Message from the Artist: UnCabaret

We are filled with hope every time UnCabaret convenes. We are curious about each other’s stories, and our own. What do they mean? How are we changing? What’s funny about that? We rejoice in the right to assemble, to meet friends of friends and the person at the next table reading that book you love.

We commit to the courage of making the uncomfortable funny. We love our adventurous audience. We intend to uplift. We work to be a safe space for women and the LGBTQA community without excluding CIS men. We look for people who make the most beautiful mistakes, original thinkers and open hearted lovers. Those who are self knowing without being self-obsessed. And of course who love to laugh.

We enter into partnerships and community. We seek to be a full chakra experience. We have an attention span. We understand silence. We try to respect our own history while staying in the now. We have a sense of urgency. We have never written an artist’s statement before but are always up for the new. Thank you for being here tonight. Thank you for being part of UnCabaret.

—Beth Lapides

Message from the Center: Estonian Philharmonic Chamber Choir and Tallinn Chamber Orchestra

The famous final proposition of philosopher Ludwig Wittgenstein’s Tractatus Logico-Philosophicus reads, “Whereof one cannot speak, thereof one must be silent.” By this, he meant that certain concepts are inherently beyond the limits of our language: the transcendent, the metaphysical, the ethical, and the aesthetic. Our attempts to pin down these ineffable concepts in words result in literal nonsense. Nothing truly sensible can be said about them. We can only gesture in their direction.

What is it about the music of Estonian composer Arvo Pärt that makes it feel transcendent? A key component is in the way Pärt incorporates silence. In describing the role of silence in Pärt’s music, conductor Tõnu Kaljuste has said, “Silence is important, but silence comes after a musical idea. Then silence becomes part of the musical language.”

By incorporating silence into his musical language, Pärt reminds us that, as Wittgenstein said, the transcendent cannot be expressed. The interplay between sound and silence in his music creates an opening for us to contemplate what lies beyond the world of language, a signpost pointing towards the ineffable.

Perhaps the feeling of transcendence in these compositions comes, then, from the feeling that we are being pointed towards something noumenal, something beyond ourselves, beyond language, beyond music, beyond even silence. Art has the power to remind us that there is something inexpressibly awe-inspiring about the very fact of existence, something indescribable at the core of being, something which can only be felt on a profound level. What more can be said? Whereof one cannot speak, thereof one must be silent.

—Andrew Hartwell

2018 David Sedaris Humor Writing Contest Winners

From numerous entries, our SCA team has selected the three students with the most hilarious anecdotes and stories! We’d like to thank all of our applicants and commend them for their literary prowess and comedic talent. The works of Jonathan Allan, Peyton Austin, and Aubrey Freitas will be published below, as well as on the SCA website. Read on for a good time and guaranteed fits of laughter!


Peyton Austin – Voyeur

The gilded, near-naked carving of Jesus Christ that hung from the cross on the classroom walls haunted Lauren more than anything else in this world. Maybe it wasn’t gilded, but bronze. It wouldn’t surprise Lauren since her Catholic school was cheap. They spent all their money on the football program and not on air conditioning, even though the school was in Los Angeles. So maybe the school had purchased bronze Jesus Christs instead of gold, but nevertheless, Jesus Christ suffered in every room of her school.

Lauren always wondered why Jesus had to be near-naked in his loincloth. Historical accuracy, sure—or maybe biblical accuracy—but Lauren hated the way she could make out every line of Jesus’s emaciated ribs. It was weirdly voyeuristic—maybe it was meant to be erotic. There were tons of weird shit like that in the Catholic teachings: Jesus was husband to the church, and nuns were married to him, and all the paintings and sculptures emphasized his naked body. Lauren stared at him in pretty much every class: a tiny, possibly-gold metal Jesus, perpetually suffocating. Perpetually dying.

Lauren tried to convince herself that the fixation was piety. It didn’t work.

And it wasn’t just in school either. During Lauren’s sophomore year she had dated this kid Jeremy from her precalc class. They’d sat next to each other, so he helped her with the math problems whenever she got stuck (which was a lot). Then they started talking, and texting, and they went on a four dates and Lauren had her first official boyfriend. She’d liked him, and with some surprise and a little more pride on Lauren’s part, he liked her in return. Three weeks or so into dating, she went over to his house for the first time. With some surprise and the utmost horror, Jeremy had a wooden crucifix the length of Jeremy’s forearm on his wall—and Jeremy was 5’11’, so Lauren’s horror was deserved. Jeremy had kissed her and they began making out, but Lauren could see Jesus hanging, literally hanging, over Jeremy’s shoulder. And all of a sudden Lauren noticed how bony Jeremy’s fingers were on her neck and waist, and how skinny his neck was, and how thin and prominent his chest seemed when she touched him. She’d broken up with him three days later.

Lauren failed precalc that year. She had to retake it this year, which sucked.

And this year Lauren also had Ms. Cavanaugh.

Ms. Cavanaugh was Lauren’s Sacraments teacher. She always wore bright colors, went over the questions of her tests right before the test, and—most importantly—she framed a picture of Liam Neeson from Star Wars on her desk. Ms. Cavanaugh told the class on more than one occasion, “When I die and Christ comes to take me to Heaven, he better look like Liam Neeson.” The class laughed at this, but it always unsettled Lauren. Because seriously, how is imagining Jesus Christ as Star Wars Liam Neeson anything other than erotic fantasy?

“Well, Jesus was described as handsome,” Isabelle, one of Lauren’s friends, said when Lauren brought the topic up.

Gia, another one of Lauren’s friends, said, “Says who?”

“I’m pretty sure Mr. Ramon said that freshman year,” Isabelle said.

Gia scoffed. “And I’m pretty sure that’s made up. You know, like immaculate conception or Adam and Eve.”

Isabelle rolled her eyes—more often than not Gia’s resentment towards the Catholic Church rubbed up against Isabelle’s piety. “Humans have imagined Jesus as attractive for hundreds of years now,” Isabelle said. “It’s not that weird.”

“It’s a little weird,” Lauren interrupted, hoping to stop an argument before it started. “But ‘Jesus is handsome’ seems to be the norm, while ‘Jesus is Liam Neeson’ is on a whole other level.”

“Just as weird as your obsession with those crucifixes,” Gia said. “I mean, I don’t know if you can really judge Ms. Cavanaugh.”

Lauren wasn’t offended, but she couldn’t help but feel chagrined. Gia was right: Lauren couldn’t take the high ground concerning Ms. Cavanaugh. She just hated that ratty loincloth and His crooked legs and horribly obvious ribs.

Lauren took some Goldfish when Isabelle offered them. Crunching her third Goldfish, however, she had a horrifying thought: Lauren was just as much a voyeur as Ms. Cavanaugh, even though Ms. Cavanaugh was attracted to Jesus and Lauren wasn’t. Lauren focused even more on Jesus’s body than Ms. Cavanaugh did, every last detail of it hung up there on the cross. Her disgust made her on the same level as Ms. Cavanaugh’s desire.

Lauren crushed the Goldfish in her palm and watched the crumbs sprinkle the table in thousands of pieces. She swept them off the table and onto the concrete. Then she slipped her hand under her starchy uniform shirt and pressed her fingers to her ribs. She breathed in so her ribs became more prominent, held her breath, and fit her fingers into the small valleys between her ribs. Her breath shuddered. They did not know which of Jesus’s sides were pierced, but Lauren clutched at her left side. Neither blood nor water ran down her ribs or fingers, but horror still washed over her. “Dude,” Gia said, eyeing Lauren’s lifted shirt, “what the actual fuck are you doing?”

Her heart beat against her fingertips, so Lauren moved her palm to her heart and listened to her own mortality. “Gia, remember what you told me about Angie Moreno’s mother? When you did that history project at Angie’s house and her mother had about a billion crosses on her wall?”

Gia laughed. “Yeah. Like, we’re not the ones you need to convince about your devotion. Leave that to Jesus.”

“But they were just crosses, no body or anything,” Lauren said.

“Okay, so what?”

Lauren removed her hand from her shirt, noting that her skin was possibly just as bronze as Jesus’s. She said, “I think I’m gonna become a Christian.”


Aubrey Freitas – Cell Signal From Above

I’m currently saving up all of my allowance money because everybody laughs at my old iPhone 4 when they see it. They tell me that I’m definitely way past my free upgrade time or that I should just buy out my contract or that I might as well start using a flip phone. I get it. It’s old and lame and the camera quality is really, really bad, but it’s my backup phone, and I happen to need it until I save up enough to buy a new one. What those judgmental assholes ask me after hearing my explanation is usually some variation of “what happened to your old phone?” a story I’m always happy to tell.

I was in Argentina over the summer, volunteering with Saintly Children Abroad to help teach underprivileged kids how to read and write in English. Usually I really get people with this opening sentence. They realize that I’m actually a really nice person and that they’re actually an asshole for laughing at my bad phone. They become way more sympathetic after that. I explain how on weekends we had days off, and how the other volunteers and I would go exploring around Cordoba to see all of the sights, tourist traps included. Here, they usually say that they’ve never been to Argentina, and then I get to tell them all about an incredible experience that they’ll never have. It’s my payback for the phone jokes.

I was in Alta Gracia one Sunday, where I lost my phone. I make sure they know that Alta Gracia means ‘higher grace’ in Spanish, because after living there for a month and a half, I’m extremely cultured and my Spanish is muy bueno. I explain how Alta Gracia is a very religious place, if you couldn’t tell by the name, and how there’s a very famous church there with a painting of Mary on a mirror that, legend says, just appeared one day. The locals say it was a sign from God. Here, the snoops either say how incredible that is or tell me that they think that’s a load of bullshit.

Since it was on a Sunday, there was a large mass being held right outside of the church. The church was really small, only like twenty people could fit inside it, so it obviously wasn’t practical for services.

Here, they usually ask, “Why don’t they just expand the church to make room for more people?”

And I tell them, “I don’t know, but stop interrupting me because I’m getting to the good part about how I lost my phone.”

We didn’t attend the mass, because not all volunteers could speak Spanish– not me, of course– but the other volunteers, so we stayed a little bit behind the crowd by this huge basin of holy water that people drank from and would wash their faces in when they left.

I forgot to mention before that the whole trip I was WhatsApp messaging this really cute boy from my hometown back in California. We were talking for about a month, so, yeah, it was pretty serious. He kept telling me that he wanted the two of us to hang out more once I got back to the U.S., but I knew that he was basically asking to be my boyfriend. I would message him “Good morning” every day, keeping in mind the four hour time difference, and he would always reply with “Sup.” He was so cool. Of course I told the other volunteers about him and showed them pictures, but none of them wanted to give him a chance because they thought our conversations were shallow. I thought he was a really nice guy. Like, he had such a way with words. We talked about our favorite mixed drinks and Cotillion—I don’t know how much deeper a conversation can get. Here, the person listening would usually nod, probably so that they feel less uncomfortable about hearing about my love life.

So of course I was messaging David, that’s the guy’s name, while I was at Alta Gracia. The mass ended and people started rushing out to get to the fountain of holy water that me and all the other volunteers were standing by. Obviously I wasn’t paying attention, because I was messaging David, and a woman bumped into me for absolutely no reason. Like, if I’m not paying attention, then she should be paying attention, otherwise that’s how accidents happen, right? So I was shoved forward, and my phone fell into the holy water right after it had buzzed as David sent me another message. He had just sent his daily “Sup”, so I asked him, “what are you doing”, and now I’ll never know the response. At this part the nosy people usually give me a “damn that sucks” face, or a “wow, I can’t believe that happened” face.

Because I was so mad, and irritated, and just in, like, complete disbelief that that had happened, I yelled out “Fuck!”—like who wouldn’t, honestly? My phone was ruined—and leaned over the water basin, my hands reaching in to see if I could grab it. I know that people in Argentina speak Spanish and all, but they curse in English just like we do. Everybody turned towards me, and some of the old grandmothers covered their mouths with their head scarves. I told them “lo siento and perdon”, then made the sign of the cross so that they knew I was a good Catholic girl. They definitely forgave me after that. That water was really cold, by the way, and people were drinking from it, so I still can’t believe I touched something that unsanitary. That’s just how strong I thought my relationship with David was. So, needless to say, I wasn’t able to message David for the rest of my trip. It sucked, and obviously it still sucks, because I’m now stuck with a the crappiest of crappy iPhones.

I guess it wasn’t all bad, though, because when I came back home after the summer, I found out David actually had two girlfriends already. I was, like, the third one he was trying to add to his trio of three blind mice. What an asshole. If I could go back in time, I’d tell the lady that bumped into me “thank you for saving me”. She really came out of nowhere. It was like a sign or something, for me to stop messaging Douchebag David. Like God really had my back with some guardian angel. I may have a shitty iPhone, but at least I don’t have a shitty boyfriend like Miranda Castillo and Kimberly Wilson. They’re clearly better at sharing than I am. But, anyway, that’s the story of how I lost my phone. Here, whoever is listening usually stops talking to me because I have really long answers to simple questions.


Jonathan Allan – I Began to Ask Myself Who Was Really Doing the Wrangling: the Snakes or me, the Snake Wrangler?

After my divorce, life got complicated. But my work wrangling snakes provided an escape from it all. Until one day I asked myself, who was wrangling whom? Me, the snake wrangler? Or the snakes that I was paid to wrangle?

It would seem simple, but life has a funny way of teaching you things. You see, after countless hours with these guys, they actually taught me, the snake wrangler, what it meant to wrangle. The entire time I was hooking with my snake hook and clamping with my snake clamp, the snakes, in retrospect, were really the ones doing the hooking and clamping. And doesn’t that put things into perspective?

Sure, maybe I should’ve been more present with Marsha. But I did my best to get us through the affair. And you know what, now that I’m on the other side of the snake terrarium, and the snakes are roaming the building, I wonder if we were even good for each other.

She always wanted to live in Europe. Of course, my snake-wrangling salary never got us there. But after seeing how much these snakes had to wrangle out of me, I’m glad to be where I am. Where else would I have learned that I’m afraid to be alone? And that this is no way to begin a marriage? How else could I have known that my mother’s toes and Marsha’s toes were very similar, and that this was weird? Who would’ve taught me that these snakes have been studying this building’s floor plans and have seemingly been planning this for generations? If it weren’t for these little devils, where would I be?

One could say, well, you wouldn’t be wrapped in a snake coil while another snake keeps watch. But I regret nothing. Yeah sure, I could have secured the main door at least, so they wouldn’t be able to escape and wreak havoc on an unsuspecting population. And yeah, not all the snakes had something valuable to offer, necessarily. A couple of them were just regular, human-biting snakes. (You know the type.) But you know what they say: you have to break a few eggs.

Oh god, they got to the eggs.

Was engineering these genetically-modified super-snake eggs maybe a reaction to Marsha’s new boyfriend? You see, these are the kind of questions only a group of vengeful snakes could wrangle out of me. It’s funny how the answer to most of our problems can be as simple as a bunch of slimy, scaly monsters and their surprising ability to work basic latches. I mean, these little buggers really are something. A part of me is even proud. However, at this point, most of me is a swollen piece of pus, and the part of me that is proud is about to lose airflow. But ain’t that just how it goes? How else would I learn about my body’s capacity to handle venom, a lack of oxygen, and unhealthy attitudes toward women without these beautiful, otherworldly tentacle beasts known as the snake?

After it’s all said and done, I would like to think we wrangled a little bit out of each other: me, the snake wrangler, and the snakes I was supposed to wrangle. But at this point, it seems safer to recognize the superiority of our Snake Overlords. I guess this is what emotional maturity looks like: as the sun rises over a new world, where the snakes have just taken Manhattan, and all humans tremble in fear, I am finally more capable of dealing with my feelings. If only that Marsha-shaped bulge in that megasnake’s belly could see me now.

Message from the Center: David Sedaris

This year is the 20th Anniversary of David Sedaris being a part of our season. In 1998 he inaugurated a new series of writers and speakers at Royce Hall, which was then called Word of Mouth. Twenty years later we are still inviting writers to share their ideas on our stages, and the series is now called Words & Ideas.

Ten years ago, when I first started here, I had an idea to sponsor a humor-writing contest for students, as a kind of celebration of David. We spread the word on campus, three winners got their stories published in the Daily Bruin and displayed in our lobby prior to David’s talk; as well as a signed book and tickets to the reading. That first year, before the show, I remember asking David to sign these students’ books, as they had won the writing contest. He was so tickled by this that he asked if the students would like to introduce him. He met them all backstage, three breathless, shocked and wide-eyed students, who had no idea what to say, but bravely walked on stage in front of 1800 people and gave the most charming, heartfelt intro — the audience loved them. Backstage, David was grinning from ear to ear, and so delighted. This is the thing about David; he delights in supporting others. Every year, he recommends an author and a book that he loves, so we’ve gone back through the archives and listed all of those authors here. We hope that you find some of your favorites, as well as new discoveries.

We are all in this crazy stew together, and the best of us know that we are stronger when we support each other. Happy Anniversary, David. Here’s to twenty more.

—Meryl Friedman
Director of Education & Special Initiatives

2018: Less, Andrew Sean Greer and Homesick for Another World, Ottessa Moshfegh
2017: The Rules Do Not Apply, Ariel Levy and Strangers Drowning, Larissa MacFarquhar
2016: Eileen: A Novel, Ottessa Moshfegh and Ghettoside, Jill Leovy
2015: Family Life, Akhil Sharma and The Splendid Things We Planned, Blake Bailey
2014: This is the Story of a Happy Marriage, Ann Patchett
2013: Nothing to Envy: Ordinary Lives in North Korea, Barbara Demick
2012: The Bill From My Father, Bernard Cooper and The Book of Deadly Animals, Gordon Grice
2011: River Town: Two Years on the Yangtze, Peter Hessler and The Barracks Thief, Tobias Wolf
2010: Everything Ravaged, Everything Burned, Wells Tower and Irish Girl, Tim Johnston
2009: Our Dumb World, The Onion
2008: The Braindead Megaphone, George Saunders

Prior to 2008:
Children Playing Before a Statue of Hercules: An Anthology of Outstanding Stories
Blue Angel: A Novel, Francine Prose
The Columnist, Jeffrey Frank
Random Family, Adrian Nicole LeBlanc
Truth Serum, Bernard Cooper
Jimmy Corrigan: The Smartest Kid on Earth, Chris Ware
Among the Thugs, Bill Buford
Birds of America, Lorrie Moore
An Obedient Father, Akhil Sharma
Jenny & the Jaws of Life, Jincy Willett
Take the Cannoli, Sarah Vowell
Guess Again, Bernard Cooper
Fraud, David Rakoff
Easter Parade, Richard Yates

Message from the Center: Joan Baez

In her performance of trans artist Anohni’s song “Another World” on her final album, Joan Baez sings, “I need another world, this one’s nearly gone.” Baez has long been a voice for other worlds, taking the side of the marginalized, the oppressed, the persecuted. When Dr. King spoke of his dream of a more just world at the March on Washington in 1963, she was there. Fifty years later, when Occupy Wall Street protesters chanted that “another world is possible,” she was there.

Art has a way of revealing unfamiliar worlds to us, of challenging us to expand our horizons. Whether performing covers or original compositions, Baez regularly invites us to inhabit the worlds of the downtrodden, to identify with the outcast. She becomes the voice of the voiceless, confronting us with the ethical demand of the Other, reminding us that we are always already in relation to and responsible for our fellow beings on a fundamental level.

Through her voice, we feel the desperation of the sex worker in the traditional “House of the Rising Sun.” We internalize the tragedy of the undeserving poor in Phil Ochs’ classic “There But For Fortune.” And we are inspired by the defiance of the political martyrs in her own “Here’s To You.”

The power of artists is that they are navigators and pioneers, pointing towards new north stars and guiding us out of the darkness. We think we know the darkness well; we see it every day in the headlines, after all. But we should remember that the darkness is also within us, in so many subtle ways. It’s there when we fail to recognize ourselves in the beggar and the prisoner, when we dehumanize the different, when we prioritize our own comfort over justice.

At times when the darkness can seem overwhelming, when we are tempted to give in to nihilism and defeatism, art reminds us of our inseparable interdependence, our mutuality, and our responsibilities to each other and to future generations. We need another world, alright, and we need radically empathetic artists like Joan Baez to help us get there.

–Andrew Hartwell

Message from the Center: Terri Lyne Carrington

In the late 18th century, two child musical prodigies took Europe by storm as they performed for royal courts from Vienna to London. Audiences were amazed by the uncanny instrumental talent of the young siblings. One of these musicians, of course, was Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart. He grew up to become one of the great composers of all time, with the support and encouragement of his father. The other was Marie Anne Mozart, nicknamed “Nannerl.” She grew up to become a wife and mother, as was socially expected of her. No music she wrote has survived.

200 years later, another child prodigy, Terri Lyne Carrington, was able to take advantage of opportunities not available to the forgotten Nannerl and build a successful career in music. Now she pays it forward: she recently founded the Institute of Jazz and Gender Justice at Berklee College of Music to help address gender disparities in the historically male-dominated jazz world. As Carrington says, “It’s up to both men and women to do this work, and anybody that really cares about the music and cares about humanity will see the value in making it more equitable.”

She’s right. Anyone who is interested in the development of art and culture ought to support expanding the conversation to include as many voices as possible. How many great symphonies would have been written by Nannerl Mozart, had she been able to develop her talents further?

Classical philosophers like Aristotle argued that the goal of humanity was eudaimonia, usually translated as “human flourishing.” But if we truly value our own flourishing, then we must also value that of others, for it enriches our own lives. Our eudaimonia is intractably social. When some groups are marginalized, when their creative potentialities are suppressed and their talents are artificially constrained, we all lose out.

We are lucky that, unlike Nannerl, Terri Lyne Carrington grew up in a time and place where she was able to fully develop her skills. But as she says, it is up to all of us to work to improve upon those gains. Those of us who believe in human flourishing must work together to dismantle oppressive structures and create a more vibrant and artistic future, a world where no Mozart is left behind.

–Andrew Hartwell

Terri Lyne Carrington
Fri, Nov 9 at 8PM
Royce Hall

Message from the Artist: Bill T. Jones on Analogy Trilogy


“Memory often strikes me as a kind of a dumbness. It makes one’s head heavy and giddy, as if one were not looking back down the receding perspectives of time but rather down from a great height, from one of those towers whose tops are lost to view in the clouds.” – W.G. Sebald

While the eloquence of W.G Sebald fails me, in this return visit to UCLA I am overcome with a particular emotion and a recall of the first time a young Bill T. Jones and Arnie Zane were invited to perform at Schoenberg Hall in 1983; our first national tour as a duet company. The vastness of the city, the endless highways, its glamorous history and presence made us feel as real players in the modern world, and children in the deep end of the pool finally. UCLA stood out as an essential beach head in the question of the new. To be invited to show one’s work was a nod of approval and something more.

Bringing this three-part work, a result of 5 years of making and doing, I am overcome with a sense of gratitude to Kristy Edmunds and UCLA’s Center for the Art of Performance, and also to you the adventurous patrons, for upholding this belief in the transformative power of live performance.

—Bill T. Jones

Bill T. Jones/Arnie Zane Company
Analogy Trilogy

Message from the Center: Pat Metheny

There’s an old cliché that jazz is as much about the notes you don’t play as it is about the notes you do. But what is the sound of an unplayed note? It is the sound of an opening, a clearing of
space for both the listeners and the other musicians to interweave their own ideas.

Today we often think that the word “truth” means something like “accuracy” or “correctness,” but the ancient Greek word for truth, aletheia, means something more like “uncovering” or
“unconcealing.” This classical etymology provides a powerful way to think about art: not as just the creation of some new truth, but as the disclosure of something which was already in the background, the bringing-forth of particular threads from a holistic tapestry of meaning.

Art brings our attention to something previously hidden within our world, reorienting our perspective. The “notes you don’t play” are also a sort of unconcealing of truth. By tricking the ear into anticipating a note and then not playing it, musicians indirectly reveal surprising tensions and emotions within melodies, providing openings for reflections upon unexpected vistas.

Tonight, we come together to enjoy the talents of Pat Metheny, Antonio Sanchez, Linda May Han Oh, and Gwilym Simcock. I am excited to find out what is uncovered. What new aletheia will be
experienced? What truths shall be disclosed that were once hidden within the musicians, within their instruments, within the acoustics of Royce Hall, and within ourselves?

Thank you for being a part of our community and for opening yourself up to the world-expanding, revelatory power of art.

–Andrew Hartwell

Message from the Center: Rebecca Solnit & Jon Christensen

I write this at the end of a bizarre, disturbing and utterly depressing two weeks, as a new Justice of the Supreme Court is being sworn in. The media — both professional and social— continues to hash and re-hash what did or did not happen, what might have happened, what might have been. I’ve tried not to listen to the news for a few days, but today this caught my attention: “Taylor Swift breaks political silence, will it destroy her career?”

Predictably, there are the haters:
— “Just shut up and sing.”
— “Does every pop star have to voice their political opinions to the world?”

And the supporters:
— “Taylor Swift just posted an extremely political post on Instagram & I’m so happy she’s using her huge platform to speak out!”

Putting aside what Taylor Swift believes, why is there controversy over her right to express it? Artists live in the world, are a part of the world, make art in response to the world—why would they be apolitical? Why do we want them to be? James Baldwin, Ai Wei Wei, The Dixie Chicks, Ted Nugent, Maya Angelou, Susan Sarandon, Patti Smith, Kanye West, Leni Riefenstahl, Lillian Hellman,  and hundreds more over hundreds of years — artists stand and have stood on both sides of whatever divide they happen to be on. Why the disbelief over Taylor Swift and her opinions? Are the rules different for twenty-eight-year-old female pop-stars?

Just shut up and sing.”

Apparently they are. When I first heard this “breaking news event” voiced by the talking head with the arched eyebrow and the smug tone posing as a journalist, it struck me that at the end of an unbelievable week about the silencing of women, we were still at it. The talking head wondered who had advised her to speak out. Really? Maybe she decided for herself.

In a recent postscript to an updated edition of the essay, Men Explain Things to Me, Rebecca Solnit writes:

The point of the essay was never to suggest that I think I am notably oppressed. It was to take these conventions as the narrow end of the wedge that opens up space for men and closes it off for women, space to speak, to be heard, to have rights, to participate, to be respected, to be a full and free human being. This is one way that, in polite discourse, power is expressed—the same power  that in impolite discourse and in physical acts of intimidation and violence, and very often in how  the world is organized—silences and erases and annihilates women, as equals, as participants, as human beings with rights, and far too often as living beings…Having the right to show up and speak are basic to survival, to dignity, and to liberty.

So, Taylor Swift has shown up and spoken out. Here’s hoping more young women do the same thing. To use Taylor’s own words, I think we’re Ready for It.

—Meryl Friedman
Director of Education & Special Initiatives

Message from the Center: Barber Shop Chronicles

The older a man gets, the faster he can run as a boy.
—Inua Ellams

It took me a while to understand why my mom would leave me alone in the Barbershop every other week. Six years old, surrounded by Black men and their conversations, all I could do was listen and hope that one day, I could add to the conversation. Being an only child raised by a single-mother, the Barbershop taught me a lot about the Black male voice. Mainly, that it matters and that it exists. Somehow, my mother knew this. She trusted that these important conversations would live with me, shape me, push me towards my own definition of Black male masculinity.

In Inua Ellams’ piece, these same conversations take wing across a variety of borders. For many Black men, his characters find a place of commune in the barbershop where joy and pain are expressed. Where questions are answered, jokes told. Heartfelt and beautifully crafted, Ellams’ Barber Shop Chronicles provides to us all a window to the scared haven that is the Barbershop. The Country Club for Black Culture. To my first barber, Mr. Jerry, I thank you for all the cuts and conversations.

On behalf of us at the Center, it is with great pleasure that we welcome and share these conversations with you.

—Theodore Bonner-Perkins

Thoughts from the staff of CAP UCLA