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My Own Devices: Essays From the Road on Music, Science, and Senseless Love

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Witty and moving, this debut memoir in essays from the dynamic rapper and singer Dessa, is a candid account of her life in the van as a hard-touring musician, her determination to beat long odds to make a name for herself as a performing artist, and her struggle to fall out of love with someone in her band. In a literary, honest style, evoking Amanda Palmer and Miranda Jul Witty and moving, this debut memoir in essays from the dynamic rapper and singer Dessa, is a candid account of her life in the van as a hard-touring musician, her determination to beat long odds to make a name for herself as a performing artist, and her struggle to fall out of love with someone in her band. In a literary, honest style, evoking Amanda Palmer and Miranda July, Dessa demonstrates just how far the mind can travel while the body is on the six-hour ride to the next rap show. Dessa defies category--she is an academic with an international rap career; a lyrical writer fascinated by behavioral science; and a funny, charismatic performer dogged by blue moods and a perseverant case of heartache. In "The Fool That Bets Against Me," Dessa wonders if the romantic anguish that's helped her write so many sad songs might be an insurable professional asset. To find out, she applies to Geico for coverage. "A Ringing in the Ears" tells the story of her father building an airplane in their backyard garage--a task that took him almost seven years. The essay titled "Congratulations" reflects on recording a song for The Hamilton Mixtape in a Minneapolis basement, straining for a high note and hoping for a break. The last piece in the collection, "Call off Your Ghost," relays the fascinating project Dessa undertook with a team of neuroscientists that employed fMRI technology and neurofeedback to try to clinically excise her romantic feelings for an old flame. Her onstage and backstage stories are offset by her varied fascinations--she studies sign language, algebra, neuroanatomy--and this collection is a prism of her intellectual life. Her writing is infused with fascinating bits of science and sociology, philosophical insights, and an abiding tenderness for the people she tours with and the people she leaves behind to do it. Dessa's music has been praised as "forceful and whip-smart" (NPR) with a sound "like no one else" (The Los Angeles Times); and My Own Devices is as uncompromising and brilliant. Dessa finds unconventional approaches to all of her subjects--braiding her lived experience with academic research and a poet's tone and timing. In the vein of thinkers who defy categorization, we get the debut of a deft, likable, and unusual voice.


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Witty and moving, this debut memoir in essays from the dynamic rapper and singer Dessa, is a candid account of her life in the van as a hard-touring musician, her determination to beat long odds to make a name for herself as a performing artist, and her struggle to fall out of love with someone in her band. In a literary, honest style, evoking Amanda Palmer and Miranda Jul Witty and moving, this debut memoir in essays from the dynamic rapper and singer Dessa, is a candid account of her life in the van as a hard-touring musician, her determination to beat long odds to make a name for herself as a performing artist, and her struggle to fall out of love with someone in her band. In a literary, honest style, evoking Amanda Palmer and Miranda July, Dessa demonstrates just how far the mind can travel while the body is on the six-hour ride to the next rap show. Dessa defies category--she is an academic with an international rap career; a lyrical writer fascinated by behavioral science; and a funny, charismatic performer dogged by blue moods and a perseverant case of heartache. In "The Fool That Bets Against Me," Dessa wonders if the romantic anguish that's helped her write so many sad songs might be an insurable professional asset. To find out, she applies to Geico for coverage. "A Ringing in the Ears" tells the story of her father building an airplane in their backyard garage--a task that took him almost seven years. The essay titled "Congratulations" reflects on recording a song for The Hamilton Mixtape in a Minneapolis basement, straining for a high note and hoping for a break. The last piece in the collection, "Call off Your Ghost," relays the fascinating project Dessa undertook with a team of neuroscientists that employed fMRI technology and neurofeedback to try to clinically excise her romantic feelings for an old flame. Her onstage and backstage stories are offset by her varied fascinations--she studies sign language, algebra, neuroanatomy--and this collection is a prism of her intellectual life. Her writing is infused with fascinating bits of science and sociology, philosophical insights, and an abiding tenderness for the people she tours with and the people she leaves behind to do it. Dessa's music has been praised as "forceful and whip-smart" (NPR) with a sound "like no one else" (The Los Angeles Times); and My Own Devices is as uncompromising and brilliant. Dessa finds unconventional approaches to all of her subjects--braiding her lived experience with academic research and a poet's tone and timing. In the vein of thinkers who defy categorization, we get the debut of a deft, likable, and unusual voice.

30 review for My Own Devices: Essays From the Road on Music, Science, and Senseless Love

  1. 4 out of 5

    Dave

    Not content with releasing one of the best albums of the year, Dessa's gone ahead and written one of the best books too.

  2. 5 out of 5

    Alison

    This book had me hooked by the first sentence, texting quotes to friends after ten pages, and fighting tears (and losing) after thirty-one because I felt so seen. I have read a fair amount of narrative nonfiction, and this is probably the best I’ve ever seen it done. If you’re a fan of Dessa’s music, this book is full of Easter-egg moments where you get to see the genesis of lyrics. If not, it doesn’t matter at all; the writing is gorgeous, full of whip-smart observations, and more than stands o This book had me hooked by the first sentence, texting quotes to friends after ten pages, and fighting tears (and losing) after thirty-one because I felt so seen. I have read a fair amount of narrative nonfiction, and this is probably the best I’ve ever seen it done. If you’re a fan of Dessa’s music, this book is full of Easter-egg moments where you get to see the genesis of lyrics. If not, it doesn’t matter at all; the writing is gorgeous, full of whip-smart observations, and more than stands on its own. It was a privilege to spend some time looking at the world through Dessa’s eyes. I can’t wait to read MY OWN DEVICES over and over in years to come.

  3. 5 out of 5

    Paul

    An Interesting presentation of many particular instances or illustrations of portions of Dessa's life. She has an undeniable street smart philosophy that is very intelligent. She appears to continue a rigorous pining over her "X". Which I presume is the impetus for this book. I particularly enjoyed it because in a lot of ways it parallels my road in the acting business. With time spent in a lot of the same places (I wouldn't be surprised if our paths had crossed at some point).

  4. 4 out of 5

    Katie

    I love Dessa. I love her mind. She does math to keep herself busy when the train she's on runs over a human being. She is stuck on a past relationship, so she consults neuroscientists to scan her brain and figure out what heartbrokenness and love look like in waves. Her twitter account is philosophy, retweets of tattoos people get of her lyrics, and the most strange and wondrous hive-mind requests you could hope to find. ('I'm in Omaha for one day and am looking for an expert in electromagnetic I love Dessa. I love her mind. She does math to keep herself busy when the train she's on runs over a human being. She is stuck on a past relationship, so she consults neuroscientists to scan her brain and figure out what heartbrokenness and love look like in waves. Her twitter account is philosophy, retweets of tattoos people get of her lyrics, and the most strange and wondrous hive-mind requests you could hope to find. ('I'm in Omaha for one day and am looking for an expert in electromagnetic physics and also a poet.') Which should give you a sense of her roving curiosity and the fractal of her many-planed intelligence. She's also a rapper, musician, poet, professor, and feminist. If you don't know her work yet GET INTO IT Key quote: "Wait a minute, this one's a two-holer!"

  5. 4 out of 5

    Pete

    I'm not a rapper, I just read a lot about it. I’ve learned there are some things about which you don’t think twice. Pre-ordering this book was one of those things because anything Dessa does is well worth checking out. Dessa and her brain will always impress. I really enjoyed this beautifully candid memoir / essay collection. As usual, her work is smart, funny, and affecting. I couldn’t put this book down. Give it a go, buy her albums, and see her in concert.

  6. 4 out of 5

    Kristin Boldon

    Like hanging out with a whip smart, hypercurious, funny friend. Dessa's prose take us through the long arc of a doomed relationship in this series of connected essays. It's a wild, fun, bittersweet ride.

  7. 4 out of 5

    Mari

    I loved this. It’s a great collection of essays that are well written and come from such an open and vulnerable place. It was about grief and love and family and music and science all in one, so like, just for me.

  8. 5 out of 5

    Chelsea Hetherington

    In “My Own Devices”, Dessa (rapper/singer/writer/philosopher - a true multi-hyphenate) explores issues of love, family, ambition, and (naturally) music. This essay collection beautifully weaves together stories on music, finding one’s purpose, science, and what makes us human. I think with any other author, an exploration of these topics could be super heavy, but Dessa does it in a way that’s masterfully both insightful, entertaining, and (really, really) funny - it’s not an exaggeration at all In “My Own Devices”, Dessa (rapper/singer/writer/philosopher - a true multi-hyphenate) explores issues of love, family, ambition, and (naturally) music. This essay collection beautifully weaves together stories on music, finding one’s purpose, science, and what makes us human. I think with any other author, an exploration of these topics could be super heavy, but Dessa does it in a way that’s masterfully both insightful, entertaining, and (really, really) funny - it’s not an exaggeration at all to call this book laugh-out-loud-funny. Dessa has an intellectual curiosity about the world that’s super compelling, and the enthusiasm she has for exploring new topics is so charming. Is there anything better than someone excitedly sharing something they’re super enthusiastic about? I also so relate to her need to do a deep dive when learning about a new topic - I can similarly get sucked into learning about something new. The eagerness with which she enjoys learning is so compelling. I had never heard of Dessa before reading this book, and admittedly I was a bit wary about of reading a book written by a rapper who appears white (Dessa is half Puerto Rican), but thankfully she doesn’t shy away from acknowledging her privilege - “Theres a long history of white performers earning money while black innovators go uncompensated. I look white and benefit from it.” While it’s by no means a focus of the book, it’s refreshing to hear someone acknowledge their privilege so frankly. “My Own Devices” is a true merging of head and heart in the most beautiful way. Dessa’s insights will stick with you for a long time. Note: I received an ARC of "My Own Devices" from Dutton Books. All views are my own.

  9. 4 out of 5

    Halley Sutton

    In a better world, Dessa would be as rich and famous as Beyonce. Smart, funny, a zippy way with words (a few times her turn of phrase is so on point it made me stop and mouth the words out loud) and a fascinating person. Memoirs, to me, often run the risk of sounding like, "Yes, here is my life and here is how I've made sense of everything that's ever happened. You are welcome for the lesson." But this one felt more like presenting small slices of a very interesting, very smart and articulate pe In a better world, Dessa would be as rich and famous as Beyonce. Smart, funny, a zippy way with words (a few times her turn of phrase is so on point it made me stop and mouth the words out loud) and a fascinating person. Memoirs, to me, often run the risk of sounding like, "Yes, here is my life and here is how I've made sense of everything that's ever happened. You are welcome for the lesson." But this one felt more like presenting small slices of a very interesting, very smart and articulate person's life, and was all the more interesting and relatable because of it. My current number one choice for "dream conversation over dinner (still living category)."

  10. 5 out of 5

    Jay Gabler

    There's never been a music memoir quite like Dessa's. My Own Devices is at once a behind-the-scenes look at a professional musician's life, a meditation on the tumultuous love affair that has inspired much of her music, an affectionate account of her family life, and a scientifically-oriented consideration of What It All Means. In short, it's pretty much everything any fan has ever hoped for from a music memoir. I reviewed My Own Devices for The Current. There's never been a music memoir quite like Dessa's. My Own Devices is at once a behind-the-scenes look at a professional musician's life, a meditation on the tumultuous love affair that has inspired much of her music, an affectionate account of her family life, and a scientifically-oriented consideration of What It All Means. In short, it's pretty much everything any fan has ever hoped for from a music memoir. I reviewed My Own Devices for The Current.

  11. 4 out of 5

    Allison

    These essays are just gorgeous. Each one hums with humor and tragedy and honesty, and I have learned so much about everything from gliders to the power structures of zebras to how we live with the ones we love. The writing is like crystal: sharp, clear, and shining with unexpected colors from different angles. I'll be thinking about the structure of "The Mirror Test" for a good long while (hooooow do you get a piece to hold together like that, I cannot), but I inhaled this entire collection.

  12. 4 out of 5

    RH Walters

    This book makes you feel like you're best friends with a rap star and I finished it in no time. Fearless art is all love and no secrets. Incidentally if anyone is worried about memory decline I read that cooking onions in turmeric makes dementia and Alzheimers almost unheard of in India.

  13. 4 out of 5

    Kate

    "X and I were only good at the feeling of love, not the behavior. Which is like knowing how to dive, but not how to swim." Dessa is a brilliant artist and human, and this book was everything I hope it would be. I am grateful for it.

  14. 4 out of 5

    Randy Richardson

    Many a wanderluster has daydreamt of a musician’s life, hitting the road cross-country on a tour bus. I must confess, I am one of them. Two things have kept me from ever following through on such an odyssey: 1) I am not a musician; and 2) I have no musical talent. But I still enjoy a vicarious ride, like the one that rapper/singer/writer Dessa shares with us in her breezy essay collection, My Own Devices: True Stories from the Road on Music, Science, and Senseless Love. The Minneapolis native cle Many a wanderluster has daydreamt of a musician’s life, hitting the road cross-country on a tour bus. I must confess, I am one of them. Two things have kept me from ever following through on such an odyssey: 1) I am not a musician; and 2) I have no musical talent. But I still enjoy a vicarious ride, like the one that rapper/singer/writer Dessa shares with us in her breezy essay collection, My Own Devices: True Stories from the Road on Music, Science, and Senseless Love. The Minneapolis native clearly gets the idealized notion of freedom and adventure. “The benefits of the job are easy to guess: you get to travel the world with your friends, make music you believe in, dress anyway you like. Sometimes you get fan mail or free drinks or a standing ovation.” Dessa is, however, quick to temper such romantic notions. She writes: “There is, however, an adventure tax. Unless you live with other, non-touring people, you may not be able to keep pets, houseplants, or perishable food items. You will probably miss birthdays, weddings, and possibly the funerals of people you love.” Oh, and she notes that musicians rarely even get to truly experience the cities they stop in. She observes: “Work and play are both hard, and sometimes hard to tell apart.” If you haven’t heard of Dessa, you’re not alone. She’s been in the music business for roughly fourteen years now, and though she has had measures of success and has loyal and devoted followers, she’s not famous. Me? I first heard Dessa, not her music, late last year on the Sound Opinions podcast, hosted by Chicago music critics Jim DeRogatis and Greg Kot. She sounded smart and funny and though I’m not a rap fan, I liked the music she played from her new solo album called Chime, which, the hosts noted, “showcases her unique hybrid of clever rapping and singing about sometimes weighty issues.” Recently, Dessa was back in Chicago, playing a set at Thalia Hall, which I now regret having missed. But I was fortunate enough to catch her other act, which is writing, the following day, at The Book Cellar in Lincoln Square. She read excerpts from Devices, and she was utterly charming: witty and candid and warm. I even got up the nerve to ask her two questions: One comparing songwriting to essay writing and the other about her parents’ reaction to her essays. She gave funny, thoughtful responses to both. In the line afterwards to get her book signed, I saw her embrace a fan who had told her how one of her songs had touched her personally. In Devices, she tells very personal stories, most of them about music and love, and, yes, the two are oftentimes intertwined. She writes a lot about an on-again, off-again ex-boyfriend she simply calls X. We learn that he was the one that brought her into music in the first place, through his work as a member of Doomtree, a hip-hop collective based in Minneapolis. First, she was X’s boyfriend and through her writing she weaved her way into the group, even though she readily acknowledges she didn’t fit the part. She was 22, had no real background in rap culture or even really in music. She writes: “I grew up dyeing my hair with Manic Panic, listening to Liz Phair, and writing cryptic, depressive poetry.” In Doomtree, she found a voice and a passion. She still contributes now and then to the group, though she eventually moved on, in part to distance herself from X, and started a solo career. At the time of the writing of Devices, she was thirty-six, and, she readily acknowledges, not where she wanted to be at this stage of her life and career. The music industry is notoriously fickle and the older you get, the more the odds are stacked against you. Yet she plows on, making music that is lush and intelligent. Her essays are like her songs, only longer. In the stories of her parents, you can see where she gets her drive and persistence (her father spent more than six years building a glider, a motorless aircraft, from scratch; her mother started a cattle ranch on her own, with no background in farming). A former tech writer, Dessa has a scientific mind. In the essay, “Call Off Your Ghost,” she writes of how she enlisted neurofeedback techniques to quell her love for X. Did it work? She thinks so, maybe. Throughout, Dessa writes with lyrical humor and candor. What bleeds out of these stories is an authenticity that is hard not to fall for. She writes: “Art is a domain for passion, not pragmatism.” What is it that drives that passion? She explains: “In the performing arts, the masterful execution of a familiar idea can be deeply moving - a great performance of a great song, for example. But the art that really blows my mind usually violates any assumption I didn’t even realize I’d made, eliciting some variations of Holy shit, I didn’t know you could do that. When David Foster Wallace endnoted the endnotes; when I first heard a backward snare hit; when I first saw a violinist play with her bow belly-up, the wooden side tapping on the strings; when Jeff Buckley held that last note of ‘Hallelujah’ for an hour; when I discovered that Sigur Ros wrote lyrics in a language with words but no meaning; when I first heard an overtone singer throw his voice to the roof of a chapel. Funny thing is, it’s possible for a person to learn to do almost all of those things - the hard part is thinking to try them.” Devices is a musical and life journey well worth taking – one that teaches and inspires and hits all the right notes along the way.

  15. 5 out of 5

    Jeff

    I heard Dessa interviewed on 89.3 The Current Twin Cities last fall. She talked about her new album and shared some anecdotes from this book. I knew her only as the member of the Minneapolis rap group Doomtree and was familiar with her solo work which is played on The Current. It was a great interview. Dessa was charming and eloquent. I was surprised when she started talking science and was not surprised when I saw that science was included in the book’s title. In My Own Devices: True Stories fr I heard Dessa interviewed on 89.3 The Current Twin Cities last fall. She talked about her new album and shared some anecdotes from this book. I knew her only as the member of the Minneapolis rap group Doomtree and was familiar with her solo work which is played on The Current. It was a great interview. Dessa was charming and eloquent. I was surprised when she started talking science and was not surprised when I saw that science was included in the book’s title. In My Own Devices: True Stories from the Road on Music, Science, and Senseless Love she recounts tales from a gamut of topics including her lute-playing dad, touring solo and with Doomtree, her mom (a Bronx-born Puerto Rican who becomes a Midwestern cattlewoman), her brother Max who she is really close to, and maybe the craziest tale of all, her foray in to brain science. Dessa’s career has exploded as of late and her rise up the ladder is full of interesting twists and encounters. Her career began humbly after being asked to join Doomtree by her boyfriend and fellow group member POS. She gradually made a name for herself and now boasts four solo albums, was asked by Lin-Manuel Miranda to be a part of the Hamilton Mixtape, and has performed with the Minnesota Orchestra (and has two performances upcoming in March 2019). She toured with the Orchestra in South Africa in 2018. My favorite parts of the book were science related: at her concert in Berlin she asked two primatologists in attendance to stay after the show for a chat; her and her brother discuss their 23 and Me results; and her dad built a glider in their Minneapolis garage and later became a well-known glider pilot and even appeared on Newton’s Apple. But to top it off, Dessa, in an attempt to get over her ex-boyfriend, goes Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind and enlists the help of a neuroscientist, neurotherapist, and an fMRI machine at the University of Minnesota to rid her brain of her obsession of him. It’s a fascinating story and shows Dessa’s love of science and senseless love as the book's title refers to. Dessa is an excellent writer and knows how to tell a story. The book brims with wit and humor. She’s as sharp as a tack. I highly recommend the audio version, she does a fantastic narration and you can feel her emotions at times.

  16. 5 out of 5

    Aaron Arnold

    Dessa's songs are often the most lyrically interesting on each Doomtree album, and the direct connections between her life and her music means that it's not really surprising that this book is so good. The way she picks big topics (what does it mean to be in love with someone? if you could get rid of that love, would you?), neatly expresses them in poetic apothegms, and then wraps them in compelling narratives is right in line with her songwriting style, so if you're a big fan of her on the stag Dessa's songs are often the most lyrically interesting on each Doomtree album, and the direct connections between her life and her music means that it's not really surprising that this book is so good. The way she picks big topics (what does it mean to be in love with someone? if you could get rid of that love, would you?), neatly expresses them in poetic apothegms, and then wraps them in compelling narratives is right in line with her songwriting style, so if you're a big fan of her on the stage, she won't disappoint on the page. An unhappy love affair is one of the oldest and most compelling stories in the world, and though she's very analytical and contemplative about this huge part of her life, she's never less than heartfelt, even as her mission is to extract a still-beating piece of that heart and cauterize it so that she can never be hurt by it again. She's always perceptive, cheerfully nerding out over her latest insight or discovery, and able to make even the most mundane account of meeting someone interesting by way of a sharp eye for telling detail. No Doomtree fan should miss this. Not every piece in here is related to her primary subject either chronologically or thematically, but it's the main story that's of course the most interesting: what was it like to fall in love with the person who also recruited you into the band that's defined your identity for decades, unhappily orbit that person romantically for many years, and then be so desperate to free yourself from the moth-flame lethality of obsession that you resort to experimental brainwave feedback therapy to reprogram your neurons to make it stop? Fascinatingly, even though essentially the entire book is about P.O.S., whenever Dessa is discussing their on again/off again relationship, she always quasi-superstitiously refers to him as "X" (as in, "I moved to New York to put some distance between me and my X"), which gives the whole tale of limerance an interesting not-quite-confessional air, of honesty with a very specific limit. At one point, she discusses her attitude towards vulnerability: "In the lyrics and the essays I write, I blow most of the doors open. It's not that I have a particular interest in confessional art - it's just that true stories are boring if you skip all the embarrassing bits." She mentions that P.O.S. gave his approval to her writing about him (and throughout she is unfailingly gracious and at worst merely melancholic towards him), so her distancing from him via a pseudonym for a pseudonym! is all the more notable. Of course, "confessional" writing is a fiercely contested genre, with part of the contest being whether it exists as a distinct classification at all. Writing in a diary isn't like writing a LiveJournal, which isn't like writing a weekly column, which isn't like writing a book, even though all are different formats in which someone can commit their intimate thoughts to a place where someone else can read them. And in all of those formats, it's perfectly possible to capture thoughts which aren't "confessional" at all, in the sense of unburdening yourself or of revealing a secret. Maybe this blurring of typology goes back to Montaigne, or maybe it's more a product of modern technologies (Jia Tolentino once wrote a good piece titled "The Personal Essay Boom Is Over" in the New Yorker about the rise and fall of the "first-personal industrial complex"), but in Dessa's hands, a piece of her life is never just a straightforward memoir or travelogue, it's an opportunity to make a philosophical connection, puzzle over a problem, or just explore a cool metaphor. In "The Mirror Test", for example, one of the side chapters, she smoothly relates lipstick application, self-recognition in animals, our resemblance to our parents, lucid dreaming, drug-induced memory loss, harmonized singing, whether makeup hides, reveals, or highlights beauty, the dissolving sense of self during psychedelic episodes, selfies, what it's like to hear her mother sing, and which characteristics of ourselves might carry over into heaven. A worse writer would make those connections feel mannered and artificial; in Dessa's hands they're just different facets of the same intuitive gem. Maybe another aspect of the confessional writing question is whether the end result is supposed to be generalizable or broadly relevant in some way. People LOVE advice columns, or dating stories, or mindless romantic reality TV shows, not just for the gossip, or for the cultural evolutionary benefits of seeing others' mistakes in the hopes of not making them yourself, but because expressions of universal feelings are an ideal way to experience connections to someone else in a way we're all hungry for. It might be true, as Dessa said, that confessional art necessarily involves personal embarrassment; another way of looking at it might be that it's actually honesty and vulnerability that truly interest us, and as George Orwell once said, "A man who gives a good account of himself is probably lying, since any life when viewed from the inside is simply a series of defeats." Seen in that light, Dessa's use of Helen Fisher's writing on romantic attraction and a complicated MRI-based biofeedback sonic system to medically remove her attraction to P.O.S. presents a real question to the reader: is this whole sequence either a profound failure to cope with the pains of love, or a triumph over personal limitations? At what point do (unfortunately all-too-relatable) feelings of lovesadness shade into a liability, and is there actually anything wrong with doing whatever it takes to get them to go away? Assuming that "the opposite of love isn't hate, it's indifference" is actually true, shouldn't we be celebrating this science-fictional triumph over malfunctioning neurochemistry, or should we actually be expecting Dessa's future artistic output to be less resonant now that one of the main wellsprings of her material is gone? In "The Fool That Bets Against Me", she hilariously explores the idea of getting her talent for turning sadness into songs insured; should that hypothetical claim now be denied? By the end of the book, the treatment has by Dessa's account worked splendidly, and she seemingly has the best of all worlds: moving on with her romantic life, continuing to produce art, and retaining fond feelings for P.O.S. Most people probably don't have her sanguine affection for her X with their own exes, anger or indifference being far more common, but even a singularly drastic experiment like hers is still useful to the less-obsessed or less-radical reader out there. I've been listening to Doomtree since 2012, so not nearly as long as more hardcore fans, yet I'm still intrigued by how she's made her personal journey part of her artistic evolution, and I'll keep reading and listening.

  17. 5 out of 5

    John

    Endearing and fascinating. I felt like a bit of a voyeur, looking into a life I have seem snippets of from stage and social media. I knew the outline of Dessa's life, and now I was getting some glossy colored photos. I laughed a lot. There are many little wonderful moments and witty lines. I cried once, and got teary a few other times. My favorite parts were the ones that revolved around music. And the X stuff (which intersects), althoughI had heard her talk about it at her orchestra show last y Endearing and fascinating. I felt like a bit of a voyeur, looking into a life I have seem snippets of from stage and social media. I knew the outline of Dessa's life, and now I was getting some glossy colored photos. I laughed a lot. There are many little wonderful moments and witty lines. I cried once, and got teary a few other times. My favorite parts were the ones that revolved around music. And the X stuff (which intersects), althoughI had heard her talk about it at her orchestra show last year, so there was some familiarity there. I don't read memoirs. Biographies, yes, but not autobiographies. This felt like uncharted territory for that reason alone. It is a genre I have very limited exposure too. In the last few years Dessa has become a hero of mine. I have been a fan of hers for years, but there has been shift for me. She is bold and relentless, and forges her own way. She is on point in her message and life observations. This book only broadens my respect for her as a person (even if she didn't make music). I can't help but wonder if she would ever be interesting in running for public office. She would make one hell of a governor.

  18. 5 out of 5

    Kdawg91

    Every so often, you have a "click" in your head, something you see, or hear, or taste or etc and so on, occurs and all this time, whatever the heck it is that you didn't like or know about makes TOTAL sense. That being said, I always have been a big music fan but never a hiphop fan, then one day surfing I ran across "Bolt Cutter" by Doomtree...then it was that loud resounding CLICK. I was drawn to Dessa that day, her words, her presence is full in effect in this collection of essays, You will feel Every so often, you have a "click" in your head, something you see, or hear, or taste or etc and so on, occurs and all this time, whatever the heck it is that you didn't like or know about makes TOTAL sense. That being said, I always have been a big music fan but never a hiphop fan, then one day surfing I ran across "Bolt Cutter" by Doomtree...then it was that loud resounding CLICK. I was drawn to Dessa that day, her words, her presence is full in effect in this collection of essays, You will feel every beautiful word..that I promise you. Read this, I don't have enough stars to rate it, so I give it one Andromeda galaxy worth of stars out of 5 (come back when you do the math)

  19. 4 out of 5

    Kit

    Dessa is lovely and means so much to me. When I read about her interests and thought process, I feel like someone sees the world like I do.

  20. 4 out of 5

    Emily

    This book was a delight. I am not at all surprised by that fact, but I am very sorry I waited over 6 months to read it.

  21. 4 out of 5

    Anna

    Reading nonfiction takes a very long time for Reasons, and with Dessa’s essays there was the added complication of not being sure that I wanted an inside glimpse of someone I admire so much; but I have finished it! And it was strange and wonderful and gave me things to ponder. p.s. Thanks to the person who had this delivered to my doorstep the day it was released💜

  22. 5 out of 5

    Tony Wirt

    If you’ve ever listened to Dessa’s music, you know she can write. Her trip through love and heartbreak and the road and more heartbreak will fascinate everyone from longtime Doomtree fans to people who have never heard her rap. And why haven’t you heard her rap? Jeez.

  23. 4 out of 5

    Maggie

    I would give it 4.5. This collection of essays made me feel a lot of things and it was as poetic as anything else she's done.

  24. 4 out of 5

    Laura

    Dessa is relatable AF and constructs beautiful sentences and analogies. A quick and very pleasurable read.

  25. 5 out of 5

    Ken Rideout

    Recommended to me by a student (BH), I really enjoyed Dessa's musings. She's super smart, introspective, and entertaining. Not really a book or a complete work, but simply what the subtitle says it is. She has a TED talk that basically summarizes some of the most original thoughts in the book, but the book has plenty of additional observations and back story to be worthy of a quick read.

  26. 5 out of 5

    Jacob Hoefer

    Written in a clear and sparking voice, Dessa's essays on love and art combine nicely with her thoughts on philosophy and science. Equally as interesting as the content is the structure which she has built into each piece. All of the essays in My Own Devices feel interconnected and have a lovely way of meandering into tangents that can come back in well crafted final paragraphs. I am curious to see how this book reads to someone unfamiliar with Dessa or Doomtree. I found myself having to shut off Written in a clear and sparking voice, Dessa's essays on love and art combine nicely with her thoughts on philosophy and science. Equally as interesting as the content is the structure which she has built into each piece. All of the essays in My Own Devices feel interconnected and have a lovely way of meandering into tangents that can come back in well crafted final paragraphs. I am curious to see how this book reads to someone unfamiliar with Dessa or Doomtree. I found myself having to shut off my fan-brain which was constantly trying to track the events depicted to album releases and locations in Minneapolis. Dessa covers so much ground that this could easily transcend just her fan base and in fact may be even more enjoyable to those who aren't trying to remember if the music video for "Call of Your Ghost" came out before or after Doomtree's "The Bends."

  27. 5 out of 5

    Paul Swanson

    A six year old asked me what the cover said. "My Own Devices," I replied. "What's that mean?" Hesitating..."It means what... things... make the author...uh... unique." Not satisfied with my answer, I had to look up the word "devices" to get a true sense of the word rather than the contextual understanding of it that I had grown up with. It was then that I really started to appreciate Dessa's use of words. The title is a perfect reflection of the layers Dessa puts into her writing: de·vice /dəˈvīs/ no A six year old asked me what the cover said. "My Own Devices," I replied. "What's that mean?" Hesitating..."It means what... things... make the author...uh... unique." Not satisfied with my answer, I had to look up the word "devices" to get a true sense of the word rather than the contextual understanding of it that I had grown up with. It was then that I really started to appreciate Dessa's use of words. The title is a perfect reflection of the layers Dessa puts into her writing: de·vice /dəˈvīs/ noun 1. a thing made or adapted for a particular purpose, especially a piece of mechanical or electronic equipment. 2. a plan, scheme, or trick with a particular aim. also - a turn of phrase intended to produce a particular effect in speech or a literary work. 3. a drawing or design. also - an emblematic or heraldic design. also - the design or look of something. I generally won't read a collection of essays cover to cover because I lose interest but this kept me engaged cover to cover. Dessa comes across as quirky, thoughtful, self-aware, and intellectually honest. The major themes carried through the collection are relationships(The X, family, and friends), hopeful/hopeless love, coming of age, and sense of self. More than anything, Dessa taught me things: How many nuts per minute are required to sustain your caloric intake while on tour? How many people would have to occupy a train that's delayed by tragedy so that the combined delay time equals the length of a person's life? How long would that train have to be? What's the value in competition dictated by chaos? Should we be more considerate of the gender specific use of certain exclamations? What goes into making a plane that glides on air? How much does it cost to have a cow slaughtered in your yard by two men? Is neurofeedback training effective for dulling the debilitating feelings you have for another person? One of the chapters references the filming process of her music video for her song, "Sound the Bells." I'm including the lyrics to the song in this review because I think it's wonderful example of Dessa's knowledge, wit, and writing skills. Boys, sound the bells The sun rose from the west today I doubt we'll see it set Oh and boys, bear it well Put all your paper maps away Mercator here can't help Looks like our writing on the wall Is lorem ipsum after all A higher tide will wash it all Wash it all away The lighthouse keeper's last relay: Hand shadows and a final wave Now's the time to rouse yourself Spend the strength you've saved Go lift your sails up For one last swell Go lift yourselves up To sound the bells

  28. 4 out of 5

    Lin Salisbury

    Dessa is a rapper, singer, and member of the Doomtree hip-hop crew – she’s also a brilliant essayist with a philosophy degree and a keen interest in science. In her new collection of essays, My Own Devices: True Stories from the Road on Music, Science and Senseless Love, she examines love, science, and language. In “The Fool That Bets Against Me,” she writes to Geico asking if they will insure her broken heart: “I am a songwriter who makes her living writing torch songs. I’m able to do that well b Dessa is a rapper, singer, and member of the Doomtree hip-hop crew – she’s also a brilliant essayist with a philosophy degree and a keen interest in science. In her new collection of essays, My Own Devices: True Stories from the Road on Music, Science and Senseless Love, she examines love, science, and language. In “The Fool That Bets Against Me,” she writes to Geico asking if they will insure her broken heart: “I am a songwriter who makes her living writing torch songs. I’m able to do that well because I’m naturally melancholic and also because of unresolved feelings for a former romantic partner. If I were to find myself in a state of unchecked, protracted joy, I’d either have to re-career or take a lengthy sabbatical to acquire the skill set necessary for a new mode of self-expression.” Within twenty-four hours she got a rejection call from Geico. In “Congratulations” she considers whether she will be able to make it in New York City. She finds herself traveling back to Minneapolis where she has an established network and reputation two or three times a month to play a show or give a lecture. “Making money in the Midwest to spend in Manhattan,” she writes, “Is like hustling backward. The exchange rate is against you; it’s like getting paid in pesos to pay rent in yen.” She needed to find a way to make money in New York, but it was slow going. Then someone picked up her chapbook and invited her to appear as a guest performer at a showcase in Brooklyn and read one of her poems. Someone else invited her to rap an eight-bar verse at a fancy hotel party where Jon Bastiste, the musical director of The Late Show with Stephen Colbert heard her. And then she hit the big time – she got a call from Lin-Manuel Miranda asking her to cover a song for The Hamilton Mixtape. The mixtape hit number one on the Billboard charts the first week. It was streamed over a million times and though it wasn’t a rocket ship to stardom, it helped open doors to other opportunities. Easily the most fascinating essay in the collection – and the one that reveals her amazing intellect and scientific curiosity, is “Call Off Your Ghost.” In it, she chronicles a project she undertook with a team of neuroscientists to try to clinically excise her romantic feelings for her on-again off-again boyfriend. “I was trying to change my brain to change my mind. If I could successfully modify the hand,” she writes, “Maybe the fist would let go.” She undergoes an fMRI and works with a neuroscientist, wired up in her father’s kitchen, to measure her brain activity to see if it was successful. I recommend Dessa’s My Own Devices for fans of Patty Smith’s Just Kids. You don’t have to be a fan of Doomtree’s or Dessa’s music to get into her collection. If you appreciate intellectual curiosity, scientific theory, and philosophy, you should check it out. This is Lin Salisbury with Superior Reviews. Listen to my author interviews and my other reviews on WTIP 90.7 Grand Marais and on the web at www.wtip.org/superior-reads and www.superreads.blog.

  29. 4 out of 5

    Robin

    Dessa, a hip-hop artist who commands language like a general, has written a powerful memoir about love, family, and life on the road. Anyone familiar with her lyrics will not be surprised by the book's philosophical insights and clever metaphors. I found her essay topics interesting, and especially enjoyed The Mirror Test and the essays about her family. My Own Devices prefers to be read carefully. I slowed down my usual skimming pace to catch every crafted sentence. It was a special treat to see Dessa, a hip-hop artist who commands language like a general, has written a powerful memoir about love, family, and life on the road. Anyone familiar with her lyrics will not be surprised by the book's philosophical insights and clever metaphors. I found her essay topics interesting, and especially enjoyed The Mirror Test and the essays about her family. My Own Devices prefers to be read carefully. I slowed down my usual skimming pace to catch every crafted sentence. It was a special treat to see Dessa present her book at the Madison Book Festival to a packed room. I scribbled notes on the back of my comment card and then refused to surrender it. I wrote: -"Art renders one person's life interesting to another person." -"Is perseverant connection voluntary?" -"Solicit impressions, not advice." (eg. "What parts were boring or confusing?" allows the critic to admit it was boring or confusing.) -A metaphor of a dry erase outline on glass around a person she's writing about, the written words being the outline. She struggles to push the person aside to see the impression of only what she's written. I know this feeling acutely and think of it often - it's what has kept me from writing. Her description was perfect. She displayed the unapologetic intelligence she discussed admiring in other writers. During her reading from the essay The Mirror Test, she reordered paragraphs on the fly to manipulate the audience -she'd gauged we'd laughed a *bit* too loud, and so she shifted an additional serious paragraph up to cool the room. When she revealed this to answer an audience member's question, the room was filled with the quiet sound of 150 brains exploding. I was entirely intimidated to meet her in the book signing line, and lamely stammered a "thanks". This depresses me, because Dessa is a top contender in my hypothetical list of people I'd have dinner with, if I could choose anyone. If only I had just 1% of her charisma. "I was carrying a jet engine under my arm, looking for a plane." "I consider myself the steward of the old woman I will become, and I'm aware that with every day, we are closer to the same person." "If you can't parse the merit from the luck, it's hard to know what to think of yourself."

  30. 5 out of 5

    Brianne

    I picked up this book the day I got some bad news of the worst kind - my semi-estranged father was dying, and I had to fly home. I shoved it in my carry on and took it with me. While the book was the kind of soothing, hyper-cerebral fare I wanted for a time like that, the trouble is it's inextricably linked with the weeks in which I slept in the ICU and then in a hospice with my dying father. I'm not gonna hold that against it because the prose is - like most of Dessa's wordplay - divine. It's l I picked up this book the day I got some bad news of the worst kind - my semi-estranged father was dying, and I had to fly home. I shoved it in my carry on and took it with me. While the book was the kind of soothing, hyper-cerebral fare I wanted for a time like that, the trouble is it's inextricably linked with the weeks in which I slept in the ICU and then in a hospice with my dying father. I'm not gonna hold that against it because the prose is - like most of Dessa's wordplay - divine. It's like sitting in front of an air conditioner in 95 degree weather. It's so fucking good. Essays can be dry and hard to chew if they're not written with chaotic humor like Samantha Irby or dry wit like Mary Roach - I love essay nonfiction but it's hard to find some that doesn't both pat its own back with how pretentious it is or take itself so seriously you just about can't digest it. Dessa does neither - she's got her trademark pithy and wit, her stupid-good turns of phrase, and enough empathy and understanding to make you nod your head in agreement as you sit and read. The standout chapters are the one in which she details the recording of her music video for Sound The Bells in which she - a midwesterner with moderate at best swimming experience - has to learn the hard way that deep diving requires letting go of your air, and of course the showstopper in which she details her radical, brilliant and fucking weird decision to undergo neural feedback to rid herself of romantic leanings for her on-again off-again partner (and bandmate) of over a decade. If you've seen her Ted talk then you know about this story, but reading it in print brought it to new dimensions. To me, though, the power of this book can be summed up in the final lines from the chapter about Sound The Bells, which I was so moved by I read out loud to my comatose father three days before he died with me and my sister on either side of him, fighting through tears to finish: “We don’t own much, and what we do own we certainly can’t keep indefinitely. Every breath is borrowed by the lungful; you can’t save them for later or hold a single one for long. And even a chestful of air is too much cargo for some trips. Some places you have to go empty.”

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