Poetry And Music Are Not Dead

Lay Me Downby Sam Smith, James Napier, and Elvin Smith

(1)   Yes,

(2)   I do,

(3)   I believe

(4)   That one day I will be

(5)   Where I was,

(6)   Right there,

(7)   Right next to you.

(8)   And it’s hard

(9)   The days just seem so dark

(10) The moon,

(11) And the stars,

(12) Are nothing without you.

(13) Your touch,

(14) Your skin,

(15) Where do I begin,

(16) No words

(17) Can explain

(18) The ways

(19) I’m missing you.

(20) Deny

(21) This emptiness, this hole I have inside

(22) These tears

(23) They tell their own story

(24) You told me not to cry when you were gone

(25) But the feeling’s overwhelming, it’s much too strong


(26) Can I lay by your side?

(27) Next to you, you.

(28) And make sure you’re alright.

(29) I’ll take care of you

(30) And I don’t want to be here if I can’t be with you tonight.

(31) I’m reaching out to you.

(32) Can you hear my call?

(33) The hurt that I’ve been through…

(34) I’m missing you,

(35) I’m missing you like crazy.


(36) Lay me down tonight.

(37) Lay me by your side. (both lines, x2)

(38) Can I lay by your side?

(39) Next to you, you.

This song is a profound poem about love, life, and loss. I didn’t truly appreciate this song until recently. Nevertheless, I’m moved by this song and I want to share my thoughts; I haven’t been able to stop thinking about it, which, to me, means that the need to get my thoughts down is too great to ignore.

To begin, this song is clearly about the singer’s loss of love. We don’t initially know what that loss entails: did they leave them[1]? Move away? Move on? We eventually find out that they’ve passed on, tellingly in the chorus. Up to the pre-chorus (lines 24-25) we only know that they’ve left; however, the chorus implies a permanent separation: death. Lines 26-27 are the singer pleading to crawl into the coffin with their lover. The depthless sadness that would invoke this desire is staggering; it is not a whimpering thought but a wail, reflected in the long, suspended high G throughout most of the solo of line 26. This particular musical line is smooth, composed mainly of half notes, mirroring the constancy of both sorrowful wailing and of a mind infatuated, entrapped by their lost love.

These competing emotions of sadness and love are evident throughout the song. In just the first two verses and pre-chorus: lines 8-12 reveal the singer’s pain in living without their lover; lines 13-14 recall fond physical attributes; lines 16-19 demonstrate devastating loss in the inability to physically speak and the inability to understand the grief with language; lines 20-23 both utilize metaphors and similes of lost love; and lines 24-25 show intense grief, the abandonment of control. Importantly, the intense imagery is both physically real- the feeling and visuals of tears streaming down your face- and metaphorical- an empty hole where their lover once was. This captures the complex nature of love and loss as both intensely real but unable to be fully understood or described by simple words.

Furthermore, it is not a sexual love: it is deeply intimate. The singer does not want to passionately embrace their love, but, simply, make sure their lover is alright (line 28). This timeless, gentle concern for their lover’s wellbeing, whether in a sense of heaven or hell or in the sense of bodily decomposition, reveals a form of love beyond physical lust. The singer, even in their lover’s death, wants only to take care of them (line 29). This is such a simple thought that reflects, in reality, a much more complex idea: caring for a dying person involves immense physical and emotional labor. However, having gone through the process once, the singer’s ultimate torture comes from not being able to care for their lover once more; they would rather face being belabored by the physical demands of death and the emotional demands of knowing that your lover is going to die than actually be without them.

Listeners can also understand the temporality and ephemerality of the love through the song’s intense imagery. As mentioned, the lover’s temporality is cemented in their skin and touch and comparison to decidedly ‘real’ objects of the moon and stars. However, the skin and touch are now gone, and the moon and stars are present but unreachable, alluding both to the timelessness and ephemerality of love. To overcome this sense of physical loss, the singer implores to lay with their lover in their coffin, right by their side where they had promised in the marriage vows to be in life and, perhaps, in death. Of course, this cannot be. The very real line between the living and the dead precludes the singer from ever seeing their lover’s body again, leaving only fleeting, fading memories.

Furthermore, line 31 shows that the singer is reaching out to his deceased love, both literally in the desire to lay in the coffin and figuratively in singing a song of remembrance. Blurring the lines of temporality and ephemerality further, he asks the non-rhetorical question “Can you hear my call?” Of course, in this case there is no response. Also, his literal tears implied in lines 24-25 reflect the tangible effects of intangible feelings of sorrow. Tears eventually dry, blurring and delineating reality and memory, temporality and ephemerality.

Let us now return to the framework of death. The very first few lines of the song is not sung “Yes, I do, I believe” but with distinct pauses: “Yes. I do. I believe.” The music pauses after each of these lines, giving the lyrics additional function. Viewed as separate thoughts, they become clear: the lover agreeing to a marriage proposal, and the iconic agreement in the marriage ceremony. The irony is that during life, the love is presumed to last forever; during death, however, the love is seen as forever lost. It is also interesting that we piece together their life and death retroactively, only seeing the first lines as moments of life after figuring out that the singer’s lover has died. The lyricist is playing with time, emphasizing both its temporal linearity in our ability to understand the added meaning of the line and the inevitable degradation of our memories, the inevitable degradation of the past.

The lyricist brilliantly incorporates these key moments of their love- temporal time capsules of a time and place- into a longer sentence that questions when the singer will rejoin their lover. This playfully inverts the idea that love is timeless and forever by making the exemplars of love- proposal and marriage- finite and questioning at what single moment they will be rejoined. There is hope in this thought, however, and this positivity is reflected at the beginning of all three verses. The latter half of all the verses and the rest of the song is not as positive, though; this fighting of positivity and negativity ends after the 3rd verse, only halfway through the song.

It is at this point that the song shifts dramatically starting at line 36. The background switches to a jaunty, sharp, staccato march, very different from the soft and flowing verses or the imploring, sorrowful chorus. The march- reminiscent of a march of soldiers rushing toward their swift demise, of the Trail of Tears or the walk to the guillotine, of a beginning and ending point- is the background of the singer’s suicide attempt. They no longer ask to lay by their lover’s side, they utter an imperative, a command: lay me down tonight. The two imperatives repeat, perhaps their mustering of courage or their two attempts.

The song, staying true to its blurring of life and death, of reality and memory, of temporality and ephemerality, does not tell us if the singer lives or dies. The march ends, and the song quickly after it, perhaps signaling the few moments before poison or a noose ends the singer’s life. Or perhaps line 38 implies a failed attempt: the singer no longer commands to be by their lover’s side, but once again in the throes of sorrow pleads for, but does not, cannot bring themselves to initiate, death.

I believe that the attempt is successful. Beyond being the title of the song, the song’s positivity in the former half of the verses reflects the emotional rollercoaster of fond memories being overcome by grief and transitioning to trying to kill yourself. It also reflects the greater structure of positivity in the song: the hopeful beginning is replaced by the brisk bridge and ends in sorrow, representing the fondness being replaced by death. The starting point of both lines of positivity is the ephemeral, memories; however, the ending of both is temporal, suicide. This alludes to the singer’s death just as the song itself never explicitly mentions or describes the lover’s death. This is an existential position, however: if only life can be described, what is death? The existentialism further reinforces the idea of the suicide as successful, because if life is meaningless then so is its end.

This poem reflects the tragedy of both the realness and inevitable degradation of memory; the blurring of real temporality and fleeting ephemerality; the cyclicality of time and retroactive building of meaning and importance; and concurrent intensity of love and loss. Modern music often lacks this depth; however, Lay Me Down is a refreshing, if tragic, reminder not only that music can be meaningful but that life and loss are meaningful as well.

[1] Please note, I use the third person neutral pronoun purposefully to preserve the neutrality of the song itself (i.e. it’s gender-neutral language). I believe that this was purposeful to make any audience able to empathize with its meaning.


Liberal Nonsense: Voluntary Childlessness

Going to college in liberal Ann Arbor, I am barraged on all sides by leftist propaganda on a daily basis. From women wanting more than just the vote, to the gays wanting to buy a wedding cake, to having it be okay for illegal aliens to take over our country one job at a time, I’ve been the victim of ideological indoctrination since I first stepped on campus. (My only release was Econ 101. Keynes calms me.) I expected to be weathered down by all this nonsense, however I was truly blindsided with one particular idea: the notion that a couple could choose not to have children, to choose to be childfree. This blasphemous bastardization of God’s plan incited within me a righteous rage, and I am taking it upon myself to beat down this idea once and for all and take you down the road most travelled by to reach happiness.

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To begin, I’d like to outline how and why we have children. Not the mechanics, save that for the honeymoon suite. No, I want to talk about what makes our society pronatalist, which means that we favor those with children over those without. It starts off with biology: even though our world and society is overpopulated and we’re quickly stripping the Earth of Her natural resources at an untenable rate and we’ve medically advanced beyond the need to mate to ensure species survival, as mammals we are biologically inclined to mate anyways. Even more important, though, is that God has said so. Starting with Genesis 1-2, the only reason Adam needed Eve (and thus man woman) is to not be “lonely,” and thus to make more humans by procreating; otherwise, what real purpose does Woman hold? We see more evidence in Genesis 1:28 (Be fruitful and multiply) and Matthew 10:14 (He [Jesus] said to them, “Let the little children come to me, and do not hinder them, for the kingdom of God belongs to such as these”). Pope Francis himself said that’s couples without children are selfish, which as we all know means it must be true due to the concept of papal infallibility explained and doctrinally established at Vatican I. The Church has made clear that marriage is for child-rearing, so it’s time to put down that martini and buy some oysters and chocolate.

Just for the sake of argument, I will continue to dispel this myth for those who have strayed from the Faith by asking a simple question: if you don’t have children, what will your life be like when you grow old? Your bloodline will end with you so you’ll be lonely (remember Adam!), unsupported physically, financially, and emotionally, and you’ll end up regretting your decision, I just know you will. Our elders have for years said how much of a blessing it is to have a child, we must take their wisdom and guidance with faith and trust that they know what’s best for you and your individual circumstances with this simple, overarching platitude. And forget the research that says that childfree people are not lonely and that they build support systems throughout their lives (not excluding financial support in the form of Social Security). The people imparting this piece of wisdom all have children and are of every race, religion, and class, so clearly they are representative of the whole elderly population including the (growing) childfree minority. Their opinion applies to the vast majority of people who do want kids, so it definitely applies to you, too.

And if their opinion doesn’t convince you, let’s consider something totally unbiased and in whose eyes everyone is equal: The Law. We engineered our laws to give tax credits to parents with children. So what if you’re caring for sick loved ones? Having children is more important, as seen by the stigma behind birth control but the simultaneous push away from state-sponsored neonatal care or childcare. I said having children, not raising them to succeed. And it’s not like financial support to working class parents in the form of nutrition education or daycare would automatically make people better parents, it would just allow people to leech off the system, to smear our family values (again, not extending to support once the baby is born; the tax credit takes care of that) in our face. I like to use the words of the great George Orwell to describe the Law’s impartiality, “[a]ll animals are equal, but some animals are more equal than others.” (It’s the American babies that are more equal.)

The unprejudiced Law also extends to the workplace in that America doesn’t intrude on citizens’ personal time, including by refusing to enshrine family leave. In this way, childfree and parenting couples are treated the same! If a mother really needs some time off, she can follow the lead of the middle-class professionals and bargain with her employer. This keeps the government out of personal affairs, even if one or two parents must unfortunately make tough decisions, and so childfree people can’t complain that their peers get time off when they simply have to go against social protocol and ask for it even if they don’t have parental duties to fulfill while on their parental leave. Also, as a Fortune article points out, at work childfree couples do nothing but complain that (a) they are treated worse than their parenting peers because personal time is treated as parenting time, and (b) they are perceived as having more free time and therefore can be asked to work less desirable hours, devaluing their time out of work under that of parents. However, which is more important: raising a child or making it to your book club? To me, the answer is clear. These are just common-sense examples; after all, why do they need the tax credits if not to support kids? And what would they do with the extra vacation time and money?

As you can see, America is set up to be proudly family-oriented, and I intend to keep it that way. It’s not that I don’t care about your reasons to not have children (not wanting to pass on defective genes, believing you can make a greater benefit to the world through your work, simply not wanting to, etc.), it’s just normal to come home to your white picket fence, your two kids and dog begging for your attention, and your wife doting on your every need. The most common argument is that you want freedom to not be tied down by children, but consider how children bless the rest of your life: you adjust your whole daily schedule to center around your child, allot time and give up sleep to care for him or her when they’re still an infant, and are legally obligated to spend your hard-earned money on that little angel for the next 18+ years. You develop this incredible bond through necessity, and this inevitably transforms to love.

And it’s even a boon in the workplace! As Charlie Chapin correctly points out in a Buzzfeed article entitled How Dads Balance Work and Family, “When men have children, it’s looked at as a stabilizing influence in the workplace. When women have kids, lots of employers act threatened as if the very same process can unmake women in the workforce. This double standard pretends that men don’t care about kids, and women have no career goals.”

Dads benefit at work, so in the long run this stabilization will in turn set him up to move up the corporate ladder and advance his career, and his wife’s job of being a mother will advance with him! Men’s work is also put on the forefront because paternity leave is “[n]ot really an option for [us] as guys.” Work is prioritized, helping him support his family, and our current social norms make it simultaneously difficult for women to work more and men to work less, so the structure of the nuclear family is safe and sound. Finally, fatherhood is just part of any legitimate vision of adulthood. Shawn Bean’s Parenting.com article “Why Men Don’t Want to be Dads” notes that while mothers look at childrearing with anticipation and joy, fathers tend to see it as just another part of adulthood because we’ve socially conditioned them out of parenting with the aforementioned forces keeping them at work, “[y]ou can’t aspire to something you know nothing about. Which is why young guys view fatherhood as just another grown-up duty like changing the oil or building a patio.” So it’s time to step up to the plate and begin your bildungsroman by bringing an irreversible and life-altering decision to fruition, or should I say fertilization, and start that family. Because God says so.

However, it takes two to tango, so it’s not fair to totally exclude women from the conversation. To recap what I’ve already intimated about women, having children pushes you out of the workplace and assumes you want a two-decade hold on your career goals. And this makes sense. You have to have kids early because once you hit thirty you’re a ticking time bomb ready to implode at any minute, and if you do wait too long, you become an esteemed—for lack of a better term—“old maid.” Condoleezza Rice and Helen Mirren are examples of such women tragically aging out of the opportunity for motherhood. Besides, what would you be without kids? You’d be (a) the crazy cat lady down the road, or, even worse, (b) the career-driven feminazi neglecting her maternal duty. You’d be stepping into men’s roles, and by doing that you’re either too womanly and not a strong enough leader, or you overshoot and become a pushy bitch. Just look at the current fad of a female “leader,” Hillary Clinton. Do you want to be the next Hillary Clinton?

Besides, it’s not fair if you don’t have kids. Other women want them, but are unable and sometimes unwilling to adopt. If you’re a woman, you should support other women. Gloria Steinem has said as much. And in this case supporting other women means not gloating in the face of their agony and having a child in their honor. Do it for them, and for your mother who wants grandchildren, and for your husband who wants to be a Little League coach. You don’t have to do it for yourself, your motherly instincts will kick in and you’ll love him as soon as he’s born regardless of whether you can realistically afford children. And then you’ll realize that your elders’ truisms were correct all along and you can become the wise, happy sage questioning others’ personal choices and instilling the truth upon your own child’s fresh, thirsty mind. The cycle will continue, and God-willing he will never face the same obstacle in his path toward happiness that you did, either through correct parenting when facing the option or by the crazy idea never occurring to him in the first place. All your elders and I want is for you to be happy and not regret your life when you get old. And after all, mother knows best.

5 Reasons I’m Majoring in Women’s Studies

The first major that I chose at Michigan was Women’s Studies. Many people are surprised when I tell them, because in the minds of many, the major ‘Women’s Studies’ often conjures images of man-hating lesbians, students seeking an easy A, or hippies sitting in a circle discussing their feelings all day. However, this just isn’t the whole picture, especially in this day and age. In it’s very basic and cursory function, Women’s Studies seeks to discover who holds the power and, when appropriate, how to change it. In more direct terms, feminism and Women’s Studies have found an institutionalized, gendered power structure in society and its scholars are trying to correct the sociopolitical and economic inequalities between men and women. The field has advanced beyond gender and, using Columbia and UCLA Law professor Kimberlé Crenshaw’s theory of intersectionality, Women’s Studies now uses the lenses of race, class, sexuality, ability, nationality, religion, and many other social categories to better analyze our world. As any social science, that is the purpose of Women’s Studies: to understand humanity using a particular methodology, in this case a feminist one. Below I articulate 5 reasons why I—a male in both gender and sex at the University of Michigan—chose to study Women’s Studies.

1) The name is misleading, as “women’s issues” are also men’s issues

Oftentimes people associate Women’s Studies and feminism with whiny millenials complaining about trigger warnings and safe spaces. Pushing those controversial subjects aside (for now), they are also associated with issues universally seen as problematic: sexual assault, domestic violence, our racially biased justice system, sexual harassment, the wage gap, the feminization of poverty, women’s healthcare, etc. However, these issues also directly affect men. Look at sexual assault: 99% of reported assailants are men, and most of these men knew their victim. This is seen as a women’s issue because women are the main targets (and yes, these are planned crimes), but men are the ones committing the crime! This is a men’s issue, because men are perpetrating the problem. You can continue on: men are victims of non-lethal domestic violence more than women, men of color are overrepresented in jails, the wage gap and gender inequality in general hurts everyone. We can also go over issues that disproportionately affect men, like the waning but still present societal pressures in favor of being the household’s breadwinner, the toxic suppression of feelings as part of masculinity, and the disproportionate loss of children in custody battles.

Some of these issues, like the suppression of male feelings and women’s healthcare, do explicitly affect only men or women (and their children!) by definition. But is it not enough that women make up half our population? I refuse to use the “they’re our mothers, sisters, and daughters” argument, because this ties women’s human value to their relationship with men. Why can’t women just be people disproportionately facing problems we can help fix?

One key component of feminism is that those with power can use their privileged status to shine light on the problems of those without privilege, and let those people speak for themselves. This is called being in ally. In practice, this means that men should help women with their issues, and women- balancing childcare with the father and encouraging men to genuinely explore and discuss their emotions and frustrations – can help men. Thus, men benefit from feminism as much as women, and it’s up to men to realize this and do something about it.

2) The field is established but still developing

Part of the reason that Women’s Studies was looked down upon was because of its original teaching pedagogy. As I intimated above, original Women’s Studies courses encouraged students to sit in a circle and figure out why certain social phenomena didn’t sit right with them (literally a circle, because this way the teacher didn’t exude so much authority and the students were able to freely discuss). Thus, the image of the Women’s Studies class as the feelings circle was born. However, that is no longer the case. In all the Women’s Studies courses I’ve taken, I have yet to pour out my feelings in a journal and get an A (wouldn’t that be nice?). Rather, it has been a structured, more traditional curriculum with the bonus of learning about the social discomfort that haunts us to this day instead of the history of disproved scientific thought.

Furthermore, in choosing majors, I considered the Social Theory and Practice major, which started this year in the Residential College. While I’m inspired by the thought of studying burgeoning new social programs, I also want some sense of institution, something that someone can point to and say, “I’ve heard of that before!” Women’s Studies satisfies both of these desires in that it is a legitimate academic field and it is still metamorphosing. The first program only appeared in 1970, and it has diversified and responded to surfacing social issues in the form of gender studies, men’s studies, and LGBTQ studies, to name a few. It is still evolving, as seen by the department’s recent hosting of #BlackLivesMatter founder and activist Alicia Garza, and I think the field’s quick adaptation to our current political environment is cool. It may not have the prestige of a Harvard economics degree, but I find value in a major that reflects the world’s changing needs.

3) It’s very interdisciplinary and easy to curate to your academic desires

Women’s Studies can be viewed as the application of feminist theory to other fields. It has its own courses, sure, however by my cursory count, I found 72 out of 109 courses were cross-listed with other majors. That’s 2/3! What this means is that in studying Women’s Studies (and it is truly a Women’s Studies class, because the classes count for both majors) I am also studying Asian Studies, Anthropology, American Culture, Psychology, Sociology, African and Afro-American Studies, English, History… The list goes on. Thus, Women’s Studies is its own separate discipline, it’s just that this discipline is incredibly broad and crosses over with many others.

Also, just as the Women’s Studies courses at Michigan are interdisciplinary, you can concentrate in courses to fit your needs. There is a new Women’s Studies major called Gender and Health which obviously orients you toward pre-medicine or pre-public health, however by my count there are 10 courses that can be classified as pre-law or pre-public policy (I only know this because that’s how I am concentrating), there are a total of 7 Practicum courses that you can choose as electives if you desire real-world application of feminist principles, and there’s a plethora of courses if you want to look at global social justice issues. The breadth and versatility of Women’s Studies both as a field and at Michigan make it the perfect addition to my political science degree by adding the human element of social justice, all while honing liberal arts skills.

In fact, from the very beginning of feminism, liberal arts skills like strong intra- and interpersonal qualities were crucial in becoming aware of the different forms of oppression people face, and writing and critical thinking were necessary to spread the idea out in the world. These skills are what every liberal arts student learns in the course of their study, however to me it becomes more clear how Women’s Studies teaches this than, say, our Residential College major Drama. Innovation arises at the intersection of many fields, and Women’s Studies is that intersection. And what about the liberal arts in itself? Well, I firmly believe that these transferable skills are necessary for intellectual growth and for the workplace, and Forbes, an Association of American Colleges & Universities study, and a US News piece all agree with me.

4) It’s geared toward social justice

Women’s Studies as an academic field continues feminism’s legacy of driving political, economic, and social change in encouraging (and, as a requisite, demanding) praxis of feminist theory in the real world, which at Michigan is known as the Practicum requirement. Examples of feminist praxis include organizing microfinance so women in developing countries can support themselves, lobbying for better parental leave, and being a more understanding social worker when handling undocumented citizens. Women’s Studies was literally created to study and solve these pressing social issues, and thus make our world a better place through social justice.

Furthermore, there has never been a better time in history to explore this field and support social justice than right now. The ability to examine issues from many difference perspectives is crucial in helping the United Nations eradicate AIDS by 2030, for example, and the recent terrorist attack at the Pulse gay nightclub reminds us that the fight for LGBTQ acceptance is not over even with a marriage license. Women’s Studies puts all of this on the forefront and prepares me to take on the world, whatever I end up doing. Which reminds me…

5) Undergraduate major really doesn’t matter

In the long run, whatever major I choose simply doesn’t matter. I’m going to continue my education anyway, and whether that’s public policy, law, journalism, social work, or something else completely, I don’t have to know right now. Electing a broad array of Women’s Studies will introduce me to these fields and help me decide which one to enter after my undergrad, and besides, to really get into these occupations requires a professional or master’s degree, and since for any of these programs I can choose whatever major I want, why not choose something in which I do well and I truly like? My undergrad major doesn’t tie me down, it’s just the first step in my professional journey.

But what about landing that first job in between the schooling? Is having Women’s Studies on my diploma really going to help? I think so, mostly because I like this stuff and I want to work in it. Any potential employer will only view it as a boon to have the major than to not have it, and if they’re scared away by a guy studying Women’s Studies then I probably wouldn’t fit in at their workplace, anyway. More important than the diploma is how well I do in the courses, the extracurriculars I choose, and that I can show potential future employers that I have some passion for what they do, and I think both sides of the aisle would agree that feminists and Women’s Studies majors have passion. Just as important in what you know is who you know, and that’s more determined by luck and how well I branch out in the coming two years. Thus, what major I choose is just one small piece in the larger pie that’s, well, me, and employers and schools will both realize and weight it accordingly.

What it really comes down to is this: is it better to suffer and be average in a more “practical” major like Statistics or to excel in and enjoy Women’s Studies? The answer, in my mind, is Women’s Studies. I’m gaining a bachelor’s degree that’s teaching me how to think, and employers will have to train whoever they choose to hire, anyway. Some fields, like programming, will inevitably choose the Computer Scientist over me who has yet to take any coding classes. But others, like journalism, advocacy, public policy, law, public health. All of these would hopefully prefer the liberal arts major who spent his days learning how to keep an open mind when meeting new people and who worked on the official UMich sexual misconduct policy on the side. They’re looking for the well-rounded student who has a little experience in the field from extracurriculars, good grades, and knows an acquaintance who introduced them to the position. So in the end, Women’s Studies will not make or break me, it’s just something I really like and I’m really good at. And in the end, I’ll fit the bill, because my persistence and hard work will get me there.