Grace Note from the Santa Fe Mexican Grill

Facebook just reminded me of this date from 3 years ago today. We had just finished our extravaganza tree lighting show at a high-end destination mall in Seattle, where I MC’d the show as Mrs. Santa. Ask anyone who knows me; I’m a sucker for a costume gig. My boss, event creator Karla Ross, with whom I was sharing an AirBnB house, had gotten on a plane for home early the next morning, but I was scheduled for much later in the day.  I’d never been to Seattle before, and had very much looked forward to meeting the city that had, for years, been romanticized for me by my favorite TV show at the time, Grey’s Anatomy. The truth is, I knew nothing about Seattle. And, honestly, it looked nothing like I’d seen on TV. I had flown into Sea-Tac the morning after Karla, and had taken a city bus from the airport to the job site, where I’d met up with her to go over preliminary details for the show the following day (I was not only a performer in the show; I was also her assistant). And on the bus to the job site, something turned my head to the right and landed my gaze on that magnificent behemoth of God’s creation, Mount Rainier, in the very far distance but towering over the entire city like a grown man looming over his miniature train-set town. I heard you can’t always see it; that depending on the level of cloud cover, as monstrously sized as it is, it may be invisible to the eye. So, this moment was a moment. It stole my glance for so many seconds (minutes?) that my eyes actually began to sting, until I blinked rapidly to get the juices flowing again. Most special bus ride ever.

Fun show, great success, fast forward to the morning after our big show, with Mrs. Claus’ wig packed away for the season, and I was alone in the AirBnB room, with a day ahead of me that had nothing to do with the job we’d come there for. I was being picked up by Kerry, who had moved up there from L.A. in her new state-of-the-art RV and had never looked back. I hadn’t seen her since she’d taken off for these climes a few years before. I told her to meet me at this Mexican Restaurant a block down the hill and around the corner from the AirBnB. I had to check out a good hour before she could come get me, so I figured I’d get some breakfast while waiting. I was in a fairly unattractive part of town that dashed all my fantasies about Seattle. It was the suburb of Renton, literally walking distance of the mall where the show had happened. I’d heard Renton was beautiful, but this part of town looked like one giant truck stop; the restaurant shared its parking lot with a gas station, a mini-mart, and a coffee kiosk.  It was also first thing in the morning, so as I hiked down the hill, bundled in the fleece coat I’d bought just for the trip and my duffel bag over my shoulder, with a light bed of morning dew on my shaven head, I wondered if the restaurant would even be open.

I hadn’t experienced an ounce of rain in the two days I’d been in the city known for its rain, and I felt lucky, as rain depresses me. Yes, I know rain is good for the earth, blah, blah, blah. I recognize and appreciate any we can get, and still I say a quiet thank you whenever the sun is out and my head is dry, because the depression is real, and I’ve felt a little lost lately, and the rain never helps. I hiked down the hill and walked into the restaurant—yes, open!—a small place barely peopled at this hour, and was instantly lifted by the Christmas playlist on the speakers. Not ranchero or mariachi music bouncing the room with its infectious buoyancy, the staple of all American-soil Mexican restaurants, but Perry Como, and Nat King Cole, and lush string sections, and jingle bells peppering every song. 

I could not resist spinning the rainless-yet-serenely-overcast morning and the Bing Crosby into the crystal prism of serendipity I always believe is my little grace note from God. In the same way that rain takes me down, Christmas music, the schmaltzier the better, floods my brain with serotonin.

It was a quiet morning. Also a plus. Multi-colored string lights draped every window and threshold, the music was medicine, and I had huevos rancheros and a Mexican coffee, and I sat with a good book (essential to the grace note), while I waited for Kerry. We would shortly be on our way, just a few miles down the road, to visit the grave of Jimi Hendrix. I have a thing for cemeteries, and for visiting the burial sites of folks in history. I’ve hit a few in my life: MLK in Atlanta. Arlington Cemetery and the eternal flame of JFK. Richard and Pat Nixon at the Nixon Library in Yorba Linda, California. The tragic victims of the Challenger explosion in Houston. Many, many movie stars at both Hollywood Forever Cemetery and Forest Lawn in Los Angeles. And the mother lode of famous cemeteries, Père Lachaise in Paris, where I’ve placed my hand on the graves of Chopin, Edith Piaf, Sarah Bernhardt, Oscar Wilde, Richard Wright, Modigliani, Jim Morrison, Gertrude Stein, Isadora Duncan, Maria Callas, Rossini, Moliere. And finally, I would get to see the grave of one of my musical, cultural, and spiritual idols. We would end up not only standing where Jimi lay, and ogling all the lipsticked kisses covering his black marble headstone, we would traverse the entire grounds, get grounded, enjoy each other’s company, and be reflective about mortality. But until then, in this instant, at a truck stop in Renton, I was in a state of peace I didn’t want to let go of any time soon.

The following year we did the same job, stayed in the same AirBnB house, and I tried my damnedest to recreate that moment. I wouldn’t be seeing Kerry on that trip. My only window of opportunity for Santa Fe Mexican Grill was my first night there, the night before the big show. Karla was the one who had made plans with a friend this time, so I strolled down the hill again, and ordered an enchilada plate and a margarita. Though it was the same time of year, there were no Christmas lights up, and even sadder, no Christmas music playing overhead. I ended up feeling horrible after my meal and nearly crawled back to my room and into bed, where I ended up being actually quite flu-y for the remainder of the trip. Only a couple of months later would we all be shockingly introduced to the novel coronavirus and rumblings that Seattle had gotten hit before a lot of other cities, and so I would wonder looking back.

I was doing the thing I always do; having had such a perfect moment the year before, I had to orchestrate everything I possibly could to recreate it. To cling to it. To hold on tight, as if there will never be such a moment again, therefore I need to pin it like a wrestler and force it to re-conjure. It never fails to disappoint, of COURSE, and honestly I believe that’s its brilliant design. The signal to stay present, to cherish a moment IN the moment. And then… to be able to let it go (Buddhist teachings I’ve had in my arsenal for years, but seem to still, stubbornly, require the lesson), to allow that moment from last year, last week, five minutes ago, to plant itself in me and bloom beautifully. Then let the petals fall, allowing the space to make way for new. Because there is always new. THAT we can count on.

And for that tiny bit of grace, I am eternally thankful.

in honor of the lower-case turning points

For me, there has always been this sense of The Big Break, or some kind of definitive Arrival that I’ve been chasing forever.  What I know today to be true, but I swear I keep wanting to resist it, is that life is a series of beautiful unfoldments. A seed is planted, it flowers, it dies, it goes back to seed. It repeats. We unfold, we bloom, in consciousness, we make mistakes, sometimes grave ones, perhaps we even feel they are unforgivable.  We learn from them if we’re willing and whole-hearted, which begins the process of an old consciousness dying and a rebirth occurring.  And if we’re not whole-hearted and willing, we suffer.  

And even that has its value, as every person, every circumstance, every mistake, every painbody operates as a teacher, and we are shifted by them, whether we’re conscious of it or not, and that’s just the way life works. Often, we can only recognize the shifts in hindsight.  Whatever works. 

It’s a beautiful, wild, messy, dark, light, challenging, effortless, one-step-forward-two-steps-back, clumsy ride.  And I would do well to remember that when I’m feeling most frustrated that the Giant Turning Point never seems to materialize.  Because, in its place are, and have been all along, hundreds of thousands of daily, tiny, precious turning points that, one by one, shape us into who we most authentically are.   On the occasions that I have been blessed to recognize them (as I’m sure I miss lots)—those sparkling gems, those shimmering serendipities—it is in those moments that I smile so wide I can’t contain myself.   

And when I don’t recognize them, because I am being tone-deaf, or distracted, or governed by my pain, I am at least learning, quite messily, to trust that the serendipities are happening anyway, running my engine for me when I’m too broken to.  

Perhaps that’s God.  Higher Power.  Source.  A million names and a million definitions for a force that is, frankly, beyond language and beyond linear thought.  Just stay open.  I have to remind myself this, honor this, and practice this, every single day.  When I do, I am happiest.   When I’m in my struggles, I know why.

Photo by Noah Blaine Clark

Letters for a Nation

Bl  ck     L  v  s     M  tt  r

can you read this out loud?

     a         i  e         a   e

can you read this out loud? 

can you reckon it into society?

painted on boulevards    art-ivism

in action    every letter singing

none erased

whole  &  absolute

like Black bodies before they are broken

into shards  &  howls

before the need to assert

we     m   tt   r

like Prince who changed

his name to an unpronounceable

symbol

us mattering feels as

elusive as the need for

linear language when it simply

insists on being

w  th    h  ld

And In This Corner

All these wisdoms that have shouted at me for an eternity.

There’s the parable of the genius writer whose book has sold more than any other in the history of books, has made her rich, legendary. And on her deathbed she’s still trying to work out a better ending to her masterpiece. Alive till we die.

That particular one is filled with an alluring fertility (and ripe for a hashtag), one that exhausts me even as it draws me to it. I mean, do I really have to work that hard in this life?

Then there’s the one, Eastern in origin, about needing less, and the wisdom in non-attachment, which proposes that right where we are, without all those constant yearnings and itches and creepy-crawlers in our veins, IS right where we are supposed to be, and that every situation, every person, every direction of the wind is exactly The What, The Who, The Where, and The When of our life, as it is meant to be.

The silence and calm of that particular one draws me to it like a craving I cannot quench. No room for a person obsessively refining her masterpiece in that wisdom. That one implies an eternal hunger. This one implies an eternal peace.

I would pay good money to see both wisdoms duke it out in the ring, frankly, because my arms have been pulled out of their sockets by each one vying for my club membership, as I try my damnedest to live by both creeds, try to find a snug beanbag on which to plop these bones, and want for absolutely nothing. Least of all, a quiet center. Least of all, a soul on fire.

Sing This World (a call to artists in this 2020 reflection)

“How with this rage shall beauty hold a plea?” — William Shakespeare

So, here we are at the end of a year every person on the planet is likely thankful is passing into the ether, and anxious to be able to release a mammoth exhale. I was recently prompted to contribute a thought to the question: “How do creatives continue to create during times as roiling as these? And is it even important that they do?” As this year comes to its end, I am reminded that the things that happen to us may very well have much larger, perhaps unseen, spiritual designs for us. And we would do well to try and truly pay attention. 

I have been one of the lucky ones. When we first went into global lockdown in mid-March, I lost every gig I had on the books. So did every musician I know. I lost them all in one day. The Sunday at midnight that California went into quarantine, my closest sister-friend Irma and I were driving back to L.A. from Sacramento, from visiting friends, and literally the whole trip up there I fielded call, after call, after call, from all the contractors who had me booked on gigs, with the news of cancellation. Then I got the call from both churches where I directed their choirs that we were going into a temporary hiatus from weekly rehearsals (which turned out to be not so temporary). 

It’s weird; I am a panic-natured individual. Yet some kind of creepy calm hit me, as I turned to Irma, who was doing the driving, and said, “I’ve just lost all my work.” And these jobs, mind you, were going to see me through the giant move I was planning to make in just a few months from then. Under any other circumstance, I would’ve had a full-on anxiety attack, and been incapable of enjoying the 3-day visit to our dear friends David and Keith up in Sac. Instead, for reasons I’ll never understand, but for which I am eternally grateful, I had a blast with our foursome, in spite of my world hinting at falling apart. It was a great weekend. We ate at public restaurants, with no clues at that point that we were mere hours away from everything in the world shutting down. We laughed and reminisced (I even had a terrible chest cold, which, in hindsight, I’ve wondered about, yet still I had the most rewarding time), and then Irma and I found ourselves racing Interstate 5 to get ourselves back to Los Angeles by the time of quarantine, as it was unfolding before our very ears on the car radio news.  

From that moment on, I have felt oddly trusting that I would get through this. Of course, at the time, I think we all believed this quarantine — and the lines at the grocery markets, and the manic-hoarding of toilet paper and hand sanitizer, and having to wear masks everywhere — would MAYBE last a couple of months tops. I don’t believe any of us had any clue we’d be approaching the end of this unbelievable year and still be not only in this pandemic but worse off than just a couple of months ago. We were improving, and then we were declining again. Death tolls became astonishing. The White House became a stupefying conduit of destruction on many levels and toward many issues. But as for my individual and personal life, I felt I would be okay. And I have been.

I made my move, from Los Angeles to Kansas City, in early June, in spite of being in the midst of this pandemic (it was a plan made long before we had any notion this was coming). It was a challenge finding my footing in my new town, with most businesses closed till further notice. I’d come here to infiltrate the live music scene that Kansas City is known for, but there’s been no live music scene to speak of since this virus arrived. And so, I got internal and was forced to slow down in a way I didn’t even realize I WASN’T doing in L.A. What I now know, looking back, is that I was constantly racing the world, and in perpetual fight or flight mode. To be honest, I believe my lesson in slowing down began even before we were in a full-scale pandemic. At the very start of 2020, I spent ten glorious days in Kona, with my dear friend Kelly, who’d given me the trip for my milestone birthday. And I have never felt such peace and serenity, nor appreciated nature more, nor breathed, and read books, and walked groves, and ate fresh food directly from trees, and bonded with a friend I hadn’t seen in twenty years…with more presence. It was a shift I felt profoundly, and wanted badly to take back home to continue my life with. This idea that, just maybe, we aren’t here in this life to be in constant motion and achievement 24/7, but, just maybe, we’re here to experience a moment. Breathe slowly. And be moved.

I owe a deep debt of gratitude to Kelly for such an unexpected gift. And I cannot help but assert that this gift prepared me for what was coming. I got my muscle strengthened to slow down, and to be in flow more than in resistance. And by the way, I’m far from full flow. But the shift and the consciousness about it IS happening, sometimes one-step-forward-two-steps-back. And for every bit of the messiness of it, I am eternally grateful.

I’ve still never gotten the virus. When so many have not been so lucky, I remain in daily gratitude about that, and find myself being of service in ways I never have before — as a naturally self-centered person — because my blessed fortune continues to stun me. 

The very best news on the personal front to happen during this difficult year is that my dear young friend and surrogate son, Hans, to whom I’d given a kidney twelve years ago, and who went into kidney distress again just short of our 10-year anniversary, finally got his second, life-saving kidney this past August. I’m sure he will look back on 2020 in a very different way from most of the rest of the world. 

And that is the beauty AND the ugly of this year. It isn’t simple. It isn’t single-layered. It has been rich with stunning complexity, breathtaking ire, prompts to reexamine our lives, and tectonic plate shifts of unimaginable spiritual magnitude (if we’re keen enough to be willing to listen and receive). 

If 2020 has felt a bit like the ten biblical plagues, what with Covid-19, a global pandemic, police brutality, vigilantism, economic devastation, and race wars, that’s because it kind of has been. Yet what history has taught us — when it isn’t trying to be co-opted and rewritten by a ruling class afraid of losing its knee-hold on the neck of America — is that a cleansing on the deeply spiritual, paradigmatic level is absolutely upon us. And insists upon our ears.

Let’s start with this War of the Mask-Wearers. Curiouser and curiouser every day, this pandemic and the crucial CDC guidelines has sent the privileged into full-fledged apoplexy and rebellion over their rights. It’s an interesting twist of the Karmic screw. What rights exactly are they fighting and risking your life and mine and their own for? A fair and equitable society? The vote? No, nothing quite so lofty. They’ve been fighting for their right to get a manicure and a haircut. To be exempt from cooperating with a civil society that has been attempting to work together to eradicate this virus. To walk their dog in Central Park without a leash, lest confronted, to chillingly weaponize their knowledge of Law Enforcement’s historical treatment of Black people and of their own privilege, against an innocent man.  

As a result of this stunning turn of hubris, while other countries were beginning to re-open and heal, America’s numbers only continued skyrocketing. We are now the pariah of the world, banned from European countries in a move so breathtaking in its Karmic comeuppance that Mexico would be laughing its ass off if it weren’t in such a state of collective heartbreak.

While the rest of the world was slowly beginning to rebuild, this virus — un-reined, unhinged — continued annihilating an American population. So, you know, just to give the pandemic a good run for its money, in a race for the title of King Destroyer, let’s excavate all the dusty old bones of racial discord and inequity, individual and systemic, and start exterminating BIPOC and queer & non-binary people, while we’re at it.

Was lockdown, unprecedented in my lifetime, the final straw that exploded an already simmering pot of entitlement? Or did staying home with nothing to do except face one’s own self reveal a few too many unsettling tendencies, and perhaps the revelation that this virus knows no race, no color, no economic status, no class, no gender, no party lines, and how dare it!? Did the need for foot-stomping, and pouting, and trying to scream at the rest of us, just in case we forgot, that someone still deserves preferential treatment, mean it was time for a slaughter?

This attempted Black genocide has been going on for a long time. This is not new. The only difference between then and now is visibility and witness. Anyone with a cellphone can now change the course of history and bring about a global awareness of what people of color have known, from the front row, for a very long time. And so, perhaps pandemics and quarantines and lockdowns and job loss have made us angrier too. And by “us,” I mean any who are invested in an evolved humanity.

Perhaps it’s no flaw in the cosmic design that two of our greatest Civil Rights leaders and Americans, Rep. John R. Lewis and C.T. Vivian, took their leave of this world on the same day, in the midst of this mess. Both men spent time in the 1960’s, along with other Freedom Riders, in the gruesome Parchman Farm State Prison, where the agreement between the federal government and the governors of Alabama and Mississippi was that these governors would agree to protect the protestors from violence in exchange for allowing them to be arrested and put in jail. You can imagine the treatment they got behind bars with handed-down edicts such as, “break their spirits, not their bones.” Lewis, in particular, was the target of violence a stunning number of times, once being left for dead at a Greyhound station, after being attacked with lead pipes, chains, and baseball bats. At times the attacks were perpetrated by members of the Klan; at other times it was law enforcement. Yet these men never lost their dignity. They lost neither their humanity nor the Prize. They got themselves in “good trouble,” as John Lewis was known for saying. And perhaps their leaving this world during these present roiling times was a way of saying to us: Yours is not the first of such trials, but never lose hope. Change does come.  

So, the match has been lit. Lit for protest and action, which we have now seen all over this globe in 2020 in a way we’ve never seen before. AND lit for illumination, which also, like this virus, knows no race, color, economic status, class, or gender. There is a quantum field, and we are encouraged to join a shift in consciousness. The play didn’t stop just because an entire world went on pause. It has been running all throughout this pandemic, a design prompted by the monumental crack in our earth that this human population has wrought. The crack of hatred and solipsism, of the evisceration of clean air and water regulations, of holding people (children!) in cages, of utter disregard for our Star and its starlings. We are a planet in trauma. People are dying without their loved ones at their side. If nothing else, this novel coronavirus has forced us all to wake up to the truth that there is no separation. There is only one spiritual body operating as community, operating as the guiding force we’ve been given the charge for on this planet.

So, what do we do with that?

Health care professionals and frontline workers are saving lives even as they are risking their own. Scientists have worked furiously for antidote and answer. Spiritual leaders, philosophers, and thinkers have pointed the way toward the shift with a cogent map. Activists and grassroots organizations literally jolted a society out of its coma and made known the critical mass of systemic racism and bigotry still embedded in our institutions, and they spurred the population on to join the protests, sign petitions, call congresspersons, and VOTE!   

And artists?  

Again, the question that got prompted: How do artists create and contribute through the pain of this global implosion? Because here we are, finally leaving this most challenging of years, and these problems and conditions, while slowly beginning to shift with some hope, are most definitely going into this New Year with us. Midnight tonight marks no magical snapping of the finger and it’s suddenly all vanished. There is a collective trauma the entire world has been enduring for nearly a year. For some, it has been very large and very strutting. For others, it’s been subtler. But still a part of us.

I, myself, as a writer, artist, and musician, have found it challenging in this age of pandemic not to sink into paralysis from picking up pen, brush, or instrument. There are some days when I feel my vocation in this life has been about frivolity and recreation and not much else. What does anyone need with a clever rhyming couplet or an abstract plop on canvas when the world is on fire? Aren’t these just trifles? It may even feel appropriate to be eaten up inside from the saturation of Black murders on round-the-clock news, and Covid curves that keep soaring, and an administration hell-bent on leaving the earth destroyed as it tantrums out of here this January. Yet withering inside from despair is really NOT the nobility we should carry to be able to claim compassion and involvement.

Let me, however, never intimate that there is simply a call you MUST answer, no matter the state of your own trauma. Sometimes we simply can’t. That is perfectly okay. Someone once said to me that creating art is one of the most loving things you can do. That one stopped me in my tracks. Because what I have believed, ever since taking that one in, is that if you can’t create art in these tough times, in any particularly tough time, just take a deep breath instead, and ask yourself, “what is the most loving thing I CAN do today?” And start right where you are. Maybe it’s walking your dog, bringing food to a neighbor, picking up the phone to say hello to someone who needs a hello. These simple but meaningful offerings are where we can begin when we are feeling the paralysis of trauma. And slowly but surely, we do begin to open. Our hearts, our minds, our veins… in order to pour out the art that is within us.  

And yes, to counter my own moments of self-doubt expressed above, there absolutely IS a place for frivolity.  The place where decompression is allowed to happen and laughter is the medicine. No expression is to be discounted, in times of trauma, from doing the work to heal.

Hear me now, artists of every stripe! YOU are culture’s crucial conduit to making sense of the roiling abstract. In times of trauma, when man can get down to his dankest base very quickly, you are the great balancers. You are tasked with entertainment and decompression, but you are also tasked with enlightenment and illumination. You reflect the culture in front of you — its devastations and its victories. You solder together the disconnects between Us and Them, Black and White, Red and Blue, Privileged and Disenfranchised. You are the open door to conversation. The key to the passage.  

Collapse has been happening left and right: People dying from this virus. People dying from police brutality and White supremacy. Resources taxed. Job loss decimating the economy. Systemic racism being denied and rejected, even as we’re seeing it in action with the disproportionate number of people of color perishing from the virus. Yet, as artists, you are always being turned inward toward the expansive, limitless sanctum of your imaginations, to what is possible. The process of creating an expression, AND the process of experiencing an artistic expression, both, bring new understandings about yourselves and the world around you. You, artists, are the re-aligners. The Great Connectors. 

Shakespeare asks the question in his 65th Sonnet of how in the midst of all this mess can beauty possibly hold a plea. His poetry then goes on to illumine that time decays everything BUT beauty. And here’s why. Beauty is not prettiness. Beauty is beyond any physicality of a thing. Beauty is anathema to trauma. It is truth. And trauma is the body’s response to any aberration of truth. And so, for artists it’s really a very simple cause-and-effect — we bring truth, we bring healing. 

And who qualifies as an artist? She who calls herself so. And then steps forward.

So, let us sing this world into peace. Let us write this world into peace. Let us dance this world into peace. Paint this world into peace. Sculpt this world into peace. Photograph this world into peace. Film this world into peace. Rap this world into peace. Act this world into peace. Conduct this world into peace. Compose and orchestrate this world into peace. Strum and drum this world into peace. Harmonize this world into peace. Narrate this world into peace. Orate this world into peace. Make this world laugh into peace. Jazz this world into peace. Blues this world into peace. Chant this world into peace. IMAGINE this world into peace.

Artists imagine what can be. OR what should never be again. And then make manifest the imagining. We are the howlers and sentinels of a culture. The watchmen. The gatekeepers. We are a whole ‘nother kind of essential worker.   

Agitators and integrators, we.  So, sing.  And KEEP ON singing this world into peace.

And watch shift happen.

The Richest Girl in the World

I know that so many of us are more than ready to leave this strangest of years behind us, and have hope for a better, cleansed, redeemed, renewed world. I know I do. For myself, and my part, I decided to usher in the new year with a children’s book I wrote, because I believe it holds within it lessons that ring in this time of upheaval.

It’s a book that does not exist in print, but instead has taken on the medium of a videobook. Inspired, in part, by the children’s classic, Peter and the Wolf, I simply couldn’t envision this story without it being told aloud, in the beloved tradition of the bedtime stories from our own childhoods. It was first conceived and written nearly 40 years ago, and over the decades has finally become what it was meant to be. Featuring over a hundred colorful illustrations, I had a blast narrating this tale on the indwelling nature of friendship.

When a sage old man shows up in an enchanting village, he changes the life of a little girl forever, who changes his right back. Underscored with a whimsical music score by composer Chris Hardin, THE RICHEST GIRL IN THE WORLD sets the stage for a timeless and quintessentially fable-istic tale. Lessons of empathy, gratitude, and seeing beauty everywhere are taught by the story’s two characters. In this new age where turning inward, self-examining, and soul-tending are no longer fringe flower-child ideas, but are in our everyday lexicon, and Namaste is a word everyone now knows, THE RICHEST GIRL IN THE WORLD is right on time to offer Kid Lit for a risen consciousness. 

And it has arrived to YouTube on Christmas Day, because why not usher in 2021 with messages of love and peace?

For kids ages 8 to 108!

And if you’re interested in hearing more about this 40-year process, read on.

A 40-Year Journey (Just in Time for a Year in Need of Healing)

I wrote this children’s book nearly 40 years ago. My first, my only. It’s been tweaked and polished here and there over the years, and each time has been put back in the drawer (or on the computer, as the years went by). It’s even gone through a few titles. Then maybe 25 years ago I started, in earnest, looking for an artist to do the illustrations. An artist friend of mine, the astonishing René Norman, who would have made magic with her own hands doing this, gave me some beautiful direction, and encouraged me that I could do this myself, even though I have never been that kind of artist. But with her encouragement I spent the next few years drawing then painting each canvas. It was painstaking (and sometimes painful) and time-consuming, but I got it done. And yet, even the canvases just got stored away, never to be used, as I moved on to other creative projects that seemed more pressing.

So, more years passed, and the world of independent publishing came into vogue, and because I was always intimidated by the children’s book world and therefore never dared try to get a publishing deal for it, the idea of putting it out myself appealed to me. STILL, I now have seven books in print, and this children’s book is not one of them. Maybe it’s children themselves I’ve been intimidated by. In any case, who knows why the story felt safer at home with me, but it did.

Then just a couple of years ago, after making a handful of little mini-documentaries and some other fun, arty videos, and beginning to get a handle on video editing, I thought, instead of a book, it could make a very cool multi-media, spoken word thing. Think “Peter and the Wolf.” I sure did! It was my absolute favorite storytelling experience as a child. So I started looking at my story again and lining it up with the artwork, which had been collecting dust, and realized I actually still needed several more illustrations, which I hadn’t thought about, as I had added to the story over the years. By this time, I’d started doing digital graphic design, so I was able to add to the collection without needing any supplies except my software. So now the artwork is a hybrid of digital and organic, and I think this has made it even more interesting.

Then last year, with the help of my dear friend Craig Pilo, and his state-of-the-art recording studio, I set about the task of recording the narration. We had so much creative fun making this narration work with one narrator (me) yet several voices needed. Truly gifted, Craig is. We still needed one more session to get it polished, and then Covid hit. I mean, it might as well have been the next thing to stop this project in its tracks, since I guess I was determined to spend my entire life making this thing a reality. The good news is, in the span of 40 years, I think it’s a story that still holds up. But yes, I had to go with the narration as it was, which was already pretty cool.

I then set about creating the moviette, tweaking, and tweaking, and tweaking, like the obsessive/compulsive animal I am, over these past few months, until all the puzzle pieces were assembled into some sort of coherent narrative.

The final touch, of course, was the music. Of course I wanted this story underscored. There is nothing that is a better emotional conduit than music. Dare I try to compose said music myself? I’m certainly no Prokofiev! And I’m always wary of “one-man-band” productions, anyway, yet here I was thinking about trying to do that very thing. Enter composer, pianist, and dear friend Chris Hardin, as there are most definitely better people for this task than I. I didn’t commission him to write a score for this; I asked him if he had any existing recordings of original music that he wouldn’t mind allowing me to use. He pointed me to his album “Reflections,” which had only come out a couple of years before, and said, “have at it, girlfriend!” Well….I don’t truly know how best to impress upon you just how made-for-each-other these beautiful piano pieces and my little story were. It took several weeks to painstakingly cull through every piece (12 tracks in total) to find just the right chunk, from just the right piece, for just the right scene, to emotionally enhance a moment. But when all was said and done, you would think this music was composed specifically for my moviette. Chris Hardin, as a talent, and as a friend, is a revelation.

And that was the final piece of the puzzle. So, you may be thinking, what on earth finally made me leap to the finish line, after 40 years vacillating? Cosmically, my own tendency is to look at this problematic and enigmatic year as the year I was always intended to share this message. Who knows if it all really works that way. What I do know for sure is that if living in a pandemic, with the burden of a stunning global death toll by this horrific virus, an alarming reemergence of racial strife in this country, and a collective global trauma the whole world is experiencing has taught me anything, it’s … don’t wait. Make it happen. Whatever IT is. Don’t second-guess if it’s good enough. Put it out there. It is valuable. So, that’s what I’ve done.

CREATING THE CHARACTERS

There are ostensibly only two characters in this story. They have lived with me a good 40 years now. And honestly, they’ve just gotten better with age. As with folktales and fables, I wanted to give these two a more archetypal existence, thus they are known simply as the Young Girl and the Old Man, instead of having Christian names.

The Young Girl actually began as a young boy, until I realized two things: I didn’t want this to be an all-male story, which it was becoming, where a little girl couldn’t readily identify with any character. And also, I realized she was me. A child who marched to her own drummer, and didn’t fit in most social circles. These are often the struggles of childhood, and our attempts to assert a voice and an identity in our very own way. I was such a tomboy as a kid, so that seemed a natural for this character, as well. And since she began as a boy, there wasn’t a whole lot, visually, that needed to be changed. The more I could infuse the character with dynamics from my own often awkward childhood, the more real she became.

Likewise, the Old Man is quintessentially fable-istic. The wise old seer, the elder, the one who has wisdom to impart, and an almost monastic centeredness that always draws others near. And like all lore, twists on that theme do happen, as the teacher also becomes the student. The Old Man was an instant and easy inspiration. He is an amalgam of my two fathers, at once artistic and a little bohemian, and grounded in sagacity. He is my grandfathers. He is the many teachers, mentors, ancestors, both male and female, whom I’ve learned from throughout my very blessed life.

With these two characters, I have represented old and young, male and female (and even the gender fluidity that has become part of our present-day consciousness), and a world of color, both in the visual-hued sense of the word AND regarding ethnic and racial diversity. And yet, none of this is anything that will likely dawn on a child watching this moviette, but is simply the world we do live in today. And so it was important to me that I create a story where inclusion was simply a given and a power.

Beyond that, these two characters have helped me to create a world where endless are the possibilities, and where the virtues of gratitude, compassion, and being present are paramount to existence. It’s an idyllic world, and at the same time there is a worldliness and a timelessness to it.

I think young children will be drawn to these two characters. They’re playful, but at the same time they’re thoughtful. They teach lessons about empathy, and seeing beauty everywhere. And here’s the rub; I think adults will be drawn in by these two as well. As, here we are, in an age—one might call it a New Age—where turning inward, self-examining, and soul-tending are no longer fringe, flower child ideas, but are in everyone’s everyday lexicon. “Namaste” is now a word everyone knows. And here is a story, delivered by these two characters, that is all about risen consciousness, and perhaps a shifting of our ideas about what’s important in life…..told in a simple tale of friendship.

I have loved these two characters for a long time. And now they’re ready to tell this little tale for me. THE RICHEST GIRL IN THE WORLD. For kids ages 8 to 108, I like to say. Now available to watch absolutely free on YouTube. Because … let’s just spread love.

The First Snow

The city grows still, save the snowfall.

Did it really grow still?  People staying

inside, burrowing in with their

coffee and the paper?  Or does

the snow absorb the hum of the city

into its cells?  Making certain this

moment is honored with silence?

Birds flit and fly.

Snowflakes alight on my

eyebrows.  And the stillness is a balm

from which I hope to never

emerge.  But I will.

Tomorrow’s forecast — slushy rain,

the swoosh of tires on wet

streets, the bustle resumed.

So I take this moment.

Except I can’t really take it,

as it isn’t mine to take,

but is its own magnificent

sovereignty I am merely

allowed the privilege of tasting,

however fleeting.

Threnody for a Leap Year: An American Story


Before 2020 even arrives
I claim for all to hear that it will be an auspicious year
One for the books
This is my modern habit
Claim it and it becomes truth
Or as the proponents of this idea say
It’s already truth and just awaiting your agreement
Clever that one
Whenever I am at the end of my tether
I cling to clever mystical ideas
One-One-Twenty-Twenty
A milestone birthday
I am now the same age as the year I was born
And a leap year to boot
A virtual bonanza of numerological magic
Too luscious not to play with
Life has felt stifled for so long
I make ridiculous claims
Not even certain I believe
But more than willing to be loud
A coming move
A new town
Resuscitation
Breathing room to be artful
To recover health and spirit
Say it loud and the world is yours
An unapologetic child’s belief in magic
Where not much else matters but my own contentment


And then an entire planet folds in on itself
A dying star in the midst of my own brilliant intersection of stars
I find myself positing with spit that the only use for a Klan hood
Is to operate as a medical mask
Keep your damn ‘Rona to yourself, Jed!
A snark not nearly so cutting once I read of
A man in San Diego who did just that
For years I felt alien to my own race
A terrible affliction
Today I thrust fist into air and shout about Black Lives
Can’t NOT see my siblings’ necks under that knee
Blood seeping from tear ducts like plastic Jesus tchotchkes
On the corner for $1.89 but you can always bargain
The threat of extinction nearer than the sun bleeding through
Raggy human-stained ozone threads
When the phalanx of law enforcement swarms protestors
And I watch from the safety of my flat screen
And am more fixated on social distancing than the power of protest
My brain seizes the way a computer freezes and needs a moment to untangle
When death comes and keeps coming
A party crasher breaking the furniture and pissing on the carpets
When the pulverized bones of Black Lives
By lynch mobs and those enlisted To Protect and To Serve
Are blown by a restless wind
And the powder gusts and gathers
As airborne as this virus
Dusting like topsoil the heads of a system committed to its status quo
Because we’ve led with privilege and hubris
A ghost town will be erected in the place where
Equitable society tried in futility to exist


And as pandemic-age babies are born
From mothers who risk safety to be in hospitals
And fathers not even allowed in delivery rooms
Into the collective terror of a country now pariah to the rest of the world
They will possess the ancestral coding to one day thrust
Arms wide and take hold this earth
Wresting it from a generation that did not deserve it
Wild hearts that will make whole again soil and sky and oxygen and humanity
They will claim it audaciously
An unapologetic child’s belief in magic


I skim back over the words of this hope
But can’t find its pulse without losing breath
And the very thought feels an insult to the memory of
George and Eric and Elijah
I gear up    strap on    and start my way through an untilled jungle
Ready to be one in the revolution
Even leaning in just a bit for the rending of thorns against bare arms
The lighting of the match

2020
Auspicious indeed
May I never turn back




Poet’s Note: The year isn’t even over, yet I’ve been compelled to write a thought anyway; not so much a year-end review, as I’ve tended to do in the past, but a nagging expression that needed to find some paper quick. 2020 was/is a Leap Year. From a numerological standpoint, Leap Day, February 29, is known in many spiritual communities as being one of awakening and spiritual enlightenment. My own awakening is still in the yawning and stretching stage, but a shift has most definitely occurred. My very last public singing performance (I do/did this for a living) was on Leap Day, before the world went and got itself into a bit of a pandemic. And — perhaps poetically — I sang the song “Bridge Over Troubled Water” with the Metropolitan Master Chorale. The whole year so far feels nearly impossible to express what I find painful and inexpressible. But poetry is healing. And healing, poetry.

Six Murals and a Book Shelf

On September 5, 2020, six Black Lives Matter street murals were painted on six streets across the breadth of Kansas City, Missouri, to raise crucial awareness of the newest upsurge in police brutality and racially motivated violence against people of color in the U.S. Six murals, designed by six Black artists. Art and activism beautifully intersecting. Sponsored by KC Art on the Block, the Troost Market Collective, the Urban League of Greater Kansas City, and the City of Kansas City, MO, this multi-location happening was an inspiring community call-to-action. Here is what I was able to capture of this magnificent event. It was, at times, searing, loving, powerful, and sobering.

I recently moved from Los Angeles to Kansas City, the first move of this kind that I’ve ever made. My love affair with my new town seems to be unfolding one magnificent petal at a time, as the specter of Covid still lurks, and, yes, it was a very strange time to make such a move. And because of that, is it EVER taking its sweet, skillful time to unfold for me. Even showing me just how unskillful I can sometimes be. Life lessons. Firm but gentle. A loving parent.

So, for just a moment, keep my Black Lives Matter trek from last week in mind, as I tell you this other story.

Years ago, I read a very fun article about the “Most Unique Buildings In the Country.” One of those buildings featured in the article was a public library (honestly, years later, I couldn’t remember which city this was in; I just powerfully remembered the building). This library was built (or perhaps painted) like a giant book shelf of literary classics. To Kill a Mockingbird. Fahrenheit 451. The Complete Works of Shakespeare. Ralph Ellison’s Invisible Man. Huckleberry Finn. Dickens, Kafka, Zora Neale Hurston, Lao Tzu, Langston Hughes, etc. A unique work of art. I always swore I’d visit this building one day.

Let’s now go back to last weekend, September 5th. When I got home from this incredible day, this incredible intersection of art and activism, I was excited to get all my photos and video files uploaded into my computer, so I could make the little docu-short above. I was moved to share this experience with others. I’m not a filmmaker, but I do love making little shorts with my phone and some editing software.

As I was going through all the footage, there came a moment when I suddenly saw THE BUILDING … In my footage … Right there in front of the very first Black Lives Matter mural I visited that day. I gasped audibly. And experienced one of those moments I always deeply cherish; being filled with absolute wonder at gifts randomly given. But I was also just as eye-rolling and critical of my own stunning unconsciousness.

I had been standing right in front of the damned thing, but was SO focused and singular on what I was there to see that I never even looked up to notice this landmark building literally towering over me, creating symbolic protective shade on this art installment, and me. Nor had I had any remembrance from years before that Kansas City had been where this landmark was.

I have never slapped my forehead so proverbially hard in my life. For years now (especially as a writer), I have prided myself on being a keen observer. Well, as they say: “If it was a snake….”

So, that has got to win some kind of award for DUH Story of the Year.

At least I now get the pleasure, the utter honor, to re-frame my new city in my brain as not only being host to these extraordinary events and being a part of the solution instead of the problem, but it is also the home of my favorite landmark building, and is only ten minutes from where I live. I am truly blessed!

That is, if I can remember to keep my eyes open, and my tank full.

Oh yeah, and Black Lives Matter.

Peace.