July 7, 2017

A Cherokee parable tells of a grandfather who confides to his grandson that there are two wolves inside him, fighting an endless battle. One wolf, he says, is anger, greed, arrogance, sorrow, pride, envy; the other is compassion, peace, truth, love. This battle, he continues, rages inside of everyone. “But which wolf will win?” the grandson asks. The grandfather looks at him directly:

The one you feed.” 

By November 2016, the Standing Rock protests had turned violent. The Water Protectors (urged to continue protesting peacefully by Native American elders) were met with violence from police, rubber bullets and tear gas ripping through the crowds, water cannons assaulting them in subfreezing temperatures. And yet the protestors at Standing Rock stood tall in their convictions, refusing to meet violence with violence.

Obama halted the Dakota Access pipeline in the final days of his presidency; I rejoiced with the Water Protectors then. I sang with my friend Kyp Malone from TV On The Radio and Lakota activist Bobbi Jean Three Legs at a benefit for Standing Rock in LA in December. Everything felt so hopeful. And then Trump undid it all with a swift executive order on January 24, 2017. 

“Witch Wolf” was written and recorded on January 25. It is pure, unadulterated, unresolved anger. I sat with the conflict at the center of the Native American proverb, feeling my blood boil at the latest headlines, wanting to raise my fists and fight back. Would we just sit there watching history unfold, not doing a thing to stop it? Would we fight back? If so, how? Which wolf would we feed? 

I am forever inspired by and admiring of the restraint and power with which the Native people fight, despite generations of anger and sadness of a people continually wronged by the American government that I cannot begin to imagine. When I find myself consumed by anger, trying to decide what to do with it, I think of the Cherokee parable. There’s magic in the wolf we choose to feed. It has the power transform the whole world. 

How do we get around? 
How do we get around? 
How do we get around? 
Go straight to the heart.


“Witch Wolf” is one of nine songs on the new Mynabirds album, BE HERE NOW, out 8/25 on Saddle Creek. You can preorder the album via iTunes or Saddle Creek (including limited edition magenta vinyl) at https://saddle-creek.com/products/be-here-now?variant=39929399437.

This live version was performed in Laura’s Echo Park living room on July 6, 2017 with Emily Moore on guitar and Will Noon on percussion. You can hear the album version plus 2 more songs from BE HERE NOW at Apple Music https://itunes.apple.com/us/album/be-here-now/id1249006338 or Spotify https://open.spotify.com/album/3he2AH04e0PGh0nxleg3vg or wherever else you listen to new music. 

July 6, 2017

I Just Want to Stay Cocooned Right Here With You
Even As the Sky, the Sky is Falling…

I can’t read the news anymore. I mean, I do keep up. But my time refreshing the page every hour is over. Too much anxiety in the collective consciousness that I can’t have creeping into my own.

There’s something about the two lovers fused together in ash eternally at the foot of Vesuvius in ancient Pompeii that feels so relevant today. Did you read that they discovered in April, nearly 2000 years after they died, that those lovers are two men, embracing one another against certain death? Poetic in a time when LGBT rights are at stake and it feels like people are holding each other closer than ever as the horizon line burns. How can you turn the tides of the divisiveness anyway, the anger online, Americans fighting as if a new Civil War has already begun? 

Tune out. Turn off. Drop into the arms of someone you love and hold tight. 

That feels like the counterculture motto updated for the modern age, for desperate, disenfranchised youth. The New Summer of Love, 2017.

My friend Kimya Dawson wrote this really beautiful essay after the Oakland Ghost Ship fire about safe spaces. So many people were talking about the Ghost Ship as an “unsafe” space, with its outdated electricity, handmade wooden stairs, nothing up to code. But you know what was up to code? All the love between the people inside, relaxing into each others’ arms, finding safe haven from the harsh realities, all the rejection outside. And while I desperately wish the outcome had been different at the Ghost Ship, I have eternal gratitude for all the lives it — and spaces like it — saved. 

“Cocoon” was written on February 3, 2017, just after the Inauguration and the Women’s March, in a warehouse studio in Nashville where my producer friend, Patrick Damphier, was getting evicted, in a neighborhood that was starting to gentrify. It felt like a metaphor for what was happening in America. We were getting pushed out, watching the architecture we’d come to feel safe in crumble around us. But there for that moment, Patrick and I were safe, huddled together in song.

A few days before, an old friend took a breath from some online feuding to tell me he had to check out, to focus on his wife and his children, to do what he could in his own space to make the people he cared for feel safe. I started in about white male privilege; but I also couldn’t argue with that noble cause. Be the change you wish to see…

When my dear actor and director friend Lavinia Jones Wright came to visit me in April later this spring, Southern California was just starting to recover from the flooding. And like a rainbow after a drought, it brought with it the Super Bloom. Poetic that Mother Nature would rear its head in such golden glory as the new US President denied global warming and deleted science from government websites. Lavinia and I drove to Lake Elsinore and documented that moment that would only happen once, blooming like the singularity each of us are. We stood there like two lovers ignoring the sky falling behind us, taking blissful selfies, feeling safe together in that cell phone dead zone, the space the news and social media couldn’t reach.  

BE HERE NOW. It’s my new album title and my mantra. No feeling is final. 

The headlines keep spinning. The news gets weirder every day. And emotions are running high, everyone wanting to be right. But righteousness is a poison I don’t want to eat. Okay, okay — righteousness is more like a really delicious chocolate cake that I want to eat all the time. But I know the sugar makes me sick. So I’m trying to cling to my friends, my loves, to moments with neighbors on the street, strangers on the internet, and to what Rumi said: 

“Out beyond ideas of rightdoing and wrongdoing, there is a field. I’ll meet you there.” 

July 4, 2017

July 4th is a good time to think about freedom. It’s a word we Americans throw around too easily, too conveniently to stack the cards in our favor, to promote goodwill, to wrap something devilish up in a flag of pure white good. And I mean that “pure white” in a race way. It’s usually white people force-feeding “freedom” down everyone else’s throats, saying, It might taste bad, but just wait and see what it does! It’s done enough. We’ve been left with more than a bad taste in our mouths from that medicine. The side effects have been deadly. You don’t have to mine all the way back to the Witch Hunts or the Civil War or the Trail of Tears; you can look at the latest headlines to know it’s true. Acquittals for murdering black people at traffic stops so that cops can be “free” to do their jobs; environmental roll-backs so that corporations are “free” to make money hand-over-fist while poor children are poisoned by their own drinking water; women denied healthcare and LGBTQ folks denied rights so that religion can be “free” to impose its discriminative morality on everyone else. The list goes on.

This year I don’t think America deserves a birthday party. No cake, no balloons. Let the sky stay silent for once, the eternal stars in place of the PTSD-inducing fireworks, the monuments we explode to our might, forgetting how it also reflects our ephemera.

No, this year America needs to sit alone in its bedroom and think about what it’s done, who it is, and who it wants to be. 

That’s a tricky order given that America is an aggregate of These United States, a collective consciousness made up of the individual minds of each of its democratic inhabitants. And who wants to sit inside thinking about anything heavy when we’ve got Bud Lite to drink and hot dogs to grill? But it’s an important thing to remember. We are each a piece of the collective, and powerful in so much as we are an integral part of the whole. So this year, in a real practice of democratic ideals and hopeful everyone-is-powerful-here-let’s-not-forget-it and be-the-change-you-want-to-see kind of way, I’m going to sit in my own bedroom, and think. 

What is freedom anyway? 

I’ll tell you what it’s not. It’s not being tethered to a 24 hour news cycle of social media anxiety where a single tweet undoes us all. It’s not found in the comments. It’s not mass approval or mass hysteria or people drawing lines through the masses along colors: red or blue, black or white. 

Freedom is safety in the gray, calm in the unknowing.

I think about the Buddhism I’ve studied. Freedom is knowing we will never find ground, and making peace with that constant change. Categorizing anyone or anything is drawing a box, trying to find a solid line. There are none. Not anywhere, ever. What is it in our human nature that keeps trying to find them? 

This year I’m going to meditate on groundlessness — even the groundlessness of America. We have aimed to be a certain thing since the forefathers drew up the Constitution; from there we have claimed the “City on the Hill” title even as the mirage has crumbled. And you know what? That’s exciting. I’ve found myself grieving a loss of what we could’ve been, but the truth is we never were It. We’ve tried. And we’ve failed again and again. And what a beautiful opportunity to see the failings, to take stock of how far we’ve come, to realize how far we’ve yet to go, and to choose to keep going. 

The current President is tweeting a meme of himself wrestling a whole news organization to the ground on entertainment TV? Okay. And Congress is trying to take away healthcare from poor citizens and shove tax breaks into the back pockets of the wealthiest few? Fine. America is that, and now we can see it. 

But America is also all the other things we don’t see in the social media feeds: one-on-one conversations with immigrant taxi drivers about shared playlists and mothers’ names that make us feel connected, trans women finding places of power in local communities, 5 languages being spoken on the edge of a city park lake at once, children with different textures of hair and shades of skin and shapes of bellies and calves and arms stretching into their bodies through space and collapsing on a grassy knoll in laughter together, rolling down the hill one by one across shoes and handbags and each other without apologizing. Because the truth is, we don’t crash into one another like hard-hulled ships on the ocean. No one needs to apologize when we can accept each other into our one shared space, clouds of molecules brushing through one another as we lose and gain a little bit with every person we pass, trading breaths. 

Where do you end and where do I begin? 

If we can remember the borderless edges between us all, we’ll remember our freedom. And maybe, just maybe, America can start to see itself in that.