Your Package Has Been Delivered

The Rockies were even more majestic than I had imagined. The Kansas Prairie, as stark as I’d expected but I hadn’t made room in my brain for the smell of cow patties for miles. The storms of Utah scared me so profoundly I knew I’d never make this trip back by car, ever again.

Of course, the first stop was Vegas, where I’d been a thousand times, and the 118 degree temps that did something weird to my car engine didn’t surprise me in the least. Thankfully, it was temporary, as I continued east and gradually north, making this move I never remotely had in my plans for my life.

I’d managed to amass 60 years on this planet without ever living anywhere other than Los Angeles, and now I was moving to Kansas City, Missouri, the heartland, the prairie, the home of tornadoes and Charlie Parker, a red state but a blue town, artful and socially progressive, even though it was here that I was called the N word for the first time ever … at least that I’ve known about. Seriously, I may just be the most sheltered Black person on the planet.

I am trying to find my identity in this new place that doesn’t require me to let go of what LA built in me, while wanting to flow with this KC charm and warmth. Trying to be both, trying to have both. In LA, I was regarded in my town’s music scene. Here, I’m barely a smudge on a wall, largely unnoticed, but not in a rude way, just the experience of a new birth and my own penchant for cocooning. I don’t even go out for auditions for the many plays that are being cast at the very theater where I work. My instinct, as I’ve said, is just to stay a little bit cocooned, and I’m not even certain why. The fight-or-flight pace of LA kind of did me in a little, so I guess I just want to breathe slower, talk slower, decide things slower, get involved slower, emerge slower. I guess. Just looking for simple.

Two years here now, and no I have not done the drive back west again (though I’ve flown home a few times now). I meant it when I said I had sworn off those torrential rains. I feel very settled here, and happy. Still not completely out of my performance shell yet, but that’s okay. I’ve done some singing. I chased fame and travel and record deals and pizzazz for so long in LA, and it beat me to a pulp, frankly. Just looking for simple. And yet even with the agenda to simplify, I still manage to over-commit myself. Total co-dependency thing. I definitely need more than just my once-a-week Al-Anon meeting. Winters blow here. I know, weird segue. I will never embrace the snow. It just isn’t in the bones of this Cali Girl. I know, I know, be open-minded.

I love the friends I’ve made in my new town. Few, which means fewer choices of who to call for a hang, or whose invitation to accept for a hang. I miss my LA friends like nobody’s business (thank God for Zoom!). That circle was and is VAST, and I am so much luckier and more blessed than I ever truly appreciated when I was actually there. But here, I sort of like it that my circle is small. Fewer decisions to make. Have I said yet that I’m looking for simple?

Here, I can embrace being 62. There, it’s the thing you’re supposed to hide. Artistic pursuits are blowing up for me here. In LA, I did the gig beat for nearly 40 years, and it was every experience from dazzling to grueling. No regrets at all. It was an extraordinary time in my life, but there wasn’t really any other avenue of my pursuits that ever went anywhere for me. Here, I’ve had firsts. Of course, everything I did in LA began as firsts, it being where I began life. But the firsts that have happened since I’ve been here are kind of dizzying. Amazing, humble, grand, small, precious firsts. My first-ever poetry reading where I was invited to be the featured poet (and I’ve had a few now) in a town known for its vibrant and weighty poetry community. First time having a hand in getting a jazz series started (at the theater where I work). First time I’ve gotten to be a participant in a wall mural (up at the iconic Unity Village). First time making a little documentary short about a Kansas City community event (the citywide Black Lives Matter street murals), and having it be my first ever Official Selection in a film festival. My first time ever having art of mine juried into a gallery exhibit, which is opening in a few days. My alcohol inks ‘bout to make their li’l splash! Pun intended! (If you know the medium, you’ll know it’s a lot of splashes of ink…never mind…)

I know that my children’s videobook winning multiple film festival awards (whaaaat???) has nothing to do with Kansas City, nor an alcohol ink of mine making the cover of a literary journal, nor having an entire concert of music (by the LA Metropolitan Master Chorale) created and performed around several of my short stories (all firsts), but I’m giving KC the credit anyway, because all these things happened while living here, and somehow here, more than in LA, I’ve managed to cultivate better focus in order to carve the space for these blessings to be made possible. Too much the blitzkrieg of Los Angeles, I guess, and all that that allegorically means, and which kept me just running, bouncing, collapsing, recovering, then running and bouncing again. Ad nauseam.

I’m exhausted. Still, two years later. Walking along the Missouri River humming “Shenandoah,” and the hiking trail that gives me genuine serenity, and strolling the halls of the Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art weekly — are all great balms that are slowly recovering me.

Did I mention I moved here 2 months into global lock down? Talk about throwing my own roadblocks in my way. I trip and fall a lot. Like…physically. I’m a klutz. But I’m starting to think that has whole other metaphorical layers of meaning for me and my life. And yet I persevere like a cockroach.

I like Kansas City. I might actually love it. No, yes, I definitely love it. I love Kansas City. I am mesmerized by how much art and theatre and music is embraced here. And then there are the city fountains (more than in Rome!), and the recent citywide installation of giant heart sculptures, 154 of them, all painted by different local artists, and which demanded my obsessed attention for 3 months, finding and photographing as many as I could. And the West Bottoms, and the River Market. And the 18th & Vine Jazz District, and the First Fridays Art Walks. And the stupefying amount of live theatre I’ve loved seeing, and not just at the one where I work. And my favorite building on the entire planet, the downtown KC Public Library, whose design is that of a GIANT bookshelf of classics. Crazy cool!

And even if none of that was going on, this move also means I now will not die having never left home. That’s huge for me. A dream I’ve had forever, though in my imaginings it was more along the lines of somewhere in Europe. But that’s okay, since KC is actually known as the “Paris of the Plains.” 🙂 No kidding.

I wouldn’t have chosen it on my own, but Kansas City came my way, and I happily said yes. Leapt. In a way I am not prone to do. I’m still saying yes. No looking back. Well, maybe some looking back. After all, I would take California earthquakes any day over the “Severe Thunder Storm” alerts that routinely pop up on my phone, and do indeed freaking deliver!

Poetry Is

Often thought of as the genteel art form.

But I’ve known poets who were fierce.

And feral. Whose words cut.

Like a blade. Whose words smelled.

Of gasoline. Pumped

Freon. Into veins.

Poetry at its most punch-packed

is all our stories. The ones we bury.

The ones that try to bury us.  

A feisty turn of phrase. A graceful cadence.

A rhythmic pulse that sings. That brings

music to the proceedings. This army of love.

Carving the space that can hold all the trauma.

We can no longer hold.

The more creviced and stuck in greasy corners.

The more light is shed. And thus.

This magnificent beast that is

poetry operates

as the doorway into gratitude.

The genteel is power also. Hath caused many a heart

to crack open with its beauty.  It’s simply not

The IT and the ALL

of what poetry is.  Not by a

shall I compare thee to a summer’s day

long shot.

Unless

My mother was magical.

She and I shared a most unique experience once. When I think of all her magic, which I find I do a lot since she died 20 years ago this month, it is an experience that could only have occurred for me because of being attached to Martha. I was nine years old, and she was informed by my pediatrician, Dr. Payne—(yeah…that’s not a joke…my entire childhood I envisioned it spelled Dr. Pain)—she was informed by Dr. Payne that I needed my tonsils removed. This was the era when this surgical procedure was done as routinely as tooth extraction. My mother was already scheduled to have lymph node surgery, herself, because of some unexplained lumps in her armpits, which, thank God, would turn out to be benign.

“She can’t be scheduled next week,” my mother said. “I’m going in the hospital next week.” 

And then came that magical word. A word, which, whenever it came out of my mother’s mouth, meant that the impossible was just about to be made possible.

“Unless….” she would offer with a singsong drag of the last syllable, about to tell whomever of her bright idea. And it would usually be an idea that probably shouldn’t be done, and yet her powers of persuasion were quite remarkable. 

In this case, the next thing I knew Dr. Payne had gone from explaining to my mother why hospital regulations would never allow it, because I was a child, etc. to making the arrangements for her and me to not only be hospitalized at the same time, but to be roomed together!

I’d been in a hospital only once before, at five years old, for a hernia operation.  I’d bunked in a ward with twenty other crying children. I didn’t know anyone, and I cried a lot too. And while drinking my alphabet soup one night there, and pulling the bowl up to my mouth, I dribbled half of it down my front. My hospital gown was changed, but the rest remained undiscovered until the bandages were removed weeks later, and pieces of moldy peas and carrots and random letters were prominently found pasted to my groin. I got a laugh from the nurse, which kind of tickled me, but otherwise I’d hated that frightening experience, because frankly I wasn’t comfortable being around other children. So, by this present idea, I was excited. 

Mom and I had our surgeries roughly around the same time, on the same day. I hazily remembered them bringing her into the recovery room, where I already was, as my surgery had concluded first, and I was already coming out of the anesthesia. I saw her crying hysterically. It’s one of the common symptoms of anesthesia wearing off.  But I didn’t know that at the time, and I panicked but my mouth wouldn’t move; I was still under the spell of my own drugs.  I think I remember her trying to punch one of the orderlies, from being so delirious. 

Still, the whole thing remains such an iconic Martha story, because how many people can say they’ve done that?  We had our own private room, Mom and me.  The only part I didn’t find especially enjoyable was that she got chicken fried steak with mashed potatoes for dinner, while I got boring Jello.

My mother was magical.  

When she visited Paris for her first time during my teenage years (a tradition I would inherit, as Paris ended up becoming my favorite city on the planet, which I’ve now visited several times), my mother brought back for me a print of the Post-Impressionist painter Jean-François Millet from the Musée d’Orsay. My hairs stood on end when she presented me with the print, entitled “Shepherdess and her Flock” . . . as it was ME in the painting. This 120-year-old painting!  The portrait was of a field as atmospheric as Millet could occasion, with the young shepherdess and her flock in the foreground. Downward gaze of fleshy cheek and sullen eyes. In fact, no eyes at all, just eyelids. Mine. This was why Martha had bought the print for me. And, of course, the first time I eventually made it to Paris, myself, I promptly went to see this painting in the flesh (or paint & canvas), and was tickled all over again that “I” lived in this museum in the great City of Lights, an ocean away from the life I knew.

But on this day when Martha brought the print home to me, I remember being so stunned that my face was the face in this painting that I asked how this could be possible! And yet another “unless” escaped like a fairy dust spurt from her mouth, as my whimsical mother could never resist a merry penchant for spinning magical fables—her loveliest trait, frankly. And she began by using, as a component in her case, the fact that our family name on her side is Shepard, then proceeded to declare that I WAS that shepherdess another lifetime ago, and had been Jean-François’ muse and perhaps even his lover. And as my face grew completely scarlet from the embarrassment that my mom would say these things to me, she just laughed with great jollity, and with—as always, gratefully, gratefully always—the undeniable sparkle of possibility. 

Blessings and flight among the angels, my sweet, magical girl.

Happy New Year 2022

May this New Year bring you peace, surrender, serenity, and a few breathtaking insights.  May you want for nothing, because you already have everything.  May the intentions you set this day be felt against the sides of mountains, ring into the ether with an ear-warming reverberation, and settle in the bones of those not as fortunate as you.  And may those intentions keep us all connected like a mighty woven net of love that always catches us when we fall. Happy New Year, one and all! 

As a working musician, the very last thing I do in the very last moments of every year is sing.

“… as it has been since forever ago and auld lang syne.  I am a New Year baby; it is in my DNA to usher out an old, usher in a new. To ritualize the idea of rebirth, renewal, and restoration; to chant, to pray, to dance, to give auspiciousness to new beginnings and rites of passage, to participate in burning bowl rituals and labyrinth walks, to summon the rains and the gods, to howl at the moon, to burn sage, to close my eyes, shut off the valve and listen. Listen to the wind in the trees tell me what I need to know next, what I need to do next, how I need to sing next. And then I sing.” ——— (Excerpt from my poem “Lost & Found” from the collection BONES)

HAPPY NEW YEAR!

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.

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.

Spiritual Algorithm: A Prescription for This Age of Pandemic

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Navigating the murky waters of life is a job with tenure.  All the money and station in the world won’t reprieve us from the task.  Below are 9 simple practices that can mean the difference between the grind of life (or even the blunt interruption of that grind) and truly living.  Costs nothing.  Big Pharma has no equity in THIS medicine.

 

  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 news through more legitimate sources.  Do the homework needed to figure out who and what those are.  Information is valuable and crucial; hysteria never is.

 

  1. 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 the digital and electronic universe.  Kindle and iBooks are both 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.

 

  1. 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!   Consider a wonderful memoir by 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, simply allow yourself a few minutes each day to power everything down.   And listen.

 

  1. Connect with Higher Power.

This term has 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 has something to teach you, offer you, feed you. Maybe it’s the Collective Unconscious. Maybe it’s your own higher consciousness, which exists in every human, usually buried beneath all the traumas and dysfunctions, but there, just ripe and ready to guide us, if we’re keen to do some unearthing.  Maybe it’s nature.  Maybe it’s the source within.  Or a source out there. Maybe it’s simply goodness.  It will show up differently for every individual on the planet yet 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.

 

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

“Artist” is merely a label.  We all have creativity and imagination within us, and it can show up in the most unexpected cloak, which is usually how it works anyway.  Feed it. Allow it to feed you.  Have fun with it.  The benefits to soul are untold.  In this time of quarantine, and out.

 

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

There has been so much obligation, commitment, management, planning, and fortune-making that has governed our adult lives that we can easily allow it to collapse our spirits.  Easy to get so caught up in building the life of our dreams that we forget to actually live the life of our dreams.  These mandated lockdowns and Stay at Home orders have forced us to slow down, whether we’ve wanted to or not.  As a result, some truly profound epiphanies have been had from the many about the lives they’d been living before this pandemic.  So, every once in a while let it all go, and do what children do. Precisely because we are presently in the state of severance, throw Zoom parties. Live-stream living room performances for friends.  Stage social distancing drive-by parades. Play dress-up to come to the dinner table.  The ideas are endless.  The point, to play fiercely and with release and abandon.

The flipside 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, but in our ambition-worship culture we have stamped the label of shame onto it.  We do not need to be in the constant state of planning, producing, and consuming.  Precisely because of this pandemic, we are in trauma.  We are in grief.  You are okay to not be okay.  So, take the pressure off.  Smile at nothing.  Sit and gaze.  Daydream.  Decompress.  It is the crucial yin to our Everest-conquering yang.

 

  1. Be in nature.

Communing with creatures beyond our pets and other humans, moving among the wise old trees, strolling along a shore, recognizing the cruciality of taking care of the earth, this is what it means to be in nature.  For the time being, but not forever, our access to beaches and nature trails has been limited by the necessity for flattening the curve of this virus.  Even so, it is possible to snag ourselves a little bit of nature every day.  Put on your protective mask, walk outside your door, and you are in it.  Even in the city.  Just walk, and marvel at the sky (cleaner these days than ever before with fewer cars on the roads).  Equal parts meditation and exercise, being in the nature right outside our door can open the heart chakra and shift our receptor paradigm to receiving or, perhaps and more pointedly, feeling worthy of blessings.  It increases our ability to see that blessings are flying all around us like gnats.  And it’s not only the stuff that feels like blessings.  It’s even the stuff (or people) we consider the opposite, because every encounter serves as a teacher —— and may actually be where the real gold lies. Wait, what? All this from observing flowers and trees?  Oh, yes.  Until our beautiful beaches and glorious canyon trails can safely reopen, even the smallest patch of garden or that duck pond in the neighborhood can be that salve and conduit.  Nature is quite remarkable at showing up anywhere and opening the vessel within for our daily access.

 

  1. Create a daily gratitude ritual . . .

…particularly during this coronaspell of death, sickness, fear, and the loss of “normal,” when it’s harder to see blessings.  It can be a prayer, a journal log, a mantra, a meditation.  Even in the various periods of my life of not feeling especially grateful, I, for example, always found such beauty in the tradition of blessing one’s food.  What a lovely idea to express out loud our thankfulness for the bounty on our plates, and for not taking a meal for granted but cherishing it for what it gives us, especially considering how many don’t have this luxury. Now, imagine employing that gratitude practice with everything.  Just imagine.

 

And finally . . .

 

 

  1. Be of service.

From sewing and dispensing face masks, to surprise drop-offs of groceries at someone’s door, to making food for the homeless, to outreach calls, this Age of Pandemic has shown what people are made of, and that it isn’t only the front-liners who are able to be of service to the community.  We all have the ability to be there for others, whether an individual or our community at large.  Service is the most restorative unguent there is for self-absorption or for trying to find meaning in a world that often seems senseless and cruel, especially in these strange days.  Maybe you aren’t struggling with that.  Many are.  Pandemic or no, this might just be the single most potent go-to for establishing or recovering ourselves as persons of value on the planet…

and within.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Angela Carole Brown is the author of Bones, Aleatory on the Radio, Viscera, The Assassination of Gabriel Champion, The Kidney Journals: Memoirs of a Desperate Lifesaver, and the 2018 North Street Book Prize-winner for Literary Fiction, Trading Fours. She has also produced several albums of music and meditation.  Follow her on Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, YouTube, Goodreads, Amazon Author, & Bandcamp.

 

 

The Swarm of Painted Ladies

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The swarm of Painted Ladies

showered me unexpectedly.

Startlingly.

A baptism.

A cleansing.

Carrying with them, in their spiritual lightness and artful wings,

the flutter of renewal, restoration and redemption.

Some have said their early migration is global-warming-induced.

It’s a thought that lends a sadness to this unexpected christening

I received upon their arrival.

Though, for me,

a girl with campaigns launched left and right these days toward

wellness and soul tending,

a girl awfully in love with finding angels and symbols

in every nook and under every rock,

too early couldn’t’ve been more

right on time.

Love Letter To His New Donor (a summoner’s aubade)

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Dearest friend,

May I call you this? We’ll soon both be
members of a cherished club,
and as such I feel, already, a kinship.
As I write this, the mouths of the
purple morning-glories beyond my window
are achingly gaped,
singing your praises I like to think,
knowing you are coming,
and the sun is brilliant, almost white,
on this late-winter morning
after a week of sunless rain.
You are coming. This I know.
And I feel hope, which scares me some.

I am grateful and sad. I think we both know why,
and there is enough disappointment in myself
without continuing to reinvigorate it
with words.  I ask only this:
Walk deliberately toward it.
Trip and fall, if it comes to it, but take no prisoners, least of all him.
Expose panties. Jump back up. Make a joke out of the spill,
scrappy like I know you must be.
Then keep on stepping high.
Keep him in gentle accord.
Keep yourself there too.
Above all, breathe. The dark nights for both of you
will soften their edges, and the morning-glory
will yawn again each dawn to remind you that you are as glorious.
Send me a postcard from beyond the moon.
I hung out there myself once.
We’ll regale together this love supreme that
keeps us all rallying for one another.

 

PLEASE visit  http://kidneyforhans.com/  and do a girl a solid.