In my last week in Santa Clarita, I was constantly running between packing my life and buying boxes and sorting out the tail end of our utilities and setting up mail forwarding and, in the approximately ten minutes I had left, spending time with as many of my friends as I could. It was a hectic few days, and most of it is a blur, but those last interactions with the people I hold dear remain etched into my memory.
One such moment was a last-minute cup of coffee with Lily Maase, who I’ve written about before. We met at Honu, the single most adorable coffee shop in downtown Newhall, for an hour and a half that felt simultaneously like a small eternity (in the good way) and the blink of an eye. We both had relatively full schedules—if I remember right, she was only in LA for 48 hours or so—but the time we spent talking life and career was a nice break from the action for us both. Our conversation ranged all over the place, but we stopped for a few minutes on the one thing that had brought us together—scheduling.
If I’m being honest, I can’t entirely remember what led to the topic. Maybe I was talking about trying to make plans with the Phoenix friends I was returning to; the “maybe if I’m not busy” refrain can be common out here. At any rate, we sat at a quaint table in the shade outside, putting our heads together to revel in a shared experience—namely, making plans with male friends that turn out not to be plans after all.
Let me take you through how this works. You text a guyfriend asking to hang out—coffee, lunch, duets, art museum, concert, whatever. You’re met with interest; you propose a date and time. It’s a day or two away, maybe all the way out at the end of the week if you’re both slammed. At any rate, you have a date and a time, and from here the situation plays out one of two ways. Your first option, and by far the most common, is “sure, as long as I’m not busy.” The alternative is an initial agreement, then a later request to reschedule and a later request to reschedule and eventually weeks have gone by and you haven’t seen each other.
Lily and I were equally stymied by this behavior, but we were extra confused by the fact that in both of our lives, this happens almost exclusively with men. Our female and nonbinary friends don’t (for the most part) pull this crap with us. This week, I want to take a moment to break down my best guess at why.
By my best estimate, there’s some gendered teaching at play here. There’s a stark difference between how we teach female-coded people to be deferential and accommodating and endlessly flexible and how we teach male-coded people to start from . . . well, the other extreme. And while the best option—for everyone—is somewhere in the gray middle ground, we don’t all realize that. The results of this skewed teaching vary, but I’ll tell you what the most common two outcomes are for me: either I set aside a disproportionate amount of time (a whole afternoon, a day, you get the idea) for a meet-up I don’t even know for sure will happen because I don’t have a clear commitment, or I stop pushing after the third or fourth noncommitment/reschedule and we just don’t see each other.
I can feel some of you nodding your heads along with me, but I’m sure some of y’all are looking at this wondering what the issue is. Because, yes, with that second option, I’m enforcing my boundaries. I’m telling myself I won’t give undue amounts of time and energy to people who won’t make time for me after we’ve agreed we should hang and I’ve attempted—repeatedly—to negotiate adequate time with. The thing is, with Phoenix folks especially, if I enforced that boundary even with folks who had pulled this shit on multiple occasions, I’d effectively be leaving the community. And I’m not naïve enough to bet that I’d get a third welcome back. My circles would continue to get smaller, because especially within my peer group, I see very little willingness to make plans (and honor plans) that don’t involve a jam session or a rehearsal.
And I get it, folks. I know you’re going to take that $200 gig if it pops up and interferes with our coffee plans. I expect you to. But our community—us, the twentysomethings and the early thirtysomethings and the late teens—has become so paralyzed by “what if I get a gig?” that just getting coffee (which, by the way, isn’t part of my fluid intake unless y’all are involved) is a combination of herding cats and pulling teeth. But if I don’t keep at it, if all of us don’t keep at it, we tacitly perpetuate the problems we see and feel in the scene. If we’re not talking and sharing experiences and making connections and naming Things That Are Not Right, we can’t use our collective skill sets and abilities to instigate change in our communities. And that is a vital aspect of our jobs as artists and creatives. If we aren’t actively working to make our world (on any level) a better place, we are complicit in the harms being perpetuated. We are implicated. We, the makers of beautiful and horrendous things out of necessity, must continually work toward systems and organizations and networks that are supportive instead of stifling.
And we can’t do that if we aren’t talking and connecting and supporting each other from the ground up. Coffee and hangs and networking should be as important to us as practicing and composing—not only because it can lead to opportunities but because we will keep falling prey to systemic ethics violations and discrimination and the convenient injustices that slip through the cracks if we don’t bother to stop and compare notes.
Realistically, this is a niche extension of the “out of sight, out of mind” concept. For me, that’s not just about staying relevant or making sure I’m gigging enough or visible enough. It’s not just making sure I get out of the house and to shows on a regular basis or checking in with folks I haven’t caught up with in awhile. “Out of sight, out of mind” screws us over—marginalized people especially—because y’all haven’t even learned to really see us in the first place. Your line of metaphorical sight extends only to the conditions and parameters society (and the professional music sphere) says someone of your demographic(s) should reasonably be able to meet. It doesn’t necessarily extend to folks dealing with things you don’t have to.
In a coming post, I’m going to stack this on top of my writing from last year about gendered affection, and then it’ll get really complicated, but for now, I just want to drill this idea home: many of the standards involved with paying your dues to a musical community have been crafted to be (theoretically) executable by periallocishet white men. Many of the ways we define success leave marginalized people behind. And when we combine those societally-skewed parameters and expectations with the ways we Other and ostracize marginalized folks within our communities, we create a terrain that’s almost impossible to traverse.
Like I said, more on that soon. For now, though, I think I’m going to leave you with this: it is important, as musicians and artist and humans, to grow our friendships and relationships of all kinds. It is vital that we tell and/or show the people we love that we love them. Sometimes that looks like coming up big in someone’s darkest hour, but sometimes, it’s just “hey, let’s hang out.” Sometimes it’s a quick drink at the cutest coffee shop in Newhall.
That’s important. Don’t let it fade.
Thanks for reading! If you’d like more analysis and commentary like this in your life, come back every Saturday at 8pm MST. To support the work I do as an artist and advocate, you can find me on Patreon and @ordinarilymeg on Instagram.