Four Points of a Twenty-three Day Odyssey

 

Abstract-Painting-Fluid-Acrylic

 

1.

. . . And he told them he didn’t do portraits.

They asked him why, and he said because

the last time he did a portrait he was

screamed at by the model who claimed

he didn’t capture the true her.

As if she might’ve had some clue

as to what that was.  See, when the work

gets too personal for anyone else besides him,

that’s when he always gets into trouble.

And there are all the little ulteriors that

hang in the balance, besides.

So he doesn’t do them.

But this family wouldn’t leave him alone.

And it’s not as if he doesn’t like to be begged.

Who doesn’t?

But these people were REALLY trying to

twist at his heartstrings.

They said the portrait was in memory of their dead mother.

Oh, boo hoo.

And when that didn’t work – sentimentality rarely does with him –

then they tried to yank on his empty pockets

with offers of ungodly amounts of money.

And that is where he fell.

It’s where he always falls.

Plus, they were able to convince him,

gullible fool that he can be,

that a dead woman could hardly

scream at him about a job not well done.

So they all shook hands, and the process began.

An impossible one, he would later come to find,

but then he’s always been of the opinion that

Creation is a job for someone with at least

a high school diploma or the equivalency.

And at all times requires a crash helmet.

 

 

 

 

2.

. . . How had he let himself fall for it again?

How do you paint someone you don’t know?

Because, you see, it isn’t just a face you paint.  It’s a spirit.

An energy.

So, faced with that puzzle, and since he didn’t know the dead woman personally,

he decided he would do everything he could think of to learn about her life.

He started gathering, collecting, rallying around him all the trinkets that spelled her life.

Anything her family could possibly dig up.

Photographs.  Letters.  A handkerchief bearing the scent of

lilacs and mothballs.  Very telling, that one.

Purses with lipsticks glued inside.

There was a pair of old nylons,

never worn, just packed neatly away in a rusted hope chest.

A brooch of black pearls and emeralds.

Most of the emeralds missing.

A very badly tarnished silver teething cup

with a name inscribed.  Hmmmm.  Laura.

Just like the movie.

A dead rose from Laura’s funeral, which someone had

flattened between the pages of

Psalms and Proverbs.

And an old, musty, floral-printed dress.

He placed every bauble and memory on tables and chairs all around him,

And just sat for days,

staring at the stained wallpaper,

feeling a bit like the irascible Raskolnikov.

He held in his hand the dead woman’s hair brush,

all ensconced in tangled and mangled

grey and black hairs.

Slowly he lifted it to his nose to smell.

Only hair.  Nothing special.

You know, what can you really get from hair?

Maybe a hint of old, stale Bergamot.

Just trying to get acquainted.

He felt like he was on a first date.

What the hell.  He popped a few Black Mollies and started.

But to his hallucinogenic dismay, his first stroke was weak –

ignorant – uncommitted – bullshit!

The color was wrong, the light was wrong, the intent was wrong.

So he threw it out, and sat three more days.

He had run through every canvas and every little tube of his oils

trying to express dead Laura.  Then he couldn’t even afford to

re-stock his supplies!

So in pure and pissed-off desperation, he thought to his huffing self,

I will slit my wrists if I have to,

and paint her on the walls with my own blood!

The truth is, it’s just too goddamned expensive to be a starving artist these days.

And a good dental plan certainly couldn’t hurt to make it a more sought-after position.

 

 

 

3.

. . . So he just sat.

For days upon days with the sights and smells of dead Laura.

Reading her letters, memorizing her penmanship, sleeping with her quilt draped over his legs.

He paced his flat for countless unbathed, sweaty days,

and went through several fifths and an easy carton of Marlboros.

He listened to the weeping timbre of Callas on an old turntable, because that voice was how he felt.

Until one day, out of the blue, after all of the madness,

for mad was what he had become,

he suddenly realized – he was wearing her.

Laura.

As one puts on a cloak and lavishes in its feel, so he wore her very life on his ripe body.

It hung from his limbs, perhaps a little snug in the arms,

but every part of her was now in his grasp.  Every little nuance.

He knew her better than he knew himself.

He was a bit awed and trembling, but needed to shake it off so that he could keep going

and actually get some paint to canvas.

He immediately hastened to the business of stretching a canvas on a 10 ft. x 10 ft. frame.

So huge and unmanageable was the thing that he had to literally lie on top of it.

He mixed paints with such a flurry that he stumbled clops of swirly color onto the canvas

before it had even been given the chance to be completely mixed,

so much faster did his head work than his hands.

He painted her with a fever by day, and with a pitch by night.

Hues of every conceivable shading and variation surfaced.

Thoughts toppled over one another to get to the canvas.

And a sort of unhinged randomness became his M.O.

For twenty-three haunted days of glorious, glorious madness

he pranced and flung paint to the round-the-clock screams of Fishbone

(he had long, by this point, abandoned Callas)

and a half pint of Old Forester.

And it was – a masterpiece.

Was he even allowed to feel that?

Somehow, he didn’t care.

He circled it for fear that he’d dreamt it.   But it was real.

And he breathed in the smell of her, which was beyond the pungent turpentine, stale bourbon, and cigarette smoke.

He stared at her until she bewitched him, and he would be so bewitched.

She was strong, yet sad and eloquent, just like her love letters.

And angry too, like that cracked hand-mirror that he could just see her

dashing against a wall.

Yet vulnerable, as in the melancholy eyes that graced every one of her photographs.

But most of all . . .

Well, look for yourself.

Is she not the most exquisite beauty you have ever seen?

It probably comes as no surprise by now that he had

fallen in love with Laura.

The minor detail that she was dead didn’t seem to stop that

ball from dropping, did it?

So the cliché IS true.  All artists do fall in love with their models.

Even the expired ones.

This career is definitely not for the faint of heart.

 

 

 

 

4.

. . . And then as if the laws of fate weren’t already

finding him the perfect punch line to a joke,

the family of dead Laura was not, as it turns out,

especially thrilled with his portrait after all.

Idiot!   (This was to him, not them)

He should know better.

How many times in the past had he already walked into this trap?

See, they wanted something they could put on their mantle like a holy shrine,

to decorate with flowers.

They weren’t interested in something they might have to ponder!

They wanted something they could readily identify.

Like a police sketch!

“It doesn’t even look like her.”

“It doesn’t look like her?  It is the very essence of her!”

They asked him how he would know that.

“How would I know that?  How would I know that?

HUMAN NATURE IS MY JOB!”

“Human nature? Human nature?  Is that what you call it?  Human nature?  Well, maybe buddy, but what do you know about our mother? What do you know about our mother? What do you know about our mother? Whatdoyouknowaboutourmother!!!”

They were mindless wind-up toys.

He could not stand the sound of their voices.

“We’ve lived with her all our lives.  What have you lived with?   A hair brush?  A broken mirror?”

He finally burst:   ” I’VE WORN THE PANTYHOSE!  CAN YOU SAY THE SAME!!!?”

What kind of fetishistic weirdo are we dealing with?  they must surely have been thinking.

He didn’t care.

The truth is, they’d’ve fared better taking her photo to a booth on Coney Island for a three-minute chalk portrait,

and he told them as much.

They called him a narcissistic dilettante.

He called them cretins.

And once again, between artist and the

rest of the conscious world, it seemed,

there lay the abyss.

And so the family of dead Laura stormed off

with all her trinkets and whatnots,

and he walked away with no money in his pockets,

but his own Laura right there on his wall,

where no one could ever touch her again.

She was his.  He was hers.

And as he sipped, not swigged this time, his shot of Old Forester,

he could not help but reflect on an Ingmar Bergman line:

I could always live in my art, but never in my life.

 

 

 

 

 

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.

 

My World Broken Open

Parched earth

 

All of last year, I made bold claims about 2014 being a paradigm-shifting year. I even went so far as to say that this gut feeling was not just personal but global.  I still make the claim, frankly; still feel it happening all around me.  But as for my own personal shift, thus far it has unfolded in ways I did not see coming, and have with equal measure both cursed and taken into my embrace like a greedy child.   And the year’s only halfway up.

First off, a confession.  A good part of my “predictions” about this shift were shaped by the practice we’ve all come to be familiar with in this trending age:  The Secret.  And I was doing as prescribed.  Manifesting.   Walking in the world as if.   For the record, a good part of the claim, as well, genuinely resided in my gut’s intuition.  But let’s focus on the other for a minute.

One thing that happened to me this year was a very large, very significant book prize that my novel was in the running for.  I didn’t tell a soul about it.  I knew that winning this could potentially change my life, especially in light of the fact that my book is published under my own established imprint, and not a traditional publishing house.  I spent weeks and months twisting myself into “manifesting” pretzels walking the walk, and praying every day for an outcome that would break open my little life.  I went so far as to say publicly that my life would change significantly in 2014.  I wouldn’t say why. I didn’t want to jinx it.  Plus, a little mystique is never a bad thing.  It would just happen, my life would change, and it would be so huge that no effort from me would even be needed to break the news to my world.  MY world would become THE world.  Well, break open it did, my little life.  But in ways that are only visible to me, that have nothing to do with material achievement, for sure not the book prize I had coveted, and certainly nothing to do with others’ perception of me, which has always been a significant engine for me.

(I wear the mask almost too well of marching to my own drummer and not caring how I come off to others, but I am secretly and remarkably fragile in that area.)

I did not receive that book prize I had worked hard for and claimed as mine with all of my manifesting might and rhetoric.  And it was a blow I did not recover from very easily.  I have (fast forward to right now) indeed recovered, but it was a mountain to climb.  A mountain that included several summits where the air was so thin my lungs felt crushed.  No, I can’t ever resist an obnoxious metaphor.  Hey, maybe there’s a clue why I didn’t win the book prize.

But yes, the mountain summit.   Lung-explosion.  Enlightenment.  All those things associated with the spiritual trek that is Everest most certainly happened to me in the days following the book prize letdown.

Did the author who took home the honor practice the principles of The Secret, I wondered in jealousy and bitterness?   And if so, was it because he or she had mastered a technique that I hadn’t?  I was downright irascible in wondering why not me, when I had manifested the Hell all outta my shit.  Almost busted a vessel in my neck with all my manifestin’ (can you envision the dance? . . . sorta Mick Jaggerish?).

Life is never that follow-these-simple-steps-and-the-world-is-yours  neat.  Never.

And so, I took the proverbial backpack that was ready for global domination off my back, didn’t sell my car, didn’t give up my apartment, didn’t say “so long, suckas!” and instead stepped back and reassessed everything.

I thought about how people pray, and how I prayed during all of this.  I not only prayed to win this book prize, I asked those I know who call themselves prayer warriors, and are genuine lights in this world, if they would put in a good word.  With whom?  is always an issue for me, as I do not subscribe to the literal anthropomorphization of God as some “he” who grants wishes.  Yet I requested prayer.

In fact, here’s me in a spiritual nutshell, which surely promises to disturb both the devout and the atheists in my life, so this one is especially hard for me, the people-pleaser, the one who’ll do anything not to rock the boat:

I am a person who is open, who is not so arrogant as to insist that something doesn’t exist just because it might be something I haven’t personally experienced.  I do believe there are mysteries and truths beyond what we can see and feel and document in an empirical way.  After all, this world is but a fraction of a fraction of a fraction of a fraction, ad infinitum, of what is, and what we yet know.  I believe in interconnectedness and life force, yet how to name it, to intellectualize it, is useless folly, the most concerning of those follies for me being the literal definitions of God as a deity who wields miracles and punishments in equal measure, and has the human attributes of jealousy and vengeance.  I’ve always believed in prayer even when I wasn’t so sure about “Him.”  Because for me, higher power is indefinable.

I have great difficulty using the word God, because it’s such a polarizing, even incendiary, word.  Wars, folks; history is rife with examples of hypnotizing ideologies in the name of God.  And, as a result, my own mental association with the word brings with it an agitation I would rather not welcome into my spiritual space.  I DO often speak of our “god-realized selves” as being the very manifestation we should each be seeking in our spiritual work.  Yet to say “God” the way I’d call someone by their name feels unnatural.  I find myself using almost ANY word or phrase before using God.   The Divine.   Higher Power.   Source.   Sacred Spirit.   The Presence of Absolute Good.  It’s just semantics anyway.  The minute we label it, we’ve lost it.  Yet I understand the need to label, as language is what we have.  We simply cannot conceive of higher truth without assigning form.

But, yes, I do believe that we are more than our bodies, more than our biology.  And I think the early 20th-century French philosopher Pierre Teilhard de Chardin got it absolutely right.   We are not human beings having a spiritual experience, but spiritual beings having a human experience.

To be honest, these are just today’s beliefs.   Tomorrow who knows?  And I’m good with that, because what I do know for sure is that I know nothing.  Our entire journey here is meant to be a constant and repeated awakening and unfolding.  If we were meant to know everything, to have the skinny on life and the meaning of life, we’d be done with our job here.  The design is right in front of us.  It’s perfect the way it is.

Anyway, I prayed.  And I asked others to pray.  There was a part of me that wholeheartedly subscribed to the idea that the universe conspires to do our bidding, and all we have to do is be willing to show up with conviction.   That’s the basic rhetoric of The Secret, isn’t it?   And which runs in complete contrast to my deepest belief that shit happens and some dreams don’t come true, and the real lesson is to learn to amass the masterful tools meant to help us respond to all of it – the fortunate and the unfortunate – with some amount of grace, humility, mindfulness, and vigilant compassion; instead of living in the cotton candy, law-of-attraction universe where we think we can get anything we want.   But I digress.

Gist of my prayer:   “Please let me win this book prize.  And I vow to be worthy of the gift.”

See how I even put the humble little spin on it?  That I wasn’t just asking for something, I was offering to give something in return.  Prayer as bargaining.  Somehow I seemed to miss the spiritual lesson of:  “Hey, be worthy anyway. Period. “

And yes, all spiritual lessons begin with “Hey!”   At least, they should.

Or even (alternate prayer technique):  “I claim this book prize as mine.  My time.  My shot.  I’ve invested a lifetime at the task of fine-tuning my voice as a writer, and it’s my turn.”

The truth is, it’s everybody’s turn.  Anyone who’s ever devoted their time and energy to something creative, productive, elevated and elevating.  But we can’t all be named Miss America.

And so here’s what I find most perverse about that kind of praying.  Asking for that gift, knowing that there were thousands (I don’t actually know a number) out there all praying, hoping, crossing fingers, sticking pins in voodoo dolls, dancing naked under full moons, rubbing genie bottles, whatever, for THEIR lives to be changed too, meant that I was not only asking to have my prayer answered, I was asking for everyone else’s to NOT be.

Think about that one for a minute.

I was asking for others’ devastation.  Granted, devastation is a great bit of hyperbole, but it definitely was how I felt, in actually believing that I had a shot, that  walking in the world as if  was my bitch, that I had mastered her, and that she was about to pay up.

And then she didn’t.

Yes, devastated.  Because I had decided that my life wasn’t good enough as it was.   And I was ready for the Great Escape.  And I was way too eager to believe in ANY used car premise that was promising to aid me in that.

I had actually long ago stopped believing in that kind of prayer.  But this was a clear case of desperation so deep-seated that I pulled out every gesture, every chant, every angle, every good deed, every loophole, every prayer approach that I had long ago lost faith in, to make this happen for me.  Actually, losing faith is not accurate.  It’s not exactly that I stopped believing it worked.  I had come to the realization that I no longer believed in its intrinsic selfishness.   “Dear God, gimme…”

Had I won that book prize, I would’ve gone down in my own history believing till my death that it was because “God is good!”   I’d’ve conveniently ignored that such a premise would also mean that God wasn’t quite so good to all the other writers vying for the same prize.   And how does one work that into the deeply held narrative that God works for us all?  I see that as a fundamental problem with conventional belief, especially so because I can see how easy it is to get whipped into that euphoria when things are going smoothly.

Here’s how I actually do believe in prayer.  And if the sore disappointments that occurred in the earlier part of this year weren’t enough to jolt me right back to what I know, slap my face, and tell me to “snap out of it!” then nothing was bound to.   Prayer is not about change out there.   Never has been.  It’s about change within.  Not about asking for, from some exterior source, but about getting aligned with one’s own sentient marrow.  Appealing to that deeper, higher resonance, frequency, and vibration (actually, that’s probably the closest definition of God than anything else I can perceive) to help us AWAKEN.   A cup that’s too full can’t receive any new information or lessons.   We need to empty ourselves daily.   That’s the purpose of prayer and meditation.  So that we can get a handle on how to skillfully receive whatever life has decided to deal us, with amazing grace.   Truly, it is the difference between acceptance and resistance.  Between desperate attachment and effortless release.  Between willingness and willfulness.

I am a writer.  I will always write.  Regardless of its impact and acceptance.  Regardless of awards.   I release everything else.

Now, all of that said, and for the record, I am genuinely indebted to, and lifted up by, those prayer warriors’ efforts and the love that was behind it.  Praying on behalf of someone else is truly an act of benevolence, and that will never be forgotten in this house.

I’ve been reading Alan Watts this year, who has blown my mind in ways that . . . Well.  Damn.  Just damn.  He talks about the wisdom of insecurity (the name of one of his books, in fact), of knowing that struggles and stumbles happen, and being braced for it.  Not only braced for it, but breathing it in, working with it, dancing with it, doing our part for balance, not allowing ourselves to be sucked in by delusion and resistance and by desperately cocooning ourselves in material comforts, and convenient denial, and the desire for permanence, versus the fact of flux.

I know that the desperation to escape my life, and the genuine belief that a book prize, a credit on a resume, a label, was going to give me a sense of security, was all about needing to do everything in my power to distance myself from flux.

Well, we’d all better start embracing flux, because, baby, that’s what we’ve been given to work with.  But that’s not bad news AT ALL.   There is beauty in flux.

“The poets are often at their best when speaking of the transitoriness of human life . . . that images, though beautiful in themselves, come to life in the act of vanishing.   The poet takes away their static solidity, and turns a beauty which would otherwise be only statuesque and architectural into music, which, no sooner than it is sounded, dies away.” – A.W.

The great mis-belief that we can attain a certain thing, and that that thing, once possessed, will remain static and unchanging forever, so as to never let us down, and that this is what our life’s work is supposed to be towards, is a pretty great lie we’ve been sold.  And believe me, I was one of the first in line to buy.

I was meant to read Mr. Watts, and others like him who have blown my world wide open, in this year 2014, this year that I claimed to be a paradigm shifter.  Be mindful what you wish for!   Because, these sages have shifted my shit all out of my comfort zone, and I couldn’t be more frightened, and more alive.

2014 has virtually overtaken me with mystics, philosophers, artists, innovators, original thinkers, pushers of envelopes, those unconcerned with zeitgeist, creators of their own movement, a little off, a tad quirky, willing for and honored by their own inner fool, nobody’s darling as the poet Alice Walker says, and therefore the world’s hope, the hope of the future, the hope of the very magnificent RIGHT NOW, the hope of sustainable energy, the hope of eternal beauty, the dark and the light, the smudgy, the clean.  These have been the manner of righteous godlings that have upturned my soul, and have, especially in this year, broken my world wide open.

I observed Lent this year for the first time in my 50-something years on this earth.   Not even Catholic.   Just felt compelled.  I did prayer and fasting for 10 days straight (40 was too ambitious, yet I did want to raise the stakes by doing a full-on juice fast, instead of just giving up one thing).  I even documented it right here on this blog.   I let quiet and introspection and privation take over my life for those 10 days.  I was in the very thick of it when the big book prize disappointment happened, when I lost people (plural!) too young to be dying, when health issues even snagged my pace and slowed me down a bit.   None of this was happening before I started.  And I began to wonder, what the hell door did I just open!  It was a roller-coaster experience, and I wanted to break windows on many of those days.   I didn’t.   Instead I braved through, faithed through, did a lot of facing, and came up for air forever changed.

I’m not even sure I can quantify for you how.  But I have, ever since then, been in the midst of a tremendous transformation, and am frankly looking to be even more transparent and disclosing, more accepting of every facet of who I am, including the parts of me that are deeply flawed, more willing to offer compassion to those flaws than to try and shake them off with denial, because they make me uniquely me, more willing to say them out loud to others, which actually lessens their hold, instead of living behind a shroud of shame, or worse, behind a shroud of pretense and spin, of which I’m surrounded by far too much, living in L.A.   I am using my writing these days, especially this blog, to explore my own spiritual growth through rigorous honesty.  I am incredibly proud to have cultivated the courage to look inward, and to lay every flaw AND virtue, equally, on the table for examination.  I feel for the ones who are so fragile or in denial that they can never allow themselves to face their beautiful imperfections.   Without that tool, and that desire, to do so, how do we ever blossom, grow, evolve, heal, break through?  Breakthroughs generally tend to be accompanied by some pain, but always result in true liberation.   I have decided that I am in this . . . all of it . . . every bit of my spiritual practices, my blog-writing being, surprisingly, one of those . . . for the hard lessons and the powerful transformations.

I have been twisted, yanked, torn, and shaken by spiritual epiphany this year.  It has been illuminating, if not always pleasant, and it has, yes, done what I said 2014 was going to do.  It doesn’t even remotely resemble what I had in mind.   Funny how that works.  And releasing my attachment to THAT outcome has been an arduous process, but release it I have, and I am breathing deeper and more fully because of it.  Oxygen, heavenly oxygen!  It may not look like anything to anyone observing my life.   But it’s happening.  It’s happening so big and bold that I’m a bit nauseated trying to keep my insides still.  The Earth of Me has opened up and rumbled.  And, as I have to keep reminding myself, the year’s only a little more than half up.

I said this in an earlier article, and I feel compelled to say it again here.  The world IS insecure.  It is unsure, unpredictable, it will always, and till the end of time, give us joy beyond measure, AND loss, heartbreak, and disappointment beyond measure.  And all the praying to the manifesting, law-of-attraction gods will not make us magically immune to pain and disappointment.  To spin our wheels trying desperately to never be touched by pain or struggle – or flux – is futile and foolish.  Yes, we can intersect.  And we should.  Yes, we can make change.  And we should.  But there is no magic pill.  Don’t be disappointed.   That, either, isn’t bad news.  It’s the best, actually.  It means that every effort holds just that much more meaning.

I have the unshakable feeling that our world is presently experiencing both a great enlightenment and a mad fall simultaneously, and the wonder of which force will ultimately tip the scales, and the knowing that we must all stay engaged, stay conscious, continue to evolve, and opt for amassing a healthy arsenal of sapience and sentience.  I’m not a political or sociological analyst, and my writings will never be a partisan rant.   I am only an authority on my own psychological and spiritual growth, and on how I choose to show up in the world and contribute, and on my efforts, always, to try and up that ante daily, in order to be my own greatest, god-realized self.

As the earthquakes become more and more prevalent around the world, so does the quaking of all our ideologies.   What’s in store for us?   And are we ready?

 

 

 

 

 

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.

 

 

The Goddess Project Documentary (Interview with Holli Rae & Sara Landas)

The BUSThe Goddess Bus

 

 

Hope and Crosby never made a road picture like this!

I wholeheartedly salute two extraordinary young women whom I had the honor to encounter nearly two years ago. They are Holli Rae and Sara Landas, and they have been in the midst of filming their documentary The Goddess Project  for some three years now.  Their credo: “To set our fears aside, and film other women who are doing the same.”

The film’s premise is simple, yet their journey to make it was a life-changing one for them.  It is an intimate look, through interviews, into the lives and inspiration of over 100 women across America, each speaking and baring their souls in a very personal way about their struggles, their inspirations, their contributions, on everything from sisterhood, family, and overcoming fears, to spirituality, aging, body image and sexuality, and speaking in such an honest and disclosing way, toward the purpose of demonstrating real and diverse role models for women of all ages to see and to experience, and to bridge the gaps that have sometimes separated us.

 

THE STORY

In 2012 Holli and Sara left all of their comforts behind, acquired a vegetable oil-powered school bus (decking it out as only goddesses can!) and took a leap of faith, embarking on a remarkable journey across the US in search of women from every walk of life – artists, activists, mothers, sisters, academics, businesswomen, scholars – all eager to share their stories.

I came across these two lights, or they came across me, because Sara’s dad is a friend and colleague of mine.  They came to my home bearing a bouquet of beautiful blooms, and carrying on them their cameras and their great big hearts, and we had a ball talking about life as women, and even shedding a few tears. I believe L.A. was the first wing of their journey, so little did they know at that moment what amazing adventures and encounters were awaiting them.

 “Everywhere we stopped, whether it was at a coffee shop or rest stop,
we were amazed by the number of people who wanted us to meet
an inspiring woman in their life . . . This film presents an intimate look at the
universal concerns that we face as women through groundbreaking dialogue . . .”

 – Holli & Sara

Holli & Sara

10,000 miles later, they had amassed hundreds of hours of footage, and had experienced the time of their lives.   After the honor of being one of their interviewees, I caught up with them recently, in the midst of their post-production tasks, and asked if they wouldn’t mind being on the other end for a moment.

 

*          *          *

ACB:
How did you two meet?  And did the idea for this film come out of your blossoming friendship, or did one of you have the idea first, and through or because of the idea met the other?

H&S: 
We met in the summer of 2008 on a mountain top!  Through sharing stories and making art together, our connection quickly developed into the most co-creative friendship we had ever experienced.  As our bond became stronger and our dreams became bolder, we started meeting so many other inspiring women who were also on a path to pursuing their dreams.  Meeting these ladies and hearing about their unique journeys of self-discovery inspired us to create The Goddess Project.  We saw a need for more empowering stories like theirs in the media and instantly started envisioning how we could share them with the world.  We decided to sell everything that we owned, and launched a Kickstarter campaign to raise enough money to fund the production of the project.  We promised each other that even if the campaign wasn’t successful, we would still hit the road and find a way to make it work.  Our minds were blown away by the incredible people who showed up to help make this film possible.  Over 100 people from around the world donated to help us start the project.

Then something even more magical happened!  We met a man named Chirp at a music festival, told him about our project, and he offered to give us his vegetable oil-powered bus!  Neither of us had ever been given a gift like this from a total stranger, so this act of kindness absolutely blew our minds.  This incredibly generous gift was a huge game changer.  Then we serendipitously connected with an incredible artist named Michelle Robinson through Tumblr who donated her time to help us transform a little brown school bus into a beautiful, inspiring art car.  So we packed our lives into The Goddess Bus and hit the road with two suitcases, our camera equipment, and no idea what we would find!

ACB:
Well, we love Chirp!   Our angels do come to us in the most unexpected ways, don’t they?  And Michelle’s bus art is just so breathtaking in that powerful Sacred Feminine tradition.

As an artist, myself, I find that the ideas I come up with for a book, or a song, or a painting, are usually coming from a place in my soul of lack or need, a hole to be filled, in a sense.  Where do you think this idea of interviewing inspiring women came from?

H&S:
We felt frustrated by the constant bombardment of the same stereotypical roles of women in the media.  We wanted to see a broader spectrum of female role models, so we decided to put our heads together and come up with a solution!

Movies play a huge role in shaping culture and we need to see more films that empower women rather than perpetuating negative stereotypes and limiting beliefs.  We don’t need any more distorted versions of reality telling us that we are not good enough.  We are perfect as we are, and more films need to encourage that!  We are creating The Goddess Project to remind women of all ages that they are strong, beautiful, and capable of achieving anything they set their minds to!

ACB: 
What were you hoping to discover in talking to women across the country, and were your hopes and expectations answered?   Or did you find that conversations went in completely different directions than you had planned?

H&S:
We wanted to see what women across America are passionate about, and to discover how similar we all are in our differences.  We wanted to know what it’s like to be who they are, and hear about what they have overcome to get there.  We wanted to know what their fears are, what they love about themselves, and what they hope to see and become in the future.

We hoped that we would be able to find women who were willing to be open, honest, and real . . . and we ended up finding over a hundred of them!  We sat with women from all walks of life; at dinner tables, coffee shops, on horseback, and in parks; to talk about what they felt most called to share.   We interviewed artists, mothers, healers, business women, and scholars about the life-changing experiences that shaped them to become who they are today.  We talked about everything under the sun, and almost every interview ended in tears.

We learned that many of our fears and obstacles are the same.  We learned that women across America want to feel connected and understood.  We learned that every story is profound, and that women are ready for more representation.  We learned that women across the country are dedicated to bettering themselves and the world around them.

ACB:
As young women, yourselves, looking for positive role models from just such women as you describe, how important was the older demographic among the ones you encountered?   And what gold did you get from the younger women?   And what ended up being the age range of everyone you interviewed?

H&S:
Well, so much gold!  We ended up interviewing women from the ages of 18-90!  The older women we spoke with absolutely blew our minds because they have come so far and have so much insightful wisdom to share.  The younger women inspired us as well because they were so dedicated to pursuing the life of the dreams.  Each woman taught us something new about ourselves and the world that we had never seen before.  It was an amazing experience to be able to travel from city to city, hearing the collective voices of women and seeing the amazing things that they are doing in their homes and communities!

ACB:
I’ve been following this journey, and it’s been very exciting!   In seeing the clips, the beautiful teasers, in the trailers that you’ve made over the past year, I’ve been especially moved by how you left no social demographic out of the loop.    As an African-American woman, myself, in this society, it isn’t uncommon for me to feel, at times, a bit left out of the cultural conversation.   And, of course, I had the honor of being one of your interviewees!   And I have to say, I was completely struck, as I followed your journey, by how much you were so all-inclusive of the radiant array of women of every heritage, station, vocation, age, and every other social orientation.   Can you please speak a bit on that?   Was it conscious on your part, or were you just walking this path with hearts so open that . . . well, let me let you finish the thought.

H&S:
We embarked on this journey with open hearts and planned to interview as many of the most diverse women as we could find.  We definitely made a conscious effort to be all-inclusive when it came to our interviewees because we know that all women out there are seeking inspiration and in most of the media, women, especially those of color, are lacking representation.

As we made our way across the country, we ended up finding women in the most serendipitous and magical ways. Initially we reached out to them through the internet and by word of mouth, but as we traveled from city to city our brightly painted bus became a magnet that attracted amazing women everywhere we went!  At each destination we were approached by women from all walks of life who felt called to share their stories.  Having the opportunity to connect with all of these unique women opened our minds to so many different perspectives, and as we got to know each of them we also realized just how similar so many of our fears and obstacles are.  We learned that although each of our individual journeys looks so different from the outside, there are similar threads that connect us all.  We are so excited to weave this beautiful web of women’s stories together, so that we can bridge the gaps that separate us from one another and inspire people everywhere to create positive change in their own lives!

ACB:
Please talk a little, if you don’t mind, about some of the more unexpected things that occurred on your journey.  Any interesting hurdles?   Especially considering that you were living on the most menial of resources.

H&S:
We both love camping and road trips, so going into the journey we weren’t too worried about life on the road!  That said, the reality of living for 6 months in an amenity-free bus (sometimes in 100 degree heat) ended up being a lot more challenging at times than we had anticipated!  Most of our showers consisted of baby wipes and Dr. Bronner’s, and we spent a lot of time peeing in cups if there wasn’t a bathroom nearby.  We quickly learned how to live off just the bare necessities, but also discovered how many amazing people there are out there ready and willing to help you out in a time of need!  One night, we found ourselves trying to get some sleep in our bus in New Orleans when it was still blazing hot outside and we were in a bad part of town, so we had to keep the windows shut.  We lay there pouring water on ourselves, wondering if we could survive the night in that kind of heat.  Suddenly there was a knock at our door.  It was a woman we had met earlier that day who insisted we come stay with her.  We followed her back to her place just down the street and had a beautiful night’s sleep in her air-conditioned den.  Everyday we faced new hurdles as we stepped into the unknown, but we stayed open and our intuitions always led us right where we needed to be!

ACB:
Was there anything that scared you about taking on a vision as monumental as this?    Doubts, at any point, about the leaps of faith you were taking, not only to go on this journey, but the leaps of faith in each other?

H&S:
From the very moment we made the decision that this is what we were going to do, we committed wholeheartedly to it!  We did have our fears about taking on something this big, but we made the choice that no matter how things unfolded, whether we rallied the support or not, we were going to make this film happen!  Three years into the journey and we can definitely say we had no idea how much work was going to go into bringing this film to life, but everyday we work together to keep our vision strong.  When one of us is feeling doubtful or overwhelmed, the other one is always there reminding us of the importance of this project and why we have to keep pushing forward!  Taking on something this big is a lot more manageable when you’re sharing the weight with your best friend!

ACB:
SERIOUSLY amen!   Who have been your personal heroes, who have helped to build you into the strong young women you are today?   Either personal, or in history?    And why?

H&S:
One of our personal heroes is Eve Ensler.  From her playwriting to her global activism, she is a force of nature!  She is a woman who has devoted her life to being a voice of change, and an example of how instrumental just one person can be in changing the lives of so many!  We were lucky enough to have her reach out to us when we were about half way through the journey, and her organization One Billion Rising became a producer of the film!  We are so honored to have her on board, she is such an inspiration to us!

ACB:
Eve Ensler is truly a special being on the planet.   You’re definitely speaking my language.  So, what is ultimately the legacy you’d like to leave?

H&S:
There is this great quote by Albert Pine: ” What we do for ourselves dies with us.  What we do for others and the world is immortal.”  We want to use what little time we have in this life to use the talents we have to create art that helps raise the consciousness on the planet and empowers others to overcome their fears and live the lives of their dreams!

ACB:  
You two are an inspiration, and the world needs to know about The Goddess Project.  I have felt incredibly humbled to have had some small part in this, and to have been able to watch it grow beyond all expectation, as your journey unfolded.  I raise my proverbial glass to you two bright beacons for change and liberation, Holli Rae and Sara Landas.  Thank you so much for chatting with me.

*          *          *

THE GOAL

The larger goal, of course, is the film itself, and everything that it stands to shift in our consciousness.  But the immediate goal is one that can use our help.  Holli and Sara have a Kickstarter campaign in the works, to help raise enough money to complete the post-production on a film that is truly important and needs to be out there.   If you’re feeling even the slightest bit philanthropic ($1 even!), I urge you to consider being a part of this game-changing, transformational project.  You honestly couldn’t choose a nobler investment.   The deadline to raise their pledge is Friday, Aug 22, 2014, 3:33 PM PDT.

If NOTHING ELSE, please take 4 minutes to watch this newest trailer, and I defy you to not be inspired.

http://youtu.be/ttkwVO_tUQk

 

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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. Continue reading

A Simple Life

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The life I used to want . . . or perhaps the better way is to say the life I thought I wanted? . . . was a grand one.  A life of being celebrated, and documented, because of what I’d put into the world.

Maybe it’s age and the wisdom that hopefully comes with it.  Maybe it’s disappointment, and choosing to redefine a goal instead of wallowing in the failure of an old one.  Or maybe I just lost my appetite for grand.  But today there is a very different life that I want.  And it comes closer to a renunciant’s path, to Zen, and to nature, than ever before.

Let’s take Oprah Winfrey for a minute.   I think the legacy that she has carved for herself is a noble one; that of being the spokesperson for discovering one’s best self and living one’s best life, and the idea that this has nothing whatsoever to do with financial prosperity, but instead with spiritual prosperity.  Yet the irony can’t be lost on even Oprah that her own financial wealth makes the very kind of zenning, sentient life she purports virtually impossible for her.   A woman with homes (plural) that rival the size and scope of art museums, and require staff.  A woman who has entourages.  A woman who is stalked and hounded and quoted and misquoted by a frenzied culture desperate to crack the code that is the Entity Oprah, because we all want whatever magic has befallen her.   How does one live in that life and temper the monkeys in the mind, never mind the monkeys coming after you?

Yes-Men surrounding you constantly will lose you your touch with reality, and make you operate from an engine of dissociative ego.  And I often wonder to what degree she is aware of that peculiar power (or is it a liability?) and takes full advantage of it. I think back to her controversy with the author James Frey [read about it here, if you're not familiar].  I have my own opinions about what he did, which is perhaps an article for another day, but I have always, and for this article’s purpose, also questioned her role in this, because of the Yes-Men phenomenon that ostensibly makes Oprah incapable of ever being wrong, and gives her permission to wield the ax at her discretion.  Did she really think that what Frey did was morally reprehensible?  Or had she just been personally humiliated, and therefore needed to use her power to humiliate him in return?   Was the punishment that she doled out to him on national television really about teaching James Frey some ethical lesson?  Or just about saving her own face?  And does she even choose to recognize that whether she feels it’s her responsibility or not, she has set herself up to shape the zeitgeist for a lot of America and what America should think about such things?

I only choose to analyze the Oprah phenomenon, as opposed to anyone else out there in the celebrity world, because she is not just a celebrity but a pop culture icon, and there has been a pretty wide swath in my life of envisioning a similar station.   A few years ago I wrote a grief memoir about the death of my mother (not yet published), but what the book is really about is an examination of our relationship; complex to say the least.  One of the commonalities that I examine is both of our desire for fame.  I am an entertainer.  My mother’s life was in politics.  And we both had an appetite unlike anyone else in our family for renown.   There was something just so fundamentally dreadful to us both about living unsung (let alone dying unsung) in anonymity.  And somehow the belief that if only a hundred people were touched by our gift, versus a million, that our gift was meaningless.

I have had many knock-down-drag-outs with my soul on the place my art and my contribution has in the world, and where I place its value.  Is its value in acceptance by the larger public?   Acceptance by the boutique few?   Or is it measured by no barometers at all save my own instinctive sense of personal best?

I think we all know my answer, but putting that into actual action and ownership has been another trick entirely.   Believe it or not, getting older helps.  A lot of delusion gets shed away.  I think I know what kind of famous person I would be, and it isn’t pretty.   Talk about dissociative ego.   Today I am finding more peace with the artist I am, and with the spiritual being I am, while living in a world (“in this world, not of it”) that woos only greatness, as defined by financial station, celebrity, and popularity.  And yes, I’m even finding more peace with that world, as well.

It may perhaps seem ironic to do so, but I’m going to quote Oprah, who, on the cover of this month’s O Magazine, says: “Open yourself up to a brilliant new way of living.”

And so, any longer, here’s what today’s dream looks like.  Here’s what’s truly attractive to my soul, and will be MY brilliant new way of living:

(And let me preface what I’m about to say with this:  I don’t begrudge the Oprahs of the world their wealth, their station, their largeness and their guaranteed seats in the history books and Forbes Magazine.  These choices, and these good fortunes, are not bad ones or wrong ones. I’m just finally finding a different value for my life.)

I want to live simply.

I want to be awakened every morning by the sunrise, and honor a ritual by which I prepare for bed nightly, instead of letting myself fall asleep to the white noise of the television, fighting with everything in me to stave off sleep, just because the waking hours feel like a desperate drug to this addict.

I want to bask in quiet and stillness for at least a few precious moments every single day.

I want to encounter every wonder with the patience and pace required to catch every detail, and I want to write about it, because every one is as remarkable as a Van Gogh or a Stravinsky.

I want to read books and, through them, get lost.

I want to stare at a painting in a museum, and have my life changed.  No, it doesn’t move.  No, it’s not interactive.   No, it doesn’t trend.   There are no hash tags.   No friends.   No followers.  No algorithms.  No memes.  No apps.  It hangs on a wall merely, and blows our illusions out of the water, if we’re canny enough to see.

I want to be canny enough to see.

I want to sing, not for my supper, but for the gods.

I want to earn my wage outdoors, with labor and sweat and sun about me.  I want to plant gardens, and eat what I’ve grown, and work my body like the vessel it is.

I want to forgive my body its daring to creak and ache, and instead awe at its magic to move, to protect, to repair and regenerate, to create, to haul lumber and compose symphonies equally.

I want to open my doors, and meet my neighbors.  And hold children.  And praise animals.  And laugh with friends till it hurts.  And invest in compassion.

I want to watch the rainfall with the same fascination as when I watch a great movie.

I want to abolish from my own brain, my own agitated sense of desperate measures, once and for all (warning: incoming rant), the emperor’s new clothes of this insidious Religion of Prosperity that’s gripping our culture today, and the irresponsible false promise that all we need is a positive mindset and to walk in the world AS IF, for all our problems to be solved.  If only the billions of starving, war-torn, Third World citizens of the earth would stop for one second to apply its principles . . . Don’t they know!   I’m not knocking positive thinking – a huge proponent actually – I just reject this idea that it’s a magic pill.  The world IS insecure.  It is unsure and unpredictable.  It will always, and till the end of time, give us joy beyond measure . . . and loss, heartbreak, and disappointment beyond measure.  And all the praying to the manifesting, law-of-attraction gods will not make us magically immune to pain and disappointment.  The true key is not to be constantly coveting an over-there reality that may or may not ever come to us, or to try and create a cocoon of cotton candy denial around us from all the realities of life, but to amass the masterful tools meant to help us respond to all of it – the fortunate and the unfortunate – with grace, humility, mindfulness, and compassionate vigilance.   To truly be able to recognize the beauty, and power, and opportunity for transformation and swift healing in whatever experience is given to us.  Which doesn’t mean that we shouldn’t work toward goals, or not try to cultivate a can-do mindset.   But what it does mean is that if we live only for the GOAL, then we completely miss the GOLD of the absolutely magnificent right now.

I want to never miss the gold.

I want to learn the lessons that every encounter with every kind of being on the planet is meant to teach me.  And I want to appreciate them for that, instead of collecting enemies.

And I want my only prayers from this day forward to be . . . NOT . . . “Dear God, please give me . . .”    But two words, and two words only:  Thank you.

I want a simple life.

 

With wine.

 

And chocolate.

 

 

 

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.

Sleepwalk (The Song Series)

Sleepwalk Song Series

There is a song, a pop classic, actually, a signature pedal steel tune from the 1950’s, called Sleepwalk.   This is not that.

I wrote MY Sleepwalk in 1994, but my original vision for it did not get recorded until 2007, when The Slow Club Quartet was assembling material for our second CD Expressionism.   It wasn’t even a song we performed as a quartet, as the arrangement is for an entirely different set of instruments, but an unexpectedly fortuitous thing occurred just as we were putting the album together, and there was no way I was going to lose the opportunity.

Let’s start at the beginning.  Sleepwalk is spoken word, but I had a very specific instrumental underscoring in my head for it.   I was a singer and marginal songwriter at that point in my life (hell, maybe I still am). I could write a chord chart, but my only background with instruments were the years of piano lessons as a kid.   Yet I heard this instrumentation in my head, had listened to enough symphonic music in my life, and decided to rise to the challenge.   Henry Mancini, the 1960’s, cool jazz, all of that was the general vibe I was hoping to cop, a sort of slinky Pink Panther-esque thing to accompany the libretto, a cracked bit of flash fiction (not even a term yet in 1994) meant to be absurd and humorous.   I even signed up for a semester of harmony and theory at Pasadena City College for the express purpose of getting a sense of how instruments talk to each other, and relate to each other.   I got a little cheat sheet that tells you the ranges and clefs of different instruments of the orchestra.   I could not have been more hanging on the edge of the ledge by my fingernails in trying to compose and orchestrate a piece that actually made sense and worked.

My new Korg synthesizer (circa early 90’s) aided me in laying down the parts, so that I could hear whether certain lines worked against each other or not.   Real orchestrators will surely cringe to read this.   For them it’s all about “seeing” how the parts and lines work with each other on a score.

But when all was said and done, I was tickled by the piece, composed for acoustic bass, muted trumpet, trombone, 2 flutes, drums, and voice.   A very sparse piece.  Lots of space and air between notes.  The bass is the lead instrument.   And every note is written.  This isn’t the case of a chord/rhythm chart, where the rhythm section merely uses the skeleton, and they comp within and around it.   There’s something very cool to me about that kind of songwriting, because each time the piece is played by a different set of players, the notes played are of a most unique, unrepeatable nature, and in that sense the song is reinvented with each playing.   But with orchestrated pieces, the notes are the notes.   What’s going to give each performance its unique resonance is the intention, dynamics, and emotion behind it.

So, there it was.  My composed piece.   My tiny little nugget.  It would turn out to be years before I would ever get to hear it played by real instruments, to truly get confirmation on whether it worked.

After it was completed, it sat on the proverbial shelf for about another 4 years, until I found myself in 1998 the lead performer in the most innovative of musical projects, Elvis Schoenberg’s Orchestre Surreal.   The project’s leader, composer, orchestrator, and conductor is Ross Wright, a student of the music of composers such as Arnold Schoenberg and the New Music school, as well as a devotee of Frank Zappa, and that peculiar mixture of Ross’s musical influences has most definitely shaped the vision that is the Orchestre Surreal.

In the beginning I was just a vocalist with the orchestra, singing incredibly challenging parts, and devising and developing a character (“The Fabulous Miss Thing”), in order to front this wacky, larger-than-life creation.   Then one day I showed Ross my score for Sleepwalk, a piece never played.   Ross is the real deal, so I can’t honestly say he looked at it with any great awe.   I’m sure my little orchestrated piece was precious to him.   But he liked it as a concept, thought it would fit the nutty nature of the Orchestre Surreal, and suggested that he re-orchestrate it for the 30 pieces.   I was thrilled by the notion.   There would be an Angela Carole Brown original as part of the illustrious Orchestre Surreal.

The first time the piece ever got played, and then for years after, of performing with the OS, it was Ross’s arrangement,  a big, bad, brazen and formidable thing, that we performed.

To this day, I love what Ross did with it.  It climaxes into a sort of Ornette Coleman-esque insanity.  It’s been exciting to have realized, and we not only added it to the show but recorded it for the Orchestre Surreal’s debut album Air Surreal.

And yet as much as I loved this lion of an arrangement, I still yearned to hear the piece realized in the vibey little intimate and sparse way I had originally conceived of it.  To know, definitively, if I actually had it in me as an orchestrator and realizor of a vision.  I honestly didn’t know if there would ever come the opportunity, because I didn’t have a project of my own (The Slow Club Quartet and The Global Folk were developed some years later), and even if I did create a project of my own, it certainly wouldn’t be with the instrumentation of trumpet, trombone, flutes and bass.

Fast forward to 2007, and now I was leading my own jazz ensemble, The Slow Club Quartet.   We were amassing material for our second album together, and Sleepwalk hadn’t crossed my mind in some years.   Then one day during this time I was speaking with Ross Wright on the phone, and talking about the record I was about to make, and I just happened casually to mention that I wished I hadn’t lost the original score I’d written on it.   That as much as I loved the Orchestre’s version of it, I still wished I’d gotten the chance to hear it the way I’d originally written it, but that I didn’t have a clue where the score was after all these years.  Probably gone the way of my old, beaten up, obsolete (by this point) Korg synthesizer.   And Ross promptly said, “Oh I’ve got it.   I guess I didn’t realize that I never gave it back to you after I re-orchestrated it.  But yeah, I still have your original score.”

I literally squealed, thanked Ross for never throwing it out (my assumption), and promptly made the executive decision to include it on The Slow Club Quartet’s Expressionism, even though the only members of the quartet who would play on it would be the bass player and drummer, and even if the likelihood of it ever getting performed live somewhere was practically nil.   I found a way to squeeze in a session for trumpet, trombone, bass, 2 flutes, drums, and me, in the midst of the quartet’s recording.   And my heart raced with the nervous anticipation of finally, after 13 years, getting to hear what my piece was always meant to sound like.

Craig Pilo, the Slow Club Quartet’s drummer, was producing the album and doing some of the recording in his own studio.  We had to record the whole thing part by part.   Craig laid down a drum track of sizzling brushes, a kind of fluid comping-and-keeping-time as one entity, as a framework for everyone else to play against, along with the SCQ’s bassist Don Kasper on upright.   The bass part, being the lead instrument on this piece, is really just playing a walking bass line, but the specific “road” I wrote for it is somewhat theatrical, operating in accord with the story’s rhythmic arc.  Next, we brought in trumpeter Dave Scott, a recommendation of the SCQ’s pianist Ed Czach, who lived in New York but was in town for a bit.   Dave brought just the right about of “bent” to the proceedings.   Even though he strictly played the notes on the page, there was an energetic edge to his playing that I absolutely loved.   We brought in flutist Bill Esparza to do what had to easily be THE simplest flute parts he’s probably ever had to play in his life.  And I sent the trombone part to my friend Ira Nepus, who took it into a recording studio of his own choice, laid down his part, and sent the file back to me (so modern!).   And finally, lastly, my spoken word part, the story, the crazy little fiction I’d written about a doomed hermaphrodite.  Theatre of the Absurd at your service.

As it came together, layer by layer, part by part, after 13 years of waiting and wondering, I could not have been more gratified with how my original vision was sounding as played by real, living, breathing, feeling musicians.

What’s truly cool is that I now have two very different versions of Sleepwalk forever documented and on two very different kinds of albums.  I highly recommend checking out The Orchestre Surreal’s album Air Surreal, and their version of Sleepwalk.   But for my purposes here on the Song Series, my original vision, the version found on The Slow Club Quartet’s Expressionism (the only original on an album of covers), is the one I want to share here.   Because it’s my baby, my arrangement, my orchestrating, my singular example of stepping outside of my own comfort zone and abilities, and forcing myself to rise to the orchestrating occasion.   Like I said, to any real symphonic composers out there in the world, this little arrangement is sure to seem precious.   But I am very proud of it.   It creates exactly that sense of Noir Bizarre that I was intending.

Please enjoy Sleepwalk.

http://angelacarolebrown.bandcamp.com/track/sleepwalk

 

 

 

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.

The Slow Club (The Song Series)

SlowClubSongSeries

The anecdote at the top of this piece is one I’ve told before, time and time again actually, but for the sake of this song series I can’t possibly not include it.

It’s my mystical moment in this life.

The very first song I ever wrote, The Slow Club, which ultimately became the title cut of my debut jazz CD, is about a nightclub in Paris.  At the time I wrote it I’d never been to the city of lights.  The story in the song is fiction.  The club itself is fiction.  And in the song I describe in great detail what the mood and look and walls and smell are like in this place.  A few years after writing it and performing it around L.A., I was singing it in a club one night, and a French woman came up to me afterwards. This was the exchange:

 

“I enjoyed your song very much.  It made me think back with fond memory of my days at the Slow Club.”

“Oh, Well, thank you, ma’am, I appreciate it.  But the song is…actually….just…fiction.”

“Oh, no.  The Slow Club in Paris, France, oui?”

“I … really do think you’re thinking of someplace else.  There isn’t a Slow Club.  I don’t mean to insist, it’s just that I made it up.  I just have this silly, romantic fixation for Paris.”

“And mademoiselle, I, as well, don’t mean to insist, but I am the one who has been to this place you sing about.  On the Rue du Rivoli, right down the way from the Louvre.  I would say that is some pretty powerful  fixation.”

 

My jaw was dropped for the next several years, as I continued to sing this song around town, told this story, and relished in my, and my song’s, spooky allure.  Until I finally did make it to Paris for the first time, and went to this place conjured in my head.  And there it was, just as she’d promised, with a Rue du Rivoli address.  But the mind-freak did not stop there.  I walked in, unprepared for an even newer set of phenomena.  Every single detail I describe in the lyric of the song was personified before my very eyes, including the winding staircase that takes one down (not up) into it.

I promptly ordered a sloe gin (not a great-tasting cocktail, but mentioned in my lyric so I had to participate), grinned from ear to ecstatic ear at the wonders of  life, and concluded that I must’ve been that Slow Club chanteuse in another lifetime, simply recalling pockets of memory from a long-dormant nether-plane.

Whether an actual spiritual reincarnation or merely a mischievous flight of fancy is the explanation, it was that singular experience that began my journey as a musician and a writer, carrying with me at all times the mysterious wonders that art simply begets.

I’ve had people suggest to me, upon hearing the story, that perhaps I had heard of the Slow Club, forgotten that I’d heard of it, and that it had lodged itself in my subconscious, and came up when I was ready for it.    Of course that’s possible, and I do know how difficult it can be for people to suspend belief, to take leaps of fanciful fate.  Except that I know it did not come to me in that way.  Because the way it DID come to me is very clear in my memory.   The movie Blue Velvet, a film whose story takes place somewhere in the Midwest, features a dive called the Slow Club at which the character Dorothy Valens sings.   First off, I was 26 years old when I first saw this movie, and had just been initiated into my very first cinematic experience of heavy symbolism, metaphor, and creepy yet compelling depiction of life.  Not your garden-variety crime story – at least up that point in 1986.   I was blown away by the movie and its uneasy humor, but that’s an article for another day.  I was mesmerized by this nightclub in the movie, and fancied myself as the femme fatale Dorothy Valens.  Except that in my micro-managing fantasy, this alter-reality HAD to take place in Paris, not the Midwest for god’s sake.  There was romance and allure to Paris!  My head lived in the Parisian clouds for just about that whole decade, praying that someday I would get there.  But yes, Blue Velvet is where I got the idea for my own Slow Club.  Not anything subconscious bubbling up, but a markedly conscious agenda to realize a noir reverie through song.

Imagine, then, my shock and awe to discover the very real place right there in the 1st Arrondissement.

Besides the Blue Velvet / Dorothy Valens fantasy as the engine for my song, there was also the fact at the time (around 1985-86) I had begun immersing myself in jazz.  An early hint of what would become a lifelong love had been given to me in teenhood, when my older sister (not even a musician!) made me listen to the likes of Pharoah Sanders and Lonnie Liston Smith, and I was hooked, even if I couldn’t make heads or tails of what exactly I was listening to.  And by the time I was in my mid-twenties, a string of boyfriends, all musicians, had been instrumental in introducing me to every facet of jazz, from the virtuoso bass playing of the Jaco’s and the Stanley Clarke’s, to the Afro-Cuban and Brazilian movements, to the progressive natures of Miles and Coltrane and Jarrett and McCoy Tyner, to the ridiculous vocalise prowess of singers like Eddie Jefferson and Lambert, Hendricks, and Ross, to all the new fusion guys, Metheny, Zawinul, McLaughlin, Corea, ad nauseum, as there’s no shortage of jazz movements and pioneers. I became as entranced by this challenging music as I had been by Parisian-chanteuse daydreams.  So when it came time to attempt my own songwriting, and all I was armed with were the years of piano lessons in childhood, I played around on the keyboard until I found luscious cluster chords that I recognized from the harmonic vocabulary I was being saturated with, but didn’t know how to name, or even how to use in the proper theoretic way.  I knew basic triads, and some bluesy 7ths.   But when it came to flat nines and sharp elevens and Lydian dominants, blah, blah, blah, I was so out of my league.  But I just kept playing around and discovering, and got the mentorship of the many musicians I was gigging with.  And it was a genuine renaissance in my life at that time as an artist, and finding my way, my legs, and eventually my own voice as a songwriter.  When I finally came up for air, The Slow Club  was composed.

The first years of singing the song around town, doing the cabaret and jazz circuits in L.A., it was a brushes-on-the-snare-variety jazz ballad.  And before the recording that is featured here came to fruition, the song saw several incarnations.  I stuck it in my one-woman show The Purple Sleep Café, where it was segued to, from a scene where a rather disastrous audition takes place, and the message of the piece being the importance of staying true as an artist.  And a singer friend who was on the same cabaret circuit as me, and loved the song and asked if he could include it in his repertoire, had a complete orchestral arrangement done of it (an arrangement I never got to hear, as he had taken his show with him to Vegas).

And then, as the years passed, and it was finally time to consider my own jazz album of originals (I’d amassed several by that point, which I’d sung around town for years), my own tastes had shifted somewhat, and I started to hear the song with a different feel.  The jazz fusion genre was enjoying yet another emergence after having been originally established in the 1960’s, and the half-time-shuffle (a rhythmic feel that was starting to be labeled hip hop, as it was used extensively in hip hop music) was a prevalent feel in a lot of what was being called jazz funk.  I liked the feel, thought it might work well with The Slow Club, which still kept the song a ballad, but now with a little hump to it; the kind that screams out for a muted trumpet.  So, by the time I was assembling the latest incarnation of players for my ongoing jazz project (circa 2003 by this point), in the form of pianist Ed Czach, bassist Jonathan Pintoff, and drummer Craig Pilo, this was the way we were playing the tune.  The only change that the composition saw, once I’d switched rhythmic gears, was that I’d added bookends of a minor chord riff into this major-chord piece.   With the addition of trumpeter Ron King, doing his muted thing, we recorded the song live in a church, and The Slow Club was from that moment forth and forever documented.

It not only became the title of the album, but eventually, by the time we had a second album as a trio, the ensemble was named The Slow Club Quartet.   Friends teased me about the band name.  Craig Pilo, the drummer in the group and our resident comedian, would often refer to us as The Very Slow Club Quartet.  But the ribbing was fine, perfectly take-able, because my own history with the song as my very first composition (my cherry-buster), and the mystical magical story that went with it, was all I needed to hold onto, to know that we couldn’t possibly have called ourselves anything else.  Not if I was helming the group.

Please enjoy The Slow Club.

 

 

http://angelacarolebrown.bandcamp.com/track/the-slow-club

 

There’s an old club in Paris on the bluer side of town
It hails on the back street underground
The lady there she sings a sad song – the jazzmen live to blow
They make a kind of music we all know – so
With a slow dance and a sloe gin
Won’t you take me to that Slow Club once again

Don’t move too fast, cuz I’m in no hurry
I’d rather take it at a Paris pace
The dark behind the neon which blinks a rhythmic tune
Rather hypnotizes every face – so
With a slow dance and a sloe gin
Won’t you take me to that Slow Club once again

Listen to those brushes fondle that old drum head
Feel mister bass man snatch your soul
Watch those piano fingers bleed into the keys
As the jazz men swing it low

o many moody face – secret meetings on the stair
“S’en allez avec moi – nous ferons la cour – mon coeur”
With a slow dance and a sloe gin
Won’t you take me to that Slow Club once again

Listen to those brushes fondle that old drum head
Feel mister bass man snatch your soul
Watch those piano fingers bleed into the keys
As the jazz men swing it low

It rather hypnotizes and it makes my old heart sting
When I listen to that slow club lady sing
With her slow dance and her sloe gin
You will see her make a friend of all the men
With a slow dance and a sloe gin
Won’t you take me to that Slow Club once again
With a slow dance and a sloe gin
The neon reads forever “come on in”

 

 

 

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, and has produced several albums of music and a yoga/mindfulness CD.   Bindi Girl Chronicles is her writing blog.

Blue Sea of August (The Song Series)

Blue Sea of August

 

“ I’m a sucker for a burnished alto voice and an apocalyptic slide,
so this kinda works for me…”

– David Kelly

 

The first and last tracks on 2008’s Music For the Weeping Woman, which are Blue Sea of August and Bells (Of the Blue Sea), are actually the same song, but bookend the entire record with a vocal version and an instrumental rendering.  There is a bonus track, which is not available on the hard copy recording, but only as a single download, that is a marriage or mash-up of the two.  This is the recording featured here now.

Blue Sea of August  was the first song I wrote towards the album project Music For the Weeping Woman.   I had a very specific, narrow, and focused idea of what I wanted to accomplish with this album, and with the individual songs:  An ode to the vulnerability of women and their tears, and the myriad of emotional engines behind the phenomenon of tears, the seed of inspiration being Picasso’s “Weeping Women” series.  I’d just seen the movie Cold Mountain, and there is a song that plays throughout the film that was written by Sting, and sung by Alison Krauss, two of my favorite musicians, so that got my attention.   It was the most eerie and haunting ballad I think I’d ever heard, and really captured that sense of ancient folklore and American roots.   It was also such as ridiculously simple form whose simplicity was almost deceiving for how powerful it was.  I was instantly inspired to create something along similar lines.  Blue Sea of August  is about longing and loss in the most general sense of those words, but it wasn’t until I wrote the lyric “When my true love comes a-marching home” (an unexpected nod to the transpiration of the soldier) that I was really hit with the full scope of what longing and loss could encompass, and that it was potentially massive.   That’s the lyric portion of things.  When it came to the music part, it was my first time writing in a very small form, an almost (really stretching the boundaries on this) dactylic tetrameter quatrain, and allowing that to be the entire song (four stanzas of it), and resolving it without the standard pop music arrival chorus.  It’s completely rubato, and yet with that implied dactylic design.

As for the title, I took it from the 1975 Lena Wertmüller film Swept Away, whose complete title is actually Swept Away By An Unusual Destiny In the Blue Sea of August.  But the movie studio nixed the cumbersome title, and went with the shortened version for its official release. Personally, I think they kept the wrong half of the title.   And so, IN swoops Angela to happily take it off their hands.   I had no idea what kind of deep thirsting I was about to unleash as I began to compose.

Once the song was written, and in preparation for recording it, I had lots of conversations with guitarist Ken Rosser, my partner on this album, on the conceptual ideas for the song.   Of the many developments that came out of our confabs, and the incredible way in which (despite the fact that I am the sole composer) this was completely collaborative, was Ken’s idea to do, as well, an instrumental version of the song.   He had an entire layering concept in mind, and there isn’t often a bright idea of Ken’s that I say “no” to.    Once this absolute stunner was executed, and I added some Tibetan singing bowls to the proceeding, I knew it would require its own title.  Enter Bells (Of the Blue Sea).  

Fast forward to just a few months ago (roughly 6 years after the album’s release), and I decided to mash up both versions and make it available as an extended single.  I posted the track on Facebook, and got a really lovely thread going, beginning with the quotation at the top of this piece.   And while there were several participants on this thread, for the purpose of this piece I have culled only Ken’s and my contributions.  The rest were generally some pretty amazing and gracious accolades, but the process, as Ken and I excitedly recalled it, is really what I wanted to expound on here.

As transcribed from Facebook:
.
.

KEN ROSSER
This is one of my favorite tracks I’ve ever played on.

 

ACB
Apocalyptic slide?   Yeah, David Kelly!   That’s just about perfect.

 

KEN ROSSER
Just here to be of service.

 

ACB
I think of this song as almost a sea shanty, but without the yo-ho-ho-ness of your typical sea shanties. Instead there is a quality of looming doom in the music, much like that sense one might get from staring out at the sea, and acknowledging its ever-elusive horizon.  I wanted the feeling of a haunting, and I imparted that to Ken. So he began experimenting with loops and feedback, and this kind of grungy aural thing that almost evoked the sound of whales, or the creaking of a haunted barge (seriously!), and suddenly this unfolding of a dark abyss began to take shape.  I am a sucker for pathos, and Ken really captures that sense of loss and longing that is the prevalent intention.  And then there is the super-tremendous instrumental rendering of the song, whose textures are even thicker and darker and more perilous.  Ken gets me so well!   He is an absolute revelation on these tracks, and they remain my favorite on the album.

 

KEN ROSSER
Still never seen Swept Away . . . I need to fix that.

 

ACB
Dude!  . . . . . . . . . . .  That’s all I’ll say.

 

KEN ROSSER
Once you get into the emotional space of the piece it’s just a matter of framing and reinforcing.  So, because there was this tonic/dominant drone, I used an idea I’d gotten from the composer Angelo Badalamenti to add another layer of harmonic tension and release that would sort of work around that.  Then it was just coming up with those sounds, which are a pretty standard part of my vocabulary – using fuzz boxes and delays to generate layers of tones, and then sub tones and overtones.

Doing an instrumental recasting of the melody was an idea I’d heard in tons of film scores, where there’s a vocal theme song but little instrumental snippets of it reappear throughout – Breakfast At Tiffany’s (MoonRiver) and Alice In Wonderland  being two that immediately come to mind.  And I felt like since the record was basically a dialog between the guitar and voice, the guitar should get the last word.

Guitar-wise, this was me paying homage to some of my biggest influences, David Torn (whom I was becoming friends with at the time and was advising me a lot), Terje Rypdal, and Ry Cooder (especially his Trespass soundtrack).

I used a G&L Legacy for the whammy bar stuff and Larry Pogreba guitar for the slide, through Lovepedal Eternity and Wolfetone Chaos fuzz pedals and the Echoplex Digital Pro for the loops/delays, into a VHT Pittbull 45 amp.

 

ACB
Yeah, and I used a single index finger on the low end of the synthesizer, on the tonic for about 16 bars, and then on the dominant for about 16 bars.   Very complicated stuff on this end, Ken.   Don’t feel intimidated.

 

KEN ROSSER
Angela, I thought you might find this funny, as I don’t think I’d ever told you. When I did that melody instrumentally I was really trying to fixate on getting a vocal phrasing and for some reason the actual voice that popped in my head was Sinéad O’Connor’s, because I imagined that a song about the sea would work well in her Irish brogue, with this slightly angry sneer to it.  There’s even one of her little pet vocal tics that I snuck in there, that sorta cracks me up a little when I hear it now.

 

ACB
Sinéad O’Connor should record this song!!

 

KEN ROSSER
If that makes you a butt load of money, you owe me dinner.

 

ACB
From now on, when I listen to Bells (Of the Blue Sea) I’ll be listening for Essences of Sinéad.

So, the funny thing on MY end about your Sinéad inspirations is that I’ve always had a tug at me from the Irish when it comes to my songwriting.  (Where the hell does that even come from?  I’m a black chick from Compton!)  But if you think about Far Above Rubies, and a couple others of mine, there’s definitely an ancestral tug of some sort there.

 

KEN ROSSER
Yeah, it’s funny how that is.  And well, I figure – you go back far enough, we’re all from East Africa a few hundred millennia ago . . . the black American and Irish experience are just different shades of the human experience, taking the long view.

 

ACB
Anyway, what were we talking about?

 

(End of Facebook transcription).

 

I know that we could go on and on about this.  It was such a fun recording process for us.  But I’ll stop here, and I hope you enjoy Blue Sea of August / Bells (Of the Blue Sea).

 

http://angelacarolebrown.bandcamp.com/track/blue-sea-of-august-extended-version

 

There is a calm on the blue sea of August
There is a balm that anoints my head
It is the promise that my one true love
Will find me before I’m put to bed

There is a haze on the blue sea of August
There is a gaze that shines its eyes on me
It is the warning that I’d best be ready
When my true love beckons tenderly

There is a gleam on the blue sea of August
There is a dream that settles on the foam
It is that love will ne’er again falter
When my true love comes a-marching home

There is a gust on the blue sea of August
There is a lust all other seasons lack
‘Tis in the heat of a summer’s high noon
When the sea swears to bring my true love back

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, and has produced several albums of music and a yoga/mindfulness CD.   Bindi Girl Chronicles is her writing blog.