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.

 

Calm Sea

It will come as a surprise only to people who don’t know him, but my husband Tim was hired shortly after putting out his resume. He found an employer that matches his conscientious work ethic, substantially increased Tim’s annual salary, and is near enough to our home for Tim to ride his bike.

Plus, Tim has started working doggedly on the launch of a new hockey-fan site (details to come when the site is ready), so he’s been busy. His active brain has been put to its fullest and best use, and he couldn’t be happier.

I’m down to one workday a week at the music center, plus the freelance work I do from home. Now that garden season is upon us, I spend 3-4 hours every couple of days out in the sunshine.

I picked up a volunteer role as the community garden manager, and it’s giving me a sample of the kind of “more” that I was looking for; using my organizational and communication skills, connecting with people, and in this case, building community in a space that’s lost some sense of common purpose. Plus, it’s given me an excuse to be at the garden every day, puttering here, weeding there, talking to people I have never met.

I am a natural introvert, but when it’s my job to talk to people, I do just fine, thank you. Plus, gardeners are the nicest people on the planet, and we have a built-in topic of conversation literally at our feet. Over the weekend I attended a workshop on inclusion and outreach, and I’m like a kid coming back from a church retreat: fired up with the spirit of togetherness and understanding!

Without all the “god” stuff.

We have–for the time being–stabilized.

I made the right decision to leave my job at the arts center. I do miss the people, but when I visited a couple of weeks ago, I felt the same weight descend upon me–borne of frustration, of inchoate rage at the inept management, a closing-in of the box in which I was allowed to function–that I had felt for months before I left. Loss of morale might better be described as a suffocation, a containment until asphyxiation of the best impulses of  employees.

I am free of the strictures. Thanks to my husband, I have the financial stability to do what comes next. It’s a calm sea for a prosperous voyage.

If it Doesn’t Open, it’s Not Your Door

This is a story I’m not supposed to write until it’s happy.

Two weeks ago, I worked my final day at the place I loved–Multnomah Arts Center–to go in search of something where I can use my skills beyond answering the phone and being nice to customers.

Don’t get me wrong, I loved working with customers. I loved the people I worked with. But unlike every job I’ve ever had, there was no room for me to do anything other than answer the phone and be nice to customers. I tried. For four years I tried. I offered and submitted ideas and updated old policy manuals (“DRAFT ONLY”), organizing file drawers for optimum usage, anything other than answering phones and being nice to people, just to demonstrate my expressed eagerness to move up.

But bureaucrats gonna bureaucrat.

So I tendered my resignation, held my head high through the last 14 days of my employment, and on day 13, my husband lost his job.

It was a similar situation, actually. Tim’s got super-linear-do-it-right-the-first-time brain, and his boss . . . um . . . didn’t. So, in a small office, when there are two forces pushing against the same object, the guy who owns the place wins by default. Tim’s native ability to make a rock-solid program that works flawlessly in perpetuity was not a good fit for a business run by someone who does things slapdash. So Tim was out on his ear.

We were both knocking on doors that would not open.

I’ve had lots of time to ponder the decision to leave my job. There have been moments of regret, a flash across my memory of faces I grew to love, a call from my beloved “work husband” whose continued contact means more than he knows. What the hell did I do, walking away from a steady job? Am I insane?

So no, I don’t have a happy ending to this story. I have some freelance leads, and Tim’s being submitted for a number of spots. This is certainly not our first time down the path of the unemployed; years ago, we both lost our jobs within hours of each other. Tim’s an assiduous job-seeker, and is connected to others in his industry across the country. That’s why he spent 18 months working for and in the state of New York.

I did have to turn down a job possibility at a hot springs center deep in the mountains. That one broke my heart. But I can’t be completely out of touch for more than a day or two, and the location had no cell service or internet. No, sorry. Not with a medically fragile family. Ugh.

On some level, I know we’ll be okay. History is on our side. A period of unemployment  and job search is what brought us out to Portland

But I also know things change. What if the people making decisions see us as too old to take on as employees now? What if the universe views my departure from a steady job as a sign of hubris, and decides to punish me?

Right now, the story isn’t happy. People have been so kind and encouraging and concerned, and that’s been lovely. Thank you in advance, if that’s your thought while reading this. I felt very loved at MAC by the customers and my fellow reception warriors, and I take a sip from that whole-heart-full daily. I have *no* idea what’s next for me, or for Tim.

The sunny side of employment stories for us is our daughter’s employment situation. She isn’t keen on me writing about her (because I made a life out of writing about her when she was a kid), but let’s leave it at this; she is a bold, determined, and hard working. Not afraid to ask for what she wants, not afraid to take it when it’s offered. She blows me away.

I just have to draw from her example and be more bold than I have ever been. And while I wait, I have a garden to tend to, a dog to walk, writing to revise and create, and a husband to snuggle. And I do still have a very part-time position at a music center, which I also love. There have been worse unemployed periods than this.

Just gotta keep knocking on doors.

Knock on a door.jpg

 

Watching “Shrill”

As I sat down to write this, an article showed up on my screen. It was titled “Help! I think my coworker’s weight is impeding her career!” The headline featured a photo of a smiling white woman with two white men standing at a distance behind her, arms folded, looking at her with a critical expression on their faces.

“Great,” I thought. “Men determining what’s best for a woman’s health AND career. Perfect.”

I did not read the article. I don’t care what it’s really about. It’s enough of an insult to read the headline, to know that the pervasive attitude about women is that their bodies belong to the world around them, that coworkers have some inherent right to make any judgement about a woman’s career. The headline reinforces the belief that weight is inherently bad, and the only factor in determining a person’s success.

The paternalism makes me ill.

Aidy Bryant is starring in a six-episode show on Hulu show called “Shrill.” It was based on a book of essays written by Lindy West, a writer, comedian and activist from Seattle.

The show, set in Portland, centers Annie, a writer with a local newspaper, a la Portland Mercury or Willamette Week. She has been on calendar duty, longing for a more substantial role in the paper. To be a “real” writer.

I went to a fat-positive watch party to take in these three hours of TV. As I was preparing for the gathering, I found myself filled with an eager anticipation I have never felt when preparing for any other outing. This group of complete strangers is arranged around the single identifying feature of being fat/plump/stout/overweight/large/solid/Falstaffian, doing activities together, sharing the experience of being outsiders among typical-sized people.

The thought of watching the show with other women who experience being fat in our culture was exciting. Finally, I could hang out with people and not pretend to be something else–to be hip or fashionable, or comfortable in a rickety chair, or  pretend not to be hungry while surveying the potluck spread. I could skip the step of looking around the room and wonder if I’m the biggest person there. It wouldn’t matter.

I wouldn’t have to see that look in the eye of that person–and there’s always at least one–who sees only the size of your thighs or the spread of your waist, and telegraphs their slender superiority. It happens less in Portland–god love ya–than in suburban Chicago, but it still happens. I’ve been judged on many things, but I can see that fat-phobe look from a mile away.

The group went to great lengths to accommodate people of size, arranging the meeting at the house of a member who has ample, comfortable seating for a dozen people, ensuring that the entry was navigable by people with mobility issues.

Just the planning phase relieved some of my typical anxiety. Imagine a gathering where you are judged solely on your personality! The day of the gathering, I was positively jubilant.

This is not normal for me. Typically, on the day of any social gathering, I have created three or four reasons I can’t go. Some are legitimate, but I could probably overcome them. The combined paralysis of some minor inconvenience with being large in a skinny world often keeps me at home.

But Saturday. Saturday, I bounced around all day with the excitement of a shaken can of soda. My family noticed. This anticipation revealed to me just how much my body, with its menopause-enhanced curvature and lifestyle-induced expansion, factored into my social anxiety. Preparing to go out is a practice of expecting judgement–explicit or implicit–about my person. Once past the initial introduction, I am powerfully charming, capably playful, and intellectually stimulating. But the judgement phase comes first, and withstanding that onslaught while maintaining my natural effervescence is emotionally draining.

Not surprisingly, “Shrill” is couched in just such an anxious mindset, its protagonist timidly asking for more out of life. While its stated objective was to show a fat woman who “was happy”, I saw a fat woman who accepted less in nearly every aspect of her life–less than a woman of intellect and drive deserves. Setting aside for a moment the convenient fiction of her job, in which she works 1) for a newspaper, 2) that maintains an actual, physical newsroom 3) on “calendar beat” she has an actual cubicle, 4) such work–and ONLY that work– financially sustains her, “Shrill” has Annie in multiple sub-par situations that she continues to just TAKE.

When we meet her, Annie is “celebrating” six months of “fucking” a guy. He texts “Fuck?” to her in the middle of a workday, she leaves her job and ends up in a nasty-ass apartment with a seedy, overgrown, paunchy, aging nerd–“norm-core Ted Kaczynski”–and she lets him fuck her. And it didn’t look like much fun for her.

Our room full of women who knew better collectively groaned in disappointment to see her getting “raw-dogged” (sex without a condom) by this clunker.

The show’s creator definitely showed a fat woman who has sex, but geez–with THIS guy? She leaves work for that shipwreck?

When his roommates (!) come home unexpectedly, he has her leave by the back door, so they won’t know who he was fucking. She tiptoes (in wooden clogs, no less) down the back steps and has to climb over a fence overgrown with bramble–except for the small portion where she has repeatedly been asked to climb to save her fuck-buddy’s reputation.

And she was just taking it?

Annie has multiple relationships that reinforce her stance of taking what she’s allowed and liking it. Her editor is brusque and insulting, though not ever directly about weight, and dismisses Annie’s requests for increased responsibility without even a glancing consideration. This egomaniacism, I have found, is typical of editors, so while abrasive, I understood it as part of the culture of the newsroom.

Put a pin in that one.

Her mother, played by Julia Sweeney in all her mincing glory, loves Annie but constantly circles back to Annie’s diet and exercise, dragging Annie into conversations that are just fat-shaming candy-coated with health concerns.

Annie encounters street-shaming as well, when she is approached by a fitness trainer who sees Annie taking a sardonic look at an ad for fitness training. The trainer assumes Annie is looking to “lose weight”, and tells her how pretty she could be. A second encounter with the same trainer later in the show reinforced the “fat people are all unhappy because they are fat and only becoming skinny will make them happy” message all of us fat people receive. Realism.

What Annie has in spades is good, enriching friendship with her roommate Fran. With the unbridled support of a female friend who gives zero fucks, Annie relaxes into the certainty of unconditional love. Fran doesn’t expect Annie to look/be/act anything other than Annie, and that relationship makes the show for me. She holds a celebration party for Annie’s first published piece. Fran and Annie together depict how women hold each other together with reciprocal emotional labor. Fran encourages Annie to pursue those things that light her up, including the body-positive pool party that is the center of the show.

Annie pursues the pool party ostensibly as a calendar item for the newspaper. Such an event actually happens in Portland every summer; The Chunky Dunk  is “a fat, QTPOC & (a)gender affirmative non-profit organization that focuses on providing safer shame-free swimming for every BODY!” When Annie and Fran arrive, the party is in full swing, its gorgeous host lounging on deck furniture so alluringly, Fran must go introduce herself. The two eventually become girlfriends, a brilliant example of Fran’s assertive natural attraction. Annie dips her toes in the water, then lounges with Fran and her future girlfriend, and eventually strips to her swimsuit and plunges into the water to perform the handstand she’s been longing to do since she was a self-conscious, pudgy child.

Reveling in the pool has made Annie late for a work bike outing mandated by her editor. When she arrives, soaked to the skin, at the joyless looping cyclists, her boss excoriates her for not being a team player, not trying hard enough, not stepping up to do her job.

Except she WAS doing her job.

His diatribe was laced with implicit fat shaming, accusing Annie of laziness for not participating in an exercise outing that had nothing to do with her work ethic. He ignored all the times she went beyond her job description to deliver something truly remarkable–like her review of the breakfast buffet at a strip club that highlighted the lives and words of the dancers–and punished her for a mistake that inadvertently insulted his values.

Annie’s discussion with the strippers provided one of the best lines of the show. When Annie asks how the women can stand doing what men tell them to do all day, one of the strippers says “Men don’t tell me what to do. I got a fat ass and big titties. I tell men what to do.” Annie later seizes on this power with her fuck-buddy, asserting her will at long last over his half-assedness.

Why she wastes her power on such trash was a source of frustration to our watch-party group, whose joy at the revelatory pool party was dashed the moment Annie reconnected with fuckboy Ryan. The whole roomful of us shouted at the screen “DON’T DO IT” when she knocked on his door again, particularly after she had spent a night with someone who really cared about her–and didn’t make her crawl out undetected the next morning.

I’m still disgusted that she went BACK to a guy who made her do that. You really think your fat ass and big titties are gonna make him a better person?

Much of my response to “Shrill” was tied up in my view of women’s power, and how we give away our lives to other people in the name of being “nice”, or inoffensive, or polite. We teach people how to treat us with what we are willing to accept; every time we say “yes” to some crappy thing someone wants to hand us, we’re saying “no” to ourselves. We’re saying we don’t deserve anything more than this crappy thing.

All women have been told to be less; to be less loud, less large, less demanding, less intelligent and articulate. For centuries, women have been fighting to get out of the shell of the limitations placed on us. Millions of women have fought their way out and are living on their own terms, an example for the rest of us.

“Shrill” demonstrates the vestigial tendency toward smallness to which many of us still aspire, both in size and in pursuing our lives. Annie is clearly more capable than just being the “calendar” person at the newspaper, and any boss worth his salt will see that and foster that ability because it makes the whole newspaper look good. But she asks for more only tentatively, with an abashed hope that the editor pounces on as weakness–because males in our society see that politeness as a vulnerability, and see only that vulnerability, and stab at that tender spot until we bleed.

Strangely enough, the show “Shrill” makes no mention of the trope of women’s voices being harsh or offensive. Aidy Bryant’s delivery is decidedly deferential at all times, even when she is asserting her will. (Bryant is, by the way, delicious in this show.) While it’s the name of the book, the title of the show has little to do with what happens in the show.

“Shrill” has funny moments, and we hollered and cheered at the pool party. It was a beautiful scene of women jiggling their thighs as they danced and joyously cannonball-ing into a pool full of women. Not a single side eye was cast, not a sneer from a skinny onlooker, no tsks or eyerolls; just women in bathing suits playing in the sun.

You know, like “regular” people get to do when they go to the pool.

Our group agreed that this pool party was better than any party we’ve ever been to; there was music, and dancing, and a bar with a live bartender (Hey there, Ayanna Berkshire! I see you!), a photo booth, that freaking deck SOFA that everyone was lounging on, and kickass inflatables everywhere. That is a fucking POOL PARTY!

Episode 104

Pool

 

The rest of the show, however, was downhill from there. Sure, Annie reunited with the deadbeat (whose mom washes and folds and puts away his clothes every week. COME ON ANNIE) on “her terms”, and she confronted her mother about her fat shaming.

But we could not get over the fact that, right when Annie is starting to build her backbone, her friends and family complain that she’s going through a “selfish phase.”

Um, what?

How could a show that purports to be about self-acceptance put a character through these shitty relationships and situations, and then just when she is starting to stand up and say “no, this isn’t acceptable,” call her “selfish”?

Way to go, creators of Shrill. You just undercut your whole message.

Annie wasn’t being selfish. When she stood up to her mother, she wasn’t being selfish. When she chose to have sex with someone other than DoucheCanoe, she wasn’t being selfish. When she didn’t tell her roommate she’d had sex with the roommate’s brother, she wasn’t being selfish.

Maybe she was awkward, and maybe she didn’t get through those moments without stepping on some toes, but to label her “selfish” just when she’s starting to stand on her own two feet–that was just too much for me.

The show has gotten a lot of attention for highlighting a fat woman. And that’s great. She’s a woman who has a job and has sex and has friends. Great.

That’s true of most of us, by the way. Fat women have jobs and sex and friends. We do. It’s true. Take a moment to absorb that, if you need to.

What we *don’t* have–and the show doesn’t address at all–is good-looking, well-fitting clothes that we could afford on a calendar-person’s salary. Much has been made about the clothes on the show, which are super cute–but had to be created for Aidy because (ahem) NONE OF THE CLOTHES SHE WORE were available in stores.

Shrill Rainbow dress

Here she is confronting the douche. See the inviting, adult living space he inhabits?

Annie, however, never struggles with finding an adorable rainbow-sequined mini-dress to wear to an office party, or fidgets with sleeves that are too tight, or has to roll her pant legs because she had to buy pants two sizes too big so she could accommodate her mid-section. That would have been a realistic thing to put in the show, and not hide behind the camera.

But the show far too easily slips back into shaming Annie for growing, for becoming more than she was, for no longer being small enough for “regulars” to accept. Despite the exuberance of the pool party, the rest of the show left me and my fellow watch-party-goers deflated and discouraged. We wanted more than a single moment in sunshine, thighs bared to the public; we wanted Annie to claim the space she needed to become more than just the calendar person, more than just some loafer’s comfort object.

She deserves more. And we deserve more. Showing a fat woman on screen, in cute clothes, at a job in a funky city, and (GASP) having sex NAKED is a start.

It’s a start, but it didn’t go nearly far enough.

 

To Make Small

I watched awards season this year with mixed feelings. I’m thrilled that “BlackkKlansman” got the attention and awards it so deserved (though I was bummed it didn’t get Oscar Best Picture), and happy, also, that a movie about a capable, powerful woman in the shadows of her husband’s success (The Wife) got so many eyeballs and kudos.

But watching Lady Gaga’s progression from wildcat/outlier/demolisher of stereotypes/embracer of oddlings to the precise silhouette of the Image of a Leading Woman was disturbing to me.

Gaga Weird Teeth.jpgGagaOscar.jpg

I’m a fan of Gaga’s voice. I’m a fan of her message. I don’t love all of her music (like, I *love* Brandi Carlile and every single thing she does. And also Janelle Monae), but I admire what she does and how she does it. She’s clearly an advocate for people who feel rejected, for people whose lives are lived in shadow. She stands tall and beckons the “misfits” to her, and shares with them her courage in the face of exclusion. Bullied as a child and as a college student (come on, young adults; what are you doing?), she identifies as a fellow outcast, and has found her strength in being unique, being her wild, wacky, incredible self.

And then she does this movie. Which is fantastic–I’m sure she’s great in it. I haven’t seen it because I think Bradley Cooper looks like the raccoon he plays in Guardians of the Galaxy

Raccoon.jpg

and I can’t get the image out of my head. I’m sure he’s great in it. Anyway. Gaga gets the movie and writes some songs and gets an Oscar for one of them. Those are all wonderful and I’m glad she’s got that success.

But during awards season, she was doing these weird, obsequious answers to questions about her success. It’s the “There can be 100 people in the room, and 99 don’t believe in you . . . But I had this one [as she points to Cooper] incredible talent with me” thing she said over and over, to the point where she was mocked about it at the Golden Globes. She took the jab gracefully.

I watched her give the same kind of answer about how she came to this place, and I’m thinking “Wait a minute. YOU are Lady Gaga. You really think 99 people in a room of 100 don’t ‘believe’ in you?

“I’m pretty sure about 80 of the people in a room of 100 would BEG you to be in their movie.

“I bet at least 75 people in the room would give their left arm for a little of your reflected glory.

“You have given hope to people who felt alone and unwanted. You have inspired an entire generation of young people to seek and be who they really are. In being unapologetically bizarre, you give people the courage to embrace and express their own weirdness. You wore a meat dress to an awards show less than 10 years ago.

“YOU ARE AN ICON.

“And yet it was Bradley Cooper who had the courage to believe . . . in YOU?”

I get that there was some performance to these interviews. That the character owes her success in part to his belief in her.

The character.

I am sure she admires Cooper, and by all accounts, he is responsible for all the major bits of the movie; some songwriting, directing, and acting. This was his baby, and he is due some credit. And it appears that his part in the creation of this popular movie is getting forgotten. I could see how a costar might have the urge to move the spotlight his direction. He worked hard, it was a success, and he should get credit for that.

But not for HER.

Her behavior makes my skin crawl, because it smacks of the thing women have done for eons; they make themselves small for other people. I see her trying to close those gorgeous, shimmering wings back up, wrap everything into a ball so it takes up less space just so the focus can be put on Cooper.

Lady, you wore a MEAT DRESS and got away with it. You made THIS VIDEO and became a STAR. You are an enormous, terrifying dragon of purpose and creativity whose words and voice and talent give strength and hope to complete strangers. Why are you making yourself small for someone–ANYONE else?

As much as I’m annoyed by this awards-season performance by Gaga, it has spurred me to action of my own. Merely by coincidence of timing, I came to a crossroads at my workplace. I was confronted with the realization that, in continuing to work in a part-time, entry-level position, in which all hope for advancement was smashed to smithereens at the news of an organizational budgetary crisis and resulting full-time hiring freeze, I was also confining myself to a small work situation when I want much more.

I’ve been asking for more for years, have been trying to do what I’ve done in other jobs–show your ability to do more, to learn jobs outside your narrow duties, to demonstrate your capacity to grow into more responsibility–but management has been singularly unreceptive. For four years.

So I tendered my resignation.

In this respect, I owe Lady Gaga an enormous thank you. I didn’t really see what I was doing until I saw her do it.

I have occasionally been a terrifying dragon of purpose, mostly on behalf of my daughter’s educational needs, so I know what possibilities I contain. And while there’s no meat dress in my future, I believe I can contribute more to a team than what I’m currently allowed to do.

I hope Lady Gaga is happy, whatever form she chooses for herself. I’m grateful for the reminder that I can choose my own direction. I’m grateful for my husband’s emotional and financial support. I’m secure in the knowledge that I’ve worked almost continuously since I was 14, and I’m confident I will find another position.

I just need one that will let me spread my wings.

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