Category Archives: Uncategorized

Stop Chasing “Childlike Creativity”

peter pan not necessaryMy latest for Ploughshares Literary Magazine:
What all the “Increase-Your-Creativity-By-Getting-Back-to-Your-‘Childlike-Wonder’!!” advice gets wrong–about creativity AND children.

“Great writers create like adults who choose to shape new ideas in the midst of suffering, who play as a means of confronting reality. Great writers are those who wonder because of what they know, not in spite of it.”

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“There is no greater agony than bearing an untold story inside you,” (Maya Angelou, I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings).

In which my friend Cora tells the truth: embodying heresy.
In the best way.
“For ten years I stayed silent…” So glad she’s speaking now:

the bear and the cricket

“When people don’t express themselves, they die one piece at a time,” (Laurie Halse Anderson, Speak).

*SEXUAL VIOLENCE TRIGGER WARNING*

Maya Angelou taught the world that silence was crippling. That mutism was a drug. That there was power in voice, in speaking, in telling one’s story. Laurie Halse Anderson first introduced me to Dr.    Angelou through her book Speak when I was fifteen. I didn’t recognize all of Ms. Anderson’s references to the Caged Bird at the time, but eight years later, I listened to Maya telling her own story of keeping silent for six years because she feared that her voice would kill people. She knew that her voice had power, but she believed that her power was something to fear. (Watch a video of Maya Angelou on finding her voice here.)

It is hard to imagine being seven years old and so terrified to speak that…

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The (31) Number One Female Country Songs since 2004: Summed Up by Yours Truly

2014-01-27_cw04-coverIn January, Country Weekly claimed 2014 to be the Year of the Woman in country music.

I replied with a new piece for The Ethos Review about how 2014… isn’t. Going. To be.

[O]ver the last ten years, songs by female artists make up only ten percent of country music’s number one hits (31 of 289). If that weren’t enough, these songs reached number one in part because they perpetuate country’s female stereotypes: 22 of them follow the cash cow country music narrative in which women do nothing but long for men, fall for “bad boys,” and marry uber-young.

Yes, I’m picking on country music for an issue that occurs in other genres. But country’s got an extra special dearth of gender equality. (Also, the Country Weekly headline kind of asked for it.)

The (31) Number One Female Country Songs since 2004:

(Total Number One Country Songs since 2004: 289)

2004 (4 out of 18)

Redneck Woman, Gretchen Wilson – In which the narrator confirms for all country-listening men that women are exactly what they think: happy in a small town, and ready to have sex. And babies.

Somebody, Reba McEntire – Listeners are encouraged to find a life-long love among whomever they happen to regularly run into in their small town.

Girls Lie Too, Terri Clark – Here women are empowered not by actually having power, but by lying to please the men who do.

Suds in the Bucket, Sara Evans – A country music favorite: young marriage. An 18-year-old falls in love and gets married, right out of daddy’s house.

2005 (3 out of 19)

My Give A Damn’s Busted, Jo Dee Messina – One of a few #1 hits in which a woman is not only angry at her man, but willing to leave him. For that, kudos.

Mississippi Girl, Faith Hill – in which Hill assures her fans that she really hasn’t had ambitions beyond her small town, and even if she’s “pursuin’ her dreams,” she’s (really truly she promises) exactly the same as she was back in Mississippi.

A Real Fine Place to Start, Sara Evans – In which Evans confirms that small town country gals really are enamored of men who whisk them off for sex out under the stars. In the bed of a truck, one assumes.

2006 (2 out of 22)

Jesus, Take the Wheel, Carrie Underwood – in which the narrator gives control of her life back over to God. Advocating for Christian faith is part of a longstanding recipe for country success, so this doesn’t stray from any Country Expectations. But no real complaints.

Before He Cheats, Carrie Underwood – This narrator is willing to do anything to get back at the man who’s cheating on her… except leave him. The song gives the impression of badassery, only to affirm the woman’s dependence on her cheatin’ man. She can mess up his truck, but she apparently can’t go anywhere. The song (and its video) also manages to make female revenge sexy rather than legitimately threatening. #revengefail

2007 (3 out of 25)

Wasted, Carrie Underwood – A rare anti-settling, anti-just-getting-wasted-to-deal-with-things song that made #1. Kudos.

So Small, Carrie Underwood – A nice “everything will be alright if you focus on love” tune that repeats a great deal of trite Christian genre content. Nevertheless a step up from high fivin’ with beers around a truck on a back road. Does not in any way stray from country music standards, but – no real complaints.

Our Song, Taylor Swift – In which the narrator confirms every male country writer’s notion of the ideal girl: the one who wants to go for a drive (she rides shotgun, obvs) and sneak behind her parents’ backs with a boy of whom they apparently disapprove. Pair with the 1st verse to the Cole Swindell’s “Chillin’ It” for a match made in country heaven.

2008 (5 out of 25)

All-American Girl, Carrie Underwood – The antithesis of Musgraves’ “Merry Go Round” in which a girl falls in love at 16, assumes this boy is the best she’ll find, and gets married in a hurry – causing her boyfriend to lose his “free ride” to college. His dismissal of college in favor of youthful marriage (and a Musgraves-ian “having two kids by 25”) is celebrated as being all-American. (Also note that the girl herself has zero college aspirations. Marryin’ Young + Childbearin’ = All American Country Girl.)

Last Name, Carrie Underwood – Again, Underwood reps women as precisely the sex-eager fantasy girls represented in most male-penned country hits: girls who “lose their manners” over alcohol, get themselves lured into casual sex with who-cares-whom, get married in a rush, and have little to say later but “oh darn.”

Should’ve Said No, Taylor Swift – Ah! A woman who tells a cheatin’ man both what he should have done AND that she won’t give him a next time to do it. Kudos.

Just a Dream, Carrie Underwood – In a saccharine lyric playing on both young country love and military valor, a female narrator gets married as soon as she turns 18 (big surprise), and two weeks later her man has died in combat. Note that the young man is depicted as doing something quite honorable, while the young woman’s role is simply to wait back at home for him.

Love Story, Taylor Swift – In which Swift falls prey to the country-hit method of celebrating far-too-young marriage. She also manages to imply that women can’t take care of themselves (need daddy’s permission, need saving by a lover).

2009 (2 out of 30)

You Belong with Me, Taylor Swift – At least the two high school lovers aren’t getting married (yet), but here’s a young woman centering her life on a guy who doesn’t appreciate her. But it’s okay; she’ll just wait until he comes around. It’s not like she has anything or anyone else going on in her life.

Cowboy Casanova, Carrie Underwood – Ms. Underwood’s specialty is confirming the male country vision of women, which is in part why her songs become hits. This one’s no different: the narrator describes a “cowboy casanova” in such a way that her “complaints” about him make him sound exactly like what every male country writer thinks men are: so sexually irresistible that they consistently make girls go against their better judgment.

2010 (2 out of 28)

The House that Built Me, Miranda Lambert – A sentimental tune about a woman who tries to find herself by visiting to the home in which she grew up. While relatively harmless, it does affirm the country music belief that when you go out traipsin’ around the world, you lose something essential. (Better get on back to that small town.)

Undo It, Carrie Underwood – Like Swift’s “Should’ve Said No,” this song portrays a woman who stands up for herself and refuses to stay with a guy who “blew it.” Kudos. (Although by this point, if you’re like me, you’re wondering whether women can express strength in any way other than by getting rid of no-good men. This solitary version of Woman Power is getting pretty old.)

2011 (4 out of 34)

Turn On the Radio (Reba McEntire) – Ms. McEntire, always slightly less likely to give men their fantasy version of femalehood, here gives one the middle finger by suggesting that if he wants to hear her, he can just turn on the radio. Kudos. But sigh with the leavin-the-no-good-men thing.

A Little Bit Stronger (Sara Evans) – This narrator put up with an awful lot before she finally let go, but she did it. And she’s stronger without him: kudos. But.

Heart Like Mine (Miranda Lambert) – Like Underwood’s “Jesus Take the Wheel,” it’s hard for country to resist a song that incorporates Jesus. This one’s no exception; not only is the woman tantalizingly different from the typical, “respectable” small-town girl, she loves her both some alcohol AND some Jesus. Hit song.

Sparks Fly (Taylor Swift) – In which Taylor’s female narrator again fits everything male country writers describe them to be: eager for sex, open to doing something they know they “shouldn’t,” and reliant on men to make life bearable.

2012 (5 out of 36)

Ours, Taylor Swift – Here the woman is her man’s comforter, assuring him that their love is everything, and other people’s judgments don’t matter. Relatively harmless, but certainly not straying from the country music narrative.

Over You, Miranda Lambert – Hard not to sympathize with a narrator who’s dealing with the grief of loss. It doesn’t stray from the country music narrative, but – no complaints.

Good Girl, Carrie Underwood – As in “Cowboy Casanova,” Underwood again tries to warn female listeners about a(n irresistible) “bad boy.” And like the cowboy tune, one can’t help but assume that a lot of male listeners will like the idea of being an irresistible bad boy with whom all kinds of good girls fall in love despite themselves. This track wins the Utter Ew Award with, “You want a white wedding and a hand you can hold / Just like you should, girl / Like every girl does.” #girlpowerfail

We Are Never Ever Getting Back Together, Taylor Swift – Swift tells the male both that he sucks and that he’s gone. Kudos.

Blown Away, Carrie Underwood – As an activist myself re: domestic violence, I appreciate the courage of this song’s representation of abuse – particularly as one of the many dangers of alcoholism. I also hope country writers and listeners who sympathize with this narrative will reassess their devotion to celebrating alcohol-as-coping-mechanism. (Not holding my breath.)

2013 (1 out of 44)

We Are Never Ever Getting Back Together, Taylor Swift – A holdover hit from 2012 (see above). And yes, the only #1 track by women in 2013.

2014 (out of 8 so far)

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Why Ellen Page coming out is A Big Deal

the bear and the cricket

Ellen Page

Ellen Page, the actress known for her work in Juno, Inception and X-Men came out during a speech at HRCF’s Time to Thrive conference on Valentine’s Day (watch the speech here). During her eight minute speech, she spoke passionately to those who work for safety and inclusion for LGBTQ youth, and then snuck in her own story, to monstrous applause. “I am tired of hiding and I am tired of lying by omission. I suffered for years because I was scared to be out. My spirit suffered, my mental health suffered and my relationships suffered. And I’m standing here today, with all of you, on the other side of all that pain. I am young, yes, but what I have learned is that love, the beauty of it, the joy of it and yes, even the pain of it, is the most incredible gift to give and to…

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Why Teaching Equality Hurts Men

shattersnipe: malcontent & rainbows

Don’t let the title put you off. This isn’t what you think.

With few exceptions, there comes a point in every little girl’s life when she first suffers exclusion on the basis of gender. For me, this happened regularly in primary school sports: the boys didn’t like it when I wanted to play cricket, and would actively gang up to ensure I was either kept away from the bat or relegated to the furthest reaches of the outfield. Children aren’t paragons of political correctness: unlike later in life, I knew definitively then that gender was the reason for this behaviour, because I was openly told as much. Over and over again, whether it was soccer or cricket or handball or football or some other thing the boys were doing, I had to fight for inclusion, because even at the tender ages of seven and eight and nine, boys knew

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The time I wrote a sultry french song about cats.

L'Histoire-colorSince everyone knows that les chats noirs are french, it will come as no surprise that, upon adopting two chats noirs, I spoke to them primarily in French. They have failed to appear impressed by this, responding chiefly to effusive praise in whatever language. Elles sont des chats, après tout.

Still, when my partner Justin composed a tune last year that clearly needed French lyrics, what I sang was a sultry little tune in praise of les mademoiselles. I was inclined to apologize for this, until the song became a crowd favorite. (In my beyond-blog life, I’m a singer/songwriter.) Which is why the song’s released now, with all its Black-Cat Love. (Cheers, you great crowds, you.)

So, presenting – for Halloween 2013 – a song about black cats.

Get your french on, pet a cat, and eat candy. You’re welcome. 

Here’s to les chats, de toutes les couleurs.

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either way

“all affairs…
are political affairs.

Whether you like it or not…

Whatever you say reverberates,
whatever you don’t say speaks for itself.
So either way you’re talking politics.”

Wasliwa Szymborska

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“And there’s Jesus and Mary,
the wine and the water,
til you wake up one day
and you can’t believe either
And a hymn shapes itself
in your mouth but you say
‘well it’s over now; I guess
it’s over.'”

#newsongs
ellerymusic.com

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Your silence will not protect you.

Silence-Audre-Lorde-Button-(0348)

I’ve been reading a great deal of Audre Lorde for my work over at Ploughshares. Like Adrienne Rich (whose quote serves as the tagline for Louder Please), she’s a model for placing art in the service of socio-cultural improvement.

When I read her work, it’s like a voice at the back of me:

say it. say it. say it. 

Lately,  my saying has been in the form of songs, pshares blogs, and applications for god knows what activities, all of which could push forward the issues and research I care about. I feel as if I’ve got a hand in everything, prodding the flesh of possible stories. Meanwhile, I find something like refuge in Lorde and Rich, for their emphases on voice, on word, on pressing the damned world into syntax. Not for the purpose of condensing or constraining what can’t be accommodated by language, but for the purpose of the pressing. For the very sensation of limitation.

And dear god, to do what I can. “To roll the thunder of the voice out from the ribs and throat, / To make the people rage, weep, hate, desire with” myself.

“When we speak we are afraid our words will not be heard or welcomed. But when we are silent, we are still afraid. So it is better to speak.”

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