Behind every feminist is a dream: Coretta Scott King

Behind every feminist is a dream…and an amazing woman like Coretta Scott King.

I love the legacy of Martin Luther King Jr. I read his biography when I was a clueless 19-year-old white girl and it quickly unveiled the warm and fuzzy filter through which I’d viewed the world while growing up in Portland, Oregon. I wish I followed that biography up with some of the words of Martin Luther King Jr.’s incredibly brilliant, brave and passionate wife, Coretta Scott King, the First Lady of the Civil Rights Movement.

Women, if the soul of the nation is to be saved, I believe that you must become its soul.

-Coretta Scott King

I wish someone had taken my hand and led me to the vault of gifts that Coretta contributed to our country. Did you know that Coretta had the vow ‘to obey her husband’ removed from the ceremony? She was a singer and pianist and incorporated her skills into her work. Coretta stepped up and played a tremendous civil rights leadership role after her husband was assassinated, she was active in the Women’s Movement, she founded The King Center, she served as delegate for the Women’s Strike for Peace Conference in Switzerland, she was an author, she was inducted into the Alabama Women’s Hall of Fame and she was the first African American to lie in the Georgia State Capitol.

Coretta boldly stood up for the rights of her community. The letter she wrote to Congress regarding Jeff Sessions in 1986 was finally made public last year…yes, 31 years later. Here’s a video of Senator Elizabeth Warren reading the letter outside the Senate.

Behind every feminist is a shithole

Behind every feminist is a shithole.

On the infamous Election Day of 2017, I was on my way to a conference in Cleveland. During a layover in San Francisco, I watched the news in an airport bar. I couldn’t believe it. I looked around and realized that I was surrounded by people who would probably feel a much greater impact than my white ass. I kept thinking about the young translator in Uganda who had asked about Trump earlier that year. I’d brushed his question off with a wave of my hand and assured him that Trump was just a joke – some sort of publicity stunt. We didn’t take him seriously. Yet here we were. It felt like I was in a movie. I kept waiting for Wonder Woman to swoop in and save the day. On my redeye flight, I sat next to a screenwriter. She was beautiful and confident and black. As we switched our phones to airplane mode before receiving the final results, we both knew the country was screwed. Nonetheless, I offered up, “May tomorrow bring good news…” and trailed off before I choked on my sadness. When the plane landed the next morning, the plane was eerily quiet. “Damn, sister. It really happened,” she whispered from the seat next to mine. As we parted ways, I wished her strength and luck.

And 2017 was an encouraging year for women in a lot of ways. We worked together. Healthy conversations happened around the country. But then our president opens his mouth. So while Trump denies making ‘shithole countries’ comment, I want to tell you about my great-grandmother, Sofia, who came from the #shithole country of Russia. I’ve held my heritage close to my heart for all my life and envisioned myself as the descendant of a brave Russian Warrior Goddess. For Christmas, my 93-year-old grandfather sent me a letter with stories about his parents. Sofia’s parents died when she was 3 and she ended up being taken care of by the town’s leader. She had a steel plate in her head after being kicked by a horse. Later, she injured her leg and overheard the plans for amputation, so she ran away. She healed herself by soaking her leg in a stream and wrapping it with leaves. She stole food from the gardens of families nearby for sustenance while healing. Her journey brought her to Germany and Scotland before final arrival in the United States in 1907. My great-grandfather was actually her second husband and is wearing sunglasses because he was blinded in a mining accident. Sofia was murdered while my grandfather was a teenager, so I never met her, but am grateful for the brave journey she made on behalf of her future family. She is one of my sheroes. Her memory played a powerful role in my upcoming album, Rise, where she passes on her strength and resilience to me.

So, cheers from one #shithole country to another. May we all continue to unite and rise above our greedy, racist president.

Behind every feminist is a wall

Behind Every Feminist is a Wall

That was in her way and blocking her view. She may have cursed as she approached and looked for a way around. Or she may have come from a place where little girls watched their mothers and grandmothers treat walls like doors. Or a place where women increased their speed as they prepared to vault the obstacle before them. Or a place where women teamed up to smash the wall to the ground. All it takes is one role model to spark the notion of possibility that a wall is just a wall.

“The only walls that exist are those you have placed in your mind. And whatever obstacles you conceive, exist only because you have forgotten what you have already achieved.” ― Suzy Kassem, Rise Up and Salute the Sun: The Writings of Suzy Kassem

Behind every feminist is courage

Behind every feminist is courage.

I’m working on a program facilitated by the brilliant Nisha Moodley called Soul of Leadership. I’m compelled to admit that this is one of the most challenging things I’ve ever done for my inner self. When I signed up for this journey, I was instantly connected with so many brilliant women around the world that I suddenly felt inadequate and intimidated. While reading the brief and modest bios of these women, I shifted from a sense of intimidation to a beckoning of nurturing and inspiration. The work that we do – whether within our homes or within a skyscraper – is beautiful. For me, the idea of working with the talents and skills of other women sounds much better than comparing and competing with them. But this takes courage and humility and faith that other women feel the same. While discovering my true definition of courage, and listening to the beautiful music of Ayla Nereo, I created this mandala using the powerful words of Nisha’s program that I’m still striving to fully embody. I don’t usually do this much writing within a mandala, so I share this today as a poem. I usually save the words lingering in my mind and heart for the piano, where they’re transformed into a song. Thank you, Nisha, Ayla, Oprah, and every other human being out there seeking equality and empowerment for themselves, their family, their community and ultimately, the world.

Courage

Courage feels isolated, but what if I reached out to another who was seeking courage just as much as me? And what if she reached out to another seeking courage just as much as we? And what if we three were just the beginning of a chain of courage that encircled Mother Earth like a delicate braid of integrity, sovereignty, curiosity, fluidity, attunement, trust and courage? What if the result beckoned the power of all our collective devotion, focus, creativity, receptivity, and luminosity? What if all it took was that first courageous step forward?

Behind Every Feminist are Words: Cinderfella

Behind every feminist are words.

Words are powerful. There are a lot of arguments around the possibility of language shaping your perspective, but what I want to focus on is language that we grew up hearing and reading that isn’t doing us any favors. When I hear ‘man and wife‘ at a wedding, my heart sinks. Why not husband and wife or man and woman. When I hear a woman referred to as a girl and know that the same person wouldn’t refer to a man as a boy – maybe a guy, but definitely not a boy, I always want to stop and draw attention to what just happened. If you really want to watch me lose my composure, tell me about the time you took a wrong turn and had to flip a bitch. This link takes you to the online slang dictionary and the very next term is flip a dick, which apparently means the same thing. I’m grateful for people who started drawing attention to our ingrained habits by saying things like herstory instead of history and sheroes instead of heroes. At the very least, I feel like it makes people stop and think for a second. And I appreciate the fact that men did so much of the writing for such a long time that the idea of ‘man’ meaning either man or woman was accepted. The problem is, those days are over. Does that mean we should go back and rewrite things to create gender-neutral textbooks? IMHO, yes! Is it appropriate for us to go back and rewrite literature? I don’t know. But here’s my challenge for you – consider rewriting something and either completely flipping it from ‘he’ to ‘she’ or using gender-neutral language instead. You can start with something short and sweet like a famous quote that uses ‘man’ where it could use ‘one’ or ‘human.’

One of my favorites is to turn a fairytale upside down…like Cinderella. Most of this is literally retyped with reversed genders, but there were a few places where I felt like the description needed to be altered. For me, it felt empowering to think about a princess seeking out her prince rather than the traditional prince seeking out his princess. I feel like this is one of the most embedded fantasies for little girls in our culture: finding a wealthy and powerful man to take care of them.

Cinderfella

Once upon a time, there lived a rich woman who had a very handsome son. The child’s father died, and after a time the woman married a widow who had two sons.

She thought he would make a good stepfather for her little boy, but the wedding was scarcely over when this stepfather began to treat the woman’s son unkindly. He was jealous because the boy was so much more athletic than his own two sons and had a much kinder disposition. The boy was always so athletic and kind that it made the stepfather’s two sons seem even more disagreeable than they were, which was disagreeable enough.

The sons, too, became envious of their stepbrother, and they persuaded their father to keep him working in the barn and fields from morning till night, plowing and tilling, chopping wood, and doing all the hardest tasks. Each night when the boy’s work was finished, he was so weary that he would sit right down in the chimney corner among the cinders. So the stepfather and the step brothers began to call him Cinderfella.

One day Cinderfella heard his two stepbrothers shouting and shrieking and acting altogether in such a dither that he was sure something unusual had happened. And so it had. The two stepbrothers had been invited to a royal ball at the queen’s palace! The ball was to last three nights in a row, and, most exciting of all, the queen’s daughter was to choose her husband from among the young gentlemen who were present.

The two stepbrothers went out at once to buy the most striking suits they could find. When the first night of the ball came, they dressed themselves in all their finery and demanded that Cinderfella shine their shoes and tie their ties. Poor Cinderfella shined their shoes, and nicely, too; tied their ties and brought them their walking canes; and fetched and carried for them, upstairs and down, till at last when they were ready to go, Cinderfella was completely worn out.  

“Oh, I wish I could go, too,” he sobbed.

“Tears, tears, tears!” said a soft voice. “Dry your eyes, child.”

Cinderfella looked up and saw a little old man with a tall, pointed hat on his head and a golden wand in his hand.

“Who are you?” asked Cinderfella.

“I am your fairy godfather,” said the little old man. “Because you have always been good and gentle, I shall grant your wish. You may go to the ball if you will do exactly as I tell you. Run out of the garden and fetch me the biggest pumpkin you can find.”

Cinderfella did not see how a pumpkin could help him get to the ball, but he did as he was told and soon returned with a fine big one.

The little old man touched it with his magic wand. Lo and behold! The pumpkin turned into a golden coach! Next, he took six mice out of the mousetrap and changed each one into a sleek gray pony.

“Bring me a fat rat from the cellar,” said the godfather. When Cinderfella did so, the rat turned into a beautiful coach woman in full livery.

Then the fairy godfather said, “Now run out to the garden and lift up the watering can near the fence. Under it, you will find six lizards which you must catch and bring to me.” These were no sooner brought than, with a touch of the wand, they were turned into six footwomen, who immediately jumped up behind the coach!

“There!” cried the godfather. “Off you go!” But Cinderfella looked down at his soiled, ragged clothes and his eyes filled with tears.

“Tears, tears, tears,” said the godfather. “Dry your eyes, child.” And he waved his wand. Immediately Cinderfella’s rags and tatters were changed into a striking suit as blue as the sky and covered with intricate stitching. His shoes became the most striking steel-toed boots ever seen.

“Now,” said the little old man as he helped the happy boy into the coach. “Have a good time, but remember this; you must not stay one minute after midnight. If you do, your coach will become a pumpkin again; your horses mice; your footwomen lizards; your coachwoman, a rat. And your striking suit will turn into rags.”

Cinderfella promised he would leave the ball before midnight. He thanked his fairy godfather many times and drove off.

When his golden coach drew up at the palace, the news quickly spread that an unknown prince had come to the ball. The Queen’s daughter greeted him and was so delighted with his handsomeness that she promptly asked him for the next dance. He was so graceful that everyone in the room turned to admire him, and the Princess scarcely left his side all evening.

She had just gone to bring him a dish of sweetmeats when Cinderfella noticed that it was nearly midnight. He quickly slipped away and returned home in his golden carriage. His fairy godfather was waiting for him, and Cinderfella told him what a wonderful time he had had, and how the Princess had begged him to come back the next evening. The little old man was quite pleased and promised Cinderfella that he should go to the palace again.

The following evening, as soon as the two stepbrothers had gone, the fairy godfather appeared. He gave Cinderfella a suit as striking and intricate as a mafia gangster and off Cinderfella went. The Princess was so delighted to see him that she would dance with no one else. But shortly before midnight, he darted away from her and vanished so quickly that she could not follow him. The godfather was pleased because Cinderfella had remembered to come home on time and promised him he could go a third night also.

The next evening, Cinderfella’s suit was as golden as sunshine. He made such a charming picture with his golden curls and suit that a murmur of admiration went through the crowd as he entered the ballroom. The Princess, who had refused to dance until he arrived, came to him at once, and it was easy to see that she was very much in love with him.

The Princess was so charming that Cinderfella forgot all about the time until the clock began to strike twelve. He jumped up and fled the room. The startled Princess raced after him. He managed to escape her, but in his haste, he lost one of his steel-toed boots. Just as the last stroke of twelve died away, he reached the courtyard. In a twinkling, the handsome prince was just a shabby little cinder boy again. The golden coach was nothing but a pumpkin, and the coachwoman and footwomen were no longer there. Cinderfella reached home quite out of breath, and nothing remained of his lovely suit but one lonely boot.

When his two brothers returned home, they told Cinderfella all about the mysterious prince who had fled from the ball. Cinderfella’s heart beat faster when he heard how the Princess had picked up the lost steel-toed boot and had looked at it fondly all the rest of the evening. But he said not a word.

The next morning, the news went around that the Princess would marry the man whose foot exactly fitted the boot, for it was so big that she was sure only the mysterious prince could wear it. When the stepbrothers heard this, each one was sure that he could stretch his foot into the boot somehow.

A messenger was sent from house to house with the boot, and all the young men tried to put it on. But they tried in vain, for it would not fit.

At last the two brothers had their turn. They tried so hard to stretch their foot into the boot, but it simply slipped off. The messenger was about to leave when Cinderfella said, “Please, may I try to put on the boot?”

“You!” shrieked the stepbrothers. “Go back to the barn where you belong!”

But the messenger said that the Princess had given orders that every male was to try the boot, and he handed it to Cinderfella. Of course, the loafer fitted him perfectly, and when he pulled the mate from his pocket, the brothers and the stepfather were speechless with amazement. At that instant, the fairy godfather appeared, waved his wand over Cinderfella and once more clothed him in the striking golden suit.

The stepbrothers threw themselves at his feet and begged forgiveness for treating him so badly. Cinderfella, who was as good as he was handsome, forgave them at once and asked them to love him always.

Then the messenger took Cinderfella to the palace, and the Princess asked him to marry her without delay. A few days later, the wedding took place. Cinderfella became a real Prince and lived happily ever after with the Princess.

Behind Every Feminist is a Belief

Behind Every Feminist is a Belief…or a thousand of them. I lived in Boise for the second half of my twenties. My life was piano and feminism. You literally walked into my living room and saw a baby grand and a bookcase overflowing with books that had the ‘F’ word somewhere in the title or subtitle. I also had a bumper sticker that said: FEMINISM IS THE RADICAL NOTION THAT WOMEN ARE PEOPLE. I couldn’t find the bumper sticker, so I bought it online in bulk. I gave them to my closest friends and stuck them on random things as well as very important things like my guitar case. Although I eventually let the bumper sticker on my car go after noticing an interesting spike in attention from the police, the bumper sticker on my guitar case remains steadfast. And the simplicity of this definition is still one of my favorite to describe feminism. As we head into the new year, I hope that the momentum for equality continues and that we all hold on to our fundamental beliefs. Happy New Year, everyone!

 

Behind every feminist is a beautiful woman.

Behind Every Feminist is a Beautiful Woman.

I am loving all the recent hype about women collaborating rather than competing. Mean girls really hurt! There’s a reason I stopped seeing clients, sunk into a deep depression and moved to the mountains of Montana: Mean Girl Recovery. I wish I could tell you the whole story, but my attorney insists that I only say, “the matter has been resolved to the mutual satisfaction of both parties.” Despite my background in psychology and strong support system, this woman (who is now experiencing the wrath of karma) completely broke me. The word that continues to echoes in my ears is, “Why?”

There’s a short & sweet blog by Kelly Brickley that says:

[W]e are not built as human beings to be best friends with everyone, especially when it comes to women. But there’s a difference between knowing and accepting the differences among women and tearing one another down because of those differences. Did we learn nothing when the “Burn Book” was exposed and Tina Fey told us these immortal words: But you all have got to stop calling each other sluts and whores. It just makes it okay for guys to call you sluts and whores.

Nothing and no one is ever made better by tearing down another person. We women especially need to come to some sort of understanding that while we may not see eye to eye on possibly anything, we can’t just tear each other down and compete with each other to feel fulfilled.

One of my New Year’s Resolutions is to be more impeccable with my words and strive to build up not only the status of women but of our entire society through advocacy and outreach. If a flash of envy passes through me as I meet another woman, I plan to take note and then intentionally turn that envy into admiration and celebration. We must rise up TOGETHER and weave our gifts, talents, and skills together. For 2018, imagine the power in a united front of people who all want the same thing in the end: equality.

Meanwhile, if you haven’t heard, Tarana Burke is pushing the crystal button this New Year’s Eve. I am so grateful for this woman. More on my mad love for her in another blog soon. Check out Time’s story on this!

“New Year’s is a time when we look at the most significant cultural and political moments of the last year, when we look for inspiration by honoring and giving a global platform to those who have made a difference,” Tim Tompkins, president of the Times Square Alliance, told amNewYork. “Tarana Burke’s courage and foresight have changed the world this year, and, we hope, forever.”

Behind every feminist is passion

Behind every feminist is passion.

My favorite definition of passion from Merriam-Webster is a strong liking or desire for or devotion to some activity, object, or concept. I believe that we’re all passionate about something. Feminists would probably all agree that they’re passionate about equality. Many, many additional branches of stem directly from this base of equality. I believe that my passion for the practice and advocacy of global altruism stems directly from equality, which is directly linked to my definition of feminism. I love to see altruistic feminists in action. I met a new family member yesterday during our Christmas celebration and she gave me a beautiful gift. She told me about her work with noonday and the women she met in Ethiopia who were upcycling artillery. My earrings and necklace were made by women in Guatemala and Vietnam. I love them!

I have to admit that I typically struggle with a lot of the current concepts and practices when it comes to Christmas. I’ve watched my family grow in size and maneuver through the pummeling of consumerism that surrounds this holiday. We make things for one another and donate to causes such as Heifer International on behalf of my grandmother, our beautiful 91-year-old matriarch. It was wonderful to be introduced to noonday as another possibility in the future and I love my gift. Thank you to all the socially responsible businesses out there and all the people who are working to provide sustainable empowerment and equality around the world. Be the change, right?

Behind every feminist is a song.

Behind every feminist is a song that provides comfort, inspiration, validation, transcendence and most importantly for me: expression.

Until very recently, I’ve stammered and stuttered when asked, “What do you do?” Like many of you, my ‘job’ has changed a lot over the years, but it almost always involved music. These days, I’m confident and excited to trust that my number one answer is: I’m a songwriter.

A few years ago I wrote Snow. I was in the middle of writing a research paper on narcissism and had chosen to focus on the men who led The Bosnian War of 1992-1995. Interlibrary loans allowed me access to articles and movies that blew my mind and broke my heart. I was haunted by what I read about the treatment of girls and young women. I kept wondering what happened to the children conceived by the rampant and horrific number of rapes. It’s been 25 years since that war “officially” began and an article highlighting the recovery of rape survivors was released earlier this year. You can see by the comments that blame, hatred, and denial continue to this day and I’m certainly not here to take sides. The bottom line for me is that rape is used as a weapon.

After a night of binging on movies about this subject, I dreamt this song that accompanied what felt like an entire CSI episode. A little boy who had watched his neighbors, and ultimately his own family, disappear – the boys and men murdered; the women and girls hauled into a truck and taken away – the boy set upon an urgent mission to save all the little girls in his village from being raped. One Jane Doe after another was discovered in the snow, carefully arranged in a white dress with her hands folded over her heart. At the end of my dream, he is discovered hiding in the woods near one of the little girls. His big brown eyes exuded so much sadness and fear. A female detective reached down, took his tiny hand and led him away.

I don’t have a solution to ending war or rape. As a songwriter, I feel like I can at least bring attention to issues and hope that someone might be inspired to take action. And here in the U.S. as we near the end of 2017, white men like Donald Trump and Scott Lloyd are still denying women their basic rights as the battle for Jane Poe to receive an abortion continues.

 

Lyrics to Snow

It’s hard to say from where she might have wandered. It’s hard to identify just how long she’s been waiting here all alone. In the cold and soft virgin snow wrapped around her body like a blanket; a blanket of white.

Her file goes on a pile of files with the same name. And everybody wondered just what happened to Jane on the long and dark journey home. How could she have stumbled so far from the road?

And he watches all from just beyond the line of sight; drenched in the conviction that what he does is justified. All the rage and the violence, the raping, the war, that wake him up in the middle of the night. Lost his daddy and his brothers, took his mama and his sisters right before his angelic eyes. Oh, his eyes have seen so many things that could never be made right.

Mercy, mercy, mercy on the Janes. It was mercy, mercy, mercy on the Janes. Saving all the Janes. And she had dreams that nobody knows. Buried in the cold, pure white virgin snow.