Novels, Fiction & SillinessBear Me the Darkness

When I formed Second Star NYC with my friends and colleagues, we were primarily interested in comedy. We had come together after making as series of sketch comedy videos for The Dan & Matt Show, and we spent months writing our inaugural sitcom, Working Title. We hoped to spend our time developing our filmmaking skills through the lens of different comedic projects.

That changed when we started the 7-day film challenge and discovered that we had more stories to tell.

Our latest film, “Bear Me the Darkness,” is an examination of love, relationships, and depression. I am so proud of Knilo Solei for her wonderful script, Matthew Willings for his excellent direction, Dan de Jesus for his beautiful cinematography, the actors for their performances, and the rest of our team for making this come to life. I’m proud to have served as the production sound mixer for this film.

You can watch it at the link below:

https://vimeo.com/157849995

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Blog PostsWhen Financial Privilege Isn’t Everything: On Gwyneth Paltrow and Her Stalker

The issue of wealth inequality is a subject that has been on many minds recently, and for good reason. An article in The Guardian published in January reported that the richest 62 people own as much wealth as half of the world’s population. (HALF.) The wealth gap is widening, wages continue to stagnate, and the moneyed class yells “bootstraps” to the poorer classes and blames them when they can’t eat bootstraps for dinner.

There have always been engaged citizens and politicians talking about the wealth gap and how it manifests in different ways, but there are specific times in recent memory where a particularly engaged and active group shoves the conversation to the forefront and forces everyone to talk about it. I’m thinking specifically of the Occupy Wall Street movement beginning in 2011 and the Democratic primary with the surge and unexpected (to some people) success of Bernie Sanders.

I supported Occupy Wall Street from the minute that they set up camp at Zucotti Park, and I signed up for Bernie Sanders’s mailing list shortly after that. I was angry and frustrated by the callous indifference to the middle class, the people in my generation struggling with crushing debt, and most of all, to poor people. I was convinced that the gap between the rich and the poor was not only an issue, but THE issue, and if wealth could be redistributed, most of the world’s injustice would be solved.

Years later, I still know that the wealth gap is a huge problem and that the American Dream is a dangerous fantasy used to blame the poor for their inability to climb the social ladder. But there are many other prejudices and biases ingrained in our society that can set up people to fail even when they enjoy many other privileges.

Consider, for instance, Gwyneth Paltrow.

Gwyneth Paltrow is about as privileged as a person can get. She was born directly into the film industry to an actress and a writer/producer and had connections that many performers can only dream of having. She has an Oscar and many acclaimed film roles. She has her own very important (according to her) lifestyle blog called Wealthy White Woman Weekly (or something like that) and now spends most of her free time educating busy women on how to better their lives by adapting her privileged white rich lifestyle to theirs.

Some people are infuriated by her lack of awareness about her own privilege. Many of us (including me) just like to laugh at her because we find her hilariously clueless in thinking that poor women have access to delivery from their favorite fishmongers.

But I’m not laughing about the recent court decision to let her stalker go free.

This stalker was acquitted in the early 2000s, found not guilty by reason of insanity. He’s sent her “love” letters, sexually graphic material, and according to Paltrow, has said that he wanted to use a scalpel to “cut out her sin.”

He also committed himself to a mental institution in the past and tried to contact her since then, but said that his recent attempts at contact were to apologize for his previous behavior. He’s also said that he just wanted a “pen pal.” The jury acquitted him because they could not find sufficient evidence that he intended to hurt Paltrow, even though they said they understood why she felt threatened by him.

I’m not writing this post to question the decision of the judge and the jury from a legal perspective – I don’t know enough details of the case to determine that. I am questioning the cultural narratives and biases that may have come into play here.

Why is a man who claims insanity given the benefit of the doubt when he repeats his disturbing behavior even after taking steps to correct his actions? Why is he taken at his word when he said he only wanted a “pen pal?” (There are organizations that provide that service, after all.

Did the jury collectively decide that, you know what, the world has stigmatized mental illness for too long, and a man who sought help from an institution clearly mended his ways?

I somehow doubt it.

I suspect that, perhaps, members of the jury believed cultural narratives about stalking being romantic at best and pitiful and sad at worst, and let him off because he didn’t mean to be threatening.
So he gets acquitted, and Gwyneth Paltrow sleeps less easily at night knowing that her stalker has been given a pass.

All of the wealth and privilege that went along with being a daughter of Hollywood quasi-royalty, all of the wealth and privilege that came along with being a thin, conventionally pretty, cisgendered white woman didn’t stop a stalker from undermining Gwyneth Paltrow’s personal safety.

Sometimes I enjoy making fun of Gwyneth Paltrow’s wealth and cluelessness, but I’m not right now. Right now, I’m glad she makes a ridiculous amount of money so she can afford protection for herself and her family.

I’m also simultaneously sad for the victims of stalking who don’t have access to those same resources and whose lives could very easily come to a much sadder end.

This is just one example of how wealth and fame can’t always save people from those who want to do them harm. I haven’t even touched on poor Kesha.

The wealth gap needs to be addressed, but a fix in the economy isn’t a cure-all for the world’s problems. Sexism, racism, homophobia, transphobia, disablism, classism, all sorts of isms, are all separate issues that needed to be addressed on their own AND together as a whole – a difficult task, but not an impossible one.

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Blog PostsBringing Back the Blog

It’s been a year to the date since my last blog post. What have I been up to since then?

Well.

– I co-founded Second Star NYC, an independent film production company established to produce projects highlighting artists from underrepresented demographics, particularly women and people of color.

– Since last February, we’ve produced 9 short films as part of our 7-day film challenge, where we take audience suggestions and turn them into films in 7 short days. In addition to producing these films, I’ve also served as production assistant on a few sets and run the boom mic to familiarize myself more with every aspect of production.

– I wrote one of the short films, “Pancakes,” and I’m proud of how it turned out. My first screenplay for Second Star NYC was a drama, and no one was more surprised than I was that I was inspired to write something that wasn’t a comedy. You can watch it here. (That’s also my brother Luke co-starring in the film!)

– We launched a successful Indiegogo campaign to raise money for our inaugural series, Working Title, (a series we all co-wrote), about six film rejects who are fired from the set of an independent film and band together to make their own movie.

– We filmed 2/3rds of the necessary footage for Working Title and got to view some of the rough cuts for the episodes.

And that’s just the work I’ve done with Second Star NYC.

I’ve also hosted trivia two nights a week, joined the team of trivia writers, held down a meaningful 9-5 (well, 8:30-4:30) job in a nonprofit organization for children with autism, written short stories and worked on a novel, and fallen in love.

Being busy with all of those different creative projects made it easy for me to let the blog slide. But I’ve missed it, and that’s why I’m reviving it a year after my last post.

Thank you to my email subscribers and followers on Twitter for commenting, liking, sharing, and reading what I’ve had to write in the past few years. I’ve been on hiatus, but I’m back. Expect a new post on a weekly basis.

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ReviewsA Review of Hypokrit Theater Company’s “Romeo and Juliet”

People discovering Romeo and Juliet for the first time, whether reading the play in high school or watching one of the several popular film adaptations, are often the same age as the two main characters. Their innocence and ability to be swept up in love while their parents fight is the main reason for the play’s appeal, and anyone who has viewed multiple productions can predict that naivete to drive the tragedy.

The Romeo and Juliet in Hypokrit Theater Company’s Bollywood-inspired production (played by Brent White and Brinda Dixit in the second cast) lack this naivete that an audience would come to expect. Their leading tragic protagonists aren’t completely new to love and romance. When they first lay eyes on each other at the Capulet party, Juliet doesn’t blush and look away. When they meet each other and speak for the first time, they don’t sound like people who have never flirted before.

These star-crossed lovers are a little more mature and worldly than previous Romeos and Juliets, and this isn’t the only way in which Hypokrit Theater Company’s production differs from more traditional interpretations of the play. Juliet’s nurse (played by a very funny and winning Monique Sanchez in the second cast) is not only the comic highlight of the show, but portrayed as roughly the same age as Juliet, rather than the motherly figure who raised Juliet more than Lady Capulet did. (Lines about Juliet being the “prettiest babe e’er I nursed” are altered or removed accordingly.) The part of Benvolio is played by actress Nikita Chaudhry as a cute and tomboyish gal pal of Romeo and Mercutio, adding a new layer to a usually thankless role of “that other Montague who speaks exposition.”

All of these choices are made to fit a particular aesthetic and to adapt Shakespeare’s classic to a more modern Bollywood theme. The nurse is young because heroines in Bollywood films typically have confidantes in their age range. Benvolio is a woman because love triangles are a popular plot device in Bollywood films. And Romeo and Juliet have a touch of maturity even in the early scenes because innocence isn’t a concept in the Delhi portrayed in the play.

Putting a new spin on Shakespeare is a difficult task, but not an impossible one when the artistic team has a clear vision of the project, and Hypokrit Theater Company, led by artistic directors and co-founders Arpita Mukherjee and Shubra Prakash, has a very defined vision of adapting a classic tale for a particular genre. Some lines and important scenes are cut and rearranged to fit the Bollywood aesthetic, and while I missed some of those lines (I particularly mourned the loss of “she doth teach the torches to burn bright”), it was clear that none of them were cut without careful thought.

The result is a well-paced, entertaining Romeo and Juliet that captures the spirit of the play while providing a fresh take and exposing the New York theater scene to a diverse cast of talented actors. I look forward to seeing what classic play Hypokrit takes on next – I would love to see them apply the Bollywood sensibility to A Midsummer Night’s Dream.

Hypokrit Theater Company’s Romeo and Juliet is playing at the Access Theater at 380 Broadway from February 7 to February 22, with performances at 8 PM on Wednesdays through Sundays and 2 PM performances on Saturdays and Sundays.

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Blog PostsNovels, Fiction & SillinessWhy I Chose to Self-Publish

I worked on my first novel, Fanged, for three and a half years. The story went through several revisions before it was ready to be published, not least because I had three planned sequels to consider, and each time I revised the first book, I had to keep the plots of the subsequent books in mind. But the time finally came when I was ready to get my novel out to the world, and I had a choice between pursuing the traditional route and self-publishing.

It took only a few agent rejections for me to research the self-publishing route and decide that this was the path for me.

The few rejections from agents I received didn’t make me doubt that my novel was good. All of my beta readers enjoyed it and gave me honest criticism, and I knew I had written an entertaining page-turner that also had substance. I had received positive feedback from fans of vampire novels and from vampire newbies – “I’m not really into vampires but I loved your book!”

Literary agents, however, aren’t only looking for books that are good, but books that they think will sell. And I, a first-time author who wrote a vampire book, wasn’t (in their minds) someone who was going to sell.

Knowing what stories will sell and which ones won’t is almost impossible to predict, especially when you’re a writer of genre fiction. Vampires come in and out of style all the time, and I was sending query letters for Fanged once the vampire fad had started to die out. There wasn’t room for me in a saturated market.

That’s why I decided to make my own market and self-publish my book.

I could have applied to agent after agent until I received an acceptance letter. Maybe that would have worked. I had only received 10 rejection letters, fewer than J.K. Rowling received for Harry Potter. I could have plugged away, and maybe I would have eventually been successful.

But I knew that I didn’t want to wait any longer to have a copy of my own book in my hands, to look at the cover and think, “I wrote this.”

Sometimes when I have writer’s block or feel discouraged about the writing process, I pick up a copy of my own book and remind myself, “I wrote a whole book.”

There are few feelings more satisfying than holding your own creation in your hands after years of hard work and dedication.

I might not try the self-publishing route every time I finish a creative project. I will definitely try the agent route again in the future. But I’m glad I self-published book #1.

Because when your father’s doctor’s aide looks at the patient chart, recognizes the last name, and asks him, “Are you the father of Theresa Basile, who wrote Fanged?” you know you’ve done something right.

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Blog PostsAre You Now, or Have You Ever Been, a Feminist?

2014 seemed to be the year of female celebrities saying that they weren’t feminists. From Shailene Woodley to Kaley Cuoco-Sweeting, young actresses and singers have answered the question, “Are you a feminist?” with responses like this one:

“I love men, and I think the idea of ‘raise women to power, take the men away from the power’ is never going to work out because you need balance. With myself, I’m very in touch with my masculine side. And I’m 50 percent feminine and 50 percent masculine, same as I think a lot of us are. And I think that is important to note. And also I think that if men went down and women rose to power, that wouldn’t work either. We have to have a fine balance.” – Shailene Woodley

“I’m very proud of being a woman, and as a woman, I don’t even like the word feminism because when I hear that word, I associate it with women trying to pretend to be men, and I’m not interested in trying to pretend to be a man. I don’t want to embrace manhood, I want to embrace my womanhood.” – Evangeline Lilly

These quotes indicate a fundamental misunderstanding of what feminism is. Even in 2014, women in the media still equated feminism with thinking women are superior to men, putting women in a dominant position over men, and thinking women should act more traditionally masculine.

I have no doubt that we will continue to hear female celebrities publicly misinterpret feminism in 2015. Online magazines and commenters will continue to criticize these women, and the cycle will go on.

What I’d like to know is when journalists plan on routinely asking male celebrities if they’re feminists.

Feminism at its core is about equality among the sexes. Yet for some reason, only female celebrities are regularly asked whether or not they’re feminists.

Should we not be equally concerned that men also believe in equality among the sexes?

Forgive the imperfect comparison, but it would be a little strange if only black celebrities were asked whether or not they believe in anti-black racism?

I’m reminded of the interesting decision by The Today Show to cancel their interview with Amy Adams because she allegedly didn’t want to talk about the information revealed in the Sony hack that she received less payment for American Hustle than her male co-stars. Meanwhile, they didn’t ask Bradley Cooper any questions about the Sony hack when they interviewed him a few days earlier.

There seems to be a pattern here of questioning women whether or not they believe in gender equality and how they fare in a world with male privilege, and not questioning men whether or not they believe in gender equality and how they feel about benefiting from male privilege.

And we wonder why there’s so much confusion about what feminism really means. How can we expect female celebrities to embrace gender quality when the very question about gender quality is only posed to women?

I’m sure the question is well-intentioned…sometimes.

Other times, I have the distinct feeling that journalists aren’t asking these questions because they really care about feminism. They’re asking because responses to that question always trend, and articles deconstructing those responses also trend.

From now on, I’m not going to judge female celebrities’ responses to the “Are you a feminist?” question until male celebrities are routinely asked the same question. When the question is only posed to female celebrities, the implication is that only women should care about gender equality – and that’s kind of the opposite of what feminism is supposed to mean.

 

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Blog PostsA Few Stories About Walking in Public

It was a muggy day in Greenpoint in 2009. Dressed in my favorite pink fleece sports jacket and sweatpants, I was walking from the local YMCA back to the apartment I shared with my then-boyfriend. My face was flushed after finishing my workout and my hair was stringy and soaked in sweat.

My fleece jacket, pictured several years later

My fleece jacket, pictured several years later

A man’s voice called my attention: “Excuse me, miss. Your shoe’s untied.” I looked down and saw that my sneakers had, in fact, become unlaced yet again, a problem I experienced with these particular shoes almost every five minutes.

I thanked the man for pointing this out and moved to the corner of the sidewalk where I could tie my shoe without getting in anyone’s way. As soon as I bent over, the same man slid next to me and whispered, his voice husky and thick with expectation, “Now that I helped you out, do I get your phone number?”

My body tensed and I said the only sentence that was guaranteed to end this conversation quickly: “I have a boyfriend.” Not a lie, but something I would have said regardless of whether or not it was true.

“Oh, that’s too bad,” said the man. I straightened my back and walked a little more quickly to get back to my apartment, grateful that I hadn’t already showered at the Y, since I would need one to wash that conversation off of me.

* * * * *

A year earlier, in Williamsburg, I emerged from the Lorimer L/Metropolitan G stop late at night to walk to a nearby concert held at a bar. It was late fall and chilly, and I wore a winter dress, leggings, boots, and a long coat.

The dress, minus the coat

The dress, minus the coat

I hadn’t walked a block before a strange men leaped out of a dark corner and said, “Excuse me, miss.”

I didn’t wait to find out what he wanted. I averted my eyes and quickened my pace to get away from that dark corner and to my destination.

The strange man yelled, “Bitch!” at my departing form. I walked even faster as I felt the sting of his words and prayed that he wouldn’t follow me now that he had gotten angry.

* * * * *

May 2014, 8 AM, at the Port Authority Bus Terminal. Dressed in comfortable clothes with a suitcase in tow, I walked around looking for the Adirondack Trailways line to take me to my friend’s wedding.

This was years earlier, but similar to the clothes I was wearing that day.

This was years earlier, but similar to the clothes I was wearing that day.

A little ahead of schedule but not sure where I was supposed to go, I scanned the announcements of departures and arrivals to locate my bus. As I looked, I could feel the eyes of a strange man on my back.

Having found my bus, I started walking in the direction of the Adirondack Trailways. The same strange man who was watching me stepped in front of me and said, “Good morning.” Against my better judgment, I stopped, but fixed him with a warning look that I hoped said, “You’d better just be asking for directions.”

Off my look, he held up his hands and said, “Hey, whoa, no need to get upset. I was just wondering, before you leave, if I could have your phone number.”

I didn’t even pause before I yanked on my suitcase and marched off in the direction of my bus, because I was off to my friend’s wedding and I did not have time for that shit.

* * * * *

In late June 2014, I walked in the Coney Island Mermaid Parade with a group of friends. After the parade, I left my friend’s apartment, still in full costume, to meet someone on the Upper East Side.

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Mermaid

Since I was wearing a tube top and exposed a bare midriff and shoulders, I prepared myself for an onslaught of sexual innuendos and gross comments, and briefly considered taking a taxi uptown even though I couldn’t afford it at the time.

The propositions never came. I received many comments from passersby, men and women alike, but all of them were compliments on my costume, with quite a few shouts of “You go, girl!” directed my way.

* * * * *

In fall of 2007, I stood across the street from the school where I taught, dressed in professional attire, waiting for the light to change. When the walk sign came on, I stepped into the street, only to leap back onto the sidewalk when a bus sped up and charged through the red light.

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Professional clothes

The man next to me had also jumped backwards onto the sidewalk, barely escaping being hit by the bus. We looked at each other and rolled our eyes at the recklessness and assholery of MTA city bus drivers.

Then the man paused and looked at me again, and he said, “You have nice eyes,” in a thoughtful tone.

Surprised but flattered, I said, “Oh! Thank you.” He nodded respectfully and turned and walked across the street. I followed shortly after with a slight spring in my step after this unexpected compliment.

* * * * *

The men who creepily demanded my phone number and called me a bitch on the street were demanding my attention with no consideration for my feelings. Some of them were actively trying to intimidate me.

The people on the street who complimented me on my costume were amused and surprised to see a mermaid walking on the streets of Manhattan and expressed their appreciation in ways that were not intimidating.

The man who complimented me on my eyes was a person I had briefly bonded with in the way only New Yorkers can after experiencing the same jerkiness from an MTA bus driver. When he said I had nice eyes, there was no demand in his tone, no salaciousness, no expectation – and after he made his compliment, he left me alone to go about my day.

Many people would like to pretend that the line between harassment and genuine compliments are blurred so that they can continue to shout at women on the street with impunity.

They are lying.

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ArticlesI’ve Been Published on Reductress

Psst – for anyone who’d like to take a peek at other places I’ve been published lately, here are links to a few pieces I wrote recently for Reductress.com!

I Lived It: I Didn’t Actually Like My Friend’s Profile Picture

3 Surefire Ways to Upstage Your Friend at Karaoke

Quiz: Did Everyone Sign Sharon’s Birthday Card?

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Blog PostsLost Season 2: What if Ana-Lucia Was a White Guy?

Lost premiered almost ten years ago exactly, and to celebrate the show’s anniversary, I started a rewatch. Lost was a notable show for me because it was one of only two shows I watched from day one (Freaks and Geeks being the other) rather than catching up after strong word-of-mouth, and I watched it religiously.

The mystery and scope of Lost appealed to me, but the characters appealed to me more. Charlie was my first favorite character by default, since the whole reason I watched the show was the presence of Dominic Monaghan (aka one of the hobbits from Lord of the Rings). Over time, I grew to become invested in Jack, Sayid, Sun and Jin, Juliet, Locke, Miles, and most of all, Hugo Reyes (aka Hurley).

But there was another character I loved, one who was not a fan favorite, and was, in fact, one of the most reviled characters on the show: Ana-Lucia Cortez, played by Michelle Rodriguez.

Ana-Lucia

Ana-Lucia

Viewers didn’t like Ana-Lucia for a multitude of reasons. The Sayid/Shannon fans didn’t like her because she accidentally killed Shannon and then tied Sayid to a tree. They didn’t like her because she was rude to Sawyer, everyone’s favorite woobie. Mostly, viewers didn’t like her because she was unpleasant.

Yet it struck me upon rewatching season 2 that, if Ana-Lucia had been a white man, she not only would have been a fan favorite, but possibly the protagonist of the whole show.

Let’s pretend for a moment that Ana-Lucia Cortez was a white guy named Andrew Collins and look at the character backstory from that point of view.

Andrew Collins was a police officer working in the LAPD. His captain and commanding officer was also his parent of the same sex. While investigating a shooting, he came across a college student who was a suspect in the crime. He allowed the college student to reach for his ID. Instead, the student reached for a gun, and shot Andrew several times.

After making a physical recovery and undergoing therapy, Andrew returned to the force, but was clearly suffering from PTSD. His captain and father tried to relegate him to desk duty, but Andrew needed to be on patrol. When the college student who shot him was brought in for questioning, Andrew claimed not to know him. Later, he followed his assailant and shot him several times, killing him.

When the plane crashed on Craphole Island, Andrew woke up underwater and managed to swim to safety. He helped save a few lives, including the one of a little girl after performing CPR on her. He took on a leadership role, trying his best to keep everyone calm and safe, and tended to listen when other survivors offered alternate plans and ideas.

This attitude changed after time. Andrew became less trusting, more bullheaded, and stubborn, after other survivors of the plane crash (including the children) were kidnapped by hostile natives on the island. His stubbornness and paranoia increased significantly when the person he had trusted the most turned out to be one of the hostile natives. In a scuffle, he killed the hostile. He could then only be open and vulnerable to one other person in the group of survivors, and finally broke down crying after forty days of trauma.

An ultimately decent person with a sometimes unpleasant personality. A brash, insensitive, but ultimately caring police officer, who had a soft spot for children. A person who put on a tough front but could show vulnerability in front of one other person.

Andrew Collins would have been fan catnip. But Ana-Lucia Cortez was hated. Even though she should’ve had bonus sympathy points, since she was pregnant at the time she was shot and lost her unborn child.

Not every character is going to click with every viewer, and I understand why some viewers didn’t like Ana-Lucia. The widespread hate, on the other hand, I feel has roots in subconscious sexism, and perhaps subconscious racism as well. A white male character can be bullying and obnoxious (look at the widespread popularity of Sawyer on the same show), but not a Latina woman. Not even one who lost her baby while on the line of duty.

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Blog PostsIn Praise of “Moaning Lisa”

In honor of the glorious “Every Simpsons Ever” marathon playing on FXX for one and a half weeks, I’m going to talk a little about an underrated episode: “Moaning Lisa.”

“Moaning Lisa” is not one of the funniest episodes of The Simpsons. In fact, a fair amount of the jokes, particularly in the Bart-Homer video-game subplot, are a little obvious and corny. What makes “Moaning Lisa” great is not the humor, but the emotional resonance.

The episode opens with Lisa staring into a bathroom mirror, almost paralyzed by her sadness.

sadlisa
I can’t think of many sitcoms, animated or not, that would open on a scene with a character so vulnerable.

We follow Lisa as she goes about her day, and we see that the sadness is affecting her interaction with everyone. She refuses a cupcake from her mother, she improvises wildly in music class, and doesn’t participate in dodge ball in gym class because she’s “too sad.” When her family asks her for the reason behind her sadness, it turns out that there’s no inciting incident or traumatic event she’s been keeping from them:

I’m just wondering what’s the point. Would it make any difference at all if I never existed? How can we sleep at night when there’s so much suffering in the world?

Homer, at a loss for words, ineffectually bounces Lisa on her lap and tries to cheer her up. He cares about his daughter but has no idea how to help her – he’s completely out of his depth. Lisa, knowing this, gives her father a kiss and tells him she knows he means well. Homer then orders Bart to clean the living room in one of the few moments of the episode that’s as funny as The Simpsons would be in its prime (“In times of trouble you got to go with what you know – now hop to it, boy!”), and Bart, as a result, is unsympathetic to Lisa’s pain. There are many times in the show’s future where Bart steps out of his selfish, ten-year-old viewpoint and shows empathy to his sister (“Separate Vocations,” ” ‘Round Springfield,”) but this isn’t one of them.

Later, Lisa practices her saxophone in her room, and Homer runs upstairs to tell her to knock off all that racket – until she starts crying again, and once again, he has no words of comfort except to tell her that she can practice her fingering as loud as she wants.

7G06_-_Moaning_Lisa
Lisa’s sadness runs so deep that she can’t even describe it to anyone. From what we’ve seen, she doesn’t have a bad life, but she’s isolated from others because of her pain, and even people who want to understand her and help her don’t know how.

That all changes when she hears more saxophone music miles away, and she slips out of her house and meets Bleeding Gums Murphy playing the “I Never Had an Italian Suit Blues.”

Meanwhile, Marge has a nightmare straight from her own childhood about her mother encouraging her to smile even when she’s sad:

“Wait, Margie. Before we go out the door, let’s put our happy face on, because people know how good of a mommy you have by the size of your smile!”

Young Marge then puts on the most strained, fake smile I’ve ever seen before walking out the door. The smile looks like it’s hurting her face. But when the adult Marge wakes up, she wonders out loud how to educate their daughter on how to become a young woman.

Back at the bridge, Bleeding Gums Murphy and Lisa each sing aloud their pain. He tells her, “You know, you play pretty good for someone with no real problems.”

I’m going to take a moment just for that one line, because it’s brilliant. One hand, you understand Bleeding Gums’s point. From his perspective, Lisa is the exemplification of #firstworldproblems or #whitegirlproblems. She’s healthy, cared for, and she wants for nothing. On the other hand, depression is real and Lisa’s definitely feeling a version of it deep in her bones. It doesn’t really matter that she has no “real” problems when the feeling of sadness is all-consuming.

Marge comes by and whisks Lisa away, telling Bleeding Gums, “Nothing personal, I just feel the unfamiliar.” And Lisa is taken from someone she commiserates with and makes her feel less alone.

The next day, Marge tries to get Bart to be nicer to her sister, and they have an exchange where he awkwardly half-admits to some affection for Lisa:

“Marge: You do love her, don’t you?
Bart: Oh, Mom…
Marge: Well you do, don’t you?
Bart: Don’t make me say it. You know the answer, I know the answer, he knows the answer, let’s just drop it, ok?
Marge: Okay, Bart, you don’t have to say it, but you do have to have a loving attitude. Be nice to your sister.”

It’s a perfect portrayal of that stage of boyhood where it’s socially unacceptable to admit to any positive feelings for his sister, because girls are gross. He can’t even say out loud to his own mother that he loves his sister.

And of course, the only thing Bart can think to do to cheer up Lisa is to make a prank phone call to Moe’s Tavern. It doesn’t work, even though she usually laughs right along with him.

Marge makes one last effort to cheer up Lisa, and the only thing she can think to do is to give her daughter the same kind of damaging advice her own mother gave her:

“Well it doesn’t matter how you feel inside, you know? It’s what shows up on the surface that counts. That’s what my mother taught me. Take all your bad feelings and push them down, all the way down, past your knees until you’re almost walking on them. And then you’ll fit in, and you’ll be invited to parties, and boys will like you, and happiness will follow.”

Hearing this come from Marge is downright heartbreaking when we see how much pain this caused her in her own childhood. She’s clearly giving this advice because it’s all she knows, and she’s convinced herself that it was the right way to go.

But even repressed suburban moms have their limits, and Marge reaches hers when she sees one boy tell Lisa, “I used to think you were a brainiac, but I guess you’re okay,” another boy invite her to do his homework, and the music teacher chiding her for her creativity. She makes a U-turn in her car and whisks Lisa away. Then she parks the car and does a similar 180 on her advice:

Lisa, I apologize to you, I was wrong, I take it all back! Always be yourself. If you want to be sad, honey, be sad. We’ll ride it out with you. And when you get finished feeling sad, we’ll still be there. From now on, let me do the smiling for both of us.

Then Lisa hugs her mother, and gives her first genuine smile of the episode, because she “feels like smiling.”

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This display of support from her mother is the moment that finally breaks Lisa from her sadness, and she takes her family to the jazz club to hear Bleeding Gums Murphy play.

We can see the lasting effects of “Moaning Lisa” throughout later episodes and seasons of The Simpsons, where the saxophone is a vital part of Lisa’s identity and an important outlet of creative expression. Finding a kindred spirit and creative outlet is key to her sense of self-worth and identity.

But just as important is Lisa hearing exactly what she needs to hear from her mother – that it’s okay to be sad, that her feelings are valid, and that she will have support no matter what she’s feeling.

I feel like most sitcoms would gloss over an emotional crisis like Lisa’s (if they bothered to portray that kind of emotional crisis at all) by having their character experience some kind of sentimental moment that Restores Their Faith In Humanity or some other garbage, but “Moaning Lisa” doesn’t try to gloss over Lisa’s problem by pretending she’ll never be sad again. We know she will be sad again, and maybe one day she’ll be sad again for no reason she can identify. But now she’ll have a support system that doesn’t rush to “cheer her up” and instead lets her see her emotions through.

That kind of emotional support is validating and essential to Lisa, and yet the moment is still tinged with bittersweet sadness. When Marge says, “I’ll do enough smiling for the both of us,” we understand that her practiced happiness is too ingrained in her personality to ever change, and she’s giving Lisa the freedom and emotional validation she never received herself.

“Moaning Lisa” doesn’t make anyone’s top 10 list of The Simpsons episodes, and it’s easy to understand why. It’s not the funniest episode by a long shot. But in terms of emotional resonance, it strikes as much of a chord as “Lisa’s Substitute,” “Mother Simpson,” and “And Maggie Makes Three.” Whether a person struggles with depression or just feels “down” sometimes for no identifiable reason, there’s nothing more helpful than hearing, “It’s okay to feel sad.”

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