In Praise of Sweat and Cellars and Songs

Do you ever have those days when your skin doesn’t fit right and your socks keep falling down and your shirt keeps coming untucked? For the female side of the species, I think this feeling is always exacerbated by bra straps that keep slipping and the sickening realization that we are creatures of the moon, our tides and moods flowing with the days of the month. Today I waded through a deeply spiritual state of crankiness, and even as I named the torrents of irrationality and recognized the source of this passing madness, I felt powerless to stop the waves of frustration.

While so many whom I love are caught in true suffering, I found myself floundering in this tempest in a teapot. For all that I have prided myself on being available to those who need me in this dark time of the year, I found that ability completely sidelined as I tripped over my own feet. Of course, beating myself up for this temporary paralysis is less than effective, and I guess I should know better than to further feed this sinking feeling.

So, I kiss this self pity goodbye and offer a quick thanks to a few elementary things that kicked me out of my funk. iPod balanced on the seat of a motor-less motorcyle, I surveyed the chaos that is our new basement from the sweaty seat of an exercise bike that is older than I am. The cats played on an old wooden wardrobe that had been my closet in the days when all of our living took place in two rooms and the voices of Christine Kane and David Gray were the first sounds that did not irritate me all day long.

There’s nothing all that remarkable about this epiphany – that songs and sweat and feline antics and a change of scenery can lift a mood. The remarkable thing would be to awake tomorrow morning refreshed, unburdened by guilt for a wasted day and realize that I can resume my late autumn calling of being a sweet, peaceful shelter in the storm to anyone who needs me.

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On Witnessing a Righteous Mama

Seeing Ani DiFranco last night for the first time in years was like going home to a cherished vision of my emerging self, the one that realized I was woman with a passion for justice and a voice that had to be heard. At the same time, listening to a thirty-eight year old mother singing brand new songs allowed me to stand firmly rooted in the being I have become.

In the space of nineteen songs, she reminded me how to be twenty-one all over again, but she also taught me to be twenty-nine and thirty-eight and I think, if listened carefully enough, I could find the secret to agelessness in her sound and her stature. To witness this woman create and express and take action, to inform and inflame and inspire… what more do you need to your fill heart and soul with the courage to be fully alive?

One of the first times I saw Ani was in the lead up to the 2000 election when she called all of us in the true blue states to throw our votes in Nader’s direction to show our support for the Greens and third party politics. I saw her at least once a year through the early days of the Bush administration, and the anger at the political disaster that was our national state of being was boiling righteously. Then life changed and my partners in crime who would scream at the first chords of “Gravel” with me melted away, and I didn’t seen her for four long years. I half-heartedly agreed with friends who just felt they were beyond all that ranting chick stuff and songs about abortion clinics and date rape and capitalism gone deeply awry.

Last night was different though… The entire world shifted when our little folk singer was able to sing a brand new tune about Obama’s victory that had to have other people besides me wiping away tears of joy. “Thank you, America” she sang “for more than I expected.” Isn’t that how we all feel in this fresh blush of pride for being the country that grew up a little by allowing itself to follow youth and a new beginning? What an amazing rebirth: to stand in a concert hall full of progressives and scream until our fillings rattled not because we raged at the anti-choicers and the war mongers and the biggots, but because there was a woman standing on the stage before us who was talking about a man who now stood on the world stage. Ani gave us the soundtrack that will support us in our quest for change that we all dreamed about while we struggled under the thumb of those old regimes.

Though the audience filled the theater with whistles and shouts of “We love you Ani!”, nearly everyone sat until the encore. Was it that her fans had become elderly, or were we all just full of the sort of reverence that had us hanging on her every word rather than dancing in the aisles?

I think it is ok that we have all grown up a little. For all that we still need to hear that “everyone is fucking Napolean,” we all need to just be in this more steady place of bliss and brilliance. We can believe that the world really has changed and that we are lucky enough to be around to listen to it. Even better, we can find the inspiration to record our own histories of how all this good stuff began to find its place in reality.

The Girl Who Cried Feminism

After hearing the rave reviews, we just started watching Mad Men on DVD. After only two episodes I understand how compelling the show is, not just because of clever dialog set in a fascinating time, but because it is like watching a well orchestrated car wreck. Red meat, chain smoking, drinks before noon, these are nothing compared to the devastating treatment that every woman on the show endures. It is like watching a worst case scenario doomsday movie, but then you realize it’s not fantasy. These women could be my grandmothers and they were on the front lines of this seemingly impossible war against militant, but oh-so-gentile, sexism every day.

Discovering feminism in college was like finding out there were new shades on the color wheel. I was born in 1979 and have never withstood a fraction of what women fifty years ago met each day, but I took to the canon of modern feminism like that fish on a bicycle took to water. Exploring my identity as a woman gave me the Goddess, a sense of independence, and inspired my entire academic path. It also armed me against a few of the demeaning pitfalls that mark the experiences of most nineteen year old girls.

Almost a decade later, my feminist edge begins to dull and my sharp critique of the media become a little less strident. Removed from the sphere of activism and late night dorm room rants and now living with a man who teaches me to laugh at my own earnestness, I have shed most of my intense radicalism. Though my liberal backbone remains strong, I find that opinions intended to shock and exclude the uninitiated hold little allure now. I had to marinate in the purest feminist ideals so that I could eventually emerge a woman who could survive in a world that may not be as damning as 1960s New York, but certainly still nurtures chauvinism and enduring double standards.

I cannot be alone in this sort of evolution from blatant f-you feminism to a more internalized sense of power and presence. Two of the most important voices in my feminist education seem to have found themselves on similar path: Sinead O’Connor and Ani DiFranco.

No Man’s Woman” and “Not a Pretty Girl“? These were my anthems and I still need them sometimes to remind me of who I was, of the bits of steal at the foundation of this softer persona I now use to greet the world. Sinead has since had her own odyssey of faith and discovery and speaks to God rather than the men in her life in albums like Theology. Ani just released Red Letter Year, and though I will probably never love her newer music like I did those essential first eleven or twelve albums (yeah, she’s wicked prolific), I still respect what she is creating. The righteous rage still burns, but she looks at the world as a mother now, and as I near that phase of my life, I think I can understand how her anger smolders at a different temperature. The love of a lioness for her cub is much more evocative than rebellion for the sake of pissing someone off, and her music speaks to me in this new space

When I skip the feminist blogs I used to read avidly and instead seek sites about the soul, the environment, creativity, or the politics of race, am I abandoning the feminism that gave me freedom to engage in such topics? Or, instead, can I satisfy myself with the belief that the ideas are integral to my work and that women’s wisdom is working its magic at every turn? Can I find a way to follow my own path without worrying that I forget my sisters who redraw their feminist stripes every day so that the rest of us do not have to?

Wise Woman Working

When faced with the impossible problem of what I want to be when I grow up or who I want to be for the next twenty minutes I often panic at the multiplicity of options. Sometimes I am crushed when I realize that whatever path I choose will inevitably eliminate a host of other equally attractive, urgent possibilities. So often I become completely mired in all that I cannot do; I just freeze up and let the night dissolve into television for fear I might waste time chasing after the wrong star. I suppose this is one reason why many passionate people who really want to affect positive change end up being stymied by the weight of their own potential. The vastness of the universe, with all of its beauty and ugliness, is devastating in its scale and the abilities of one person seem laughably inconsequential.

Of all the causes that call to me but do not seem to fit into a single lifetime, I think I have finally distilled my raison d’être to one articulable goal: I want to be a wise, wise woman.

For some time I have been sitting behind my eyes, watching as I move through the world, keeping an inner score card. My awareness has been heightened and I surf from epiphany to epiphany, so often conscious of this phenomenal world with its limitless possibilities. But I constantly find myself forgetting all I know about the life of the soul and the love of the Divine and the power of healing. The epiphanies all turn to dust as I find it impossible to practice all that I know when I am confronted with another unenlightened day at work or a quiet night when I am too tired to think.

And so I am ready to introduce a second stage to all of this shouting about revelations: it is time for Wise Woman Working. The pursuit of wisdom seems a relentless one that takes dedication and conditioning. At the same time, I think there is a need to let the world pass through you and allow the knowledge to pool at your feet, but I think that certain groundwork must be laid first. All those books I have read, all the classes and seminars I have attended – their brilliance dulls and I just find myself becoming an enlightenment junkie dying for a new hit. Wise Woman Working is about practicing what I have heard preached and letting all those lessons marinate until they are not airy-fairy icing, but the real sustenance one can build a life upon. It is about living through these flashes of insight and distilling them to their essential stuff so that I can blossom into being that wise, wise woman who contributes something to this miraculous, fucked up world.