Transcript: Dana Morrigan Sings in Her Own Voice
(Theme music) (00:00:00):
And The Next Thing You Know Theme by Jon Schwartz
Suzie Sherman (00:00:13):
This is And The Next Thing You Know. It’s a podcast about how our lives go exactly not as we planned them. I’m Suzie Sherman. Hello and happy summer to everyone here in the Northern Hemisphere, and joyous winter to everyone in the south. Since last we spoke, I’m all fully vaxxed, which makes me a lot more confident to explore this new town of mine, Portland. I’ve found some great local spots with patios. I’ve connected with some friends here. I’ve taken in the flowers and the greenery.
Suzie Sherman (00:00:43):
I’ve shopped at the first farmers market of the summer in my neighborhood. It’s been a really lovely start of the season. Let’s all get vaccinated, so that we can hug each other out in public again, okay? Welcome to the podcast if this is your first listen. My guest today, Dana Morrigan, wonderful human, wry wit, queer, transfeminine, nonbinary, spoken word artist, writer, and epic karaoke host, may have brought you here. So, thanks for tuning in. And if you’re already a fan of the podcast, welcome.
Suzie Sherman (00:01:14):
Please tell your friends about the show, #nextthingpod on social media. And if you aren’t a patron yet, lots of goodies over there at the Patreon page, patreon.com/nextthingpod. Help me put these meaningful conversations out into the world. This is a self-made podcast. I do all the creative production, the editing, the sound engineering, the promo, the technical logistics, all of it. And your support helps keep the show alive. It keeps me paid as an artist, and it keeps the show gloriously independent.
Suzie Sherman (00:01:49):
You can give at any level that’s comfortable for you. But if you give $10 a month or more, you’ll get a shout out at the end of every episode, patreon.com/nextthingpod. My conversation with guest, Dana Morrigan, today is so absorbing. It’s about her quest for self-knowledge across many parts of her life, in her cultural affiliations, in her work, in her relationships, in finding her creative callings. And the through line is really that the process of finding ourselves is lifelong.
Suzie Sherman (00:02:22):
And if you’re doing it right, you can help other people find themselves too. Just a quick note, before we start, do stick around till after the outro credits for this episode because I recorded an update with Dana just a few days ago. So, we could check in about how the pandemic has affected her karaoke community. And with that, this is my conversation with Dana Morrigan.
Suzie Sherman (00:02:48):
You had started when we were in the other room talking about your mom was a performer, but you didn’t say what she did.
Dana Morrigan (00:02:54):
Well, in the years when I was conscious, she was mostly doing musical theater locally in the Catskills. But when she was younger, I have photos of her from the ’50s with her first husband who was stationed in the military in France. And she was a nightclub singer at the Rex Club in Verdun, France. And I’m not sure what else she might have done back in the day, but she had a need to perform, to sing, act. And I took after her in that way. The very first time I got on stage, which was in front of my fourth grade class, I knew that was my relationship to the world.
Suzie Sherman (00:03:41):
Do you remember what you performed that day?
Dana Morrigan (00:03:46):
Yeah, it was a little play about anthropology. And I played Dr. Anthro, and Kenny Knopman played Dr. Pology. And I had my big moment in the play, was explaining that intelligence and brain size do not correlate, and that smart people can have smaller brains than less intelligent people.
Suzie Sherman (00:04:10):
That’s good. So, by the time you came up through school, phrenology had been debunked, thankfully. And you loved it. You loved it.
Dana Morrigan (00:04:20):
And yeah, and I got to be the one who gave that information to people. Yeah, I loved it. I mean, it’s just like being there made more sense than sitting in the classroom, being at the front of the class with an audience. It was just like the right way to be around other people. And that’s been true all my life. From there, I just looked for every opportunity to perform that I could. I was in the band and the chorus in school, and I acted in all the plays in school, and I acted in summer camp. We had plays.
Suzie Sherman (00:04:59):
Did you grow up upstate New York, Dana?
Dana Morrigan (00:05:01):
I did. I grew up in the Catskills, in Sullivan County, New York, about, hour-and-a-half outside of New York City. When I was growing up, it was still a pretty well-known tourist area. But while I was growing up, it declined. The area became a little more depressed, and most of the big hotels closed down.
Suzie Sherman (00:05:24):
But the Catskills were right there, and it was in your fantasy trajectory of who you were going to be.
Dana Morrigan (00:05:30):
Yeah, totally. I mean, as a Jewish kid growing up in the Borscht Belt part of the Catskills, the hotels, like the Brown’s Hotel where Jerry Lewis got his start and the Concord where all the big acts came to perform. And me being a Jewish kid with a sense of humor and a love of humor, it just seemed that that was where my life was destined to go, that I was going to grow up and be a stand-up comic.
Suzie Sherman (00:06:01):
And we’re talking about the ’60s when you were young, yeah.
Dana Morrigan (00:06:04):
’60s and early ’70s, yeah.
Suzie Sherman (00:06:07):
So, your first fantasy trajectory of what your life was going to be.
Dana Morrigan (00:06:11):
Yeah, was I was going to be a stand-up comic in the mold of George Carlin and Alan King, Robert Klein. And then going back to all the amazing comedians of earlier eras, Henny Youngman, who, as a telephone operator in the Catskills, I once spoke to in the phone, (laughter) but it wasn’t much of a conversation. I just placed the call for him.
Suzie Sherman (00:06:43):
Dana Morrigan (00:06:43):
It was like I was learning about comedians and vaudeville. The book that I read when I was about 13 or 14 that had a life changing effect on me was Harpo Speaks, the autobiography of Harpo Marx, where he talks about growing up in New York City and then being in Vaudeville, and then being part of this incredible intellectual community in New York and then Hollywood.
Dana Morrigan (00:07:16):
And through that all was the life, the life of a performer. And it was like … I mean, I really thought I was reading … It was like almost a training manual for the life I wanted to have. And also, in the case of Harpo, of the kind of person I wanted to be, as opposed to a more masculine or traditionally masculine type people. People who stood out as different were my role models. Harpo Marx was a role model. Tiny Tim was a role model.
Suzie Sherman (00:07:55):
Yeah. Did you connect with Saturday Night Live when it started up there in the mid ’70s?
Dana Morrigan (00:08:02):
Yeah, very much so, the first cast of Saturday Night Live. And the guests who came out in the first season or shows, yeah, definitely. That was my first years of college or the first years of Saturday Night Live. And by the time I got to … I started in a community college, and then I went to a four-year school to finish my degree. And when I got to the four-year school, I was a theater major. And other majors in the program were forming an improv comedy group, and we did sketch comedy.
Dana Morrigan (00:08:42):
I auditioned and got into that group, and that was, actually, my favorite performance experience in college. I mean, it was weird. That in those days, I never ever did a stand-up performance. I did every of … I did theater and I did music and I hosted a radio show. I mean, I was a radio DJ hosting a music show. The one thing I never tried was just getting up on stage by myself and telling jokes. I’d never did the stand-up thing. We were heavily influenced by the type of skits they were doing on Saturday Night Live. And then also Monty Python, also a huge influence on me, I think, more than the other people I was working with, but huge on me.
Suzie Sherman (00:09:28):
Right, especially because the weirdos were your heroes, that kind of offbeat British humor that was just a more intellectual and …
Dana Morrigan (00:09:38):
Yeah. And in that day, it was just nothing like it in my experience in what was available in the four channels of TV we had.
Suzie Sherman (00:09:47):
In the media landscape today, it’s so much easier to access all the stuff that was only available on BBC or whatever. I mean, there was a lot of stuff that came to the United States in syndication much earlier than this as well. But so, when I was coming up in the ’80s, late ’80s, I was finding The Young Ones and stuff like that. But the media landscape is not even … It’s not even that limited now. It’s like you can find anything that has had any cult following so easily now.
Dana Morrigan (00:10:30):
Yeah, yeah. It’s amazing. You can have an encyclopedic knowledge of things that you had to hunt down every little bit of back in the day.
Suzie Sherman (00:10:39):
Right. And being a kid who was not a very masculine kid, who felt your inner weirdness and wanted to access your inner weirdness, that’s a really hard thing when models in the culture are few and far between.
Dana Morrigan (00:10:58):
Yeah, to put it mildly, that was true. I didn’t have any … It was so hard to figure out how to be myself. And the things that seemed close enough were the things that I recognized. I didn’t see myself as a person who wanted to be feminine. But when I saw hippies being androgynous and wearing the same clothes and having hair of the same length and being gentle and in touch with their feelings, or if that happened, I don’t know. That might be a guess.
Dana Morrigan (00:11:36):
But they were living fully in a way that I couldn’t comprehend, but I aspired to it. And I aspired to it to the exclusion of everyday life. It’s like I wanted to be over with the hippies, doing what they were doing and not having to play Little League on the team my dad was coaching. And I don’t know, going to dances or asking girls on dates, or those things were all way too far away for me. But in my head, it was like free love, sexual revolution.
Suzie Sherman (00:12:13):
Right. Wear your hair the length you want to, flowing clothes, beads.
Dana Morrigan (00:12:21):
Beads, tassels. I had a suede vest with beads and tassels. And I know, so we just went through the Woodstock 50th anniversary, and Woodstock was a huge thing in my life. That happened in the town I was born in. So, I was watching a lot of footage. And I remember now seeing back then, Roger Daltrey, long hair, leather coat with beads, with tassels, like tassels, and these long tassels coming off the arms. They were just incredible.
Suzie Sherman (00:12:51):
Dana Morrigan (00:12:53):
Like wings. And then Sly Stone in a similar …like, totally different look, but in a similar outfit, in another jacket with long tassels. And it was like, things that I could not get away with in my daily life, suddenly, that was all I wanted. If I could get away with it, I didn’t want it.
Suzie Sherman (00:13:15):
Right. You were still very young then, though, yeah. You were like 10 or 12.
Dana Morrigan (00:13:21):
I was. I was 11, 12. Yeah, yeah, I was 10 and a half when Woodstock took place.
Suzie Sherman (00:13:24):
Right. So, you’re seeing things coming into the culture that are out of your grasp, maybe because of your family situation, but also because you were a kid. You were idolizing slightly older people who were already individuating themselves and moving out into the world and having a life that was more colorful and aesthetically in their control than you could have just yet. Let’s get back on your trajectory. Because as you’re coming up in the Catskills and a Jewish family with your mom was a performer and you were connecting with comedy and you were a theater major in school. I know there was a shift that happened away from being a performer.
Dana Morrigan (00:14:10):
There was. And there were things that were pushing me away from performance that were also connected to my uniqueness. Or, I guess what I want to say is that I couldn’t perform as well as I wanted to. I didn’t have the control over myself as over my body, as a performer, over my voice, which affected me also in chorus. When my voice cracked, I didn’t want to go down and sing lower. And I just kept trying to sing high, and then it became embarrassing to do that. And I dealt with that embarrassment by dropping out of chorus.
Dana Morrigan (00:15:01):
And it was like I couldn’t get cast in roles I wanted to play, because I wasn’t a handsome masculine looking person. I was a large, long hair slob, basically. And so, I would seek out roles that I could play, and also just to do roles in class. At the same time, I was starting to write, and this was … So, I had just graduated, or I was just graduating from high school. I graduated early. And to graduate early, I had to take junior English and senior English in the same year, and one of the senior English courses I took was a journalism class.
Dana Morrigan (00:15:47):
And that was the first time I was doing writing that didn’t feel like assignments. I could actually write about something. I could think about something I was interested in and write it down. Or I could write something funny and have it not be secondary or distraction from what I was doing, but that was actually the thing I was doing. And so, for the first time, I was writing. And for the first time, I was writing things that were humorous. And then I got to college, and I started writing. I kept writing those essays and humorous things.
Dana Morrigan (00:16:22):
When I got to college, I started submitting them to the newspaper. And so, I was getting published in the college newspaper. And then I took a playwriting class and wrote a play, and the play got some notice and it got performed. And then I went on to finish my degree and another play I wrote got picked and performed. And so, thinking of myself still as a person in the theater, I was thinking, well, I love to perform. But a play needs a director as well and a play needs a writer as well. And I seem to be good at those things, too. And so, I was moving in the direction of where other people thought my talents lied. And that was the beginning of a journey that took me away from myself in so many ways.
Suzie Sherman (00:17:18):
Let me stop you there and just get a little bit more of a sense of that transformation toward being a writer. You were getting good feedback from people. And so, there was a motivation to stick with it because it seemed like it was pleasing to other people.
Dana Morrigan (00:17:36):
Yes. Yeah, I was getting encouragement as a writer in a way that I wasn’t when I was performing. I mean, I got laughs as a performer. I got applause as a performer, but people engaged with me as a writer and I needed that engagement. So, in those days, it would never have occurred to me that I would have a life that didn’t include performance. So it was like anything else I was doing, I thought was still related. And one of my other childhood heroes was Dick Van Dyke in character in the Dick Van Dyke Show, the …
Suzie Sherman (00:18:20):
Dana Morrigan (00:18:21):
Rob Petrie, the performer who became a comedy writer. So, in my head, it was like writing is part of this whole world and Dick Van Dyke still gets to sing and dance on the show, even in the context of being a writer.
Suzie Sherman (00:18:39):
Right. Or in the context of being a chimney sweep.
Dana Morrigan (00:18:43):
Or in the context of being a chimney sweep. So, writing was getting me noticed in a way that performance wasn’t.
Suzie Sherman (00:18:53):
But there’s …
Dana Morrigan (00:18:53):
And also, writing had a function for me. This was the beginning of me thinking in front of myself. This was the beginning of me figuring out who I am. And I started with creative writing, and then I went into journaling. Suddenly, I had this tool for self-expression, not just expression, which is where I was before, but self-expression.
Suzie Sherman (00:19:21):
It’s such a complex process of development and change for you that you’re describing. And I want to hold both of the emotional threads that you’re talking about. And one is a loss of yourself as a performer, and one is positive gain in coming into yourself as a writer. Because there were certain things about that process that were fulfilling for you that you were successful at it that you could intellectually engage and choose the things that you wanted to write about and use your humor and your intellectual curiosity through writing. There was thing in it for you. But there was also a loss of yourself as a performer, and there was also that sense of moving away from something that had felt like your calling for your life to that point.
(musical interlude) (00:20:13):
Garageband guitar loop
Dana Morrigan (00:20:18):
So, then I graduated. And in my last semester of school, I was trying to write a play and I was under a deadline. I couldn’t get it onto the stage. I couldn’t think of the story I was telling, how I was going to tell it through dialogue. And so, I thought, I’ll just write this out in prose and get my ideas down, reverse it into a play somehow. And so, I wrote it out in prose. And that was my first inventive prose writing. And it was so much easier than writing dialogue. Because dialogue, you hide the meaning in things people are saying, and you want to do it in a way that doesn’t sound like people are spouting ideas, that it sounds …
Suzie Sherman (00:21:14):
Right, that it’s not pedantic. You’re not hitting people over the head with the concept contained in the more symbolic language.
Dana Morrigan (00:21:23):
Right. Yeah, the symbolism just vanishes into the ordinariness of the words. So then when I started writing, I didn’t have to be ordinary and I didn’t have to jam my ideas into dialogue. It was just so freeing. And then at some point, it just felt like, well, why am I trying to make this idea fit on the stage? So, I just finished it as a story, and then I wrote something else quickly to submit for that assignment. And that was the last writing I did for the theater. So then, it was like, I had discovered prose writing.
Dana Morrigan (00:22:06):
And again, it was like people loved my prose writing. People love my stories. And I was getting published, and I got into a creative writing graduate program. And somewhere along the way, it was like a writer is what I am, and all this other stuff was just leaving me there. And so, I committed myself to living as a writer. And because I was in graduate school, it seemed like this was a great environment to be a writer in, be a writer in an academic environment, because they want you to be a writer. They want you to do writing and get published. And there are …
Suzie Sherman (00:22:53):
Dana Morrigan (00:22:56):
They, the academy, and the publishing gods or the people in the future who are waiting to hear, to read my words …
Suzie Sherman (00:23:08):
Your admirers of the future.
Dana Morrigan (00:23:08):
Right. Yeah, and that’s like, that’s part of the weird thing about writing, is when you’re a performer and everything’s heading towards this performance, it’s like you know where you are, you know what the response you’re getting. And then it just consumes itself in the doing and then you break down the set, and it’s all over. But when you’re writing, it’s like, I’m creating this literary artifact. And once I’m done with it, it can go into a book, into a fancy hardcover book between pages and it can get mentioned in other books.
Dana Morrigan (00:23:44):
And then it’s just part of this permanent thing that’s in libraries and bookstores. And it never gave me the kind of immediate satisfaction of performing live. And of course, it was so hard and such a long and laborious process that it took me three years of just sending things out and getting them back and rewriting and sending them out and getting like one or two things accepted, and just getting into that process of being a writer and getting your work out in front of editors’ eyeballs.
Dana Morrigan (00:24:23):
There was like no place to grab on and say, I did this thing, I did this good thing. Somehow, like even holding a published magazine with a story of mine in it, it gave me this sort of the world had now can see my talent or whatever it is. It was like, but at the same time, it was just like this freestanding thing that was no longer a part of me, unless I was reading it, unless I was in an open mic or whatever, unless I was asked to read at a reading. And then it was like, yay, I get to read my work and still feel that kind of performance jazz.
Dana Morrigan (00:25:15):
But at the same time, I was starting to teach because that’s a way to support yourself in grad school, is you get a teaching fellowship. And usually, and in the case where I was at SUNY Buffalo, very little guidance. They basically gave me a classroom full of students and said these are some things, these are some books you might want to teach out of, and here are some sample assignments you might want to give. But in fact, it was a pretty amazing and captive audience that was beholden to me as the person who assigned grades, but were also all these warm humans with eyes that look up.
Suzie Sherman (00:26:10):
Wow. I feel like you really need to unpack this whole last movement of thought, Dana. So, just let me check in with you. How are you feeling right now just talking about this time in your life?
Dana Morrigan (00:26:31):
I don’t know. It’s a time where I went through a whole lot of struggle that was struggle because I had not done work I needed to do on myself. And so, I was so dependent on having other people set expectations for me and meeting them. I lost sight of how things became valuable to me. Earlier on, I knew what was valuable to me. I love being in front of an audience and getting that feedback, but …
Suzie Sherman (00:27:12):
And performing work in such a direct and a visceral way as opposed to that experience of producing written work and then immediately feeling detached from it.
Dana Morrigan (00:27:22):
Yeah, yeah, totally. And that was even with writing I cared about, that was even with my own creative writing, my own stories. But also, then there’s this layer of the work you do for them. There’s the layer of scholarship and writing articles, giving papers at conferences.
Suzie Sherman (00:27:45):
Being part of the academic machine and the expectation to produce …
Dana Morrigan (00:27:49):
Suzie Sherman (00:27:49):
… the expectation to publish, even if it’s not necessarily your passion project.
Dana Morrigan (00:27:53):
Right. And specifically, if it’s not your passion project.
Dana Morrigan (00:27:58):
They don’t want you to publish your passion project. They want you to do like six boring articles on a major author or whatever discipline you’re in. So then there was this new remove, where in order to write the stuff that was meaningful for me to write, I had to write this other stuff first. And then I started teaching, and then there was that in front of the writing as well.
Suzie Sherman (00:28:26):
Dana Morrigan (00:28:26):
And so, I was calling myself a writer. And I was doing a hell of a lot of writing, but not a lot of it was writing I cared about. But I knew it, I didn’t care about it personally. But I knew that that’s what my future was riding on, my future as an academic, my future as a published writer.
Suzie Sherman (00:28:49):
Or even just logistically, the way you could make ends meet.
Dana Morrigan (00:28:55):
Yeah, exactly. I could have a career at it. And so, at some point, I mean, I did finish grad school and teach for six years. But the questions I hadn’t answered when I was a hippie and not really knowing what I was, and when I was a young person in graduate school and having feelings that were kind of beyond me, I still don’t know if I could have had an academic career because I, more or less, flunked myself out. Because I couldn’t deal with my own inability to understand my emotions and my impulses.
Dana Morrigan (00:29:40):
And so, at the end of one academic year, I decided I wasn’t going to go back. And then I was nothing. I wasn’t an academic. I wasn’t a performer, and I was looking for work. And I went through this kind of Bartleby phase of like, I don’t want to contribute to this world. But in Bartleby’s case, he didn’t want to contribute to the world, but it was okay to make perfect duplicate copies of things, to write out a copy, which is what they did before we had copy machines.
Dana Morrigan (00:30:23):
And so, for me, it was I don’t want to contribute, but I can point out people’s mistakes. And so, I started looking for work as a proofreader and editor, and ended up with my first job in proofreading, was proofreading mail order catalogs. And I ended up getting hired as a writer at this company. And so, I fell into a job as a writer writing marketing materials. And I was really good at it. And one thing about the mail order catalog way of doing business is that catalogs have a consistent voice.
Dana Morrigan (00:31:13):
And my training as a writer in theater, and then in prose, gave me the ability to write consistently in voices. And this turned into a hugely successful career for me, because I could just produce writing and all of these different voices. And so, without ever intending to be working as a writer, I was working as a writer. And by this time, I was not really doing my own writing anymore. In the wake of leaving academe, I found it hard to read. I found it hard to write, to do creative writing.
Dana Morrigan (00:32:04):
But it turned out, I could just crank out writing and get paid for it. And so, again, because I didn’t have an idea of where I should be, and I felt like I had literally flunked myself out of a career, just decided I wasn’t good enough to do it anymore. I wasn’t committed enough. I wasn’t mature enough. So, I just stepped back from it. And again, going back to the things I had not been talking to myself about myself.
Suzie Sherman (00:32:44):
You had characterized this before you got the copywriting job for this catalog company. You said, once you left academia, you actually said you were “nothing.”
Dana Morrigan (00:32:59):
Suzie Sherman (00:33:01):
In this period of nothingness, I’m assuming is not just … I guess I don’t want to assume. I’m curious about whether that sense of nothingness carried with you during this several more years of writing marketing copy, which you were good at and you were making money at, but obviously was on some level soulless to you.
Dana Morrigan (00:33:27):
Suzie Sherman (00:33:27):
So I don’t know if you connect with that sense of nothingness. It was curious to me that you said that, as opposed to “I didn’t have any work,” or “I didn’t have any career,” but you actually said “I was nothing.”
Dana Morrigan (00:33:42):
Yeah. And I think part of that is that when you’re an academic or when I was an academic, I lived my work. And I was really comfortable with living my work. I was comfortable with living in a way where it felt like anything I’m doing is some way connected to the big work of being a professor. Even if I’m at a movie, I’m thinking about what’s on the screen and I’m relating it to something that I thought about in class.
Suzie Sherman (00:34:14):
It was engaging.
Dana Morrigan (00:34:14):
It was engaging, and it all seemed to have a purpose because … And of course, the one bit of performance outlet I had up until that time was I still had a classroom. And that’s where the meaningful part of my life happened. That’s where I was doing something good for the world. I was also doing something good for myself because I was performing.
Suzie Sherman (00:34:43):
Yeah. And I picture this then several years of this career where you’re just producing commercial writing is pretty isolating and you’re not in touch at all with your performance side during that period.
Dana Morrigan (00:35:01):
Right, totally, totally.
Suzie Sherman (00:35:03):
Did you do any creative writing at all during that period?
Dana Morrigan (00:35:08):
(Laughs) In the 14 years that I worked, that I earned my living as a writer, my creative writing output was two short poems, both of which were more or less about writer’s block. They were mostly about not being able to see myself and reflect it back out into the world.
Suzie Sherman (00:35:30):
You just didn’t have access to your creative self in a sense. I mean, and a lot of people experience this where we’re in deadening jobs, and we have to go in every day. And we come home from work and we’re exhausted. And many of us need to have a whiskey or get stoned, or get out of our …
Dana Morrigan (00:35:56):
Yeah, we want to be rewarded for having done that crappy thing all day.
Suzie Sherman (00:36:00):
Or whatever it is. And in that sense, we’re so exhausted that the space is collapsed to access our creativity.
Dana Morrigan (00:36:09):
Yeah, yeah. I mean, when I think of it now, it’s like, how hard it is to produce a page of writing compared to just sitting there, just having writing fly out. But it was totally meaningless. It was disposable. It was like none of the things that writing even was supposed to be for me. It was just a route to a paycheck. It was just, that’s all it was. And so, the writing that I wasn’t doing was keeping me in that stuckness and that nothingness.
Dana Morrigan (00:36:49):
For that whole time I was working in marketing, there was really never anything that took over the sense that I had a purpose that I was doing something reasonable or worthwhile in the world that I had when I was a professor. And I wasn’t growing, and I wasn’t trying to grow. I was trying not to grow, I think. And again, I was still up against this idea that my confusion was bottomless. And so, it was better to just do what other people wanted me to do and satisfy their expectations and find my satisfaction in that.
Suzie Sherman (00:37:32):
Where were you at in the rest of your life during this period of time? So it’s after you’ve left your academic career while you’re settled into this 14-year period of commercial writing, what else was going on in your life during this time?
Dana Morrigan (00:37:47):
I was up to the point where I left academe. I was married in grad school, and then living divorced, living single the years that I was teaching. And I came out this much. I came out just a tiny little bit, which was not coming out to myself about myself, but recognizing in my attraction to other people an attraction to queer women. At a point where I thought of myself as a man and a straight man, I was recognizing that women who were not interested in men or straight men (laughs) seem to have a lot more going for them.
Dana Morrigan (00:38:45):
And so, I, as a straight man, spent my last two years as an academic and my first two years as a post academic trying to date queer women, when I myself was not queer identified. And I managed to date a couple of queer women and I had a couple of extended relationships. And then I fell for a woman who was in the midst of her own queer awakening. In my head, it was like, she has become available to me. And in her head, it was like, why does this man want to date me? (Laughs) And …
Suzie Sherman (00:39:30):
At that point, though, you would still describe yourself as a straight man to anyone if they asked.
Dana Morrigan (00:39:37):
Suzie Sherman (00:39:37):
Right. You didn’t have any…you obviously had some energetic sense of who you were in a more authentic way, but not quite the language for it.
Dana Morrigan (00:39:48):
Right. And not having the language is so key. All the things that I thought about myself, there were no words for them. I knew I could love more than one person, but I didn’t have a word for it. And because I didn’t have a word for it, I didn’t believe I had a right to it.
Suzie Sherman (00:40:13):
Dana Morrigan (00:40:13):
And so, I fought against my own desires. And I certainly didn’t have a word for nonbinary gender. And I had a word for trans, but that was not a word that I identified with. And I’d met trans women and did not feel like a spark of this person is doing something that I’m trying to do.
Suzie Sherman (00:40:40):
When was that roughly, in terms of how old you were and what era that was?
Dana Morrigan (00:40:48):
Early 20s, late college, and then through grad school.
Suzie Sherman (00:40:54):
So that’s like ’70s or early or mid-80s. I’m losing the timeline.
Dana Morrigan (00:41:00):
Yeah, so like about ’78 to ’85.
Suzie Sherman (00:41:04):
So in that period of time, there was aware awareness of in contact with trans women, but it didn’t spark. It didn’t spark for you.
Dana Morrigan (00:41:12):
It didn’t spark for me.
Suzie Sherman (00:41:13):
There was no language for nonbinary. There was no language for your, y’know, sense of “Eureka!” or belonging with trans women at that time.
Dana Morrigan (00:41:24):
Yeah, yeah. Someone trying to look like a woman did not resonate with me, trying me who was even in those days still trying to present as a hippie. Yeah. And anything that was more subtle than that, I didn’t get, but I accepted. My mentor in the theater program was a woman, Marie Dulzer, who dressed like a flamboyant gay man, like an opera impresario. That was her presentation. And she was amazing and fearless. But I couldn’t look at her and think she’s presenting masculine and being a person and being amazing.
Dana Morrigan (00:42:22):
I couldn’t look at myself and think, can I feminize my look? What could I be? I couldn’t even get to the idea that … Or even the idea that that was expressing an essential part of who she was. And I never talked to her about it or anything. It was just what I was trying to figure out in my head.
Suzie Sherman (00:42:50):
You had a sense of admiration for her and her boldness and flamboyance and disregard for gender norms in her presentation, but it didn’t even make the connection …
Dana Morrigan (00:43:00):
But it didn’t seem to …
Suzie Sherman (00:43:03):
… to something at your core that was happening.
Dana Morrigan (00:43:10):
Yeah, that was happening in the moment.
Suzie Sherman (00:43:12):
So, how did you get back to your performer self?
Dana Morrigan (00:43:17):
So, at the end of this period, the period where I had been dating queer women and then fell in love with a queer woman and had my heart broken. In the same way that I backed away from academe, I backed away from queer women and thought, okay, well, I don’t know how to be with queer women, or I can’t convince them to be with me. And so, I just went back to straight women and then found myself married again. And I think in this case, it was like my first marriage had been very nontraditional. She didn’t take my name.
Dana Morrigan (00:43:55):
We didn’t really have roles. We’re both graduate students in my first marriage. But in my second marriage, I was a person who was rising up through the marketing, copywriting field. And she was someone who really wanted to live a traditional…to be a traditional wife. And so, in some level, I think I just gave in and said, well, if I’m a straight guy, then this is the life I get. (Laughs)
Suzie Sherman (00:44:28):
Dana Morrigan (00:44:28):
And, so I married someone who…we were not really compatible. And on some level, I think, like, she was for my dad, because my dad wanted me married. And then it was like seven years.
Dana Morrigan (00:44:42):
I was married to her for seven years. And the more successful I was, the more miserable I was, the more withdrawn I became. And I just stop doing everything in the world. I was just like I went to work. And I came home and had this little married life going on. And there was no me in my life. Everything I was doing at this point was to satisfy my boss, my dad, my wife, my bank. So, the way it turned around was I had a breakdown. And it entailed going to work in a costume after I had not worn a costume of any kind in about 25 years.
Dana Morrigan (00:45:38):
And I did it. Because one of my coworkers said, “Hey, I’m going to go as The Big Lebowski to work on Halloween, you should go as Walter Sobchak because that would be cool.” And I thought, yeah, okay. I wouldn’t have come up with the idea on my own, but it was like, I could be part of this theme Halloween costume thing. So …
Suzie Sherman (00:46:04):
And the next thing you know, you’re Walter Sobchak …
Dana Morrigan (00:46:08):
And the next thing you know. And the next thing I know, I’m Walter Sobchak and I spend my whole day in the office in character, because I don’t know how to wear a costume. I only know how to play a role.
Suzie Sherman (00:46:20):
And so, you were in character at work that day.
Dana Morrigan (00:46:20):
In character for an entire day as Walter Sobchak and speaking in insults and being dumb. And I had a gun and a bowling ball, and I cursed at everybody.
Suzie Sherman (00:46:35):
Did you find a Shabbos goy for yourself?
Dana Morrigan (00:46:37):
I did not. And I won second place in the costume contest. And I went home at the end of the day, and I took off my costume. And it’s like when the costume came off, there was nothing left. I could not get back into the role I was playing as myself, because what I was being in those days was totally a construct built from the things outside that I was trying to satisfy.
Suzie Sherman (00:47:14):
So, you took off the Walter Sobchak costume, and what you inadvertently did was also take off your own costume.
Dana Morrigan (00:47:24):
Exactly. And it wasn’t like me deciding to do this, this is just what I experienced. My behavior changed. All the ways in which I would make myself quiet and compliant, I didn’t have access to anymore. I had a crush on a girl at work, and I was married. But on the next day I went in, whatever my next work day after that Halloween, I asked her on a date. And I took her on a date. And she was married and pregnant at the time.
Dana Morrigan (00:48:07):
And so, for me, it was something completely out of character and something that I would never have allowed myself to do, have allowed myself the freedom to do. And then my dad died, rather suddenly. He had a stroke. I took a leave of absence from work. And this was literally five days after that Halloween. It was like November 5th. So, I took a leave. I went home. I helped take care of my father for the last week of his life, and he died.
Dana Morrigan (00:48:43):
And then I had actually had in this like … This was the one good end of life experience I’ve had with a person in my life. Usually, I’ve lost them thousands of miles away. But I was there with him. We spoke. We held hands. I was the cultural curator of his deathbed, showing him all the movies, like old comedies, and Bob and Ray radio broadcasts, things like that, all the things that he loved, for the last week of his life. And so, I grieved for him, but I didn’t really feel like this tearing away that I felt when my mother died or when my brother died.
Dana Morrigan (00:49:27):
But I went back home after the funeral, and I just felt like I was a stranger in my home, like I was the thing that didn’t belong there, like everything else made sense, except me in the picture, like me in bed with my wife in this house with all the stuff we had and …
Suzie Sherman (00:49:49):
Which seems true to the narrative so far, albeit terrifying probably. Like you didn’t fit in that picture, that picture was complete in itself. But you really didn’t belong there.
Dana Morrigan (00:50:07):
I didn’t belong there. And because I had this new ability to just act on the things I was thinking, I moved out. I moved out of my marriage. And so, that was New Year’s Day of 2008. I thought I was going to start some new life as a single person again. And every interaction I had, every date I went on, every weird thing that I ran into a cart in a store with another shopper or whatever, every interaction became confusing and menacing to me. There was this one time where I was trying to park my car in a parking lot at a farmers’ market.
Dana Morrigan (00:51:10):
And this guy zipped around me and stole the space. And then he got out of his car and he squared off his shoulders at me like, come and fight me. And I’m sitting in my car, going, “who does he think he is talking to?” Why does he think I would have that reaction? And then it dawned on me. It’s because I’m not showing him anything that’s different from one of those people that he could square off and expect to challenge to a fight.
Dana Morrigan (00:51:44):
And by a miraculous coincidence, a former student of mine from the last class I ever taught, which was a class out of my field, a class in copywriting that I taught at San Francisco State in 2004, a student from that class came out as genderqueer on her blog, introducing me to the concept of gender variance. So that was like April of 2008. By this point, my writing at work was garbage. I was no longer able to write in distinct voices. And in fact, everything I wrote was in my voice, which I didn’t even have a voice. (Laughs) But suddenly, I had a voice and I was writing in it.
Suzie Sherman (00:52:40):
Suddenly, you did.
Dana Morrigan (00:52:41):
Suddenly, I did.
Suzie Sherman (00:52:41):
Was that a marketable voice or …
Dana Morrigan (00:52:43):
Suzie Sherman (00:52:43):
Dana Morrigan (00:52:47):
Suzie Sherman (00:52:47):
This is all pointing so much of the story, Dana, is pointing to the tension in our lives between what is liberating for us and what works in our society to move through the world in a functional way to be able to live in this long-term relationship with a partner in this house and have enough money coming in and enough money going into the bank.
Dana Morrigan (00:53:22):
Right. I could do all that, but I couldn’t do that and be myself somehow.
Suzie Sherman (00:53:27):
Right. It’s this period where you’re realizing you’re literally finding your own voice and it’s …
Dana Morrigan (00:53:37):
And it’s a shock that I even have one and to recognize it.
Suzie Sherman (00:53:42):
Yeah. It’s a completely foreign experience that you’re starting to have to really start becoming in touch with yourself and start accumulating some of the language that you need to understand yourself, and also, it’s inconvenient and terrifying and …
Dana Morrigan (00:53:58):
Suzie Sherman (00:53:59):
… destabilizing in a lot of ways.
Dana Morrigan (00:54:01):
Yeah, in every way. And literally, as I’m finding my voice, I’m losing my ability to keep my life going. I can’t do the writing that brings me money. And I was still trying. I was still taking freelance assignments. And I would spend days and days just dissociating in front of my computer, not able to work. And then I would find someone else in farm the work at to them at the last minute, just to be able to complete an assignment and get paid. I found out I have the revelation about gender variance in April of 2008. I got laid off from my last writing job, May 2008. And then in July of 2008, I came out to myself as transgender. And then …
Suzie Sherman (00:54:54):
Dana Morrigan (00:54:55):
That is quick.
Suzie Sherman (00:54:56):
It’s a lifetime brewing, especially at a really unconscious level it sounds like. But in the moment that it manifested, it manifested quickly.
Dana Morrigan (00:55:06):
Yes. And the truth of it was just so obvious once I let myself look at. And of course, once you come out, once you figure one thing out about yourself, everything else that’s been stacked up behind it starts to come out. So, it’s like I came out about my gender, I came out about my orientation, I came out about my sexuality, I came out about being poly. And I came out about being introverted. And I came out about being disabled.
Dana Morrigan (00:55:45):
And then after a lot of that stuff had come out and I was pondering the last 15 years of my life, I realized that I lived a life where I was constantly putting off the things that were meaningful to me and replacing it with the things that enabled me to survive. And I recognized about my work, that I had been miserable for 15 years in my job. And that before that, I loved my work. And what was it about that work? I had a performance outlet.
Dana Morrigan (00:56:23):
And then all of these memories of being a kid thinking I’m going to grow up to be a stand-up comic, that went unexplored. Suddenly, it was like, well, I was miserable because I wasn’t a performer. I wasn’t a performer because I started thinking my writing was the important thing. And it was the important thing because it was the thing that helped me grow. But it wasn’t the thing that connected me back to the world. It was performance that connected me to the world.
Suzie Sherman (00:57:01):
But it wasn’t just that you’d become a writer and that was the reason that you ceased to be a performer. It’s also, and you were expressing this earlier, that it sounds like there was so much disconnection from yourself and your own motivations and disconnection from your embodied experience …
Dana Morrigan (00:57:29):
Suzie Sherman (00:57:29):
… that you couldn’t perform in the way that you wanted to.
Dana Morrigan (00:57:36):
Right, yeah. And it’s not like I was missing performance in the 10 years I was working as a writer. I was hiding. I was hiding in every way. And when I did come out and teach that class at San Francisco State in 2004, being in front of a classroom made me miserable. I didn’t want to be looked at, and I didn’t want to have this interaction with students. And part of it was that when I was an academic talking about literature, there was passion there.
Dana Morrigan (00:58:06):
But when I went in to talk about copywriting, (laughs) I hadn’t really faced my own antipathy for the work I was doing. All I was doing was saying, well, I can do this thing that makes the writing good and then I can make money. And I didn’t care if the company did well, I didn’t care if the product sold. There was nothing at stake in the work I was doing, nothing at stake for me, except a paycheck.
Suzie Sherman (00:58:34):
So even that later experience with teaching doesn’t feel like it was part of what reminded you that you liked that feeling of being in front of a classroom and performing. It just was part of this motion of doing work for money.
Dana Morrigan (00:58:52):
Of doing work for money, of being distant from myself. There was nothing about teaching copywriting that … It’s like I didn’t really want to teach people the skill that made me a soulless person.
Dana Morrigan (00:59:18):
I didn’t. And also, that was the first time I’ve even tried to put myself in front of people in about five years, after five years of sitting in my office and writing. So, in coming out and beginning to transition, it was I’m finding a way that I can want people to look at me again. And that’s when everything jelled for me.
Dana Morrigan (00:59:48):
It’s like, at 50, which is what I was then, I’m not going to go look for another career. All I want to do is figure out this stuff I’ve started to figure out, and find a way of spending my time as a human being, doing something that makes me feel good, doing something that’s good for other people, because I never had that feeling when I was writing marketing. That’s when I recognize that thinking of writing as who I was or what I did kept me away from the performance work that made me feel whole and kept me away from the meaning I could have been making with my writing.
Dana Morrigan (01:00:41):
It wasn’t just that I was doing that writing the kept me away. I was also just separated from myself, until I came out, until I had a way of seeing myself where it wasn’t just a random assortment of confusing attributes. I was actually a person with a through line and things that suddenly fell into place, into focus. And there was a way for me to see myself, a way for me to understand myself, and a way for me to move forward.
Dana Morrigan (01:01:16):
And my response to that was to move out of the place where I had been living like a hermit for two-and-a-half years, move right into the heart and the mission in San Francisco, around the corner from where the San Francisco queer open mic was being held at the time, and to just go there and just start performing.
(musical interlude) (01:01:42):
(TRG Banks – excerpt from Evening Journey)
Dana Morrigan (01:01:42):
I was starting to do creative writing again, about nine months into my transition. And just suddenly, I’d been blogging throughout the time, from the time I came out to myself. I started blogging about my transition right away.
Dana Morrigan (01:02:01):
And then suddenly, I was dressing in a way that felt good, I was growing my hair out for the first time in 40 years, or 35 years. And I was looking back at the earlier parts of my life and making sense of the things that left me confused. And that’s when I started writing stories again, autobiographical stories, or jumping off from an autobiographical experience. So, I would write, and then I would take my writing and I’d go to the Queer Open Mic, and I’d perform it. And it was like, okay, there’s still a place for writing.
Dana Morrigan (01:02:43):
And writing is the way that I connect with myself and process these things. And then having processed it, performance is the way I give it to the world. I’m not looking to get published. I really just think of my writing now as providing material for my own performance.
Suzie Sherman (01:03:09):
The way you were describing this transformation in your life from identifying as a performer, to then identifying as a writer, and then coming around back to identifying as performer, there was something kind of ironically binary about the way you were talking about it. As if being a performer and being a writer were completely bifurcated things that didn’t have any overlap.
Dana Morrigan (01:03:39):
Suzie Sherman (01:03:39):
But, but coming back into being a performer, you’ve been able to incorporate your writer self as well into this new conceptualization of yourself.
Dana Morrigan (01:03:52):
Suzie Sherman (01:03:53):
And it’s more united, more unified.
Dana Morrigan (01:03:56):
Yeah, I know. I mean, and that’s I think part of is that they felt isolated from each other. And because of the uses I was putting them to back then, they were isolated from each other. And coming back around to the importance of performance, rather than thinking of the primacy of writing because it’s permanent and all that stuff. Once I put it back into context as a thing that helps me grow and then the thing that gives me the meat of my performance, I got to be a performer. I started performing. I was at open mics.
Dana Morrigan (01:04:38):
I would do drag shows, variety shows, fundraisers. I emceed events. I would do just like wherever I could get in front of a crowd. I got to do all the big queer events. I was in Fresh Meat one year. I performed at Transgender Leadership Summit. I performed at the Transgender Film Festival, they used to have live performances as part of that. And so, after all of this, I had a way where I was being a creative person. I was growing. I was doing the work that I could not do, could not figure out to do when I was younger. And in a way, I was still, personally, a hermit, but I was a hermit with a performance outlet.
Suzie Sherman (01:05:37):
You identify as an introvert, you said earlier, and part of that process was coming out as an introvert, is that what …
Dana Morrigan (01:05:43):
Yeah, yeah, totally. Because among the things like in the same way that I didn’t think I had a right to be polyamorous, I didn’t think I had a right to my own privacy because I was married. And I never even thought to defend my own need for privacy and downtime. It’s like I had this life where I was just going to work and doing the things they expected me there and coming home and doing the things that were expected to be there. And the only time I had to myself was the drive in between. Those are the only place where I was not being inundated.
Suzie Sherman (01:06:25):
Your only place to be yourself was in transit.
Dana Morrigan (01:06:28):
Suzie Sherman (01:06:28):
How did you find karaoke?
Dana Morrigan (01:06:35):
So, I moved into San Francisco, and I was figuring out my performance life. There’s not a huge number of venues or events where you can do queer spoken word. And so, the place where I was going to hang out in queer community was this bar called El Rio, was one of the first places where they hired trans folks, where I would go in and see other people like me. I would go in and not be the one gender nonconforming person in the room. And they did karaoke there on Wednesday nights.
Dana Morrigan (01:07:16):
And after about nine months of going there, I was there on a karaoke night and I was hanging out with people. And they had a song in, and so I went in with them, and they were singing. And I literally just have the thought, well, that’s an easy way to get stage time. Because if you think about it, the preparation that goes into doing spoken word, I have to have the writing experience, the epiphany, all that stuff before I can get up on stage. But at karaoke, you don’t have to practice. You don’t have to be good.
Dana Morrigan (01:07:56):
You don’t have to produce any material. You don’t have to memorize anything. You just hand someone a card with the name of a song on it. And then at some point later, the song is playing without the lyrics, I mean, without the vocals, and you start singing, and that’s a performance. And what I found is that having performed in this social space, I was suddenly … Like I didn’t need to be the closed off introvert, that it was actually helping me open up to people.
Dana Morrigan (01:08:33):
And so, performance not only helped me have a thing that was like a vocation, it was also helping me have a community. And that’s really where I started to open up to people and make community in San Francisco, was at El Rio, and was that other queer bars where they had karaoke. And then from there, I combined those two things. I was sitting at karaoke one night and, well, the first thing I thought was, I’m going to be here all night anyway, karaoke is like five or six hours long and you get to sing in rotation every hour or every hour-and-a-half.
Dana Morrigan (01:09:17):
And so, I would go in at the beginning of the night and I’d stay, and I sing as many songs as I could and I’d be there until it closed. And one night, I thought, if I were hosting, that would use up all this downtime between performances.
Suzie Sherman (01:09:32):
You could introvert between your performances.
Dana Morrigan (01:09:38):
Yeah, but would also mean like if I were hosting the karaoke, people would come up to me and there’d be a reason for us to talk, because I’m a person with no small talk. And so, that’s a real disadvantage in social space. Because I don’t want to have the lead in, I just want to have the meaty conversation that we can get to. So, it’s hard to make initial contact. But if I’m hosting, everyone would be coming up and asking me questions, handing me a card with their name on it. (Laughs) And so, I was having all these … In my head, I was thinking I would have this way of connecting with people where the things that prevent me from being outgoing in a social way are taken away.
Suzie Sherman (01:10:36):
There’s a structure to the interaction.
Dana Morrigan (01:10:38):
Yeah, there’s a structure to the interaction. They have a question they want answered, how soon is my song coming up? Do you have this song by Glen Campbell or whatever? And I also wasn’t earning money and …
Suzie Sherman (01:10:50):
(Laughing) Wait a minute!
Dana Morrigan (01:10:53):
All this time.
Suzie Sherman (01:10:54):
I love that you used Glen Campbell as an example just then. (Laughs)
Suzie Sherman (01:10:56):
(Still laughing) That’s so good. Like, not, like, “Do you have ‘Wrecking Ball,'” which is a much more common question, I think, probably than …
Dana Morrigan (01:11:13):
Suzie Sherman (01:11:13):
… “do you have this song by Glen Campbell?” That’s so good. And your encyclopedic knowledge of music is not incidental to how great you are at your job as a karaoke jock, karaoke jockey, KJ.
Dana Morrigan (01:11:34):
Well, thank you. And so, it was really a surprise to me that I ended up with a connection to music again, because I really didn’t have … Except as a listener and nerd and concert goer, I didn’t really have any connection to music once I left that radio station. So, after having these ideas about hosting, I also had this epiphany that it’s cheaper to entertain than to be entertained. And it was like that on top of thinking of just how, even as a social experience, I could find myself comfortable in this place as a karaoke jockey.
Dana Morrigan (01:12:19):
Then it was like, okay, this could also solve the problem of I need money to live in the world and I can no longer use writing to make that money. And I don’t want to have to do a soulless, hurtful thing to make money now. And so, I asked the KJ at El Rio for a job. I mean, and in fact, he needed an assistant. He needed someone to cover his nights at the bar when he was getting paid to go do a private party somewhere, and he just lost his assistant. And so, I said, “Oh, I’ll do that.”
Dana Morrigan (01:13:04):
I essentially apprenticed myself to him, learned the ins and outs of karaoke hosting and started hosting with him at El Rio for a couple years. We did that show together. And I started assisting him at his other jobs, and then I started doing booking for him. So, I was learning the whole business while getting to host in a gay bar, where it’s the place I would be hanging out anyway, and earn a bit of money. That’s pretty much where I found my feet in San Francisco, where I found my feet as a queer.
Dana Morrigan (01:13:46):
And I’m uncomfortable being in most spaces in the world. I try to spend as much time as I can in queer space. And so, to have a job where I’m working and earning my living in queer space, it’s like I replaced the world at large with this small world where I can do everything. And I’m serving the people I care about, and I’m making community with the people I care about. And I’m doing it in a way that helps them, that gives other people an opportunity to perform, people who need to perform and live lives where there’s just no way to get that experience.
(musical interlude) (01:14:37):
Anthem of Rain – excerpt from “Adaptation.”
Suzie Sherman (01:14:42):
You then took on the project not only of finding yourself and finding what was safe and empowering and growthful for you, but you were able to create a space through karaoke that is growthful and empowering for other people.
Dana Morrigan (01:14:58):
For others, right. I mean, it’s like instead of performing to keep myself away, which I think is what I was doing earlier. I mean, I’m playing a role that let everyone else identify me, but kept me from identifying myself. And now I know who I am. And because I know who I am, I can be a performer again, being able to do what I need to do and knowing there are a lot of other people who need to do that. And especially for other queers and especially other trans folks to be able to do it in a place where they’re not fighting against negative expectations.
Dana Morrigan (01:15:43):
I can go. And most of the things I sing, I sing male vocalists, in singing in the original range, which is still my range because I haven’t tried to change my voice as part of…this voice is still authentically me.
Suzie Sherman (01:16:03):
Dana Morrigan (01:16:03):
And I love to do things … Like I can sing “A Boy Named Sue” by Johnny Cash, or written by Shel Silverstein. I can sing it, and I get to enjoy the humor of it. But it’s like not for the outsiders who find it amusing, but for other people going through their own identity situation and being able to see that kind of resonance.
Suzie Sherman (01:16:37):
Dana Morrigan (01:16:37):
So, it’s like not …
Suzie Sherman (01:16:37):
It’s not at all funny to see a straight dude do “A Boy Named Sue,” but it’s hilarious in a really positive conspiratorial way to see you sing “A Boy Named Sue.”
Dana Morrigan (01:16:52):
Yeah. And the people who can share in that aspect of it, those are the people that I do karaoke for. And I do it so that they, too, can, whatever way they need to be able to find their expression, I want to be there to give it to them. And I want to be there to give it to them in a supportive and noncompetitive atmosphere. To me, competition ruins anything. (Laughs) So, taking that aspect of it away. People are always asking me to do like karaoke contests. I’m like, I don’t want to do a contest. I don’t want it to become like … I don’t care who’s better.
Dana Morrigan (01:17:36):
I don’t care who’s technically a better singer. I don’t care who’s been trained or whatever. It’s like the only bad karaoke performance is a performance where someone’s not being themselves.
(musical interlude) (01:17:51):
Tintamare – excerpt from “Propane.”
Suzie Sherman (01:17:56):
It can’t be underestimated how significant and important and warm and special a community, that community is that you’ve created.
Dana Morrigan (01:18:12):
Suzie Sherman (01:18:12):
So, this whole process of transformation for yourself to find your corner of the world that you feel safe in also became a corner of the world that you made safe for a lot …
Dana Morrigan (01:18:25):
For other people.
Suzie Sherman (01:18:25):
… of other people, a lot of other people. Queer folks, trans folks, nonbinary folks our lovely, supportive straight friends. It’s a really, really unique community that you’ve created around queer karaoke or Queereoke.
Dana Morrigan (01:18:45):
Yes, Queereoke, queer karaoke.
Suzie Sherman (01:18:46):
Have we decided yet? Are we in or out on that expression, Queereoke?
Dana Morrigan (01:18:52):
Most people love it. I don’t really carry their way. I don’t know. I used to try to do it with my own spelling, just to make it … I used to have like Q-A-R-A-O-K-E, qaraoke.
Suzie Sherman (01:19:06):
Dana Morrigan (01:19:06):
Qaraoke, but Q for the queer. I don’t know, whatever.
Suzie Sherman (01:19:12):
Well, you’re …
Dana Morrigan (01:19:13):
But that didn’t catch on.
Suzie Sherman (01:19:15):
You’re a writer, it can also be query-oke.
Dana Morrigan (01:19:17):
Query-oke, got it.
Suzie Sherman (01:19:18):
Like writing a query letter. (Laughs)
Dana Morrigan (01:19:21):
(Laughing) Right, yeah. So, me finding a way to make the world good for me, it turns out there are a lot of other people who benefit and need that world. And I just love that I can create that experience. I can make a space into a safe space and a clubhouse, and it’s not, y’know, and a place where we band together, but not in a support group experience, even though we’re giving support. We’re just having fun.
Suzie Sherman (01:20:03):
Yeah, it is. I love that idea that it’s a clubhouse, that it’s really an organic social experience that you provide along with the supportive venues that you’ve been able to find, that it’s a strong community based on love and support and fun. But it’s not, like, a clinical experience or it’s not group therapy.
Dana Morrigan (01:20:33):
Yeah, yeah. I mean, it is in a way, but it’s not overtly so.
Suzie Sherman (01:20:39):
Well, it’s …
Dana Morrigan (01:20:40):
It’s implicitly, but not explicitly.
Suzie Sherman (01:20:43):
I guess it’s closest to Rogerian play therapy of all of the models.
Dana Morrigan (01:20:51):
Yeah. And play is something we all need.
Suzie Sherman (01:20:56):
Suzie Sherman (01:20:58):
Such an honor to have Dana Morrigan on the show. Find her at Karaoke with Dana on Twitter and Instagram and on Facebook at facebook.com/karaokewithdana. Many thanks to all my patrons for making this show better. And as promised, special shouts out to my Failure and Redemption level patrons, Lisa, Mark, Kurt, Bonita, Barry, Amy, Heather, Noah, Jeannie, and Jen. And to my Serendipity level patrons, Dorian, Brittany, Steve and Cyndi, Micharelle, Jodi, and Kristi.
Suzie Sherman (01:21:37):
We are And The Next Thing You Know. Subscribe in your podcast app, support the show at patreon.com/nextthingpod. And check out the website, nextthingpodcast.com, where you’ll find all the episodes full transcripts, social media links, the complete show notes for every episode and some pretty fun extras. Follow me at soozenextthing on Twitter and Instagram, that’s S-O-O-Z-E nextthing on Twitter and Instagram. Hey, I’m serious about this.
Suzie Sherman (01:22:11):
If you have an And The Next Thing You Know story, and I know you do, why don’t you send it to us? Email us or record a voice memo on your phone and send it to email@example.com. We might feature it on a future episode. The Banana Peel is by Max Ronnersjö. Music is by Jon Schwartz. Additional music in this episode was provided by TRG Banks, Anthem of Rain and Tintamare, all under Creative Commons use licenses. You can check those out in the show notes.
Suzie Sherman (01:22:47):
And additional sound effects by jackjames_tomknevItt at the Free Sound library. And you can check that out in the show notes as well. Thanks, everybody. We’ll talk soon, unless I get caught up answering a bunch of questions about the songs of Glen Campbell.
(sound effect) (01:23:00):
Suzie Sherman (01:23:01):
But wait, there’s more.
Suzie Sherman (01:23:04):
When we originally talked for the episode, it was well in the Before Times. And because we wrap up the episode talking about karaoke and how important it’s been to you personally and how you’ve made it your vocation and how community has been created around karaoke, I wanted to get an update from you on what was the impact of the pandemic and the shutdown on your karaoke work and your community?
Dana Morrigan (01:23:33):
At the beginning, it was a lot of just what is the technology that will allow me to do what I’m doing. So, it took me a few months, but I actually got good karaoke happening on the internet. Most of my audience, I would say like 60%, are people who discovered Karaoke with Dana on the internet …
Suzie Sherman (01:23:53):
Dana Morrigan (01:23:54):
… like they were referred by somebody who was at another karaoke show. It’s like all the karaoke diehards found their way to me. (Laughs)
Suzie Sherman (01:24:05):
Dana Morrigan (01:24:05):
And so, now I have the local karaoke family, and then I’ve got this extended karaoke community that’s everywhere. And just the local community, relationships have sprung up in it. There’s a couple who are moving into the same city now after having met at my show. (Laughs)
Suzie Sherman (01:24:28):
(Laughing) That is wonderful.
Dana Morrigan (01:24:31):
And now, we’re talking two days after the lockdown was lifted. And so, I’ve just scheduled my first live show. And now it’s going to be like my karaoke family returning and getting to meet the new branch of the family. I’ve never really had the kind of attendance at my Zoom show that I used to have at a live show in a bar. But it’s been in a good way. Because at my shows, everybody wants to sing at my show. And so, my show tends to get long rotations.
Suzie Sherman (01:25:08):
Dana Morrigan (01:25:08):
So doing this show online, I don’t think I’ve ever had longer than an hour or hour-and-a-half rotation, maybe once or twice. There were a couple of nights where I would get maybe 30 or 40 people.
Suzie Sherman (01:25:20):
Dana Morrigan (01:25:20):
Mostly it was like a crowd of under 20. And it was a really good size, people could get to know each other. Nobody had to wait too long to sing. And also, I could slow down a little at my show. It’s like because nobody was waiting that long to sing. I could be a little more relaxed. And I feel like the people who’ve gotten to know me through my online show have had a much more intimate experience of karaoke than at the bar. And that’s something now I hope I can bring with me back to the live show. I feel like there’s a lot more of my personality in the show.
Suzie Sherman (01:26:00):
Dana Morrigan (01:26:01):
Doing it on Zoom for a smaller crowd.
Suzie Sherman (01:26:04):
Are you doing more vamping between songs, like sharing thoughts or commentary or chatting with people?
Dana Morrigan (01:26:13):
Yeah, all of that. And for me, the songs I sing, most of them have some historical import for me. And so, I’ve gotten to tell my story, like stories that I’ve wouldn’t really get a chance to tell otherwise. I get to do on my show.
Suzie Sherman (01:26:28):
Right. Well, yay, I’m so glad that your online shows have thrived and that you’ve gotten more people into the community and that you figured out all the tech stuff that you needed to, to put on a truly good karaoke show.
Dana Morrigan (01:26:43):
Yeah, thank you.
Suzie Sherman (01:26:44):