Heaving with Fat

I just got in from the garden. Heat’s going to hit 95 this week, and today’s clear sky and shimmering warmth are leading the way. I’m sweaty from my scalp to the soles of my feet, but I’m pleasantly exhausted, carved out by physical exertion, able to breathe again after clearing out the emotional and intellectual cobwebs.

Being physical is part of how I function. Once an athlete in high school, I have continued to be physically active; three times a week, since I was 19, I’ve done some kind of workout. Except for those times I’m sick or injured, I’m a worker-outer; at university, it was swimming or aerobics; raising my kids in the suburbs, I walk/ran up to five times a week. For 15 years now, in addition to the workout-workouts, I also garden, which sounds sedentary, but I use the opportunity to shovel/swing a small axe-like weeding tool/build beds/haul bags of dirt and buckets of water until I’m three-hours deep into an elevated cardiac state and filthy up to my waist.

Two years ago, after a knee injury, I started working with a personal trainer, Natalie. She has taught me how to take care of my joints while pushing myself to gain strength and endurance. At her urging, I’ve done things I never thought I could do, and I am proud of that work.

Also at Natalie’s behest, I have upgraded my workout clothes. She said it might help me get in the right mood to work out on days I don’t feel like it. And there are days *everybody* doesn’t feel like it, even my gorgeous trainer (who once trained to be a fitness model.) So I went on a hunt for “athlesiurewear.”

Back when I was running in the suburbs, trying to outfit myself for exercise was demoralizing. Workout clothes capped out at size XL, which will not work for my bottom half. Wandering around stores, I’d see all the cute patterns and colors in workout wear that I would *love* to wear, but all of it sized for smaller people than me. I did find yoga pants that worked, but only in black, and only in one style. I bought three pairs.

I began to resent shopping for workout clothes. I found large t-shirts and some castoff items from my dad from when he used to run 8 miles a day and just made do. I had one pair of pants that didn’t give me a chafing rash where my thighs meet.

Isn’t it funny that women are simultaneously expected to have space between their thighs AND ALSO keep their legs together for modesty?

Anyway, by the time I started working with Natalie, because she is good and kind and understands that in order to GET more fit, you have to want to WORK OUT and not feel like you just rolled off the couch in the same sweats and torn t-shirt you fell asleep wearing in sophomore year of college while you studied for your freaking botany exam that you shouldn’t have to take anyway. She pointed me toward places online that carry larger sizes, where I found cute tops that come in bright colors and fit comfortably. Technology has advanced to produce fabrics that wick away moisture, so you don’t feel like you’re being suffocated by your clothing anymore.

And! AND! I found workout PANTS! Pants that fit my ass! My thighs! My tree-trunk thighs that defy expectations for lower limbs, and yet there they are! I HAVE PANTS PEOPLE! It took me several very disappointing tries, but I found them.

And some of them even have pockets. Granted, the ones with pockets don’t quite fit me in the rise (because you can be fat AND have long legs–like me!) so I still battle chafing, but it’s a goddamned start.

But guys. People. Fellow humans. My teammates in workouts and in life. Listen, Linda.

There are some people in this world who do NOT APPROVE of fat people having access to well-made, attractive, functional, appropriately sized workout wear. Some people who work for huge media corporations heartily disapprove of clothing companies including larger consumers in their target customer base.

Specifically, though not exclusively, Tanya Gold of The Telegraph UK, took issue with Nike’s use of a plus-size mannequin in their London store.

Image result for nike plus-size mannequin

Here she is, heaving with fat, the obese mannequin of my dreams. Isn’t she lovely?

“The new Nike mannequin is not a size 12, which is healthy, or even 16–a hefty weight, yes, but not one to kill a woman…

(here comes my favorite part.)

“She is immense, gargantuan, vast. She heaves with fat. She is, in every measure, obese, and she is not readying herself for a run in her shiny Nike gear. She cannot run. She is, more likely, pre-diabetic and on her way to a hip replacement.”

I know she’s just one person, but I have met so many Tanya Golds in my life that this quote just pissed me off. I can’t read the article because it’s behind a paywall, and I’ll be goddamned if I’ll give her employer any money. But Tanya Gold was in the voice of one potential hair stylist, who urged me not to cut my hair short because my head would then be too small for my body, or the man at my sister’s art opening who told me I shouldn’t be wearing the kitten-heeled shoes I had on because I looked like I was going to just fall over, and the voice of my mother in law who told me that I shouldn’t use her treadmill because it was “not rated” for my weight.

Their faux concern for my well-being only vaguely shrouds their loathing of anyone who isn’t skinny. That loathing blinds them to the reality that 1) they have no right to opine about another person’s body, because 2) they have NO CLUE what another person’s reality is.

I found this absurd quote on the Instagram account of one of my favorite fat athletes, Mirna Valerio (@themirnavator)  a runner and author. Valerio posted the quote with a video of her running swiftly downhill in a forest very much like my beloved Washington Park, tree roots and boulders in her path, unbothered by the twists and turns and knee-challenging drops from step to step.

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Valerio said “Tanya Gold…can you do this?” And added a quote from her book “A Beautiful Work in Progress”

“This body isn’t meant to stagnate or cease moving . . . This body is fierce, beautiful and unapologetic. It’s meant to move through the world as it wishes: lifting, walking, and running, rolls and all. Love handles, bouncy boobs, curves, tummy, butt, back fat, and all. I honor her by continuing to move along the spectrum of health and wellness, and in turn she honors me by living vibrantly.”

Valerio is such a palate cleanser for me. When I feel shitty about not looking like I think I should, I read her posts and see her pictures and feel energized to keep going. That’s all any of us can really do, skinny or fat; just keep going.

People like Tanya Gold, for whatever reason, don’t want fat people to keep going. Never having been skinny, I can’t say what’s behind this viciousness, but it’s real. A slender segment of the skinny population expends effort toward stopping fat people–from going to concerts and parties to buying clothes to trying to work out for whatever reason moves them. These hateful skinnies can’t stand it, and they can’t shut up about it.

Let’s just put this out there; whether a person wants workout clothes for working out or just because they like them, it’s none of Ms. Gold’s business. Fat people buy whatever clothes they want; their money works exactly like skinny people’s money, and Nike has finally realized that.

So this is for you, Ms. Gold; take your narrow (ha!), small (HA!), ignorant and petty beliefs about my fat body and shove them. My gargantuan thighs would rather run to the beat of Mirna Valerio’s joyous activity; her hard-won sweat and self-satisfied smile defeat your ugly lack of humanity every single time.

I have long suspected that mean skinny people are being eating alive from the inside by something, just withering away their abundance and joy. I don’t want that to be me. I needed to say these things here so other people could see them, so other people might feel less alone in their hurt over these comments. So I could feel less alone.

My life is full of magic and wonder and the more-than-occasional homemade chili/chocolate chip cookie. And when I lift myself into a plank and beads of sweat run off my face and I push past the one minute mark, or I go 15 minutes longer on the exercise bike, or I climb further up the trail than I got last time, I will bask in the expansion of my spirit and completely forget the circumference of my thighs.

And I will forget completely one Tanya Gold, who has to live with herself long after the words she wrote vanish from the public discussion. Sucks to be you, Tanya.

I’ve never been a Nike fan, but maybe it’s time to look at their plus-size workout gear.

Other accounts I follow for super motivation:

Martinus Evans @300poundsandrunning
Louise Green @louisegreen_bigfitgirl 



Parks and Recreation

Over the years, I’ve worked at a number of companies as they go through buyouts, takeovers, restructuring, downsizing. Because many of my jobs have come through temp agencies and creative staffing agencies–temp agencies for people in creative fields–I’ve seen a fair bit of this. Temps are brought in when the company doesn’t want to hire full-time permanent staff. Some companies exist on “temporary” staff for years. I worked as a “temp” at one job for almost four years. There were lots of us there in the same position.

During the buyout of one large company–the brand is found everywhere from hospitals to manufacturing to aeronautics–the layoffs were announced in stages. When the first round of administrative layoffs occurred, you could hear weeping in the hallways, and everyone walked around in a fearful hush, like it was a sick ward and we were all worried about catching it next.

The same feeling has descended upon the staff of Portland Parks and Recreation. When I left one community center in March, the $7 million budget shortfall had just been announced, and rumbles of staff cuts followed like thunder announcing a storm. Budget meetings were held all over the city, to packed houses. People asked questions that got noncommittal answers. Bucks were passed. Brows were furrowed. Managers held serious meetings. Cuts were coming, and it would happen before the beginning of the fiscal year (July 1), but they didn’t know exactly who would be cut. The list was narrowed down to a certain range of classifications, and there was a long-shot appeal launched through the city commissioners.

Valiant efforts by the union representatives to sway the vote did not succeed. The city budget was passed last week, with only one commissioner, Jo Ann Hardesty, voting against the budget. She is quoted frequently saying “a budget is a moral document.” This is true in city governments and in businesses and in households. What you choose to spend money on reflects and expresses your morals, shows what you place value on.

And now there are nearly 70 people out of a job in Portland. Seventy people with a specific skillset–serving the community in recreation and arts education–who now have to figure out how to support themselves. Seventy people whose paychecks were already meager, who were already working in jobs that paid less than they needed because they believed in what Parks and Recreation stands for, what it provides to the community.

This is a more painful round of layoffs than I have seen before. Maybe because I know three of the people getting cut, and I’m watching this from the sidelines. But Parks and Recreation is a different kind of place to work. It’s not like companies, places where you can earn a decent living, or like that mega-company in which the layoff virus spread unabated until every corner was singed.

At Parks and Recreation, you interact with people off the street every single day. You help them find the right music class for their seven year old, or give an elderly person directions to the right bus line. Sometimes, you have to chase teenagers out of a practice room where they’re drawing baffling graffiti because they don’t have anything else to do.

There’s the woman from the Ukraine who learned how to sculpt in a Parks and Rec class
–and discovered she has a real gift for three-dimensional art. Parks employees get to witness that revelation, to be part of that woman’s joy, and part of her pursuit of a new thrilling part of herself.

Image result for jo ann hardesty

Jo Ann Hardesty, the only person at the city who fought for Parks.

That never happened at MegaCorp. I spent my days processing accounts receivable/deliverable for selling widgets overseas.

Parks and Recreation is a connection between the community and the city. The city has chosen to spend their money somewhere else, somewhere that’s not the community.

They’ve taken the money away from the 70 people who handed a basketball to the kids from down the street who need a place to shoot hoops. They took money away from 70 people who, instead of working in an office or in retail or some reliable job that pays well, found the one employer who would pay them to work in their art form–music or dance or literature–and still make an okay living. They sacrificed better wages to help the community access the same art that gave them so much joy.

And the city just said that doesn’t matter. The people who screwed up this budget aren’t the ones who are getting laid off, but that doesn’t matter either. These 70 people who worked long past their shifts and cleaned up disgusting messes and know every nook and cranny of their facilities get to hit the bricks.

I’m pretty disappointed in this city right now. Their morals are on full display, and it’s so defeating. I don’t know how the city will maintain any connection with the community after this; with fewer people to staff positions, programs will be cut, and people will wander away from the emaciated community centers across town. Economists and educational psychologists can tell you the inevitable conclusion of that story: rising truancy, drug use, gang involvement, crime, incarceration. One man, who works with incarcerated youth, pointed out that the government pays for these kids one way or the other; either with programs to help develop them into responsible human beings, or when they’re locked up.

Of those 70 people, I’m thinking of my three friends, intelligent and funny and talented and committed people who just lost their jobs. The city has lost dozens of hard-working, community-focused employees who tried like hell to spread their light around the world, like we’re all told to do every damned day. Lot of good it did them. Lot of good it did the city.

Thanks, Mayor Ted “Bean Counter” Wheeler and the rest of the accountants running the city. You’re losing the heart and soul of this place, and you’re so blinded by dollar signs you have no idea what you’ve lost.

PS–If you’re a Portlander who’s hiring creative, committed people, let me know. Let’s get these people employed again!


I took a class on Whitman, Dickinson, Keats and Longfellow in college. It was team-taught by two department stars, Dr. Kiefer and Rodney Jones, one a natty dresser with a gorgeous head of curly hair, the other an acclaimed poet, a stereotypical professor in appearance, wry sense of humor and laconic delivery.

While I vividly recall my music department classes and classmates, I don’t remember much about my English classes. I was nominally an English major, but spent all of my free time in the music department, a holdover from high school’s music wing, where one could lounge for hours outside the band room, ostensibly studying or eating lunch.

In college, I had few friends in my major. I met Robby in my Whitman class. We were both just starting to take classes in our major, and excited to be out of gen-ed classes. He was quiet and so was I, both reluctant at first to speak up too much during this three-hour bi-weekly class. At the break, we would compare notes, discuss the poems we were studying, and found ourselves fast friends.

In that way youthful relationships do, we bonded quickly, spending mealtimes and study hours together, sometimes in my dorm room, sometimes in his. He was a transplant to southern Illinois from Florida, living with his beloved grandmother in the summers. He was smart in a way I hadn’t experienced yet, because I had spent so much time with musicians. He was insightful and philosophical, grasping big ideas in a short time, making connections I could not conceive. He was fascinating and funny.

And he was gay.

At least, I think he was. He never told me, but neither had the other gay friends I had. And being in music and theatre, I had a lot, dating back into high school. One of my college friends who was gay would sit and admire men’s butts with me in the music department lobby. We each had our top three. Mine, strangely enough, included the man who would eventually be my first husband.

But Robby never said anything about that part of his life. He talked about poetry and the power of language. We’d talk excitedly about the punctuation and spacing of Dickinson’s poetry, and the florid language in Longfellow. We were both gripped by Whitman, whose language rose like a gentle wind off the page and swept both of us in Romantic Era fervor.

When we exchanged letters over the summer, nature was our favored theme; he was moved by the endless fields of wheat in Illinois, the dry openness of the summer sky, rolling rivers hemmed by trees. They were the most breathtaking non-romantic letters I have ever gotten. I keep them in a box to this day, his blue-inked return address at his grandmother’s house a beacon on the envelope. “This is where Robby lived.”

The next year, my junior year, I got pregnant and my whole life shifted. I was consumed with “what now,” with little time for wheat fields and Whitman. I struggled through a whole entire class on Faulkner, whose themes of broken families and unplanned pregnancy choked my brain as I was faced with a family who turned their back on me because of my unplanned pregnancy.

I lost a lot of friends when I got pregnant. I don’t remember specifically how I lost track of Robby. Maybe it was not having classes together. Maybe it was our vastly different lives. I saw him occasionally on campus. He visited briefly after I had the baby. And once, I ran into him at the grocery store, after I had my second child. He was friendly and my heart ached for the distance my life had traveled from the friends I once had. I was head-over-heels in love with my children, but I had no one to share that fervor with. 

A few months ago, I found out from another alumni of our university that Robby had died a few years ago. Very young, not yet 50. He had a brain tumor, which hurts doubly so because of his intense intellect and humor and kindness. Not the brain–don’t take the things that made him so marvelous. But all of it is taken now, and I never had the chance to tell him how much I missed those elegaic conversations we had, the chiding affection in our late-night meanderings, and those wild and passionate letters about wheat fields.

There’s an upcoming film being shown locally about Whitman. The poetry will be accompanied by some animation. I could just visit my copy of Leaves of Grass, and find Robby in the margin notes. But I think I will go to this film and hear what other people have to say about Whitman, to hear someone else’s intelligent observations of this great, gentle man of words. I suspect I’ll see Robby there, just on the edge of my vision, like he’s sitting next to me in that long poetry seminar, tapping his pen on his notebook pensively. Someone will say something brilliant, and for a moment, it will be Robby again, a dagger in the heart of the matter, bright and clean and smiling as he always was.


Grab Bag

I’ve been spending a lot of time with my subconscious lately. There’s lots of time to spare, now that Tim’s back to work and my daughter is nearly full-time at her job. Freelance gigs come and go, but I have more quiet in my brain now. And I’m tugged in the direction of the edges of thought that surface.

Like just now, in the kitchen, I was struck by the difference between my husband and me. I was clearing away last night’s cooking mess, a pan I left soaking with baking soda and dish detergent. By this afternoon, the caramelized blueberry muffin overspill had melted back to liquid, and I sprayed it off with the faucet. My cleaning method is a gentle nudge, discouraging stains from staying permanently. I fill pots and pans with water and wait them out. It’s an effective strategy.


Tim, on the other hand, sees every thing he encounters as a battle to be won. Not people–just things. He attacks (his word) the dishes with vigor, setting every item gleaming and pristine into the dishwasher, where they will only become sanitized.  Pots and pans are scrubbed, SOS pads exhausted, and the clean and shining pile of pans displayed upside-down on the counter, twinkling as they dry. He faces his laundry with military precision, sorting colors and heat settings diligently, putting clothing right-side out and stacking them tidily on-deck, waiting to be washed. This is, to me, a little silly, because all of his clothes fit into the “beige/gray/bluish/greenish” category, and none run the risk of infecting the others with their bold color. But sort he does, and then washes in appropriate sequence, and then folds and puts away. By the time he’s done, he is exhausted.

That’s true for the dishes, too. Doing the same amount of dishes, he will emerge from the kitchen in need of a nap, or at least a good sit down, while I will have completed the dishes, dinner prep, putting away errant pantry items, and wiping down the counters. He’ll do one thing full-bore and do the hell out of it; I do six things kinda half-assed and meander through while I think about tomorrow’s dinner or making baby blankets or a plot consideration for a story in the works.

I admire my husband’s drive. I love how he can go in one direction persistently, and not be pulled off to the things that trace across his intellectual field of vision. In the middle of that last sentence, I remembered that I want to use the leftover buttermilk from the blueberry muffins to make cornbread to go with tonight’s chicken, so I looked up a homemade cornbread recipe.

That kind of interruption would drive Tim nuts. His method of focus would, for me, result in things that don’t get done. Today, even while I’m feeling like dogshit because of a respiratory infection, I’ve cleaned the kitchen, washed the sheets, cleaned the toilet and the sink, planned a potluck for the community garden and made flyers to advertise it, and planned tonight’s dinner. I should be sleeping, but because I’m going at half speed and doing multiple things at once, I got a few things done.

Tim and I are talking a lot about our neurological differences. It took him a long time to figure out my “grab bag” of a brain, but he did so without judgement. He recognizes my rambling ways as different from his; I see his task-oriented brain as different from mine. And this is the really beautiful thing about long-term relationships that work; we see each other’s quirks and oddities, shrug our shoulders and move along with our days. We’re compatible not because we’re alike, but because it doesn’t matter how we’re different, we still just want to be with each other.

We’re figuring it out, it appears. I can’t help but think of all those people–some friends, but mostly family–who told me I was making a huge mistake getting involved with Tim. He wasn’t right for me, I wasn’t right for him.  Like they knew.

Marriage is so much more than being “right” for each other at a given time and place. It’s more structural, more modular than I ever knew. Tim has the necessary structure for a long-term relationship. It’s just how he’s built; solid, over-engineered, every beam and board measured twice or more. And that’s how he thinks. I suspect the people who warned me off him didn’t really know him at all.

I will never be like Tim, even though sometimes I wish I could; the die on my personality is cast. But I respect his particular, peculiar makeup, and admire how he tolerates mine.

My subconscious wanted to say all that just now.


Country Music

Growing up in suburban Chicago, I didn’t listen to country music. It was either my father’s symphonic music on WFMT, or my mother’s bobby-soxer/50s crooners, or local pop radio on the radio in my room. Occasionally, we’d click past HeeHaw on TV, but we never stayed to watch. I learned early that that wasn’t *our* kind of entertainment.

Neither was Soul Train, but if I was too sick for mass on Sunday, I reveled in the chance to see people dance to funky music on the UHF channel. Reception was fuzzy but I didn’t care.

My father sang one Mac Davis song, “It’s Hard to be Humble”, when he was in a good mood. Country music was for satire, for humor, for mocking ignorance and lack of sophistication. It wasn’t, from what I could tell as a child, “real” music. Plus, country music was from the south, and people in the south did horrible things to black people. They couldn’t be trusted.

When I went to school in southern Illinois, I found myself plunged into a completely different culture. While still strictly part of Illinois, and therefore the North, southern Illinois has a heavily Deep South-influenced culture, from the accent to the food to the music. The southern tip of the state, from Effingham on down, is physically south of the Mason/Dixon line, and also, oddly enough, the linguistic “greasy/greazy” line. Above this line, the word “greasy” is pronounced with an “s”, below it, with a “z.”

I learned a lot in college that had nothing to do with my major.

Instead of multiple radio channels dedicated to 80s pop hits, the dial in Carbondale was peppered with country music, and I resisted every note. My primary motivation when I went to university was to go out with a lot of boys, but introversion is a terrible thing for a girl with such ambitions, so I let my prospective dates’ music choices be my guide. Guys who liked country music would never be caught dead with a big girl like me; they wanted someone who looked like Daisy Duke. They were the ones who had the “no fat chicks” sign in their dorm windows. I wasn’t safe around them.

My worries about country music were not unfounded; a Mississippi State University sociologist analyzed country chart-toppers from the 1980s through the 2010s, and has found that “country hits increasingly objectify women and glorify whiteness,”

In recent years, Leap reports, country hits have “increasingly depicted women as sexual objects instead of employed equals.” In addition, “whiteness is celebrated far more often than it was in the 1980s and 1990s”—a trend that dovetails with the rise of white identity politics, particularly in the rural areas where the genre is most popular.

…beginning in the 1990s, more hit songs contained “allusions to idyllic pasts.” That sort of nostalgia has obvious racial undertones, made overt in 2003’s “Beer for My Horses,” in which Toby Keith and Willie Nelson “reminisce about when public lynchings were commonplace,” as Leap puts it.

Willie Nelson? Come on, man!

My wariness of country music resulted in lots of music-department boyfriends–brass players, drummers, and later, a husband who was a professional jazz bass player. No country music fans in the lot. Find me a chart-topping country hit with trumpet, I dare you.

Somewhere along the line, Shania Twain appeared. And Faith Hill.  I edged toward country music as cautiously as I could, making sure the lyrics didn’t cross the line into the “bad” kind of country music, the stuff about missing the confederacy and women knowing their place. These performers were women exerting their independence with a twang, accompanied by steel guitar and sometimes mandolin. I could get past my Pavlovian response to the instrumentation and sing along with their lyrics about seeking their own paths.

There’s something outdoors-y about country music, and for that reason, I wished I could like it. It’s playful, like splashing in the swimming hole, drink lemonade in the sun, roll in the hay, all things I enjoy.  I do not enjoy propping up mediocre white men, marginalizing people of color, longing for the “ante-bellum” days (read “slavery”), or praising the Confederacy. With most of country music, I just couldn’t get past that.

And then the Dixie Chicks happened, and suddenly, country music was fun. I mean, “Goodbye, Earl” completely turns country music tropes on their head. (Fun fact: Dennis Franz, who plays “Earl” in the video, went to school at Southern Illinois University. Just like me.) I flung the windows open and played their music at the highest volume. Songs like Cowboy Take me Away, Wide Open Spaces, and Sin Wagon were a joy, and to this day, speak of hot summer nights driving with the windows down.

Then I moved back to the Chicago area, and put away my country music to listen to on my own. I really only had those three artists, but it just felt out of place in the suburbs. Coming to Oregon moved me farther away from any country music, and listening to it here seems doubly insulting to black people, with Oregon’s history as an all-white state.  My listening to traditional country here might signal to accidental eavesdroppers some allegiance with white supremacy, and I won’t allow that lie to spread, even just outside my car.

A few years ago, someone suggested I listen to Kacey Musgraves, saying she was “different” from other country acts. I refused. Then I started listening to Brandi Carlile, whose powerful voice exudes the longing and passion articulated in her lyrics.

All of these lines across my face
Tell you the story of who I am
So many stories of where I’ve been
And how I got to where I am
But these stories don’t mean anything
When you’ve got no one to tell them to
It’s true, I was made for you
I climbed across the mountain tops
Swam all across the ocean blue
I crossed all the lines, and I broke all the rules
But, baby, I broke them all for you
Oh because even when I was flat broke
You made me feel like a million bucks
You do
I was made for you
For you


One of my friends said Brandi sounds like she’s going to bust a vocal cord. Turns out, I kinda like that. Her songs are about finding forgiveness, about boldly being an individual in a world of conformity, about learning how to love her daughter when it didn’t come naturally, and her love for her wife.

Her experience as a gay performer immediately set her apart from many artists I was listening to, and put me at ease about her message and background. There’s not a single country trope in her lyrics. She’s raw, unhinged, intense.

And purposeful.

Brandi Carlile started her career as a little girl outside Seattle singing country music on stage with her parents in bars and markets. She grew up dirt poor, living in a trailer. Her first love is country music, and now after this great success–six Grammy nominations last year, three wins–as an “Americana” artist (WTH is that, anyway?), she has started working in country music again. This year, she will be touring with a group called The Highwomen, a nod to 1980s country super group The Highwaymen, built of  Johnny Cash, Waylon Jennings, Willie Nelson, and Kris Kristofferson.

The Highwomen comprise Carlile, Maren Morris, and Amanda Shires  among others who will rotate in. I know only Carlile of those names, but I’m willing to give the group a shot if only to hear her sing music she loves. She has an easy, warm vibrato that veers into yodeling in the higher registers, and she sounds so joyful when she bursts into those moments, I just want to sing with her. And so I do.

She and her Highwomen bandmates have struck out on this path with the intention of bringing more female voices to country music, and to spread a more inclusive message among the fans. I hope they’re successful. I saw a bumper sticker the other day that said “God, save me from your followers.” I feel like that could apply to country music, too.

And I finally did discover Kacey Musgraves. Last summer, like millions of other people, I stumbled upon her album “Golden Hour,” and fell head over heels in love with her trim vocal pattern, almost vibrato-free tone, and lyrics that defy all KINDS of country tropes.

It takes a lot to woo me musically, but she’s got it; unexpected lyrics, intriguing and simple harmonies and melodic lines, and defiant uniqueness. Her voice gives me shivers. She won the same Grammy that Carlile was up for, and I wasn’t even mad; “Golden Hour” is a thing of beauty.

Here’s one of my favorites; trippy, hypnotic, and full of joy and love. And steel guitar!

It’s summer in Oregon, and I am ready to throw open the windows and blast some summertime music. Here’s Brandi Carlile with her whole family, including some superheroes, on stage last summer in Bend. Tim and I were about 10 feet to the left of the person who shot this video. Best show I’ve seen in a while. Get yourself a little new country music, if you have a chance.

But stick to the women; they’re getting good.