You won’t break my soul – music gets me through another year

2022 didn’t break my soul. This year started out hard, with some of the hardest moments of my life, one after another. As always, music helped to carry me through.

My album of the year is Beyoncé’s Renaissance, and the song of the year from that album is Break my Soul. Since its release in July, this album has been my soundtrack, reminding me that even in hard times I can still dance. This album pay homage to Black, Queer, and Trans club culture, and for me harkens back to my favorite 1990s dance tracks. It is reckless abandon and unfettered joy.

I don’t claim to be a member of the Bey Hive, as I am pretty late to the party. I used to dismiss Beyoncé’s music as too poppy, too immature for me. But as her career has progressed and she has been constantly in the zeitgeist for the last three decades, I’ve come to appreciate her work and her love of Black people, women, and Queer people. She provides a light in the darkness, a reminder of our resilience and our capacity for love, most importantly self love. Her music is not for me as I am not the target audience, but I feel welcome to the party.

Other music that carried me through the year was Loose Future by Courtney Marie Andrews. This artist and this album have not been getting enough critical acclaim in my estimation. It follows the arc of new love, capturing the emotions of being excited about someone, trying to play it cool while being completely besotted. It expresses giddiness, insecurity, excited heart palpitations, anticipation, and how it feels to fall in love. And it has a happy ending.

While it is a 2021 release, I’m including Raise the Roof by Alison Krauss and Robert Plant. I saw them in concert on their tour for this album, and it’s one of the best live performances I’ve ever seen. Plant’s voice sounded so good, and Krauss played a couple of truly psychedelic sets that blew my mind. They played The Battle of Evermore (which is not on the album) giving me hope that perhaps their entire next album will be Led Zeppelin covers. Meanwhile, this album will remain in heavy rotation.

Observing Juneteenth

President Joe Biden signed the bill to recognize Juneteenth as a federal holiday, which may be some modicum of progress, and one that I celebrate. However, it’s impossible not to see this as some kind of – I don’t know if compromise is the right word – instead of Americans doing the work that is necessary to acknowledge the real trauma of slavery and its ongoing impact on our nation. It seems such a small, insignificant thing as voting rights are under attack, and as Black people are literally under attack.

All that aside, I am observing Juneteenth by reading, listening, and learning, trying to understand the significance of this holiday in history, and its meaning now. I’ve known about Juneteenth for some time, but only now I am coming to truly appreciate its meaning. What is sticking with me now is that, while Juneteenth is a joyful celebration, it comes from a place of profound pain, and you cannot separate the two.

This week, my learning includes the second video episode of the Black History Continued series from the New York Times. Juneteenth: The New Black Joy is a wonderful episode about Black creativity and resilience. It includes an interview with Questlove about his new documentary, Summer of Soul, about the little-known, yet very important cultural event in 1969, the Harlem Cultural Festival. At the end of the video is a beautiful conversation with Esperanza Spalding about her work, and her sanctuary for BIPOC artists (I hope someone from the MacArthur Foundation is paying attention).

Additionally, I’ve been listening to Ibram X. Kendi’s new podcast, Be Anti-Racist. The latest episode is The Juneteenth Mixtape, a collection of reflections of people on the street and cultural thinkers and intellectuals and their thoughts on the holiday.

My spouse celebrated his birthday last week, and in the week prior, we had started to delve into the wonderful Netflix series, High on the Hog, about the food and cooking of the African Diaspora and its impact on American culture and food. My husband, a brilliant cook and lover of history, said to me “how do I not have any of Jessica Harris’s books?!” So I knew that I needed to give him her book, High on the Hog, which is the inspiration for the series.

With inspiration from this documentary, my spouse and I are considering how we will henceforth observe and celebrate the holiday, This New York Times collection of recipes, including a submission from Jessica Harris for succotash, is giving us some ideas, and I think we will be doing some testing throughout the year. YUM!

Finally, you cannot have a celebration without music. I found a fantastic Juneteenth list on Spotify, and this will be our soundtrack.

Black Lives Matter

Black Lives Matter is an organization of activists fighting for the civil rights of Black people. It’s also a true statement, and a fact that people, especially white people, need to be reminded of. Again and again and again.

I woke up today, and before 8:00 there were already two stories in the news about Black men, one who was threatened with violence, and another who met with violence to the point of death. There have been other recent stories in the news about Black people dying violently at the hands of white people. These stories are, unfortunately, not exceptional, and these incidents keep happening. It is unacceptable.

As Ibram Kendi said on Twitter, “We should be drawing a straight line of racist terror from Amy Cooper [the woman who terrorized Christian Cooper] to this Minneapolis cop [who murdered George Floyd]. Too often, she is the beginning. He is the end.”

This is only going to stop when we commit to making it stop.

White people, it’s time to get our shit together. When you say “I’m not racist,” it discredits everything you say following that. Racism and white supremacy might not reflect your values, but we live in a culture where those values are indeed embedded and that we are taught early on. We are all racist, whether we admit it or not. The system we live in benefits white people, while it oppresses others. This in and of itself doesn’t make white people bad, but if we don’t recognize it and work to change it, we perpetuate it.

We have to commit to end institutional racism, work to understand what it means to be anti-racist, amplify Black voices and Black experience, advocate for Black people, call racism out, hold people accountable, speak up against injustice, and understand that this is work that must be done continuously, without end. We must work to understand the legacy of slavery and white supremacy, the inter-generational trauma that it has caused.

Here is a link to some anti-racist resources.

I would add to this list (I will be adding more to this post going forward):



Toni Morrison, 1931-2019

Eighty-eight years is a good, long life, by any standard. Still, the loss of Toni Morrison is a gut punch and hard to take for many people. I think it is especially so because her life and writing meant so much to all of her readers. For all of her fans, this is a personal loss. It is especially hard to take right now because her voice is balm in troubling times.

I’m very sorry she is gone, but I am so grateful that she lived and shared an incredible body of work with the world. That is such a huge gift.

In the wake of the news of Morrison’s death, some lovely things have been written and shared, or re-shared.

Writers — journalists, essayists, bloggers, poets, playwrights — can disturb the social oppression that functions like a coma on the population, a coma despots call peace, and they stanch the blood flow of war that hawks and profiteers thrill to.

~ Toni Morrison, The Source of Self-Regard, 2019

These are words we need right now. Thank goodness, and Toni Morrison, we have them.

Pride Month 2019

Sylvia Rivera and Marsha P. Johnson, Photo courtesy of: Diana Davies

Gay Pride is celebrated around the world largely as a civil rights event for people whose sexuality is oriented towards people of the same gender. What is often forgotten, perhaps even intentionally erased, is that transgender individuals are largely responsible for starting the rebellion that inspired the Gay Pride movement.

In 1959 a group of transgender women and gay men fought off cops at Cooper’s Donuts in Los Angeles, an incident all but forgotten. Three years before Stonewall, transgender women in San Francisco stood up for themselves in a moment of resistance at Compton’s Cafeteria. Of course the best known story is Stonewall, where by many accounts trans women were the fiercest fighters.

And yet many leaders of the gay rights movement wanted to force trans people out. In a heartbreaking scene from the 1973 New York Gay Pride rally, Sylvia Rivera was repeatedly denied the right to speak, and when she finally took the stage to proclaim that Stonewall would not have happened without trans activists she was booed off the stage. When I saw this footage recently in The Death and Life of Marsha P. Johnson, I felt a range of emotions, from sadness to rage to shame.

It does seem that we may finally be learning the lessons that Rivera and Johnson were trying to teach us. They are being honored together this year with a statue in New York City.

But we still have a long way to go. The struggle is not over, and as a community we still need to learn how so support each other: Did the ‘T’ Fall Off of ‘L.G.B.T.Q.’?

I can’t say it better than Scott James (although I would say more specifically trans people of color): Queer People of Color Led the L.G.B.T.Q. Charge, but Were Denied the Rewards

More Prideful things:

Tales of the City (part deux): The reboot of these stories is not great, but I do enjoy seeing lives that reflect some of my Bay Area life and queer experience. Seeing a couple, one lesbian and the other a trans man in the process of coming out, struggle with the process of his transition, some realistically tense inter-generational conversations about how to appropriately articulate trans identity, and there’s even a retelling of the Compton’s Cafeteria riot. All of this with San Francisco as a central character, presented as an imperfect utopia for misfits. There are nuggets of sweetness here that for me are worth time spent watching, if for nothing else to see stories of diverse queer folks experiencing joy in life.

Sense8: This show is not new, but it is SO GAY in the very best joyful and empowering ways. The story is layered and complex, and the main characters are geeky sexy super heroes who find light through darkness, and I am rooting for every single one of them! This is just the story that we need right now in these dark times.

Pride on Screen: From Crooked Media, a podcast that discusses queers in pop culture over the years. It’s pretty good, for for someone of my vintage (and to my mind 50 is not THAT old), the hosts don’t go back far enough! Have these whipper snappers never seen the Celluloid Closet? I was gratified that someone made a reference (albeit quickly) to Billy Crystal’s character, Jodie Dallas in the sitcom Soap from the 1970s. But there was so much more in popular culture that they missed in these conversations, it left me a little disappointed.

More queerness:

So many different queer flags! Who knew!?: The Complete Guide to Queer Pride Flags

New York Times coverage of Pride 2019

Making Gay History 

GLBT Historical Society

The LGBT Community Center National History Archive