My Heroes

My newest single, “My Heroes”, released June 3. I could not be more ecstatic to have this song finally out and about in the world!

I hesitate to try to explain what my songs are about because a) they’re often about lots of things, and b) I want them to speak to people however they end up speaking, without me interfering with any sort of cumbersome explanation that might water them down.

But this one is different. It has me wanting to drop a little bit of explanation.

“My Heroes” is about my experience as a female with gender discrimination and the systems that perpetuate it. It’s about the ridiculousness of it, the pain it causes everyone, and the path it has taken for me to rise above it. It’s about how so many of the ways we measure success and heroism are harmful.

I’ve been in so many environments that champion maleness and diminish femaleness. Environments that make plenty of room for males and not plenty of room for females (who are often just as – or more – qualified for the same roles).

Sometimes you can stick around at a place and try to change the system from the inside. Sometimes you have to leave the place. Sometimes leaving is best.

Some of my biggest heroes are people the world doesn’t pay attention to. Those who defy the toxic definitions of success, leadership, and power.

I hope I can always work towards moving the needle in the direction of equality and belonging. The way I feel most compelled to do that right now is by telling stories. And this is one of them.

“My Heroes” is available for your listening pleasure everywhere.

Watch the official lyric video here →

“My Heroes”

Save me
I don’t want to stay here
I have had to bury more than you know               
All because you refuse to listen
Save me
From the domination
You want me invisible even though
I’m the one making all the difference

Nothing I can do to change your minds
Leaving is the only way sometimes
To live but I still die a little bit inside

Save me
I don’t want to hate you
Every time the words come out of your mouth 
Play the part
I know you won’t lose

Nothing I can do to change your minds
Leaving is the only way sometimes
To live but I still die a little bit inside

I’m tired of fighting
For my place, for a place
What else is there to do
When you tell me

Keep your head down
Don’t look up
Say the right thing
Not too much
Nothing is ever enough
Nothing is ever enough
I came in peace
But it cost so much

My heroes go another way
Through shadows
In obscurity
Our present is their history 
My heroes
Travel lightly here
As strangers
Walking through my dreams
Conforming is a trivial thing

Credits:
Composer and Lyricist: Jessica Cotten
Vocals, Keys: Jessica Cotten
Producer, Mixer, Engineer: Josh Bahl
Drums: Adam Bahl
Mastering Engineer: Joe Causey
Recorded at Attic Recording Studio
Lyric Video Creator: Joseph Cotten

Remember the Good Times

Two weeks ago, my grandfather passed away. He was 96, lived an incredible life, was kind, optimistic, and gave the best hugs. I don’t have a single bad memory of him. He was a constant source of goodness in my life, and though I still feel a deep sense of connection with him even now, I will miss his presence terribly. 

When my brother and I were kids, we’d ride our bikes to his and Grandmother’s house. Sometimes we’d spend the night, and when I was small their simple, three-bedroom, two-bath house somehow felt like a mansion. They always had ice cream on hand. And in the summer, they had air conditioning! One of my fondest memories was actually a somewhat regular occurrence. Granddad was always the first to wake up, a trait he held onto from his days as a journalist and newspaper editor. I was the second to wake up, and I’d come out of my room still in my PJ’s, following the smell of coffee into the kitchen where Granddad would be sitting at the table, looking dapper even in his bathrobe, absorbed in the newspapers spread out before him. It was always a quiet scene and sometimes I’d be shy about interrupting his peaceful morning, but then he’d look up, see me, and stop what he was doing to say, “Well good morning Jessica! Want some cereal?” He was so cheerful and before I could even answer he had risen from the table to go towards the cabinet that held the cereal. There was never a chance for me to wonder for a second if I had bothered him. He made a place for me at the table, where I’d sit across from him and read my own section of the newspaper as he returned to his. Depending on my age, my reading of choice ranged from the comics, to the lifestyle section, to international news (never national news – that was sooooo conventional). I’m sure he was reading every section of the paper, spotting details I’d never see, and enjoying the business section, financial section, and letters to the editor the most.

One summer day I sat with Granddad at a Five Guys along with my family. After our burgers & fries had been devoured, he recounted stories of when he was Public Relations & Personnel Director of the newspaper. He had tears in his eyes at one point as he recalled the responsibility of caring for employees during a particularly challenging time. I remember thinking I wished everyone could have people like him in HR. 

When my poetry book came out, he bought copies for his friends in the retirement community where he lived. I told him I’d gladly give him some, but he insisted on buying them himself. Shortly after, I was showing him a new poem I’d just written, and at one point he exclaimed, “What a line!” I can’t remember which line it was, I just know that having Granddaddy as my fan meant more to me than any amount of good reviews from anyone.

We held a gathering last week to honor Granddad’s life. We booked an art gallery (he loved good art), brought in a caterer, served food & wine (he loved good food & good wine), set out photographs of him throughout the decades, & invited friends and family to drop in for an informal social event to celebrate him. For two hours I had the privilege of hearing people talk to me about what Granddad meant to them. A common theme in what everyone said was that he was “the kindest man”, “always a gentleman”. I got to hear about how he brought his neighbor’s mail to her, how he wasn’t shy to raise a ruckus about things that were, in fact, ridiculous (like when a certain hiring committee didn’t have a single female candidate on their list – he was aghast at this), & how just two months ago he held captive an audience of journalism students at the local university as he regaled stories from his own days as a journalist. However privileged they all felt to have known him doesn’t compare to the privilege I had to be his granddaughter.

When each of my Grandmothers died, he hugged me and said “Remember the good times”. I’m thankful he taught me how to do this. It’s helping me so much right now.

I think Granddaddy genuinely inspired people to do the right thing, be generous, be realistically optimistic, and make good decisions. But I just want to be back at that kitchen table with him again, me in my PJ’s slurping cereal, him in his crisp robe drinking coffee and poring over the morning papers. 

Me and Granddaddy.

City on Fire

My song “City on Fire” was released July 9, 2021. I wrote it off and on from 2016–2020, when it felt like so many things were falling apart…but it also felt like they needed to fall apart. So, if at any point during those years you felt disillusioned, angry, afraid, utterly confused, or disappointed — or if you currently feel any of these things — I think you might like this song. 

You can listen to it here →

Full lyrics and song credits below.

“City on Fire”

All the songs I love are written by people who fade away
How can I trust anyone when they just want their own way?
Silence isn’t golden when it’s time to have something to say
We are just kids, wide open and vulnerable
In a city on fire burning out of control

One by one we fall until there’s no one left to lead the way
We thought they would save us but our dreams were all naïveté
Every single lie became an ember that went up in flames
We are just kids, wide open and vulnerable
In a city on fire burning out of control

This is the breakdown
Of all we thought was safe for us
A place for us
Home to us
Do we even know how to let go?

The wind carries us to the edge of the wilderness
‘Exiled Outliers’ tattooed upon our flesh 
But the desert is a refuge when the city is burning down
We are just kids, wide open and vulnerable
In a city on fire burning out of control

This is the breakdown
Of all we thought was safe for us
A place for us
Home to us
Do we even know how to let go?
‘Cause we can’t go back

Torn apart
Unraveling
Can’t go back
We need a
Unraveling
Can’t go back

The flames are the way forward
The flames are the way

We need a breakdown
Before we start to build again
So can we just let go

Credits

Composer: Jessica Cotten
Lyricist: Jessica Cotten
Producer: Josh Bahl and Jessica Cotten
Mixer: Josh Bahl
Engineer: Josh Bahl
Drums: Adam Bahl
Mastering Engineer: Neil Hampton
Artwork: Joseph Cotten
Recorded at Attic Recording Studio, Harrisburg, PA.

Me, Her, and Words Like Swords

We stood on the precipice, the wind bellowing in my ears and whipping her long dress and hair all about. She was taller than me. I had somehow forgotten about that. Maybe because she never feels intimidating.  

It was easy to be with her. Even today. Even when things had gotten so messed up, and the land below us was being marred by a battle I hadn’t started and didn’t want to join.

My eyes scanned the land below us that stretched out as a blanket of the softest green. In previous times, it had been a peaceful place. The kind of place you go to practice flying a kite, or to look for caterpillars, or to race your little brother from the oak tree to the stream. 

Today was different, though. 

The landscape was filled with people who, from this high up, looked like tiny figures jolting back and forth at one another. I couldn’t see details of their dress or their faces, but I didn’t need to. Because I heard them.

Their voices rose in volume as if they had each been handed a megaphone and were shouting through it, as if the person in front of them would not be able to hear what they were saying without it. Insults struck the air like slaps across the face. Belligerent cries of vengeance ricocheted around the field. Words that taunted, words that maimed, words that held them in annihilation’s grip. 

They were at war, these people. And their weapons were words.

“I don’t know how it started, or how to end it,” I admitted, the echoes of their weapons piercing my ears in the worst way. 

Her arms were loose at her sides, her gaze fixed upon the land and its people. The profile of her face held no tension as the wind blew strands of her hair across it. She seemed poised and strong. But then a single tear rolled down her right cheek.

“This is what humans do,” she said. “When they don’t remember who they are.”

Humans. She had said it so softly I almost couldn’t hear it over the shouts of people below. She had said it tenderly. Mournfully. As if she was one of us and a connection had been severed. As if we were the same.

But I knew.

I knew that she carried herself in ways we could not. I knew that she had spent years carrying others in ways we refused to. And I knew that even though she and I were alive and breathing and standing there together on the precipice, that we were not the same.

She had her own ways of doing things; I have only ever witnessed a few of them. But in that moment, when she said the humans had forgotten who they were, I knew what she would do next. She would go down into the battle and try to stop the fighting. She would stand next to each person, saying something to try to help them find a way out. Some would listen to her. Others would break out their weapons and cut her. She would bleed. And once she knew they didn’t want out of the battle, she would let them go. They would continue doing whatever they did, and she would return, either to a resting place or to another land that needed her.

I knew it would happen like this because I had met her once after she had visited another battle. Traces of blood had marked her sleeves, but there were no wounds on her skin. She had some magical way of healing. I was still trying to understand it. I was still trying to understand her.

So today—even today—I did as I always do when she speaks. I inhaled her words as if they were air. They sank into me like water sinks into dirt. And I prayed, for the thousandth time, that I might one day be like her: able to stand in each present moment truthfully, but never without hope.

Remember who you are, she keeps telling me. 

Remember who you are.

The Circus Is On

I would like to gather somewhere,
Move with
Belong to
Partake in something

Worthwhile

Without the bologna of
A group of well-dressed men
Sitting on the front row
Reveling in their hierarchy.

Stages are set
For the well-dressed.
Megaphones handed
To those with stories
Of their own greatness.
Speeches detailing great exploits,
Exhales of ego,
Leaders puffed up
Strutting like peacocks,
Though less beautiful
And more ridiculous.

The thirst for power
Cannot be quenched
Apparently.

Some in the crowd are awed.
Some know better.

Turn.

The underground
Holds promise.
Listen to the humble,
Cherish the lowly,
Sit with the oppressed.
Look for the ordinary
Abiding elsewhere
Far from
Empty promises,
Reputation-enhancing machines,
Appetites for fame.

Uproot
Overturn
The circus.

The Peddler

Well, aren’t you the fanciest salesman I’ve ever seen!
What’s this you’re selling? GOD?
I don’t recognize God in your swagger.
Your clothes are a little too fancy.
And your promise of “more” and “better”
         sounds like a trumpet out of tune.
What’s that? You want money?
What? It’s not for you?
Oh, it’s for your travel expenses.
         your bright lights.
         your bodyguards.
         “the mission”.
Funny, the way you say it makes it all sound so enticing.
I understand why people fall for this.
It is power.
It is control.
It is esteem.
It is alleviation
         of a guilt
             I didn’t have
               until you came around.

Welcome to the Wildflowers

I seek answers
Among the wildflowers.
They, amidst rocks
They, throughout droughts
They, the daring ones.
Serene, subversive.

“Teach me how to grow,” I say to them.

They are tutors, and I listen.

“Slow
Steady
Trusting
Exuberant
Unique
An offering.”
Ensemble of experience.

“An offering?” I ask.

A wilting begins
In one of them
Leaves curl, then drop.
“It’s my time,” it whispers and bends.
Seeds scatter.
The ground is richer
From the flower’s surrender.

Ah, this kind of offering.
This kind of trust.

A pace
A time
A stature
Called surrender.

I find my heart
Among the wildflowers.
Their field, a meeting place
My heart, a greeting place
For life, in its own time.

The Gifts No One Wants

Patience and perseverance.
Patience and perseverance.

I’m repeating those two words to myself.
I’m repeating them here. 

Patience and perseverance.

They do not roll off the tongue as other words do – words like success, blessing, ease, triumph, happy ending.
How ironic, then, that “perseverance” and “patience” are the very words that lead to all those other serotonin-inducing words. 

Perseverance isn’t popular,
Which is problematic,
For it is a potent pathway to progress.

These are chaotic times. The world is in transition. I know you feel it. Here are two takes I have on the matter:

Patience and Perseverance. There you go.
{Another take I have is The Art of Conversation}.

Between here and there, between now and then, in the middle, on the way, before the arrival…is this thing called real life. So much of real life is about patience and perseverance.

I’d prefer utopia.

I planted some Bee Balm in the garden in late April, and it’s only about 6″ tall. Nowhere near flowering. I’m thinking that maybe in September it will be full grown? I’m not sure. I just keep tending to them as best I can. So much of gardening is about patience and perseverance.

I started writing a novel about 7 years ago. I finished it late last year, and am now in the middle of the second draft…seven years later. To me, that’s a lot of waiting. A lot of miserable edits and postponing and delaying and self-doubts. I recently heard of an author who spent ten years just doing the world building for his novel, before he even started the writing process. So much of writing is about patience and perseverance.

Ideas and hopes and dreams take time.
Lots of time.
Lots of hard work.
Lots of patience and perseverance.
I don’t like that. 
I like “immediately if not sooner”.

But it’s the perseverance, 
the steady determination, 
and the patience 

that propel me into the future. 

Where Few Want To Wander

If there is a way
To life
     True life
          The happy kind
          The kind where we are embraced
          And safe
          And fulfilled
          The kind where hope is not buried
          Too deep below ground.
If there is a way to life like this,
It must be
A passageway 
Too thin to stretch my arms out,
A margin
Not meant to be exclusive
But avoided by most,
A periphery
That empties you out
One long egocentric breath at a time.

The sun drops below the horizon
A mist settles
A light scatters
Among shadows.
For a few easily ignored moments,
We have dusk.
Thin, narrow, brief,
But crammed with meaning. 

When I’ve experienced the richness of life
Every path taken to get there
Has been narrow.
Narrow like dusk,
Narrow like dawn.
Easy to miss,
Easy to curse.

The narrow way is an unexpected visitor
When your table is not set.
The narrow way is an unpaved road
Next to the highway.
It is the ancient wisdom
We are too proud to hear,
And the love
We are too biased to show.

Narrow moments are upon us
Born in the dark and in the unknown
Where few want to wander.

Without Fire

I saw a falling star tonight
It was beautiful
We admire the beautiful things, you know
But did you forget?
This star
Falling
Lighting the sky
Was also burning,
Dying.

We crave beauty
We crave glory
We crave the gasps we make
When stars fall from the sky.
We rarely realize
The cost
The pain
The fire
The death.

We want our path.
Our path wants mystery.
Mystery wants faith.

Faith without fire
Is no faith at all.