Response to High Noon Radio: Even Cowgirls get the Podcasts

It has been a few weeks since my last #Western106 post and it is true I’m not paying as much attention as I was in the beginning. But that is sort of the beauty of these kind of courses right – you can do what you want to and really concentrate on what you feel inspired by.

I caught the High Noon Radio Hour from last week and it was oh so good.  Alan Levine talking with Sandy Brown Jensen and Molly Gloss about all things Western. I’m not really sure if they were talking cowgirls so much as they were talking homesteaders but I really enjoyed hearing Molly read from one of her books The Jump-Off Creek. Very much from a feminine perspective, the story gives us a glimpse into what life for a single female frontier homesteader would be like. Molly has done her homework too – researching historical diaries of women that had lived this kind of life. It is all so fascinating.

You really should listen to the show – it is such a good one. They talk about science fiction and how that can be looked at from a western lens being that space is a new frontier being explored. It does all the bendy stuff with genera and story that I’ve been loving about this course.

But then it happened – Alan brought up the fact that I’m concentrating on Even Cowgirls Get the Blues for the course and someone said – well they just spend all their time chasing men right? Alan sheepishly says no but neither of the ladies can really answer and the conversation moves on.  So, of course I need to interject myself into the conversation. This is why I love the Internet – I can respond a week later to a conversation that I was not even a part of in real time.

I should say that I am still working my way through Even Cowgirls Get the Blues – I’m still not finished with the book. I’m consuming the story in all of the ways possible (audio book, text book and movie) and it is really interesting to see it from all of these different angles. I watched the movie over the Christmas holiday and it is pretty bad all around though it is saved by Robbins quick wit which the writers were smart to keep. In the movie the cowgirls are most definitely not chasing after men – they are chasing after each other. There are hints at some love with men but the movie glides over it and if you don’t know what you are looking for you would never catch it. The book is much different with the main character Sissy Hankshaw loving two men and only one woman – Bonanza Jellybean.

Jelly is cowgirl and Sissy is a hitchhiker who is fascinated with Indians. One of my favorite passages in the book happens the first time that Sissy and Jelly meet. Jelly tells Sissy what it means for her to be a cowgirl.

She explains about how when you are a little girl and you want to grow up to be a cowgirl and they pat you on the head and say that is nice. But they never really believe that it is something that you can actually do. Then you find out that Santa Claus is not real, then the Easter Bunny, and then when you reach a certain age… well here I’ll let Jelly tell it:

“So they let you dress up like a cowgirl and when you say ‘I’m gonna be a cowgirl when I grow up’ they laugh and say ‘ Ain’t she cute?’ Then one day they tell you ‘Look, honey, cowgirls are only play. You can’t really be one.’ And that’s when I holler, ‘Wait a minute! Hold on! Santa and the Easter Bunny, I understand; they were nice lies and I don’t blame you for them. But now you’re screwing around with my personal identity, my plans for the future.”

And Jelly is pretty clear about the type of cowgirl that she wants to be too. She draws a distinction between what she calls trick ridin’ and real cowgirls citing Tad Lucas as a real rodeo cowgirl. I’ll let her get back to telling the rest of the story though:

“But the RCA cut women off in thirty-three. Said it was too dangerous. Well it was dangerous. Tad Lucas broke nearly every bone in her body at one time or another… But the men got hurt too. They were wired together like birdcages, most of ‘em… Why is it men are allowed to do dangerous things an hurt themselves and women aren’t? I don’t know. But I do know that they outlawed cowgirls, except for trick-riders and parade queens.”

The best part of the conversation comes when Sissy suggests that there is no demand for cowgirls and Jelly explains that is not exactly true. Jelly makes it clear that The System may have no demand for cowgirls but that there is a demand all the same and that the demand comes from the hearts of little girls.

This is just one conversation in the book and one of the simpler ones in regards to the role of women. There is a lot more – many of the cowgirls have different views on this. And many more metaphors than just feminism going on in the book as a whole – I’m a particular fan of the role of time in the book but you won’t find that in the movie.

And I’m not finished with it yet so I’m hoping that I can bring some more little bits of the book to you as it may come up.

I’m grateful to Western106 for bringing this book back into my life and for opportunity to interject my voice (and the voices of Sissy and Jelly) into a conversation that I listened to almost a week after it actually happened.

Fun times indeed.

What do Westerns mean to me? A declaration in two parts about Music, Story, and Activism

I’ll admit that the idea of participating in #Western106 is a bit of a struggle for me.  I sympathize with Maha Bali’s most recent post on this subject. I can see the political implications of Westerns as a genera and I’m not in agreement. I’m not a fan of violence. But I pride myself on turning things on their side – so I will need to stretch for this one… That’s ok – stretching is good for you.

I do have a few things to draw upon and so I figured I would reflect here in week 1 of #Western106 on some of those things.

Part One: Music and Story

I grew up on Country and Western music and I loved it – no really. There’s a childhood story about me from around age 7, falling for a little boy next door to my grandparent’s place. That is till I told him of my love for Country music and he expressed that he was not a fan. Apparently, I could tell right then and there that while our time up to that point had been sweet that we had no future and I had to call it off.

Why did I love the music so much? Well, for me, it was all about the stories. It is here where I might be in good shape for #Western106 as an iteration of #DS106 – for how can we have digital stories without stories.

You might say that all songs tell a story of some kind but I would argue that some Country and Western music (that which is often tied to a more classic approach) really takes its time to paint a picture. I figure not all you will know what I am talking about so I made this YouTube playlist of some of the Country and Western story songs from my childhood to demonstrate what I mean by this:

This laid a foundation for me and as I started to listen to other types of music that tried to convey a feeling or a mood. No matter the abstraction, I was always looking for the story.

I struggled with this as a teenager when I tried listening to music that was more popular among my peers.  The only way I made sense of it was to eventually embrace the abstraction. I realized that some of the more popular songs (among my age and socioeconomic status) were telling one part of a story or telling the story in a non-liner way… I also realized they were telling a different type of story…

Part Two: Activism

Okay, so I’ve got the aspect of story in Country and Western music on my side while I start #Western106 but it is not the only thing; I also have Tom Robbins.

In my last #Western106 post I touched on Even Cowgirls Get the Blues which I plan to use as my anchor in this course. I would like to unpack it a little bit as we go along. I am still struggling to re-read the book. I did re-watch the movie. The first time I read the book I was traveling through India in my mid 20’s – it has been awhile.

Today, as I think about Westerns and merging it with Cowgirls this idea of the outlaw pops up and for me I’m asking how it relates to activism. How are they different and how are they alike? When do we justify law breaking in terms of breaking new ground and making a point?

Let me give you some context as it applies to Cowgirls. You see there is this take-over, this occupation, this coup of a ranch (the Rubber Rose Ranch) as a part of the book/movie. And it is not non-violent there are guns involved. The cowgirls take over this ranch which was developed as a type of high-end beautifying retreat for women looking to loose some weight, get facials and manicures, and such. The cowgirls are offended by this type of working over of women to make them all look (and smell) the same and so they take over the ranch from it’s lawful owners. I find myself cheering for the Cowgirls and rooting for them.

Cowgirls is a story of fiction and the ranch is just a metaphor (in my interpretation) for ideas that women need to fit some standard of beauty. The ranch in this case is like an assembly line where women can go through certain steps and come out conforming on the other end. The take over of the ranch by the cowgirls is a direct assault on the ideas of a singular beauty standard of all women. Throughout the book a profile of each of the cowgirls breaks while a parallel story is told to highlight their uniqueness, their quirkiness, and their “flaws” (which are often celebrated).

Of course as I’m reading this I’m thinking about this real ranch out West that is being occupied. Here I don’t find myself rooting for the ranchers. I realize they feel wronged. I realize that they are trying to make a point. I’m not so against their methods as I am their reasons. Here again, issues of ownership are at stake but it is not ownership of one’s own body it is ownership of land and resources where they feel entitled and think that the larger governmental body has over stepped. This is not a metaphor. To recognize any ownership of land that these ranchers might claim, for me, would be difficult as I would go back further to recognize another right of land. Enter the Indians into this western story.

Resistance as an act of reclaiming.

Resistance as and act of entitlement.

How about a lack of resistance as an act of beauty?

Part Three: Wait I thought there were only two parts? (well I said we were going to stretch, didn’t I?)

Yes, I know I thought there was only going to be two parts too but alas I’m more of a hitchhiker than a cowgirl and you never know where the road is going to take you.

This weekend I find I’m also confronted with another story that I can’t help but tie in as I think about outlaws and as I think about activism.

This story requires a disclaimer to fit into #Western106. A disclaimer that Jeffrey Keefer and Terry Elliott helped me with:

Everybody is West of something.

The story I want to bring to your attention to is that of Philippe Petit, French wire walker that tempted fate in 1974 (by traveling West) to walk across a wire he strung between the two towers of the World Trade Center in New York City.

Why would someone do that?

After being arrested for the act Petit said “There is no why. It’s just when I see a beautiful place to put my wire I cannot resit.”

Of course this story is on my mind because I rented The Walk. I highly recommend it as it is beautiful in its cinematography as well as its storytelling.

I bring it up here because I think that there should be a place for an outlaw who is called by creativity in an open online course about storytelling with a theme that spends a fair amount of time with outlaws. I think it is important – if we are going to talk about story and the creation of story in the context of a rebellious genera to ask about breaking the rules.

I’ll let Philippe end this post talking about his book Creativity: The Perfect Crime with NPR. He says the book is an “outlaw confession” and states that “his journey has always been a balance between chaos and order” which really makes me smile.

Staking My Claim for #Western106

Howdy partners!!! It’s true, I’ve decided to take part in the next iteration of #DS106 – #Western106!! It is the latest iteration of DS106 and it is going to start on January 11th! I’m going to see who I can rustle up to have some fun with us and do some learning with me. If you wanna play check it out. Let me know how I can help.

I have to admit that I’m not much of a western fan but the idea of the course inspired me to start reading one of my favorite authors; Tom Robbins. Even Cowgirls Get the Blues is classic Robbins and I’m still making my way through the book but I did watch the movie. I was really disturbed that they shunned the amoeba!!! The amoeba only makes one appearance in the book – in the Single Cell Preface but it is declared as the mascot of the story.

I have a whole tangled mess of roots in my brain about how the amoeba connects to cowfolk and wanderings and wild west. And how all of that can zoom out to act as a metaphor for being on the web as things are pretty wild out here. But alas this post is just to get my feet wet and connect my blog to the #Western106 hub. So the exploration of subtle connected metaphors will have to wait.

I did decide to right this horrible wrong done to Even Cowgirls Get the Blues on my own and create my own movie of the Single Cell Preface. Let me know what you think.