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  Spring 2005

Being Honest for the Next Generation

Being honest is a gift we can give the next generation. We all know the story of the Emperor with no clothes. To just go along with the crowd and act like something is--when everyone can clearly see it isn’t-- is not healthy.

When I was growing up in the 1960’s, women were taught it was our job to be emotional and social housekeepers. It was a woman’s job to make sure the house and family had the ILLUSION of a Stepford Wife home. If a house was not clean, meals not prepared, or the husband or kids wore dirty or wrinkled clothing, that reflected upon the wife and mother, and no one else.

Those fake smiles we watched our moms put on, who were they for? I am thankful that my mom openly complained about doing housework and taking care of men like nurses. Her mom put a glossy shine on marriage, motherhood and being a housewife. So she had no idea what she was getting into. I had a more realistic appreciation of what being a wife was, due to her honesty about hating it.

Many couples pretend everything is just grand for their pride and reputations. But their relationships are truly unhealthy, especially for their kids to watch and imitate. Many women are trapped economically in bad marriages. Or they are saddled with too many responsibilities for one human. Or they are tethered to their homes. And they are smiling just to save face and seem fearless, while inside they are dying.

            I understand why people put that fake smile and fake spin on things. It is a pride issue. And some say it is airing dirty laundry to admit your poverty or hardships.

When I was a street performer living in a school bus, a single mom in severe poverty, I put a fake smile on it. I made it seem that I was living this dream bohemian life. Hell, I even put that glossy spin on it to look good to potential lovers, employers, and performing peers. This may even seem logical. But it is damaging when people try to follow you.

As a street performer, yes, I had some cool things in my life. I was peers with an extremely creative and funny bunch of people. And yes, I got to see amazing performances as they were developed. And my son got to see the backstage of vaudeville, so to speak. We kind of grew up in the circus. There were those parts that were colorful. But most of us performers suffer in severe poverty, as far as money goes. We have a richness of culture that I am grateful for. But we are still butting our heads to make monthly rent payments to live somewhere. And that sucks.

When I was a street performer and pregnant, I was in New Orleans. I played

music with lots of swing musicians and jug bands. I was the only woman washboard player in town. And most of my swing band from Seattle was in New Orleans that year also. I was always among performer friends. It seemed I lead a really cool life.

But once Mardi Gras was over, I went home to a house in Renton, Wa. There I had to struggle to find proper affordable prenatal care. My midwife and I did a lot of work alone, completely alone. Once my baby was born, my midwife walked me through WIC, so we had enough to eat. I was not sure how to street perform with a baby. And I could not do club gigs either.

I was able to do festivals and fairs with a baby. So that is where I concentrated my appearances for a decade or more. But for most of the year, I was isolated, raising a child 24/7 with little to no help. When my son was about 2 years old, I was living in Santa Cruz.  I started playing music on the mall, with my kid on my back. I lived in a school bus.

A gal from New Orleans had seen me street performing there when I was pregnant. She got pregnant and wanted to buy a school bus and become a busker like me. She moved to Santa Cruz from New Orleans and told me this. I was horrified. She ended up not being a street performer, but a street person. And the baby did not lead an easy life.

This disturbed me. I had made a life seem good, when it was not that way. It was actually horrifically hard. You had as much chance of becoming a homeless person as a successful street performer. Or you could end up being both. She did not see me getting arrested for “camping,” for sleeping in my bus. She did not see my constant hassles trying to just keep people off of us, trying to keep us safe and fed. She had no idea what I did except play music for a few hours in public most days.

I do not take responsibility for this woman’s life decisions. But was it     irresponsible for me to make a life of a street performer single mom living in a bus seem glamorous in a weird alternative way?

The street started getting an interesting collection of women buskers around this time in Santa Cruz. There was a large woman named Stacey, who really could sing. Amy who sang very well too. And Alice DiMicele was just starting to hang out and play a bit. I also was playing with my kid on my back. So we had a pretty good slew of women.

Then a woman who infrequently played on the street told me she got pregnant, became a street performer, and lived in a bus to do what I was doing. Again, horrified, it was too late now to tell her it was much harder than she was imagining. I vowed to start talking about how hard single motherhood and poverty are publicly, in my performance and writing. I realized to not talk about that is irresponsible.

In the same vein, I realized it would be irresponsible for me to participate in entertainment which reduced women to can-can dancers and assistants in bustiers. For me to smile and look the other way, sends a message that it is okay. I decided it is important to speak up and not participate in things that objectify women. Sometimes the objectified women themselves hate you. They are just using the little power they can get. But I am talking about a larger scheme of power. Women do not need to demean ourselves in lingerie and no visible skills to get stage time.

I am talking about not asking men for stage space anymore, but taking it, on our own terms. And we need to applaud much more loudly for women and girl performers when they do NOT demean or objectify themselves. Then more women will strive for those independent and stronger roles.

I am not saying that being a wife, a mom, a single mom, a woman street performer who lives in a bus, or a can-can dancer is bad.  But we need to be conscious of what we are supporting, to help influence change. Because girls are watching us as mentors. If young girls do not know the truth about women’s suffering, how will they know to steer clear of trouble areas?


Kirsten Anderberg

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