Staten Island: Art and Challenge

The annual Staten Island cross-dressing party was held in Queens at the Mandragoras studio performance space this year. It was our first experience with this seemingly esoteric event, and my first live exposure to Blurple frontwoman Phoebe Blue’s anti-folk trio Phoebe Blue and the Make Baleaves–and most notably, their song The Fox–a performance that hearkened back to some of my earliest and crucial listening days, which featured (still choice) female-fronted bands like Frente! and Mazzy Star.

This was our second experience with the community from Staten Island. The first was at Deep Tank Studios, a small basement atelier/performance space in SI where we witnessed D.B. Lampman’s empowering installation “Brain Furniture” and where Deep Tanks owners Kristopher and Florence generously put our crew up for the night. We frequented the intentional-community-powered Everything Goes Bookstore for coffee, literature and conversation, and I was given the impression of a tight, supportive community of artists and free thinkers striving for something bigger on New York’s often forgotten (and also relatively arcane) Island, in much the same way Williamsport artists do–or, more often did, before ephemerally-lucrative natural gas discovered under it picked commerce up to a less-deplorable level.

In my experience, challenge inspires more creativity than comfort. Without some level of challenge, I have no reason to create. I am unmoved. Personally, that challenge for me often lies in a social issue and my move is in most cases realization, acceptance, education or a call to action. My material comes from my environment, my community or lack of one. Crisis, disorder, institutional race-, class-, look-, and sexism, looking out the window and seeing something ugly: these things challenge me to do more with myself and my art. Perhaps that is why I chose the Human Services field.

An old roommate¬†alluded to my tendency to surround myself with unhealthy challenge while apartment-shopping. “Why do you want a shitty apartment?” He asked, ducking beneath a yellow-stained drop ceiling in the kitchen, in the middle of a darkened carpet-spot the size of a baby pool, which I imagined was the source of the cat-piss smell. Realizing then that my long-running attraction to sloped cat-piss apartments was not normal, I opted for a restored Victorian one and painted the rooms orange, yellow, and hot pink. My roommate was happy, and I still wrote songs. I have a tendency to do things in the extreme, which is what makes me a poor candidate for dieting, drinking alcohol, and apparently, challenging myself.

The day after the show at Mandragoras, the four of us sat down to lunch in Brooklyn with Amber and Haley from the Dirty Projectors. Amber stressed the importance of embracing opportunity as an artist, insisting NYC was practically the only place to do it. I shrunk in my seat while my immaterial plans of homesteading while reaching out to a surely up-and-coming music community like Asheville turned dark. Was I just trying to creating a unhealthy challenge for myself as a musician, or was I trying to be too comfortable? Was the real challenge in the stressful city, or was that the comfort, with the opportunities?

As I grow as an artist and a woman, I am asking myself how I can still challenge myself in a healthy way, yet open myself up to the opportunities Key of V deserves. I know one thing, if I did move to NYC, I’d be a Staten Islander.

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