Hello book lovers! Below are a few random snippets from my various literary releases. And if you’ve a mind to help spread the love, please click on the tweets below, connected to each excerpt, and share it with your tweet peeps. You can also help in the old-fashioned way — falling in love with these books so much (or at least willing to lend your support for indie writers) that you just can’t stop talking about them to your friends. And then they tell two friends. And they tell two friends. You get where I’m going with this. Though honestly, I am humbled and blessed just to have you tune in, at all, and give my words some of your valuable time.
One of my favorite recent quotations comes from a tweet by author Teju Cole: Writing as writing. Writing as rioting. Writing as righting. On the best days, all three. That just hits me in the sweet spot. And if you haven’t yet picked up The Assassination of Gabriel Champion, Trading Fours, or The Kidney Journals: Memoirs of a Desperate Lifesaver, I encourage you to do so, for yourself or as a holiday gift. Happy reading, my friends!
From The Assassination of Gabriel Champion
Goddamn, he was drunk. And when he got drunk he got slightly Baroque. He wanted to get mugged. He wanted to be carried away to some chamber of horrors and have them beat it out of him. It? Whatever IT was that he couldn’t seem to get out whenever he stood in front of a canvas. Maybe it was the ghosts of all the brilliant madmen who painted with a bloody gust, and who jeered at him that he would never be as great as they were.
Oh, he might become rich and famous, though. The critics loved him. He was their little darling. This week.
All you need’s a gimmick and a hook, and you too can get a big, fat grant and a Vanity Fair cover.
It had become a culture so desensitized, so lacking in the keen recognition of nuance, that what was required any longer to stir someone’s soul was movement, noise, clangs and bangs, where news outlets were consigned to showing actual video footage of head-on collisions in order for the viewer to be impacted by the pronouncement of tragedy. And where art had to stun (stir just wasn’t good enough anymore) by feats and stunts and concussion in order to be considered the legitimate New Art. Bob Flanagan hammering a nail into his penis before a live audience at a “happening” was considered art by those for whom the criteria was, singularly, that the deed be undared by anyone else.
Flanagan had been a performance artist battling cystic fibrosis and exploring themes of pain threshold, and there was certainly validity in the idea of a coping mechanism being raised to an art by the very involvement of an audience, a reaction, an impact, and a relationship. But the bottom line for Daniel was: How do you sell that?
He suddenly realized that in this drunken instant he was thinking more like an art dealer than an artist, and he surprised himself that he had, in one swift indictment, reduced his entire impetus to paint to his ability to make a living from it. Never mind the idea of art that was authentically experiential, completely stripped of the possibility of the repeat generation of dollars dealt from one collector’s hands to another’s. Commerce had always been the farthest down on Daniel’s list of reasons to create, yet today it seemed to be the first, instinctive weapon he drew in this invisible battle with an invisible foe, for his (a mere painter’s) rightful place.
The art world had been stricken with a bad case of the emperor’s new clothes, and the rest of the world was guileless and gullible, including Daniel, who had started to believe the buzz about his own work. Maybe being just a painter was the gimmick assigned to Daniel by the critical circle. And maybe in the end, he actually was starting to feel unworthy of the attention because, after all –– all he did was paint.
From The Assassination of Gabriel Champion
Her head rang with the Yeats. The one her college professor had turned her onto just before he attempted his seduction. For the purpose, she supposed, of giving it all a poetic credence just in case she resisted. It turns out she didn’t resist. She could always be counted on to fall for the brooding intellectuals, and so proceeded to carry on an affair with him throughout the entirety of her junior year. But she also remembered being vaguely disconcerted by his psycho-sexual instincts to manipulate her with words as breathtaking as –– The great wings beating still Above the staggering girl, her thighs caressed By the dark webs, her nape caught in his bill…How can those terrified vague fingers push The feathered glory from her loosening thighs? –– just to buttress any potential case.
How was it that this theme would repeat itself so insidiously throughout her life? Or maybe the epiphany was that all of life rang with themes of rape. That it was, in the larger, symbolic context, the very definition. A reprehensible negation of everything she’d ever believed in, it did nonetheless seem that the most basic modality of life was far more Darwinian than Chopraesque.
It was not one of those epiphanies that parted the gates of Heaven. It was the other kind.
From Trading Fours
He sits at the bar of the downtown Orchid Club on Eighth Street near San Pedro, nursing his fifth (sixth?) scotch rocks, and weeping over the singer on stage. He weeps a lot when he drinks. Not the kind of weeping that slobbers kisses and expressions of drooly love your way. But angry, achy weeping. Every wound is exposed when Nick Brandt drinks, and this day is no exception. Except that there is no singer on the stage at 2:30 this afternoon. The place has a few diehard regulars, but is otherwise quiet. He stares at the stage, the grand piano that is covered with a tarp, the microphone on its stand. And the empty space behind it.
He managed to finish his gig at the Ritz Huntington without getting fired for the four scotches he had sneaked in on his breaks, and was on his way into Hollywood for Hayes’ benefit (he’ll still make it in time), when he suddenly had an overwhelming urge.
“Where’s Dorothy?” he slurs to bartender Otto. “I came to hear a great singer, cuz they are just a rare fucking breed in this town.”
“Dorothy doesn’t come in till later. It’s two in the afternoon, mate. There’s no music till tonight. And you know you’re not supposed to be here, anyway.”
“Man, jus’ wait, jus’ hold on. I’m not here to make trouble.”
“Naw, really, Nick…I mean, Otto––” he starts laughing. “I’m Nick. You’re Otto.”
“Want me to call you a cab, Nick?”
“Naw, man, I’m fine. I got a thing later. I jus’, I’m just stoppin’ in. I won’t be here when she shows up. I promise. I never am, am I?”
“Naw, man, I’m serious. I got this thing I gotta be at. Benefit for an old friend.”
“Well, you’re gonna sober up before I let you drive out o’ here.”
“Tha’s fair. I’m jus’ gonna sit for a minute.”
But Nick can see her up there. His imagination can conjure just about any old needed vision if he’s drunk enough. There she is, singing her Ellington, for which she was always signature.
Nick wishes he could be in her piano player’s shoes, instead of the ones he is presently wearing. Not because the guy on stage (who looks an awful lot like him) isn’t doing her justice. The guy fucking is! In the best sense of the word. But because it would be so much less painful backing this amazing singer, who would be, with him and the rest of the trio, traveling to heaven; instead of hanging, in a stupor, off the bar rail, with an overwhelming need to purge gut and sins. Maybe. Maybe not.
Too many singers, in this day and age, are about bullshit. Too many of them about shouting the roof off, about showing everything they’ve got in a single cadence, which is usually some gaudy circus of vocally acrobatic, over-wrought, elaborate, melismatic crap. Usually a case of being too afraid to sustain a single, exposed, beautiful note, because someone may just discover there’s no actual voice there, just this thin, reedy gimmick. Nick can spot a fraud at twenty paces. But it is even more achesome to spot the real thing.
“Goddamn, she’s good,” he mutters.
Otto looks in the direction of Nick’s stares, the empty stage, and shakes his head.
“Yeah, she’s good, mate.”
From The Kidney Journals: Memoirs of a Desperate Lifesaver
We drive through the dark hours of morning, which always gives me a feeling of being slightly hypnotized. The 405 South is sparse, a smattering of red brake lights ahead of and around us. I wonder where they’re all going. Is anyone else on this stretch of highway on their way to something really large?
As a singer, I’ve done a bit of world travel in my life. And like war medals and Purple Hearts and old faded newspaper clippings, I hold mine as trophies, hoard the memories, and revisit them often. Yes, I will be THAT old lady. I think about them now, as we drive: Meditating at a Buddhist temple in Tokyo. Skinny-dipping in the Mediterranean. Being chased out of a strip joint in Montmartre’s Red Light District by a couple of bouncer goons. Witnessing clandestine barters for snake’s blood take place in Tapei’s Snake Alley. I cherish every one of those wild and marvelous adventures. Huge by anyone’s account. Yet none will live in a league with today’s. And this adventure is only about twenty miles from my one-bedroom San Fernando Valley apartment.
I find myself shaking, but not from nervousness. Well, yes, nervousness, but not about surgery. Not about whether we’ll be turned away at the eleventh hour because of the last battery of blood tests telling them something new. And not even about whether there will be rejection. Somehow I feel snug (and, I guess, smug) in the notion that we can’t possibly have come this far for fate to screw us at this point. I guess the nervousness, which won’t let my hands stand still, or stop my mouth from running (poor Irma), is at the notion of this thing that is too large for me to attach to myself. I just don’t do large things. And I don’t do things that aren’t inherently about advancing myself in some way. Yet here I am. What will this all mean in that greater meaning-of-life kind of way? Will it make me walk taller? Will it compel me to move just ever so subtly out of my self and into the world of service? Even as we drive, I can only reel with thoughts of how this might change me. Either I already feel secure in what it will do for Hans … or I am even more self-absorbed than originally assessed.
And so the big question really is: Am I doing this magnanimous thing for Hans … or for me? And if it is for me, that somehow I am begging God, Karma, the Universe, whomever, to save my life, but it also just happens to save Hans’ life too, is it okay then? These have been my God questions in the months, weeks, days, and now hours leading up to the deed. I am about to do something that can not be taken back. That might actually affect my health from now on. That will certainly be a badge of courage (careful not to wear that badge 24/7). It will make me an instrument in extending someone’s life and quality of life. A someone whom I will get to watch grow, and live, and be happy, and get his heart broken, and become this creative being, and laugh, and end up feeling so comfortable around me, so familial, that he will feel no qualms about ribbing me the way he would a sister. Am I looking for a family?
I have a family. A wonderful oddball of a family. But it still doesn’t stop a person from looking for more, when there’s a hole somewhere. So, do I have a hole? In my family? In my heart? In my life? I have certainly, at times, felt outside of my family, looking in. I’m the odd one. Not the Black Sheep, in that I didn’t disobey the rules or run rogue. I’m more the Clowny Rainbow Sheep, who is just too loopy to be cool. My family loves that about me most times. At other times, though, I think it’s made them wonder if they’d been given the wrong baby at the hospital, not seeming to share DNA. Makes me wonder, too, sometimes.
So, maybe this gesture is that?
I over-think things. I’ve been told that a lot. Sometimes to my detriment, and to others’ great exhaustion. And sometimes to my greatest insights, which is everything I’ve ever truly searched for. In this case, it is being allowed to run rampant, because this is large.
I don’t throw these thoughts at Irma. She’s much too tired from having had to awaken at 3am to get up, get dressed, pack her minivan, and come pick me up for a very, very long day. Instead, I burden her ears with checklists.
An overnight bag for a two-night stay at Cedars-Sinai, filled with a good book, my purse, my phone, my toiletries. I’ll wear the same thing that I’m wearing to the hospital to leave in, which is just a pair of sweatpants, a tank top, a sweatshirt over it, and my slip-on leather sandals. Then there’s the extra luggage, filled with all the little jersey, stretchy sun dresses I recently purchased for recuperating in, and which will take me through ten days at Irma’s house, after release from the hospital.
I’ve prepared for general anesthesia before. I know the drill. No food or water past midnight. But I haven’t been hospitalized since childhood. A tonsillectomy at nine years old, a hernia operation at five, and a few out-patient procedures in adulthood that required general anesthesia. I’ve certainly never been hospitalized at such a prestigious hospital as Cedars-Sinai Medical Center. Hospital to the stars! And I’ve, for sure, never prepared for having a major organ removed from my body. I feel incredibly special. As in, how many people can claim this? Until I realize that a uterus counts as a major organ, and women have those removed all the time, my own sister being one of them. Appendixes. Gallbladders. But then, still trying to grab some kind of “special” tag, I think, well, but how many people can claim that they’re having an organ removed in order for someone else to use it? It seems to be crucial that I assign importance to this, as if it isn’t already important without any mental processing from me at all.
And therein lays the key to where I am in life, and probably the primary engine behind this day happening at all. The need to assign importance. The need to be important. It isn’t a proud moment. Oh, yes, indeed, this day will be filled with many proud moments. Probably the proudest of my life. But this moment, this thought, this reality, is not one of them.
Scribo Ergo Sum
Angela Carole Brown is the author of three published books, The Assassination of Gabriel Champion, The Kidney Journals: Memoirs of a Desperate Lifesaver, and Trading Fours, is a recipient of the Heritage/Soulword Magazine Award in poetry, and has produced several albums of music and a yoga/mindfulness CD. Bindi Girl Chronicles is her writing blog.