Obsessive Listening

Music of note so far in 2016

I have been busy trying to keep up with all of the new music that has been released thus far in 2016. It is not easy to do when you work full time! I have been eagerly adding songs to my 2016 Spotify play list, and my collection of songs for the decade has grown to over 300. And I keep finding tracks that were produced in previous years that I missed. Like I said, it’s really hard to keep up!

Here are some of the many highlights that I have been obsessively listening to so far this year.

Tedeschi Trucks Band – Let Me Get By  My favorite album thus far in 2016. In fact, this will likely be one of my favorite all-time desert island albums. It has been in regular rotation at my house since its release. And I usually only choose one or two tracks from one album to add to my favorites lists, but I love each and every one, so they all appear on my 2016 list and my decade list. Susan Tedeschi (vocals and guitar) and spouse Derek Trucks (guitar) have assembled a group of musicians who are talented enough to stand on their own. Together, they are a powerhouse. Watch the whole band here on NPR’s Tiny Desk Concert.

Bonnie Raitt – Gypsy in Me She’s still Rockin! I love Bonnie.

Mavis Staples – Livin on a High Note This is like an industry tribute album for her. It’s a collaboration with some more currently popular and respected names in music right now, each paying homage to a legend, a hero to many. Her voice is more sandy and gritty, and even more soulful than before.

I got to see Mavis Staples and Bonnie Raitt in concert together a few years ago. It was one of those profound moments in life, two legends performing together who you know they absolutely love and respect each other. I get chills thinking about it.

Ray Lamontagne – Ouroboros – Very psychedelic for Ray, suitable for his ethereal voice.In early April, he played the entire album at the World Cafe here in Philly. You can listen to the whole concert, and watch this video of Hey, No Pressure.

Dylan Leblanc – Cautionary Tale – Very pleasant to the ear, similar style to Ray Lamontagne.

Lucius – Good Grief Fun pop music. I don’t love the single they’ve been playing on the radio so much, Born Again Teen. It’s okay, but I think there are much better tracks on this album, like All Mighty Gosh.

Single Notes

ANOHNI – Drone Bomb Me – The video for this is just devastating. ANOHNI’s voice is haunting. This song has been described as and ” indictment of the drone campaigns carried out by the United States and elsewhere, delivered from the perspective of a young girl whose family has been killed in a drone strike.” She has confirmed that she will release a new album on May 6, Hoplessness. A tangential opinion here: She really should have won the Oscar for best song.  She absolutely should have been invited to perform on the show. What a missed opportunity.

Kindness – A Retelling – I learned about Kindness (solo project of Adam Bainbridge) last year, and this is his latest track. He recorded it for the The Long Road project, a collaboration between musicians and refugees.  Just lovely.

Anticipated Obsessions

case/lang/viers – Atomic Number This trio is nothing but a miracle, something I never would have conceived of, but when I heard about it I knew it would be amazing. Neko Case, k.d. lang, and Laura Veirs (who I admittedly am less familiar with) are releasing an album together, and touring this summer. They’ve released a couple of singles to give us a taste.

Beth Orton – Kidsticks This beautiful single was released on March 2. Looks like she’s getting back to combing her folky style with electronica, and it’s just a lovely combination. This track definitely makes me want to hear more!

Sturgill Simpson – A Sailor’s Guide to Earth Sturgill Simpson is a new discovery for me, just this week, as a matter of fact. I heard a cut from this new album on the radio while I was on the way to work one day, and I was blown away. I looked him up first thing when I arrived at my office, and found that NPR was streaming the entire album. The web site says “At the artist’s request, songs from this album cannot be played individually.” After listening all the way through it, I can understand why. It is totally worth listening to from beginning to end. I don’t know what to say except that this album is like nothing I’ve heard. Twang, funk, soul, spiritual….the Dap Kings play on five of the tracks. He plays a mellow country western version of Nirvana’s In Bloom for gosh sakes! I heard a reviewer say “I just want to hug him.” So do I.

The new album comes out next week, April 15. Meanwhile, thank goodness you can stream it on NPR. I predict this is going to be one of my favorite albums this year, and maybe even make my Desert Island list.

There is a lot more! And a lot more to come! You can find my 2016 curated play lists on Spotify.

Paradoxical Readings – June 28, 2015

This week I cried tears of grief and joy, as the Supreme Court ruled that same-sex couples are entitled to the same rights and responsibilities as opposite-sex couples, and as the funerals proceeded for the nine fallen in South Carolina. While the Confederate flag is being lowered, and the rainbow flag raised, I am acutely aware that there is much more work to do to.

Changing the Flags

President Obama summed it up beautifully in his eulogy for Reverend Clementa Pinckney:

As a nation, out of this terrible tragedy, God has visited grace upon us, for he has allowed us to see where we’ve been blind. He has given us the chance, where we’ve been lost, to find our best selves. We may not have earned it, this grace, with our rancor and complacency, and short-sightedness and fear of each other — but we got it all the same. He gave it to us anyway. He’s once more given us grace. But it is up to us now to make the most of it, to receive it with gratitude, and to prove ourselves worthy of this gift.

It’s a terrible thing that nine beautiful lives had to be lost in order for the history lesson of the Confederate flag to sink in for many Americans. Finally, many are starting to understand that the flag, as Ken Burns said “is not about heritage, it’s about resistance to civil rights.” So perhaps some good can come of this. The momentum for the removal of the flags continues.

Why it still hasn’t happened in South Carolina (by the time I am writing this), I don’t understand. It is incomprehensible that something so offensive, so hurtful to so many continues to exist on state property. So, clad in tree climbing gear, Bree Newsome took matters into her own hands. Admirers and supporters abound, myself included. Just take the bleeping thing down!

Bree Newsome, our new super hero. Ava Duvernay tweeted that she wants to direct the film about her.*

Gillian and I took in the week’s events, observing the memorials for the fallen nine, and celebrating the Supreme Court marriage equality victory on Friday night with a bottle of bubbly and a beautiful meal (pan seared scallops with arugula, tomatoes, corn, avocado, and a gorgeous herbacious dressing – yes, my spouse is a genius in the kitchen, and that’s how we roll). We’ve been waiting a long time for this, trying to be married for the last eleven years, succeeding once and for all in 2013. Yesterday’s victory is just a sweet conclusion to our personal struggle, and our witness to the national struggle for marriage equality.

The week’s best Twitter hash tags were, hands down, #UrbanOutfittersbelike, mocking Urban Outfitters for ridiculous prices, and #AskTheNearestHippie, making fun of Antonin Scalia’s screed of a dissent of the marriage equality ruling. There was also this tweet from UHaul, who finally seems to get the classic lesbian joke. I can’t believe they haven’t cashed in on it before now.

Tears and laughter are both healing in their own ways. This week was certainly an opportunity to find the paradox of finding hope within sadness, and a realization of work left to do in the same moment we celebrate a significant success.

The wind is at our backs. Let’s not get complacent.

* Ava Duvernay Reportedly Directing Marvel’s Black Panther

Paradoxical Readings – April 2014

Recently I’ve read a couple of different articles that went viral about the wisdom most of us gain by our 40s. What You Learn In Your 40s and This is 45: The Eye of the Life’s Storm. The latter particularly resonated with me. In sum, the premise is “The emotional drama of growing up is behind you, the physical perils of aging are still to come.” Both articles speak to mid-40s being the age of perspective, of knowing exactly what it means that you are responsible for where you’ve been and where you’re going, for being wiser for having learned some of life’s hard lessons, and enjoying the present moment with gratitude. I can’t relate to everything in this article, as I am not straight and I am not a parent, but there are many nuggets of wisdom and humor that express what I feel, such as:

Your brain has reached capacity and to retain any additional information, some things leak out.

or:

At 45 your tolerance for mean people hits rock bottom. Life is too short to spend any energy on bullies.

and:

You begin to realize that granting yourself permission to just “be” is one of the hardest things you will ever attempt.

At 45, we’re all a little softer around the edges, literally and figuratively, and that’s kind of nice, actually.

This article in response to Sheryl Sandberg’s Lean In was an interesting read. I haven’t read the book, but I’ve talked to enough folks who have read it and found valuable nuggets of wisdom in it. This piece claims that “leaning in is killing us.” The author says that before she took Sandberg’s advice, she had more time for a personal life. All of this seems to speak to the old question of work-life balance that is never satisfactorily answered. Again, I’m not a straight woman and a parent, and I do think that is the audience for Lean In and this article, so I can’t relate to everything here. What strikes me as I read this and think about my straight female colleagues and friends who have careers and children is that, with exceptions, their male partners assume the stereotypical role of secondary caretaker of children and household. I do try not to be judgy, but it looks to me like as a culture we still have a long way to go towards gender equality in our professional and personal lives.

This article from the New Yorker about self-help books is a little depressing. The author posits that the positive thinking that these books teach their readers tend to have quite the opposite effect. I guess I don’t find this surprising.

The most effective way I have found to combat depression is to be pro-active, actually do something, as opposed to just thinking positively. One thing I do when I’m depressed is practice gratitude. I intentionally think of all of my blessings and offer up a prayer of thanks, meditate on the abundance in my life, or even send a thank-you note to a friend who has done an act of kindness for me. Practicing gratitude is included on this list of 19 Ideas to Start & End Your Day With Joy. On this post I found a few new things, and was reminded of a few I already know, to help me stay soft around the edges. These are all practices of self-loving, and good ways to stay mindful of all of the lessons I have learned by mid-life, and to stay open to continue learning.

More stats on what you can do proactively to combat depression: The Science of Happiness.

I love the Brain Pickings blog. A recent post about The Benjamin Franklin Effect tells the story of how Ben Franklin won over a a troll and a nemesis with kindness. In this story is the lesson for all of us to stop hate in its tracks by fighting it with love.

Speaking of fighting hate with love, there were a couple of really nice examples in the last few weeks. On the heels of the death of Fred Phleps, some local folks staged a demonstration of his funeral in the style of the Westboro Baptist Church, only with a compassionate twist.

In another loving response to hate, Honey Maid responded this way to hate mail that they received in response to ads depicting diverse families, including a same-sex couple and their son. I think I might be craving graham crackers!

What are you reading?

On Civil Discourse

Don’t Feed the Trolls, and Don’t Be a Troll

I despaired after the Trayvon Martin verdict came down because the national conversation on race in this country has devolved to a state where reconciliation seems impossible. People feel passionately about the issue, and there is a lot of anger being expressed and not much listening going on. On one side, people are claiming that we live in “post racial” society and racism is not a problem any more. On the other side, folks say that racism in America is alive and well, and we as a society still have a lot of work to do to change. The way this issue is playing out in the media and popular culture, people on all sides are not engaging in any sort of productive or civil discourse.

Race is just one issue among many others that divide the nation, that divide progressives and conservatives. I continue to despair because I see little hope for productive dialog across the left-right abyss. Until a critical mass of citizens commits to truly listening to and respecting diverging opinions, we’re not going to be able to make progress towards building a more just and civil society. The priority has to be civil discourse and respecting one another, not winning the debate.

In the days after the verdict in Trayvon Martin’s case came down, I posted a couple of opinion pieces about the Trayvon Martin verdict that I thought were well written on my Google Plus page. One article in particular prompted some debate in the comments of the post. I am decidedly on the progressive side, and believe that justice was not served in the case. Since I posted it publicly, anyone can comment on the post, unless I block you. A couple of readers whom I don’t know posted their opposing points of view.

The exchange started out okay, and they just expressed their opposing views. Another progressive friend posted a comment (in response to the article, not to any other comment in particular), and one of the folks with an opposing view angrily lashed out at her, calling her stupid, and her ideas bulls***. To me, that crossed a line, so I deleted the offending comment, blocked him from my page and from further discussion. I did so with a statement to everyone following the thread that I don’t tolerate trolls and incivility.

After that, another reader stated his disagreement, and accused me of banning the previous offender simply because he had a different point of view. He posted a few things that were angry in tone, but not yet bullying per se. I rearticulated my position that calling someone stupid and using offensive language is enough for me to shut someone down on my turf. He continued to assert his belief that I was shutting down dissenting opinions. Finally, he too, called my friend stupid in another angry rant, so I blocked him from further comment.

I welcome friendly debate and differing opinions. I strongly prefer diversity of all kinds – including political and social perspectives. I don’t want to live my life only socializing with like-minded folks. I want to understand why people arrive at such starkly differing opinions. However, I have yet to encounter anyone, online or otherwise, with an opposing opinion who is willing to debate without intimidation or insults. I would like to build bridges, not walls, but I will not engage with people who are mean and hurtful.

Taking a note from Ta-Nehisi Coates, I claim the prerogative to curate my comment feed as if it were a dinner party: If you’re going to berate and insult one of my guests, I’m going to ask you to leave. I welcome disagreement, not abusive and uncivil behavior. I’ve taken a stab at writing my own ground rules for civil behavior in public debate. If you are on my turf, any blog I manage, and social media feed that I control, here are the rules of engagement. And if you don’t play by the rules, you don’t play at all:

  1. Come to the table with good intentions, seeking understanding and common ground.
  2. Assume that everyone, like you, also comes to the table with those same good intentions.
  3. Listen openly. When you don’t understand something, ask clarifying questions.
  4. Prioritize respect for others over being right.
  5. Stay focused on the issues being discussed and debated. Don’t distract and bait with insults and unrelated topics.
  6. Take a breath, especially when you feel yourself getting upset.
  7. Don’t take disagreement personally.
  8. Take ownership. You are responsible for what you do and what you say.
  9. Be nice. Be cordial.
  10. Do not feed the trolls! Don’t engage in debate with anyone who treats you or anyone else disrespectfully. Walk away, or you risk becoming a troll, too.

References:

The Thorny World of Online Comments – from On The Media

How to Creat an Engaging Comments Section – from On The Media

Trolls: A Field Guide

Internet Trolls Wikipedia Page

Cutting Internet Trolls Down to Size

On Responsibility

My reflections on the George Zimmerman verdict in the murder of Trayvon Martin

While I’m not surprised at the verdict of this trial, I am outraged and despairing. This is a miscarriage of justice, and one of the most appalling thing to me is the admonition from the judge that racial profiling not be considered in Zimmerman’s behavior on that fateful night. Racial profiling is central to this case, and it seems to me that Zimmerman is now alleviated of all responsibility of his actions on the night he killed Trayvon Martin.

Zimmerman is not being held responsible for assuming, prejudging, that Martin was “up to no good,” and then pursuing, and confronting an innocent kid. Ultimately, Zimmerman is not being held responsible for the consequences of his actions which his own prejudices drove: Zimmerman, while losing a physical struggle that he instigated, fired his own weapon and killed an unarmed teenaged boy, a boy who arguably was defending himself, standing his ground.

There is a double standard in the application of “stand your ground” laws, revealing that the lives of brown people are valued less in our culture. And apparently women, too, now that the verdict of Marissa Alexander’s trial, sentencing her to 20 years for firing warning shots as her abusive husband was threatening her. Why does Zimmerman get acquited when an innocent boy died at his hands, and Alexander goes to prison when she was legitimately defending herself?

I’m trying to see threads of hope in this. There is an opportunity for communities to come together about how to conduct an ethical neighborhood watch, how to truly look out for one another instead of suspecting one another, and to value all lives equally. This incident may get more people to really think and talk about prejudices that we all hold.

We are not color blind, as much as we want to believe we are. We see color and we assume differences. We all act on prejudices, and those actions have consequences for which we are personally responsible. Until we take responsibility these grave tragedies and injustices will continue. So I hope we can forgive each other when we act on prejudice, and I really hope we can take responsibility for our own actions, and learn from those mistakes and change.

I’m trying to be optimistic, though it is difficult when we are so divided as a nation. Oddly, knowing that I am not alone in my despair is giving me hope.

RIP, Trayvon. May your life and death inspire us all to take responsibility for our own transformation.

References:

George Zimmerman, Not Guilty: Blood On The Leaves

Is There Racial Bias in “Stand Your Ground” Laws?

Florida ‘stand your ground’ law yields some shocking outcomes depending on how law is applied

 

The Wind At Our Backs

Civil Rights Movement Builds Momentum In Popular Discourse

Whether you’re talking about marriage equality, hate crimes legislation, or workplace protections, the momentum for LGBT civil rights is undeniable. As a movement, LGBT activists have known for years that we’re on the right side of history, and as such we were never turning back. Now others who have been silent on the issue, whether it’s because they thought it didn’t impact their lives directly or they didn’t think it was important, are starting to recognize its importance and take a stand on the issue.

I’m encouraged by the dialog, even as some of it is painful. I’m seeing people really struggle with the issue with honesty and sincerity. Several politicians have stated that they will not support Chick Fil A restaurant franchises coming into their districts and cities because company president Dan Cathy’s assertion of the company’s stance on same-sex marriage. Even the Muppets have said that they no longer wish to do business with Chick Fil A. Unrelated to the Chick Fil A debate, numerous powerful corporate executives have recently made significant gifts and public statements to support marriage equality.

It may be even more significant that even activists who have been central in the movement to repress LGBT civil rights are starting to change their positions. Insiders to the so-called “ex-gay” movement are starting to say that “curative” therapies developed to make gay people straight do not work. In June of this year, David Blankenhorn, a central figure who provided testimony supporting Proposition 8 in the trial that questioned its constitutionality, publicly changed his position on same-sex marriage.

Also of enormous significance, two major civil rights organizations this year passed resolutions supporting marriage equality, effectively identifying themselves as LGBT rights allies. Both the NAACP and and the National Council of La Raza (NCLR – which coincidentally has the same acronym as the National Center for Lesbian Rights) issued resolutions supporting President Obama’s endorsement of marriage equality.

I could go on. There is no doubt about it, 2012 has been a very important year in turning the tide in the movement for LGBT civil rights.

As more and more people start to get it, the debate has finally been popularly framed as being about fairness, equality, and civil rights.

In the past, those opposed to gay rights have successfully framed the public debate by relating morality to sexuality, and conflating homosexuality with sexual perversion. That framework and way of thinking has been soundly rejected. Currently, in popular discourse the question of morality as it relates to LGBT civil rights is about how people treat one another in a diverse society.

The opposition to protecting LGBT civil rights is widely recognized for what it is: bigotry.

Faith, Intellectualism, and Doubt

On seeking with an open heart

Faith is taking the first step even when you don’t see the whole staircase. ~ Martin Luther King, Jr.

I have struggled with being a person of faith for as long as I can remember. I have always been a doubter. I remember when I was a child learning about the life of Jesus, I was full of questions about learning lessons about God from a book that was so old. I asked my mother one day “What if we learn some day that these are just stories, and that Jesus wasn’t a real person?” There wasn’t any real evidence to prove that he existed, so how could I possibly believe in this person as a deity?

My memory of that exchange is a little foggy, as I was only about seven years old at the time. But her response was something like it’s the stories that are important, and these stories about this person have lessons for us to learn from and to model ourselves after, and faith wasn’t about being sure. In a nutshell, my mom’s answer was that faith is not about knowing. Thus began my life in paradoxology.

I’m just as confused now as I was then at that answer, and I probably will be trying to figure it out for the rest of my life. The result of this confusion in the reality of the world now is that when I go to any kind of worship I feel like an impostor because I still don’t know with any certainty what this entity that I pray to really is. I am still full of doubt and questions, while I perceive those around me full of certainty and conviction of what they know about God.

Equally confusing are my atheist friends who hold their non-belief with such conviction that they judge people of faith as ignorant. They think that one cannot be an intellectual and a person of faith. In this context, too, I have felt like an imposter because I am on a spiritual path.

What do I believe? I just don’t know…and then I remember that faith isn’t about knowing with certainty. Faith is about not knowing, and intellectual curiosity is about being open to learn. Faith and intellectual curiosity are about seeking with an open heart. I hold both with equal weight, one informing the other in constant symbiosis.

Perhaps symbiosis is a helpful way to think about people who are seemingly different from us. Instead of dismissing and shutting people out because we assume we can’t relate to their beliefs, perhaps we can grow by always seeking to understand the other with an open heart.