Your Package Has Been Delivered

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Our Senses Whispering . . . Or Is It the Dead? (A Year-End Thought)

angel-statue

Certain laws of the universe just seem to never fail:

That if we’re looking for something we’ll never find it;

then suddenly when all effort is abandoned, there it is.

The guarantee that if the appointment is conveniently close to home,

we WILL be late to it.

And the absolute assurance, when someone we love dies, that themes of living, truly living,

not just sleepwalking,

are suddenly as loud as sirens.

 

They say to be devil-may-care when you’re young, and cautious when you’re older,

but I have begun to maintain the exact opposite.

Young is when you should organize and plan,

so that effective longevity stands a greater chance.

It’s when you’re older, and with fewer days ahead than behind,

that the attitude of “what do I have to lose?” makes more sense.

The older I get, the bolder I get.

It didn’t used to be that way.

I used to grow increasingly conservative as the years went by

and the hairs on my head began to lose their color.

A little more cautious,

a little more nervous,

the sense of consequences ever larger and clanging in my head.

But in this past year, a shift of some sort has happened.

And, yes, I am indeed growing more into the “what do I have to lose?” category.

 

I believe the reason is that a personal record number of people in my life passed on this year,

and the sheer volume of it has dizzied me.

And perhaps with how untimely so many of them have been,

I’m simply being nudged to move with more deliberateness in my gait.

Because, after all, tomorrow could be my last,

as it was (too young!) for so many I knew.

And then what would’ve been the point in my hesitation?

 

This isn’t a gloomy thought.

On the contrary; it is fresh with hope.

Ripe and rife with possibility.

Inspiration to be gleaned from the seeming senselessness of death.

It IS senseless, that death,

unless we, the ones left behind in life, choose,

through it and because of it,

to be awakened.

 

“Be nobody’s darling:
Be an outcast;

Be pleased to walk alone
(Uncool)
Or line the crowded
River beds
With other impetuous
Fools . . .
Be nobody’s darling;
Be an outcast.
Qualified to live
Among your dead.”
― Alice Walker

 

“And when great souls die, after a period peace blooms, slowly and always irregularly.
Spaces fill with a kind of soothing electric vibration.
Our senses, restored, never to be the same, whisper to us.
They existed.  They existed.  We can be.  Be and be better.  For they existed.”
― Maya Angelou

 

We are not born only once,

but many times over, when someone dies,

to a better level of ourselves,

climbing studied rung by studied rung,

to reach a self worthy of that death.

 

. . . At least we should be.

 

The Scottish song Auld Lang Syne by Robert Burns

translates roughly to “times gone by,”

and was originally a commemoration song about loved ones past,

and never letting them be forgotten.

According to modern legend, Guy Lombardo popularized the song

when his band used it as a segue between two radio programs

during a live performance on New Year’s Eve in 1929.

Purely by coincidence, the song happened to play just as the clock struck midnight,

and a New Year’s tradition was born.

 

2014 was a rough year by just about all accounts of everyone I know,

and much of it had to do with death, for some cosmic reason.

So, as long as we’ve had to endure it,

it might as well not be in vain.

 

That’s up to us.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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.