The Daughter’s Sonnet (A Father’s Day Tribute)

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if by thy brow a simple sweat doth bleed

a countenance of noble toil hence laboured

then bounty borne god wouldst baptize the seed

to harvest rich the terra to be savoured

 

much have i pondered on the whole of thine

existence, footmen of the earth thou art

thou’st tilled the ground to ripeness, intertwining

labour and love for thy children’s start

 

the waxing of an oak from seed to tit’n

accords the span of seasons thou hast trod

through wars of men. thy battle doth enlight’n

a stalwart vigor ‘neath thy shield and rod

 

wisdom environs thine autumnal year

a gift i quest to conquer in my youth

but make myself a showy sonneteer

whilst thou with simpler words discourse in truth

 

yielding must be my grant, that i might learn

to recognize that wisdom is a page

from thy books i ought read, instead of spurn

the heart of thou who art the truest sage

 

o weary dotards, weak only in frame

thy wizened visage resting on the world

a yore of life abundant thy sole claim

whilst greater words ne’er from a mouth unfurled

 

growth and a shaping yet have i to mold

to learn from thee thy lessons, men of old

 

 

 

 

 
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.

MINDFUL EATING: Letting Go of a Bad Relationship To Forge a New Loving One

Mindfuleating2

 

“To the poet, to the philosopher, to the saint,
all things are friendly and sacred,
all events profitable, all days holy, all men divine.”

– Ralph Waldo Emerson

 

It has lately occurred to me that food, and one’s approach to food, even the enjoyment of it, would be greatly enhanced by looking at the whole affair from a sacred, spiritual standpoint.   It’s hardly a new idea.   Religions the world over have historically had rituals regarding the consumption of food.   From the Holy Communion of Catholicism to the Kosher Laws of Judaism to the spiritual fasting observed by many religions, food and the consumption of food have played a pivotal role in the development of the soul.

I have struggled with food my whole life.  I’ve either seriously dieted and lived in grumpy privation, or I’ve emotionally eaten and found myself in food stupors, blocking out some deep pain body, or I’ve thrown hands up, not cared, and gotten real depraved with it.   Actually “not cared” isn’t exactly accurate.  I’ve always cared, always been preoccupied, always been obsessed, always felt the pressure from society, boyfriends, even colleagues, because I happen to be in a business where what I look like matters greatly, to look a certain way and to maintain that, in no uncertain terms.  I was pretty successful with maintaining a look and a weight for most of my adult life, but not without the help of a lot of compulsive behaviors.  When menopause hit and I gained nearly 50 pounds, and then kept that on for the better part of the last ten years, making the new weight my body’s new set point, efforts to get back to where I’d mainly been my whole life were proving insurmountable, and really only succeeded in enhancing what was already a fairly dysfunctional relationship with food.  I’ve never starved myself, or binged/purged;  my issues surrounding food have been a lot subtler than that, making the whole panorama of eating and body dysmorphic issues much more complex and nuanced than popular media ever gives us to understand.

That’s my eating background, in a brief nutshell.  Nothing devastating, just the nuanced struggles of a middle-class American girl pressured by a quintessentially middle-class American pastime – dieting.   And so now to this recent dawning.   I’ve been on a spiritual road for some time now, some of it documented on this blog, some of it hinted at in the various memoir I’ve put out there, some of it, as well, remaining deeply private, and all in the service of bettering who I am, healing what has ailed me, and coming closer to the divine and to an internal peace in the realm of higher consciousness.   I made a recent decision to start approaching the ritual of eating from a sacred standpoint.   So now, what exactly does that mean?

To begin with, the world is filled with far too many people who are without food, who would give their right arm for a bowl of porridge, and would consider that bowl sacred, because it is so rare.   How can I possibly continue to live in this life where I have never once had to go without, and not value the privilege that I have been given?   And so, a new commitment is beginning for me.  It is my effort to heal what is sore between food and me.

I want to rise above my animal self, the hungers, the desires, that root chakra governance that is primal and is all about brute survival by any means, and instead appeal to a higher state of grace that is beyond the limited senses.  I wonder if that isn’t what’s behind the spiritual practice of fasting.  The idea of denying those base urges in us, in order to push through a veil to experience what’s on the other side.  When we’re stripped of our animal nature, what’s left?  What are we?  What are we capable of?  What are our limitations?  Our possibilities?  Fasting is not an easy thing to do, and this essay isn’t about that, but I think we can make that same journey by deeming the act of feeding ourselves a sacred one, like baptism or the Eucharist.   It’s a wacky thought, perhaps.   This largely social covenant (think of the countless meals portrayed on Sex and the City), reduced to a stodgy sacramental rite.  Yuck, many are surely thinking.  “Taking the joy right out of eating, Angela . . . gee thanks!”   Well, maybe.  Bear with me for a minute.   Because for me, the way things have been for me for awhile now, there are probably far more meals that I consume than the number of them that I actually enjoy and have a wonderfully epicurean experience with.  I am moved by this idea that the experience can be so much more, and at the same time achieve a transcendence in consciousness.  It doesn’t have to be one or the other.  And, for better or for worse, I am moved by it just as compellingly as it is also my belief that this will be incredibly difficult for me to adopt.  But I’m giving it a go.  Have already begun so, in fact.  And I’ll let you know how it works out.  Here’s the basic game plan.

  1. Blessing each meal.  It’s such an old-fashioned notion.  My childhood always involved grace at the dinner table, usually done by my father, or my grandfather if the meal included extended family.  But once adulthood hit, I sort of never really thought about it again except for those occasions of Thanksgiving or Christmas dinner with the family, where it’s a ritual that’s still employed.  My brother Mike is usually the designated grace-giver, because he is the one person who never gave up the practice.  Privately from me was always a reaction of, “isn’t this charming?”  And yes, I admit, there has been a bit of condescension as well as actually being charmed in the thought.  But at a recent family gathering, I found myself reacting very differently for the first time to my brother’s bowed head and earnest mutterings.  The word charming never entered my head.  Powerful, meaningful . . . these were the words that hit me this time, and I couldn’t possibly tell you why, so out of the blue, but it actually re-purposed the experience of eating the meal that was in front of me.  Gratitude is the theme with this one.  Many in the world go without.  So because I have never had to, the need to give thanks for the bountiful straw that I drew in this life suddenly became compelling.   I talked about this very briefly a couple of articles back.  I just need to be truly thankful every day, and putting that practice in a ritual form is the surest way to keep me always in grace (pun most definitely intended).   When every meal becomes meaningful and cherished, it makes just grabbing a handful because you’re passing by the bowl, or grazing mindlessly and finishing the whole bag out of boredom or restlessness, increasingly meaning-LESS, even, dare I say it, disrespectful in the face of those for whom a meal is a rare, momentous and lifesaving gift.
  1. Preparing as many of my meals as possible with my own two hands.  There will be times when I go out with friends, and we commune over lunch or dinner.  That is a ritual to cherish, for certain.  There will be times when I’ve been invited to someone’s house for dinner.   There are certainly times every week when I’m on a job, and I need to eat.   But other than those examples, gone largely now is the choice to grab take-out when there’s only me, when the option to prepare my food at home instead exists.   I’ll almost always choose the cooking.   And I am choosing to cook and prepare my meals from a Zen perspective.   Meaning to notice and appreciate every move, every moment, every flick of the wrist in mixing ingredients, every whisk, every rinse, every dice, every spice.  Even the selection of ingredients, which means I am having to adopt a more mindful approach to grocery shopping.   I am making the commitment to finding stores in my neighborhood that promote and support local farmers, so that what goes in my body is healthy, and is no longer supporting the corporate machinery of factory food production, which is dubious at best.   I’ve been nutrition-conscious for many years, actually.  I’ve read every health guru from Andrew Weil to Gary Null, and have largely tried to live by whole food tenets (while, of course, veering recklessly enough whenever the emotional components to my eating would kick in).   But this experiment marks the first time I’ve actually sought to minimize my participation in Food Incorporated, and support local and organic.  This also means that if I have to go into a mainstream grocery market, choosing to shop on the end aisles where all the unprocessed, unrefined foods reside.  Everything in the middle aisles is boxed, canned, packaged and prefabbed, usually with far more than just the food itself inside, making it a very iffy proposition from a health standpoint.  Our bodies deserve better.
  1. Listening to my body, but also listening to my urges.   Urges and cravings exist to compensate for something that is missing.  It might be a nutritional lack.  More often than not it’s an emotional one.  That’s the time to slow down, examine the urge, not judge it (also a challenge for me), and respond to it in a way that only supports the sacred nature of this experiment.  If the answer I get from my soul is that I need to be addressing something, or letting go of something, then I need to do my best to go about that task, instead of burying it with nullifying food.  Because here’s the thing:  Food can be our greatest enemy OR our greatest ally.  The trick is determining exactly what our relationship with it is going to be.  Abusive or cherishing.
  1. Being done with “diets.”  And punishment.  And needing to answer everyone else’s call about how I’m supposed to look, with none of those pressures any more obnoxious than my own impatient, unforgiving self-demands.   Instead, allow my eating in a mindful and sacred way to do the job of transforming my brain, my heart, maybe even my body, into a precious, godly vessel.
  1. Eating without distraction, but instead putting my focus on the ritual itself.  Appreciating every bite, every swallow; again this very Zen approach.   As opposed to stuffing my mouth mindlessly while watching a movie or checking email, or grabbing food on the hurried go, and juggling a jaw-ful of food and a steering wheel at the same time, and not even paying attention to my eventual fullness, or to the taste experience.   That one is hard for me.   I have such a restless, antsy brain that JUST sitting and eating, and doing nothing else except enjoying the sensory experience of a delicious meal goes completely against my life’s experience.  I’ve always eaten while multi-tasking.  Doing nothing except eating my meal is essentially a meditation.   And while I’ve been an ardent meditator for many years, that idea is easily the most radical of them all for me.  And therefore the one I am most determined to accomplish.

I am a firm believer in food as medicine.   Food can change our brains and our health, because it contains information that talks to our genes.  It’s serious stuff.  So, why have I lived my entire life regarding it sloppily and cavalierly at best?   That’s the question I’m trying to answer even as I write this, and as I venture forward in this experiment with a new appreciation for every meal I’m blessed to partake in.

The first night that I tried shutting off the TV and the computer, and putting my phone away, and just cooking a meal . . . and then setting my table . . . and then putting on some music (actually the music was playing during the cooking . . . very peaceful evening that was), and then sitting down and eating my meal, it was a transplendent experience.  I was truly in the moment.  I blessed the food I was about to cook, and then I blessed it again as I sat down to eat.   I took my time.  I didn’t go back for seconds, because I didn’t need to.   I’m accustomed to going back for seconds.  Usually because I’ve shoveled my food into the trough so fast, while watching some fast-paced movie or something equally agitating online, and so the rhythm of my external stimuli would be matched and mimicked by the fork-to-mouth action, and simply wouldn’t stop.  Plus I’m a musician for my living; having a 15-minute break on a gig that’s designated for the meal they offer you has borne some very gastrically-unfriendly habits among my musician cohorts.  I learned to be a fast eater, and then the habit stuck even beyond being on a gig.  That first night in this new experiment, I ate slowly.  I thoroughly enjoyed the taste sensations.  I relished in the art of food pairing.  And I let the world and the evening go by, as I luxuriated (yes, I can actually claim luxuriating) in the experience of my dinner.   I also realize that not nearly every night, nor every meal, will be that magical.   There will be the occasions when my mood is terse, perhaps my day has been a challenge, and I won’t feel like cooking, or I won’t feel like gracing, and all I’ll want to do is mainline the drug that food can be with the wrong infusion, into the gullet, and numb out.   But I figure, it’s a one-day-at-a-time kind of thing, like AA.  Like any program that attempts to repair something that is out of spiritual alignment.   It’s a mountain.  And I’ll need to be prepared to climb it daily.

During the formulating of this idea, and writing about it, I’ve had to ask myself (if my creed here is truly vigilant honesty, and that’s been my claim) if all of this isn’t just a new scheme, of the gaggle of them that I’ve tried, toward trying to lose weight.  And while I can’t say that isn’t a factor, the truth is I am looking for something deeper.  I’m in this whole thing for a spiritual revolution.  An uprising from my innards, pulling at every thread in my sight lines and my insight lines, that will help to weave me right into the tapestry of interconnected consciousness and the frequency of infinite realms and possibilities.  I know, I know, I’ve gone off the reservation a bit with the flower-child rhetoric.  But I assure you it isn’t without focus or substance.  And it’s already happening, this personal revolution, unfolding layer by layer by layer, a tiny bit each day.

I heard an anecdote recently about some Buddhist monks who, in an effort to protect their sacred Buddha monument from Burmese soldiers, covered their beloved statue in mud, knowing that the soldiers would find no material value in a statue made of clay, when what was hiding beneath its clay cloak was a monument made of gold.  And the story was told in the context of the very fitting metaphor for this idea that our true value can often be hidden beneath layers of mud, or, in our contemporary parlance, baggage.  And what that parable is meant to suggest is that the spiritual journey is really more about subtraction than addition.  We are already complete beneath our wounds and our fears, and through the process of shedding layer after layer to reveal our sovereign splendor we become lighter and lighter, freer and freer.

This new eating thing?   It’s just a layer.

 

 

 

 

 

 

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. Follow her on Twitter, Facebook, Instagram & YouTube.

 

 

 

 

Lessons From the Trail

NatureTrail1

 

The last article I published here was  Spiritual Algorithm: A Prescription For What Ails In 8 Steps. I am still practicing the Sacred 8 daily. Still having hugely gratifying results. Still feeling a level of peace and happiness that I have not been accustomed to feeling. This algorithm will be with me for the rest of my journey here.

That said, something interesting started to happen with #8.  Something worthy of spiritual investigation. Number eight was the edict to spend time in nature.  Aliso Canyon, in the northern tip of the San Fernando Valley that straddles Granada Hills and Porter Ranch, is the beautiful park that has become my sacred space, my sanctuary.  If you didn’t read my last post, then let me describe it to you.  Part mountain crest with sky for miles, part enchanted forest with trees creating a canopy overhead.  Sometimes there are horses on the trail, jack rabbits.  There is a symphony of frogs that are never seen but are clearly surrounding you.  And, except for the concert of critters, it is quiet and peaceful and beautiful.  If there is ever any rainfall, then there are brooks.  But those have been dry of late.

The something that happened is actually several somethings, so I’ll just give you a few of the examples.

Every day that I can physically make it happen, I am on the hiking trail.  I have come to love this ritual so much that the first time I saw graffiti on a tree I bristled horribly, wondering who would do such a thing. Could it hurt the tree? I worried.  Or would the offended bark just slough off over time? I started to envision what the perpetrator looked like.  Probably a teenager, my biased self concluded. I continued to walk but remained disgusted, shaking my head visibly, just in case I had an audience with any of the other hikers who might like to join me in a moment of righteous indignation solidarity. “We can’t have anything nice, can we?” was the unspoken but felt question.

On another occasion, the wonderful swing, which was really just a plank suspended by sturdy ropes hanging from one of the masterful trees, like something out of a Steinbeck novel, and which I had discovered my first week on the trail, was suddenly not there anymore.  The first time I discovered it, it had been such a serendipitous moment for me that I grabbed hold, climbed on, took a swing around for a few minutes, and then leapt off and kept going, grinning like the Cheshire cat for this unplanned moment of letting loose my inner child.  It was one of those moments that only adds another sprinkling of fairy dust to a perfect sacred space experience.  So when I saw it broken, just a lone rope hanging with no plank anywhere to be seen, I once again bristled, once again envisioned the culprit, probably some unruly kids without parental supervision.

And then there was the time a brush fire threatened my beautiful canyon.  I was actually on the trail when the smell of forest fire and the increasing brown sky ran everyone out of the park.  I went back home, turned on the TV, and watched the fire burn not far, fearing that it would hit Aliso, and panicking at the notion of my sacred space being charred and ruined.  I wondered where I would go instead if that happened, or if I would just throw hands up and be done with my nature ritual forever, defeated.

And lastly, and perhaps most ashamedly, there was the moment that a friend, of the very special few whom I’ve now taken with me on the hike because I’ve been excited to show this miracle to the people I love, actually dared to fall in love with it as gustily as I had, and started going regularly himself.  My gut reaction to that discovery was a clenched sphincter.  “But this is MY sacred space,” my irrational self pouted privately.

I suppose what I feared was that this friend would always want to do the walk with me, and I was primarily in this for the meditation and the solitude.  OR . . . that we might run into each other on the trail, and then end up socializing and lose the groove altogether.  This trail had become church for me, so I wasn’t all that keen to have a certain plugged-in ritual altered in any way.

What had begun to happen, as exemplified by each of these examples, was that I was trying to possess the trail.  Trying to make it mine, all mine.  The tenets of non-attachment that I have been taught in my Buddhist studies, of letting go of expectations, and of ownership, were not being practiced.  I was hoarding the experience rather than experiencing the experience.

With regards to vandals, what can I do about how anyone else treats the natural wonders of the trail?  Absolutely nothing.  And getting myself worked up over it doesn’t change any outcome except perhaps the state of my blood pressure.

Once I really got that, had that ah hah moment, and recognized the futility (in fact, the defeated purpose!) of huffing and puffing over having to share sacred space with others, I was able to walk past the marked up tree, offer my own apologies to it, “forgive them, for they know not what they do,” and knowing that I was really speaking more to myself than to a tree that needs no pep talk about the nature of people.

And the reality regarding my friend is that this remarkable thing that’s happening to him as a result of his embrace of the trail has been palpable.  It’s clearly changing his life as it’s changed mine.  And that is gold.  To know that this friend who has had some recent health challenges seems lifted by this new ritual has been something I am frankly honored to witness.

Yes, we have, once thus far, run into each other on the trail.  I was on my way out and he was on his way in.  We chatted for a moment, and then agreed to meet up at the nearby Starbucks after each of us was finished.  The encounter was not even remotely interruptive.  On the contrary, I was happy to see him, happy to know that he was getting something wonderful out of this, and tickled to think that I had some hand in that.

The trail belongs to everyone.  It was never mine to hoard.  It belongs to my friend.  It belongs to the man walking his dogs, to the pair of lovers who are taking a romantic stroll, to the jogger who wants to get fit, even to graffiti taggers who have a history I know nothing of.  The trail can take it.  The trail is hearty.  Hearty enough, in fact, to take on brush fires.  Because the things of nature always bounce back and thrive.

There are lessons to be learned on the trail, for sure.  And if I am blessed and humbled, I’ll continue to learn them, and be grateful to be such a willing and imperfect student.

After all, maybe there’s a kid on the trail with a spray paint can in his hand and some mischief in his heart looking at the walking lady with her greedy “mine, mine, mine!” face on, and judging her for all the stuff she has yet to learn about letting go.

 

 

 

 

 

 

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. Follow her on Twitter, Facebook, Instagram & YouTube.

Spiritual Algorithm: A Prescription For What Ails In 8 Steps

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If algorithm means a procedure or set of operations for solving a problem in a finite number of steps, then consider the following eight to be a kind of spiritual algorithm that I’ve recently devised for myself, and which is changing my life.

Though, even as I’m writing this, I must pause to tell you I am experiencing an emotional tug-of-war over the idea of sharing this “prescription” forward.  Because on the one hand, I am genuinely excited by some new, and some merely renewed, experiences happening in my life recently, and the reality that actual tangible results of their impact are before my very eyes, and that those results are almost touching mastery, and this, mind you, from someone who tends to be gravely self-critical, and has come from a long, long arc of nuanced depression and irascibility and disappointment, built up over years and easily masked by a generally friendly disposition, and I am turning corners left and right, and I wanna wanna wanna share so badly, because I’m feeling extraordinary.  On the other hand, in any piece that serves as a how-to (think MindBodyGreen, which I love and read regularly, and yet . . .), there is an assumed authority on said subject, and the implied self-importance of owning that you have something to show someone else.  I have never fancied myself in the role of teacher to anyone; never been especially in touch with my Inner Deepak.  Plus, as always seems to be my thinking, what if I fall?  Here I’ve made this public pronouncement of some wisdom to impart, and now I’ve dared to go on with my life and be imperfect.  Nothing pleases some people more than to catch you in your failures: “I thought you were giving up sugar?” smugly coming from that friend when you’ve been caught eating your See’s butterscotch square is always fun.  So, I’m usually uncomfortable in this area.  Even this blog, my beloved Bindi Girl Chronicles, is rife with pieces that are really tapestries of discord and imperfection and stumbles and growing pains and learning curves, as I navigate the turbid waters of self-discovery.  Sometimes I have answers.  Most times I’m just posing questions.

But something’s happening, something, as I said, nearly resembling mastery.  There are more and more exquisite little grace notes in my life these days that have me in the perpetual state of wow and wonder than ever before.  And I can only credit eight little rituals that I call my spiritual algorithm, or my prescription for what ails, and that I have only just recently put into daily practice.  Visionary teacher Eckhart Tolle has often said that there are three words that encompass the secret to the art of living:  One. With. Life.   One with life.  He is quite stunning in illustrating the importance of recognizing that we are all interconnected, of being here now, of having experiences for their own sake, and of seeing beauty in everything.  The predicament for me, in truly meditating on this, is always, “of course, but how?”

Well, I have found it. At least for me.  And I am champing at the bit to share. Without making assumptions that we’re all ailing, I simply offer that if you’re anything like me there’s always a spiritual nip and tuck and tweak that can be had in order to be more present and to maximize your experience here, to be truly one with life.  I came up with my eight without even thinking of the eightfold path or the eight limbs (these are Buddhist and yogic references, for those of you not in the dharma know). That was purely a matter of coincidence. And so now, I like to think of this spiritual algorithm, this prescription for the art of living, as sort of my own personal eightfold path.  It’s working for me, which doesn’t necessarily mean it’s meant for you.  I tend to believe that everyone benefits best from a custom-made chariot for that road to enlightenment. But the chances are at least 50-50 that my prescription could indeed resonate with you.  So here it is.
 
 
 
1. Turn away from the anxiety-fueling news programs that litter television and the internet.

Just refuse them.   They are designed for one agenda only: to whip us into a distracted frenzy, and by virtue weaken us and our pocketbooks at the seams, because having an entire culture in panic mode is profitable, and is never about being in the public’s interest.  Find your current events through more legitimate sources.  Do the homework needed to figure out who and what those are.

 

2. Read for pleasure.

As a writer I want to encourage books. I want to encourage good books.  I want to encourage literature.  But hey, read a magazine, just read . . . for pure enjoyment and expansion.   And try as often as possible to do it outside of the digital and electronic universe.  Kindles and iPads are fun and convenient, but don’t let them be your exclusive source for reading.  The brain needs a good chunk of quality time every day to be removed from electromagnetic energy and social media, and to be reminded of the world of imagination and connection that does exist beyond our digital screens.

 

3. Meditate.  OR . . .

. . . at the very least find a way to simply be in silence and stillness for a few minutes every day.  The more minutes a day you can find in that quiet, the better able you will be to heed the inner voice, and the better everything will be.  Guaranteed.   (Yes, I am actually being brazen enough to say guaranteed).   I recently read the memoir of Sara Maitland on her experiment of withdrawing from the world, in pursuit of silence.  There is a whole world of discussion to be had on the topic, and its impact on a society, and which is utterly fascinating.  For now, for this, however, just allow yourself a few minutes each day to power everything down.  And listen.

 

4. Connect with Higher Power.

This term is as wide a berth as the ocean, so even the most ardent atheist can find his or hers. Something that is greater than your pedestrian self, and that has something to teach you, offer you, feed you.  Maybe it’s the collective unconscious.  Maybe it’s art.  Maybe it’s nature.  Maybe it’s the source within.  Maybe it is a source out there.   Maybe it’s simply goodness. It will ring differently and show up differently for every individual on the planet, but it is that unquantifiable something that maneuvers us around the land mines and connects us to each other.  There is no need to affix a label; simply be with it.  Find yours, and plug in regularly.

 

5. Create, even if you’re not an artist.

Artist is only a label.   We all have creativity and imagination in us, and it can show up in the most unexpected cloak, which is usually how it works anyway.   Feed that.  Promote that.   The spiritual benefits are untold.

 

6. Be a child again (closely linked to the above, and which is not the same as being child-ISH).

There is so much obligation and commitment and management and planning and fortune-making that governs our adult lives that we can easily allow it to bog us down and collapse our spirits.  Easy to get so caught up in building the life of our dreams that we kind of forget to actually live the life of our dreams.   So, let it all go once in a while, regularly, and do what children do.   Play fiercely and with joyous abandon.

Or the flip side of that same spirit . . . do nothing.  The Italians have a delicious term for it:  dolce far niente, literally translated as the sweetness of doing nothing.  They have raised it to an art form, but in our ambition-worship culture, we have put the label of shame to it.   THAT is the shame.   We do not need to be in the constant state of planning, producing and consuming.  Smile at nothing.  Sit and gaze.  Daydream.  Decompress.  It is the crucial yin to our workhorse-mountain-conquering yang.

 

7. Create a daily gratitude ritual. 

It can be a prayer, a journal log, a mantra, a meditation.  Even in the various spells of my life of not feeling especially spiritual or connected, I always found such beauty in the tradition of blessing one’s food.  What a lovely idea to express out loud, in a ritual, our thankfulness for the bounty on our plates, and not taking a meal for granted, but cherishing it for what it gives us.  Especially considering how many don’t have that luxury.  Now imagine employing that gratitude practice with everything.  Just imagine.

And finally . . .

 

8. Be in nature.

Now, I honestly don’t think any more expounding on this one is necessary, except that I am compelled to share what’s happened to me with this one, because it seems to be the mother lode.  I never truly got the phrase, “be in nature,” that spiritual directive, as I now view it, until I began the recent ritual for myself.  Out of the blue, it seems, I began hankering for nature.  And I think, at least in part, it’s because I’ve been a meditator for a good many years already, yet have been growing intermittently flustered (as business for me has gotten busier . . . knock on wood!) by the struggle to truly burrow deep, and my belief that it has had to do with the inability to remove myself from the world’s distractions.  One truth about meditation is that doing it is possible even if the sky is falling all around us, but that’s a pretty hardcore level of meditation bad-assery that I have never achieved.  I need an environment that promotes moving out of the world for a few chunks of time each day.  Enter nature.  Fortunately I live in a community that smacks right up against a set of mountain ranges, the ever sprawling Angeles National Forest, and its various canyons and parks.  Although, I don’t believe there exists a community that has zero access to some brand of nature.  We can all find some.

I’ve been hiking Aliso Canyon at the very north end of the San Fernando Valley, and which is nearly in my back yard.  It’s part crest, overlooking wide sweeps of mountain, part enchanted forest, taking one into the bowels of nature with trees bridging overheard and creating a canopy.  What I never saw coming was the way in which this daily ritual would become something I would crave, the way one craves coffee.  Runners talk about the runner’s high.  I even know gym nuts who are antsy if they miss a day of working out.  That has never been me.  But I crave this.  And I have found that not only has it been working as a meditative pursuit, but it has begun to shift my whole health & wellness, it has brought literally more oxygen into my lungs and life, and it has, most profoundly, most surprisingly, opened my heart chakra in ways I couldn’t have predicted.  Communing with creatures beyond our pets and other humans, listening to their concert, moving among the wise old trees (read  Herman Hesse some time on trees….whew!…), or strolling along a shore, recognizing the cruciality of taking care of the earth, and understanding the dire consequences of continuing as we are, in promoting carbon footprinting and the decimation of the ozone.  This daily experience has inadvertently made me live in and practice gratitude for what I have and where I am in life and what is precious. It has brought me to a manageable, even peaceful, mental place when life is challenging me or throwing roadblocks in my way. It has actually shifted my receptor paradigm, meaning that I feel myself being more open to receiving, or perhaps, and more pointedly, feeling worthy of, blessings; as well as nurturing the ability to see that blessings are flying all around us like gnats, and are in everything that happens to us.  Not only in the stuff that feels good, and is about comfort, and is easy to see as a blessing. But even the stuff (or people) we consider bad news, because these are what serve as lessons and opportunities and teachers, and may actually be where the real gold lies. And it’s ours to either choose to recognize, or not. But why wouldn’t we? And this whole shift for me has been a direct result (I could be wrong, but the timing’s too uncanny) of my daily communing with nature.

It takes a great deal of courage to keep our hearts open.  So much easier (maybe even irresistible) to clamp the heart down, to bear the armor of hurt, to be the suffering martyr, and to garner the quiet awe of others, because maybe we have no real clue who we are without our wounds.  But keeping our hearts open is the greatest kind of surgery our bodies can undergo.  And I dare say, for us ALL, that being in nature is quite remarkable at opening up that vessel within, for our daily access.

 

So, there you have it.  My sacred eight.  The prescription for what has been ailing me.  The spiritual algorithm that has shifted me just ever so subtly, yet indelibly.

Navigating the murky waters of life is a job with tenure.  All the enlightenment in this world, and for that matter all the prosperity in this world, won’t reprieve us of the task.  Navigated with the right tools, however (and I offer this eightfold prescription as one tool of many), life becomes not merely a road to endure but an experience of riches beyond measure.  Maybe my eight can offer you something as well.  Or, hey, if you’re way ahead of me, please share your own discoveries back.  I would love to hear of them.  Remember, I get MindBodyGreen in my daily inbox.  I’m THAT gal.

But for any who are searching, or feel lost, or even just looking for a top off, I encourage you to try it.

Costs nothing.

Big Pharma has no equity in this medicine.
 
 
 
 
 

Dedicated to my lovely friend Kelly Phillips,
who illustrates the prescription simply by living her beautiful life,
and allowing me the honor of observing it.

 

Photograph of ACB is by Holli Rae

 

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. Follow her on Twitter, Facebook, Instagram & YouTube.

Of His Many Legacies

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January 19, 2015.   Martin Luther King Jr. Day.

I woke up this morning and hastened to the computer to post my father’s portrait of Martin Luther King Jr. on all of my various social media accounts. It’s a portrait that became sort of famous in the 1970’s.   The only one of my father’s paintings that he ever made reproductions of, so that it could be owned by many. The portrait could be found, in the years that followed its creation, in several city halls throughout the country, other civic buildings, schools, private homes.  I even once opened an Ebony Magazine (I was a teen at the time) to an article about an Atlanta attorney.  I don’t even remember who the attorney was, as what happened next is the only part of the story that was important to me.  There, under the byline, but before the title of the article, was a photograph of the attorney in his Atlanta offices.  And there in the background of the photo, hanging on a wall, was my father’s King.   It counted as the only example of that kind of experience I’ve ever had regarding my father’s work, since he was an artist who never exhibited, never had reproductions made of his work, save the King, and almost never offered his works for sale. He was a peculiar artist in that way.   He’d made his living as a graphic artist for the aerospace industry for his entire life, and so the fine art pieces he did were purely for love and personal reward, or sometimes on commission.  All of his children have his works, and many other family members and friends.  But otherwise, the King remains the only of his work that circulated the country a bit in its day.  Sorry about the tangent.   This post is not about “the King,” as we have always called his painting, but I’m a proud daughter, so there you go.  And here it is, in its entirety.

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Anyway, I posted my father’s painting on Facebook, Twitter, et al., along with one of my favorite quotations of Dr. King’s, as my contribution to paying tribute to this national holiday of the birth of the Reverend Doctor Martin Luther King, Jr.

The quotation was: “Let us truly, deeply, authentically occupy the dream, the dream of a world that works for all life, where each and every one of us is a shining star in a constellation of love.  Everybody can be great . . . because anybody can serve.  You don’t have to have a college degree to serve.  You don’t have to make your subject and verb agree to serve.  You only need a heart full of grace.  A soul generated by love.” 

There are so many of his wonderful quotations that it was hard to choose the one that resonated the most with my heart today.  As all great men and women tend to inspire, on any given day a different aspect of Dr. King’s lifework might ring in my heart and the accompanying quotation in my ears.  Because the many avenues of his life’s work extend far beyond civil rights and racial equality, as a friend of mine reminded in an email he sent out this morning to a handful of friends.  Dr. King also fought for unions, supported labor strikes and better economic realities for the poor of all races, and lastly, but hardly least, he was passionately outspoken against the Viet Nam War, and against war period.

I made the post, and then went about the rest of my day, periodically checking back to see if any comments had been made.  Isn’t that what we do?   The rest of my day consisted of meeting up with friends for lunch and a bit of business, then working on some graphic jobs for clients, and then taking the afternoon to go see a movie, as this is the time of year that I and my ilk (a small circle of us) log in the requisite Oscar nominees.  It’s our favorite time of year.  I’ve seen some pretty wonderful movies this season, and today’s was going to be American Sniper.

As I sat through this well-crafted Clint Eastwood film, I found myself physically uncomfortable and fidgety in my seat.   I am a movie buff (I guess there’s a range of buffness; so perhaps I’m just a semi-buff).  I love movies for their honesty, their irony, their in-depth character study, and their unsentimentality.  Just tell a story, and let the story, itself, do its job to move us, or anger us, or teach us, or make our hearts soar, or make us laugh, or confound us, or take us to the couch.

I honestly don’t know what I thought of this movie (I’m sure I’ll have a firmer grasp of my feelings on it a week from now, or a year from now).  It yanked me in many ways.  In the final frame, it was clearly making a statement about what war does to soldiers, and yet it also intended to lionize the protagonist, who is based on a real-life person.  And from what I understand, the real-life person, whose autobiography the movie is based upon, was quite unrepentant about his killing credits.  So, is he a hero?  Or if the movie is not about heroes but about men, do we need for him to be depicted as remorseful?  Or simply as someone indelibly changed by the circumstances of war, even if he is in denial of it?   These are just questions.  I have no answers to them.   But what clearly made me restless in this movie experience was the juxtaposition of having chosen to see this film on a day that has been nationally designated as commemoration of the man who once said, “Wars are poor chisels for carving out peaceful tomorrows.”

I woke up this morning with Dr. King firstly on my mind.  I woke up with his many, many words of great inspiration swimming in my head, because I am on his side in these matters.  I do not believe in war.  I’m sure my politically conservative friends and my military friends will have their issue with me on that.  That’s for us to work out.   But I can appreciate a depiction of war, which is why I was sitting in a movie theater this afternoon, seeing this film.

It’s the juxtaposition of having chosen this day to go, which didn’t even dawn on me until I was in it and committed, and which was most definitely the source of my restlessness, that puzzles me.  What I found most poignant and most troublesome wasn’t even in the film itself (though I did find the film itself gravely problematic), but the audience’s various reactions throughout.   There was hearty laughter when killings happened.  Silly, immature laughter.  There was universal jingoistic applause when a tension-moment in the movie ended in enemy-slaughter at its most brutal.  This was the audience from a Rocky movie or a soccer game.  Did the filmmakers have that kind of whipped up lust as their intention? Because propaganda, after all, was at the heart of this film, and that’s what propaganda is designed to do.  Eastwood’s direct trajectory in the film from 911 to our invasion of Iraq, as though one had anything to do with the other, is why I charge him with propaganda.  And yet, before I go any further down the rabbit hole of political polarities, that is not even the component of the film that left me in turmoil.   That component I simply, disappointingly, chalked up to the Big Lie.

What left me divided, and it’s finally hitting me even as I write this, is that Eastwood, himself, was divided.  I don’t believe he really knew what story he wanted to tell.  Because while he most assuredly directed a very deliberate go-get-’em piece of patriotic frenzy-whipping, Eastwood also depicted a man wrecked by his experience over there, even as that man lived in denial of his distress. And those were the moments that had a human, thoughtful, nuanced, insightful element to it.  Those were the moments that reminded me why I have always championed Eastwood as a director.  But while I didn’t need for Chris Kyle to be a redeemed man, or to have some kind of awakening about his actions, it was extremely important for that to be inherent in the narrative, and it just wasn’t.  It brought to mind, for me, Paul Schrader’s and Martin Scorsese’s powerful and chilling Taxi Driver.  Here is a character so deeply troubled, and unredeemed even to the very end.  But though Travis Bickle is never redeemed, his story, his narrative, IS, through its making a comment about society.  American Sniper had every opportunity to do just that.  And ultimately, because propaganda was allowed to prevail instead, it failed.

As I filed out of the theater with an audience that was more revved up than contemplative, my heart truly broke to see the fruits of a culture and a generation that I believe has largely fallen from grace, and grown numbed and desensitized.  I don’t know if the blame belongs to movies like this, or to social media, or to the blitzkrieg-&-hysteria-style TV programming that calls itself news today, or to technology, which disconnects us far more than it connects us, or to a generation of parents and schools dropping the ball on guidance, or what.  They’re all easy targets, and they’re probably all complicit.  WE are probably all complicit.  But whatever is the source, it’s happening.  The deadening of the collective heart.  Now, I’m not a dark and gloomy doomsayer.  There’s always hope.  I think that’s part and parcel to what this day stands for.  But it requires action.  I’m not always an action person.  I can tend to be very insular in my life, and in my beliefs that being a creative artist, and putting thoughtful content out into the world, is enough.  But maybe it isn’t enough.  And so, this collective deadening of the heart was a pretty sobering bit of business to witness, and to be in the midst of, and to conclude, on this day, the national commemoration of a genuine peacemaker in our history.  A man who said these many words:

“We must learn to live together as brothers, or perish together as fools.”

“Let no man pull you so low as to hate him.”

“I have decided to stick with love.  Hate is too great a burden to bear.”

“Forgiveness is not an occasional act.  It is a constant attitude.”

“Love is the only force capable of transforming an enemy into friend.”

I don’t know why I chose to see this movie today of all days.  It felt wrong, as soon as I was in it.  Even though I think Mr. Eastwood did a skillful (if dishonest) bit of directing, and Mr. Cooper did a remarkable turn as Kyle.  But I think that if I’d seen the movie on any other day, I might’ve had a very different experience, a different level of sensitivity, a different outlook on humanity.  And so perhaps today was exactly as it should be.  To force me inward.  To contemplate.  Not only King’s legacy, but how we citizens have been shaped (or not) by it.  How I  have been shaped by it.  And what to do about that, if the answer turns out to be a less-than-proud one.  Because, really, that’s what today’s movie experience was about for me –– a mirror.  Which brings me to my favorite of all of Dr. King’s words: “The greatest sign of maturity is self-inquiry.”

I am chasing that maturity every single day.   On rare days, I even catch the little fucker.

Portrait of Martin Luther King Jr. by Ted Brown

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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.   Follow her on Twitter, Facebook, Instagram & YouTube.

Our Senses Whispering . . . Or Is It the Dead? (A Year-End Thought)

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Certain laws of the universe just seem to never fail:

That if we’re looking for something we’ll never find it;

then suddenly when all effort is abandoned, there it is.

The guarantee that if the appointment is conveniently close to home,

we WILL be late to it.

And the absolute assurance, when someone we love dies, that themes of living, truly living,

not just sleepwalking,

are suddenly as loud as sirens.

 

They say to be devil-may-care when you’re young, and cautious when you’re older,

but I have begun to maintain the exact opposite.

Young is when you should organize and plan,

so that effective longevity stands a greater chance.

It’s when you’re older, and with fewer days ahead than behind,

that the attitude of “what do I have to lose?” makes more sense.

The older I get, the bolder I get.

It didn’t used to be that way.

I used to grow increasingly conservative as the years went by

and the hairs on my head began to lose their color.

A little more cautious,

a little more nervous,

the sense of consequences ever larger and clanging in my head.

But in this past year, a shift of some sort has happened.

And, yes, I am indeed growing more into the “what do I have to lose?” category.

 

I believe the reason is that a personal record number of people in my life passed on this year,

and the sheer volume of it has dizzied me.

And perhaps with how untimely so many of them have been,

I’m simply being nudged to move with more deliberateness in my gait.

Because, after all, tomorrow could be my last,

as it was (too young!) for so many I knew.

And then what would’ve been the point in my hesitation?

 

This isn’t a gloomy thought.

On the contrary; it is fresh with hope.

Ripe and rife with possibility.

Inspiration to be gleaned from the seeming senselessness of death.

It IS senseless, that death,

unless we, the ones left behind in life, choose,

through it and because of it,

to be awakened.

 

“Be nobody’s darling:
Be an outcast;

Be pleased to walk alone
(Uncool)
Or line the crowded
River beds
With other impetuous
Fools . . .
Be nobody’s darling;
Be an outcast.
Qualified to live
Among your dead.”
― Alice Walker

 

“And when great souls die, after a period peace blooms, slowly and always irregularly.
Spaces fill with a kind of soothing electric vibration.
Our senses, restored, never to be the same, whisper to us.
They existed.  They existed.  We can be.  Be and be better.  For they existed.”
― Maya Angelou

 

We are not born only once,

but every time someone dies

we are born many times over to a better level of ourselves,

climbing rung by rung,

to reach a self worthy of that death.

. . . At least we should be.

 

The Scottish song Auld Lang Syne by Robert Burns

translates roughly to “times gone by,”

and was originally a commemoration song about loved ones past,

and never letting them be forgotten.

According to modern legend, Guy Lombardo popularized the song

when his band used it as a segue between two radio programs

during a live performance on New Year’s Eve in 1929.

Purely by coincidence, the song happened to play just as the clock struck midnight,

and a New Year’s tradition was born.

 

2014 ― a rough year by just about all accounts of everyone I know,

and much of it having to do with death ― might as well not be in vain.

 

That’s up to us.

 

http://youtu.be/i341hJ22jek

 

 

 

 

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.   Follow her on Twitter, Facebook, Instagram & YouTube.

Teasers From the ACB Canon (In A World Run By Twitter)

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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

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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

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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

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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.”

“Nick––“

“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?”

“Nick––“

“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


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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.    Follow her on Twitter, Facebook, Instagram & YouTube.