Last Sunday, the last day of my thirties, I sat on a Yeti cooler in the shade, the first portion of the Thunderdome torn down and a smaller crew disassembling the rigging, when my worst panic attack to date began its stirrings. Thunderdome means being surrounded with friends, and one of them kindly saw what was happening (I wasn’t responding with my normal energy) and discreetly brought me back to camp and sat with me, quietly. I do enjoy making a scene, but only onstage. I packed up my things between heart palpitations, numb or tingling hands and feet, some chest pains. It felt better to move, so I packed and kept moving. I took half a Xanax, knowing I’d need to drive later, and washed it down with water that yielded a fantastic, new-to-me symptom; my entire tongue shriveling against the sensation of touching it to a 9-volt battery. I jumped back, certain my water bottle had fallen into something, or that I was the victim of foul play. My game friends tasted the water and remarked that it was fine. I left early, a thing I never do when there’s work to be done, and drove myself to town. In the parking lot of the gas station, it became apparent I couldn’t drive. The chest pains were not ceasing, I was too dizzy to stand, and shadows were creeping in around the corners of my eyes. For the first time, I called 911 for myself. For the first time, I took an ambulance ride to a hospital because the EMT couldn’t verify I *wasn’t* having a heart attack.

So, the last day of my 39th year, I got an EKG, and a confirmation that I wasn’t having a heart attack, and multiple admonitions to take it easier.

Because this is the first time this has happened around a large group of people, I think many people were surprised. I was mostly calm. I was completely rational. And this, to most people, is not how they picture “panic attack”. They picture irrationality, hyperventilation, crazy talk.

So here is my FAQ. Yours may vary. There are many like it, but this one is mine.

1) What’s the trigger for it?
There is no exact trigger. I like to keep my life pretty full. My day job, Thunderome, and performing are all things I enjoy a great deal. Sometimes, this means that I am processing many things at a time. It helps to think of it as a computer. If you have something taking up a lot of background memory, other things will start to run more slowly. It doesn’t mean that anything stops functioning altogether, it just means that the normal tasks that you do are being compromised by the larger processes you’re trying to run. Sometimes, when there are too many background processes running, one of the applications, or the entire system, crashes. To the impartial observer, it looks like “Well, she was only actively running ‘sit on couch and relax’, so this makes no sense.” Think a bit less as a trigger, and more as a buildup. Oftentimes, panic attacks hit when I finally have a chance to sit and relax, as though my performer mind has spent all of this time suppressing stress and, when it knows I am finally in a safe place, opens the floodgates.

2) What can I do to help?
You can ask that question. That right there is fantastic. Please don’t ask the question “what triggered it”. My answer is usually “having panic disorder triggers panic attacks.” 🙂 Do ask “do you want me to get your medication?” I’ll be able to answer that.

3) Do you want a hug/backrub?
This may not be the case for everyone with panic disorder, but for me please don’t initiate physical contact. Because this is a medical, not emotional, condition, but one which can appear emotional, I understand the confusion and need to comfort. I appreciate it, and it makes me feel guilty for not wanting to receive the proffered kindness. Then, we hug, and I feel even more panicky. Additionally, engaging in conversation exacerbates it; it’s another social construct that places additional pressure to interact. As with most things about my world, I say what I mean. When I say I prefer to be left alone, I am not trying not to be a bother; I need to be alone.

4) Can you take medication?
Yes, but not if I need to drive anywhere or work. Also, they’re a bit like earthquake; it’s hard to tell how bad it’s going to be, and I wouldn’t want to debilitate myself for the remainder of the day by taking a medication if it’s going to be a small episode. A difficulty is remembering to think halfway through the panic to take the medication once you realize it is a big one.

5) What comes first? The feelings of dread, or the physical symptoms?
I’ve gotten the question a few times, and I love it. For me, the visible symptoms come first, usually when I am relaxed, as I said in number one. So, my hands and feet will start tingling, I will start to get tunnel vision and dizziness, or shortness of breath, sometimes with pressure in my chest. My speech may slur, and I may be unable to form sentences. It could be one or any number of these things. Then, of course the giant brain goes to work. Not that my brain is particularly more giant than anyone else’s, but we are soft, living, breathing, problem-solving things. So, the brain immediately tries to solve the problem. When the brain looks at this list, it does not immediately think “panic”. That’s a big part of the problem, that once the conscious mind starts working on this issue, it becomes a downward spiral of “sure, you know you have panic disorder, but these symptoms are EXACTLY THE SAME as the female heart attack!” Even doctors can’t say, which is why the rule is; take medication and, if you don’t feel better, get checked.

DICOM Frame 169

6) What are you going to do about it?
Working on it. I spent the first moments of my 40s using an app I’d helped to develop to remove the appearance of the EKG tape remnants in the selfie I took of the amazing birthday gift I received from my husband. The irony is not lost on me. If you know me, you know two things (and probably more) – I do not sit and bitch without taking action when there is action to be taken (in fact, a look at my facebook feed would suggest that my life doesn’t have too many hiccups – that’s a deliberate construct, of course), and I hate. Hate. Hate. Down-time. So I must schedule in down-time, and schedule in time away, or it won’t happen. Again. Working on it. I don’t find going out for drinks or sitting in a bar relaxing; the opposite, in fact, and so I must navigate carefully my “down-time”, in the form of hikes, reading, and simply sitting with tea.

Thanks for reading. I appreciate the time, and the non-judgment. Thanks for not thinking of me as fragile and coddling me. I find that intolerable, and it’s being capable that’s gotten me into this. There’s nothing about my life right now I don’t enjoy – no wasted time, no unenjoyable activities, no pointless drama. So now that my life is full of wonderful things, I have the task of managing the time and energy spent on them. It’s a good, a delightful, problem. I look forward to working on it… during hikes and with tea.

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History; my original post on panic, for reference.

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This weekend, Death Guild Thunderdome set up at Wasteland Weekend for the first time. It was pretty awesome and I have lots of thoughts on that but …

On Friday night, I noticed a few folks in wheelchairs, pushed up against the dome from the outside, trying to see in while negotiating the elbows of the people around them. I began to invite them in; there is a bit of “sitting space”, reserved for crew members on break and friends of crew members, on the opposite side of the dome from where folks are working. I invited them to come sit in the “friends and family” section, where their view would be unobstructed. I invited one man in, but his wheelchair was one of those giant electric dealies, and too large to come in through our smallish triangles.

“But I’ll be ok,” he said. “These folks around me have been giving me a lot of room.”
“Ok, good.”
“But it sure would be great to try swinging from those bungees.”

I paused.

“Well, we can definitely get you set up with that. Why don’t you come back tomorrow night after fights?”

“I would love to try it, but then all these people will be staring.”

“No, no. They’ll be staring at the girls swinging from the other bungee.”

He agreed, and I introduced him to some of the crew who could help him navigate getting into a harness and into the dome once out of his chair.

The next evening, I looked for Dennis, but was disappointed not to find him. By the time I did see him, the fights were over, he was on the other side of the dome from where we’d spoken the previous evening, and was already in a harness. With the help of Thunderdome crew, he was lifted out of his chair and hooked into the bungees. Tentatively at first, with a wincher (person who works a gear at the side of the dome to raise and lower a fighter) working furiously to ensure that his feet didn’t bear too much weight, Dennis’ feet skimmed the ground.

“I can walk!”

I asked if he wanted to swing.

“I’m not sure…let me get a feel for it first.” So we gently bounced him up and down until he said he wanted to swing…and we helped him get real air. Then we handed him one of our padded weapons and let him hit us with it. For minutes, Dennis swung, giddy, and we alternately helped him and turned away so he couldn’t see our tears of joy. The crew was joyous, and so happy to help him experience this moment. Dennis’ partner pulled me aside and said “Thank you so much to you and your crew. He’s always wanted to know what it feels like to skydive, or bungee jump.”

As we helped him back into his chair he said he felt fantastic, that it was therapeutic for him. Felt so strange that he was thanking us, so I said…

“After 17 years of doing this, you just added new meaning to this for all of us. Thank you.”

The next day, we presented him with Thunderdome team-building weekend pins and a Thunderdome combatant dog tag.

We’ve done a few special, non-boffer-weapon-fight-related things in the Thunderdome. We’ve had weddings, suspensions, clowns…but Dennis stands with the woman who poured her daughter’s ashes into our dome as the two things that have imbued it with the most meaning (besides the feeling of creating a space for something like this with people you adore). Thank you, Dennis.

Dennis in the dome : https://youtu.be/HJA9Lmh9xkY (thanks to Dave for the capture)

Written by Marisa Lenhardt Patton, 29 September 2015.

Today, when I mentioned that, given time and resources, I’d want to buy a property on the Yuba and build it up, I was met with a litany of “here’s why that’s much harder than you think” from some well-meaning older friends. So, after they didn’t hear the first two times I said “We’ll start with power, and we’ll deal with water from there”, I said “I need to stop talking about this.”

And, because they don’t hear, they kept badgering me. Because I “don’t know” how hard it is. Because I “don’t understand” that I’d need to be careful about where I dug a well, and would need to get someone who knew what they were doing in on this. And I was badgered so much that I said “look, you people really know how to kill a dream. I work 80 hours a week. I have a few dreams. And I just lost $800/month, so this conversation is moot. I need to stop talking about it.” Then they said they were “just trying to help”. That they were “just being realistic”.

Don’t even get me started on the nature of that kind of “help”.
But let me tell you about realistic.

I am the sole person on a mortgage loan in the Bay Area.
I know what size generator is needed to run the Thunderdome at Burning Man.
I know what size truck is needed to transport it up there, and what size truck is needed to transport the dome, and everything else.
I know how to translate from researcher to product manager, and back again.
I know how to sing music I’ve never seen before, in a foreign language, for an audience… without making any mistakes.
I started doing aerials when I was 33 years old.
I know how to ride a motorcycle. Down 880. During rush hour. And not die (luck).
I know how to read the map for and assemble a geodesic dome.
I have performed opera on trapeze for an audience three times.
I know how to nurse a parent through the end of life.
I know how to be a birth coach.
I know a tiny amount of HTML.
I know how to register brokers with the SEC.
I can ride a liter sport bike on dirt and gravel and not fall.
I know how to keep a job through two major “economic downturns”.
I know how to be a head of household and, more importantly, how to not stab someone for assuming I’m not.
I can keep a pet alive.
Most importantly, I know how to learn. I know how to pick up these things, I know how to ask experts when I’m not an expert in a topic. I know how to get the information I need and, if I don’t have the energy, bandwidth, or expertise to accomplish a task, I know how to get people with those things involved, effectively communicate what I need, and pay them.

I have more realistic in my pinky finger than most people have in their entire bodies. I could shit enough realism to do an outline of that novel you were going to write before you turned 40.

Story time:
When Luke and I drove through Vancouver with his father, Rick, shortly after the first time he and I met, I mentioned buying an Island in the Straight of Georgia. Rick laughed. But then, he did something that seems impossible for most people. He said “How would you start?”

HOW WOULD YOU START.

How hard is that question? It doesn’t call into question my intelligence, my abilities, my knowledge. It says “Interesting. Tell me more.” It says “I don’t know what you know, so tell me.”

What a fantastic man.

And so I started.

I started by telling him power would be the first thing; we would need to get a generator there, and figure out refill schedules and the best place to situate a genny so that it would be both protected and accessible. We’d transport small amounts of water first, until we could figure out a long-term solution, either with a well or with an above ground tank. We could, first, build a 16′ geodesic dome with cover to live in while we got these other things situated. We’d want to get a place that already had a good landing situation for a boat. We’d want to start in May so we could take full advantage of the Pacific Northwest Summer.

“Good,” he said.

Rick was a man of few words. Or, rather, few meaningless words. He was a realist, a businessman, and absolutely, 100% sans bullshit. I knew with that “good”, that one small word, that I was ok. I was ok to date his son. That he knew that I was more than met the eye, that I didn’t talk out of my ass, that I wasn’t going to lead his son on some crazy flights of fancy that would destroy our lives.

I miss him. I miss people like that in the world, generally.

I have, through luck, or design, or both, surrounded myself with people who know this about me. They know some of what I know. They know enough to know that, when I open my mouth to voice a plan, the logistics are 75% mapped out already. I love these people; I work with them during the day, I create with them when I’m singing, I build with them in the desert. These are the people who, when I voice a plan, tend to say “HELL YES, I AM IN,” because they know that I’ve already thought about it, they know it’s probably possible, and they know I am capable of working hard and having fun at the same time. If it’s not fun, why bother with it, right? So work must be fun.

It’s a slap in the face when I’m around people who don’t do this. I want to scream “YOU DON’T KNOW WHAT I KNOW!” These are the people who think that being a female manager in tech is insane. They have no idea that it’s about a million times more challenging than it sounds. That learning trapeze after the age of 30 is ridiculous. Yes. And pull-ups are just as hard for me as they are for you. That “still singing” opera when I have a full career is inconceivable. Yeah, I don’t spend a lot of time on the couch. That traveling internationally as often as I do is “running away”. I like to call it “learning”. That singing opera on the trapeze is just absurd. It is. So is a moon landing, swimming to the Farallones, and making a smaller microchip. I pity people who are limited by their own minds in this way; they lead tiny, tiny lives. But, mostly, they don’t know what I know. They assume I know what they know. They assume that I am as uncomfortable with the unknown as they are. They assume that I have the same tools and capacity for learning, changing, and growing, as they do. Responding to them is exhausting because they can’t get out of their mindset, and so for interaction, I must visit theirs.

It’s cramped in there. It’s sad, and dark, and fearful. And I am glad, sometimes, to visit because, sometimes, I feel as though the reason these people interact with me is because it makes them less fearful, it shows them something they hadn’t considered. I suspect this because I have these people in my world; people whose exploits and passions and achievements and attempts inspire me to reach more, and more, and more. Thinking about what they’re attempting makes me push harder. Maybe I’m this person to these people. But I wish they’d ask. Simply… ask. “How would you do that?” What I’ve learned by asking this question is vast – I either learn about the person, or the problem they’re solving… usually, I learn both.

I know I don’t know everything. In fact, I don’t know most things. But to assume that I don’t know how to find out when my life and everything I do is evidence to the contrary is an insult. No, I don’t often talk about how hard it is or the work that goes into doing what I do. About what’s required. I hint at it on that pervasive book of faces, but performance means doing a thing a thousand times more than talking about it, and no one wants to hear about that. This is why, when I tell people that I did a performance where I rode my motorcycle onstage, began singing opera, and continued singing opera while climbing a rope and doing a trapeze act, and they pause to absorb and get ready to ask a question, I interrupt with “It’s harder than it sounds”. It sounds fucking impossible, but it’s not; I know this because I did it. To do it, I had to learn four separate skills (stage presence counts; ask anyone who’s ever tried to learn it) and combine them. Everything worth achieving is harder than it sounds. I have an entire career in tech based around “harder than it sounds”, and making it look easy.

So, if you’re inclined to naysay, to doubt, to attempt to cram me into your dark, fearful world, please remember; if you’re inquisitive, your world will explode with possibility. And you have no idea what I know.

Today is my 10-year anniversary with Adobe.

10 years.

10 years ago, a young woman rode down 880 to start her first day at a company that was just paying the bills while she focused on her singing career. During the interview, she’d told her interviewers that she had no interest in being promoted.

A little slow on the uptake that a singing career, a quite successful one, would look wildly different than what she thought; still hiding that weird art festival in Nevada from any traditional opera auditions.
The first person I met, my first day, was Steve. Since then he’s been a fierce friend, advisor, and advocate. I reported to Grace who, after 90 days for my first review gave me some stock and said “If I had to choose how I’d feel about an employee, it would be how I feel about you.”

There have been fits, starts, recessions, layoffs, burnout, career changes, ideological changes, and all the other highs and lows of a ten-year relationship. I have railed (almost) completely against myself, my conceptions, my youth, my preconceived notions of the corporate world. I have learned that the coin of the realm in any realm of which I want to be a part is hard work and honesty. That instincts are almost always correct. That the friendships you make among colleagues are not just “work friendships”, not after this amount of time nor after going through this much (looking at you, Sharma…and so many more).

Ten years is too long to be faking it. Yes, while I wasn’t looking, this side-job turned into a full-blown career and, once I learned (again, I’m slow on the uptake) that the reigns were fully in my hands, I turned it (with the help of my advisors, the aforementioned Steve, Andrew, Kathleen and Matt) into something that challenges and inspires me, and surrounds me daily with people who make me feel as though I have truly found my tribe. Thank you to David and the incredible CTL team for welcoming me into this brilliant fold; I remain honored every day to be among you. I have never worked so hard nor cared so much.

It has taken me a long time, too long, to learn that the same things would mean success as manager of Thunderdome, as a performer, as a manager at one of Fortune’s top 100 companies to work for. That I’m not an upstart that no one believes in, that no one has thought of me as a punk kid in a long time. That living as I have for as long as I have, choosing gracious honesty and hard-working laughter while retaining my off-beat charm (that’s what I’ve decided to call it today), would move me from green kid with a lot to learn, to leader (with even more to learn) who is now being asked to mentor as well. That trying to compromise and tone down yourself just makes it that much harder for the right people to find you; as with any relationship, the right people want to find you, and value you when they do.

This feels somehow like the midpoint. It’s said that, if you’re the smartest person in the room, you’re in the wrong room. Well, I’m in the right room for sure, in all of my realms. I have no idea how much there is left to learn, nor the limits of my capabilities. I only know that, finally, in all realms, I am with people who are pushing me to be my best self. And I am excited to find out who that person is.

I’ve been tagged in another flash mob opera scene.

My singer friends are all posting about the closure of Opera San Diego, a refrain of the closure of New York City Opera.

People seem surprised.

“It’s an amazing art form!”
“People don’t understand how incredible it is! If they understood how incredible it is, we couldn’t keep them away.”

Whose job is it to show the potential audience how incredible it is? The producers, the directors, the company owners. Yes, the artists.

For years now, people have been able to be completely immersed in their experiences. Create an avatar and be the center of a story. They can pretend to know how to play instruments and compete with themselves or their friends. They can create a simple melody and software will build an orchestra around it. They can sing badly into a microphone and their pitches will be, on the fly, corrected.

You want them to sit in a darkened theater, silent, watching antics in a language they don’t understand? For three hours? Get over yourself. Puccini didn’t even want that. Puccini’s audience sat in the orchestra section of a lively theater, eating, drinking and smoking. They cheered for their favorite singers. They booed mediocre performances. They spoke the language. They understood what was happening, because it was modern. They got every subtle political reference. Librettists were broke artists who made fun of the bourgeoisie, and the common man ate it up. They turned Verdi’s name into the battle cry for the people. They didn’t sit and listen to operas in English, studying them in advance, trying to keep up with a translation. They didn’t want to do the work to enjoy a performance, and neither do kids today. And you don’t get to fault them for that.

If you’re complaining about people not being willing to do the work to enjoy opera,
You’re a stagecoach driver.
You’re a scullery maid.
You’re not wrong; it’s amazing, and it’s sad that it’s falling by the wayside. But it will go by the wayside, I promise you.

What opera has become, at a time before I began singing, before I was born, possibly before or around the time my parents were born, is an affront to everything I believe about opera. About music. About performance. Really, Wagner was a big part of the faux aggressive sophisticizing of opera.

Why do I love opera?

Because I get to participate in it. Because I understand it. Because I am engaged, involved. Because I have spent much of my life as a broke artist, and I’ve often said that, if the elite who can afford full-priced mega-opera knew about the antics of the people performing for them, they’d reel in revulsion. We are not high brow. We do not know which is the right fork to use. We speak more languages than you do, and we tell inappropriate jokes backstage to break the tension. We act well enough to blend into a $1000 plate setting, but we cannot wait to get home and crack a beer. When I need a break from memorizing music, I blast rap.

Upon finding out I’m an opera singer, people abashedly (or sometimes with near-angry bravado) tell me they’re not fans. As though I’ll be upset. I am the first to vehemently tell them that it’s the fault of the opera world that they feel this way. That it’s been presented wrong. I ask them if they like Cirque du Soleil. Of course they do. Cirque is amazing; a near-immersive experience of amazing expertise in multiple media; acrobatics, music, audio-visual. Cirque is the new opera. (Cirque hires opera singers, too; they’ve requested my materials three times and I’m hoping against hope that, some day, it will stick and I’ll get to run away with the circus). Cirque was created somewhat recently, to play to modern audiences. Clearly their MO of “hip-ifying”, decreasing performances, decreasing ticket prices, and performer flash mobs, has been successful.

Oh, wait. The opposite of that.

The opera (and symphony) flash mob is the worst bait and switch I have encountered. Well, I suppose anyone who uses a flash mob as an advertising tool runs the risk. It is just the one with which I am the most familiar. You’re telling potential new audiences “We’re fun! We’re exiting! We’re zany and cool. Join us! Come, follow the piper. We’re wonderful, beautiful, exciting. Totally spontaneous! Come sit with us in a dark theater. Correction. You’ll be completely removed from us. So, instead of being amidst us in a grocery store/a coffee shop/a town square, you’ll sit there in the dark while we party in the spotlight onstage.” That’s cruel. That’s telling the kids they’re going to Disneyland and bringing them to the dentist. That’s the opposite of what you should be doing. Consider, just for a moment, a change. Consider if the flash mob was the actual performance. The moneymaking performance. Not a publicity stunt. THE stunt.

You already know your potential audience loves it. You already know your performers are dying to do more stuff like this.

Opera storylines aren’t relatable? Tell that to the people who made Moulin Rouge (based on the book upon which my favorite opera is based), to the people who did RENT. Live theater and Shakespeare aren’t interesting? Tell that to the people who do Sleep No More.

Ellinor asked me a few years ago why I still go to Burning Man. I answered honestly that, if I didn’t sing there, I probably wouldn’t go. I showed her the video that Jazz shot of me singing in the Thunderdome. It’s one of the best representations – this is me, this is my element. This is me in the wild, doing what I do best. And people are rabid. How many opera singers know the joy of a crowd of hundreds of dust-covered ruffians screaming and cheering when they hold a high note? Yes, it’s a rush. Let’s be honest. I’m not the best opera singer in the world, I’m not the best opera singer in the Bay Area, and I’m not the best opera singer Alameda. But I’m the best opera singer these folks have ever heard, because I’m usually the only one they’ve ever heard. People who think they hate this artform have never heard a real aria before. They aren’t going to shell out a week’s pay for five minutes of vocal fireworks and 2 hours of recitative. But they will shell out a half month’s salary to go to Burning Man. They know they’re going to get something new and amazing there, something they haven’t experienced before, and I am part of that. I’m beyond proud; I am deeply honored to be a part of that. I don’t want to create art in a vacuum. I don’t want to create masturbatory theater for people who have to be educated in it in order to appreciate it. This defeats the purpose; it’s cannibalism. I am sick of artists, producers, and companies cutting off their legs to feed themselves. It’s unsustainable. It’s bullshit. Evolve or die.

A couple of weeks ago, I was invited to perform at an event in an underground creek. The producers heard about me, and invited me to sing in this insane series of acoustically amazing tunnels. Hundreds of people came through, I help a marching band to lower its instruments through a manhole. High tea was served. An art gallery lined the walls. There were aerialists. A water slide.

I wore a full-length gown, the required hardhat, rain boots, full makeup. It was insanely challenging. I didn’t know exactly where I was going to sing. I wandered, helped man the water slide, sang. I found another singer – we traded improvised melodies back and forth through the tunnels, often unable to see each other.

Later that afternoon, I drove to Petaluma for an audition. The audition form asked about my most incredible performing experience, and I cited the performance from earlier that day. The next question asked why it was important to me, and I replied that it was bringing opera to new audiences. This is the most important thing we can be doing. Then, I proceeded to sing the hell out of the vengeance aria. For those not in the know, the vengeance aria is one of the most difficult, high pieces in the Soprano repertoire. I nailed it. They haven’t called. Maybe the other singers were better, maybe they knew them, there any number of reasons to not get hired for gig. Maybe it’s because I was honest about my important performances. But if you ask whether I’d rather sing to a bunch of opera fans or a bunch of opera ignorami, well, you have my answer. I know which one will be around. Not the flash mob, not Sleep No More. It’s going to be whoever does the next version of that; whoever evolves.

All of the time, singers ask me how I started singing opera with techno, how I got the gig at Burning Man. This is flawed thinking; I made the fucking gig at Burning Man. My training, my personality, the culmination of my interests and skills. Sitting around waiting for someone to hire you is a good way to ensure you never get hired. The lack of creativity, not in the performers, but in the creation of the performances, is killing us. The classical musical world is building Bugattis, putting them on go-kart tracks and complaining that kids don’t want to drive them when they can’t reach the pedals. The classical music world blames everybody else because Josh Bell wasn’t recognized in the subway. If they wanted him to be recognized, they should have made him a rock star, not put him in a darkened theater and then told the audience to “shhhhh” while he played 64ths like he was on rails. The audience shouldn’t have to know what a 64th is in order to enjoy it. We can do better. Maybe some people won’t enjoy it; maybe some performers will resist. They’re the same performers who won’t busk; you never know how good a performer you are until you’ve done it on the street to a disinterested audience. But, when I am not the only aerialist opera singer I know, I know that times are changing, that most performers are desperate to change with them, and just need to know how.

You want real performance? You want to enjoy without having to learn an extra language? You want opera for a reasonable cost in an intimate setting and to be able to drink wine while you watch?

Come watch my circus troupe perform.
Come to a show by one of my favorite companies with which to perform.
Go to Cirque. To Sleep No More.
Vote with your dollar, as you always have, and don’t let anyone tell you you have to be educated to enjoy it.

We will evolve. We have to. I’ll continue to be at the forefront, in a ball gown in an underground creek, lighting the way.

There are a lot of artist rants on the internets.

You know, “Fuck you, pay me.”

The one with the list of all the training that goes into photography and why you shouldn’t haggle with your photographer.

The Craigslist posting with the response to the restaurant owner who wanted the band to perform for free, you know. For exposure.

It goes on. I occasionally repost these things because… well, it’s a refrain that isn’t heard often enough. So today, a conversation sparked… among many of the artists on my facebook friendslist. How everyone hears it. Everyone’s accustomed to it. I said…something about musicians being the ones most subjected to this because our output is intangible. When the transaction is complete, you don’t own anything. You don’t have anything to look at. You have the memory of an experience. What is that worth? Well, that depends.

In the last days and hours of my mother’s life, and even after she had fallen out of consciousness, I sang to her. For hours. It calmed her breathing. So singing at her funeral was the only thing I felt I could do. I couldn’t speak. I couldn’t communicate. But I sang Schubert’s Ave Maria. Not because I’m religious, but because I couldn’t do anything else. The song is held for me in crystalline memory, shimmering and perfect. Not my performance, the song. I don’t remember the performance, actually, outside of the tears streaming down my voice teacher’s face.

Fastforward. I get paid to sing at funerals. Weddings and funerals.

Funerals pay less than weddings… they require less work. Less mind-changing, not months of planning, not the most important day of someone’s life. Absolutely devoid of psycho brides. Just an event that people want to get through with respect. With caring. And, usually… with Schubert’s Ave Maria.

I remember the first time someone asked me to sing it. My heart stopped, but I wanted to offer it. I wanted to do it; to give up the song to that person, to honor the memory.

I remember the first time I was asked to sing it at the church where my mother’s funeral took place. I don’t know how I got through that, either. But I did. I looked right at the coffin, I was back in that moment, I powered through and, afterward, when the bereaved thanked me, I told them what the song meant. I thought they’d want to know; to know that, while they were paying me, I wasn’t doing this for a paycheck.

So then, this conversation today. Since these first moments of singing at funerals, of the conflict, to now…it is years. It doesn’t mean less but, as I have often said about grief; it doesn’t hurt less. We just move further away from it. My friend Matt asks, “What are your plans for the weekend?” and I say “I’ve got a funeral.” and he says “Oh, no!” and I always say “I didn’t know them. It’s at a church. I guarantee this person is over 85.” They often are. People who go to church regularly don’t seem to die out at the rate my friends do.

Over the Summer, I sang at a funeral. And I thought nothing of it. To be honest, without checking, I couldn’t tell you if it was a man or a woman who had passed away; the choir loft is an interesting place, where you often never meet anyone for whom you’re singing. Several days later, a card appeared, with my check in it, and a note. A note from the daughter of the person who had passed away, and it said…that my Ave Maria was the only thing that had provided her solace during that time. That she thinks of it often, and that it brings her peace. That it was the darkest time of her life, and that she wanted me to know that the Ave Maria had made it a bit brighter.

That song. My song. The song that, despite not being religious, I have sung at several of David Best’s temple burns. Because it transcends that, for me. Because my mother’s first name, before she moved to this country and changed it to Marina, was Maria. Because nothing means to me what that means to me, and because you cannot buy that; you can only rent it for a little while and besides, I wouldn’t sell it if I could.

But for that, for that card, for the thought even if the card never comes, that all of these horrible, shit, miserable experiences can combine with years of training to make someone else’s darkest time just a little bit brighter… yes, you can rent it. I am happy to rent it but, when you haggle, or tell me I should give it away for free because it’s not worth anything to you (so why do you want it?), that doesn’t change anything; I can’t sell you my voice, and you can’t buy it, any more than a song can brighten all of that darkness.

The message from men in software to women in software is…

“Shhhh”.

Yes, it’s been a long week. Yes, I’m feeling isolated. And, yes, you’re going to hear about it, right meow.

Typically, a post of this nature would go into “rantmodeon”, but the name of this blog is far too appropriate, so here we are.

To be clear, this stuff happens ALL OF THE TIME. These are not the first nor the most egregious examples. But now it’s happened often enough and in quick succession and it’s Friday, so I’ll stop issuing qualifiers and just dive right in.

First, a naming game. Everyone on a distribution list was throwing out names for a new product. I typically don’t have time to engage in brainstorms, much as I might want to, but it had been a long week and I had just finished a big thing so, I jumped in. And, despite my (male) manager having suggested names in a similar vein and no one saying anything, I was summarily smacked the heck down. For reasons for which my manager could also have been smacked down, but wasn’t.

“Shhhh”. Is what the response said. Or, if that wasn’t the intent, it’s what I heard. Or maybe it was “Shhhh, this isn’t your role” or “Shhhh, men are talking” or “Shhhh, I wasn’t willing to tell our boss why that naming convention won’t work but you’re [relatively] new and female so enjoy this public lesson in shhhh.” Very Dr. Evil, really.

To my manager’s credit, he responded to the distribution list saying he liked the name. And that was kind. But the damage is done. Am I going to speak up in a brainstorming again? Nope. I’m too busy…and the catch in my throat is too thorough, and creativity, especially mine, especially in a new realm, is like a flickering candle. You disappeared my safe space like the goddamned Cheshire cat, leaving me to think I should have known better.

So the very next day…

A meeting, in-person. I’m the only woman. I’m used to being the only woman in this environment. It’s toward the end of the meeting, we’re laughing, throwing out ridiculous suggestions, all increasing in volume, and I throw one out and a colleague says, “Stop screaming.”

Yeah.

Instead of doing what I’d do to a friend, in a trusted environment (which would have been to scream this instead), I laughed and said “If I were screaming, you’d know it.”

But I’m furious.

So it’s ok when your [male] co-workers are doing it, but when the little lady does it, you finally say something about it? Or is is that you aren’t willing to say anything to your other peers but I’m an ok target? Or is it that you just don’t think women should speak up and that it’s inappropriate? Or that you’re too delicate to be in a conversation with multiple people and think other people should change to accommodate you? Or…

You know what? Fuck yourself. And fuck me trying to figure out what the fuck your damage is. My job is not to figure out your motivations for being a condescending douchenozzle. Fuck yourself in the fucking neck for thinking it’s ok to publicly “shush” me in an environment where it’s totally fine for me to be exactly as loud and brilliant and vibrant and joyful and hilarious as I am; not a quiet workspace where everyone’s silently hunched over their desks. I’ve got a big personality and I have spent enough of my life apologizing for it. Yes, it’s important that people like me in order for them to want to work with me. But it’s also important that I not compromise who I am, because I have a job to do and I can’t get it done when I’m someone else.

You know what I don’t do with men who don’t like my big personality? I don’t fucking sleep with them. Don’t worry, buddy – it’s not a risk.

But what concerns me is that that isn’t as funny as I think it is. I think that men, many men, many men who mostly interact with women in non-work situations and then enter work environments that don’t particularly challenge them to change that behavior are just absolutely crippled when they encounter a woman with whom they need to work in order to get their jobs done but with whom they can’t envision spending time as friends, as lovers, as anything other than colleagues.

It’s nice when we like our colleagues. It makes things easier, it’s wonderful. Some of my closest friends, people I respect the most, are colleagues. But I also have an easy time respecting people that I don’t like – try putting on a show with 60 strangers some time. You’re not going to be friends with everyone, and you must find a way to interact without not-so-silently yelling “GET IN THE BOX! GET IN THE BOX!” while rapidly flipping between father figure/older brother/younger brother/awkward stranger at the bar personality types, trying to figure out how to interact. Try “respectfully”, as a start.

So what happens now? I smile, I go on, I do my damned job. I feel a bit sad, a bit alone, I write a blog post and marvel at the inadvertent harshness of the tech world, the impact of it on the personalities of women who are so naturally collaborative, who thrive on people getting along, who have walked over a proverbial bed of nails to just be in the tech world in the first place.

Getting a seat at the table is hard enough for a woman. You can’t imagine, most of you, most of you not doing exactly this, the knife blade on which a woman has to balance to be heard, when thoughts and opinions are part of the job, without being considered “shrill” or “bitchy”. And you can’t imagine how very, very quickly a woman is deflated, will retreat, will cease to offer the opinions you so desperately need in order to cease running a sausage factory.

Wednesday, I spoke at a girls’ technical high school about being a woman in tech. The topic was specific to women with degrees in the arts and humanities who had ended up in tech. I feel like a traitor for not talking about this. They’re so thoughtful, so collaborative, so outspoken and comfortable and in such a safe space.

The speakers had lunch beforehand, and we had a directed conversation about various things. Someone said “the reason there aren’t more women in tech is that there aren’t more women in tech.” Why is it? Not entirely, not all of it, but certainly part of it is because you loud, loud men are yelling:

WE NEED MORE (quiet, compliant) WOMEN IN TECH!