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!