An Old Black Man Someday (A Call For Peace)

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There is so much to say.  And I have been largely silent on the subject, in this social media playground.  Because others are more articulate.  The world is full of articulate polemics on the subject.  An entire movement – Black Lives Matter – has been necessitated.  This strange epidemic.   It is.  An epidemic.  And for much of the world, it is somewhat of an abstract.  But think of someone’s son.  Someone’s father.  Someone’s brother.  Think of them as children growing up.   Think of where (and why) we have turned a very wrong corner, after ALL of the vital work of the civil rights movement, of history! and the enlightenment of men that has continually tried to be fostered and fought for.

I added the following stanza to a song I wrote 15 years ago, because there is a new dynamic now:

In matters global to familial, my solemn heart doth daily pray;
Let not endangered be the old black man someday.

Endangered.  Think of that word.   That threat.   That awesome haunt of prophecy.

In the wake of this epidemic that seems to be our nation’s startling reality, my 15-year-old song rings now with a sobering irony.  It was originally written about my brother Mike, spun from, and into, a pastoral, nostalgic, childhood idyllic.

Today it chills.

I feel so strange about this offering, because as artists we always want to reflect the times, but what this reflects hurts me to my core.  I have three brothers in total, all young men still.  I just want them to live to be old men someday.  That they happen to be black . . .

 
 

An Old Black Man Someday

 

 
 
 
 
 
 
 

Angela Carole Brown is a published author, a recipient of the Heritage Magazine Award in poetry, and has produced several albums as a singer/songwriter, and a yoga/mindfulness CD. Bindi Girl Chronicles is her writing blog.   Follow her on INSTAGRAM & YOUTUBE.

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An Elm & Houston Revelation

Elm & Houston Epiphany copy

 

Last week, for me, saw four intensive days in seminar with the iconic Tony Robbins and his “Unleash the Power Within” doctrine.  If you’re not familiar, look him up on YouTube. There are hundreds of lectures, TED Talks, etc, on the man.  If you ARE familiar, I’ve found, you’re either behind him with a sense of devotion that just about any other motivational speaker out there would be hard pressed to rival, or you’ve concluded that he’s a modern day Jim Jones. I find almost no one who has a tepid reaction to him.

Yes, I did the firewalk.  No, I was not injured.  Yes, it gave me a high like nothing else, for what it was designed to symbolize; the power to accomplish anything, even the seemingly impossible, a subject-matter I am painfully intimate with.  I had a personal stake in doing this.  And it delivered.

And finally, yes, we’re talking about the same UPWDallas2016 that blitzkrieged the news on the firewalk night. “Hundreds burned in failed Tony Robbins Firewalk!” As someone who was there, I can vouch for the real thing being nowhere near as dramatic or perilous as the coverage made it out to be, because, of course, “if it bleeds it leads.”

Dallas is a city I’ve barely been to, in all of my many trips to Texas.  It’s usually been a case of flying in or out of DFW and picking up connections to other destinations.  So in preparing to come to this city for the Robbins conference, on my menu of intentions was to visit Dealey Plaza, the site of the assassination of JFK. I really have a thing for visiting these kinds of historical landmarks, and this one especially has been on my list to visit, because our nation changed radically after (perhaps even as a result of) the assassination that day in 1963.

We only had the last day in town, after the seminar was over, to check it out thoroughly, though we did actually run across it by accident on the first night of the seminar.  The friend I was traveling with, and I, had decided to walk a few blocks away from the Convention Center to get our Uber, since eight thousand other people were all trying to get back to their hotels too. And at a certain point, a few blocks into our midnight walk (the night of the firewalk, so we were already on a kind of high), my friend suddenly stopped in his tracks, looked around, as if he was lost, and then said “I think this is it.” “What?” “Yeah,” he continued, ignoring me. He then proceeded to stroll across a grassy knoll (I’m still not catching on), and pointed to an X in the street. “This is where Kennedy was shot.”

It was a quiet night.  Clear sky.  Bright moon.  I was already open-veined and euphoric, because I’d walked on hot coals tonight, baby!  And I had not burned my feet, because I had applied the fierce focus and intention taught us earlier that evening.  And it was not a parlor trick; the coals were freaking hot.  And so, when everything finally came into dawning for me, and I saw the corner street signs of Houston and Elm, and the picket fence where the fourth bullet had allegedly come from, and the building formerly known as the Texas Book Depository, I stood there, having just experienced something rather larger-than-life, and cried a little, just to myself, at this other larger-than-life historical ground zero.  It was an eerie and haunting thing to stumble upon by accident at midnight.  We spent a bit of time there, as one does, then called for our Uber.  And then proceeded to end every night of the conference with the same agenda.

So, by the time we got to our last day in town, and had the seminar firmly behind us, and had a cousin of mine who lives in town escorting us for the day, to go experience this thing in the daylight, do the museum, and be official tourists, we had already experienced it the way everyone should, I’ve now concluded.  The midnight visit had been a sacred, internal moment that had allowed me to feel that bit of history in an intimate and private way, and to have an emotional reaction to it.  In the light of day, it was an entirely different experience.  All the opportunists were out in droves, selling their bogus copies of “the actual newspaper headline from The Dallas Morning News!” and their angle on what really happened that day.  Every wild theory was flying out of the mouths of the carnival barkers, creating a cacophony of chatter that was almost musical.

And then a most interesting thing happened.  One such barker that I was standing near, and trying to listen to, as he explained to a huddle of tourists about the fatal shot, couldn’t’ve been more than 50 years old, and yet was saying things like, “and that’s when we all hit the deck, and then ran across here behind the picket fence…”  He then pointed to a blurred figure, in a crowd of other blurred figures, in an old, dog-eared photograph he was holding, with the doomed presidential motorcade in the foreground, and said, “that’s me.”  Even though blurred, the figure he was pointing to was clearly an adult, someone who was not an infant, which, at a stretch, is the only way this guy could’ve potentially been present at this 53-year-old moment in history.  So yeah, we were dealing with crazy, I concluded, and he officially lost my interest in listening any longer.

From a distance, however, I continued to stare at him do his thing.  I sort of couldn’t take my eyes away, because I was suddenly reminded of the most profound thing that I had learned from Tony Robbins during his game-changing seminar intensive.  That all of our problems, struggles, dysfunctions, etc., exist and linger because they serve a need.  And as long as they continue to provide a benefit, they will not be repaired.  There is something that they fulfill.  I remembered that one stopping me dead in my tracks on, I want to say, Day 2 of this thing.  And so, as I stared at this man, who was more likely mentally ill than a simple con man, I was suddenly softened from the earlier eye-rolling, head-shaking, dismissive stance I’d taken against him, and wondered what need his story was fulfilling for him.  A sense of significance in a world that had rendered him insignificant?  Combating a crippling loneliness by surrounding himself with people who could potentially find awe in his story, and him?  Whatever the benefit was, it certainly wasn’t a financial one, since everyone around him had him nailed, and no one was buying his story, or his wares.  Yet they were continuing to hang on his every word, because crazy is entertaining.  And it was at that moment that I realized I would probably never look at any other situation again, neither another’s nor my own, without asking that question:  What need does this serve?

That changes the whole playing field, doesn’t it?

There is a plethora, a right worthy grocery list, to be honest, of struggles and hiccups that my own personal growth seems to be bombarded with these days.  Much of which I’ve chalked up to a case of what I do, or don’t, deserve.  Or I chalk up a certain behavior, which is nonetheless frustrating for me, to being a hardwiring.

For example, one sentence I’ve claimed for years as part of my story: I’ve spent my life not being picked.  Or at least believing, always, in that outcome (which pretty much means it’s guaranteed).  Case in point:  My boyfriend in 8th grade literally moved on from me to someone else without a word my way.  How I found out was when his “new thing” and I were racing against each other in a track meet.  The girl had actually been my friend, and the boyfriend and I had not had a single conflict, so while I get kids just moving on from each other thoughtlessly, I never understood the venal nature of the moment.  He stood at the starting line where she and I were poised to run the 50-yard dash, and he muttered, but for everyone to hear, “Beat her, Albertine!  Beat her good!” Albertine didn’t win that race that day.  I did.  But it gave me no pleasure in the victory, because I was also the one beaten.  I didn’t understand my breed, and I didn’t get what I had done so heinous to have deserved such malevolence.  Today I can see clearly how that one incident has been so indelibly stamped on me that I have always tended to enter into an agreement with isolation and outsidership.

I’ve just thought of it as a hardwiring, a simple case of, “This is who I am. I don’t fit into circles and clubs.” But here’s the danger in that; chalking anything up to a hardwiring presupposes that there’s nothing that can be done about it.  It takes the power (if it’s a plight we’re actually interested in fixing) right out of our hands.

And if I have taken nothing else away from this seminar, I have taken with me a new understanding that any emotional baggage we have only sticks around, and is given momentum, because there is a need it serves.  That one just blew my head right open.  Done.  Brains on the dashboard.  Blood and guts everywhere.  Absolutely nothing I’ve ever learned in my years’ long pursuit of self-examination has made more sense than that.

And so, rather than tossing off my penchants for outsidership, for example, as a hardwiring I can do nothing about, I need to figure out what the role of outsider in my life has been serving all this time.

One thing I know for sure is that it’s been a bit of a badge of honor.  I do love my solitude, and marching to my own drummer, and I have a natural penchant toward inward-turning and contemplation.  So, what it’s feeding is pretty obvious.  But it’s also a dubious badge, as there is always an overtone of loneliness and missed opportunity that is a part of the outsider landscape.  So, maybe it also feeds a kind of “poor me” comfort?  I’m not sure yet, but there is so much to play with here.  So much to discover, to answer for myself, so many lids to pry open, so that maybe I actually stand a chance of delivering myself from some of these frustrations, and finally give myself the permission to pursue just exactly what I want in this life.

As for Crazy Grassy Knoll Man, he will likely remain who he is, though we never know who or what comes along to change our state, and our stake.  But my attitude toward him (once I got past the stun of him cursing me out for not buying any of his wares) became more compassionate and empathetic to the battles that must be his, the battles we all experience to varying degrees of crazy.  And to know that there is an answer, somewhere, somehow, for every one of us.  I just want to be that little sprite whispering into Crazy Grassy Knoll Man’s ear, “I see you.  You are seen.”

This was merely one of fifty hours worth of ideas that were drilled into our heads by Tony Robbins during his four days of exhaustive saturation.  I haven’t even begun to scratch the surface on what this seminar did for me.  And honestly, I’m not sure I’m meant to share any more of the experience than this one example, because it was such a deeply intimate odyssey for me, one of identifying belief systems, and transforming them.  It was so intimate, in fact, that when my friend and I couldn’t get a seat together on Day One, we ended up not doing any part of the seminar together, as it was nice not having to be self-conscious around each other.  And that was easy enough to accomplish, in a sea of eight thousand people.  We just met up on dinner breaks and when it was over each day.  We didn’t even witness each others’ firewalk.  Instead, upon completion of the walk, I cheered for my triumph with the people around me, who were all doing the same, a communal pep rally.  New bonds got formed.  In fact, my firewalk partner and I decided to remain friends.  The experience was intimate and expansive at the same time.

I’ve been changed by this four-day event, that’s for sure. To what degree will be discovered in the days to come, as I venture forth to apply these tools and get out of my own way.  But I don’t think I truly got hit with that feeling of difference until my revelatory moment on the corner of Elm Street and Houston, the same corner that was John F. Kennedy’s last.  A setting ripe with ghosts and guile.  And maybe even a little grace.

 

 

Dedicated to my dear friend Ross Wright,
who gave me the gift of this experience,
went through it with me,
and who roots for me always.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Angela Carole Brown is a published author, a recipient of the Heritage Magazine Award in poetry, and has produced several albums as a singer/songwriter, and a yoga/mindfulness CD. Bindi Girl Chronicles is her writing blog.   Follow her on INSTAGRAM & YOUTUBE.

A Mountaintop Moment


She was not allowed to hurt anymore today.

 

 

 

 
Angela Carole Brown is the author of three published books, The Assassination of Gabriel Champion, The Kidney Journals: Memoirs of a Desperate Lifesaver, and Trading Fours, is a recipient of the Heritage/Soulword Magazine Award in poetry, and has produced several albums of music and a yoga/mindfulness CD.   Bindi Girl Chronicles is her writing blog.  Follow her on Twitter, Facebook, Instagram & YouTube.

 

MURMURATION (Or, A Man With No Christian Name)

Murmuration

 

It seemed as though he’d been preparing for this large, looming animal his entire life, yet it had actually only been two years out of a tedious forty‑five.  He was tempted to think it might change his life.  He’d certainly been teased with the hype of it all:  Michel Dugnac!  June Steele!  A book!  If this all went well, then, according to his teasers, New York, London, and Marseille were virtually guaranteed.

He paced and chain-smoked through most of the day, declining brunch at the Four Seasons with Nona, Harper, and Kai, and instead awaited the eleventh-hour delivery of the art books to the gallery.  There were handlers hired to take care of all that, but Daniel wouldn’t have been Daniel if he couldn’t butt his nose in everyone’s business, and he couldn’t wait until tonight, besides, to see the book.

As he ripped open one of the boxes, he lifted the handsome coffee table book out, with the piece merely labeled Untitled as its cover.  It was a photographic tableau, camouflaging a nude Arthur and Nona into a portrait of his chaos of a workspace.  Harper thought it would be the perfect piece for the cover, since it not only portrayed Daniel’s subjects but his studio, as well, which had always been a virtually untouchable lair, except for intimates.

“The viewer feels as though he gets the chance to be inside Daniel Cross’s private life just a bit,” had been her rationale.  Daniel didn’t care.  He liked this piece.

The predominant hue was cobalt, but then avalanched into a deluge of furious color and junk that seemed to swell upon Arthur and Nona, as if they were stained, bled upon, by the junk of this world; yet also, in a sense, cocooned by it.  And in being cocooned, were gestated and transformed.  He stared at it now, realizing just how much his thoughts on rape and loss and redemption had become a driving force in all of his recent work.  Behind every expression lurked the nocturnal phenomenon of the breach.  It leapt off the very cover.  The two figures in this portrait weren’t even his friend and his wife any longer; they had transcended those roles.  He stared at two strangers.  Two abstracts.  To be interpreted, and debated, and reckoned with.  Naked.  Literally, of course.  But, as well, in a symbolic way to which he was the only one wise.  In all of the thousands of works he’d created in his nearly thirty years of painting, it counted as the first that he’d been unable to title, and only now did he realize why.

When the evening finally did arrive, and as Benton’s lights shined brightly onto Rodeo Drive with their three names, everyone was in attendance.  Artists, critics, philanthropists, movie stars, curators, press, intending to snack on Beluga from L’Orangerie, sip champagne from the Krug Vineyards, hobnob with their Prada-appareled brethren, and render their verdict on his life.

And none of this brouhaha, however ephemeral, was because of any weight he could claim but because Harper Levy knew how to get things done.  She was in her greatest element, giving the firmest handshake in the room and feeling deservedly proud.  She’d worked harder than anyone to make sure this evening would be significant.

Before Daniel had met Harper, he’d never known what it felt like to have someone believe in him.  She was there for him during the co-op days, and during the days of no showings at all.  She was there during the era of Chelsea, and had been on hand in the hospital when he’d tried to end his life.  She’d found him living on the street as a young twenty-something, hustling people to buy his wallet-sized sketches, and she’d taken him in and encouraged him to further develop his talents.  She was the one who had turned him on to Champion, and was the first person he’d excitedly told about meeting the author of that book.  And tonight he watched her oversee a splendid effort.

And then there were Nona and Arthur.  He was so humbled to be a part of this venture with two such remarkable individuals as his wife and his brother of the spirit.  Their essence was everywhere this evening, larger than their own lives, seeping from the cracks in the walls, lurking about every room, haunting every canvas.  Their prose was unequaled.

Daniel had tried hard to be worthy of them, and the effort had almost succeeded in besting him.  And for just one instant he reflected on the reputation of artists:  All nuts, or so it is said.  Or did they merely wish to be?  Were they truly incapable of connecting the dots of their sanity because they were too overloaded with resplendent fancy?  Or was it just irresistibly fashionable to be so left of the middle?  He was beginning to wonder if they weren’t all cons and swindlers, himself included, staging lunacies not because of any higher calling, but because of the hunger for attention.  What was, after all, so alluring about being wrinkle‑browed?  Besides the women he could bed?

In the past, he would approach these openings either indifferently or with his brooding cap on, wondering if that was all there was, always suspecting someone’s compliment of his work as ulterior, always doubting that there was any inherent good or beauty in anything.  Always suffering.  Always Hamlet.

Tonight, as he began to suspect his own breed, and which almost had a wink to it, he actually worked the room, and shook hands, and greeted, and periodically glanced up to see some labor that had begun its life in his flat, and felt unbeaten.  No, it was better than that.  He felt valid.

Having Nona and Arthur by his side was surely the best of it, but it was also that some of the drummers from the night before had agreed to come down, a last minute inspiration, to begin a circle right in the center of the Benton Gallery.  Red Carpet meets Haight-Ashbury.  Just the kind of peculiar marriage that had always fed Daniel’s temperament.  All of the people he loved were here, and they were genuinely making him feel that there might actually be something inherently good or beautiful in this world.

“Hello, Daniel.”

He spun around to find Christianne Tensmith standing before him with a glass of champagne raised.

“Chris,” he practically fumbled.  It had been a good two years since he’d unceremoniously exited her life.

“It’s wonderful work,” she said.  “All of it.  Better than ever.  You’re really coming into your voice, aren’t you?  There’s no pretension in it.  I mean, not that there ever was, but–”

“Em–I–I–thank you.  What a surprise.  I–I–”

“ ‘Course, still no portrait of me anywhere,” she joked sweetly.

He laughed nervously.

“I can’t wait to show Daddy the review in tomorrow morning’s paper, which I know is going to be killer.  And which might actually kill HIM.”

They both chuckled.

“So–how’ve you been?” Daniel asked.  “I mean–”

“I don’t want to keep you.  I just wanted to let you know that I would not have missed this for the world.  Congrats, Daniel.”

She leaned up to kiss his cheek, and walked away.

He stood stunned, chest thumping.  He hadn’t expected the ghosts of Daniel Past to come haunting.  If Chelsea Carrier showed up, he’d have to scrounge himself up another bottle of shoe dye.

He watched Christianne walk away and wondered if he hadn’t misjudged her all of these years, chalking her up to vapidity, like the snob he could be.  Tonight she was quite refined.  And apparently not hating him any longer for the way he’d spinelessly cowered out of their relationship.  She never even made trouble for him about staying in his flat.  Wonders would never cease.

Should he run after her and apologize once more for the prick he’d been?

He decided to meet and greet instead.

Alas, cowards, as well, never cease.

After enough handshaking and photos taken to qualify him for election, which lasted a solid two hours, he finally took a moment alone to regard his canvases, to assess his life in this body of work, and to wonder if anywhere in any canvas he’d ever painted might there not be traces of his estranged mother and father.  For the first time in years he wondered where they were and if they were still alive.  He came frightfully close to wishing that they could see what he’d tried to do with his life.

As he pondered thoughts he hadn’t in some time, a creeping sensation began to take over him.  Tonight he felt uncharacteristically sentimental.  Probably just too exhausted any longer to be so perpetually and fashionably in a huff.

He couldn’t help but feel that the spirit the old man had spoken of last night had indeed entered the room and somehow blessed his work.  Because for the first time in his life he didn’t despise himself, as he usually did, and he didn’t get drunk, as he usually did.  Tonight he soberly relished in his burgeoning success and was just thankful no mirrors were around, as he would surely not have recognized his own face.  He had Nona to thank for that one, as he watched her in the distance, shaking hands, wowing the paparazzi, loving life, eating this evening up, and apparently teaching him a few life lessons.

His wife found joy easily within every crevice that held an enticement.  For a time he’d been worried.  But tonight she was truly happy, he noted, as he watched her float through the space with a peaceful confidence.  It was important that this night be a good one for her, too, since there’d been a history of her doubting her own worth with what he knew was a frustrating writer’s block.  On this night her luminous smile lit the place up, brighter than the marquee lights of Rodeo Drive.  She even threatened to sweep him up with her in that joyful tide.

With his new gleam, he geared himself for the firing squad of critics, and felt invincible.  He already had a history with some of them, the ones who had traditionally found his work too bleak for their tastes, too self-indulgent, too something.  Of course, they were all in attendance and were the first in line to tell him what they thought.  But most, tonight, seemed to laud his portrayals of the already acclaimed Nona Childe and the soon‑to‑be acclaimed Arthur Hughes Dufresne.  Not to mention, both possessed such stunning visages that could be molded and shaped into practically any perversion and still remain stunning.

Aside from the New York, Paris, and London art media, the literary world was also in attendance.  They gobbled Nona up with their accolades, reminding her that she was special, a task at which he’d lately failed.

They asked her a deluge of questions on why she would indulge in such a risky art house venture, after having taken the mainstream by storm.  Mainstream?  They considered The Assassination of Gabriel Champion mainstream, did they?

She was exquisitely playful in her replies.  When one queried, “Why this involvement with such an unstable, albeit titillating, avant‑garde, after nestling comfortably in the commercial book market?” she responded with a smile, “Why, to fix that very problem.”

*

When they questioned her involvement in this vanguard project, Nona was perplexed with all the allusions that her alliance with this show might’ve been ill-advised, until she realized it was the critics’ job to court agitation.  Made good copy.  They were actually eating the exhibit up, so she decided to just have fun by playing feisty.

But it was a face. A mask to wear for the headlines. In truth, she felt a part of something profound. One hundred years from now, or a thousand, in some bookstore or library, someone might dust off the ancient art book entitled Murmuration (the fleeting phenomenon of a collection of starlings was the actual definition of the word, and was how each of them reverently thought of the other) and string together the names of Daniel Cross, Nona Childe, and Arthur Hughes Dufresne. They would be immortal.

As the sun set, and she finally stopped for one moment to take a swig of champagne and a deep breath, she and Kai watched Arthur in the distance.  With his signature dreadlocks an unusually majestic, lawless crown of tentacles, Arthur wore a threadbare suit jacket, a pair of pants that did not belong to the jacket, and a wrinkled, out-of-date necktie.  Nothing of the ensemble was sharp, but neither was it exactly awful.  It existed just somewhere in the intoxicated vicinity of romantic struggle.  Nona couldn’t help but attach a trendy sartorial statement to Arthur’s utter lack of it.  After tonight, all the young poets would soon start sporting their fringe-existence duds, all because the new bard of South Central had set a tone, and a new hobo chic would be born.

Arthur had started the evening off happy.  This would be the night that would give him the chance to show his son what he’d accomplished.  If this night was for anyone, on Arthur’s own personal agenda, it was for Lorca.

What he’d created to show his son, to show the world, was extraordinary.  Nona had always felt that there was something feral and hallucinatory in Arthur’s words.  She’d earlier overheard a reporter dictating into a tiny machine: “Arthur Hughes Dufresne writes poetry for a cataclysmic world, as though he is perpetually on the verge of hysteria or some quiet, warring mania, all toward a violent resuscitation of heart and lungs.”  And all Nona could think at that eavesdropping was, amen.

Then there were the cloying ones.

“Mister Dufresne,” offered one reporter, with a mic stuck in Arthur’s face, “you seem to write in a manner that is at once a kind of stream‑ of‑consciousness, urban speak, while at the same time a cunning philological wordplay.  A bit reminiscent of Stoppard–”

“A kind of homeboy‑from‑the‑hood Stoppard, if you will–” interrupted another, feeling droll.

No one actually gave Arthur the chance to respond, as they were much more interested in the sound of their own voices.  The ingratiating nature of these admirers made Nona cringe, especially in offering their patronizations with accents on the words homeboy and hood, as if to assure that they could hang with the Blackest and street-smartest of them.  She and Kai had been rolling their eyes and giggling together at the ridiculousness, and were on top of the world to be able to watch their friend being lauded and cooed over, even if it was by idiots.

Arthur could care less that he was even the topic of conversation, as he had one eye and ear cocked obligatorily to the cooing and the other searching eagerly around the room for his son’s arrival.

That the drum circle, which they’d all discovered the night before, would recreate itself on this opening was truly the ring on the finger of a long, difficult, and thrilling romance.

At various junctures in the evening, between contemplating a piece and the whispered chatter that always accompanied such, people would come and go from the circle.  Some would join in, retreat.  It would grow and shrink.  It was a thriving animal that kept itself alive the entire evening, and was becoming as much the thing to do as the partaking of champagne and aged Brie.

The night was working, and it was all thanks to her husband.  Arthur’s brilliance notwithstanding, the work that Daniel had created for this exhibit was the most powerful body of work that she could remember seeing from any contemporary artist since…well, she always instinctively went back to her beloved Basquiat.  Her scope as an art lover wasn’t nearly that singular, but her affinity was directly proportional to her collectorship.  There was no other “important” artist that she’d ever owned, and this work before her tonight was genuinely reminiscent of artists past who had blown onto the art scene and changed the game.  Tonight people were gasping at and dissecting the colors and the textures and the breadth and the swirls and the bold flashes that were leaping off the canvases.

Daniel was being compared to the new wave of New York modernists, for attempting to turn medium on its ear.  That was the very least of it, she thought.  Daniel was reinventing art.  On this unforgettable evening, Daniel was as close to God as any mortal force that had ever breezed past her heart.

While most of the critics tonight were jumping through hoops to claim Daniel as their own personal discovery, and to drool over his severe, exaggerated, almost tormented depictions of humanity, some found his work unappetizing.  One critic observed rather coolly:  “As subjects, Dufresne and Childe are being turned inside out in these pieces.  The viewer isn’t being shown their souls, as much as their symbolic bowel movements.”  

Wow!  Did she and Arthur really seem just that naked and blemished to this uncomfortable critic?  Did they make him just that fidgety in his seat?  And if the answer was yes, then as far as she was concerned Daniel had done his job superbly.

“What irony, if any, are you offering with all of this darkness?” this particular critic had earlier asked Daniel, displaying quotation signs with his fingers around the word darkness.

What were the quote signs for, Nona wondered?  Did he mean that Daniel played at darkness without actually achieving it?  Did he mean that Daniel achieved it, and he wondered the importance of that?  Was he saying that Daniel was finding trendy vogue in the darkness label?

She was annoyed, and wanted Daniel to fight back with something pithy and effortlessly smart-assed, as she’d been doing, but Daniel never answered questions like that.  You were either moved by his work or you weren’t.  And if you weren’t, he didn’t bother spinning his wheels trying to defend or bring you around.  He would gracefully, if he could, accept your distaste for it and still agree to be your friend.

She was more in love with him and his Fuck-The-World creed tonight than ever before.  It was the F-T-W of a man who cared about stimulating the world, about egging on the mind, and the heart, and the soul.  And he was her husband.

For the life of her, she couldn’t get the smile off her face.

*

They were all buzzing, Daniel took notice.  About him.  About Nona and Arthur.  Even the ones who showed their distaste seemed ecstatic to be a witness to this happening.  And if they gobbled Nona up, they resolutely turned cartwheels over the undiscovered, disheveled genius, Arthur Hughes Dufresne, who could care less about them.

Arthur had become nervous and fidgety.  He had started out feeling proud of this evening, even buoyant, though Daniel knew he was much more at home swilling a 40-ounce and deconstructing literary criticism or playing a hand of Bid Whist.  Still, this night had been as important to Arthur as to himself.  And all Daniel could see at this point in the evening was Arthur doing his best to put on a polite front, but beginning to seethe because Sonja had yet to show up with his son.

Sonja was on a fairly new jag these days of discrediting Arthur in the courts with regard to his parental rights.  They had always co-parented without much incident, but she had recently made the announcement that she wanted to move back home to D.C. to get help from her family.  Arthur knew he would never see his son again if that move happened, and after imploring her not to, and his pleas ignored, he decided to take her to court.  And though she had promised to bring Lorca to the opening tonight, he also knew she was on a sudden warpath after the summons, maligning his name to the courts and their son, calling him a worthless father and drug addict.  Drug addict, yes, unfortunately, but worthless father?  There was no more dedicated or conscientious a father in the world than Arthur.

At twelve years old, Lorca was already an avid reader and a hungry learner, who would regularly challenge Arthur to some philosophical match on whether or not the ghost of Hamlet’s father really symbolized the Devil.  Or whether rap was any less significant a music form than jazz.  Or whether Martin and Malcolm really took opposite approaches to the Civil Rights Movement.  The kid was inquisitive and wide‑eyed and amazing.

And this itchy wonder in Lorca’s head was all Arthur’s doing.  Sonja barely picked up a book that wasn’t either the Bible or some Hollywood tell‑all.  She was a paradoxical woman who’d gotten pregnant with Arthur’s child, though she’d been married to someone else at the time, and when asked by her sister‑ in‑law why she hadn’t used birth control, if not discretion, had answered, indignantly:  “It’s against my religion!”

Daniel didn’t much like Sonja.

But tonight she’d promised to put the weapons down and bring Lorca to the opening, so that the boy could read his father’s works, and see his father respected, and take home his own copy of Murmuration with his father’s name boldly stamped on the cover.  And so far this evening, she and Lorca were nowhere to be found.

Arthur never drummed once tonight, and this really should’ve been Daniel’s first clue that he was in trouble.  Art was the one, above any of them, who had been the most connected to the drum circle experience.  Tonight he was as disconnected from it as by any gulf Daniel had ever seen.

By the time the night was nearing its end, there still was no sign of Lorca and Sonja.  The event was being considered a success – indeed they’d all felt it – yet all that could be mustered from Arthur was thinly disguised despair.

“I can’t believe she didn’t bring him,” Arthur muttered at one passing, fury low and simmering, but quickly rising.  The quickly rising part worried Daniel.

A few minutes later Nona came running over, quietly panicked.

“Arthur just bolted outta here,” she whispered confused, amidst the mingling crowd.  “What is going on?”

“Shit!” was all Daniel could utter.

He knew Arthur was on a hostile course, but he never imagined Arthur would choose this moment to take care of business.  And knowing Arthur’s dark place as he did, Daniel felt a chill claw at his neck.

“He’s on his way to Sonja’s,” Daniel warned.  “We can’t let there be a scene in front of Lorca.”

“What do we do?” Nona asked, alarmed.

“We have to go after him.”

“Right now!?”

All three artists suddenly exiting their own opening, especially one as high profile as this, was not a concept Nona was digesting well.  But Daniel could give two shits about causing a scene.  Arthur was in trouble, and Sonja was about to be.  And he loathed his instinct –– that perhaps for all these years he actually did still see the murderer in Arthur.  He suddenly felt unworthy of Arthur’s friendship.

He and Nona whispered to Harper that there was an emergency and to please buffer any possible questions of their whereabouts to the remaining guests, which, fortunately at this hour, weren’t that many.  And they bolted, as Arthur had bolted.

When they arrived forty-five minutes later at Sonja’s front door in South Central, Arthur was fairly banging it down.  He’d been pounding for some minutes, yelling for her to “open up, or else!”  His rage was in full gear now.  And there really is nothing quite so powerful and awe‑spurring as the rage of a Black man; his voice is somehow deeper, his sense of doom intrinsic, even poetic.

Before Daniel and Nona had even approached the front steps, Arthur had managed to break a window, reach in, and unlock the door, but not before bloodying his hand.  They were quickly on his heels, as he stumbled into the living room to find it empty of all furniture.  The sight of the naked room slapped them all in the face, as Arthur stopped dead in a stunned dawning.

“No, no, no, no, no,” he whispered in a swelling frenzy.  He ran to the kitchen, the bedrooms, he flung open closet doors.  Empty, all empty.  Nona’s hands came up to her aghast mouth, and Daniel held her, as each knew what was unfolding before their eyes.

“GODDAMN IT!” Arthur roared, as neighbors began to spill out of their homes, in gossipy wonder.

“Noooo!!!  You fucking cunt!  You goddamn fucking cunt!”  He put his fist through the bathroom door.  Daniel tried to stop his ravings, but Arthur could only look his way in terrified disbelief.

“She took him!  She took him from me!”

Arthur’s hands came up to his temples, as he squeezed his eyes shut to bear the weight of what he knew he had to face:  #1) Sonja had gone.  #2) She had taken his son with her.  #3) They had no intentions of being found.

His breathing grew labored, and the sweat of his head poured profusely.  He grabbed the wall phone, almost pulling it off the wall, and furiously punched numbers on it, not even entertaining the possibility that  the service might’ve already been disconnected.  Or refusing to entertain it, as that would mean the cruel reality of a plan in action for some time.

Daniel watched him cautiously to make sure he didn’t injure himself further.  Nona was too afraid to advance.  Instead Daniel had her walk back out to calm the approaching neighbors and to see if she could find out any information on Sonja’s and Lorca’s whereabouts.

Over his shoulder, Daniel could hear a neighbor explaining to Nona that Sonja had made her hasty escape with Lorca sometime that afternoon with the help of eight or nine muscular cousins who’d moved furniture and boxes quickly into several cars and pickups.

“She did not come here, Arthur, I swear!” pled a female voice through the receiver.  Turns out, there was little consolation in there still being phone service.  Everything seemed to be a symbol that carried with it the promise of great meaning, only to deliver no meaning at all.

“Then where the fuck is she!” Arthur yelled, as much to the phone itself as to Sonja’s distraught mother on the other end.  “Listen, Etta, I will come there myself and END YOU, if you don’t tell me where she went with my son!”

Arthur was a dragon.  Daniel was grateful Nona was outside and away from this witness, because he saw the Devil form in Arthur this night, as on one unspeakable night of twenty-eight years ago.  This night, as on that one, Arthur was absolutely capable of murder.  He was fully prepared to give this old woman heart failure with his threats if she didn’t cooperate, and if that failed he was just as prepared to hop a plane to D.C. to put an end to her in person.

Suddenly, amidst all the riotous confusion, there emerged a kind of defeated collapse that curtly peered out from the frenzy.  It was so brief that if Daniel had blinked he’d surely have missed it.  He saw Arthur’s heart fold up and begin to die.  Arthur begged the old woman to tell him where they’d gone.  But there was no more cock-strutting.  Only desperate pleas.  At this moment, Arthur must’ve felt less than a man.  And only another man, Daniel thought as he watched his friend, could truly know that hollowness so intimately.

Then, in a second instant, the frantic pandemonium was back in full force.  Arthur slammed the receiver onto its base, splintering the chrome and plastic.  He pounded it again and again until there was nothing left of it and spurts of blood shot from his hand.  His fingers would not unhinge themselves from the mangled receiver.  Daniel tried to grab him and hold him still.

“Look!  We can find them.  We just have to put our heads together.  We just have to calm down and not be rash.  We can use this against her.  This is kidnapping!  I mean, taking a child from his father when there are still custodial rights?  There’s got to be something that protects you.   We’ll just…we’ll just look into it.  We’ll find out what we need to.”

Arthur just kept repeating “I can’t believe she did this!” as he madly paced the empty house.  He could barely focus in to listen to Daniel.

Daniel knew Arthur needed to fix, and even as much as he loathed the idea, and knew his wife would never approve, he would personally take Arthur to the deed, so that the mad dog could be tempered.

*

Why did Sonja’s have to be the only house on this block that didn’t have security bars on the windows and doors, Nona wondered, so that Arthur could’ve been dissuaded from this destructive course?  Instead, here they were.  Burglars officially.

As she attempted to gather information from a neighbor, another interrupted the conversation loudly.

“Who the Hell y’all think y’all is, comin’ up in’is neighborhood like some mu-fuckin’ caped crusaders, thinkin’ y’all gon’ save somebody?  That niggah ain’t nut’n but a loser crackhead, and it’s ‘bout time Sonja finally got up off her ass and got the Hell outta here with that boy.  Ain’t nobody cooperatin’ wit’chall!  Like, y’all got a badge or sump’n.  Shit, y’all better git the fuck on outta here, befo’ the REAL badges show up, cuz the police have been called!”

Nona winced to have this woman screaming in her ear, but absolutely lost it to hear sirens in the distance.

“You actually called the police?” Nona cried out, the two of them facing each other off on the wet lawn of Sonja’s abandoned house.  As the Santa Ana winds started up, Nona closed Daniel’s coat even tighter around her, which he’d given her to wear when they’d made their great escape.  Now she and this woman were nose to nose, surrounded by curious neighbors parked on their steps, the sidewalks, the driveway.  Daniel had his battles inside with Arthur, and she had to deal with the neighborhood loudmouth.

“You have no idea what’s going on here,” said Nona.

“Oh, I don’t?” the woman spat back indignantly, as she waved her overly long fingernails in Nona’s face, reminding Nona of the Hey Babys that she and Kai used to know in high school.  If you lived in Santa Monica in the early eighties, fourteen blocks inland from the Pacific, off Pico, chances are you knew the girls who pasted their hair down the side of their faces with Dippity‑Do to effect the “good hair” look, and sported a single gold tooth and ridiculous press-on nails,  who hung out idly on their front porches in hot pants, midriffs, and furry slippers, smacking their gum loudly and slinging their babies on their hips at age thirteen, whom their own mamas supported.  They had names like Pooky and Dimples, but Nona and Kai called them Hey Babys because “hey, baby!” is what these freaks of nature loved to yell to the guys who drove by in their low riders.

As Nona revisited that image, she realized that these were also the girls who could fight, when she never could, so that thought lodged nervously in the back of her head as this woman screamed in her face.

“Who the fuck you think you is, tellin’ me I don’t know what’s goin’ on?”

“Why are you involving yourself in this?” Nona yelled, on the verge of tears she fought to resist, lest she show her fear.  But she was afraid, and that quiver in the voice was giving her away.

“I live here, bitch!”

“Don’t you have anything better to do than to get in everyone else’s business?”

“I see this shit every day!”

They screamed at each other until they had no voices left, and they roused the rest of the neighbors, who only got more excitable as the sirens got louder.  The woman continued her rant, even as Nona tried to walk away, and aggressively followed behind as Nona pled for more information from others in the crowd.

“Whenever that motha‑fucka comes over here, there’s a fight,” the woman screamed from behind Nona.  “Time’a day don’t matter.  He would pick a fight with Sonja every fuckin’ time.  And I told her, over and over again, she oughta have that niggah arrested!  Cuz I will kill the motha-fucka that ever comes up in my face the way that crackhead would act with her!  Lorca don’t need to be around all’at shit!”

Nona couldn’t make any sense of why she was so annoyed by this woman’s “crackhead” remarks just because Arthur’s drug of choice was not crack.  Who cared about a ridiculous technicality here?  Yet she found herself wincing with every utterance of it, as if one over the other was better.

When the woman started to shove at Nona, Nona gave her fear full away, and started to plead in a flight of tears, “please stop it!  Stop it!” just as the police car was driving up.  Two officers immediately separated them and warned them to behave, as the crowd egged them on, yelling, “It’s a fight!  It’s a fight!” while others shouted that the real problem was not the catfight out here but the Hulk inside who was bashing windows and phones.

Nona couldn’t think straight in this deranging melee.  She only knew that these two officers were now on their way up the front steps of Sonja’s house.  Arthur’s very life had been snatched away this evening, and now he was about to be taken away in handcuffs because of nosy‑body neighbors.

“That’s right!  Arrest that motha-fucka!” screamed the woman Nona loathed.  “He broke into this house!”

“He did not!” Nona lied.  “His son lives here,” was all she could offer to qualify it.

“Not no more!” the woman said, laughing.  “And praise Jesus for that!  Who knows what sick thing he mighta did with that child whenever he took him away from here.”

The rage suddenly mushroomed in Nona so phenomenally at the notion that this gossipy shrew would insinuate what she did about a man she’d only ever observed from her snoopy window, and make such an unfounded accusation, especially considering Arthur’s own childhood, about which this woman knew nothing, that before Nona knew her next thought, or better judgment, she had whirled around and cuffed the lights out of the woman.  Unlike the huffy soap-opera slaps of most women, Nona’s whole raging body went into this one, as the entire left side of the woman’s head was suddenly slammed against Nona’s red palm.

The lumbering body crashed to the ground, only to bounce back with an equal furor.  Frighteningly sooner than Nona was ready for, her own face felt the prickly white explosion of a fist in retaliation.  The sting was so profound that it blinded her for a flash and jarred her inner ear, careening her to her knees, in a disorienting stupor.  The world was sideways and rumbling.  The crowd became bedlam.

She worried about her reconstructed jaw, which had never been fully strong again after the rape.  Yet in an instant, that worry was gone and was replaced instead with the impenetrable hunger to make pulp out of this loud, classless, clueless, detestable BITCH!

Dumbed by rage, which obliterated her earlier fear, Nona sucked in a gulp of air, held it in her lungs, closed her eyes, and dove back in.  The absurdity of the sight of these two was not lost on her:  The Hey Baby in signature furry slippers, hair curlers, shorts, and overly long acrylic nails; and Nona in her splendidly wild Galliano gown, and her Louboutin shoes that she’d spent a solid week shopping for, on Rodeo Drive, just for the occasion.  (Not this occasion.)

As the two wildcats tore each other to fleshy shreds, and Nona worried about her return receipt, the officers were intercepting Arthur from Daniel’s clutches.  There was such a flurry of chaos that Nona could barely know where to direct her temper.  At the Hey Baby?  At the uniformed men who were cuffing Arthur?  At Sonja?  Or at God?

“What is going on here!” Daniel demanded.

“Sir, I’ll ask the questions,” remarked one officer, in that quintessentially arrogant manner of policemen.  “And I’m asking you to step back.  But I’m only asking once.”

Nona heard this all in the distance, but was otherwise engaged.  Suddenly Daniel looked up to see her dilemma and went madly awry, running out to pry the women apart.  The two officers followed on his heels with Arthur’s arms held tightly by each.

Nona was all the more confused when two arms swiftly grabbed her that were neither Daniel’s, nor the Hey Baby’s, nor the two cops.  A second squad car had arrived on the scene, she realized, with many more officers in tow, and she was now being brusquely clutched at her arms, as Arthur had been, by a second pair of uniforms, and promptly handcuffed for assaulting the Madwoman of South Central.

A smug impulse leapt out of Nona suddenly as she calmed herself with the assurance that people like this woman probably never read a book in their lives, so that her anonymity in this mortifying scandal could remain intact.  And she wasn’t even allowed to turn around to see if they’d cuffed the madwoman too.  How many cops were even here?

“This is an outrage!” Daniel spat at the gathering of law enforcement, before Nona could beg him to shut up.

“Say one more word, asshole, and you’ll be hauled in too.”

And he was.  Daniel could never shut up when shutting up was needed.

Nona could only muse to herself the ridiculous irony of this evening.  Here they were, the three celebrated artists, who had, only hours ago, clinked glasses with the country’s royalty, now somewhere off Manchester being arrested as common thugs for disturbing the peace.

As this horrifying scene grew larger and uglier, one of the officers placed a hand on her head and guided it into a squad car, as her wrists burned from being bound behind her.  She watched them handcuff Daniel and shove Arthur to the ground.  Her mind reeled, this is not happening!  Beyond the greasy glass of the squad car window – her first – she watched Arthur lying on the ground, his own hands manacled behind him, quaking and sweating from the need for a fix that would not come this night.  She saw him resign from life and become passive, his will resolutely leaving his sick body and abandoning him.  As they all had.  Arthur’s mother and father.  God.  Now Sonja.

She and Daniel caught a glimpse of each other, he in one car, she in the second.  Both their hearts were clearly broken, and not for their own trivial plights, but for the put-upon man who’d been fraught with so much despair already, and now lay like an animal against the asphalt, once more afflicted.

She had always thought of Arthur as one who slithered through life like so many lizards who got trampled by the boots of big men.  Like a man with no Christian name, he was too low to the ground to be considered worthy of not being trampled.  No one caught lizards the way they caught butterflies – to admire their beauty.  Arthur only blended into the foliage like the many lizards who prayed that one more day might be theirs without being stomped or stalked for their hides.  She’d often thought that perhaps that was why Arthur desecrated his own hide with so many needles.  To insure that no one would want his.  To insure that he might be left alone in this life.

Tonight that image became realized with the most brilliant clarity, because she watched Arthur’s colors change before her eyes to blend into the cement so that they would not find him.  And though his body was theirs for the time being, his soul had dissolved from their sights.  His eyes were empty.  He looked Nona’s and Daniel’s way, and she clearly saw all volition gone, vaporized by the great heist of his only son.

How had the night – a night they’d all anticipated with jubilation – gone so wrong?

 

 

From The Assassination of Gabriel Champion

 

 

 

A Man With No Christian Name

 

 

 

 

 

Angela Carole Brown is the author of three published books, The Assassination of Gabriel Champion, The Kidney Journals: Memoirs of a Desperate Lifesaver, and Trading Fours, is a recipient of the Heritage/Soulword Magazine Award in poetry, and has produced several albums of music and a yoga/mindfulness CD.   Bindi Girl Chronicles is her writing blog.  Follow her on Twitter, Facebook, Instagram & YouTube.

Yes, Said She

Yes, said she

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Angela Carole Brown is the author of three published books, The Assassination of Gabriel Champion, The Kidney Journals: Memoirs of a Desperate Lifesaver, and Trading Fours, is a recipient of the Heritage/Soulword Magazine Award in poetry, and has produced several albums of music and a yoga/mindfulness CD.   Bindi Girl Chronicles is her writing blog.  Follow her on Twitter, Facebook, Instagram & YouTube.

THE REAL : Radical Self-Care or Tyrannical Task-Mastering?

Peekaboo shot

 

We all want the same things.  Happiness.  Love.  Health.  Me, I’m a fine-tuner, a tweaker.  I once read a birthday book that described January 1 people as chronic self-improvers.  It’s the word chronic that has me suspecting that the inference might not have been positive.  Whichever position the book was taking on it, it did nail me. That is my nature in a nutshell. When the lug nuts are loose, on my life, my soul, my character, I tighten them. The thing is, the little suckers do get loose again; that’s just the normal wear and tear of living. I can either keep my tools at the ready in order to re-tighten and keep going, or I can beat myself up for not doing the job right in the first place. Even though the definition of doing the job right – when regards a lug nut – does not guarantee that it’ll never have to be tightened again.  In fact, the only thing that is guaranteed is that it will.  And yet that is where I get seriously tripped up.

Let’s take today.  My first completely non-agenda day in more than a week.  Very stressful week prior, and I’ve been looking forward to this day, all week long, of powering-down and blissfully thinking of nothing.  I’ll just give a few bullet points on how this “day off” unfolded.

I wake up this morning – no alarm clock – and instantly, instinctively, ritualistically, catch my naked form in the mirrored closet door that spans the wall’s entire length and width.  Judgment.  Instant.  Merciless.  Am I bigger than yesterday?  Smaller?  I do this assessment every single morning, because I’m perpetually trying to lose weight.  It’s so routine, in fact, that I’m not even shattered by it anymore.  What I am, though, is unhappy.  I will at least give myself this much credit; I no longer talk disgustedly about my weight gain.  These days, when I do speak of my desire or my efforts to lose weight, it is with a conscious gentleness.  I just can’t be the one who starts a frenzy of self-loathing among my women friends of a similar age, most of whom are trying to lose their middle-aged weight too.  I’ve seen it happen, and have even been the instigator of that soul-crushing domino effect of “my disgusting arms, my disgusting belly,” but no longer am I the one who starts or participates in that avalanche.  Make no mistake, though; I am not happy.  I wish I could let go of an idea of how I used to look, and embrace where I am today. That has been a great challenge.  And where I find myself divided to points of utter hair-pulling confusion is: Do I believe in embracing self-acceptance of my present, or do I believe in going after goals? Or is there a way for both concepts to work together for the benefit of body AND soul?  I actually do practice a radical self-care lifestyle. I eat whole, clean food, I hydrate like crazy, I walk and hike and do yoga, I meditate, I make certain to get some nature time in, I have therapeutic and creative outlets.  I am so much healthier, and feel so much better, in this lifestyle, yet still I judge myself everyday for not looking like I used to. Such a miniscule part of the whole schematic, yet I make it larger than everything else. That particular lug nut gets loose an awful lot. I catch myself in the mirror and furiously try to dissect why my body changed the way it did. Menopause! Laziness!  Depending on the day of the week or my mood, there’s a different culprit to blame. And so, the ritual of judgment. Every day. And today, my DAY OFF, is no different.

Next I check email.  Brush my teeth.  May not shower today since I have no obligation to leave my house.  Still, a twinge of guilt hits me at this decision.  I should take a shower. I don’t feel like it. I’m utterly exhausted from a busy and emotional week (a dear friend was in the hospital), and I won’t be encountering anyone today, so why should I care so much about a shower?  Yet the twinge lasts. Apparently not enough to make me turn the nozzle and hop in, but just enough to make me annoyed with myself, and harshly critical at what I have decided is laziness and apathy.

I start breakfast with my second annoyance of the day already in gear and it’s barely 10 a.m. Leftover ginger soup, made with turkey bone broth, and fresh spinach tossed in. Yummy. I should walk today. That’s my mode of exercise. Vigorous walks through my lovely neighborhood, or hiking the nearby canyon. But I can’t think about that right now. Really very tired.  My soup is so delicious, and I love the smells it puts in my home. I don’t smell! Why can’t I shake the shower thing? I’m home alone. Why does it matter? Mmmmm, savory ginger soup. I should really walk.  Goddamn it!  See?

I’m already exhausted from the ludicrous back flips my thoughts are doing, all while trying to eat my breakfast.  I should sit in silence and eat my food mindfully.  Uh oh, is that another should ? And if you read my blog article, Mindful Eating, you’ll know why this is even in my head.  But I don’t sit in silence. I turn on the TV to Kelly & Michael.  It’s my morning ritual on days when I have to go to my part-time office job two days a week.  On those mornings I bop around getting cleaned and dressed, making breakfast and feeding the cat, all while Kelly’s and Michael’s sparkling repartee provides white noise.  I don’t tend to do the ritual on days off.  I prefer a quieter morning ritual on those days, a ritual more befitting my Mindful Eating essay.  Except that today my brain is romping like crazy, so I’m looking for television’s dynamic duo to help distract my head while I sip my ginger broth.  Of course the guilt arises that I am giving any amount of my morning to this vapid time-waster.  So, now I am killing two birds with one stone, as I judge both the TV show and my indulgence in it.  I’m on a roll.   I need a day off from my day off.

I don’t need to give you the full play-by-play of the remainder of my day.  You get the gist. Nothing much actually happened, which was exactly the point of the day, and yet by the end of it I was thoroughly spent from all the noise.  My head was so filled with guilt, and judgment, and shoulds, and the niggling pressure to DO something, and the harshly critical indictment that I even chose to have a down day, as if it is something shameful.  Because what are we, as Americans, if not putting all our value in doing and accruing, as opposed to just being? Meditation always helps. But even just getting myself to the proverbial mat is really tough when a day like this occurs. Today it was impossible.

I can’t say I don’t know where the penchant to punish comes from.  I do.  I have made a decent but very humble living for a long time now, all the while trying to get something of mine to burst wide open, whether it’s the music or the books.  And my attempts at this have been largely futile.  You don’t deserve a day off, my inner imp whines at me.  You need to get in that corner and do some thinkin’, young lady, about all the missed opportunities and wasted potential.  And you need to nitpick at everything.  And so . . . I punish.

Take the DVD I chose to watch later on of this “day off.” Twenty Feet From Stardom deserves the Oscar it won. It’s a powerhouse movie that I’ve been excited to re-see for sometime now. It’s also a movie that takes me to a melancholy place, because of the subject matter. I’m a singer. I’ve made my living at it for a very long time. But if some of the remarkable singers in this movie are, to a certain degree, bemoaning their lot of always being the session and touring singer and never the star, I watch it bemoaning my lifelong inability to reach even THEIR heights of being the sought-after voices for some of the most iconic songs in pop history. My own history, and deeply grateful living, has been quite a ways humbler than that. Most days I’m incredibly happy with the career I’ve had, and the musicians that have given me work as well as their ardent respect. But a movie like this can, on occasion, take me to a pretty dark place. So, why would I even choose to see it a second time?  The easy answer is because it’s a wonderful movie. But is it purely coincidental that I chose to watch this particular movie on my day of chilling out? Or is the pesky little deep-seated self-punishment imp deciding to hang around, brilliant saboteur that she is, and telling me that I have not accomplished enough in my life to deserve to chill? That I need, instead, to be up on my hindquarters in white-knuckle anxiety. Guess what, Miss Thing? You’re not gonna get to relax. You’re gonna exhaust yourself with all the doubts and the what-ifs and why-didn’t’cha’s that can be mustered. Because you SHOULD be further along in life, and shame on you for not being.

By the end of the movie, just as I did when I saw it in the theater, I am in tears, and standing up and applauding these women of extraordinary talent and their compelling stories (my own cousin being one of them . . . an original member of The Blossoms, who did every major vocal session in the 50’s and 60’s).  I am deeply moved by these stories.  I am also taken to my couch.  And not in the good way, the hammock and a good book and a mason jar of lemonade kind of way that is exactly what a day off should be.  Nope. I am taken to it in that crippling, fetal position way that fears life passing me by without having left the mark I’ve always felt was my calling to leave.

Likewise, I’ve managed to get nothing going with my book. I have three of them already out there, but the latest is really THE book. The one I feel is my opus. And except for a handful of dear friends and awesome moral supporters, it has gone largely unread and unknown. I keep trying to say that I’m not lazy. Hey, I produce content, baby. Six albums, as many full-length books, a one-woman show. That canon does not get produced by a slacker. I keep trying to say that something else is the reason I’ve never gotten any real shots. But after exhausting all other possibilities, and coming up with no clear answers, I think I may, after all, be lazy. I’m certainly tired. Everything I have to give goes into what I create (which, ironically, never tires me). But after all of that, there’s just nothing left over to give to hustling, and promotion, and marketing, and going out into the world, and meeting and networking, and being witty and quick and charming and all those things that seem to be what is required to get anyone to give you and your work the time of day. I don’t have it in me. It’s not in my nature. And from one day to the next, as I am on this constant road of self-examination, my tune is either that I’m genuinely at peace with my nature, and am happy with the blessed life that this nature has given me, and I clearly see the power and beauty and enlightenment in that . . . to believing . . . No.  Get up.  Do. Make it happen. It’s not too late. Don’t collapse now. Collapsing is giving up, and there’s nothing evolved or enlightened in that. And I am split wide open and right down the middle with trying to determine which principle I actually do align with.

The spiritual work that I have been doing has been truly transformational. But spiritual transformation is not a neat and speedy ascension to that higher place. It is a resolute road of one-step-forward-two-steps-back, filled with amazing moments of insight, daily challenges to our better angels, and THIS!!! . . . this “day off” that has just sicked Ronda Rousey on my ass.  It’s also not (or at least, should never be) a tyrannical slave labor camp.  And that’s where I can sometimes get stymied.  My passionate embrace of radical self-care and self-inquiry is so all-encompassing that it even led me to start this blog to explore the vast landscape of that consciousness. But I think that days like this can sometimes happen because I tend to fill my life with stringent standards that I’ll beat myself up about not reaching. And if not managed with some semblance of balance and breath, the whole self-care thing can actually backfire. And by breath I mean that proverbial, symbolic inhale and exhale of not having to be perfect, not having to be in ballet-dancer-upright stance 24/7.

I think that I have given myself so many tasks towards this spiritual evolution (don’t forget to meditate, don’t forget to bless your food, don’t forget to buy organic or grow your own, don’t forget to be of service to others, ad nauseam) that I can begin to crumble under the weight of them. And with the crumbling comes the self-punishment, the why can’t you get your act together? inner talk, when the crumbling is only because of all the weight I have put on my shoulders. But the answer is not to snap the whip when those tasks are not completed. The answer is to remove, I don’t know, maybe a couple hundred of those cinder blocks that I’ve heaped on my shoulders. Because otherwise, one of two things happen. I either crumble into that fetal position, self-berating and sinking into depression in reaction to the tyrant in me, as I did today, or I implode and rebel against her. So, how do I remove the weight and heft in this journey to be a better me? How do I let go, and let gentleness prevail?

The way to it is through forgiveness.  I’ve been writing about forgiveness a lot lately (read Unexpected Angels : A Perspective On Forgiveness), because it is a crucial key to stepping up a little higher on that ascension, that higher realm, and it has truly been tested in the world lately.  I find it easily the most important principle to explore, to put into practice, and to understand what it truly means.  And I have lately neglected putting those principles into practice on my own self.

If I were someone else talking to Angela, I’d have this wired.  I would passionately grab her by the shoulders and say:

“Forgive your body for daring to evolve from young to old.  Whatever society says about you because of your age is society’s flaw, not yours.  Forgive your efforts for daring to be committed to art, and not marketing.  Everyone can’t be everything.  Forgive your talents for not getting you certain gigs.  They are unique talents, and clearly didn’t belong in those boxes.  Maybe there is no box yet created for your gifts. Maybe there never will be. But you keep renewing your agreement with the universe to make sacred art anyway, you keep cultivating your own unique voice, and you let the rest go.  Forgive your needy, needy need to reach a certain status in order to be acceptable to society, and your human moments of faltering in the mission to elevate yourself in consciousness.  Your life is so beautiful, with friends and family that rival most folks’ friends and family any day of the week.  You have love in your life.  You have food on your table.  You have health and wellness and compassion.  You have a curious brain and a heart eager to evolve in spiritual consciousness.  You have a very special gift as a creator of books and music and art.  You deserve a day off.  To sleep in, to read your juicy book, to watch vapid TV, to walk on the beach, to surf the net, to look into the mirror and love your magnificent vessel that has carried you through fifty-five years on this earth in effortless mastery.  It has even saved someone’s life! So, take that, Self-loathing Thomas (lesser known and even more deep-seated brother to Doubting)!  You deserve a day off to do absolutely nothing except swing on that proverbial hammock with that mason jar of lemonade and CHILL.  And to know that you are not less to do so.”

Forgiving ourselves for not being perfect specimens may be the hardest thing we ever do.  We all have a wart or two, or ten, don’t we? We try to buff those warts up, better them, put a little spit shine on them.  Or we try to tuck them away and pretend they aren’t there. We rationalize them, justify them, or we self-berate, as I spent an entire day off doing.  But it really all comes down to this:  We can transform, evolve, improve who we are, learn something new every day, open our hearts, practice compassion, and yet at the end of the day we are still not perfect specimens in 24/7 upright ballet-dancer stance.  We aren’t designed to be.  And so all of those rough edges, the warts, the fears and guilt and defenses that still insist on lingering there, even with all the soul work we may do – that’s where forgiveness comes in. That’s where we’re tested to see if we can love and embrace every part of ourselves.  Because every part has a role to play in shaping who we are, and how we walk in the world.

As for my day off, well, it came and went, and my world didn’t crumble.  It just left me a whole lot more exhausted than any day off should.  But I ended it with pouring this onto paper.  That’s something. A stab, always, at trying to work it out. Trying to listen to the higher voice. Trying to be understanding and patient when the lug nuts loosen.  Hey, all that really means is that the tire covered a whole lot of great road.  And I truly am okay as long as I’ve got my tools.

I suspect I make some uncomfortable when I write about my humanness in such a public forum. But please don’t mistake this, ever, for self-immolation. It is the voice of rigorous honesty, of getting really, really real, and coming out on the other side.

One more quick story, but it’ll tell you everything about my penchant for this kind of writing. When I was an early teen, I saw a movie where a band of ski-masked looters burst into a fancy gala, and held the entire party up with rifles, and had everyone strip down to their delicates, so that their jewels, furs, and wallets could be raided. It was a scene that mortified me, and has remained as a lodged nugget of anxiety in the back of my brain ever since. This idea of being exposed, of having all of one’s bodily flaws and secrets stripped down for everyone else in the room to judge, laugh at, and shame. Here’s the light bulb though. Everyone else in the room is in the exact same vulnerable circumstance, even if, in that instant for you, there is only you. I’ve revisited that scene so often that it’s beyond counting, and yet I can’t even recall the film itself. Telling our stories is a bit like that. If we’re honest, we expose more than what advances the agenda of being totally together. And while that idea can be terrifying, it is also brave to do so in this present culture of spin and image consciousness. And a remarkable unburdening has the chance to occur, because the world of public opinion will instantly assure us that we are not alone. And by that process, we are not only unburdened, but connected. For me, there is no greater purpose in telling our stories.

There isn’t a breakthrough in existence that isn’t accompanied by some aches and pains, but what comes out with us on that other side, always, is freedom.  A freedom worth cultivating and renewing and re-tightening every single day. That’s my healing motif. The voice I’ve cultivated.  I believe it can be of benefit to others too.  That’s why I write.

J.M.W. Turner understood that.  I saw his works at the Getty recently, and was blown away by the naked pain, and storms (as symbolic as they were literal), that he portrayed.  And yet, his way with light is startling.  That is the way with light, isn’t it?  What does Leonard Cohen’s song Anthem say?  There is a crack in everything.  That’s how the light gets in.

 

 

 

Photo credit: Drea Rewal for Timestamp Photography

 

 

 

 

Angela Carole Brown is the author of three published books, The Assassination of Gabriel Champion, The Kidney Journals: Memoirs of a Desperate Lifesaver, and Trading Fours, is a recipient of the Heritage/Soulword Magazine Award in poetry, and has produced several albums of music and a yoga/mindfulness CD.   Bindi Girl Chronicles is her writing blog. Follow her on Twitter, Facebook, Instagram & YouTube.

UNEXPECTED ANGELS : A Perspective On Forgiveness

forgiveness

Ahhhh, Facebook.   It’s an odd and fascinating communications platform, when you consider that the very best of it has sometimes generated important grassroots movements, and that the very worst of it, because of the safety of our own home sitting at a computer, and that we aren’t obligated to put a human face to a name and profile avatar, has bred some of the most loathsome social behavior I’ve ever witnessed.  For me personally, the gold in Facebook has been the numerous long-lost friendships that, without social media, may never have been possible. On the other end, of course, is the odd stranger that we wonder why we’re Facebook friends with in the first place, and the crazy rantings that have required the socially devastating “unfriend”ing.  But every once in a great while, believe it or not, an actual life lesson can be found on Facebook.  Something unexpected and valuable lurking amid the sea of cute cat videos and vomit-mouth etiquette.

Here was mine, from a few weeks ago.  A friend posted a most disturbing video of a woman encouraging her child to savagely beat on another child at a playground.  It was shattering to watch.  And of the myriad feelings I had regarding the witness, the primary one was that we lose jobs when we’re terrible at them, and parenthood should fall within those same parameters, and I just prayed Social Services got a hold of that woman.

Many people weighed in on this post, expressing their outrage, as well.  One man was so outraged that he used epithets that clearly betrayed his ignorance of his audience. The N-word was bandied about pretty freely.  Gee, can you guess what race the woman in the video was?  I can genuinely say that what the woman’s racial or social demographic was didn’t even enter my mind for it being so overfilled with the horror of her act (which, by the way, Put-Upon White Man, happens in every race).

Before even weighing in on the contents of the video itself, my response to the post, which included the original poster’s own words “This is so shocking!” was, “Well, it looks like there’s equally shocking right here on this thread.”

I had to wonder, too, what kind of friends my friend had that this kind of blatantly racist response was even possible, until I reminded myself that I have said yes to friend requests countless times of people I don’t personally know, because as a working artist I’m always trying to expand an audience base, and, to be frank, I have “virtually” met some pretty amazing people on Facebook over the years.   And so, the reality is that with such a practice also comes the risk of inviting the periodic troll to infiltrate.

Another friend, Melanie, weighed in immediately after me.  Someone I actually do know personally. Someone I regard as a pretty sage woman.  She’s also African-American, like me, and had clearly also seen Put-Upon White Man’s rant too, because her comment right after mine was, “I know, Angela, right???? Lord have mercy!”

A few others made similar comments.  What fascinates me still, even as I reflect on this thing that happened a few weeks ago, is that most of the comments were reactions to PUWM’s rant, not the video. His own ire at the video (we all shared that!), which just HAD to go to a very nasty place, had completely overshadowed the horror on the video.  Because this nastiness was right in our backyards.  Who is this friend of my friend, who would rather spit in my face than shake my hand? is the shuddering subtext. That two-degrees of separation is too damned close!

I kept tuning in to see how this thread would grow, because frankly I was waiting for my friend (the original poster of the post) to get on here and condemn this man.  She never did, nor ever weighed in again beyond the original posting of the video.  But I’m very glad that I did keep tuning in, because of what unfolded next.

First off, after a fashion I noticed that PUWM’s original rant had been deleted.  And then somewhere down the line of this thread, maybe 10 or 12 comments in, he weighed in a second time.  His comment this time was an apology.  And not one of those defensive apologies we’ve all had to roll our eyes at from time to time.  He owned his racial outburst, iterated that he’d been so blinded by his rage over this video, which had broken his heart, but copping to it being absolutely no excuse, and ended with “Please forgive me, ladies….” addressing the myriad women who had commented on his rant, and lastly, “Lord forgive me.” And before I could even react to it, directly afterwards was my friend Melanie’s response to that:  “Thank you, Mark.  That is appreciated.  We need to pray for that woman and her children.”

Okay, so at this point I’ll stop calling him PUWM.  He has a name.  It’s Mark.  And yes, even Mark deserves to be called out by his Christian name, and not Put-Upon White Man, which, admittedly, has been my way of showing him zero respect, because it’s become such a cliché, and I felt like reducing him to the cliché, because, guess what? . . . I’m goddamned mad too.

I have to admit, I was stunned by Melanie’s ready acceptance of Mark’s apology.  She and I share a very similar spiritual path of compassion & empathy, and consciousness-based cultivation, and we are both huge believers in forgiveness.  I just hadn’t determined whether I was ready yet.  But Melanie didn’t need to decide if she was ready.  Melanie leapt.  Melanie forgave.  Melanie chose the higher road, without question, without needing to be ready.

It really did take me a minute to adjust this thinking, to wonder how she could do this so effortlessly, to have to face that my ball of fury had just had a pin pricked into it, and was deflating rapidly into a flat, self-righteous platitude.  My own initial gut feeling was that Mark was only offering this apology because he got nailed on his abhorrent behavior, and that anyone who is capable of that language, and the intent and belief behind the language, will be absolutely capable of it again.  Just give him another circumstance, a fresh audience, and sumpn’ else for him to be raging about.  But did I know this for certain?  That his apology wasn’t genuine?  That he hadn’t really thought about his irresponsible and hurtful words?

What if Mark had had his heart truly opened by this exchange, had offered his amends, and then been shunned and dismissed?  What, then, would that say about the sacred principle of forgiveness? Something pretty shameful, I’d say.  Melanie wasn’t about to try and second-guess Mark’s intentions; her ONLY option was to put noble principle into healing practice.  If Mark’s apology really wasn’t the real thing, if there was just a whole lotta bullshit goin’ on, that’s for Mark’s soul to wrestle with.

And so, while that was murky at best for me to wade through, it was as clear as a fresh spring to Melanie, my beautiful guru-mama sister-friend.

I carefully decided to say something myself.  My instinctive thought was yeah, whatever, and not to respond at all.  But in the spirit of my dear compassionate friend Melanie, and my own spiritual practice of forgiveness, I also offered a “thank you” to Mark, followed by, “The video broke my heart too.”

In those simple words  –  Melanie’s: “We need to pray for that woman and her children,” and mine: “The video broke my heart too,”  –  we let Mark know that the feelings about this heinous video were shared by us all, Black and White, male and female, Democrat and Republican, Christian and Atheist.  Us, them.  Whatever and Whatever. That there is actually more that connects us than there is that separates us, if we’re willing to see it.  What an opportunity to offer healing, when my own instinct would’ve been to let the opportunity slip right through my fingers, and remain in the huff that someone else’s hate had engendered.  Mark walked away changed too; that was evident in his further comments.  He probably hadn’t ever thought, for a minute, that his apology would be welcomed and accepted.  And if it had just been me alone out there reacting to his rant, it wouldn’t’ve been.  So, thank you, Melanie, for reminding me.  Yep, folks, a true spiritual practice requires rigorous renewal every single day, and unexpected angels and bodhisattvas to show us how.

In illustrating how much more connected we are than separate, a wall was torn down.  It humanized everything. And that could ONLY have happened by a willingness for forgiveness.  Melanie had thrown down the healing gauntlet.  In a landscape of nothing but enraged hearts, how brave to be the one.

Forgiveness is a funny thing.  It shouldn’t be.  It should be startlingly clear.  When Dylann Roof committed one of the most heinous single crimes in our recent history, the people least likely to, the families of the shooting victims, forgave.  I personally was floored.  It restored my lately-waning faith in humanity.  But who on earth would ever think that instead of being absolutely lifted by this example, as I was, that there would be a backlash to it?   Of course, there’s always going to be a militant response to such compassionate practice, people who are natural warriors, who believe morally in an eye for an eye.  And I would even venture to say that most of us who aren’t militant would look at such compassion, and admire it even as we are admitting we’d never be able to do that.  But the overwhelming backlash seems to be coming from the mainstream community, and not just asserting that we can’t do it but that we shouldn’t.  The angle being that it finds these forgivers to be suckers, for lack of a kinder word.  The charge is weakness, gullibility, and allowance of further racist behavior.

One article I found interesting and quite intelligent, in spite of the fact that I disagree with its fundamental creed, is by Stacey Patton for the Washington Post.  The prevailing thought in this article is that Black America is the only culture expected to forgive its racist perpetrators.  No one expects forgiveness toward al-Qaeda or ISIS.  No one expects the Jews to forgive the Nazis.  But Black America is pressured to forgive when the conflict is race.  And when forgiveness is given, all Black America is doing is allowing more and more offenses to be made.

“Black people are not allowed to express unbridled grief or rage, even under the most horrific circumstances.”

Allowed?  At least in this country, we all have the complete free will to choose how we feel, and how we will heal.  And the trap to fall in is to assume that because there is a choice made to forgive, that grief or rage are not present.  Even by framing the phrase “politics of forgiveness”  Ms. Patton politicizes a basic tenet of grace and love.  There is no politics to this.  You either practice it or you don’t.  It advances no agenda other than grace and love itself.

The most poignant thing Ms. Patton says is:

“. . . offering absolution to Roof is about relieving the burden of anger and pain of being victimized.  In this regard, forgiveness functions as a kind of protest, a refusal to be reduced to victims.  It sends the message to the killer that he may have hurt them, but they are the true victors because they have not been destroyed.”

This I passionately agree with.  But she then counters it with the pronouncement that there is a demand by White America for this forgiveness.  Demand?  You can bet that White America was as stunned as anyone when these families chose the higher ground.  Besides, how insulting to the intelligence of these compassionate soldiers Ms. Patton’s insinuation that White America is somehow their puppet-master, pulling strings.

I also challenge Ms. Patton’s claim that when Black America, especially of the Christian ilk, subscribes to the philosophy of forgiveness, it is being done out of some investment in the hereafter, a kind of E-ticket to Glory. Heaven or not, the only true salvation for this fractured present-day culture will be in cultivating that tenet for the life we are living right here, right now.

What seems not to be a part of the argument, at least in this article, is that to refuse to forgive is to keep oneself spiritually enslaved.

It’s important to know what forgiveness is.  It may be even more important to know what it isn’t.

Forgiveness isn’t permission.  Forgiveness isn’t forgetting.  Forgiveness isn’t remotely weak. Forgiveness IS rising above.  Refusing to fuel.  Bringing to the table a different kind of challenge.  And just possibly, changing that landscape.

There are many valid and insightful points that this article makes, and so I do urge you to read it.  But while we are cautioned by Ms. Patton not to give forgiveness quite so quickly, from my own micro-example of that very dynamic, I can personally attest that when my friend Melanie gave it quickly, the entire landscape shifted from people divided to people communicating passionately together about the original problem (that horrendous video of mother and child).  Healing was right in front of us.  A coming together and acknowledgement of what connects us more than what divides us that would NEVER have happened had rage been met with more rage, and heads banged.  Me, I was ready to put up some dukes and be a part of the fray.  But it wouldn’t have been the right choice.  And a golden opportunity would’ve been tragically missed.

 

 

 

 

 

Angela Carole Brown is the author of three published books, The Assassination of Gabriel Champion, The Kidney Journals: Memoirs of a Desperate Lifesaver, and Trading Fours, is a recipient of the Heritage/Soulword Magazine Award in poetry, and has produced several albums of music and a yoga/mindfulness CD.   Bindi Girl Chronicles is her writing blog.  Follow her on Twitter, Facebook, Instagram & YouTube.