American Homecomings: 2nd of 5 installments

Emily Yates: A veteran in search of validation*

Emily Yates rushes to the performance area for a sound check before a private home concert in Los Altos, Calif. on Thursday, July 25, 2012. Yates, ex-Army, did two tours in Iraq. Now back home, she is pursuing her passions and interests, which include her studies at UC Berkeley and music. (Dan Honda/Staff)

Oakland, Calif. –  Sometimes it’s as subtle as an arched eyebrow. Other times it’s a full-on, in-your-face confrontation. No matter how the message is delivered, it grates on Emily Yates:

You are not a “real” veteran.

“I want to be given credibility where credibility is due, that’s all,” said Yates, an Oakland resident and UC Berkeley student who served two tours in Iraq during her six years as an Army public affairs specialist. “I’m not asking for anyone to put me on a pedestal. I just don’t want anyone to discredit me when I haven’t done anything to earn it.”

Upon her discharge in 2008, Yates hopped in her car and embarked on meandering cross-country journey. She hasn’t slowed down since. In addition to her education — her major is Near Eastern Studies — she has immersed herself in activism, music, photography and writing.

But to her, the coming-home experience is diminished when her military service is dismissed as something less than legitimate. She has some theories why that is sometimes the case — why some have trouble reconciling her anti-war stance with her Army career, or why people in the VA office look at her “like, so who’s your father?”, or why she was told during a heated debate at a recent Cal Veterans Group meeting to “get the (expletive) out” if she didn’t like the way the group was being run.

First and foremost: She’s a woman.

Second: She was in public affairs. “They’ll go, ‘OK, maybe you’re a vet, but you’re not bad-ass like I am,’ ” she said.

Third: She loves to discuss politics (she belongs to the group Iraq Vets Against the War).

And fourth: “There is my reluctance to ever back down from a debate,” Yates, 29, said laughing.

Yates, who freely admits she resisted authority — not always gently — while in the Army, finds it disheartening that her veteran status is challenged most stridently by other vets. She finds it ironic that she would take so much “blowback” at UC Berkeley, an academic environment in which free speech historically has been celebrated.

“I didn’t expect that kind of mentality from people of above-average intelligence seeking higher education,” she said.

But that’s what she got at a Cal Vets meeting when she wanted to know why her posts to the group’s Facebook page were being deleted, and what the posting guidelines should be going forward.

“Two guys just got in my face and started yelling and cursing at me,” Yates said. “I did not get the sense that if I were 6-foot-2 and 250 pounds, they would be talking to me that way. They weren’t talking to anyone else that way.”

Dottie Guy served in Iraq in 2003. As an Army National Guard MP, she came face to face with high value prisoners at Camp Cropper. Currently a student at San Francisco City College, Guy describes herself as nonconfrontational.

Though she may differ from Yates in her service and sensibilities, she shares the frustration of meeting people who “have trouble grasping that I went to Iraq.

“They say, ‘What did you do? Administration? Cook? Supply?’ ” Guy said. “I say, ‘No, MP.’ I don’t feel like they treat me like the others. It’s weird having served my country, handled terrorists and people don’t even think of me as a vet.”

That’s not unusual, said Mike Ergo, a former Marine who served two tours in Iraq and now counsels veterans at the Concord Vet Center.

“In my experience, women’s military experience is typically not seen as legitimate as men’s,” Ergo said. “Although we still don’t allow women in the infantry, they’re still manning 50-caliber machine guns. In those situations, they fight the same battles.

“Also, people can be dismissed as well for having anti-war positions, which I think is a mistake. I think it takes a lot of courage to stand up for your convictions. (Yates) has earned the right to have her opinions.”

Yates knows she provokes some of the negative reaction that comes her way. When she encourages veterans groups to participate in political advocacy, she understands she is aggravating vets seeking primarily a social experience.

What she doesn’t get is the conclusions some people draw about her military service based on her civilian avocations — conclusions she doesn’t think would be drawn if she were a man.

“I worked my ass off in the military,” she said. “It pisses me off when that is written off because I’ve said one thing that somebody doesn’t agree with.”

Contact Gary Peterson at 925-952-5053. Follow him on Twitter at twitter.com/garyscribe.

*Not, in my opinion, a completely accurate headline, but whatever.

I’ve Got Your Folk Songs Right Here (album info)

I’ve Got Your Folk Songs Right Here

Emily Yates – June 2012

Produced by Erik Yates and Charlie Wilson
Recorded, mixed and mastered by Charlie Wilson at Sonic Zen Records, Berkeley CA
Printed by New Cyberian Systems, San Jose CA
All songs written by Emily Yates, with frequent flashes of brilliance provided by Erik Yates
All songs copyright Emily Yates 2012

Album art by Emily Yates

Featuring the Voices of Assent:
Rachel Colwell – Fiddle / Vocals tracks 1, 6, 8
Dave Fleishman – Vocals tracks 1, 6, 8
Rose Guthrie – Vocals tracks 1, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 10
Carolyn Lang – Vocals tracks 1, 6, 8
Charlie Wilson – Trombone, percussion  / Vocals tracks 1, 2, 3, 6
Erik Yates – Accordion, alto sax, 5-string banjo, dobro, upright bass  / Vocals tracks 1, 2, 3, 6

Emily Yates – Vocals, tenor banjo, tenor ukulele

Click song titles for lyrics!


1. Try Not To Be A Dick
2. In A Major Key
3. Plant Some Weed
4. Good Old Passive-Aggressive
5. A Northern California Love Song
6. Shut Yer Face
7. I Don’t Want To Have A Baby
8. (No Such Thing As) Bad Words
9. In Your Mind
10. Just Because You Can
11. Foreign Policy Folk Song
12. On Religion

Lyrics:

1. Try Not To Be A Dick
by Emily Yates – 2.16.11

In twenty-odd years of living
I have had the chance
To learn some of life’s lessons
Like, When you go outside? Wear pants.

I’ve given quite a bit of thought / To our statutes and laws
But there’s one simple principle / That supersedes ’em all …

Try not to be a dick
Cover your mouth when you sneeze so others don’t get sick
Stay out of the fast lane if you are drivin’ slow
It won’t always be easy ’cause other drivers suck, I know, just
Try not to be a dick

When you stand on the escalator / Please step to the right
So if I need to pass you / We won’t have to fight
The concept’s pretty simple / A child could comprehend
That you should turn your blinker on / Before you ’round the bend

CHORUS

(Occupy Verse):
When you’re peacefully assembling / In a public place
And the cops come to disperse you / With their tear gas and their mace
The urge to fight against them / Will be quite strong
But instead of violence just / Sing them this song, say

CHORUS

So if you’re one of those people / As all of us can be
Kindly take a minute / Lend your ear to me
You don’t have to be perfect / Neither do I
All that we can really do is / Give it a try, and

CHORUS

Try not to be a dick
(repeat ad nauseum)

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2. In A Major Key
by Emily Yates – 8.2011

I have got a lot to say
About the world I occupy every day
But when I speak what’s on my mind
I find I piss people off

So I looked back to a time before / When people spoke out even more
And I found one commonality / Y’see, they said it in a major key

Bridge:
A minor key won’t work
If you wanna tell folks that they’re jerks
You want your audience to agree
You gotta sing it in a major key

It worked for Bob and Joan and Pete / When they raged against the world’s elite
They used their tunes so clear and bright / To fight against the machine
And the people lapped up every word / They sang along like little birds
Cuz how can anyone be wrong / If their song is in a major key

Bridge
A minor key won’t do
If you want to share your point of view
You want the people to hear your stance
A major key’ll be your only chance

And now I see it very clear / How to talk to people so they can hear
I’ll use Do Re Mi So Fa and Ti / And they’ll see exactly what I mean

And my message might not be profound / But all that matters is the sound
I can say any goddamn thing I please / If I sing it in a major key

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3. Plant Some Weed
by Emily Yates – 4.6.11

I like to tiptoe through the tulips
I’ve watched them grow up tall and fine from tiny little seeds
But tiptoeing through tulips won’t pay my bills
So next year, I’d better plant some weed

I guess I could go work at McDonald’s
Or take tickets at the movies and spend my days popping corn
But if I grow those lovely buds of marijuana
Well that, my friend, pays better these days than porn

Oh Mister Obama, it’s not that I wanna
It’s just that I’m driven to succeed
I’ve gotta stretch my dollar
In this failing economy
The best way I can see is planting weed

I’m not saying that there’s no other option
It’s just that all the rest of them don’t have the same returns
So I’ll spend the summer tending to my crop, son
By next harvest, I’ll have money left to burn

 

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4. Good Old Passive Aggressive
by Emily Yates – 9.30.2011

I used to have a lot of rage
Now I keep it in a cage
I’m just a nice-mannered, soft-spoken
Good old passive-aggressive

I used to yell and act real mean
Now my anger’s all unseen
I’m just a sweet, charming, so disarming
Good old passive-aggressive

I used to give a lot of lip
Now my mouth stays tightly zipped
I’m just an unimpassioned, no-reaction-having
Good old passive-aggressive

I used to shout and shake my fists BREATHE
Now I just dig my nails into my wrists
I’m just a frustrated, irritated, never let ya hear me say it
Good old passive-aggressive

But one day soon, you ought to know
This steaming top is gonna blow …

And I’ll go back to being the same old me again
A good old aggressive-aggressive
A good old aggressive-aggressive

 

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5. A Northern California Love Song

by Emily Yates* – 10.26.2011

Oh, oh, you came out of nowhere like a Berkeley pedestrian
You stole my heart just like a San Francisco crackhead stole my bike
You drive me crazy like those West Marin hippies
But you’re the kind of Northern Californian that I like

When I met you I moved straight out from the East Coast to the Bay
Where people can express themselves in just any old way
We traveled all around this state meeting folks of every kind
But out of all those weirdos, you’re the one who’s on my mind

You’re not a grower up in Humboldt or a stoner from Santa Cruz
You don’t have a house in Tahoe where the lake is oh so blue
You’re not a dreamy painter on the Mendocino coast
But that’s okay ‘cause baby it’s still you I love the most

CHORUS

Well you’ve never been to Burning Man, you don’t make your own wine
You don’t call women goddesses but you still treat us fine
You don’t run a non-profit and you’re not an activist
But even so it’s you who’s at the top of my list

CHORUS
You’re the kind of Northern Californian that I like

*First line originally uttered by Carolyn Lang

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6. Shut Yer Face
by Emily Yates – 3.2011

I’ve seen you in a hundred different bodies
It seems as though you’re everywhere I go
Your voice is always loud
Your tone is always proud
But why that is, I simply do not know

Chorus:

You just go “blah blah blah”
No matter what the topic
You go “blah blah blah”
‘Cuz you’re the smartest one you see
You just go “blah blah blah”
And nobody can stop it
I’m sure you have a lot to say
Please don’t say it to me

You’ve read a book about this very subject
The details, though, you just cannot recall
But that’s not stopping you
You have opinions too
And you won’t rest until I’ve heard them all

CHORUS

Dear friend, if you would like to end my suff’ring
Get yourself a little bit of social grace
Just think before you speak
The same will go for me
Please don’t make me have to shut yer face

CHORUS

 

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7. I Don’t Want To Have A Baby
by Emily Yates – 2/2011

I don’t want to have a baby
‘Cause babies drain yer money
And I’m pretty poor now as it is
But I like having sex
And I don’t want to be on birth control
I guess I better swallow his jizz

I don’t want to have a baby
‘Cause babies make you fat
And I”m happy with the size of my waist
But I like having sex
And I don’t want to use a rubber
So I guess I better get used to that taste

I don’t care if they’re cute
I don’t care if they are necessary for the human race to continue

I don’t want to have a baby
‘Cause babies keep you up at night
And I would rather stay in bed
But I like having sex
And I don’t want to get my tubes tied
So I guess I better stick to strictly head

I don’t care if they’re cute
I don’t care if they are necessary for the human race to continue

I don’t want to have a baby
So please stop asking
Thanks.


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8. (No Such Thing As) Bad Words

Emily Yates – 1.2012

Well there’s no such thing as a bad word
The syllables alone can do no harm
It’s just the actions behind ‘em and the feelings that inspire them
That should ever cause you alarm

In every single language there are words that are taboo
Everybody knows which ones they are
And you get a lot of trouble if you bring ‘em out in public
But don’t worry you can use ‘em in your car

CHORUS

When you go to church you can’t say Praise the Fucking Lord
The people there would kick you out the door
But those same folks just might tell you that you’re going straight to hell
And that my friends is what offends me more

CHORUS

There are people who use euphemisms or abbreviate
They say Eff and Shh and C-Word and that makes it all okay
They somehow think it’s better when they remove a couple letters
But we know what they really mean to say

BRIDGE:
They mean Fuck Shit Cunt they mean Motherfucker
And there’s nothin’ wrong with that I’m here to say
Just say Fuck Shit Cunt just say Motherfucker
You’re sayin’ it in your head anyway …

CHORUS / BRIDGE / CHORUS

 

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9. In Your Mind
by Emily Yates – 6.3.11

You’re the star of the show
In your mind
For you, anything goes
In your mind
You’re the best and the brightest
Your teeth are the whitest
Except that it’s all in your mind

Ever since you were a baby
You’ve been told just what makes you feel aglow
But you must be drinkin’
If you’re really thinkin’
That that’s how reality goes

CHORUS:
Because you honestly think
That yer shit doesn’t stink
And although it might be unkind
I can tell you right now
Without any doubt
That it’s all, yes it’s all, in your mind

Your friends, they all tell you that they love you
Your enemies tell you the same
But it doesn’t matter
You love to be flattered
Delusion’s the name of your game

CHORUS
It’s all, yes it’s all, in your mind

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10. Just Because You Can
by Emily Yates – 3.15.2012
Just because you can eat 50 hotdogs in an hour
That doesn’t mean, doesn’t mean that you should
Just because you can climb naked up a water tower
That doesn’t mean it’ll do any good
CHORUS:
Just because you can doesn’t mean that you should
And I’ll keep repeating it until it’s understood
Just because you can, man, it doesn’t mean you should
Just because you can drive a hundred miles an hour
That doesn’t mean, doesn’t mean that you should
Just because you can make weaker people cower
That doesn’t mean it’ll do any good
CHORUS
Just because you can make people believe lies
That doesn’t mean, doesn’t mean that you should
Just because you can pull the wool over their eyes
That doesn’t mean it’ll do any good
CHORUS
Just because you can treat your fellow man like shit
That doesn’t mean, doesn’t mean that you should
Just because you manage to get away with it
That doesn’t mean it’ll do any goodCHORUS 

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11. Foreign Policy Folk Song
Emily Yates – 2.26.2012

So you’re our brave new leader
You’re gonna run our country
But before you get started
There’s something you should know
We’ve built a reputation to take over every nation
And if they try to stop us, we’ll bomb, bomb, bomb, bomb their country

CHORUS:
Just bomb their country
Just bomb their fucking country
Kill all of their children and destroy their infrastructure
Just bomb their country, put holes in all their history
Then take all of their resources and bomb, bomb, bomb, bomb their country

Now you might think this tactic / is a little bit misguided
And that your loyal citizens / will certainly deride it
But just say it’s liberation / It’s for their own protection
And while they’re all protestin’ / We will bomb, bomb, bomb, bomb those countries

CHORUS

Now don’t you ever worry / about no double standard
Nobody at home will care / Just where our troops have landed
And if anybody notices / We’ve never been invaded
Just go ahead and say it’s ‘cause we bomb, bomb, bomb, bomb all those countries

CHORUS

And if anybody questions / All these actions that you take
Remind them that their freedom / Is certainly at stake
There is no other option / For peace and harmony
To make the world more safe / We have to bomb, bomb, bomb, bomb some countries

CHORUS

Just throw them all in prison and then bomb, bomb, bomb, bomb their country

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12. On Religion
Emily Yates – 7.13.11

The sun up in the sky, y’know
Revolves around the earth
And Jesus was the son of God
Right from his virgin birth
That landing on the moon was nothing but a ruse
And Santa visits every kid
Except, of course, the Jews

CHORUS:
At every stage of the human age
One thing has become crystal clear
Reality can prove itself time and time again
But people will believe only what they want to hear

Columbus was the first one to set foot in the New World
And Samson really lost his strength when Delilah cut his curls
There really was a Robin Hood who paid the poor their dues
And all the money in the world is controlled by Jews

CHORUS

BRIDGE:
So what do you believe, my friend
Just tell me what you know
When this world finally ends, who will be the first to go
Who will burn in hell, and who will live forever
Is it up to God or just depending on the weather
Nobody can know, not even me or you
Except the Mormons, Muslims, Christians / And let’s not forget the Jews.

CHORUS


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American Homecomings: 1st of 5 installments

After six unhappy years in the Army, veteran unlocks life of many passions

By Gary Peterson / Contra Costa TimesPosted on June 4, 2012

One of Emily Yates’ favorite spots on the UC Berkeley campus is the top floor of a tall building, a place so typically deserted and peaceful that she prefers not to reveal its location lest her public sanctuary become overrun.

From where the Army veteran sits, the Bay Area lies before her in a scenic panorama. You could make the case that this is life imitating metaphor, that the world is indeed at the feet of this 29-year-old Oakland resident with many interests and a boundless passion with which to pursue them.

Yates is a student, working toward a degree in Near Eastern Studies. She is a musician who performs her own songs on the ukulele (or, in a pinch, a banjo strung and tuned to mimic a ukulele), and who will soon release the 12-song album “I’ve Got Your Folk Songs Right Here.” She is a photographer whose work was recently displayed at a female veterans’ art exhibit in San Francisco. She is a published writer and poet who posts her work on her aptly named website EmilyYatesDoesEverything.com. She has dabbled in social activism, and joined Iraq Veterans Against the War.

Self-expression is a lifestyle, attributable in large part to her nature. But to fully understand her seemingly unquenchable thirst for life, you have to go back to her six years in the military, when she was trapped between her inclination to speak her mind and the Army’s insistence on circumspect obedience.

It was an ill-fated alliance from the start.

“We couldn’t believe our ears,” said Yates’ mother, Amy Danial, recalling the news of her daughter’s enlistment at 19. “Her thing was, she never liked rules and she didn’t like to work hard.”

Home-schooled until she was 16, Yates earned a GED rather than complete high school. She ran away from her family’s Liverpool, N.Y., home to pay an unannounced visit to her aunt in New York City. She was so relentlessly rebellious that her parents felt compelled to send her to boarding school.

“We felt it was like saving her life,” Danial said.

“I was probably a 7 or an 8 on the scale of (difficult) teenagers,” Yates said. “I was just unhappy, for some reason, with myself.”

Yates saw the Army as a place to get training for an aspiring career (since abandoned) in journalism. It was a place to go when she ran out of money for community college. It was something she hadn’t tried.

“It was going to springboard me into anything else,” she said. “I basically thought: Military — I haven’t done that yet.”

A public affairs specialist, she served two tours of duty in Iraq. Though she was removed from the front line, there were enough explosions from insurgent ordnance near her post to underscore that death was a way of life in the war-torn country.

During her time in the Army, she was married, then separated from her first husband. (She has since divorced and remarried.) She was part of the 2007 surge in Iraq, during which she was “stop-lossed” — forced to serve past her scheduled discharge date. She was ordered to attend anger-management counseling, during which she was advised by an Army doctor to “lower your expectations.”

Instead, she continued to bristle against the ritual obedience and conformity of Army life.

“I never met a person who was less cut out for the Army,” then-Sgt. 1st Class David Abrams, her direct supervisor during her first deployment, wrote in an email. “She’s a fundamentally good person. I don’t think she was able to comfortably fit herself into the cookie-cutter demands of the military. She was funny, she was lively, she questioned authority, she colored outside the lines. I don’t think she was very happy during her time in Baghdad, but she made the most of it.”

Yates felt constrained in her public affairs duties, ordered to report the Army’s view of the war instead of what she believed to be the truth. Eventually she was banned from writing editorials for the bi-weekly Marne 3rd Infantry Division newspaper.

“I got much angrier because I then had absolutely no outlet,” she said.

So she began channeling her frustration — and her searing wit and sarcasm — into an anonymous blog that she made available to certain friends and family on the condition of secrecy. “The only thing that saved me,” she said.

“Her blog was a great venting place,” her mother said. “You could definitely hear her getting angry and cynical.”

Reflecting back, “I definitely had some really happy times,” Yates said of her time in the Army. “I have some great friends. I did some really cool things. But I was not a happy person for most of my time in the military.”

In some respects, however, she got exactly what she wanted from her Army experience: a springboard to something else. After her June 2008 discharge, she was able to travel the country on income she received from the Army. The Army is paying for her college education. And she emerged from her service even more committed to seeking out as many new ideas and experiences as a 24-hour day will accommodate.

“I was inquisitive in a way,” she said, recalling her decision to enlist. “I wanted to try everything out. I was experimental.

“Still am.”

Contact Gary Peterson at 925-952-5053. Follow him at Twitter.com/garyscribe.