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Girl Scout Cookies

10 Jan

I am getting ready to go for my second round of chemotherapy. I am dreading it and I know I have to have it. The first round was far more difficult and miserable than I had anticipated. I have to say this is the hardest thing I have ever done, and it makes sense to me why the nurse at the end of the first chemo treatment ended the seven hour session with: “Thank you for coming in and doing this–you did it!.”  As you all know, I named the tumor Pat, short for Patriarchy (we need to kill Pat), and the port in my chest is named Mueller. After the seven hours of chemo, there is one more chemical that is slow release through a pump via Mueller. I have named the pump Nancy Pelosi to help Mueller kill Pat. During the five days of being horribly sick with nausea (and a whole host of other side effects), I have a lot of time for reflection and sadly, sometimes I fear I start to spiral down into a very dark space that does not help me kill Pat. This reflection was spurred on by my wanting to order Girl Scout Cookies.

I love the Do-si-dos and Robert and I both love the thin mints. I told Robert to ask our neighbors to order some Girl Scout Cookies for us. Internally, I did a nose dive into an abyss of fear. My strange and irrational brain went to: “Wait, what if I die and Robert gets stuck with all of the Do-si-dos cookies? He is allergic to peanut butter. Is it irresponsible of me to order the cookies?”

Having cancer really sucks. For me, I constantly worry and I know I have to figure out a different way to navigate this journey. I have started to try some guided meditation. For those reading and have also gone through a similar journey, what are ways you found helpful in coping with the trauma and the everyday perseverating–am I burdening and fatiguing my support network?

My ask is this: support the Girl Scouts, and if people have advice from lived experience, please do share.

How Dare You Kate Brown!

1 Oct

Watching the myriad Knute Buehler commercials on every network seems to address how truly systemic, institutional, and ubiquitous misogyny is, even here in “progressive” Oregon. How dare you, Kate Brown for being an effective, smart, and strong woman. Don’t you know that here in the United States we don’t want to see or hear smart and strong women? Watching the Anita Hill and Clarence Thomas hearings 27 years ago to watching the Dr. Christine Blasey Ford and Brett Kavanaugh hearings this week, it is painfully clear that we don’t want women’s voices in government. So who is going to save the country? Who will save Oregon? It looks to me like some angry women in elevators (true heroes, Maria Gallagher and Ana Maria Archila) will save the country, and I think Kate Brown is the woman to lead Oregon and who will remove barriers for all who carry targeted identities.

It is particularly difficult to watch the almost comical lies Buehler is spreading about Governor Brown. His lies range from the outrageous to the insane. I’m waiting for Buehler to blame Brown for the Scotts Mills earthquake that hit Oregon in 1993, or that she orchestrated the tsunami that just hit Indonesia–my she is powerful. Let us unpack some of the lies, so that we can all be better informed–granted this is for people who are concerned with facts, since facts have now become passè with Buehler and the Republican party. Let’s address the big ole lie regarding his blaming Brown for Oregon ranking number 48 in public schools. The fact is that, sadly, we already held that ranking before Brown became governor. Moreover, I need to underscore that Herr Buehler voted against creating smaller class sizes and voted against increasing teacher wages; this behavior/voting record only contributes to weakening our public schools. Buehler also lays the problem of homelessness at the feet of Brown–wow! Really? This attack is so unseemly and categorically false, yet I fear people will believe him because he is using the GOP method of lying: “just keep repeating it and people will eventually think it is true.” What is also disturbing is that Buehler has no realistic plan to address the system of poverty and homelessness. Whereas Governor Brown has been working to address poverty and remove barriers from people experiencing homelessness. It is also nice to see that President Obama endorsed Governor Brown.

Rep. Buehler’s website contains many “issues” pages with one common theme: start with a rant against Gov. Brown with no facts or substance, then spout lofty, vague platitudes about “working together” and “solving problems”. How committed is he to addressing Oregon’s problems? According to his voting record, not very. Over the past five years, he has voted against all of the following: statewide access to healthcare, requiring coverage for abortions and contraception, extending gun purchase background checks, prohibiting immigration status requirements, protecting tenants from capricious evictions (thus increasing the population experiencing homelessness), increasing the minimum wage, requiring employers to provide paid sick leave, and establishing seamless voter registration (one of Gov. Brown’s signature accomplishments, by the way). He has a 0% rating from the SEIU and a 93% rating from the NRA. The ACLU gives him a 33% and the Oregon Education Association a dismal 31%. Business and corporate groups consistently rate him in the 90s while environmental groups all rate him 40% or lower.

Knute Buehler is really good at finding marginalized and targeted people who are legitimately frustrated and spinning their stories into his web of lies. What he isn’t good at is actually identifying solutions to Oregon’s problems. He attacks PERS because it’s convenient, ignoring the fact that PERS security and education funding would both be solved by fixing our state’s ridiculous tax laws.

Gov. Brown is a dedicated, creative, passionate public servant. She’s actually interested in putting in the work to solve Oregon’s problems. Rep. Buehler is a self-serving, self-identified “moderate” who cares more about being Governor than being honest. His legislative record shows a callow conservative who votes against women, immigrants, victims of violence, the poor, and the disenfranchised. For all his talk about “fixing education”, he votes against schools.

Don’t be fooled. Knute Buehler may not be a raving lunatic like Sen. Lindsey Graham (R – SC, aka Gollum serving his dark lord 45), but his calm demeanor hides a corporate agenda that will do nothing to make Oregon better.

I also want to give a shout out to the brilliant Stacey Abrams, who is running for Governor of Georgia. Like Brown, she is enduring false attacks from the very racist, homophobic, misogynist, Brian Kemp. Again, we see a woman, and a woman of color who is being attacked for being smart, a woman, and being black–definitely a common theme in the United States.

Call to action: VOTE! Call your senators. Campaign for candidates that support all people, not just white, heterosexual, cis, able bodied men.

In an attempt to be fair to Knute Buehler, I tried repeatedly to call his office and his campaign staff, only to get a voice recording. I left messages, but Mr. Buehler, nor anyone from his campaign got back to me.

I AM Running For President, Officially

2 Jul

My sad attempt to do drag.

While the past 528 days have been excruciatingly painful, the past week has been so intense that everyone I know is understandably in despair. With Justice Kennedy resigning under a cloud of mystery, the Supreme Court ruling against women’s rights to access safe abortions, gutting union power, justifying discrimination against the LGBTQ community in the guise of religious freedom, and supporting 45’s racist travel ban, it has all been too much! This on top of 45 withdrawing us from the United Nations Human Rights Council and insulting our former allies, while praising dictators like Kim Jung Un and Vladimir Putin. This is particularly difficult in the wake of 45 congratulating himself for his “summit” with Kim Jung Un and now we have evidence as of June 27 that North Korea is currently increasing its nuclear capacity–thanks 45–you truly are a moron! The summit between 45 and the Puppet Master (Putin) should have the entire nation enraged, terrified, and thinking about courses of action to resist this administration. It is easy to see why the nation has plummeted into great despair.

I have sadly been pondering and understanding why thinking people who experience depression contemplate suicide–I say this with no judgement, but rather complete empathy, as I have struggled with depression for over 40 years and have periodically thought about suicide. I have decided the course of action I am compelled to take, is that I must run for President and assemble a cabinet that celebrates our diversity and is committed to equity — that we dedicate ourselves to lifting every voice, and I want to be the first openly Queer President.

My platform that I will run on is:

  • Medicare for all/Improving access for all to health care
  • Focus on Women’s rights, specifically reproductive rights
  • Establishing and sustaining rights and protections for the entire LGBTQ community
  • Establish a commitment to addressing Climate Change
  • Make Higher Education accessible to all
  • Establish a Living Wage and Support our Unions
  • Develop a complete redistribution of wealth to eliminate poverty and address housing as a human right
    • Taxing corporations and families and individuals earning over $250,000 a year
    • We have over 30 years of evidence that the “trickle down theory” is bullshit
  • Abolish ICE
  • Design some form of gun control
  • Support and help to rebuild Puerto Rico

As First Gentleman, my husband, Robert, will pursue a platform of civic education for all, esuring that today’s generation of students is tomorrow’s generation of informed, effective voters and engaged community participants.

I would also appoint people who actually have the capacity for critical thought and are competent for cabinet positions. Maxine Waters (who has received an extraordinary amount of death threats for asking for peaceful protests, in contrast to 45 who incites and ask for violence) will be Vice-President. RuPaul will be Secretary of State–although bitch please, she stole my song “Don’t be Jealous of my Boogie,” as I recorded it back when I was a Ziegfeld  Follies girl in 1930. RuPaul, “you better work,” as we have a great deal of repair work to do around the world. The Grande Dame, Latrice Royal will be the Director of the FBI. Kayta Yekaterina Petrovna Zamolodchikova will become the Director of the CIA. My press secretary will be Ms. Vanjie who will replace the slithering  soulless sycophant Sarah Huckabee Sanders. John Lewis of Georgia will be the new Attorney General. Replacing the walking illiterate homophobic pustule, Betsy DeVos, will be Ms. Sasha Velour. My former student and veteran, Sergeant Brandon Robert Leonard (Army) will be the Secretary of Veterans Affairs. My esteemed colleague and dear friend Professor Lisa Hawash (long time advocate for those in poverty and experiencing homelessness) will be the Secretary of Labor. My amazing colleague and friend with EqualityWorks, NW, Juanita Range will be the Secretary of the Treasury. My equally amazing colleague and friend also with EqualityWorks, NW, Kenya Budd will be the Secretary of Health and Human Services. Dr. Gita Mehrotra, who has over 15 years of experience working with and advocating for communities around housing will be the Secretary of Housing and Urban Development. Asha Omar, a former student and now colleague and has over a decade of experience around issues of diplomacy will be the Secretary of Defense. Jodi Sisson will serve as my Chief of Staff for her decades of experience in social justice. Christine Baranski will be my Whitehouse Counsel.

Moving on to the Supreme Court. This court has been lopsided with Fascists for long enough. Replacing Justice Kennedy will be Ms. Bianca Del Rio. With the latest sexual harassment accusations against Clarence Thomas, he will be impeached and replaced by the right honorable Anita Hill.

My administration will work with heart, passion, and empathy to make the lives of all humans better and to create greater access. We want all people to be able to thrive and live in love and prosperity without barriers. I want our country to be a place where people with targeted identities no longer have to live in fear and that all public servants operate from a place of curiosity, humility, and empathy. When we accomplish this, we will have as evidence a lower crime rate, less hate, and less fear. We can live in community and celebrate and honor all human beings and see how our diversity around the intersections of race, queerness, gender, ability, and gender identity make us stronger! Love will prevail! We will be able to see that finally Mike Pence and Alex Jones can celebrate their long lusty love affair publicly. 

I implore you, please vote in the midterms in November and change the balance of power! Send McConnell packing! In solidarity and with love, Michael.

Celebrating Gilbert Baker

2 Jun

As we are getting our month long celebration of Gay/Queer Pride month going, I want to celebrate and remember Gilbert Baker, who was born on June 2, 1951.

Sadly, we lost Gilbert Baker on March 30, 2017, he was only 65. Baker was a gay rights activist who designed the now iconic rainbow gay pride flag in 1978. As a gay queer man, I knew that if I saw this flag in a store front or in neighborhoods, it meant I would be safe and welcomed there.

I have included this comic strip by my husband, Robert, as it does a marvelous job of providing the history of Gilbert’s journey in designing the Pride Flag–a piece of history that is worth knowing, remembering, and celebrating.

Farewell, Gilbert Baker — a pioneer in pride and celebration!  Happy Pride to the entire Queer Communi

Death Is Not All That It’s Cracked Up To Be

2 Feb

Judging from the title of the article, one might guess I am going to reflect and write about what feels like the death of a nation — the death of the United States. It certainly feels as though we are witnessing the demise of a nation– I thought we were so much better than this — I thought we were a nation that was working to eradicate racism, homophobia, misogyny, and hate. While there maybe some overlap, I am actually writing, reflecting, and processing my own death.

I need to record this because I am still processing all of what happened and I am afraid the current political climate of the United States has hurt, delayed, and undermined my ability to recover. At the same time, I have never experienced such unconditional love and caring: a love that has carried me through all of this, a love that makes me cry even while writing this. I have learned and witnessed how human beings step up or sadly step back during a health crisis. Fortunately for me, the number of people who have stepped up with such enormous love is too many for me to list. The people in my family of origin who have stepped back and have been completely absent has hurt me in such a profound way, I hardly have words to share or express the hurt, so I shall focus on the love I am able to bask in instead.

Yes, I have been quite busy in the past four months. I was diagnosed with cancer in September and then had cancer surgery in November. By December, I was recovering from cancer and finally reached a space of reflection of “I’m grateful the surgery went well. I don’t want to do the chemo. I hope the cancer does not come back.” Quite unfortunately, on Wednesday, December 20 at around 5:30 in the morning, I had the first of two massive heart attacks. The night before I had enormous pain through out my right leg but thought nothing of it. Now I suspect, it was the blood clots that moved from my leg into my lungs and caused the heart attacks.

My husband Robert found me on the bathroom floor. According to the paramedics and an amazing and wonderful team of doctors at OHSU in Portland, this was the first time I was dead. I know was resuscitated at some point because I heard a man’s voice ask my husband: “Was he like that or did you throw a bucket of water on him?” I honestly remember thinking what a stupid question. Yes, as is typical protocol, my husband threw a bucket of water on me when he thought, “Hmm, Michael seems to have had a heart attack. I shall throw a bucket of water on him and see if that does the trick.”  The next thing I heard was a man’s voice saying: “Okay, he has turned blue.” Honestly, I really did think to myself, “Well, that can’t be good.”

At this point, I truly thought this is it and I’m going to die. All I could think of was that I needed for my husband Robert to know and to hear how much I loved him. I needed for my last words to be, “I love you very much, Robert.” Thankfully, he heard me. I remember maybe all of 10 seconds in the ambulance and apparently my heart stopped again. In the short ride to OHSU hospital on Pill Hill, apparently they were able to resuscitate me again. Rather sadly, as I was told by the doctors and nurses, my heart stopped yet again before reaching the hospital. The rest is what was reported to me by the amazing medical team at OHSU.

Apparently, I was dead for 30 minutes. The team and the social worker told my husband Robert that I continued to have no heartbeat and continued to be unresponsive. They intubated me at some point. They were going to try a machine that basically does CPR, which they did for 30 minutes. During this whole process, unfortunately, six of my ribs were broken and my sternum was broken. Yes, I will just say an emphatic OUCH! As a side note: we just received the bill for just the emergency room and the bill is for $72,000 — yes, almost as much as my first home cost in Atlanta. Now reader, I ask you this: Does it not seem like I need to ask for a rebate for the 30 minutes I was dead? Why should I pay for services if I was dead? Or, can they at least pro-rate the amount owed?

Being Dead: I must admit that I have always been one of those people that was quite skeptical when hearing stories from various people or reading stories about people’s experiences when they were dead and before coming back to life. Now I have my own narrative about dying and coming back to life. I know it to be true and I can only ask that you make of it what you will.  I do know that I was dead. I was processing it while it happened. My exact thoughts, if one wants to call them thoughts, were: “Well, that did not work out.” I know I left my body and I remember knowing, well I am dead. I also remember I did not seem to have a name, nor did I have a body. Strangely, I felt very safe with no anxiety, no fear, and no worry. I was quite at peace. Yes, I did see the proverbial “white light.” I would not have described it as a Heavenly light, but it was quite intense and it was all I could see. The light did seem to have a center and I remember walking towards the center of the light despite the fact that I did not have a body. Once I reached the center of the light, I knew intuitively that I had two options. I could go to the right or go to the left. At this point, I could sense Robert to the left. I did not hear him saying anything, nor could I see him but I knew his name and the sensation was so strong, I knew I needed to go to the left towards Robert. The next thing I remember was that I was in the ICU.

One of the gifts I received from coming back to life was the ability to witness human beings doing their jobs in ways that for me seemed magical, and I reflected and shared with all of the people who were amazing how magical they are. For example, the first nurse I remember in the ICU was named Anna. She was so lovely and sensitive with me. Anna and everyone I encountered in the hospital remarked how lucky I was and how absolutely amazing it was that I was actually alive. At some point, Anna was on the phone and I heard her say: “No, no, he is here. I am here with him right now. I am talking to him.” Anna shared with me that the paramedics who came to my home to try and save me had called the hospital to offer that they did the best they could do and they were sorry. When she told me this, I remember saying please thank them for me! Later, Anna shared with me they thought I was dead, as I was dead when they dropped me off at the hospital.

Another person who made such a huge difference was Dr. Kathy Wonderly — how appropriately named, as she is a true wonder. Dr. Wonderly came in and asked if she could sit on my bed with me and rubbed my legs and echoed (this seems to have been the chorus in a Greek play, as everyone human being I encountered in the hospital kept saying) how lucky I was to be alive. She then touched my hand and asked if there was anything she could do to to be helpful. I cracked a political joke and she laughed and said she would do her best. I have to underscore the power of touch here. Dr. Wonderly’s empathic ability to touch my legs and touch my hand had a profound impact on me. I am certain it helped me heal and made me feel safe.

My friends Janet and Sara were also with me every day in the hospital and would hold my hand (honestly, I think Janet was also searching me for spare change, for I have seen her search through my cupboards and steal my good china) which also helped me heal. I also have to share that my colon surgeon Dr. Herzig is nothing less than a gift to the world. He made a special visit to say hi to me and offer his well wishes and his sadness about the heart attacks. As an aside, I typically do not like surgeons. However, Dr. Herzig made me fall in love shortly after my cancer surgery. He came to check on me the day after he performed the surgery and asked if I was okay and if I needed anything. I replied that I was actually quite upset with him and said: “Dr. Herzig, I am really quite upset with you. I came in for a face lift, eye lift, and neck lift, and it is clear that you focused all of your energy on my stomach.” To which he immediately replied: “No, that’s right. We are just working our way up.” How many surgeons do you know that are that witty? I was so exceedingly lucky to experience so many people who just do their jobs everyday but they are quite remarkable and so exceedingly compassionate, at least that was my experience.

Love Fest: When I was finally discharged and was allowed to return home, it was clear that I was not allowed to be alone and would need a great deal of care. Robert had already taken so much time off for my cancer stay and heart attacks stay at the hospital, he could not take any more time off. Family of origin not only did not bother to call me, there was no way they were going to offer to come and help Robert and me. Sadly, my birth dad, whom I shall refer to as the sperm donor, for that is as generous as I can be toward him, was completely absent when he found out I had cancer. His absence continued when my baby brother let him know about the two heart attacks. Strangely, his girlfriend, who is quite lovely, called almost every day to check on me and on Robert. She also made apologies for the sperm donor’s horrific behavior. (The sperm donor had his feelings hurt two years ago when I called to wish him a happy thanks giving and my in-laws called in while I was on the phone. I explained that I had to take the call so that I could talk to my in-laws. The sperm donor went into a rage and said how dare I take their call, for they are not my blood and he is my blood. One should note that the sperm donor had no contact with me for decades. He was a very physically abusive man to me and to my mom when I was a little boy.) I explained to his girlfriend that if he could not set aside his narcissistic injury when his son was dealing with cancer and two heart attacks, I have no use for his abusive self. She just kept apologizing. I honestly feel quite bad for her, as it must be awful to see the true character or lack of character of your partner in life.

Enough bad energy, I have been able to also witness how people step up during a crisis and show up no matter what and are available with love, patience, food, books, and just sitting with me. All my friends in Portland have been amazing gifts and I am forever in their debt. All my friends that flew in from all over the country to help take care of me, I am forever in their debt. I am able to truly live and walk in gratitude.  I am also in awe of my husband Robert. I have a life partner who not only saved my life twice, but has been so supportive all while trying to deal with his own trauma around the past four months.

Healing: While trying to heal and with extraordinary physical limitations, I knew I had to stop listening and watching the news. Trump and the GOP represent all that is the worst of humanity and the daily assaults from these sociopaths was too much. The racism, the misogyny, the homophobia it was too much for me, to the point I wondered if perhaps I should not have come back to life. One particular assault by Trump and supported by the GOP was the Religious Freedom Act: that health care workers could deny LGBT/queer people like me services based on their religious beliefs. I am so grateful I live in Oregon and that this act has not passed yet. Thus I had to do something else and try as best I could to stop exposing myself to Fascist America.

Because reading has been hard while on pain meds, what I found extraordinarily healing was I watched Netflix’ seasons one and two of The Crown at least 30 times. I love Claire Foy. I also watched Netflix’ Latinx reboot of One Day at a Time season one at least 30 times. I am in love with Justina Machado and Isabella Gomez.  I have to say that I am now watching season two of the Latinx One Day at a Time and it gives me hope! Season two, for me, is what the United States can really be. We can be a country that works to tap into shared humanity, a country that works to encourage and support all people, that we can be a country that can lead the movement for social justice — to expand civil liberties. We can resist hate; we can resist fascism.

Finally, I will conclude with a simple thank you to all of the human beings who have touched my life for the better. When I die, and I will, I want there to be people who will reflect and say I touched their lives for the better — that I helped to make the world a better place for all human beings. I now challenge all of us to work to be our best selves, to be engaged in making the world a better place and to not engage in hate, or talk of building walls, or justifying “there were some good Nazis.” We can do so much better than this. Let us work in community to make some huge changes in 2018. I implore you to vote during the midterm elections in November of 2018! I also need to share how grateful I am to my husband Robert! This song from Emile Sandé is for Robert.

With great love and affection,

Michael

Of Brexit and Bigots: The Dowager Countess Goosenberry Weighs In

27 Jun
The Dowager Countess Goosenberry

The Dowager Countess Goosenberry

The past three days have been nonplussing at best, as voters in the UK have decided to leave the European Union. I was fortunate enough to catch up with my dear friend, The Dowager Countess Goosenberry by phone. She was exceedingly animated during our conversation and I fear given to the drink again while we were talking. Here is an excerpt she has allowed me to share.

Michael, I must tell you that at first, I had no idea what Brexit was. In fact, I was talking with my dear son Tarquin ( still a lovely bachelor, ladies), and he cleared it up for me. You see, I thought Brexit was some new type of American breakfast sandwich. Michael, I mean no disrespect, but you Americans seem so bent on vulgarizing everything you touch. 

I hear a long pause. Countess, are you still there? Oh goodness, I fear we Brits no longer have the moral high ground, do we? Our departure from the EU, motivated out of ignorance, fear, and outright racism, seems to put us in the same category of Swiftian Yahoos. 

I must confess, I have not been a fan of the EU, but leaving it just never made sense to me. Then I started seeing that awful racist, Nigel Farage talking about UKIP. Well, Michael, at first, I thought he was making some deranged command for us all to take a nap … and Farage does tire me. Finally, my dearest Tarquin explained to me that Farage and the UK Independence Party (UKIP) were pushing for the vote to leave the EU.

I hear a long and dramatic sigh from the Countess, when she resumes: Michael, I will tell you candidly, I did vote for David Cameron, which I regretted, and my Tarquin was quite vexed with me, but now I find myself having to actually defend Cameron. 

I have been both laughing at and feeling sorry for you over there across the pond with Donald Trump as a presidential candidate, but now we seem to be the target of much similar, well deserved ribbing. It is all I can bear to have to look at Boris Johnson. As my Tarquin says, ‘Johnson is Donald Trump without all of the orange base makeup gone wrong.” Is there such a thing as an albino cheeto? Michael, can you tell me is it true that your Mr. Trump has appointed right wing Christian fanatics and homophobes, such as Michele Bachmann and Jerry Falwell, Jr? Oh my! Well, I do suppose we are not quite as bad off as you are there. 

My hope is that your country will learn from our mistake. While the dissolution of the middle class is real, and we have overwhelming evidence of the negative impact of neoliberalism, this is not a time to yield to fear and hate mongering and to racism. Indeed, your Mr. Trump seems to thrive and give voice to racism, homophobia, and misogyny. As you know, Michael, the wave of regret is currently washing over the population here about leaving the EU. I hope your Yahoo Doodle Dandy Trump and his live reality television campaign do not prevail. 

I hear ice rattling in a glass during another pause. Finally the Dowager returns. Do forgive me, Michael, but I must dash. I’m heading to my Scottish property for a bit of fresh air. Whoever thought the Scots would get politics right?! Best of luck with your election…

Black History Month 2016: Nina Simone

21 Feb

nina-simone2Today I would like to honor and pay tribute to one of my personal heroes, Nina Simone. Simone would have been 83 years old today.  I remember crying my eyes out on April 21, 2003 when I heard that Nina Simone died. I fell in love with her smoky jazz voice so many years ago.  Emeli Sandé credits Simone as one of her major influences

Eunice Kathleen Waymon was born in Tryon, NC, and aspired to be a classical pianist. Despite her prodigious talent, she was denied scholarships and admissions and pursued a career in clubs instead. Eventually signed to Colpix, she was boxed into a pop-jazz mode for a few years. She took the standards she was given and began subverting them with her unique style — she was described as being a piano player, singer, and performer, “separately and simultaneously.” Over the years her stage set became famous for her powerful interpretations and righteous original songs.

Simone’s response to the assassination of Medgar Evers and the bombing of the church in Birmingham that killed four children, was Mississippi GoddamIn Mississippi Goddam, we see Simone taking her place in the civil rights movement. Unlike Dr. King, Simone advocated violence if necessary in order to establish a separate state for African-Americans – who could blame her. You can only feel beaten down so much without building up a great amount of rage. I have such a great admiration for Dr. King for sublimating his rage into non-violent means. The song Backlash Blues was written by her friend Langston Hughes. Simone was also friends with Lorraine Hansberry and turned one of her plays, To Be Young, Gifted and Black into a civil rights song.  In 1972, Aretha Franklin did a cover of that song. The song Don’t Let Me Be Misunderstood was written specifically for Simone. Her version works simultaneously as a love song and a protest song, showing her emotional depth and complexity.

Sadly, it is painfully clear how much we still need Nina Simone’s voice and activism. I suspect she still inspires many of us. Happy Birthday to the national treasure that is Nina Simone.

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