Understanding the Response : A Guide to Macklemore’s GRAMMY Wins for Non-Rap Fans

This might seem weird to some people.

It might seem weird that the internet is expressing discomfort–nay, outrage–at Macklemore cleaning up ALL the rap categories at the Grammy’s last night.  For those of you who missed it, the independent Seattle rapper won Best Rap Album, Best Rap Song, and Rap/Sung Performance (he also got Best New Artist). It was a huge night for him, and a controversial night for hip hop.

But why?

After all, the National Post said that this year’s Grammys “marks a high note for hip-hop.” Rap artists made an appearance in some major categories, including Album of the Year and Best New Artist.  And Macklemore himself defended his controversial nomination by saying “I think that hip hop can be at times resistant to change…[but] hip hop has always been about expansion, about pushing the genre, about challenging the listener.”

So what’s the real story? Are Macklemore’s wins really that big of a deal? Are people just upset because the guy is white, or because his lyrics are “clean,” or because he’s too mainstream, or because (*gasp*) he isn’t Kendrick Lamar?

Short answer: Kind of, yeah.
Long answer: Kind of, yeah. BUT-BUT-BUT, there is a really solid historical reason why. This article does a great job of explaining it, but I know for non-rap fans it might be a little dense.

So I’m going to try to lay it out as best I can.

First, a quick early history of rap in ‘murica.

Rap and hip hop music  have existed for a pretty long time…long before getting their popular due, and WAY long before being recognized by the Grammys.  It’s a pretty typical story, actually:

  • West African musical traditions are full of rap (that is, people talking rhythmically over a beat).
  • West Africans came to ‘murica via the slave trade. They brought their musical influences with them.
  • Rap became a part of American folk music– African American folk music, in particular.
  • In the 20th century, the genre was embraced by low-income urban communities which had largely African American populations (and were thus influenced by their traditions).

This is important. It’s important because, for some reason, people seem to think that hip hop magically appeared out of nowhere in the 80s.  Not so much. For example, you can still buy this Folkways recording from 1959 of preteen boys busting rhymes on the streets of NYC:

streets


Yeah, 1959.  This was a cultural phenomenon before
 we started calling it one, and WAY before the Grammys started paying attention.

The difference is that, unlike other traditionally African American genres (blues, jazz, banjo folk music, early rock ‘n roll), it took a long while for rap to be considered “sellable,” or even “musical.” It was not packaged or patron-ed in the same way these other styles were. So while jazz musicians were given legitimacy by powerful white Harlem Renaissance patrons, while banjos became a quintessential American instrument, while the blues built its fan base…rap pretty much stayed on the streets.

And honestly? It was probably better off staying on the streets.  Historically, once those traditionally African American genres and musical influences were packaged and sold, they also tended to get pretty whitewashed. Why? Because the early 20th century. Because racism and capitalism are not a good mix.

Now, from a contemporary standpoint, there is nothing wrong with white people buying into, participating in, or being influenced by African American folk traditions. But there is something wrong with how it has been approached historically.

We’re still paying for it. We’re still talking about it. And we should be.

Essentially, there are two major ways the packaging and selling of traditionally African American music was first approached (spoiler: they both sucked).

1) The “dance monkey, dance” approach. In the early 20th century, music became increasingly seen as a product with mainstream selling power.  When this happened, a lot of traditionally African American entertainment was marketed to white people as roots-y, even primitive.  Patrons would create a “product” out of black artists and their oh-so-exotic background, but not actually invite them to participate in their own musical culture.

(Example: In the 1920s Harlem Renaissance era, white-only bars were decorated to have an “African” theme, and black people were invited to play music but could not come for any other reason. Traveling minstrel shows would entertain audiences with music and comedy designed to caricature black people–first with blackface performers, and later with actual black entertainers. And by black entertainers, I mean music legends like Ma Rainey and father of the blues W.C. Handy. The only way these musicians could be legitimized at all was by being good enough to impress the people who had come to laugh at them. And even when they were given a shot, they often became someone else’s product…and were rarely invited to the after party.)

2) The “we’ll take it from here” approach. Just watch from 8:15 on this below video, and you’ll get the idea on this one.


,
What does all this mean?  It means that when rap finally was packaged and sold, this history was incredibly relevant. Artists were constantly weary of the influence and ownership of record labels and mainstream consumers. While rap was a great way to express what was happening in urban communities, to push mainstream boundaries (and hey, maybe to even bridge a few gaps a la Run DMC and Aerosmith) many people were and are tentative about the “dance monkey, dance,” and the “we’ll take it from here”-type histories.

1015599-grammy-award-617-409
And the Grammy goes to…

Now let’s talk about the Grammys, shall we? 

To make matters more sensitive, rap does not have a very positive history with the Grammy awards.  Like the American music industry in general, the Grammys weren’t very good at embracing rap…until it started making a crazy amount of money, that is. And even then, not much was done to understand the socioeconomic/historical/cultural context of rap music.  The hip hop community is rightfully wary about how the Grammys treat their genre.

However, they are equally aware that Grammys are incredibly influential in the music scene, and even more influential in how the music scene appears to mainstream audiences. So it’s a tough spot, and one that needs considered critically.

Not because hip hop can’t be embraced by different individuals and cultures as a means of expression. Not because Macklemore isn’t musically awesome (I could probably recite every word of The Heist, let’s be honest).  But because having Macklemore as the popular sound and face of the rap genre–which is exactly where the Grammys have placed him with all these awards–is questionable to people who care about the past and the future of rap music.  And because we as a society have severely screwed up with approaching similar musical movements before, so red flags get raised pretty easily.

But why don’t we let the artists speak for themselves?

Now that we’ve gone over that background, I’m going to hand the mic over to some of rap music’s biggest players. It’s probably best to explain the last couple decades of Grammy-rap relations through their eyes.

Tupac Shakur:

After several years of serious commercial success, the Grammys finally start adding rap performance categories in 1989. But they were untelevised, barely mentioned, and their choice of winners was controversially soft and even confusing (Parents Just Don’t Understand? Really?).  In these 1991 lyrics, TuPac is in no way subtle in addressing how the Grammys were “cashing in” on rap without respecting it at all:

“The Grammy’s and American music shows
They pimp us like hoes; take our dough but they hate us though”

(…remember that “dance monkey, dance” history I talked about? Yeah. That’s this.)

Naughty by Nature:

In 1996, the Grammys FINALLY (finally, finally) established a Best Rap Album award.  Naughty by Nature won…and, as you can tell by this interview with the trio, they didn’t even know how to even comprehend it.  When asked why they didn’t just say “Thank you, but no thank you,” to the so-called honour, DJ Kay Gee joked “They didn’t air our part anyway, so we didn’t have a chance to.”

FYI, they still don’t air these rap categories on the televised award show.

Ol’ Dirty Bastard (of the Wu-Tang Clan):

The year is 1998. Wu-Tang Clan gets snubbed on the Best Rap Album award. And OH-MY, this happens:


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I think it’s relevant to note that this video has over 4,600 likes (only 100 dislikes) on YouTube.  This snub was just plain poorly timed–this is only the third ever Best Rap Album award, and rap artists still weren’t getting proper stage time in general.

Jay Z: 

Jay Z has boycotted the Grammys on several occassions. His tipping point was when DMX was denied a nomination in 1999, but he also boycotted in 2002, saying:

“Too many major rap artists continue to be overlooked. Rappers deserve more attention from the Grammy committee and from the whole world. If it’s got a gun, everybody knows about it; but if we go on a world tour, no one knows.”

Eminem:

Oh my millenials, who could forget these lyrics from The Real Slim Shady?

You think I give a damn about a Grammy?
Half of you critics can’t even stomach me, let alone stand me
“But Slim, what if you win, wouldn’t it be weird?”
Why? So you guys could just lie to get me here?
So you can, sit me here next to Britney Spears?

Ironically, Eminem did win the Grammy for Best Rap Solo Performance with the single so…there is that.  Interstingly, this article actually cites white privilege as the reason for Em’s Grammy success (relative to other artists).

50 Cent: 

Fast forward to 2004. Like Ol’ Dirty Bastard before him, 50 Cent takes a stand for what he considers a snub…this time in the “Best New Artist” category.

Okay, so his “stand” was a lot more subtle (actually, it was more of a cameo). But his statement afterwards was interesting:  “I think that the board is a lot older and they’re conservative, so some of the content in the music is offensive on some level.  There’s a lot of people that don’t accept that hip-hop culture is now pop culture.

Kanye West:

I know, I know. But you can’t talk hip hop versus the Grammys without talking Kanye.  Specifically, you can’t talk hip hop versus the Grammys without citing the New York Times interview where he said this :

I don’t know if this is statistically right, but I’m assuming I have the most Grammys of anyone my age, but I haven’t won one against a white person…I don’t care about the Grammys; I just would like for the statistics to be more accurate. I don’t want them to rewrite history right in front of us. At least, not on my clock. I really appreciate the moments that I was able to win rap album of the year or whatever. But after a while, it’s like: “Wait a second; this isn’t fair. This is a setup.”

Nas: 

The 2013 Grammys roll around, and Nas–with 18 nominations in his career and 4 that year–sits down with Dave Grohl to talk Grammys.  Nas (who has never been outspokenly critical nor supportive of the award shows) had this to say about how they STILL, still underrate the Hip Hop genre in 2013:


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Oh, and Macklemore himself:

Perhaps the person who is most aware (and most vocal) of how these things seem to go down these days is Macklemore. Yes, really. Let’s start with his 2005 song “White Privilege,” shall we?

I give everything I have when I write a rhyme
But that doesn’t change the fact that this culture’s not mine


.
More recently, he addressed race relations and public perception of rap music in his song “A Wake,” saying:

These interviews are obnoxious
Saying that it’s poetry is so well spoken, stop it
I grew up during Reaganomics
When Ice T was out there on his killing cops shit
Or Rodney King was getting beat on
And they let off every single officer
And Los Angeles went and lost it

Oh, and he also instagramed this message he sent Kendrick Lamar after last night’s Grammys:

macklemore insta

The “speech” he was referring to was his acceptance of Best New Artist.

Why? Because he wasn’t even able to accept the controversial Best Rap Album award.

Why?  Because Best Rap Album is still not a part of the main Grammy award show. Despite the fact that half the nominees are popular enough to be performing. Despite the fact that for years now rap has been the ONLY genre which has seen an increase in record sales. Ay-yi-yi.

So, what does this all mean?

Musically, I think Macklemore deserves an award–if not the rap honours, then at least that Best New Artist he was handed. And I congratulate him on his wins, genuinely. I don’t think he is bad for hip hop–his ability to break out as an independent artist is actually a huge step away from the “dance monkey, dance” history, and he has spoken out several times against exclusivity and race issues.  I don’t think that just hating on Macklemore’s Grammy wins is an overly informed response.

BUT, I don’t think that just pushing criticisms aside as silly or ridiculous is informed, either.  And it’s certainly not informed to talk about Macklemore like he’s some sober messiah who has swooped in to save the hip hop culture from its sexist, homophobic, gang-banging, drug-pushing ways.

That’s not fair. It’s offensive to the diverse and culturally rich history of rap music.  I don’t know Macklemore, but it’s probably offensive to him, too. And the more people talk about him that way, the more rap fans are going to despise it when he gets these wins.

(Which is too bad. Because while being critical is good…I think we should really be more critical of the fact that Macklemore wasn’t even able to accept his awards because all those rap Grammys still aren’t on the main show.)

Either way, I hope this helped clear up some of the confusion people might have over all these very intense responses. If you have any thoughts on this, or if I missed something super important to this conversation, let me know in the comments!

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A Tale of Two Churches: Living in DC During the Gay Marriage Showdown

I’m living in Washington DC.

The very same Washington DC where the United States Supreme Court will commence hearings on whether  marriage freedom is a constitutional right this week.

In other words: It’s a gay marriage showdown. And I have a front row seat.

I see a serious mix of messages on this subject, and not by accident.  I intentionally attend churches which disagree with each other.  I am a regular at a liberal United Church of Christ.  I also spend time at a very Conservative Roman Catholic Church.  Ten-thirty United Church service. Noon Mass. I do this for the same reason I wear one earring that says “Oui” and one which says “Non” every Sunday–because Truth usually hangs out “somewhere in the middle.” Also, because I can, because I like to pray, because it’s fascinating, and because it gives me a real perspective on organized religion.

In case you were wondering, it usually looks something like this
In case you were wondering, it usually looks something like this

Here’s what the gay marriage debate looked like on Sunday, presented from two very different Christian angles:

The members of the United Church of Christ prayed for marriage equality during the service–twice.  Everyone was encouraged to gather at the Supreme Court and stand for “marriage equality”.  During coffee hour, a new church member marveled aloud at the incredible support for gay marriage.  A clergywoman overheard and said “Well of course! Love. Equality. No questions asked.”

Catholic Mass, meanwhile, is a little (lot) different.  The members have been encouraged–strongly–to march for marriage.  Translation: Keep it between a man and a woman. That is the Bible’s word, and God’s design, period. No questions asked.

Well, now, this is interesting.  Both congregations serving up prayers and protests related to gay marriage.  Both praying to the same God. They make reference to the same Bible. They know the same Jesus. They both have scripture to back up their points.

But their positions could not be more different.

Christians who support gay marriage have the golden rule. They have affirming and inclusive scripture like Galatiens 3:28 – “There is neither Jew nor Gentile, neither slave nor free, nor is there male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus.” They take a non-literal, contextual stance on scripture which condemns homosexuality, and reach instead for messages of compassion. They argue stuff like this, and this, and this.

Christians against gay marriage have words like “sin” and “family values.”  They claim to take scripture very seriously, especially bits like Leviticus 20:13 – “If a man lies with a male as with a woman, both of them have committed an abomination; they shall surely be put to death; their blood is upon them.” They sound something like this, and this, and this.

Side by side, it’s all kind of confusing.  Again, these are all people, talking about other people, making reference to the same Bible/Messiah/God.

It gets more confusing on street level.

This is the logo for the big anti-gay marriage organization:

nom_logo

…and this is the logo for the big pro-gay marriage organization:

united-for-marriage

Here’s an anti-gay marriage advertisement:


Now here’s a pro-gay marriage advertisement:


.Here’s a kid testifying about her parents:


Here’s a kid testifying about his parents:


Want to hear more anti-gay marriage rehtoric? Visit frc.org
Want to hear more pro-gay marriage rehtoric? Visit hrc.org!

Want to show up to protest on March 26? GREAT:

Rally_SmallPromo-Actions_rev
If you’re for same-sex marriage…
If you're against same-sex marriage...
If you’re against same-sex marriage…

So, ladies: Wear red. Bring your kid. Quote the Bible.  You’ll fit right in.

(…wherever you go.)

I’m not trying to make a point with this, exactly (although, full disclosure, I am personally a big supporter of marriage equality). I just find it interesting to watch, especially from my current vantage point. Even though there are fundamental differences between the two movements, the superficial similarities are just so striking.

And with that, I present:

The ‘Which Side Said It?’ Gay Marriage Game!

Can you tell whether the quote is from an argument for or against gay marriage?

  1. God promises to find the lonely and place them within families. We are cautioned against the idea of making an idol out of our familial relationships, foregoing any alliance above that of our affiliation to Jesus.
  2. We first learn about diversity and acquire a respect for difference through the complementarity of our parents.
  3. Very few people would have believed just a couples of decades ago that the definition of marriage would be debated in the US Supreme Court, but here we are. The fact that so many have gathered in response to these critical court cases should give everyone hope as we find our way forward.
  4. It is our job to stand up and yell “sin!” any time we hear someone manipulating the words of Jesus to prove their own personal beliefs, to remind the world of the greatest commandments.
  5. Since Christians are a “people of the Word,” we look to the Bible to justify our thinking. That’s essential to Christianity, although all too often we get it wrong, at least at first.
  6. The single greatest argument we can present to the world is to live out marriage in all its God-ordained fullness and beauty. Every generation has its moment: This is ours.
  7. At some point along the way, we decided it was acceptable to misquote the Bible to prove whatever we felt like. It is in this that Christians have truly missed their mark.
  8. If the constitution says ‘marriage is this,’ then people whose marriages are not consistent with the constitution … (shrug.) I’d love to think that there was another way of doing it.

[Answer key: 1) For; 2) Against; 3) Against; 4) For; 5) For; 6) Against; 7) For; 8) Against]

Alright, Washington. Bring on the romance.

Alright, Washington. Bring on the love, and the freedom, and the rights, and religion.

…whatever that means.

Travelling Abroad Advice for Canadians: Crazy (But Accurate) Edition

Today, I spent some time on the phone with an expert on Canadian safety and protocol while traveling abroad. He was…quirky. The phone call was informative, for sure, but it was also hilarious.  Here are some highlights:

“Make sure you give copies of all your papers to someone who loves you. I define ‘someone who loves you’ as ‘someone who put up with you for your teenage years and still talks to you.'”

“You have to Register with DFAIT if you’re a Canadian going anywhere abroad for more than 2 weeks. Otherwise, you’re just being stupid.”

“If you find yourself in North Korea, you go to the Swedish Embassy. If you find yourself elsewhere and there’s no Canadian Embassy around, go to the Australian Embassy. Don’t try the American Embassy…if you think they’re going to help you, you’re dead wrong.”

“You have to be careful.  Washington DC is kinda like Vanier.”

“And now comes the part where I talk to you about Love. Ready? Okay. When you are in love, your brain chemistry changes.  I get it. You’re 20.  If you call me and you’re in trouble but you say ‘Oh, but I’m in love!’ I will not judge you. You have no control over that. It’s just your brain.”

“Canada is the only country in the world where we elect people, they pass laws, then people don’t follow the laws, and no one cares. Other countries aren’t like that. You should probably follow laws outside of Canada.”

“You’re a student of history, so I love you already. Everyone should be a student of history.”

“I might seem like a nice guy right now, but I can be an asshole when I negotiate. I will bust in on a gang and get you out of there.”

“I believe in the Trudeau years when everyone could do whatever they wanted and just had to be accountable to the consequences. Like, you can be involved with drugs while you’re living abroad if you want, but if you do I won’t care about you. ”

Word.

IMG_8847

Dear America: Sorry about that first impression. You’re actually kinda cute.

My first day in a new place is always ridiculously stereotypical.  We’re talking caricature-worthy.  Maybe this is normal, you know, some twisted form of beginners luck.  Or maybe, just maybe, it’s a curse I’ve been given…by a God whose sense of humour is borderline racist, apparently.

It never fails.  My first day in France was so full of cheese and snobbery and nudity, I almost fondue’d myself (for lack of a better term).  After only a few hours in Cuba, all I could think was “Well, you guys seem awfully desperate for tips and full of cigars…”.  And during my first day living in Ottawa, EVERYONE seemed to be talking politics–I even overheard the penniless men outside of the homeless shelter discussing the Harper agenda.

It’s not that these stereotypes aren’t real.  They definitely exist outside of day 1. France has cheese. Cuba has cigars. Ottawa has politics. Never, though, is anything actually at the level it seems on the first day.  Upon arrival anywhere, I am immediately thrust into what feels like a South Park episode.  I go on to realize my first day was just a bad “So a guy walks into a bar…” joke.

Naturally, this can give me a nasty case of “get me out of here!”.  After that cursed first day, I can’t help but think ‘Canadian stereotypes? I can handle those.  Let’s do that instead.’   I can rock a poutine coma, an over-apologetic neighbor, or a morning spent shoveling the driveway (eh?).  Let’s face it, Canadians: our stereotypes are pretty much adorable.

Canada
Apparently, this is my definition of “adorable.” Hmm. May need to give that one a little more thought…

This brings me to my current situation: ‘Merica.

American stereotypes are not quite so playful. There are some pretty scary -isms lying around: American exceptionalism, racism, and lets-all-get-guns-ism to name a few.  I’m not trying to attack the United States, which has been so very welcoming to me so far.  I’m not trying to oversimplify or judge, either. But whenever I get talked at by Glen Beck, or I read an American history book which refuses to admit to losing any war ever, I pack away a few pre-concieved notions. And, yes, I have read my share of scary articles on health care, teen pregnancy, religion, literacy, obesity, bad nose jobs, and worse attitudes.

To be clear, when I crossed the border and moved to the US capital, I didn’t expect to come face-to-face with all the scary -isms. I didn’t desire or even consider that Fox News incarnate might be everywhere, least of all in Democratic DC. I assumed it was going to be like Canada, just a bit warmer and with more sugary cereal options.  And it is, or so I have come to realize after a few days. But after my first day? Hah.

Hah. Hah. Hah.

Let’s review how my first 24 hours in the States went, shall we?

First, I went outside for a walk and was given reason to post THIS within the first five minutes:

Atheism

Later that day, I saw a well-dressed white woman bully a black server at McDonalds, then inform her supervisor of the altercation in an attempt to get said server fired. Yeah, McDonalds–the only place I could find to eat when I got lost (well, that and a half-dozen Starbucks, I suppose).

I discussed Obama, gay marriage, and women’s rights with a young Baptist woman from Mississippi. She is definitely one of the loveliest people I have met so far (we ate dinner together today, actually).  Southern hospitality is the real deal–she makes a mean cheese/bacon dip, and I have huge respect for her love of College Football and Jesus.  But when I asked “Are all the stereotypes about [insert -ism here] true?” she responded with a resounding YES.  Her personal views, no surprise, often flew in the face of things my little Canadian self took for granted.  There was a pretty clear distaste for the words “Liberal” and “Socialist.”  My American stereotypes lived on.

On day one, there was no eye contact. No opening doors. Stars and stripes EVERYWHERE.  The people in suits were all White, while the people working minimum wage gigs were almost exclusively Black & Hispanic. The cheese on my burger tasted even LESS like cheese than Kraft Singles do (yes, it’s possible) and the Mountain Dew can was way too big.

Around 10 pm on the evening of day one (Sunday), I went down to the dining hall for a tea.  By that point, I was positive that all of my American-ism stereotypes were true.  I struck up a conversation with another girl in the kitchen (“Really, you got lost today too? Where?  Oh, I’m so glad it’s not just me!”).  I learned that she was an American Studies major from Philadelphia, and was immediately intrigued.  She had a lot to share.

I had a lot to ask.

We talked about education. About national identity, racism, systems, state power, patriotism, language, religion…everything.  One hour, two cups of tea and a number of revelations later, she turned the conversation to me: “So, do you think you could ever live here yourself?”

At that moment, after that day, I really did not know.  “I don’t think so,” I responded, “Unless I had a serious job opportunity.”

I understand how silly it was to declare this on day one.  Every….single….time I visit a new country, I learn and re-learn just how misleading first impressions can be (especially with the first day curse).  America has proved no different.

Let’s look at today.  Today, I received more random “Hello!” greetings, eye contact, unnecessary apologies, and good-natured jokes than would in the average Ottawa week (sorry, O-town.  You know I’m still your biggest fan.).  Today, I saw people of every kind of race working every kind of job (yes, it was still disproportionate, but I could swear it was a full divide on Sunday).  And while steering clear of fast food, I remembered the infamous Rideau Street McDonalds in Ottawa (see also: full-out brawl when a customer called a server the N-word).  I really don’t have the right to call out any MickeyDs conflict after that.

Tonight, I think I could live here (this is obviously a good thing, seeing as I currently do live here). I’m not saying that I would absolutely want to live here permanently. I like my poutine comas.  But the thought itself is not so terrifying, really–not with DC, at least.

And so, I officially declare that my first day full of -isms was invalid: at least in this part of the country, at least for now.  I can handle you, DC.  Sorry about that first impression. You’re actually kinda cute.

Welcome to America: Yes, I have gotten horribly lost. Already. Twice.

I didn’t check the time on Friday.  I slept in until 2 pm.  I’m pretty sure my daily Adventures involved trying to open a can of beans without a working can opener (this turned into a 15 minute, 3-person job) and rocking an hour-long game of Wizard.

If this is the “relaxing” thing all you kids have been talking about…I could get used to it.

We spent the day at a big cottage in the-middle-of-nowhere, Pennsylvania (est. never, really). These cottages, set up as retreats in the middle of state parks, cost about $80-100 a night and give you (in our case, at least) a monster of a house overlooking the lake. There was a full kitchen, beautiful wooden furniture, board games from the 80s, and (most importantly) this awesome lamp.

So, this is my selling feature. There's a reason I'm not a real estate agent. BUT ISN'T IT COOL?
So, this is my selling feature. I may not have future in real estate, BUT ISN’T IT COOL?

Frozen lakes are kind of boring to look at, but they’re definitely pretty.  I was really feeling the “peaceful” thing. I probably could have stayed there forever.


^nothing like that.

I think my parents were tempted to stay there, too, for fear of leaving if nothing else.  The drive in is currently being referred to as “Hell.”  “Hell” took us up and down steep mountains in a brutal snow fog.  For a good 30 minutes, my ears were popping (altitude problems) and my father was breathing out G-rated cuss words: FRIG.  FRICK. DANG. (Repeat).

Don’t worry, I evened the language score by referring to the cottage’s location as “a**-f**k nowhere”–which was totally allowed, because even though that phrase makes zero literal sense, it was (f**king) accurate.  Isolated was an understatement.  But I suppose that’s what gave the place so much charm once we arrived. (And yeah, yeah, I did just bleep out my own swear words on my own blog. Feeling dainty today.)

But Shauna! I thought you were going to DC to be a big strong, independent young professional! What’s with the stopover in a**-f**k nowhere? And why in the world are your parents in this story, risking their lives (slash being adorable)?

Well friends, it seems that where I come from, “Shauna’s moving to DC!” sounds a whole lot like “ROAD TRIP!!!”

I value my parents’ love of the family vacation much more now than I did back in the day.  This is mostly because “back in the day,” family road trips meant being strapped in the backseat with 3 dudes for an 8-hour showdown over whose turn it was with the Nintendo DS (“I don’t even want screens being used on this trip. This is ridiculous.” — Mom, every single time).  These days, the road trips are a “whoever wants to go, wherever we want to go” thing, and have more to do with taking a break from routine than corralling four kids. On Thursday, four of us (my parents, one of the middle brothers and I) packed into the car, crossed the border, shopped, chilled at a cottage, and generally burned time/midnight oil/gasoline until my moving day came.  January 5th.  The move in was quick and painless, which is something I have never been able to say before.  I was sad to see them go so soon, but it was amazing to have the company en route.

…and to have a day to relax, which I totally did, contrary to my usual curse of not being able to. I even wrote half of this blog post by hand in a notebook on the cottage couch, because it just felt like the right way to do it in a place like that.

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Barefoot and everything. Kickin’ it old school.

Once I reached DC (yesterday), I wasted no time releasing my awkward self around town.  This is my first full day in the city, and I have already gotten horribly lost (Twice. I want you to look at a map of the lovely, grid-like DC and tell me if YOU could get lost twice.).  I have also already had a 3 hour political conversation with a Republican from Mississippi (we disagreed on most things, but we listened to each other and we both liked Football, so I think it worked out okay).  I also wore a t-shirt outside while everyone else had jackets on because it was 10 degrees and sunny and I’m Canadian, dammit.

With that, I think it’s fair to say: Welcome to America, folks!

Growing up Without Direction: Yes, I Drink Coffee Now

I just sent the following email to my father:

Dear Dad,

I love coffee so much.

Signed,

Your daughter who swore she would never drink coffee.

In middle school, my father embarked on a quest to get me to drink coffee–or give it a fair try, at least. This quest didn’t last long. I recall it ending mostly in frustration on his part (see also: all good-intentioned interactions with a pre-teen daughter ever). I was thirteen, dammit! I knew what I liked! And if I didn’t like something…then I didn’t like it. And I would never like it. Ever. Not even if you covered it in hazelnut syrup and cream and sugar.

[Please note: Hazelnut syrup/cream/sugar have A LOT more bargaining power in my post-pubescent life.]

Alright, so I’m a big kid now. I’m not who I was in middle school. That’s…a big relief. You should be relieved, too. Consider: I recently discovered a letter pre-teen Shauna wrote, heavily detailing her affection for Lou Bega’s “Mambo Number 5.” Also in the letter, 13-year-old Shauna cited the following hobbies: Singing to herself, making stupid videos with her friends, talking about boys, and “letting it all hang out.”

Pfft. Please. I now sing catchy 90s tunes to myself while I do my taxes. My latest boy talk was about my unrequited man-crush on Anderson Cooper. As for stupid videos: post-production, bro. Because I’m an adult now, and that’s what adults do.

It’s like Steve Martin and Martin Short had a sexy, gay baby. Am I selling this yet? No?

Alright, we’ve established that my tastes have changed at least a bit in the last decade. And we’ve established that 13-year-old Shauna was…well, thirteen years old. But there was one very profound thing she said in her letter–yes, the one with the Lou Bega, and the hobbies, and (this just in) the words “everything I do is just awesome.”

Here’s the profound part: Thirteen year old Shauna had a rough outline for her future. She knew what she liked, and she really knew what she didn’t like. But, in an unprecedented moment of maturity, she gave it a big ol’ subject to change disclaimer. Sure, 20-something Shauna was strongly encouraged to keep writing (actually, the term used was “make magic with words,” because it simply had to be as dramatic as possible). But…that was it. There were specific dreams and ideas, but they were beautifully tentative. There was a lot of encouragement, a half disturbing and half adorable, “You’re awesome! Because I’m awesome, and you’re me!” but no specific expectations.

Basically, I was sucking up to my future self. I didn’t know that was even a thing someone could do.

I didn’t know that was even a thing someone could do. It’s incredible how often those words apply. And therein lies the (very brief) wisdom of my 13-year-old dreams: the best (or, at least, most successful) long-term goals have been so, so vague. Not vague as in “uninterested,” but vague as in “unlimited.” They have had to be. The world is changing constantly and life throws so many curveballs. Somehow, even uncaffeinated 13-year-old Shauna realized that if you marry goals that are too specific, you end up closing more doors than you open.

So few of the amazing opportunities I’ve had were even on my radar a few years ago. Things that didn’t even register to me as possibilities for my life have gone on to define my life. When I went on an Ottawa walking tour as a teenager and my mother pointed at the guide, saying “You could totally do something like this,” it didn’t register as an actual possibility. No one would hire me for that. My French isn’t good enough, right? I’m clumsy and silly and auditions freak me out. They don’t hire people like me to do things like that. I would want it too much to actually get it.

I’m now entering my second year as a tour guide for that same Ottawa walking tour company. Amazing.

I am, however, taking a temporary leave from guiding for four months. I’m taking a temporary leave because the Smithsonian’s record company has taken me on as a Marketing intern. Try telling high school Shauna, buried in research on blues music and the Harlem Renaissance, that she would EVER be on the Smithsonian’s radar–never mind be working for Folkways. Just try it. She wouldn’t even know how to go about something like that. And yet–it’s happening. It’s happening right now.

I’m not saying this as an “I’M LIVING THE DREAM, BRAH. SUP WIT’CHU!?!” I couldn’t even say that if I wanted to, because 1) my pronunciation of “wit’chu” is awful, and 2) until we’re presented with “THE DREAM,” we often can’t even know what in the world it looks like. All I know is that I applied to everything. I tried out a bunch of cool-seeming things with varying levels of success. I dabbled in new technology. I avoided the word “No.” But how could I have ever known what kinds of things I would end up saying “Yes” to?

I had no idea. No idea I would ever like coffee. No idea that my affection for Mambo Number 5 would (somewhat) fade. And certainly, no idea that such jobs or internships even EXISTED for me to pursue.

My brother Michael, now in the 10th grade, has figured this one out. He told me this summer that when he grows up he wants to be “Happy.” Just happy. I had some reservations about this “happiness as a goal” thing at first, so I told him not to focus too hard on being “happy.” I worried that he might miss the real moments of joy in pursuit of some non-existent fulfillment ideal. He shook his head at me; “Your big words have no place here, lady.”

He might be onto something. I still think that happiness can sometimes be what happens while we’re busy trying to be happy, but…I do love the vagueness and optimism of Michael’s aspirations. Happy doing what? He doesn’t know yet. Something he loves. Growing up to be what? Whatever comes from being himself as successfully and actively as he can be.

I didn’t know that was even a thing someone could do. You really, really never know what could be out there. I certainly had no idea. But now I’m getting ready to face it, latte in hand.

Who would’ve thought?