Friday, June 12, 2020

Those Songs that Get You Through: Soundtrack Redux

Today’s post is a writing challenge. This is how it works: participating bloggers picked 4 – 6 words or short phrases for someone else to craft into a post. All words must be used at least once and all the posts will be unique as each writer has received their own set of words. That’s the challenge, here’s a fun twist; no one who’s participating knows who got their words and in what direction the writer will take them. Until now.

My words are: pets, family, summer, friendly, excitement.

Some of you have been here before. I did a version of this about 3 years ago. but i felt it was time for an update. 

cw: SA, child abuse, murder, drug use, suicide


It’s difficult to get to know someone, who they are now, without knowing where they have been, who they have been. Nearly impossible, really. The version of ourselves we are at the present is illuminated by and carries the baggage of the past. We’re a sum of experiences, memories, genes, views. Everything we are is shaped, at least in part, by everything we have been. Mapping out all that personal tragedy (in my case) isn’t all that good a time. But a soundtrack… A soundtrack is something else. It’s like a mixtape for your life—using someone else’s words and art to relate the journey you’ve been on, where it’s brought you, and where you see the road headed.

I have this tattoo on my leg, a quote by Woody Guthrie. It says “There’s a feeling in music and it carries you back down the road you already traveled and makes you travel it again. Sometimes when I hear music, I think back over my days and feeling that is 50/50 joy and pain swells like clouds taking all kinds of shapes in my mind.”

Here’s my road. Or at least a few stops on it.

Cyndi Lauper—Girls Just Wanna Have Fun

”Some boys take a beautiful girl
And hide her away from the rest of the world
I want to be the one to walk in the sun
Oh girls they wanna have fun
Oh girls just wanna have”

I don’t have very many memories of my childhood. Those that do exist are foggy snapshots in time, moments that fail to complete the full picture. They provide just enough to know what things were like in my family when I was young but spare me the details I really don’t think I want anyway. One of the true ones, an absolutely crystal clear memory rare as they are, is of a very young me, maybe 3, dancing to the video for this song, amused and laughing…free. Maybe the memory has stuck with me through all these years because it was the first time I connected to music in a real way. Or maybe it was one of the few times I felt safe and happy and unconcerned with the volatility that haunted most of my childhood. Either way, that relationship with music still exists, lighting my way through forward even the darkest times and biggest changes and still making sure I remember where I came from.

Eric Clapton—Cocaine

When I was 3, my parents were arrested for distribution of cocaine. To be clear, it was my dad’s cocaine, but my mom lived there so when the police took him off for the loads of it they found in our house, they took her too. And then there was tiny me, a pawn in all of this, dressed and cute and friendly and in court every day to play on the sympathies of the jury. Between me and the money my grandparents shelled out for an attorney (and possibly to grease palms a little), I didn’t lose either of my parents for any real length of time.

Was that for the best? Eh. Jury’s still out on that one.

The cocaine was an ever-present character in my childhood. My dad loved the stuff. It didn’t love him, but he couldn’t get enough. His nickname was Stormy because of his reputation for being a mean motherfucker with a volatile temper. Maybe he would have been that without the cocaine…maybe not. Either way, he lived by this song, man, and it surely couldn’t have helped things.

“If you want to hang out, you gotta take her out, cocaine. “

It was never my thing, never will be. Despite the nights I saw him ride on with a little powder fist pumping like a champ to this song, I saw how much destruction it can cause, and I took a different path. I suppose sometimes our parents are the best ways we learn how/who NOT to be.

Nirvana—Smells Like Teen Spirit

Given I spent my teens in the 90s it seems a bit cliché to include this song on the list, but I can live with that. Around the time I was 12ish my parents finally split. My mom put up with his drugs and drinking and abuse for far too long and spent quite some time squirreling away money from her weekly paychecks trying to save up enough to move out and leave him once and for all. It took a long time for me to not fault her for staying so long, but good fucking god, leaving was terrifying. He would show up at our little rented place out of his mind with rage and drink and drugs and threaten to rain hell down upon us if she didn’t return, but she stayed strong through it. I don’t know how any of us did really. But even then I knew I would never let myself be in her shoes. It wasn’t long after their split that my mom took me shopping. I had some money burning a hole in my pocket, and I wanted music to soothe the ache of life. This was the first album I ever bought with my own money—that I picked out for myself. I didn’t even really know who the fuck Nirvana was at the time, but when my mom saw the album cover while shopping with me, she did that thing Moms do, that gasp of disapproval followed by a whole bunch of naggy words about not understanding the world today or some such shit. Things old people do. Of course that meant I had to have it whether I knew who the fuck they were or not. I needed that rebellion. I needed to assert who I was outside of who she was, who my father was, who all the adults were that I knew. I needed to be something else, something different, something…more.  That was the indisputable truth of the matter. It just so happened that putting this tape in, yes I said tape, awakened all that in me and more. I don’t know if I can claim it was life-changing, but it sure did its part to make me feel at home in my own skin, and I still treasure the decision I made that day to get it.

“She's overboard, self assured. Oh no I know, a dirty word.”

The fucker of it is that even now more than 20 years after the fact none of the parental or grandparent figures in my life have ever let me have anything more of an identity or grow or change or take the shape I am now. I am still a rebellious 13 year old who didn't like to clean her room, and I have never been allowed to be an adult with my own beliefs and home and values because then they'd have to admit they had no part in my becoming a better person, and that just can't happen. 

There's still a young version of me residing in my heart and mind that plays this song with a big ol' fuck you though so maybe in some ways they're right. Fuck you I made it anyway. 

Also, it’s too bad the bass player turned out to be a gross ass Trump supporter. Sellout.

Stone Temple Pilots—Sex Type Thing

My mom moved on really fast after my parents split. She had been with my dad since she was super young, had never been on her own, and didn’t really care to be on her own ever. It just wasn’t for her. I could say a lot of things about that and the man she chose to marry as soon as the divorce was final, but some things are better left off the Internet. What I will say is they’re still married over 20 years later or whatever, and I guess that’s something. Her choice wasn’t easy on 13 year old me, though. 

Change is hard, you know. 

I started drinking at that age to cope with all these things, stealing alcohol from my soon to be stepfather’s stash and refilling the marked bottles with water. It was a daily thing. I liked that fuzzy feeling and how it smoothed out all the rough edges in my mind that wouldn’t quite fit together like a puzzle should. I liked how it quelled my anxiety for a little while and made me sleepy and forgetful and unfazed by the dead deer hanging on the walls and the times I could hear them having sex in the next room. I suppose my point is that I wasn’t exactly making good decisions, and my dad’s house was the place to be for bad decision making. That’s really the only reason I have for moving back in with him when I was on the cusp of 14. I wanted my home, my bedroom, my things… I wanted something to be the way it had always been, the comfort of that. And of course there I would have unlimited access to all the booze. He’d been giving it to me in front of company as a gag since I was a baby. Why would he ever have a problem doing so when I was older?

That’s where I was alone the weekend I was “date” raped at 13. He had gone to Miami to pick up some drugs to sell and left me in charge of myself with a fully stocked fridge and my grandparents just a few minutes down the road in case of an emergency. So when this boy I knew, an older boy, stopped by on his four wheeler insisting to come in, me on the cusp of 14 and getting into boys already, I kept the bad decision train rolling steadily on its tracks and let him in. We watched a movie together though the title seems to evade me, and when he moved closer to me on the couch I thought I might die of excitement.. When he kissed me, I internally girl screamed so loud I just knew he would hear it. He didn’t stop there though.

“I know you want what’s on my mind. I know you like what’s on my mind.”

No matter how many times I said no more, I can’t, don’t, I’m scared, please no, please don’t, please seriously I can’t do this or the fact that I tried to get away from him stopped him from having what he wanted. No matter what I said, he was sure I wanted what was on his mind, and he would accomplish that goal whether he had to tackle me and take it or not.

The person I was died that night. I’m a wholly different person than I ever would have been without that hanging over me more than 20 years later, but I’ve accepted this phoenix I am, reborn from the ashes of that night with anxiety and a guilt complex that has stuck with me no matter how many times I had to start over, no matter how much I think I have overcome it. It wasn’t just a piece of me I lost like my virginity had kept something glitteringly innocent locked inside…I’m not the person I was meant to be. I’m not better for making it through. I’m not stronger. I can’t even watch a fucking hint of a rape scene in a movie without being a snotty, crying mess. I can’t open the door for UPS when I’m home alone. I’m never, ever going to be fully okay. Am I fine with that all things considered? Sure. But it shouldn’t be that way. I shouldn’t be this person. I lost so much between abuse and rape, and fuck it. Fuck all of it. Fuck him. Have you ever went into a full blown panic because you’re scrolling facebook minding your own business when you stumble upon someone who tagged your rapist in a post? NO ONE SHOULD EVER HAVE TO DO THAT. No one should have to actually click on his profile to be able to block him and to have to pass that name every single time they scroll their block list. 1 in 5. Far too many.


Everyone handles sexual assault differently. I didn’t really know what to do. I just knew it wasn’t right. I confided in a friend who ended up telling her mom, and she, despite me begging her not to, told my dad. He blamed me and raged which I tried to tell her would happen—the raging anyway…I honestly didn’t expect the blame. It was my fault for being such a whore, he said, and refused to hear anything else about it. I was already on track with bad decisions. By this point, I was smoking weed, still drinking, hanging out with older kids (the kids of his many girlfriends actually), and I took that to heart, I suppose. Sex no longer meant anything to me. It was just a thing to do…a fun thing to do. Hypersexuality is actually fairly common with people who are assaulted, and it took a long time for me to be okay with that and not feel like it made me a shitty victim.

The first time I had sex after the rape, it was with a guy almost 5 years my senior who I snuck out of the house to see. I knew it didn’t mean anything much, and I didn’t care. I just wanted to feel something, anything other than the pain. I wanted that control. We listened to this album during it—one of my favorites—and I managed to sing along at some points. I don’t know what it was about that night, but something that should have been cheap and mean nothing for either of us actually connected us in ways we couldn’t have predicted. We kept in contact for a lot of years through his stints in prison and even after he finally returned home. He even asked me to marry him at one point. I fucked a guy in a Cavalier or something equally as shitty when I was far too young listening to Bush of all things and still get butterflies if I see him around or hear from him.

“Must be your skin that I'm sinking in
Must be for real 'cause now I can feel.”

As much as I have told myself sex is just that over the years, that song still makes me think of that boy and that night, and I get a rush. That’s certainly not “just sex” or just getting off, and if I’m completely honest there are some people, some connections, some intimacy worth letting your guard down for no matter how much pain it causes you in the end. There is a specific kind of beauty in people who have been so hurt and still love with everything they can.

Neil Young—Rockin’ in the Free World

My dad had these two girlfriends once…. How someone like my dad had two women who didn’t mind each other screwing around with him and traded time with him is beyond me. The drugs maybe? Either way, their kids were a bit older than me and had friends who were in a band. Do you know how awed I was at 13/14 to have friends who were INABAND?!  They did a few original songs and a couple covers. One was Weezer’s Say It Ain’t So and the other a version of this song that actually wasn’t bad.

Picture it, a field somewhere in South Georgia, summer 1994. 

“Got fuel to burn, got roads to drive.”

My life was kind of like the Moontower party on Dazed and Confused at the time. I was staying out too late with kids far too old to really be my friends, having sex and doing drugs, fucking up… I suppose that’s why I still love that movie—nostalgia. I was also super awkward, unsure of myself… I tried too hard to fit in instead of being me. I was Mitch and Sabrina all rolled into one with an extra dash of Tony’s social ineptitude. I couldn’t see it then, but I learned a lot about myself during that time or rather what kind of person I really didn’t want to be. It was important to figure my own shit out, to be my own person rather than just going along with whoever I was around because those motherfuckers did NOT have their shit together no matter how much I looked up to them for awhile, and the longer I was around the more able I was to see it. One of them became a cop, for fuck’s sake, and another is nearing 50 and has never had a girlfriend over 25. Not what you might call winners.


“Kill the headlights and put it in neutral.”

When I was 15, 9th grade, my dad came back from a stint in prison, a short one even, for trafficking, and he was worse than ever. I had managed to pretty much stay out of his hair enough and did enough of his housework and laundry to keep him from beating my ass too often, but that changed. He was doing more drugs, driving himself drunk more often instead of making me drive (I drove for him even at 13), and one night he pinned me to my bed and headbutt me hard enough to bust my lip luckily missing my nose in a rage I couldn’t even begin to fathom. He kicked one of my new stepbrothers across the yard for being fat breaking a few of his ribs. He broke my stepmom’s clavicle erasing all that shit she ever said about my mom just not loving him the right way being the reason he hit her for so many years. It was either move out or risk something more serious happening to me.

By then she had been remarried for awhile, my stepdad had nearly killed my dad in a drunken fistfight, and they moved into a solidly middle class, white neighborhood in town adjacent to some of the actually wealthy neighborhoods. I didn’t have good options, but I went where it was at least not as violent, and oh man did my friends make fun of me for it. Good naturedly, of course. The poors stuck together, you know. None of my friends had it easy growing up. We gravitated to each other because we were all broken and looking for the kind of relationships that would make us feel less alone, a little more put together for awhile. A couple of my stoner friends really made this my theme song, and I loved, like really loved, this girl who used to sing it to me. She was funny and beautiful and jerked me around. She was the first girl I ever really had feelings for, and it opened up a whole new world for me.  I was louder about my queerness than ever, and even though I was bullied for it so often, I finally had a community I knew was my own. I was happy to be a Loser so long as this beautiful little storm cloud would just keep singing it to me.

RHCP—Under the Bridge

“I don’t ever want to feel like I did that day.”

So there was this boy… THE boy of my teens probably. We met in 8th grade when I transferred schools after my parents’ divorce, and despite me being a fucking weirdo (I’m still a weirdo. I just dress better now.) he overlooked it and saw me for who I was. I went to all his soccer games, traded notes with him in every class we shared, watched movies with him on the phone when we were both grounded from actually hanging out… he was the first person I ever had phone sex with and someone I naively thought I was in love with for a long time.

When he was 20, someone broke into his apartment while he was gone. He came home while they were still inside, and the guy murdered him. He never really made it past his doorway. The call I got that he was gone nearly killed me. I fell to my knees in my apartment floor begging it not to be true, and for a long time, I spent a lot of nights visiting the cemetery where he was buried pouring my heart out about what was wrong with the world and how much I missed him crying about missing this person who had accepted me as I was, broken mess and all, without a second thought. I mean, it’s the bare minimum you might expect from a friend, but I didn’t have much experience with that, and I wasn’t ready to lose it or him, broken mess that he was.

His death, the way he died, him being so young when he died, and the fact that I never really got a chance to say goodbye had a deeper impact on me that I still don’t really understand--from my career goals to the types of guys I end up being drawn to both as friends and the occasional romantic interest.

I had known for a long time that I wanted to go into the criminal justice system, but that event pushed me even harder and warped my thinking for a long time. I was angry and emotional. At the time, I supported the death penalty, long-term prison sentences, and mandatory sentencing laws which are pretty much the opposite of who I am today. The research I did in school eventually caused enough cognitive dissonance to get me to look at my stance objectively instead of tied to his memory, and I was able to see things more clearly. For so long, letting go of my anger seemed like a betrayal to his memory, but that was never who he was. Being angry didn’t change the fact that his death was absolutely preventable if we helped the most vulnerable in this country, and the anger turned into conviction and a passion to figure that part out. This event changed my life in so many ways, and even now, even with all the changes and even though it’s been 18 years, I miss him so much. Sometimes I still dream about him and wake up reaching for him and get heartbroken all over again.

The Deftones—Passenger

The change I made in my beliefs about “justice” didn’t happen overnight. It was a process I honestly fought tooth and nail for a couple, few years. Towards the end of that, I came across a pen pal site for inmates that focused mostly on death row prisoners who had murdered people in cases not much different than the one that had cost me Mat.

My anger about that was scary. How dare these people reach out and expect to find friendship they didn’t deserve… But I kept going back to it. My morbid curiosity was undeniable, and eventually I decided to write someone. I think part of me wanted to meet a monster, so I could still hold onto that righteous anger and stand on my judgmental soapbox, but that’s just not the way it worked. Don’t get me wrong—it was a completely emotional decision. The person I chose to write looked and acted a lot like my fallen friend and was accused of a crime not that far off from what took him. I honestly could come up with a million different reasons why that was my choice, but either way, looking back at all the irrational and emotion-based steps that led me to it, I still feel like it was the right choice. 13 years now I have been writing people, and even though I lost that guy, Robert, in October 2017, to execution, even though he and I had our ups and downs as friends and didn’t see eye to eye on a lot of things, writing him and others has made me a stronger, better, more well-rounded person, and I wouldn’t give it up for anything. Even battling chronic fatigue syndrome since 2016, I still find time and spend some of my spoons on writing and helping and taking care of my pen pals (who are more than just pen pals).

It’s not an easy thing, though. You go into it not knowing where you’re headed, how long you have, or how it will go. It’s always a gamble, and you’re never the driver. You’re just along for the ride.

”Mirrors sideways
Who cares what's behind?
Just like always
Still your passenger”

To be able to do this the right way no matter whether the person may have a life sentence, a shorter one, or a death sentence you have to be prepared to relinquish control and let the journey take you where it will. 13 years I invested just to lose someone, and I wouldn’t change it. He wasn’t even the first I’d lost, and he won’t be the last. Others I have written have beaten their death sentences and proven their innocence or had their life without parole sentences reduced… You just never know. And that’s kind of the beauty of it. The friendship comes without pretense simply because you have no fucking idea how anything will ever turn out, and once you embrace that, once you make the commitment to let yourself really be open and vulnerable and genuine, you can forge the kind of human connection that changes lives—theirs but also your own.

”Roll the windows down this
Cool night air is curious
Let the whole world look in
Who cares who sees anything?
I'm your passenger”

That’s also not to say that everyone I’ve written has been good for me, but I can’t say that about everyone I’ve known who isn’t in prison either. It’s reflective of life because, at the end of the day, these are still human beings just as complicated and at least as fucked up as the rest of us. But giving a little support to someone who doesn’t exactly know what that’s like anymore has the ability to make real, permanent changes in people, in the world. It certainly changed me and talking about it has had its own ripple effect with how people might see prisoners and their needs and rights and how our system has gravely failed.

Don Henley—Heart of the Matter

Oh man Don Henley fucking sucks, okay? I know it. You know it. There was nothing good that came of that album, but I have a lot of memories tied to that song. My dad played it every time he was drunk (every day) and always about my mom, and I never understood it. He surely hadn’t forgiven her. Maybe it had a lot to do with them listening to it together when towards the end of their marriage. Maybe he figured out it meant something different to her even then… who knows. Maybe it was crack or meth or cocaine fueled psychosis. Or maybe this first stanza hit him especially hard right in the feels no one ever thought he could possibly have:

“I got the call today, I didn't want to hear
But I knew that it would come
An old, true friend of ours was talkin' on the phone
She said you found someone
And I thought of all the bad luck
And the struggles we went through
And how I lost me and you lost you”

I can’t ask him why that song was such a big one for him because he died in 2006. I got the call I didn’t want to hear in March of that year. He’d been diagnosed with cancer at 52. It had progressed to, well, pretty much everywhere, and with treatment, if he was lucky, he had about 6 months to live. I wasn’t exactly sure how to feel at the time. Mostly I was just numb. We never had a great relationship, but part of me did and always will love him, so in my own way, I also took it pretty hard.

He opted for treatment and lasted almost exactly 6 months being buried on *my birthday* (thanks to my darling of a stepmother for that idea) in September that year. I visited him more in that 6 months than I had in the 10 years since I’d moved out of his house. I called to check on him, let him spend time with my son, and hoped somewhere along the way that I would get some kind of apology for the hell he caused me. Hope in one hand and shit in the other, you know?
Not long before he died, the radiation he went through to shrink the cancerous spots on his brain made it so he couldn’t really talk much anymore. The words just wouldn’t come. I called late one night and talked to him on speakerphone with my stepmom there. He wouldn’t say much of anything, but towards the end he took the phone from her and kissed it. He loved me. I never really felt it in life, but on his deathbed he managed to communicate it in little ways. Was it enough to assuage the resentment that had built since the beginning? I don’t think that’s possible. I don’t think there are enough air kisses in all the world to fix it, but that’s hindsight. I was strangely optimistic at the time that everything would be ok.

After he was gone, I felt like the best thing I could do for either of us was to forgive and move on, to let go of the resentment and anger and just let his memory rest if not for him, for myself. But the harder I willed it to happen, the further from it I got, and even with a tattoo on my arm to signify his passing and my badge of courage for making it through the shitfest he made of my life, I still couldn’t get to a point where I felt okay.

I used to have this recurring nightmare. The details would change each time, but I would ultimately find myself on the road leading to my childhood home fighting zombies and some of the guys who’d been my dad’s friends. My dad would always await me sitting at his bar with a handle of whiskey mostly gone in front of him. The final boss.

I stopped having that nightmare after he died, but that’s as far as I could get in letting all the deep-seeded fear and pain go.

Some time down the line, my stepmom called my brother and I out to the house to pick up a few of his things she felt we might want (and let’s be clear it wasn’t much. She kept as much as humanly possible for herself and had burned all our things long before). In it was a stack of records (including that Cyndi Lauper I loved to dance to so much) and a whole box of 45s. Most of the singles were warped from being in the attic in the South Georgia weather and unplayable, but I couldn’t part with them, so I formed this huge music note on one of my bedroom walls with it stuck between framed copies of some of *my* favorite albums and posters from shows I’d been to.

Somewhere along the way coming home to that note on the wall and listening to his old records, I found the peace I needed. He’d given me that connection to music. He showed me how good it feels to share a song with someone you know they’ll really love or one that changes everything for them. I have countless people in my life or that have left it that think of me when they hear something—a band, a song,  or even a whole fucking genre. It’s one of my absolute favorite things about myself, and it came from someone who made me feel like I would never be able to celebrate who I am and what I look like. The realization was fucking brutal and painful and calming all at once. But that wasn’t all. He gave me my assertive, take no bullshit attitude, my will to be weird, my potty mouth and dirty sense of humor. So many of the things I love about myself were his influence. He didn’t really know how to be a good father, but in the end, he’d taught me more than I ever realized about who I wanted to be not just the things I knew I’d never become.

“There are people in your life
Who've come and gone
They let you down
You know they hurt your pride
You better put it all behind you baby
'Cause life goes on
You keep carryin' that anger
It'll eat you up inside baby”

I guess Don Henley got one thing right—it is about forgiveness. Whatever form that takes.


I was married in 2004 at 22 ½ years old to someone I had been dating for a year. I got pregnant the next year, and my kid was born in October of 2005. Somewhere in that time and in the years of losing my dad, dealing with my lingering emotions about Mat’s murder, trying to figure out how to have boundaries with my mom and her husband, picking up writing, and trying to work full time, go to college full time, be a first time, new mom and still take care of most of the housework and cooking and bill paying and yardwork….I lost myself. I lost connections to music that was my own and just sort of gravitated to whatever my husband was into or whatever my friends suggested or what played on the only decent radio station around. I saw a lot of bands in that time. I loved a lot of songs, but it wasn’t the same kind of feeling as the first time I played Nirvana. None of it released my demons and made me feel like the Earth was on fire or made me feel like a part of me was suddenly free and untethered by the bullshit of everyday life or my mind that could never be quiet, that could ever let me just be. I was Mom/Wife/employee/friend/student. I played roles. But I had failed to keep ahold of my true self, and it showed. I. Was. Fucking. Miserable.

To maybe no one’s surprise we divorced in 2008. It was too much for me to take care of a grown ass man and a child along with everything else I was doing. I was resentful and angry and unable to move past the fact that in all those years even with a child he hadn’t grown. If anything, he regressed. The fighting was too much; I put up so many walls he couldn’t feel a thing from me but icy rejection, and it ended. It wasn’t one big thing; it was a thousand tiny cuts that bled the life from me little by little day after day, and I think we both finally had enough.

Not long after I joined this social media site away from people I knew in real life (at the ex’s recommendation actually). I met a lot of folks through it (some I still keep in touch with) and that’s where I really started rebuilding. I wrote things I actually let people read. I talked openly about the horrors of marriage and dating as a single parent. I was a bit of an exhibitionist. And I fell hard for a guy from the Boston area who antagonized me purposely at every turn…like Mat and I used to do to one another. We haven’t been in contact in a few years now. Like with most other people in my life, I grew in a different direction, but he’s just one of those people who left his mark on me that I can’t let go of nor do I want to. A part of me will always, always belong to him and vice versa.
When he told me that I didn’t know real music early on in our friendship, I took great offense to it. I mean, I was kind of livid. I didn’t want to admit that he was right about anything ever for one thing, and for another, music had always meant so much to me that it felt like a punch in the gut to hear those words. I had turned to music for an escape, for therapy, for every mood and memory, and nostalgia. Music was tied to literally everything for me and had been for years. So it was such a sting to even consider I had lost that ability to find things I loved and didn’t just listen to. He sent me the link to this song though, and I sat back in my computer chair with a glass of wine in hand to listen, fully expecting to hate it on principle alone.

But my god it spoke to me on a level not much else had ever done. I was lost. I listened to everything the band had available and I wanted more. I wanted that feeling over and over and over again, that fluttering rush of hearing art that resonates so well it shakes something loose in your brain and wakes you the fuck up.

Earth burns
Earth turns
Coeur dans la mer (heart in the sea)
Corps dans le vert (body in the green)”

And so my relationship with music was reborn along with a part of myself I hadn’t even realized I let die. I get to make playlist mixtapes and recommendations and enjoy the search for that new rush, that song that will make me go “oh fuck yes this is the fucking shit” and sometimes cry or laugh or watch the hair stand up on my arms. I get to feel art again, and I’m a better person for it.

The Coup—The Guillotine

”we got the guillotine. we got the guillotine, you better run.”

I’ve come into my own in my 30s in a way that was so unexpected. I was so used to seeing the trope of women crying and screaming and being dragged into the big 3-0 that I really had no idea that it would be this amazing to be a 30-something going on 40. Even my own mom fell into a depression around 30 and refused to talk about it. But, I have felt more at home in my own skin at this time in my life than any others, and I have given fewer fucks than ever about the opinions of others when it comes to what I do personally while still managing to give all the fucks about what a state the world is in and the role I play in making it better.

I can’t pinpoint a time when it all became clear to me, but I feel like I woke up one day after having just said “I’m not like other girls” and hating myself the night before to being an intersectional feminist, queer anarchist, with fervent interests along the sociopolitical spectrum, loving myself, body positive or at least working on my fatphobia, and obviously pretty far left. Yes, there are actually a few a left wing presence in this country, and no I'm not talking about Nancy fucking Pelosi. It really has been a slow transition despite how it feels, though. There are times I can look back on old social media stuff and see me questioning the ideas I held at the time and where I would be headed and see the changes taking place as I sorted out everything I thought I knew. 

So, rationally, I know it’s been an extended process. But it just doesn’t feel that way. It feels like someone flipped a switch in my simulation, and here I am reading The Conquest of Bread. 

Along the journey, that growth led me to other arenas mostly focused on self-love. I struggle with it. I struggle with discussing my past, my demons, my mental health, my chronic illness, where I am from, my biases, and my self-pity, but I fight the battles every day (and mostly I win). We all have those days where the ugly memories and voices from the past rear their heads and threaten to take control again, but the familiarity of doing the work constantly makes it easier and easier to fend them off.

Music has been a big part of the struggle of learning to accept all that my life has been and is and who and what I am, reconciling things I have loved with who I want to be. Music is a weapon some days to fight the past off, and sometimes it’s a tool to travel back down the road I already traveled and patch it up.

I listened to a lot of hip hop in my teens. I also listened to a lot of metal. I don’t know how to tell you those two things work together, but I suppose a large part of it was rebellion, I think, and for channeling the pain and anger of the folks I listened to. I dropped the hip hop along the way at some point, and I could never bring myself back to it. For a lot of reasons that are probably “obvious” to a lot of people, the genre itself seemed at odds with my politics. (Funnily enough though what makes something hit mainstream rap charts has more to do with the kind of music being consumed by young suburban white kids who are buying it for the same reasons I first started listening to it. They’re the biggest consumer group, and it has changed the entire scope of the genre and its intent…but I guess that’s a bigger lesson and a longer rant for another day.)

Someone I wrote for awhile had me digging a little deeper on the genre sharing songs he loved. The lyrics were often politically driven and just as much about love and relationships and every day trials as any other genre I loved at the time—maybe even more so. It wasn’t the kind of misogynistic and violent tone so many people often associate with both the genre and culture surrounding rap and its subgenres. I found myself sorting through all kinds of artists who saw things like I do, who had actually felt those experiences that I know need to change, that wanted something better for all people… Music didn’t have to be just an escape, but a way to feel less alone in your own thoughts and to give you the energy to keep fighting. That was the origins of hip hop anyway—activism and revolution. I know better now. I put away my pride and learned a thing or two even about a subject I thought I already knew everything about (music).

"They got the TV, we got the truth
They own the judges and we got the proof "

Childish Gambino was one of the first artists of the genre that I really fell in love with and sent me on a journey to rediscover a genre I left behind out of my own ignorance. I picked up Power Struggle, Bambu, the Blue Scholars, Joey Bada$$, Propaganda....But The Coup and Boots Riley in particular have a special place in my listening rotation.  They've existed since the 90s, so I missed out when it probably would have been the most transformative, but I'm glad the last few years have brought them my way now.  The sound has so many roots in the kind of 70s black culture and music that felt like a strike back at the volatility of the times, a channel for the anger and the pain of having an entire history of exploitation and hate and then adding decades more of segregation (and hate) and white destruction of the communities Black people managed to build without us and the loss of leaders that tried hard to push things forward by peace or violence taken out by their own government or white fear.  and something sorely needed today given the way things are now. If anything could represent that part of me that wakes up every day wanting to fight the good fight, it’s this song. This sound. 

Don't talk about it
It's not a show
Be about it
It's 'bout to blow

It Ain’t All Flowers—Sturgill Simpson

Cleaning out the darkest corner of my mind
Taking all my full circles and making straight lines
Been getting to the bottom of the bottom getting to me
I've been holding up the mirror to everything I don't want to see

Part of coming to terms with myself meant dealing with where I’m from. 

I was born and live in the South as I feel I have made clear. And when I say from the South I mean the very kind you probably picture when someone says backwoods Georgia. We have a lot of confederate flag waving, mullet and mustache sporting assholes who co-opted the term “redneck” from red bandana wearing union workers striking for rights for coal miners and ruined or at least tried to ruin an entire fucking genre of music that was stolen from Black musicians in the first place. 

 Don’t believe me? Look up Rufus “teetot” Payne.

Being from here, growing up in an area that has a population of color almost equal to that of Whites and having so many Black friends but racist parents, getting the homophobic bullying, knowing how the rest of the world views the South, hearing the judgments about incest and hate, learning our history with slavery, the civil rights era, and still seeing people wave the Confederate Flag….it’s fucking shameful. I wanted nothing more than to get out of here. In fact, I wanted and had planned to one day run away to Canada. I needed so badly to separate myself from this heritage I never wanted and from people who made it clear I wasn’t welcome here as I am.

But that didn’t happen. Life happened. Tense parental relationships happened. Being poor as fuck and realizing how limited I would be happened.  And I stayed. I didn’t have much of a choice.

That past is still here. It’s still shameful. And while I tried to separate myself from the history  and heritage and divest from my own past here, I can’t. If every one of us who rails against the ignorance so present in Southern culture were to leave, no progress would ever happen. I’ve tried so hard to be separate of this place I grew up in and live in, and it’s impossible. Everything I experienced here has shaped who I am, and I’m tired of trying to get rid of this accent. It ain’t fucking happening. My sweet tea drinkin’, cornbread and boiled peanut loving ass is a Southerner through and through. I can be ashamed of the things that happened in and because of the South, and I can also be determined to fix that. Labor unions fought hard in the Southern states. Hillbilly solidarity was a real thing.And, I can appreciate the beauty of this region and understand that it is absolutely one of the more diverse areas of the country and will bend to progress. It will. Might be kicking and screaming, but it will.

NASCAR banned the confederate flag so there’s that.

My dad loved country music just as much as he loved Southern rock and doing drugs and that’s saying a lot… But I just couldn’t. It reminded me of everything I hated about here, and it only got worse over time.

And then there was Sturgill Simpson.

But it ain't all flowers
Sometimes you gotta feel the thorns
And when you play with the Devil you know you gonna get the horns

The South is complicated. My relationship with being a Southerner is complicated too. It ain’t all flowers. I’ve wrestled with that. But there are other Southerners who are wrestling with it too. Sturgill is one of those and sometimes one of the loudest. He helped soothe the pain when those demons and thorns ultimately cut me deeply. He helped me heal, and he lead me to others like queer cowboy Orville Peck and Sarah Shook. I have as much country on rotation as anything else these days.
There are scars, sure. But I’m not alone. I have these artists defying the stereotypes, and I have my closest friend down here who went on this journey to reclaim our roots with me. There will never be a time that I hear Sturgill and don’t think of him, and I can honestly say if it wasn’t for him, I don’t know how I’d make it in this world. We threw caution to the wind about a genre so far outside our norm that day (his being punk and mine being anything but that), and it was beautiful, and it bonded us even more.

But even more than that, embracing the sounds that I have so often rebelled against with everything else imaginable under the sun was just one more way to really be my own self, and that’s been the overall theme of my 30s. Give zero fucks and be genuine to the core.

Baroness--I'd Do Anything

I’ve been battling chronic fatigue syndrome since May of 2016, and honestly for the first year of it, I felt like my journey might have hit a dead end.

When I make my escape
Will I get soaked up by the rain?
I am selfish, I am wrong
I'm scared to be alone
Every aching joint breaking at the bone

This is the kind of disorder that drives people to suicide, and there are days when I am sure if I were alone, I’d be gone already. There are days I’m so fatigued I’m not even sure how I am going to make it out of bed (I always do…because who else is going to give my pets their meds?).  And days when I don’t know how I’m going to make it through the pain. It’s been a fucker of a thing, and it’s taken a lot out of me to come to terms with the idea that this is a lifelong chronic illness with no cure and symptoms that are spread across nearly every bodily system. My immune system, muscles, joints, gastrointestinal system, endocrine system, my cognition, my vision, cardiovascular system, and personality have all been affected. I’ve had to spend a lot of time and energy I don’t have relearning who I am and what my limits are and how to not equate my worth with my productivity levels. It’s not something I asked for, but it’s something I still have to keep a handle on it. And I do…mostly. It’s been a life changing, me-changing illness ever since it started. The pain, brain fog…feeling everyday like I am drunk with the flu when I rarely even drink…it’s almost surreal. But at the same time, it’s definitely taught me to do some serious self-care not just fake it, to take time for myself, and to always appreciate the little things (I don’t have the fucking spoons for the big things more times than not).  I had to give up being independent to a fault and learn to ask for and accept help instead of trying to do it all (still a struggle not to feel guilty over that). I’ve had to unlearn the pressure I put on myself to get ALLTHETHINGS done in one day or in a certain time period, and now I have to get to it when I get to it. I still sometimes feel that pressure. I have a long way to go, but even with this monster of an illness I feel more in tune with life and myself. I even give myself breaks from the news (whoa!).

I'd do anything to feel like I'm alive again
I'd do anything to feel like I'm alive
I would do anything to feel like I'm alive again
I'd do anything, anything

I can’t say it’s been good for me because let’s face it I wouldn’t wish this on my worst enemy, but I’ve been able to make some good out of the situation, and that’s all you can really ask for out of life. There are times I miss the things I used to be able to do, and I spin this song and bawl my eyes out feeling understood on a level I don’t get from anyone else in my life. It’s hard to understand something you don’t live with everyday. I’ve made the best of this hand I’ve been dealt, but there are days I feel like I’m just existing. I live through this song. I sing these lyrics and let the tears flow and feel, really feel, all the anguish and the resentment and the sheer fucking horror of it, and for a little while at least I sit with all the feelings this song can evoke and feel heard. I feel seen. There’s more value in that than I can do justice with words alone.

Daddy Issues—Unicorns and Rainbows (boyfriend)

Haven’t you heard
I’m a sheep underneath all this fur
You should have known
I am full of shit not unicorns and rainbows

If I had to pick just one song to be my theme in life, it would be this one. The sound, lyrics, girl power, angst and grunge are everything that I have been an am from that little girl dancing to the very countercultural icon Cyndi Lauper to 38 year old me still wearing flannel and Dr. Martens with purple hair and tattoos and an eat shit attitude covering up a pretty gooey interior.

But that comes with problems sometimes, with a little manic pixie dream girl fetishization especially since I’m queer, and that song is here for those as well.

I don't need a fucking boyfriend
I'm not letting you inside
I'm not eating you alive

I'm not sleepin' with you
I'm not sleepin' with you
I'm not sleepin' with you
Or with you

There are some men no matter how much I talk about being queer, about not being interested in having another man in my life,  or about being content with how my life is structured right now or any number of things to let them know their attentions are not really going to get them anywhere, they still build me up to be something I am not in their minds and profess attraction or a desire for a romantic partnership that I profusely stated I would never want. So now I just send them this song. I’m an actual person with a complex personality like most other people and not Ramona Fucking Flowers from Scott Pilgrim for fuck’s sake I don’t want your dick pics or your sexting. Leave me alone.

As far as I’m concerned, this song should play every time I enter a room as a warning.


Links to the other “Use Your Words” posts:

Baking In A Tornado

Spatulas on Parade

Wandering Web Designer

On the Border

Sparkly Poetic Weirdo

Part-time Working Hockey Mom

Follow Me Home


  1. I've read the bits and pieces of your past that you've shared here before, but today I see much more of the entire picture. There are so many pieces of your past that make me cringe, that fill me with rage, but then you show who you've chosen to be and I know that you may not have been in control of the past, but you rule your present.

  2. I don't know most of the songs on your list, but I do remember your earlier post, and I like the title "Unicorns and Rainbows".

  3. First of all, I should have paid attention to your early warning. SInce I didn't, let me tell you that I think our soulds knew each other in a different life. This was as relative and as painful of a post as I've let myself read in a long time. And I get it. The background, the pain, the immense connection to lyrics; I absolutely get it. I'm older than you. All I could think of while reading this, is I wish I could have been an older sister to you. To see things in the long run; to protect you from the ugly that you didn't deserve. On a less serious note, Donald Glover/C.G. is an offing genius.

  4. And thus emerges a newer, fuller picture of the girl!
    Amazing, isn't it, how our life's most notable (for good and bad) moments are accompanied by music?
    I have a theory about music. It goes right through and into the soul. For happy or sad and all feelings in between. That's why it has the ability to cheer us up or bring us down.
    And yes, for me, too, all of my most notable moments have their own soundtrack!

  5. I've always seen my life in the words of songs and a song can also take me right back whether the memories are happy or sad.