I'm also a little sad. In a lot of ways, same sex marriage is about privilege. The privilege afforded to heterosexual couples in terms of benefits (health insurance, survivor benefits, social security) and in terms of tax law are now available to same sex couples. And as a result a whole lot of people will rest easier, because their health insurance, estate planning, custody and survivor rights will be recognized by the federal government. I recognized this back in 2006; I was on an internet radio show that also featured two of the CT Marriage plaintiffs, and one of the "selling points" was how much money they would stand to lose (or gain) were they legally married. It was a lot of money (> $200K) - and I realized that for many in the gay marriage, it was a fight for those with money, power and privilege to get more of the same.

But for those of us outside of the mainstream in terms of relationships, who have not or may not be able to assimilate and become the G/L equivalent of happy heterosexuals, a helluva of a lot of allies and fellow sufferers just got theirs and got out of Dodge. So for someone struggling to maintain health care, to put a little money for retirement without the benefit of a spouse with benefits, to just stay afloat - it's kind of a sad day.

And yeah, I guess I could find a relationship. But really, how many 50+ women find Mr. or Ms. Right? And as a lesbian transwoman, well, it's a pretty slim slice (queer women who might date a transwomen) of an already thin slice (lesbian women). Let's just say I'm not picking out a dress or a china pattern.

So, DOMA was declared unconstitutional. Happy for all my mated and wedded friends who will benefit. I'm still outside, looking in. Hope the cake is yummy. 

Falcon Ridge Folk Festival - 2013 Emerging Artists

The official list has been released, in alphabetical order: 

Amanda Pearcy - Austin TX
Amy Black - Somerville MA
Annalivia - Boston MA
Bethel Steele - Boston MA
Bobtown - NYC
Brad Yoder Duo - Pittsburgh PA
Carrie Ferguson - Northampton MA
Connor Garvey - Portland ME
Cricket Tell the Weather - Brooklyn NY
Darlingside - Boston MA
Doug Allen - Stamford CT
Doug Kwartler - Boston MA
Jacob Latham - Bloomington IN
Jonah Tolchin - Princeton NJ 
Martin Swinger - Augusta ME
Michael Braunfeld - Philadelphia PA
Noble Hunter - Brooklyn NY
Phil Henry Acoustic Trio - Rutland VT
Rachael Sage - NYC
Reverend TJ McGlinchey - Philadelphia PA
Roosevelt Dime - Brooklyn NY
Tall Heights - Boston MA
The Bones of J.R. Jones - Manilus NY
The Boxcar Lilies - Greenfield MA

Looks like a pretty eclectic group. The usual New England / Northeast slant is seasoned with artists from Austin, Pittsburgh, Bloomington, and Philadelphia. A quick review of the websites (to grab these links) shows a good mix of solo artists and groups. 

I only recognize a few names. Rachael Sage was a Showcase Artist back in 2010; I also saw her at the New Haven Folk Fest (and picked up a CD back then). Boxcar Lilies I've heard somewhere (Prairie Home Companion? Local folk shows?). I've actually PLAYED with Brad Yoder (at the Falcon Ridge volunteer open mic, where we accompany Ben Atherton-Zeman during his annual FRFF inspired song parody). Phil Henry has been touring with Tracy Grammar on and off over the years. And Amy Black and Bethel Steele are both familiar names out of Boston.

Brooklyn / NYC get's the "precious name" award, with three artists (Bobtown / Cricket Tell the Weather / Roosevelt Time) having creative / eclectic / curious names.

June 25, 2013

Sneaking Up on It

There is an old adage:
Q: How does one eat an elephant? A: One bite at a time.
It's something I've used in the past - my "major life project", which takes those with money, privilege, resources a year or two, took me the better part of a decade. It was almost too difficult to look it in the eye, to openly set it as a goal way back when, because it seemed so out of reach financially, logistically. And yet, I started nibbling at the edges, working on the things I could with the time and resources I had. It took 7 or 8 years, but the result was a gender transition that was more organic, less affected, with a lot less struggle and drama than most such journeys.  And when fortune smiled on me with a once in a lifetime opportunity, I was ready to go.

Today, Fed Ex ground dropped off a large box. Inside, 10 yoga blankets, purple and red. Yoga Direct does not really have the highest quality products, but the price is right and there was a 30% off sale.

And as I was opening the box, inspecting the blankets, shaking out the lint and refolding them, it struck me - I might just be doing it again. I realized that I've got the makings of a small yoga studio: blankets, blocks, straps, mats, tennis balls.

I've picked these things up over the years for various reasons. My first "free" classes at my old office precipitated the mat purchase. Teaching adult ed yoga drove me to invest in blocks and straps. I picked up tennis balls as a low cost alternative to Jill Miller's Yoga Tune-up balls.

And I bring the props as I travel - leading an early morning gentle practice at the Falcon Ridge Folk Festival, leading two classes a day at GLBT summer camp for adults, Camp Camp.

One of the benefits of a mindful life, of the physical and spiritual practice, and of having more than a few miles on the odometer, is that I begin to notice the patterns, to sense the winds of change in the moment rather than in the rear view mirror.

Not saying I'm opening a studio, that this is a concrete goal or even a dream that I am working towards. And yet, I'm  conscious of pieces falling into place, of a subtle shift in the winds. I'm aware of me, sneaking up on something.

June 20, 2013

Paypal Fail

I recently cashed in some retirement money (before the recent market drop, thank you very much) and paid off most of my consumer debt. It's a good feeling.

My plan was to retain two cards - a Cap One account that had a bit left on it (and would be paid off over the next year) and a Paypal / GE Capitol account (zero balance) for monthly subscriptions, online purchases, etc. (so I could pay down the other card cleanly).

Unfortunately, the rating systems at Paypal / GE Capitol appear to have freaked out by my behavior (paying off a balance on their card, plus two others)  and although my credit line was unchanged, my available credit has been about $60 for the past two weeks.

Today, I decided to call and find out what was up - but their phone systems were circuitous and unhelpful. I waited on hold for 30 minutes at the Paypal number, only to be directed to a second number at GE Capitol. At the GE Capitol number,  I could not seem to figure out how to connect to a real person, but I did find a place to automatically cancel the card. Which I did.

Sorry, Paypal, but good riddance. Between the credit line / available credit snafu, the messed up support systems, and the inability to get anyone live on the line, I kind of lost interest. I'll keep the Cap One account until I get the right card offer in the mail to use as a "pay it off every month"  vehicle.

June 19, 2013

Falcon Ridge Folk Festival - Merch Tent Preview

I've dragged out Excel and am cleaning up the master spreadsheet I use to track merchandise for the folk fest. I developed this puppy back in  2007 (my first year as merch co-crew chief) and it has proven to be pretty well designed, going all these years without requiring too much modification. I set up an individual spreadsheet for each artist / performer (some require multiple sheets) and we track the units brought to fest, added or removed during fest, and checked out after. With unit pricing, it calculates the total sales, subtracts the fest commission, and tallies the artist's total sales. Pretty basic, but still much work with 50-60 artists at a typical fest weekend.

Some artists (especially the 24 "Emerging Showcase Artists") are pretty simple, with a handful of CDs (we ask them to leave the swag home, as emerging artists, just not a lot of potential for sales). Others can be quite a handful - Gandalf Murphy / Grand Slambovians (for instance) bring multiple CDs, DVDs, packaged sets, shirts, hats, coffee(!), etc. Others (such as The Kennedy's) have multiple musical personae (in their case, they've been part of The Stranglings, The Stringbusters) or have solo works for individual members of the group. So it's quite a juggling act to keep it all sorted out.

This year, I took the time to list and document all the macros; I use macros for the spreadsheet automation as well as for little maintenance task (clearing sheets, repopulating header / footer fields for the current year, etc.) - found quite a bit of redundancy which I am slowly pruning. Might as well start fresh!

This is the 25th Anniversary of the Folk Fest - started in 1988 and missing 1991. I've been volunteering since 1992, with one missed year (was in SE Asia for work) so I think this is my 21st year. I started out with the parking crew, and the year I missed was a good opportunity to switch over to the festival tee-shirt (merch) crew. In 2007, Tee-Shirts and Performer Merch merged and I was a signing bonus (i.e. - crew chief Ellen acceded to the merger if I got a co-crew chief position with the responsibility of tracking performer merchandise).

In the ensuing years, I've seen a lot less music from in front of the stage (holing up in the merch trailer for much of the fest, which admittedly is line of site from main stage) but I've also gotten to meet and know a lot of the performers. It's a decent trade, IMHO. As the saying goes, I have "risen to the level of my incompetence" and here I shall stay.

Looking at the festival artists (the Emerging Artists have not yet been announced) it looks like a pretty decent fest. We're missing that big headliner (someone like Richard Thompson, Shawn Colvin, Mary Chapin Carpenter, Arlo Guthrie, etc.) but Dar Williams is back for the first time in many years and she's pretty much a headliner these days. And although a lot of old friend are absent (of the Patty Larkin, John Gorka, Richard Shindell, Greg Brown, Cheryl Wheeler generation), there are plenty of really great musicians.

Back for 2013, Falcon Ridge mainstays The Kennedys (I've missed ya, although maybe less so the mayhem of your merchandise), the Nields, Red Molly, the Grand Slambovians. Venerable faves such as Vance Gilbert, Susan Werner, Eliza Gilkyson, Mary Gauthier, Dan Navarro and Ellis Paul all add punch to the center of the line-up. And some newer faves - Spuyten Duvil, Jason Spooner Band, Andrew & Noah Band fill out the lineup.  Not ignoring the dance tent bands, plenty of punch there as well.

So...here it comes again. A week later this year (and hopefully pushing us into a little bit of sunny and dry weather in August). 

June 14, 2013

Losing My Religion (That's me in the corner)

Actually, I've got no religion to lose. I am, however, not doing a lot of formal yoga these days. Which is worse, in a lot of ways. 

I have been a power yoga junkie - back 5-6 years I was on my mat, sweating it out 5-6 times a week. And although my body would complain now and then (occasional back issues, shoulder issues) I've been fairly resilient through it all.

But the past few months I've been struggling. A dose of left foot plantar fasciitis has made down dog, crescent lunge, and warrior I torturous - feels as if I am planting my left heel on a 2" nail. I've been doing exercises, babying my feet, wearing supportive shoes, etc. and modifying my practice - but its the sort of thing one needs to rest and recover with, and teaching barefoot 3-4 times a week and practicing daily does not leave much space for healing. 

On top of that, my left shoulder has been creaky and cranky - I think I've narrowed it down to a strained left bicep. My right shoulder is always a bit wonky but now with two shoulders in for repair, things like chaturanga or shoulder openers are iffy.

So, bottom line, I am totally avoiding hot / power yoga, anything with sun salutations. There are a few All Levels teachers I can work with but its been mostly gentle, yin, restorative for me. And since the studio is down a few teachers - it's been hot or miss for me taking a formal class. And my yoga space is presently a shambles (seasonal clothing swap) so finding practice space at home is a bit of a challenge.

Odd though. I've been cleaning up a lot of stuff in my life - sorted out some financial struggles, completely cleaned my condo, reworked my main bath, caught up on work. My yoga these days seems a lot less asana based and more "in the world". Nothing wrong with that, although I'd like to get my sorry ass back into a hot / power class soon!

June 12, 2013

National Geographic

It's hard to begin to quantify how much of who I have become as a person was influenced by the fact that my parents subscribed to this magazine. My parents were not intellectuals or academics; dad was an IT guy in the 60s and 70s, mom was a nurse / full time mom. Neither was a huge reader (other than the newspaper; yet my childhood was vividly informed by a Merit Student Encyclopedia on the shelf, and National Geographic magazine once a month in the mail. I devoured them - in my room, in the bathtub, in the car, cover to cover.

My knowledge of the world with its continents, oceans, and nations, my love of nature, curiosity about space and exploration - and perhaps all of these coalescing into a spiritual curiosity - between the covers of this publication.

It's been a long long time but I decided today, out of the blue, to subscribe again, after many years hiatus. Happy to be back in the fold.

June 10, 2013

Pride and Not Pride

This weekend, my Facebook feed was filled with photos from Pride parades and festivals. My camp family is geographically dispersed, so I have my finger on the pulse on the queer community of a lot of cities. It was kind of fun to live vicariously through Boston, Los Angeles, Albany, and other places.

Once upon a time, Hartford had a Pride fest, occasionally een a Pride parade. I've participated in both. But no more. The fest itself has fallen on hard times lately; not even sure when the last time there was one. And to be honest, when it was still happening, my ties to the local queer community are so slight and tentative that I either chose not to go, or I'd go, wander around for a few hours without really finding too many folks I knew, and I'd quietly slip away.

It's part of a bigger pictures. Hartford's "community center" shut its door years ago, so there's no central space for meetings, events, information. And (in my experience) the spaces and groups out there tend to be kind of insular - without a lot of formal cross-over.

I did spend a number of nights this past week at the Out Film Fest. It's not the same - skewed older, whiter, and wealthier - a thin slice of queer community - but at this point, we take what we can. It was good to run into a lot of folks I knew "back in the day". It was a good year for the fest; with good films, good turnouts (to my eye), and successful use of alternative theater spaces (Real Art Ways, Spotlight Theaters, and CT Science Center). I probably should have bought a festival pass but hopefully my fuull price tickets will help support the fest.

One of the festival films - Raid at the Rainbow Lounge - about a police raid on a gay bar in Ft. Worth, TX and the resultant community coming together - brought our local lack of community into focus.

Perhaps its a natural part of the assimilation process. I have a dozen queerish friends in the yoga world who I have never seen at a Pride / Queer event. It's so pedestrian to be GLBT these days that there's little need for safe / segregated spaces. Folks split off into communities based on other interests and passions. Still, there is something missing.

Personally, I'm missing community. I'm neither fish nor fowl, mostly. Whatever passes for a trans community is focused on coming out and transitioning (been there, done that, a decade or more ago), or fixated on victimhood and oppression (neither of which has been my experience)  so there's little there for me. My peers have (admittedly, like me) slipped off into the woodwork and whatever passes for happily ever after. And the queer women's community has so far proven elusive - not a clear focus or hub, and my own radfem / Michfest induced fears about exclusion and going where I am unwanted keep me from looking too hard. On Saturday night I sat (alone) in a full theater filled with cliquish groups of dykes. Along among the tribe.

So yeah. Not so proud this year. I look forward to my annual queer homecoming at camp, and will take the little slices of community and connection I can get.