excerpt from I’ve Had to Think Up a Way to Survive
from Chapter Nine: "Will He Be Waiting for Me"
Dolly, when demurring about whether she’s a feminist, often jokes that she was the original bra burner and it took the fire department three days to put it out (she’s got big boobs!). But Dolly becoming a superstar through the sheer determination to transcend society’s expectations for her suggests feminism. Dolly writing and recording about whatever the fuck she wanted suggests feminism. My grandmother didn’t follow her career dreams. Sometimes in dementia she would admit she had been too scared to, sometimes she would say marriage and her five kids and eleven grandkids got in the way. Introducing the song “Little Sparrow” to an audience at the Ryman Auditorium, Dolly, speaking of her mom, says “She loved my daddy more than she loved any other dream.” While my grandmother never outright said to me that she regretted any of her life decisions, she did tell me from the time I was small not to marry young, to go to college, to have a career, to be among the world. She was as feminist and hip as could be, then, ruling the roost of a three bedroom co-op in Queens. “If you lived here, you’d be home by now!” read a sign on the highway that drew my grandfather to the complex originally. But I think even she would say if she’d been braver, if the path of women of that generation had been easier, she might have ruled the world, too.
Lynn Melnick (she/her) is the author of the poetry collections Refusenik (forthcoming 2022), Landscape with Sex and Violence (2017), and If I Should Say I Have Hope (2012), all with YesYes Books. I've Had to Think Up a Way to Survive, a book about Dolly Parton that is also a bit of a memoir, is forthcoming from University of Texas Press in 2022.