Category Archives: smart women

Musical Mind Hacks Monday — 4 Bands to Change Your Mood

Most everyone loves a little music therapy, and now we’re learning something about why. First, there’s something about the anticipation/fulfillment pattern of music. This article (Jonah Lehrer in his Wired column) cites evidence from classical music that dances around the tonic (the I chord) but doesn’t quite hit it, building anticipation for the final climax enjoyably. If you listen to rock or pop music you hear something very similar: guitarists leaning on the 7th, creating a near frenzy of desire for resolution.

I do love instrumental music, but when I really need music therapy I like to sing along and really belt it out. Maybe it’s like doing affirmations: you really need to say these things out loud and not just add them to the noise in your head. And check this out:

Scientists have researched what variables in a song inspire people to sing along in public, the Daily Record reports. Experts found that the impromptu urge to sing along to a song can be credited to four different elements.

These are a long and detailed musical phrase, multiple pitch changes in a song’s hook, the song being led by a male vocalist and the male vocal being in a higher key.

It’s not on my list of top mood lifters, but yeah, I’ll sing along to their catchiest song: Queen’s “We Are the Champions.” (But if you really need a mood lift immediately, go now and watch the Google doodle of “Don’t stop me now.”)

I have my own favorites, many of which fit the qualities researchers found, plus have some personal resonance and — if you ask me — empirical awesomeness that make them go-to songs for me when I need an attitude adjustment.

Stevie Wonder
OK, yes, he is not a band — technically. He’s just such a fantastic musician that he counts as a whole band and then some. And if you want songs with multiple pitch changes—that come out sounding like the most obvious, simple melodies no matter how complex—Stevie is your man. Stevie writes some great love songs: I won’t tell you about the mushy night when husband-to-be and I sat on the sofa and sang Stevie songs to each other, because that is just too much. Or that his brother sang “If It’s Magic” while his brother-in-law played the harp at our wedding: beautiful. Then there was the time we saw him live on New Year’s Eve in Detroit . . .

Love songs aside, though, Stevie is the ultimate “movin’ in the positive” (“Master Blaster”) music. Before all that hearts and flowers stuff, I remember the summer after I graduated from college: I spent the first day crying and crying (and listening to David Bowie, “Changes”) because I felt so lost. Then I picked up the Musiquarium compilation albums and spent the next three months listening to “Boogie on Reggae Woman” nonstop, and I was healed. It’s a sing along, it’s a dance along, it’s irresistible:

Though the very best Stevie sing along could be this one, “As.” Songs in the Key of Life should be handed to every depression patient. Or maybe just to everybody.

Dixie Chicks
They aren’t men, but they do sing in that easy pop tenor range. The Dixie Chicks were part of an experiment for me, years ago, to try things that other people might be critical of. My brainstorm: listen to country music. I didn’t really like the sound of Natalie Maines’ voice at first, but I couldn’t deny that singing along to “Goodbye Earl” and “Sin Wagon” was a lot of fun. When they came out with Taking the Long Way in 2006 I was primed to love it: they had already won me over with their bluegrass—rather than contemporary country pop— sound, and this album was their middle finger to everyone who had gone after them, burning records and sending death threats, after they dared criticize the president during a concert. (Wow, that incident sounds even weirder 10 years later.) Taking the Long Way is a whole album that responds to “Shut Up and Sing” with “I’ll sing, but no one tells me to shut up,” and that first song, “The Long Way Around,” is pretty much the theme song for any kid who grew up in a small town that always fit too tight.

After that album I went back and got Home, their first really big album. All the songs sound different and more defiant after their fall from country music grace, especially “Truth No. 2” (written by the amazing Patty Griffin). Singing along with the Chicks on that one always makes me want to go storm the Bastille, or at least keep plugging along a few more days.

Sly and the Family Stone

Sly is so funky—and at times so dangerous—that it’s easy to miss the fact that half his hits are self-help: “Everybody is a Star,” “Everyday People,” “Thank You (Falettinme Be Mice Elf Agin),” “You Can Make It If You Try.” I usually prefer to listen to albums rather than greatest hits compilations, especially for music in the heyday of long-play albums, but in this case the greatest hits album is like mainlining positivity. When I put this album on now I see myself in our old one-bedroom apartment, pregnant and trying to get a dissertation written before having the baby, following a spectacularly disastrous oral exam. Could I really make it if I tried? Singing these songs over and over again, I started to think I could. Maybe the greatest of them all, fit for nearly ever occasion: “Stand.”

I can’t resist linking to the Pee Wee Herman medley, which is so worth a click through. (Embedding is disabled on the video.)

U2
Like many children of the 80s, I found the soundtrack of my life on U2 albums, from War to the upcoming 20th anniversary commemoration of Achtung, Baby. I doodled lyrics from “40” during class in high school. When the movie Rattle and Hum came out I thought my teenage self might die from love of each individual member of the band. I sat in my bedroom and repeatedly listened to “One” and “With or Without You” while I pined for the boy who later became my husband. Lately I’ve had All That You Can’t Leave Behind in the kitchen CD player, which has a nice long stretch of songs that help me persist through a persistent funk: “Beautiful Day,” “Stuck in a Moment You Can’t Get Out Of,” “Elevation,” and “Walk On.” All of it says: keep going, drop your baggage, look around and enjoy this day, and if things suck now it won’t last. Nothing new, perhaps, but when you sing it out to the chickpeas and rice while making dinner it’s mighty uplifting stuff.

(Forgive the Tomb Raider video, please! In fact, forgive all the videos. If I could post audio only I would.)

When I was younger, my list of music therapy songs might have been more of the “Where Will I Find Love?” variety, but this list is squarely in “Love your life and don’t look back” category.

What are your go-to songs for turning your mood or your day around? Send us a guest blog post (mina dot 40questions at gmail dot com) or send a link to your own blog—or just put ’em in the comments.

Male-colored glasses

I am so tired of male gaze. I am just so over my culture being dominated by male expectation and the masculine perspective. It has gotten to the point where I only want to listen to music by women, singing about things women care about, real singer/songwriters, not sexy dolls singing sexy songs trying so very very hard to be America’s next sexy idol. I am recently enjoying songs by:

Evanescence
Florence + Machine
Adele
Kate Nash
Regina Spektor

Lily Allen

A Fine Frenzy
I am beyond tired of the in your face sexism of the television shows I want to watch and like. I am a nerdy girl and I like science fiction shows. Sci-fi is notoriously thick with male gaze because the writers think they are only writing for teenaged boys. So, when the camera is on a woman it is pointed at her revealing cleavage or her long bare legs, ending, just barely before her tiny teenager sized ass. A good (bad?) example of this is the nerdy show Chuck. Chuck is a stand-in for the typical computer geek boyman who gets to have ninja skills and date a sexy blond super spy who’s spy disguises often seem to require dressing up like a Playboy bunny or a harem girl. 😦

I prefer my sci-fi without the gratuitous T&A. If I want to watch some sci-fi with strong and realistic female characters I have to go back a ways to actually have something akin to a “list”: (links go to articles about the women in these shows)

Farscape
Firefly
Dr. Who
Babylon 5
True Blood (has lost of gratuitous T&A, but tries to satisfy both male and female gaze)
and (not exactly sci-fi but enjoyed by the same people) Buffy The Vampire Slayer.
For non sci-fi shows I have recently enjoyed Mad Men for getting down and dirty with sexism, gender roles, and the male gaze (especially in advertising.)

I run up against the the massive filter of male gaze in movies I want to like too. Too often there is only the token woman (Super 8, Harry Potter, Rise of the Apes, Cowboys vs Aliens, Captain America) or the movie seems to be actively against women (Source Code, The Hangover II, Transformers 3) but there were a few movies that I managed to see that actually cared to tell a woman’s story:
Bridesmaids
Jane Eyre
Hanna
I think a case could be made for or against X-men First class, and whether or not it even passes with Bechdel Test.

This all came to a head the last couple days since DC comics has rebooted and revamped several female super heroes into super sluts, posing in tiny bikinis and lingerie . You might say that is the norm for comics books, because they really are written for teenaged boys. But that is not the case anymore. Women want to read comics, we want to let our daughters read them and we want to let our sons read them as well. We don’t want want to turn a blind eye to a world that objectifies women and is unable to see them as real humans and is unwilling to respect their story and point of view. That is old. That is tired. I am getting eyesore from squinting at the world through male-colored glasses. I want to see the world in all it’s colors and I want to see my gender represented realistically and acting out their own agenda.

Twenty Years Ago: Lollapalooza, Pre-Geek Chic, and Love

Do you remember August 1991?

Twenty years ago I was going to the very first Lollapalooza concert in Chicago. I was working at the Minnesota Daily, and the two other night editors and I decided to go together.

Vocabulary digression: the night editors were the last of the editorial team to see the paper before one of us drove it—drove it!—over to the printer in the middle of the night. A large part of our job was to maintain the integrity of the actual text of the paper once it had gone “Prod Side” (out of the editorial office and into the production office, housed in a completely separate building) and was in the hands of the art directors, advertising people, and other folks who were more concerned with visual appeal than the accuracy of the 4th largest newspaper in Minnesota.

Everyone working on the paper was probably 25 or younger, which explains why it didn’t occur to anyone that if all the night editors left town for the weekend (when the paper didn’t run) and for some reason couldn’t come back by Sunday night, the paper would be in a bit of a pickle.

Luckily, although all of us were brilliant editors and students, none of us were especially wise, and off we three drove in my tiny bright blue Honda Civic hatchback, which had been dubbed The Indigo Chariot by my roommate.

My memories of the trip are hazy, but I have to laugh at the things I remember:

—Chicago Pizza

—Ice-T as a young rapper instead of old actor

—Perry Farrell of Jane’s Addiction: For most of their set there were 2 girls with no pants dancing lethargically next to Mr. Farrell, as if grinding with a rock star would be the most boring thing they would do all day. I think they did some things that were supposed to suggest they were Maybe Bisexual (ooooh! Edgy!). I remember looking at Perry Farrell and thinking that he looked just like a super-nerdy former high school loser (trust me, I know) who now had the fame and fortune to force models to gyrate next to him in public. It was kind of sad. I’m curious whether they’ve maintained that part of their act 20 years later.

—Living Colour, which I was really into at the time for some reason

—The cute nerdy editor who drove my car a lot of the way. He was a little younger than me, highly geeky, and scrawny in that way that made me feel—at 5’9”, with the hottest, perkiest body I would ever have—more like an older sister than a potential love interest. Still, had I not moved away, who knows? “Geek Chic” was not yet something any sane marketer had considered, but I was totally charmed by this pale, glasses-wearing boy who confessed at the age of 20 that he still liked dinosaurs. (Bitchy young me: “Really? I liked dinosaurs too. When I was FIVE.”) Last I saw he was a city editor for the Onion, so you can see my instincts on the whole “So Nerdy He’s Hot” thing were right on.

—Henry Rollins scolding the crowd for not clapping enough for the Butthole Surfers, who totally sucked.

—The repeated failure of my car to start.

See, you knew where this was headed. In the morning, as we left our hotel bright and early so we responsible young editors could be back in Minneapolis with hours to spare, my car would not start. My beautiful First Car Ever, for many years the only car used among my groups of friends, was dying.

We got it to a service station, and their brilliant advice was to drive drive drive drive without stopping, because once I stopped it would not start again without a jump from a kind stranger. So we did just that. We headed out of Chicago and into the prairie until it seemed we would absolutely have to stop for gas. We stopped for gas, made panicked calls to whatever Daily staffers we could find (cell phones? this was 1991, people, there were no cell phones for college students), got a jump, and rolled into Minneapolis just in time for the three of us to do our jobs for the Monday morning paper.

Because we were the very last editorial staff to see the paper, that issue has more than a few inside jokes tucked away referring to our predicament, including a little line art representing my poor hatchback, which needed a fair amount of work before I could drive it off to graduate school a couple weeks later.

Somewhere after midnight we all walked to one of the editor’s apartments and tried to crash there, but we were so wired we stayed up talking all night. I think the other female editor and I flirted aimlessly with Cute Editor Boy, all of us knowing full well that we were the kind of people who went to alt rock concerts and danced like fools, then went home alone to read classic novels and recover from too much smoke and crowd noise and write about it all later.

Sometime before sunrise we walked Editor Boy to his apartment, then went for pancakes. I probably only saw the two of them a handful of times before leaving Minneapolis; there was no point in further developing relationships that were about to end.

The Indigo Chariot was fixed and I drove it, along with my mother, and my step-father and grandfather following in a station wagon, to Ann Arbor. I cried as we drove away: I loved the city of Minneapolis, I loved the music and the theater and the lakes, and I was just starting to figure out, at the age of 21, that there were boys there who actually kind of liked tall nerd girls. On the way to Michigan, I stopped at the last exit of the Upper Peninsula to call my housemates in my new digs. I lay on my back on the floor of my hotel room and laughed with surprise when a boy answered the phone and identified himself as Eggmaster.

I hadn’t told anyone when I would arrive, so I told Eggmaster that getting him on the phone was the biggest relief of my life, still laughing from exhaustion and now from nerves. “I’m so glad I could be part of the biggest release of your life,” he said, and I don’t know whether he misheard me or decided to mess with me.

I met him a the next day: horn-rimmed glasses, a thin white t-shirt, black motorcycle jacket, black combat boots, long and heavy black bangs covering one of his eyes. I soon saw that his bookcase was full of Poe, Hemingway, Fitzgerald; I learned that he was a drummer and he loved Rush. Geek Chic indeed, except he was in no way scrawny, and he was —hurray!—a full four inches taller than me. I did not learn his position on dinosaurs. Despite our breathless, giggly phone conversation, we hardly spoke to each other for three weeks, so intense was our shyness and introversion.

Nevertheless, Reader, I married him.

When I read online that today Lollapalooza was marking its 20th anniversary, the incredible sweetness of August 1991, which seems so long ago, came rushing back. Though I am right now listening to my twelve-year-old daughter practice her Bach inventions, I remember another bright young woman who was just waking up to the surprising possibilities life has to offer, amazed that she, too, might have a chance at love, joy, and just a little reckless abandon.

Things I learned while on vacation Part 2

Wherein our Heroine is reminded why it is best not to be the smartest person at the table

The first long cruise I went on was two weeks long and half of those days were entirely on the cruise ship, what they call “at sea” days. I found out that I don’t like being trapped in what is basically a floating hotel/casino for days at a time. That might be fun for some people but I don’t gamble, I don’t enjoy overpriced and watered down alcohol and I have a hard time sleeping by the pool.

So, I ended up spending a lot of time, along with my husband, daughter and sister-in-law, playing trivia and other games in the “Explorer’s Lounge.” I am above average at trivia, and my husband and I kick ass at games like taboo and pictionary because we can practically read each other’s minds, but my sister-in-law is a real trivia buff. It was because of her that we won many games.

Yet even my SIL has her gaps in knowledge, and none of us are particularly good at sports, especially foreign sports (you get a lot of questions about cricket and futbol on these international cruises.)

This cruise we only had one day at sea but we managed to catch about dozen trivia/game activities and we won like five of them.  We got some okay swag (bags, key chains, pens, hats, etc) and a bottle of champagne (for tying for first place on the Beatles trivia night.)

At one of our first games we had a British gentleman, that we met during afternoon tea, join us. He knew the cricket questions, as well as some others that left us totally floundering. We ended up winning with his help.

Over the two weeks we developed a friendly rivalry with a couple other teams that were also regular winners. They each had the maximum six people on a team, Usually we just had 3 adults and my 10 year old daughter. One time we had a couple join our team, and they told us up front they were rubbish and they weren’t lying. We had a good time but it reminded me that is usually a much nicer experience to be supported in your endeavors by people who are as smart and knowledgeable as you are. And it can be even more helpful when they are smarter and more knowledgeable.

I am not just talking about trivia games where all you win is a Princess Cruises key chain. I am talking about friends, co-workers, business partners, book club members, classmates, etc. And there are times, events, and projects in your life that require you to put together a team of knowledgeable people to help you succeed.  You really want those people to know more than you do, or at least have something that they are better at than you are. Being the most knowledgeable person in the room is really only good for ego and spelling bees.

Bright Girls Grown Up

Most of my female friends are pretty smart women. And most of them don’t give themselves enough credit. At worst, sometimes friends seem to engage in a race for the bottom: “I’m the dumbest!” “I’m the least successful!” “No me!” Humility is a good quality, abject self-abasement less so.

A lot of women I know could identify with these questions:

How often have you found yourself avoiding challenges and playing it safe, sticking to goals you knew would be easy for you to reach? Are there things you decided long ago that you could never be good at? Skills you believed you would never possess? If the list is a long one, you were probably one of the Bright Girls — and your belief that you are “stuck” being exactly as you are has done more to determine the course of your life than you probably ever imagined.

I’ve entertained a variety of theories about these issues: maybe women are discouraged from succeeding, maybe women are acculturated to believe they should not be ambitious or put themselves forwards, maybe women are multi-tasking and set lower goals accordingly. And I think, yeah, maybe, but as a daughter of 1970s feminism I feel like those factors are not as powerful as they once were.

Another possible factor comes from the “Mindset” school of development:

What makes smart girls more vulnerable and less confident when they should be the most confident kids in the room? At the 5th grade level, girls routinely outperform boys in every subject, including math and science. So there were no differences between these boys and girls in ability, nor in past history of success. The only difference was how bright boys and girls interpreted difficulty — what it meant to them when material seemed hard to learn. Bright Girls were much quicker to doubt their ability, to lose confidence and to become less effective learners as a result.

Researchers have uncovered the reason for this difference in how difficulty is interpreted, and it is simply this: More often than not, Bright Girls believe that their abilities are innate and unchangeable, while bright boys believe that they can develop ability through effort and practice.

While I have been, at times, ambitious, hard-working, and willing to keep chipping away at a challenge, I have also let a setback lead me to question myself: “I’m not as smart as people say, and now they’ll know it.” “I guess I wasn’t meant to reach this level of accomplishment.”

Those “greatest hits” of the tween and teen years play in our heads as adults too, and sometimes when we’re feeling uncertain it’s easy to forget that we control the volume and the power switch. That’s one reason I love reading stories about people who make dramatic midlife changes, people who live for years as one type of person who do something dramatically different: NFL cheerleader to anthropologist, screenwriter to Senator, oil company executive to noir fiction master.

Changes like those can’t happen for people stuck with a particular idea of who they are.

How many different ways have you filled in this blank: I’m not a ( ) person. Which one would you like to let go of?

Full article, “The Trouble with Bright Girls,” here.

Knock Knock

As you can tell, we are dealing with multiple tragedies this week, but still keeping on. If you are one of the few women on the internet who has not yet seen this and contemplated doing the same, then click immediately and get in the loop. Knock knock . . .