As I thought about this assignment, I kept coming back to something I wrote on my personal Facebook page years ago. It shares a bit of my own personal history as well as my connection to an artist who has been influencing and inspiring me since I was really still a teenager.
What I've written here is, I suppose, a lot more about me than about her. But she has shaped my life, helped me become who I am. Her writing continues to help me see the world through a wider lens, one with a sharp focus on equity, MAtriarchy, and empathy. I love that I have an opportunity to share this connection publicly. And perhaps some day I'll have an opportunity to thank her personally.
I wrote this post in June 2011. I've added some links and changed a few names, but left it otherwise unedited.
My recent trip to Buffalo, NY for work allowed me a long-awaited opportunity to visit the headquarters of Righteous Babe Records, the historic building known simply as “The Church” which Ani DiFranco and the RBRrrmy have renovated into business offices, merchandising space, an art gallery and performance venues. I was graciously offered a tour of the whole facility and the opportunity to thank a couple of the women who work to support an organization that has had a profound influence on my life and my little world. The trip provided a moment of closure, a long-delayed end to a complicated chapter of my life that started almost 18 years ago. I wanted to write something to mark the occasion; to say goodbye and let it… go.
The first time I heard Ani’s voice, it was her poem “My I.Q.” on the Puddle Dive album (http://www.righteousbabe.com/ani/puddledive/l_myiq.asp). It was Fall of 1993. Nearly 20 years later, I can recite that poem verbatim, right now. I won’t repeat it here. Too many of you have been forced to listen to it in the wee hours of the morning or in the ladies’ room at weddings or in my car, or… well, you get the idea. The poem struck a chord in me and woke me up in a way that made me wonder if I had ever really been awake, and certain I had been asleep far too long. Three minutes later, I heard “Blood in the Boardroom” from the same album (listen at http://www.righteousbabe.com/ani/puddledive/index.asp). I’d never heard anything before that could be described as both “feminist” and “whimsical” at the same time – it was like being struck by lightning! In a word, I was hooked.
It was about two months later I learned I was pregnant. When my son Patrick was born and placed with his new family in the summer of 1994, the grief I experienced was infinitely more profound than I expected. I was utterly unprepared and I didn’t have the tools to deal with it.
I credit MANY things and people in my life for helping me learn to live with my decision. The Hubs and The Brother-In-Law caught the lion’s share of the burden. They taught me it was OK to laugh and have fun, even when I was feeling sad or angry. They gave me permission to have joy in my life. They provided me a “free space” where I could be as bat-shit crazy as was necessary. They made me feel safe. Always. The Hubs's Best Friend, too, put up with my need for a free space – for a while (and he was right to suggest a limit to it). I owe these men a debt I cannot repay.
I was battling the urge to self-destruct, learning to cope, fighting my way back to myself and this process took years. During this time I learned this: the knowledge you made the right choice, that you did the best you could under the circumstances, is not the same as having peace with that choice. It was sometimes cold comfort in the face of the consequences of my decision. I believe some wounds never heal. But with the right help, you might get them to scab over and maybe even stop the itch.
In the midst of this turmoil, I had my family – including my amazing mom whom I cannot begin to discuss here – my friends, my ambition, my own naked determination to move forward… and when none of these were enough and I felt myself beginning to drown in my own sorrow, I had Ani’s music. Her records were a life ring in a sea of grief. They provided a focal point outside myself and I grasped hold of that circle of hope and it allowed me to rest, check out of my life for a while, return to fight when my strength was restored.
In the past 17 years, my relationship with all those who were there for me during that difficult time has deepened and solidified. Ani, being only a few years older than me, has matured and continued to write songs that closely correlate with my own experiences, opinions and politics. I believe my perspective has been shaped by her music as much as by anything else in these years.
My son turns 17 years old today. By all accounts he is healthy, smart, and well-rounded. He was raised in the same community his whole life. He has friends he’s known all his life. His parents were able to provide opportunities and a level of stability I could only dream about in 1994.
I am reminded again today that I made a decision I can be proud of.