Civility Tennessee

Civility Tennessee

<iframe src="" width="500" height="611" style="border:none;overflow:hidden" scrolling="no" frameborder="0" allowTransparency="true" allow="encrypted-media"></iframe>
Day #7: I’m Going Somewhere

Day #7: I’m Going Somewhere

For my final National Week of Conversation​ post, I’m sharing a Honky-Tonk Critters​’ performance about traveling. Despite the song’s lyrics, I have not yet “been everywhere,” so to fix that I’m going on the road (again). This December, I’ll be doing an East Coast music tour as a fundraiser for Better Angels​. But to make this project work, I need your help.

I plan to start in Maryland and drive north until I get to Vermont. In between, I’ll make as many stops as I have places to play (especially in Rhode Island, Connecticut, and Massachusetts). If you want to host, assist, or attend a house concert, please let me know. Any support is appreciated.

This tour also has the specific purpose of raising money, awareness, and participation for Better Angels. While there are many great organizations working to encourage civil discourse across our nation, I’ve chosen to support Better Angels for three reasons:

1) Better Angels has equal participation from “Reds” and “Blues”–which is unusual for these generally liberal-leaning groups. In “The Big Sort”–a book showing how America has become ideologically polarized along geographic lines–Bill Bishop argues that “mixed company moderates; like-minded company polarizes” (70). This principle was central to our founding fathers’ federalism and has more recently been confirmed by social psychologists. For example, Hamilton argued that while communities isolated from different ideas become more extreme, the “jarring of parties… often promote deliberation and circumspection, and serve to check excesses of the majority.” Like our federal system, which brings different voices together, the “Better Angels Rule” promises that “at every level of leadership we are half red and half blue.” By guaranteeing the inclusion of opposing voices, Better Angels fights conversation’s potential to provoke rather than diminish polarization.

2) Better Angels runs workshops specifically about polarization. For example, you might talk about how you think “the other side” sees you and what is and is not true about that judgment. While I’m skeptical a “Red” can persuade a “Blue” to change her mind about gun control, I believe a conversation can open that Blue’s mind to reconsider dismissive stereotypes about Red people. Even if we can’t find common ground, Better Angels can help us remember our common humanity.

3) Better Angels is a movement. Its leadership has travelled the country to spread the word, and has thereby built up grassroots participation, encouraged sustainable local chapters, and inspired independent efforts (like mine). Its message is catching, and I hope to spread it further.

Mostly, I’m supporting Better Angels because I want more people to experience the good work they are doing. If you want access yourself, for just $10/year you can become a member, which allows you to “organize workshops, build alliances, get trained as moderators,” and be included on regular, nation-wide discussions. To learn more, click a link below. For (more of) my opinions, keep following my posts and attend a show in December!

About Better Angels’ philosophy/work
For Better Angels Media​
To Become a Member 
Donate here

Battle Hymn for Healthcare

Battle Hymn for Healthcare

We all want and all need good health care, so let’s make it better together.

Why do I care so much?

I spent much of this year battling my lungs. Less than a month after turning 26 (and losing my parent’s health insurance), I took a huge risk and moved halfway across the country to Nashville, TN where I felt I could best develop personally and professionally. Before leaving, my mother worried about what I’d do in a health emergency. Of course, I shrugged her off. I was 26, totally healthy, and wasn’t going to let fear stop me from growing.

Nine months later, I breathed in a fungus and developed large, painful growths in my lungs. Merely walking outside, I inhaled spores that put my entire life on hold. My lung disease demanded regular appointments and debilitating medications, made full-time work impossible, and got me fired from my regular gig. I wasn’t expecting to need good insurance, but even 26 year olds can get sick. Not everyone can work jobs with benefits (even those with two Ivy League degrees). I was young and unemployed in Tennessee and needed extensive healthcare immediately.

A month later, I managed to get an appropriate plan through the Affordable Care Act (though I barely qualified since Tennessee refused Medicaid expansion). Without it, I probably would have moved back with my parents in Maryland (which accepted ACA’s Medicaid expansion). Without these options, I might have died. I am here because of “Obamacare.”

Obviously, I know our healthcare system isn’t perfect. Having spent so much of this year at hospitals, I’ve experienced its flaws firsthand. Ask me how many times I’ve cried while waiting to hear from my doctor. Ask me about being misdiagnosed with sarcoidosis or lung cancer. Ask me about picking up prescriptions, waiting on hold, tracking down paperwork… But these are details. What ultimately matters is that I’m healthy and won’t be in debt the rest of my life—thanks to my health insurance.

Why should we give up this progress in the name of perfection? If Republicans can improve ACA, I’ll be more grateful than anyone. Universal healthcare has long been bipartisan and compromise is possible. But repealing ACHA will take insurance away from people like me and hurt even those who can find other coverage.

I’m writing this especially for my fellow Tennesseans: Please don’t let us go backwards. I am only still here because of this law. Tennessee is becoming my home, my workplace, my community. I would like to stay here. Please tell our representatives NOT to repeal the Affordable Care Act—for our country’s health and for me.

Finally, I couldn’t help but write a song to accompany my request. I’ve heard many songs lately (from liberals) encouraging solidarity, but only with each other. However, while the topic may be less inspiring, I think it’s equally important that songs encourage compromise. Standing up for ideals is important, but so is standing together to effect real change. In this particular case, the consequences of demanding perfection are literally life and death.

We all want and all need good healthcare, so let’s make it better together.

Electric Violin/Voice/Looping, Music/Lyrics, Music/Video Editing, Animation Design/Execution: Sage Snider
Animation Assistant, Tolerant Bystander: Kevin Pereira
Hand Models: Sage Snider and Kevin Pereira

Lorena’s Ghost

Lorena’s Ghost

Lorena’s Ghost

Lorena was one of the most popular songs during the Civil War–so popular, it was famously banned for inciting desertion. While written in 1856 and admittedly anachronistically sentimental, the lyrics still resonate as a tragic story of lost love.

Rev. Henry D.L. Webster wrote the song about his own broken engagement, and took the name “Lorena” from Edgar Allen Poe’s poem “The Raven.” This story only gained resonance during the Civil War: when soldiers pined for the sweethearts–and more broadly the Victorian notion of an idealized “Home Sweet Home”–they’d left behind. Unsurprisingly, the wildly popular hit “Home Sweet Home” was also banned for supposedly inciting desertion.

Webster, J. P. & Webster, H. D. L. (1861) Lorena. H. M. Higgins, Chicago. [Notated Music] Retrieved from the Library of Congress,

Webster, J. P. & Webster, H. D. L. (1861) Lorena. H. M. Higgins, Chicago. [Notated Music] Retrieved from the Library of Congress,

But songs change meaning as the world around them changes, and in the case of “Lorena,” time has changed this song from a sentimental ballad about soldiers’ lost loves into a symbol of the lost soldiers themselves and the general loss of the Civil War. At worst, this song is now used as a nostalgic recollection of an idealized past, especially by Civil War reenactors.

Personally, I like to interpret Lorena as a song about memory, and the impossibility of forgetting those lost in our shared American past. The song itself–its “chords” and “words”–are complicit in this painful, eternal remembrance:

For “if we try we may forget,”

Were words of thine long years ago.

Yes, these were words of thine, Lorena,

They burn within my memory yet;

They touched some tender chords, Lorena,

Which thrill and tremble with regret.

Yet the original song ends with a message of hope that lost loves–and the past and present–will be reunited:

It matters little now, Lorena,

The past is in the eternal past;

Our heads will soon lie low, Lorena,

Life’s tide is ebbing out so fast.

There is a Future! O, thank God!

Of life this is so small a part!

‘Tis dust to dust beneath the sod;

But there, up there, ’tis heart to heart.

However, when I wrote my modern version of “Lorena,” I wanted to emphasize lack of reconciliation in dealing with this past: how lovers, soldiers’ descendants, and our country as a whole have not forgotten or forgiven or moved on. This fact has only become clearer to me since I’ve moved South to Nashville, and seen the pride and anger so many southerners still hold and display in the name of ancestors who fought and died on behalf of the Confederacy.

A triumphant plaque from the Confederate memorial in Franklin, TN

A Confederate reenactor's truck at Granville, Tennessee's recent Heritage day and bluegrass festival

A Confederate reenactor’s truck at Granville, Tennessee’s recent Heritage day and bluegrass festival

My version of Lorena is both about the individual story of losing one’s own love and not being able to forget the past more broadly. It’s about how hard it is to forget or live with one’s personal or cultural history, and how music simultaneously prevents us from forgetting, and yet can help us deal with the pain of the past.

Lorena, of course, is notoriously dangerous in the way it deals with the past. It idealized lost love for Civil War soldiers, leading them to abandon their present responsibilities for a perfect other world that probably never existed. Nowadays, in creating nostalgia for a false heroic ideal and lost antebellum America, it might equally present such dangers.

Therefore, I wanted to create a version of Lorena that encouraged Americans to look back at the pain of the past, while simultaneously using that past music to think about our present and moving forward. This was pretty ambitious, so I made this song the centerpiece of an hour-long, electric violin, looping, tap dancing solo show I performed at Brown University called “Fiddlers’ Green,” which you can watch here or below.

But regardless of whether you watch this video, I’d love to hear your thoughts and experiences about how music can be a tool for remembering or forgetting America’s past. What songs keep you stuck in the past? What songs help you move forward? Do you think it’s important to hold onto old songs, and if so, how?