Those Who Read Books

J693x503-11682

 

Those who read books travel the world and time itself.

Are explorers, adventurers, discoverers.

Take on beggars and kings with no thought in the ranking.

Have their minds forced open and their spirits ever expanding

in insatiable hunger for more.

Those who read books fill themselves with wonder.

Know that a book is a friend,

a teacher, a priest,

an agitator.

Are not afraid to be made uncomfortable.

Grow the wings that continue, muscle by muscle,

to sprout upon reaching “The End” time and time anew.

Fly.  Fall.  Fly again.

Those who read books are changed.

And glad of it.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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.

Advertisements

A Rose Knows

Portrait of cute gril with big afro

 A rose blooms and releases fragrance.
It doesn’t question its deservedness.
A rose just knows. 

I’ve been wanting to tell of this encounter ever since it happened a few months ago, but have waited without really knowing why. Until yesterday morning, when I realized I’d been waiting for the title of my story. Victoria Thomas of the Agape Center, who was the visiting speaker at the spiritual center where I chose to spend Mother’s Day morning, at one point during her talk said the above quote. As soon as I heard this, I knew my piece was ready.

This spiritual center that I have newly started calling home, and sometimes sing at, hosted a craft faire this past Christmas, and anyone who had a craft was offered the opportunity to have a booth. I’d hesitated a commitment, and lost the opportunity, as booth space was spare and quickly snatched up. I didn’t represent a single thing that day, even though I have CDs, books, I’ve been handcrafting dreamcatchers for the past year, I make dolls. I sort of felt frustrated with myself that I’d had the instinct to hesitate, but ultimately it was okay as I had great fun attending in order to support all the other artists, crafters, and friends. And to top that off, on the day of the faire, right outside the front door of the center, the neighborhood’s Christmas parade was going on, so it was just one of those magical, wonderful days to be alive and to be part of a community.

“Would you like to buy a copy of my book?” she asked.  She was eight years old.

The bazaar was teeming with booths and tables of handmade jewelry, and crafted dreamcatchers (damn it, I make dreamcatchers!), and exotic crystals, and one-on-one healing sessions of every kind, from Reiki treatments to spirit animal readings. I’ve always been a sucker for a craft faire, especially if the general bent is New Age-y. I am crystal and sage mama. Always have been, and this was like a miniature version of the Whole Life Expo.

I’d already pocketed a few choice purchases. Knickknacks that would add to the energy and color and boho spirit of the 700-square-foot home I call my Zen cottage. I’d just made the silent promise to myself, “No more. You’ve shopped plenty now.” But who says “no thank you” to a little girl?  And a book?  She didn’t have a booth, I saw no inventory; she’d just planted herself in a corner.  I needed to see where this would lead.

“You have a book?” I asked her.

“Yes, I’m a writer!” she offered proudly.

“Well, okay then. How can I possibly say no to that?  How much for one of your books?”

“That’ll be one dollar.”

As I handed her a dollar bill, she proceeded to pull from her knapsack a single piece of notebook paper, folded in half.  I could barely contain a giggle. The title on the “cover” was The Little Fairy, and was adorned with the drawing of a stick figure sprite, some clouds and a sun.  I smiled so wide at my purchase, making sure to show her my delight, and couldn’t decide if it was more precious or ballsy.

I opened the folded piece of paper to reveal the story inside:

There once was a little fairy and she loved to fly.
But her wing got stuck on a rose bush and broke.
“Oh no” she cried.
She was sad so she went home and tried to fix it but she couldn’t.
But then she knew someone who could fix her problem.
“Can you fix my wing?”
“Sure.”
The End.

Whaddaya know, a lesson in conflict resolution. Made as simple as it truly is, if we adults could only manage to find our way around the viscous clouds that apparently go with adulthood.

“What a wonderful story,” I said to her. “I hope lots of people buy your book today.”

“Thank you!” she blushed.

I couldn’t rid my brain of this little girl for the rest of the day. Was it her creativity that I found so irresistible?  Or her unbelievable tenacity to assimilate with the adult world around her of product and consumerism? For certain it was her purity of spirit, and the compulsion to put her unfiltered, uncomplicated, I-don’t-need-no-stinking-booth carpe diem spirit, and her entitled (I write, therefore I am a writer!) energy into the ether.

“What’s your name?” I asked her, before I walked away.

“Angie,” she answered.

“No kidding.  My name is Angie too.  Except that everyone calls me Angela now that I’m an adult.  But look here, we have the same name.”

All Angie could do was giggle.

“May I share something else with you?  Not only do we have the same name, but I’m a writer too.”

“Where’s your book?” she challenged, without even a moment’s pause.

“Well…I….I…..”    I didn’t have a ready answer.

She just smiled, and let my “well…” hang in the awkward air, waiting for a conclusion that never came. I smiled back, wished her the world, and kept on roaming, but with my tail somewhat between my legs.

IMG_4566

I had absolutely fallen in love with this little girl’s mighty chutzpah, and decided that her book would have an honored place hanging on my refrigerator door behind a magnet, reminding me always. Reminding me always.

I see grace in everything. I just don’t see the wisdom in not. Because it is a paradigm that functions to create an environment where I always feel taken care of.  And on that day, with that encounter, grace was in full action as I was taken care of by a young girl who taught me, in no uncertain terms, that I needn’t ever question my deservedness.  A rose certainly doesn’t.

Neither did Little Angie.

 

 

 

 

References:
Victoria Thomas of Agape Center
Center for Spiritual Living Granada Hills

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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.

 

Ommmmmm


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.

 

The Night, The City, and Miss Thing

MissThing Noir


The street is dark and wet, straight out of The Third Man. Moody, too (although allusions to the 3rd M probably make that unnecessary to qualify). I’m a sensualist. I can imbue mood onto any canvas in a Film-Noir-German-Expressionist heartbeat. You know the scene. The streetlamps refract their light against the glistening pavement in circles here and there like stage lights, mysteries hide in the shadows, but otherwise there is no one and nothing around me. Only my tiny 2-cylinder foreign job, making its way across the emptiness of downtown LA at midnight, the whooshing sighs of tread on rain-drenched asphalt, though the rain itself has stopped. Not even the homeless, of which there is a copious population in these parts, seem to be in the vicinity of this stretch of brick tenement buildings and corrugated metal pull-downs. They’ve all found their way underground, I imagine, until the sidewalks dry. Is there such an underground? Or are they merely camouflaged up against the mud-colored landscape of industrial drab, invisible but present? The city is asleep by every indication of my surroundings. I pull up to the address on my yellow notepad, and park directly across the street from my destination. I don’t see any other cars, which means I’m the first one here. I don’t intend on getting out until I see a familiar car, a familiar face.

Damn Ross for this. There’s always a rabbit hole he’s got us going down, and this particular one feels especially dubious. After all, I’m dressed head-to-toe like the mutant offspring of Norma Desmond and RuPaul. It’s my own creation, The Fabulous Miss Thing, an arguably self-governing alter ego who allows me carte blanche on the stuff I could never dare as Angela. The uniform is: Platinum pageboy wig, teased and puffed out so voluminously that I was barely able to fit in my car without grazing it on the ceiling. Black satin bustier that shows an ample bosom, and which is even bosom-ier when I’m in the seated position. I could literally rest my head on my boobs if I had a mind to. The only thing covering any portion of the boobage is the white satin Miss America sash that goes over the shoulder and across the décolletage that reads “Miss Thing” in elementary school cursive glitter. A floor-length black velvet skirt, with train, that evokes Morticia Addams, whom I’ve always longed to channel. Leopard-spot platform hooker strappies that make me drag queen tall. Black opera gloves with claw-long blood-red press-on nails glued to the fingertips. My proudest possession. My proudest achievement in the area of drag queen aesthetic.

I was mistaken for one once, wearing this very getup, as I attempted to apply my fake eyelashes in the mirror of the women’s room at Club Largo. They didn’t have a dressing room for us, so it all had to be done right there in relative public, when a woman walked in and stopped dead at the door.

“I think you’re in the wrong restroom,” came the polite warning, but underscored with disgust and disapproval that I, penis-owner that I MUST have been, would have the gall to choose the women’s room for my sartorial transformation.

I responded in the lowest-register voice I could muster, but with a sass only drag queens truly know how to muster, “Honey, we’re in West Hollywood. Every room is the right room.”

Fuck ’em if they can’t take a joke.

( … the genuine, if ridiculous, transgender bathroom debate notwithstanding … Just let people pee!)

I presently stare out of my car window, which is fogging up because I insist on talking to myself: “Damn you, Ross! Why do you drag me to these freak fests, and then don’t even have the nerve to show up on time?”

I adjust my wig, and check my makeup in the rear view mirror.  I’ll put my tiara on after I exit the car. Not enough room in here.

Twenty minutes pass. I don’t own a cell phone. Finally I give up waiting and exit the car. I look around, darting eyes this way and that, shake everything out,  adjust my boobs inside the bustier, place the tiara on my head, but am prepared to wield it as a weapon should the need arise.

I hasten across the street, holding my Morticia train in my left hand to keep it from getting wet, and run across as fast as my platform heels will allow. The banging on the door lasts longer than I’m comfortable with, and I fear waking up the sleeping shopping carts who may be hovering near after all. This part of town is adjacent to Skid Row, and not exactly the Brewery District either, but some sort of limbo Purgatory in between. Artists may very well have lofts here, but I’ve seen neither hide nor hint of an artist yet. Only my own frightened bouffant shadow. Why didn’t I hitch a ride with Ross? Or Dan? Or Liz? My partners in crime this evening, if they ever decide to show up. But then again, we’d all be late if I’d done that.

My banging finally results in an open door, opened so violently I’m almost throttled with it. The woman on the other side looks like someone Warhol would’ve groomed, and sure enough leads me up a narrow, unlit staircase to a darkened lair startlingly evocative of Andy’s infamous Factory. She’s chatty and charming, and I apologize for the tardiness of my mates, and swear to her that they must be shortly behind me, only to be told that they’re already here. I’m the one who’s late, it turns out. Why hadn’t I seen their cars outside? I never do get that answer.

As I follow her through a maze of partitions, and strangely lit cubbyholes and cubicles, we finally arrive at the bowels, a space with film cameras and lights, a set whose centerpiece is a singular large round bed draped in bordello pink, with a bevy of sofas on the set’s periphery, meant to create a waiting lounge area, and people. People everywhere. Behind the cameras. Holding up boom stands. Standing around with giant makeup brushes in their hands. Lounging on the sofas. And the hostess herself, Dr. Susan Block, a brassy blond who is actually a real life bona fide psychologist, even if her claim-to-fame is a sex talk show for public access TV, is sprawled across the bed draped in little more than her pet boa constrictor. I seem to have entered upon some kind of Dr. Caligari kink-fest. 

My escort promptly disappears as Ross and Dan wave me over to where they’re sitting on a cluster of ottomans in the waiting lounge. For some inexplicable reason, my mouth opens and an English accent comes out. I tend to do that. It’s the silly in me. And I actually have a pretty good ear for it. I guess I feel compelled to be even more incognito than my Miss Thing ensemble renders me. And true to wacky form, neither Ross nor Dan even blinks an eye, as the world we’ve created for ourselves is a strange one indeed, as befitting the name of our organization, the Orchestre Surreal. Dan jumps right on the Brit thing, and Ross just chuckles.

“Where the hell have you brought us to?”   Imagine that sounding like a whispering, spitting Helen Mirren.

There are a smattering of other guests sitting on sofas, and a few pairs seem to be having sex.  Wait, am I seeing that right? It’s awfully dark in here, but I swear coitus is happening around me.

“Yeah, I really didn’t know what to expect, to be honest,” Ross whispers back. “But it’ll be fun. Let’s just go with it. We’re here to promote the Ford show, so let’s just stay focused on that.”

Tonight would mark our last in a string of radio and TV spots Ross had set up for us to do, to pump our new scripted show at our most prestigious venue yet, Hollywood’s John Anson Ford Ampthitheatre.

Dan, who goes by Dangerous Dan, is an ample fellow, who nonetheless moves nimbly and deftly to points of defying physics, and who decks himself out in red and gold satin fighter shorts, and a Viking helmet. He has a staggering singing voice, and an even more staggering, larger-than-life, room-shredding personality. He dubs himself the opera singer with the lethal stinger, or the singing Viking with the destructive striking, or the Karate Pavarotti. I think he actually does walk around his life speaking in rhyme. He’s far nuttier than any of Miss Thing’s antics (and she’s pretty nutty, if you’ve ever seen her channel her inner German dominatrix for These Boots Are Made for Walking “Das Boots!”). Ross is dressed as his alter-ego, Elvis Schönberg, the musical miscegenation of the King of Rock, Elvis Presley, and the King of Early 20th-Century Dodecaphonic Music, Arnold Schönberg. Yes, you heard that right. In fact, of all the orchestra’s repertoire, the one piece that actually IS that specific fusion is a 12-tone treatment of Blue Suede Shoes. You can’t make this stuff up, folks. And yet, though this madness comes from inside that brain, Ross is actually the most mild-mannered one of the group. But brilliant. Brilliant this guy is. He’s created this thirty-piece orchestra, as its sole orchestrator, arranger, conductor, and conceptualist.

Elvis Schönberg’s Orchestre Surreal is a wild ride, indeed, always pushing against the boundaries of genre, and daring to suggest a world stripped of those borders. So here it is in a nutshell. Hopefully our Blue Suede Shoes has given some hint. It presents radically different artistic expressions and genres that, in Elvis Schönberg’s world, have every obligation to collide. The result is a deconstructing of known and unknown songs with the wit and whimsy of Spike Jones but the musical complexities of Frank Zappa, with a little Juan Garcia Esquivel and Joe Frank thrown in, while showcasing easily the wackiest wacky-savant orchestra of thirty musicians in recent history. It’s Hendrix meets Strauss, The Doors meet Rite of Spring, Creedence meets Prokofiev. Unholy marriages that couldn’t be more anointed under any other baton but our Elvis’s. It actually does require a learned crowd to fully get his thing, even with the sometime foray into the scatological. It’s a mélange of high-brow and low-brow, to be sure. But we are about to appear on what seems to be some sort of porn set, so just how high-brow can we be?

Ross’s ensemble is tux & tails, but with zebra stripes of bright red and green. Gumby hairdo. Black horn-rimmed glasses. He’s a very handsome and fit fellow, but you’d almost never know that to see him costumed as Maestro Elvis. And of course Elvis never leaves the castle without his conductor’s baton. 

“Where’s Liz?” I suddenly think to ask. And just as I ask it, she appears, cute little girl/woman, clad in her actual Catholic school uniform, with the skirt hemmed extra high. Yes, she’s all that, and a talented violinist, who, of the string section members, was the only one willing to tag along on this crazy adventure. But she’s also clearly just as wigged out as I am about this cable access sex circus, and expresses her concerns to Ross that whatever happens tonight her parents can never know about this. Ross does his best to calm us women down.  

“We’re just here to pump the show, that’s all.”

I continue with my English accent, and Ross dares me to commit fully. Susan Block doesn’t know us from Adam. She has no idea if I really talk that way or not. I’m all in!  How could it possibly be any nuttier than what we’re already inside of?

As Dr. Susan speaks into a camera, she evokes a bit of Elvira in slinky style, except that the words coming out of her mouth are smart. She’s talking politics, and it turns out the woman’s got a head for it. She introduces her first guest, and it’s a gentleman dressed very like an Ivy League professor. I expect, in spite of our Midnight Movie surroundings, some kind of intellectual discourse as betrayed by Dr. Susan’s progressive spoutings. But no. The Professor proceeds to read dirty poetry to a young woman dressed as Alice (she of the original rabbit hole), who does nothing but sit there spread-eagle. Blue Movie Performance art! It’s all so La Dolce Vita, or La Strada. Anything Fellini, frankly. Or Jodorowky’s Santa Sangre. This scene is just kinky enough to be slightly nightmarish. I’m thinking Caligula, the Bob Guccione cut.

After Alice and the Professor finish their bit, they join Dr. Susan and her snake on the big bed. I just about freak at this witness.

“We’re not getting on that bed with that snake!” I spit into Ross’s ear. Well, Judi Dench is spitting in his ear. Even in my panic, I have fully committed to the Brit thing.

“Really? I think it’d be kinda fun,” he says. I have to give it to Ross; he has the best attitude about leaping into unsure waters, and a kind of bravery I do not possess for traversing the unknown. Or even just the bizarre. It’s precisely why he can create as brilliantly as he does. No one’s told him, “you can’t do that!” Or if they have, he ain’t listenin’.

Well, the bizarre I’ve given into tonight. I’m fully on board. But there is no way I am getting anywhere near a live boa constrictor. 

There are a few other guests that we sit through, all displaying their wares and various talents, and all of whom have some kind of sex angle.  

“We don’t have a sex angle. What are we doing here?” Dan asks Ross. “I have a wife at home.”

“Trying to get an audience to our show?” Ross says, frustrated, to the umpteenth person (well, just me, Dan, and Liz) who questions why we’re here. The reality of this business, and this town, is that the hustle has to go right alongside the art, or you’re sunk. So here we are, paying our dues in the most extreme way the phrase could possibly mean.

Before we know it, it’s our turn. Dr. Susan has been informed that her next guests will NOT share a space with her snake, fornication is still going on upon a nearby sofa, and the hostess herself seems warm and intelligent (easy to assume the worst, and the worst is what I have been assuming). She’s actually written for The Alternet and The Ecologist, on civil liberties and freedom of speech. She’s no dummy; she just decided that being a “sexologist” was her calling.  

We climb upon this bed prop, which is no easy feat wearing the getup I’m wearing. Plus there are four of us, not counting Dr. Suzy. Yes, I have continued with the English accent, and so the first question upon the cameras rolling is, “where are you from, Miss Thing?” When I answer “Compton” with the straightest of faces, which is no joke, which is the absolute truth, but sounding like Kate Winslet, the room laughs. Hmmmm, unintended humor.

Dr. Susan Block is actually a stimulating hoot to chat with, as she tells her television audience all about our upcoming piece at the Ford Amphitheatre, and describes Ross’s music as politically charged by the simple virtue of its strange-bedfellows juxtaposition of seemingly conflicting musical elements, and what those relationships say about the world we live in. She really does get us, and of course Dangerous Dan is making the whole room laugh with his Robin-Williams-on-speed quick wit and bull-in-a-china-shop physicality, and so this cable access spot is actually working the way it needs to. We’re being entertaining. Unless, of course, no one’s watching. And I can’t say there isn’t a part of me that’s kind of hoping no one I know is. My prejudices are about me, for sure. Plus, there are Liz’s parents to consider.

Still, I’m actually having a good time being Miss Thing, or at least the Edina & Patsy version, and regaling stories along with my orchestra cohorts about our upcoming show, whose plot involves gamma rays, aliens, human sacrifice, Dangerous Dan running for president, and Miss Thing saving the world.

Dr. Suzy keeps trying to get Liz and me to show the audience a boob or two, which neither of us is about to do, but we beg off with chuckles and coyness, instead of indignation, because we’re HERE. No place to be presenting as superior and self-righteous when we’re all sprawled out on a big-ass porn bed, and would, each one of us, be hauled off to Parker Center if the police decided to raid the place. But yes, Dr. Suzy is certainly giving it her best shot at a sex angle between the two chicks, as this is what her show IS. Ross, as Elvis, talks about his vision for the orchestra of laying the foundation for a New Avant Garde. Dan stands up on the bed at one point and does an impromptu and unaccompanied rendition of Puccini’s Nessun Dorma, rapping a good portion of it and making the bed tip and bounce like the last hours of the Titanic. He ain’t called Dangerous for nuthin’. Liz gives us all a little sampling from her violin, all the while Dr. Suzy comes awfully close to licking Liz’s bow. The Doc is playful and frisky, and she wants us to be playful and frisky, and we’re only willing to go so far, which she’s probably not that happy about. It’s definitely a surreal 20 minutes, to be sure, as I keep one eye forever cocked to make sure that snake is nowhere slithering. But at the very least, our spot manages to include all the details about our vaudevillianesque show, aptly named Symphony of the Absurd.

At a certain pivotal point within the years that we’ve each been a part of the Orchestre Surreal, I think we’ve all come to an understanding that we’ve stepped into something that might just take us to another planet. And there is always a certain amount of danger whenever flight is taken and horizons are breached. Absurd is most certainly a part of what we’ve invited with this category-obliterating, no-holds-barred musical universe that Ross has created, and that we’ve all collaborated on by bringing our various characters along for the ride. As unsure as the twists and turns may sometimes be, there is honestly no greater thrill than to be a part of something so unique, so singular, so seductive and subversive at the same time. After all, crazy promotional efforts like tonight’s John Waters odyssey aside, Elvis Schönberg, in the form of mild-mannered Ross Wright from Laguna Beach, California, and his fecund Orchestre Surreal, are stripping away the barriers of cultural, generational, and artistic divide, just as surely as we are also mischievously riffing on fossil fuels, hermaphrodism, and stiletto fetishes.

As the director calls cut on our segment of The Dr. Susan Block Show, and we climb off of the giant bed, I ponder the mask I wear as The Fabulous Miss Thing. It’s certainly the E-ticket to wild and crazy adventures, as Angela would never be caught dead in a place like this, or would leave immediately upon discovery. And honestly, it would be my loss. Because there is nothing more dull than a meticulously planned life without the wild fringes to remind us that we are no cookie-cutter emblems of humanity; but merely humanity, in all of its thousand absurd shapes, timbers, tempos, and Day-Glo hues. But even more poignant, if poignancy can be had by a tiara-wearing cartoon character, is that Miss Thing is also the e-ticket to infinite possibilities on stage. As Angela, because I am mostly out there in the gigging world as just myself, it’s pretty hard for me to “do” sexy and over-the-top for the folks, besides which performance for me isn’t about trying to sell sexuality or outrageousness to an audience as a commodity (all deference paid to the Gagas of the world). But even if it were about that, being some Jessica Rabbit sex fantasy is virtually impossible for me to conjure anyway, because it’s too distracting, frankly, from truly connecting to a song. Besides, it renders a feeling of silliness because I don’t actually buy it. And if I don’t buy it, how on earth can I sell it? But the minute the mask is on, the minute I am The Fabulous Miss Thing instead of Angela, replete with self-assured adjective as an integral part of the moniker, I am it, and effortlessly (even if I do draw the line at boob shots for a porn crowd). I can sport a British accent and dare anyone to call me out for my lunacy. And none of Miss Thing’s antics creates any distraction from owning her song, in fact the antics are as much a part of the song as the adjective is to the name, because she IS a very purposeful trip to the moon and back. There is just something about the safe respite of the shadows behind the mask that allows me to own that Vamp Scamp, or even Crazy Lady, so completely that there is no possibility of being rejected. That is, after all, the subtext, isn’t it? Putting oneself out there in a giant way, whether as Femme Fatale, Clown, or Diva (all three of which are Miss Thing), invites scrutiny and possible rejection. Angela’s heart couldn’t take it. She’d much rather be the ego that is stripped down to the bare knuckles, operating merely as conduit, so that the art itself shines. But as for Miss Thing, not only can her heart endure rejection, but she is so larger-than-life, so seizing the world by its Misters, that rejection isn’t even an option.

That last thought stops me in my tracks for a second. Is it actually possible that there could be lessons to be learned from The Fabulous Miss Thing? Or is it perfectly alright that Miss Thing is one phenomenon, gale force who will be reckoned with, while Angela is simply another, preferring to give the floor to the work itself, and that both have their place in my artistic expression?

As an official break is called, while cameras reload and sets get moved around and that damned snake seems to be back in the picture again, Dr. Susan steps off the bed and thanks us for joining her. We sign release forms, shake hands, and thank her for inviting us on, and for helping us to promote our upcoming show. And as Ross, Dan, Liz and I walk out of the vast downtown warehouse into the wanton L.A. night (actually, deep into the dark, dark morning by this point), our shadows tower and loom against a far wall. I fully expect Orson Welles and Joseph Cotton to come peering out from around a corner with fedoras cocked and guns drawn, or some moody Bernard Herrmann score with a tenor sax wailing its noir cry. The appropriately glistening streets have never been more appropriate, as the prisms of refracted light from the streetlamps in the here-and-there puddles threaten to mesmerize us into thinking this has all been a dream.

And as Miss Thing hops into her cheeky little sports car (yes, I can magically conjure my old Toyota Tercel jalopy into Angelyne’s hot pink Porsche if I believe it enough), one more bit of surreal gets checked off a list that apparently plans to go on, and on, and deliciously on.

 

 

 

For more information on The Orchestre Surreal

 

 

 

 

 

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.

 

A Glimpse of Grace

Untitled-1

Last year at Thanksgiving I published an article about the song Amazing Grace, which seemed fitting for a holiday meant to honor gratitude.   This year, as we prepare our tables, I offer you a remembrance from one of my own Thanksgivings past.   A consummate illustration of grace.  And which, in whatever form, is always amazing.

Autumn, 1978.  The Jonestown massacre had just splashed across the nation’s newspapers, and my mother protectively drew her family into her bosom in an almost hysterical way.  She was due to be the keynote speaker at a conference in Atlanta just a few days after the coming Thanksgiving.  She often traveled for business, leaving us to hold down the fort, but this time decided that the whole family would go with her, take off early, and make a little vacation out of it.  On Thanksgiving morning, we piled into a roomy, rented twenty-six-footer RV mobile home, and headed east on Interstate 10.  I had just gotten my driver’s license, and my stepfather promised that I could have a try behind the wheel of the behemoth, probably somewhere out in the desert, where there would be fewer other cars for me to endanger.

My mother and her best friend Dolores (whose kids were with their father for the holiday, so she was joining) had packed the RV with all that would be needed to prepare a turkey feast, and with Dad at the wheel the women immediately commenced to cooking in the small kitchenette of the RV.  The plan was that wherever we were by the time dinner was ready was where we’d stop and have our Thanksgiving dinner.  The two of them took up the whole middle section, which included the kitchenette on one side of the RV and a large table for eating on the other, against a huge picture window, and which immediately got covered with all the food preparation.  My sister Pam, brother Mike, and I were mainly relegated to the back, an area that was much like a large restaurant booth and table, around which we sat with our many board games, and stared out of the large back window onto the vista of road behind us.  Above us were pull-out bunks for sleeping.  Mike ran back and forth between the stern to riding shotgun with Dad.  The women kept begging him find a spot and sit still.  Yeah, good luck with that.

The whole way across California, and by the time we hit the Colorado River, Mike and I had just about exhausted the adults with our impressions of bits from our favorite TV shows and hit songs, and I even shared some of my teen-angst poetry with Dolores, who seemed genuinely interested in it, though I’m pretty sure none of it was very good.  She was just great that way.  Pam had her head buried in a book, a constant place for my bookworm sister.

My stepdad was a bit of a video recording fanatic, so from the moment he invested in his new camera our family wasn’t given much peace or privacy.  On this trip Mike was in charge of the camera whenever Dad was doing the driving.  And while Dolores would shy away any time Mike aimed the camera her way, my mother was in her Norma Desmond element, always ready for her close-up.  Pam and I hammed it up whenever Mike aimed the lens our way, and Dad couldn’t help micro-managing Mike’s shooting technique from the driver’s seat.

“You’re not doing it right. Here, let me show you.”

Mike ended up being responsible for lots of accidental vérité-like shots, but then, frankly, so did my stepfather, who often forgot that the camera was still on when he’d lay it on its side to go do something else.  The shot would be a thrilling twenty-minute study of an ant crawling across the sideways table.  Andy Warhol would’ve been proud.

And all the while, the women cooked.

Cooking was a calling for my mother.  If she was in the kitchen, we knew an old-fashioned jubilee was about to happen.  At home I had often watched her when she’d make her monkey bread.  And sometimes she’d even try to teach me a few things.  It would be an all-day affair.  Learning to scald milk, which is a delicate procedure that requires precise timing and a hands-on skill.  Feeling the yeast between my fingers and dipping it in the lukewarm water.  Adding just a pinch of sugar to the softened paste, then watching it dissolve.  Separating the egg whites from their yokes, and adding them to the yeast paste.  Watching the miraculous alchemy of flour and milk and yeast and eggs become dough, dusted then kneaded.  The sensual nature of my mother’s hands to the sticky white mixture, and the way she’d dip her fingers into the velvety flour in order to handle the doughy mound, was artful.  She never rushed it.

The soft mound was then left in a glass bowl to rise.  She would always declare the watched pot never boils edict to me whenever I wanted to stare at it while it rose, but all I wanted to do was stare at it while it rose.  And once it was ready to be brought back out to the wooden block, perhaps an hour later, she would knead it some more.  A rolling pin would lay it out large and flat, and the flick of her wrist was something to see.

Next would come that part of the ritual in which the whole family was encouraged to participate.  We’d each take a diamond-shaped cookie cutter, several of which she’d collected over the years, and carve out squares that we would then dip individually into a pot of melted butter, and place in a Bundt pan.

Layer upon layer of little buttered squares would fill up the pan, which would then be placed in the oven, until some forty-five minutes later the bubbling brown masterpiece, with the molten jigsaw puzzle resemblance, would be a most aromatic table centerpiece quickly devoured.

This age-old Southern-tradition side dish is called monkey bread because when it’s turned over and released from the Bundt pan onto a bread platter it merely needs to be pulled apart with one’s fingers, not cut with a knife, and that was an especially enticing notion for us kids.  My mother made a pretty spectacular monkey bread.

I loved watching her stand back and enjoy satisfying her family’s bellies, and I knew that this, for her, was a kind of sacred meditation.

So, though we were all having a ball driving through town after town, on this holiday mobile-home odyssey, singing songs, telling jokes, and either ducking or mugging for the video camera, my mother never lost her stride or focus in preparing our food.  Dolores was equal to the task with her revered soul-food pigs feet and hot-water cornbread, but it was my mother whom I’d watched and studied for more years than I’d ever put into homework, so her talent was palpable for me.

Before long, the RV cabin started to fill up with the aroma of turkey and oyster stuffing, and yams laden with marshmallows and brown sugar, and sweet potato pie, and collard greens and cabbage, and macaroni and cheese, and lima bean casserole, and the famous monkey bread (which was actually prepared at home, and brought with).  It was insane and inexplicable how Martha and Dolores had managed to accomplish all of this culinary breadth in the tiny kitchen of this moving tin-can.  And that fact was only a testament to their cooking prowess.

It was still daylight but inching toward dusk by the time dinner was called, and we were in the middle of the desert somewhere in Arizona.  I’d finally been given my turn to do the driving.  I hadn’t killed us, or anyone else, but I had made a few precarious lane changes that had my mother and Dolores yelling at me, for almost losing a bowl or a dish to the ground.

“Sorry!” I would yell, while secretly giggling and feeling my oats.

Dad filmed the whole thing, laughing at my cowgirl driving and Martha and Dolores trying to hold onto the pots and pans.

I continued to drive only until we spotted a rest stop with a cluster of picnic tables off the highway.  I parked.  We all stepped outside.  The air was cold and crisp.  Colder than we Angelenos were accustomed to.  We bundled up in our various parkas.   There was no one in sight.   Because who plans picnics at the threshold of winter?  In the middle of the desert?  On Thanksgiving?

We all unloaded the many suitcases that my mother had packed into the undercarriage of the RV, and dragged the heavy things out to one of the picnic tables.  While Mike and I immediately commenced to chasing jackrabbits, and while my stepfather found his challenge in keeping up with a camera perpetually glued to his eye, my mother, with Pam’s and Dolores’ assistance, began to unearth from the suitcases her prized Dutch linen table cloth, the eight matching napkins, her silk Damask table runner, crystal water goblets that had been carefully bubble-wrapped, silver place-settings and napkin rings, china, candles, and an ornate candelabrum.  I mean, this thing could rival anything that ever sat on Liberace’s grand piano.  It was like watching a magician pull the kitchen sink out of his top hat.  And she proceeded to transform the prickly, cactus-surrounded dust bowl of rough and tumble nature that we’d claimed as ours for the afternoon into a dining experience for kings.  And thought nothing of the peculiarity in the whole affair.

My stepfather managed to capture all of her nutty splendor on tape (though it is fairly heartbreaking that some nearly 40 years later that cherished video footage has been lost).

She then yelled for Mike and me to stop chasing rabbits unless we intended on capturing one to go with dinner, which had us screaming in mock horror, and she bade us help her unload the RV of the many hot platters and fragrant casserole dishes and steaming pots and containers, and we took them, in several trips, over to the finely dressed table.

And right there in the middle of endless Arizona horizon and desert stillness, save for the periodic lizard or tumbleweed that might scamper by, and as the sun began to set, leaving us with only a dusted dusk and my mother’s candlelight, we bundled up in our coats, we sat to a king’s spread, we bowed our heads, and we held hands as Martha prayed, “Thank you for blessing this food that we are about to receive, for the nourishment of our bodies, and for the love and communing of family.  Amen.”  We raised our glasses to toast the feast, dug in to ridiculously mouthwatering fare, and absolutely loved the crazy novelty of it all.

Grace was not a word often associated with my audacious mother.  But like catching a shooting star in one’s periphery, I would see, just here and there in my growing up, brilliant evidence of it.  Sometimes in only tiny, fleeting swatches.  At other times still, as with our never-to-be-forgotten wilderness Thanksgiving, it would scream out in bold strokes of wild color, like a magnificent comet.

 

 

From the upcoming “Fiercely Sweetly”
© 2014 angela carole brown

 

 

 

 

 

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

Refractions of Light: My Quandary with Memoir

picasso-girl-before-a-mirror2

Look in the mirror.   And tell the story.

To write or not to write the memoir is a topic often bandied about; and usually what’s discussed or debated are the ethics of such an endeavor.  James Frey’s  A Million Little Pieces  is probably the best-known controversy in recent publishing history.  He created a national scandal, even involving Oprah, by pushing the envelope on the ethics of telling the truth.  Lauren Slater purposely challenges our notions of truth versus embellishment versus downright deception, in her book  Lying: A Metaphorical Memoir,  by questioning whether fact equals truth, or is just one by-product of many that delivers a truth.   Charles Mingus’  Beneath the Underdog  doesn’t read like memoir at all, but like the most artful turn of poetry, at once urbane and plebeian, which has begged the question:  Just how “creative” is his memoir?   Yes, loads have been written and discussed on the subject.

I confess to being baffled at all the uproar Frey’s book created.  I once wrote a novel, a piece of fiction, that was told in first person from a child’s standpoint.   And at one juncture in its development I had toyed with the playful enough conceit of calling it a biography “as told to Angela Carole Brown.”   And with, frankly, never the intent to genuinely deceive a public, as it would all, by design, come out in the wash, and just be this piece of fiction turned on fiction’s ear.   But at the time I was considering it, the idea seemed harmless enough while achieving that sense of urgency that a true story intrinsically has on the psyche.   It never even occurred to me that such a conceit could be somehow profoundly damaging to culture, as I am someone who believes that truth does not always equal fact.  A universal truth can be unveiled in the very best of fiction.   So, yes, I was a bit puzzled over the degree of James Frey’s “crime.”   Yes, he exaggerated his story.   What exactly did that take away from us?

One of the rumors I’d heard throughout this scandal was that Frey had originally submitted his manuscript to the publisher as fiction, because though it had come from his own experience he admitted to greatly embellishing, and therefore thought it was best to submit it that way, and that it was his editor who suggested it would be more marketable as a memoir.  Whether or not that rumor is true, I think the greater point here is just how easy it is for a “true story” to be rendered true, false, real, deception, whatever, merely by the way in which it is framed.   And that perhaps Truth isn’t subject to perception and window dressing, but is the oak beneath it.

I have my own quandary with the memoir, but it looks nothing like the above.  Because though, as I’ve said, I never really saw the injury in James Frey’s “true” story, this article is not about to be some confession that I , too, have written a lie and called it memoir.  No, I have not done so.  And I’m not saying, by my take on the Frey scandal, that I’m a proponent of deception.  He exaggerated some details.  A memoir is supposed to be the truth.   I get that.  Only that perhaps Frey’s deception really didn’t merit the public slaughter it received.   He wasn’t writing a history book.  He was sharing his own personal experience for the greater purpose of the message it had to offer.

I only even bother to mention this particular avenue of the dialogue on memoir, and my take on it, because to write a piece on the memoir and not to acknowledge its most road-tread of avenues would be to plant an elephant right in this room.   And no, I never did publish the “biography as told to Angela Carole Brown,” nor in its pre-published state have I remained with the idea of that conceit.  To be honest, the reason I abandoned the idea (which was only a momentary entertaining anyway) is because such a gimmick would only distract from a story I believe is compelling on its own merits.   Its day will come.

Here, finally, is my quandary.  As a writer, I am primarily a novelist.   It’s only been in recent years that I have even begun to entertain the notion of the memoir.  And what I know about myself is that my issues with self-value have often created a twisted knot of identity assertion and confusion whenever I have entertained that notion.

Simply put, I’ve lived in the belief, for my entire writing life, that memoir was reserved for people in the public eye.  After all, why would anyone’s story be interesting to a total stranger unless it was that total strangers already know who you are, and this is, after all, a culture of fame-worship?  The irony here is that most of the memoirs I’ve read were written by writers who had not been especially well-known prior to a publisher finding something powerful in their story and taking it on.   And yet, the belief in me seems to be gravely deep-seated, and likely more a reflection of my own self-worth than anything.

I’ve generally tended to journal.  But I’ve never been that person who opens the notebook ritualistically at the end of every day lived, dates the log entries, and into the golden years can boast volumes upon volumes of my life on paper. No.  It’s been erratic and sporadic at best.  Something just hits me as worthy of documenting.  And I may not be hit again for several years.

The first of those incidents in my life that I felt strongly enough about documenting, in a way that I could easily envision as a book, was the death of my mother.  It was, however, almost a decade after her passing before I felt clear enough to unfold it in the written form.  It’s a book that I’ve more or less finished, though I’m not quite ready to put it into the world yet, and the reasons are more personal than they are about marketing and pacing strategies.

What continues to fascinate me is that the entire time I was writing it, a balls-to-the-wall battle was going on between my two selves: the Left Self, we’ll call her, who argued that everyone has a story, and every story has value not only for the one living it, but in the written form to be shared with others; that every story has a lesson, a light bulb, a dawning, to offer, if written with authenticity and purity of goal.  Every story has universality.

Right Self argued that no one cares about your story if you haven’t already made a name for yourself; that our present culture just doesn’t operate any other way.  And who do you think you are, anyway, to think anyone should care about your story?  That it’s only delusions of grandeur and self-importance that would make any writer think that her unknown life holds any interest for the average reader of books.  So stop being so narcissistic and wallowing up your own ass, and write a great piece of fiction, instead, that will be universal enough to resonate with an audience.

Well, fiction IS what I’ve generally tended to write.  And while I’ve always been a proponent of the idea that (though fictional) a great novel carries truth within it, just as I said above, I also believe that memoir is a very different animal indeed, and has a place.  The question for me became, does it have a place documenting Joe Blow’s ordinary life?

While these two Selves warred, I trudged forward, anyway, with my first stab at memoir.  Because something in me believed that my story had a message for the world.  One about the layered complexity of the mother/daughter dynamic.  One that examines grief in all its nuances and bumps.

Right Self, of course, just kept whispering, “self-indulgent.  Who cares!  You aren’t the first to write about grief.  And only the grief of Joan Didion or Frank McCourt or Edwidge Danticat is going to fetch an audience.  Go work yours out in therapy.”

Right Self had a point.  But I kept on writing, kept on trying to defend Left Self’s creed.

Since the writing of my grief memoir, which still sits on the proverbial shelf, I’ve written one other, not counting all those journal entries over the years of isolated mini-stories and experiences, which has been published.  I felt a little more qualified to write that one, though that idea discombobulates my brain because the fact is I am qualified to write about any part of my life.  It’s my life.  Who knows it better?  Yet clearly I am still being influenced by Right Self in determining whether I have a worthy story, and by extension a worthy life.  Isn’t that really what’s going on, Angela?  So I guess what I mean to say is that I was finally writing about something that might count as sensational and unique in the eyes of a society that craves sensational and unique, whereas death and loss and grief is not especially.

I’m truly bothered that I allow myself to reduce my merits to that graph; but, well, there it is.  The point of all this (all this being a good chunk of why I write) is to work that out.  I’ve already been writing, already producing content.  Now I’m just bobbing around in the waters of trying to get read, and trying to figure out the puzzle of how to get that done when I am not Joan Didion.

In any case, my unique story (the second stab at memoir) is that I donated a kidney to someone who might’ve died without it.  I saved a life.  This wasn’t done for sensationalism, but it was sensational, in every sense of the word, and in anyone’s book.  Yet what I wrote about was not the “hair-raising” or “breathtaking” aspect of such a deed.  All the adjectives any good sell-line MUST have these days.  The real story is about how the deed managed to save my life too, as I had been living in a profound spiritual malaise at the time this need presented itself.  And so it is the story of an ordinary and flawed human being struggling through the landmines of life.  Not about heroism.

And that’s when I realized that I was writing a book, yet again, that had Right Self’s eyes rolling.

“Who cares about your self-exploration!”

Right Self is mean.  But then so is the world.

I also now really understand my relatively new penchant for writing about myself, after years of writing fiction.  Because when I look back on the grief memoir that sits on the shelf, waiting for polishing  –  and courage  –  I realize that my flaws as a human being are not only on parade in that one too, just like with the kidney book, but truly are the nucleus of all my stories, it seems.  And it is suddenly clear to me that the gravity of my need to tell MY stories exists as a way of granting permission for my life to be made valid, and my flaws to be expunged if not transformed.

The act of storytelling, and my own stories specifically, may well be of no interest to anyone who doesn’t personally know me, but it is first and foremost, for me, an act of healing.

Now here’s where I will chest-spread.  I also believe that such an act of storytelling requires a special kind of bravery.  And I think what separates the women from the girls is the ability to resist self-aggrandizement in the writing, to look in the mirror, and to tell the story.

Of course, there are those who would say that the very instinct to write a memoir, in and of itself, is pretty self-aggrandizing.   Well, that’ll have to be.    It still requires walking a road many would shudder away from.

I read quite a bit of memoir when I was preparing for writing my first one, especially those dealing with grief.  There were the ones I was floored by, like Dave Eggers’ A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius, and the Lauren Slater book.   These were examples of startling perspicacity, the very seed of the brave and gnarly self-reveal.

And then there were the ones that were so much “Isn’t my life blessed?  Even with all its precious dilemmas?  Don’t you wish it was yours?” that I could barely get through them without choking on the propaganda.  I won’t name them; I’m not interested in being cruel.  But they were such obvious cases of fear and inability to see the pearl in authentic confrontation with the shadow that I felt deeply for the writers, if not the writing.

William Giraldi speaks in a recent Poets & Writers issue, an article on Louise Gluck, of knowing oneself en route to becoming oneself.  That “the facts of any life are impotent and ineffectual until literature intercedes, until it takes hold of those facts and twists them into the light, casting a refraction that allows us to glimpse them anew.”1

From the same article comes a quotation from Stanley Kunitz: “The empty ones are those who do not suffer their selfhood.” 2

I see both of these sentiments as revering the act of vigilant self-inquiry and the level of courage it takes to face Self, and to mean that only through that kind of bravery can any writing truly arrive at an important place.

So, my question is, could bravery possibly count as a worthy enough star in the memoirs of the unknown?  Might that be my sole hope for believing that I could tell my stories to an audience that would bother with me?

Or is the better question:  Should I care?

Maybe I should just be writing.  And healing.  And sharing the experience.  Because the experience of leaping out from a prison of the internal through words is like nothing else I can describe.   For all the criticism that both of these writers have received in their writing careers, I imagine that James Frey and Lauren Slater, both, understand that sense of liberation.  And I suspect there are resonant ears and eyes out there, just waiting for me and others like me, hungry for a tale that could very well be their own, for what it might dare to examine.   We just need to find each other.

And then, to be able to let go of all else.

Alas, my running theme in life.

 

 

*             *             *

 

 

Notes / Works Cited

1. 2. Poets & Writers, Sept/Oct 2014 Issue; Internal Tapestries by William Giraldi.

 

 

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, 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.

Nene & Me : A Love Story

Nene and me copy

Last night I spent hours going through all the footage from a (sort of) one-woman show I wrote and produced years ago called The Purple Sleep Cafe, and which I was fortunate enough to have filmed.   And I was going through the footage so that I could edit together an excerpt from the show that was about my relationship with my childhood friend and true savior during a difficult childhood.  I had idolized and now immortalized “Nene,” but she never knew about the show, as we’d lost touch in adulthood.   The last time I saw her (which was one of the only times since childhood) was at my mother’s memorial service twelve years ago.  We promised to keep in touch, and did for awhile, until eventually, as will happen, numbers got changed, leads ran dry, and we lost each other again.

She ran across my mind yesterday, and because of the advent of social media I realized the real feasibility of finding her.  So I excitedly culled through the show footage of my tribute to her, so that I could post it on YouTube.   It was actually a most joyous several hours of going back down Memory Lane, not only of the show I’d done (which actually climbed as far as Off-Broadway!), but of a childhood made special ONLY because of Nene’s presence in it.

The thought behind this effort was that I would get this footage up on YouTube, then find her on Facebook, reconnect, and send her the link to the video, which she has never seen.  It would be the perfect way back to her.

Today I went onto Facebook, and sure enough (as is the magic of Facebook), found her.  Only to learn, from a post that her daughter had made, that she passed away 6 months ago.   My stomach rushed up into my throat, and I’ve scarcely breathed since.   Who knew that in finally posting this footage, that it would end up being a memorial tribute instead of the entree into a reunion?

I sure do want to embrace the idea that true cosmic connections have occurred – that I would think of her, and put forth the labors to construct this gift, so shortly in the wake of her passing.   But I am, instead, bitter and resentful of my own gut and gumption not to have pursued finding her before now.  After all, how old is Social Media already?    That lesson we’re all taught, time and time again, of not waiting for inspiration, but leaping now?  How many more times do I have to lose someone without the chance to reach out, before finally getting that lesson through my thick skull?

I do realize I’m being very self-punishing right now.   The news is only hours old for me.   Perhaps I should’ve waited until I was in a better place to write here.    Except that I simply could not wait another instant to share this footage, to celebrate my friend, to lift her up, and call her glorious.   The bitter part of me says: “too little too late.”   The part that is full of grace says: “look at this remarkable gem that you get to keep forever, of this time in your life, this love of your life.”    I am grateful for grace.  And I am forever grateful for this love of my life.

This is a memoir of sorts, of one of the most special friendships I’ve ever had.

 

 

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, 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.