Giving Up the Cool Girl Badge
Personal reflections after reading GIRLHOOD and revisiting a few favorite Tiny Desk concerts helmed by bad ass women.
Who would I have been if I was rapping Chika in the mirror instead of Nas?
Still embarrassingly corny (and unforgivably white), for sure, but otherwise, hard to say if it would have made a discernible difference in the development of my gendered personality or not.
But then I watch Tank and Jelly be their goofy perfect selves and yep, it would have made an impact.
Still does, in fact!
Friday night Caroline and I sat for hours and hours in the humid New York air. After a while the rumble of the subway under our feet became background noise as the conversation spiraled, my eyes locked on hers, drinking in revelations, laughing, laughing.
We each have our own strange little pocket, you know? The weirdo influences and intersections that made us once upon a time that badge of cool girl, our own form of currency certainly, but at what expense? So many times we have held ourselves back in the name of some restrictive political ideal.
Here is my bad feminist confession. I suspect part of what makes Chika bang so hard is the rigor of becoming against an edge. Let me be the best — as a woman, but not on behalf of women, not for women — better than everyone, especially men. Winning something. Making yourself special, singular.
Or aiming for that at your bravest moments — reaching towards that more colorful version of your present self. The one that lays beyond the accepted or acceptable boundaries.
What redeems me is that I really love funny, bold ass women. Man, do I. In fact, I love ’em so much I’ve worshipped them in multiple positions and through all of my senses.
When I listen to Chika, I gather permission. That’s the gift. The advice, translated through my brain as messages from my body’s response to the physical experience of listening to her music, sounds like:
Get ugly in your art.
Then, get out the gutter and get onto your throne.
Do not speak on what you do not want.
Turn “we’ll see what happens next” into “I create what happens next.”
Spell bound — that’s how you want your audience to feel. If it is boring, you have failed.
But keep that philosophy on the page, would ya?
You don’t gotta be off, but you don’t gotta be on, if you know what I’m sayin.
Don’t bring the stage into your most intimate relationships.
Harmonize your multiple selves.
Only trust a man who listens to women musicians in his regular rotation.
Find the heat in your writing and match it to heat. That’s your moon. Heat to heat.
You have one raunchy alter ego.
Thought-provoking and fun.
Stop being worried about who you will offend.
STOP BEING WORRIED.
It’s a little bit ambition a little bit self obsession a little bit inspiration a little bit insanity a little bit in love with humanity or in disgust at humanity it’s intensity it’s how sick truly like in pain in my spine I feel when I’m not being myself or I should say when I’m terrified to be myself.
It takes a little delusion to be one’s self is what a Pulitzer Prize winner told me in earnest over lunch a few weeks back. Or that was my take away, anyway, the prescription of delusion. “I was a little delusional” was just an honest confession about working odd jobs and making art when it was probably objectively at least a little bit foolish to.
Last weekend I drove twelve hours round trip to find a bear eating in the field as I crouched at a safe distance, popping handfuls of wild blueberries to mouth. Each the size of a pin head, picked by my own fingers, sour and sun warm.
Later that night, a fox ran behind the fire pit as we sat after a day of talking talking talking and it appeared as if black on black against the night, a silhouette of bushy tail.
What does it all mean!
Perhaps that human problems are very silly and often terribly destructive, it would do you well to remember your place in the grand scheme.
Perhaps that the world is very beautiful. Oh there is such an incalculable, incomputable amount of beauty! It is crazy anyone would choose not to taste it all, but also, this too can become greed, which becomes laziness, which turns into shadows.
(Irma Vep in a cat suit — meow!)
All of that to say: On the way home from the mountain trip, one lyric really stayed in my head after all that music music music.
The two options, in every circumstance, as simple as should I bother to make the bed or not, Anderson Paak reminded me:
“One of these is my rise / One of these is my downfall”
Women with voracious, rapacious, exaggerated appetites for freedom must also weigh the consequences of such uncouth and provocative desires.
Or is this another flat and inflexible narrative you’ve adopted?
When I was a teenager there was precisely one short-lived shop in the whole capital district that sold MASS APPEAL magazine, which was, at the time, by far the most artful and exciting hip hop (and it’s adjacent cultures) underground periodical.
An early issue I treasured was dedicated to contemporary underground women MCs. My favorite portraits were of the woman with the most attitude: namely, a full page image of Jean Grae cocking a 40 into her mouth, I think she might have been wearing brass knuckles. Gripping a switch blade? In her teeth? Even if my memory is inaccurate, I am not exaggerating the essence of her snarling vibe.
The fucked up part? I didn’t track down her music at the time. Why didn’t I do that?
What goes around comes around but who knew that the next year I would be living in Brooklyn, riding on the back of a motorcycle belonging to MASS APPEAL’s owner, avoiding the shitty bus ride to the subway from their Red Hook loft office, right there on the river, in a whole other era of New York real estate? (It wasn’t creepy, by the way, the ride, it was a ritualized kindness — he’d always ask the whole office when he was leaving if someone needed a lift to the train. One day I did).
I was a first semester design student and didn’t know anything at all yet, certainly not enough to be helpful, but Sally, the art director, took me under her wing and let me feel contributory just by scanning up some photos. The place was such a boy’s club and the women who had entered that space guns blazing intrigued me — deeply.
A few years later, in a music video for my friend Tamar Kali, I posed myself as a character who is stood up by a dude (ha!) and, disappointment detectable under her hard stare, steps into an elevator, smoldering at the camera as the doors close.
Next shot: the elevator opens and Jean Grae prances out, so fucking expertly rapping out her big hair, her curves so lovely in a little green minidress.
My dream life often comes back to me in the tangible, come to think of it.
I remember the two bad ass women on set, painting their make up by candle light. The owner of the apartment who was loaning out his roof for our shoot must have missed his electric payments. Even bad asses sometimes get broke.
The show must go on.
What was I saying again? I just freestyle these entries, you know. Often with a joint in hand. It’s just how I make sense of my life but I understand as a reader it might feel a little… steeped in smoke.
Sometimes it’s hard to read Melissa’s work because of how many times I see myself rendered so nakedly in the pages. I suspect many people feel this, which is why the book is a bestseller and also, a compulsive read, while offering some radical comfort through which we, the reader, can face ourselves plainly in order to drill down to the bedrock of our pain.
Now that is some good good work being done in the world.
I don’t want to be good for a girl but I don’t want to not be a girl if you know what I mean.
Do you know what I mean when I say I don’t want to be a good girl but I also don’t want to not be good?
This week I saw my friend for some tacos. I have known him since he was 10 and I was 14. Our friendship began in a mentor-mentee capacity, in case that age gap strikes you as odd. I was his counselor at overnight camp.
Now the age difference feels indiscernible but back then it was universes apart. He was my favorite kiddo of them all, a bizarrely cool child who said phrases like “in the end the Sex Pistols we’re playing the media, not the music,” and, being strangely attuned to the interpersonal dynamics of the teens around him, guessed that I was dating the break dancer on crew (and what a cornball that dude was! I mean, simply the worst!)
Of course my friend also loved having a little French mustache made from eyeliner above his lip to become a pirate at my hand, as well as getting bed time stories read to the cabin. Perhaps the most endearing part of all. But before you think it too sweet, roll your eyes at the fact that the book I was reading from was BOMB THE SUBURBS. Oh my youth.
I tell you this because I was made the boy’s counselor that year, which meant I blissfully got to sleep in my own privacy and not with the children, but also, it reveals that this was the place I felt I could impart my subcultural wisdom most potently. The boys shared my interests of fringe shit, or were more open to it — this is what I told myself anyway. I think it was more about being interested in rebellion. There is something I am ashamed to admit there, about being a girl, about being a woman. I gotta admit it to move on.
Anyway, my friend now built his own recording studio, so if you need a spot in Brooklyn, I gotcha.
Often I still encounter women whose skin I just want to step into. Penelope Cruz in this film. What a brain. What a babe. What a bitch!