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 go, 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.

Then there’s the flip side. The days when I absolutely know the worth and power of artists’ output.

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 is 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 kindness, compassion, and 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 will 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. It was first conceived and written nearly 40 years ago, and over the decades has finally become what it is today. 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. Underscored with a whimsical music score by composer Chris Hardin, THE RICHEST GIRL IN THE WORLD sets the stage for an idyllic and timeless place, where gratitude, compassion, being present, and celebrating the simple beauties of life are everyday virtues, something we need desperately these days. I wrote this story for children, but I believe my little moviette resonates with all of us.

It’s KidLit 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 Rene 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 immediate.

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. 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




Author 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 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.

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.

 

 

My Myriad Miracles of Mankind

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I love my friends who are fierce kings and queens.
I love my friends who struggle with their self-worth.

 

I love my friends who are artistic lions.
I love my friends who are proud tech-heads and science gurus.
I love my friends who are still searching for their mantle,
or are wrestling with creative malaise.

 

I love my friends who are kicking ass and taking names.
I love my friends who choose a quieter, unassuming, humbled life,
or whose lives have chosen that for them.

 

I love my friends who are deeply spiritual vessels of love and light and warriorship in the name of peace, and are meditative badasses.
I love my friends who claim no spiritual path but believe in self-will, intellectual reason, and empirical evidence.

 

I love my friends who are as keen as whips.
I love my friends who haven’t been exposed to much in the world, and have innocence.

 

I love my friends who can rock some serious fashion.

I love my friends who could give two shits about fashion.

 

I love my friends who are blissful in their romantic relationships.

I love my friends who are struggling in theirs.

I love my friends who are happy in their solitude, singlehood, and autonomy.

I love my friends who are lonely and desirous of finding love.

 

I love my friends who see and seek only light and positivity.

I love my friends who see value in the caves and the darker recesses.

 

I love my friends who find life in traveling the world.

I love my friends who find life in digging deep in the earth and taking root.

 

I love my friends to whom I have insights to impart.

I love my friends who have a thing or two to teach me.

 

I love my friends who don’t even know the brilliant power of their youth.

I love my friends who brilliantly embrace their wrinkles and their road.

 

I love my friends who have taken robes.

I love my friends who have cast robes aside.
Making way for revolution.

Making room for new growth.

Making mountains from molehills, and molehills from mist.

Making magic from mystery, and manna from the myriad miracles of mankind.

 

I love my friends, my myriad miracles of mankind.

 

 

 

 

Photo by Tyler Nix

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.

 

Courting the Caves: Honest Self-examination Isn’t Afraid of the Dark

http://www.vuni.net - digital art

“Pain, instead of being something to avoid,
can actually bring us closer to the truth.”

― Pema Chodron

Courting the caves.   I first coined that term, and reference it repeatedly now in my life, when I was writing my grief memoir about the days surrounding my mother’s death. The first of my referring to the term is in Chapter One of this book that I have yet to publish:

I write and chronicle and document and work out knots, and have done this for as long as I can remember, tapping the unconscious well, going to that place where cave spiders dwell, taking darkness on. Even as a child I was the one who befriended monsters and made them my allies. In adulthood it’s been a little trickier to spot the shadowy demons, but once spotted I am never afraid of foraging through the tangled, weedy backwoods, of courting the caves, of sticking a finger in their horrific faces and starting a fight. I’m afraid of everything else in the world, but not that. I’m a true believer that the way out of the hole and into a peace of spirit is with a good, bloody brawl.

It seems I’ve spent my life soul-searching and self-examining. I’m an overly-analytical person anyway. I’ve been told that before, and I do know it to be true. Just the other day I ran across a note I’d written to myself  (rather than the traditional journal volumes many keep and amass over years’ time, I just amass little post-its all over the place with thoughts I don’t want to lose). This one read:

You don’t need to know why. Stop needing to define this feeling. Stop talking it to death. Stop thinking it to death. Stop decoding. Just have the feeling, without needing to intellectualize it, or understand it. It doesn’t need to be shushed away. Allow it. You don’t need to be talked down from it. Go through it. It exists for a reason. Listen. Your body is a pristine barometer for what’s happening in your world. Honor that knot in the gut. That racing heart of foreboding. It has something to tell you. Don’t quarantine it is some kind of bubble that can’t allow you to feel unless that feeling is a happy one. That is a dangerous aspect of the Positive Principle movement, a movement that is an inherently good concept while having its kinks, such as the practice of a denial of feelings that are actually valid and whole, in order to wear an inauthentic mask of  IT’S ALL GOOD. Sometimes it’s not all good. That’s OK.”

Okay, so maybe it wasn’t a post-it. But do you see what I did here? I was trying to talk myself out of overthinking something, only to evolve the thought into something quite overthinking. I can’t help my brain. And the truth is, while that trait can sometimes burden me and others, it has also been a gift, and I couldn’t be more grateful for the person I am because of that self-understanding seeker’s road.

I’ve read all the books. Everyone from Deepak Chopra to Elizabeth Gilbert. I’ve jumped on that bandwagon of trying to be a more evolved version of myself, of trying to reach some kind of higher consciousness, of trying to heal old “pain bodies, ” as my good friend Eckhart says.  Yeah, no, Eckhart Tolle isn’t actually my friend. But you had to know that he would be one of the many I’ve read on this trek, and he feels like an old friend. I have a dear sister-girl who shares this path with me, more or less, and we’re both constantly asking each other, “what would Eckhart do?”  We say it with tongue in cheek, and are usually following it up with laughter over some crazy thing one or the other of us has done. But it actually does help ground us. Just to be able to step back for a minute and re-frame. It always manages to bring us back from the crazy brink.

I wrote a little credo years ago, and it has been my email sign-off ever since:

  1. Create  ― even if you’re not an artist
  2. Support artists ― especially the independents
  3. Live well ― doesn’t take money to do it
  4. And be whole

This is my most heart-centered request of mankind, beyond the obvious one of do no harm, and it has everything to do with self-nurture, which means it’s really a request of myself. Lately, I’ve had to really think about what #3 means.  What does it mean to live well? I don’t mean to live affluently. Pretend money and status don’t exist.  Then ask yourself if you are living well.

Without giving it too much thought (yeah, nice try Angela), my instinctive answer to what living well means is the ability to be as whole, centered, and conscious as we have the potential for. Living a life in that higher agreement state. If we can make ourselves whole, we can (and do) minister more authentically and more willingly to the global family and to the planet. And that ministers to us. It all rounds back in often inexplicable ways.  Likewise, if we take the steps toward ministering, it can’t help but foster wholeness. But what does wholeness mean? Everyone has a story, a history. Some call it baggage. It shapes us. And it is most beneficial to us (yes, baggage can be beneficial) when we are able to face it, identify it, HEAR what it has to tell us, and then take the steps toward transcending it. Then we stand a chance of getting whole, and getting happy. That’s what it means to live well.

The “hear what it has to tell us” part is where I do my best to live when it comes to my spiritual journey. And one of my self-discovery practices (of the many I have) is one I find too scrumptious not to share here.  It’s called SoulCollage®, and it’s the brainchild of the late artist and psychologist Seena B. Frost, who developed this incredible practice as a way for the artistic and therapeutic layman to participate hands-on in his/her own self-discovery, and to create beautiful works of art in the process.

SoulCollage is, quite simply, the making of collage art. Beyond that basic modality of creating something artful, however, is a therapeutic process that taps into the subconscious with its vivid mood and collision of imagery, and cultivates the powers of the intuitive.  Through the seemingly unrelated images of a collage work, much can be revealed about the deepest parts of who we authentically are.  You need not be an artist of any experience.  You need only be hungry for an extraordinary journey of self-excavation and growth.

I became a student of SoulCollage through one of its facilitators in Los Angeles, folk artist and radiant spirit MARGO GRAVELLE. For many years now I have met with a group of like-minded seekers to make collages toward the purpose of the ongoing creation of a “deck” that might be likened to a Tarot deck, the result of which reflects and represents the varied and many aspects of each person’s emotional and psychological pantheon of characters (called “the committee”), as well as a discovery and identification of archetypes, which dips a bit into the work of Joseph Campbell, Carl Jung, Carolyn Myss, etc.

My own experience with SoulCollage has been a deeply sacred and life-changing one for me. I have sought many healing modalities, including cognitive therapy and grief counseling, and have never felt more clear about who I am (the good, the bad, the ugly, the brilliant) through any means more potent than through this extraordinary, and completely non-judgmental practice. And often, it is the shadow images in the collages that give us our greatest dawning and light.

“It is by going down into the abyss that we recover the treasures of life.
Where you stumble, there lies your treasure.”
― Joseph Campbell

This post isn’t about selling SoulCollage on you (I’ve got no investment other than the personal healing in it), but if you’re interested in finding out more, please visit Seena’s site: SOUL COLLAGE.   If nothing more, it’s absolutely fascinating exploration, and may even help you to find a class in your area, which I recommend for anyone on a self-seeking path for transformation.

Why I adore this particular practice so much is because it seems to me that the self-examination movement has taken an odd and, I feel, uncourageous turn. I have spoken of this in past blog posts, but here is where I’ll try to elaborate. There is a trend, a force, a movement, within the self-help world that abhors conflict, that does everything in its power to manifest a rosier view of life, without the planting of the groundwork first, without a visit to the caves, and to encourage the practice of denial in its followers. Conflict is an interesting word to me, because I want nothing more in my life than to live with some measure of peace of spirit, and it’s what I strive for every day, yet as a writer what I know for sure is that conflict is everything. There is no story without conflict. A story without conflict is just an ad. Exploration of the human condition, and that means conflict, is what any story should be.  Sometimes that conflict is resolved in the story, but the more interesting ones really just pose questions that make us think, that give us varying perspectives, and that expand the palate of our understanding of the human race.  That’s what the best writers do.

So, here’s the thing.  Because I am a writer, and have a pretty specific opinion of what a writer should do, I tend to approach my own personal journey in the same way as I do my writing.  By courting conflict.  Not as a way to wallow, which brings to mind the Native American parable:

A grandfather says, “I feel as if I have two wolves fighting in my heart. One wolf is the vengeful, angry one. The other wolf is the loving, compassionate one.” When asked which wolf will win the fight in his heart, the old man replies, “The one I feed.”   

It’s a wise parable. There is a danger to the spirit that wallows, because it is kept broken, and then we find ourselves just perpetually running with stuff, and letting it be the loop we’re in.

What I’m referring to is the wisdom in courting conflict as a means of transcending it, not denying it, but of being willing to face it, challenge it, figure out what it’s feeding to make it stick around. That one lodged in my head, like a mighty slap, from the Tony Robbins retreat I attended a couple of years ago.

Carl Jung from The Philosophical Tree says: “Filling the conscious mind with ideal conceptions is a characteristic of Western theosophy, but not the confrontation with the shadow and the world of darkness. One does not become enlightened by imagining figures of light, but by making the darkness conscious.”

And so I go back to the idea of our baggage being beneficial. It will always teach us something we need to learn. But only if we are willing to identify and face it.  That’s where we stand the chance of transcending it.  There isn’t a breakthrough in existence that wasn’t accompanied by some pain, but what comes out on the other side, always, is freedom. A freedom worth cultivating and renewing and re-strengthening every single day (I just quoted myself, again, this time from an earlier blog post).

Lately, I see a lot of seminars and courses on “healing yourself with….” fill in the blank with your preferred motif. And I’ll always look into them, because I’m always on a path.  What I find in far too many, however, is a process of uncovering all the ills in your past that anyone else has ever inflicted on you, so that the blame can begin. The last part of that phrase is mine, and IS being judgmental, admittedly, because I do believe that’s what the bottom line of these modalities tends to be. Looking under everyone else’s hood except your own to find the culprit of your suffering and damage.

I’m not saying it’s illegitimate to identify an external source of harm to you. It’s important to do so. But it is only a part of the process. The pretty crucial other part is the courage it takes to identify our own complicity in our internal disrepair.  Not to mention the harm we cause others.  And we have all caused someone harm.

I have a friend, Frank Ferrante, who was recently the subject of a documentary called May I Be Frank. And there is a moment in the film, during his own battles with self, and ultimate transformation, when he recalls punching his younger brother badly in the ribs as a young boy.  And he never even put it together that a constant and chronic pain in his own rib area, that he had been living with for years, might’ve actually been a manifestation of his guilt over that act.  I do believe we carry our transgressions against others in our bodies as pain, sometimes even literal and physical.  So when that moment of revelation happens for Frank in the movie, the first time I saw it I almost crumbled, myself, because I fundamentally understand and believe in the power of that kind of purgation. Going through the process is so ultimately purifying, even if painful, that it can’t help but begin to lift burdens, lighten our existence, and allow the door to be opened to a genuine peace of spirit and to happiness.

Frank was so brave to have walked the path illustrated in the documentary.  And because of his bravery, he has experienced a jaw-dropping transformation of body and soul.  It ain’t for sissies, this self-exploration stuff.  But I believe in its absolute cruciality, toward the purpose of delivering oneself out of suffering and into a place of compassion, empathy, and peace.