Poetry, Prose and Plays, Oh My

"I am just a man. No more. No less." 

This afternoon I had the emotional experience of seeing a black man cuffed, on the sidewalk and forcefully seated on a curb surrounded by 4 cop cars and 8 white cops. The man in cuffs was stressed out and scared but complying. One man (also black) was filming and reassuring the man he was documenting it all and he saw what happened and this was race based and he had his back. Cops asked him to stop filming but he didn't because he knew his rights. I began filming as well.

Looking on, I fought back tears in fear of what may happen to this man. We've all seen a million videos like this now but this was the first time it was happening right there in front of me and the powerlessness was overwhelming. In a hushed voice an officer said something to the man in cuffs about jaywalking. People do that in Santa Monica all the time. The man filming said a white woman was jaywalking at the exact same time and asked why she wasn't in cuffs, answering his own question with, "we know why."

I filmed until my phone ran out of space and then hustled late to my appointment. I couldn't stop wondering what happened after I walked away. I was eager to get back and see if he was still there, hoping there wouldn't be any blood on the sidewalk or street where he'd been. Had he been arrested? Had he been released? Is he injured? Is he alive? Will this be in the news tonight? 

At one point the man in cuffs said, "I don't even see myself as a black man. I'm just a man. No more. No less. That's how I see it." If only the world could see that too...

SoCal Regional Threshold Choir Gathering 

This weekend I had the pleasure of taking a road trip to Santa Barbara with a few members of the Westside Threshold Choir: Diane, Natalie and David. I hadn't been to Santa Barbara since the first and only time I visited in high school. I loved it then and in returning it surprisingly was even cuter than I remembered. Our gathering was held at a Unitarian church with that classic Spanish style architecture that's all over Santa Barbara. The weather couldn't have been better and the greenery was lush from this winter's rain. 

Before getting to the church, since we reached our destination quite early, we made a Kombucha stop. I found a great place on Yelp that had it on tap. David and I tried the Jasmine Bliss flavor and I also ordered a savory tart which hit the spot. Diane ordered a scone which she munched on throughout the day. A mist began while we were eating but it quickly passed once we were on our way again, leaving clear skies the rest of the day. 

Walking into the church, seeing the circle of chairs, the quilted chair in the center for extra comfort while being sung to, and the earthy group of women milling about, I was excited to begin the day of song. Multiple loaves of banana bread, a childhood favorite of mine, were set out to enjoy which made me immediately feel right at home and reminded me of my grandma. Coffee, tea, fruit, cookies, juice and other snacks were also available along with a treasure trove of goodies people brought in to exchange and books/CDs for sale.

We began by singing our names into the circle. I've never had 60 people sing my name in harmony. It's something to experience, for sure. And I loved watching everyone bask in the glory of their individual moment. Like much of what we do, it was heartwarming. From there we did a few vocal exercises in a lighthearted fashion and then dove right into singing songs, some old and some brand spanking new. 

It was so wonderful to bear witness to Bernadette hearing her song sung by a room full of people in perfect harmony for the first time. As someone in the circle said, a song was born in that moment. She decided it was finished as she wiped her tears away and we couldn't have agreed more. It was lovely. 

Aside from that, we learned a lot about recommended bedside singing practices, reviewed blending and harmony, ate lunch, and were graced by the presence of a hummingbird inside the church. We all gasped in unison at the sight of the beautiful little creature fluttering about indoors, hovering over the lamps as if they were giant flowers and someone said, "The hummingbird likes our humming!" We all chuckled and then the poor little thing slammed into a window and was in a panic for hours. We were all so concerned that someone eventually called animal control but before they arrived it finally figured out turning around was the answer and let itself out. There's got to be a metaphor in there somewhere... 

I took cellphone video of a few of my favorite moments as you'll see in the video below along with some photos. I hope you enjoy. Can't wait for the International Choir Gathering in June!

 

My First Chair Experience 

The choir I am a part of is not your traditional choir in that we don't really perform as a group. We sing with intention in sets of 3 for those on the thresholds of life, creating a sacred space together that sets them at ease. During each rehearsal, we practice singing bedside, as it's called. And yesterday was my 4th rehearsal and my first chair experience. I was not going to sing this time, but be sung to by three beautifully harmonized voices, rich with compassion. 

Although I have performed all my life in a wide array of capacities, when not onstage, in character, or shielded by bright lights, I feel quite exposed when the focus is on me. As a reserved only child, I never quite got accustomed to it. I performed through it for countless shows but never lived for the limelight the way others do. This is why I prefer being in a band to performing solo. And why I prefer writing and recording to performing. The studio is my home in a way the stage never will be.

That's also why I switched from being a musical theater major to a creative writing major at my cutthroat art high school. The anxiety from the pressures of performance, the competition, cattiness and the constant criticism from outside sources (and within myself) was too much to bear. So when a theater teacher told me I had a knack for writing scripts after my monologue made audience members cry, I shifted gears. I'd already been writing songs, poems, stories and keeping a daily journal so why not go all the way and write scripts too?

But here I was, at 33, stepping into a circle not to perform but to be serenaded, and I was so uncomfortable! Because, while they were the ones singing, the focus was on me. Well, the anticipation turned out the be the worst part. When they began singing, everything began to fall away: my inner critic, my tension, my anxiety. I was being bathed in love, comfort, beauty and peace. Suddenly I couldn't stop smiling. They sang two songs and I wore my bliss face the entire time. I knew what we did was special but to experience it firsthand was unreal.

As I lie there, a little voice in my head said, this is how I want to die. I couldn't bring myself to say it because I thought I'd start crying in front of everyone - talk about exposed! But I told my husband when I went home, fighting back tears event then, that it's official- when I am on the threshold of life, this is how I want to go. 

There's nothing better. It's life coming full circle. I felt like I had three mothers lulling me to sleep, as one would do a baby. That is the peace it brought me, the comfort. It is an honor to know that we are able to provide this service to others. I am so incredibly grateful to have found this group. Next up: Santa Barbara!

The Threshold Choir Impact  

I've now been to two rehearsals for the Westside Threshold Choir and they have impacted me more than I ever would have imagined. It's always funny when you do something to give back to the community and realize you're gaining so much in return. It's never the intention but what an incredible reward.

The people I have met feel like family already. As one woman said, we're a room full of caretakers. The love and nurturing energy is palpable. 

A couple days after the first rehearsal, a song came to me in the shower. All of the songs the choir sings are written by members themselves. There are over 500 songs that over 100 chapters around the world sing. Hopefully mine will be among them some day to help soothe souls on the thresholds of life.

I have a feeling I'll be blogging about this choir a lot. But for now, I leave you this new video from PBS, KCTS9 about the Seattle chapter and the beautiful work they do there. 

Giving Back As A Threshold Singer 


I've been wanting to join a choir again for years because there's nothing quite like many voices blending together in harmony. Those are my roots, having been invited to join the children's choir at age 4 at the St. Paul Cathedral I grew up attending. From there, I was in concert choirs, caroling groups, musicals, bands, and vocal ensembles. But it's been 15 years since I performed in NYU's Drama Cantorum singing Carmina Burana, my last choir performance - far too long!

The Threshold singers are a group of volunteers that sing to those who are ill or dying, at their bedside. When I was volunteering at a sound healing conference in Oakland a few years ago, I saw a blurb about them in the schedule but was unable to attend their performance since my volunteer shift was at that time in another part of the conference. So I made a note to myself to look the group up and figure out how to join. 

The idea of giving back in that way was so uniquely special and it called to me right away as someone who has always enjoyed touching people with my voice. The couple times I have sung for the elderly (Christmas caroling at an old folks home in Santa Monica) or the ill (singing uplifting music at a home for people living with HIV/AIDS in NY), it was extremely gratifying. I have always wanted to do more performances of that nature but hadn't found the right opportunity.

Recently, I moved from Oakland to LA and in the new year I was cleaning out my email inbox when I came across this message I had sent to myself about the Threshold Singers. I decided to research and see if there was anything like this nearby. Lo and behold, there was! So I emailed the chapter in my area, joined, and went to my first rehearsal last week. It all feels beautifully serendipitous and meant to be.

The people who are drawn to this form of singing are as wonderfully open and kind as one might think. The energy in the room was soothing and exhilarating at the same time. One might even say magical. I had chills, was grinning ear to ear, and was on the verge of crying happy tears for 2 hours straight. Can't wait to go to my next rehearsal!

If anyone has a loved one who could benefit from bedside singing you can learn more about the choir here. We have chapters all over the world and more than 500 songs written by the members themselves. Hopefully I can add some of my original music to the mix eventually too. 


 

The Overseer: A Short Play 

In addition to music, prose and poetry, I have been writing scripts for just as long. A friend recommended I register with the Dramatists Guild of America as a playwright and in doing so I learned about the New Play Exchange. I decided to give the site a shot by posting a full length and a short. Someone found them today and wrote this about The Overseer:

The Overseer is available to read here.

Depends on the Forest 

Written by Charise "Lake Lady" Sowells

Published on Poets for Ferguson

It’s a shame everybody complains about Big Brother watching 
for if we didn’t behave like children, we wouldn’t require supervision. 
Should only thoughtful decisions be made when somebody’s looking on, 
it’s the least we can do to monitor from dusk ‘til dawn. 

There’s a proverb about a tree falling and nobody hearing it. 
What’s happening in the news tells us that we probably wouldn’t believe it. 
And even if we did, it’s out of sight, out of mind. 
Not my problem. 
Why are they whining? 
Grow a new tree. 

At most people may discuss the quality of the tree: 
the life it had, whether it deserved to fall, 
the rings of growth, whether it had any at all. 
Maybe its leaves hung a little too low. 
Its branches were too thick. 
Its bark somewhat rough. 
Its roots entangled on the surface. 
Was it a tree destined for the ground? 
Did someone wrongfully knock it down? 
It’s only one tree. 

If only someone had seen it crash into the earth. 
If only someone had felt its weight resonate through the soil. 
Maybe then we would understand the recent turmoil. 
But instead we polarize all of the elements, 
reducing a life to only an instant. 
Nothing is ever as black and white as we so desire to make it. 

Violence should never beget more violence. 
A baby must never be shaken. 
But maybe extremes are the only way to elevate the tree’s impression. 
Perhaps the reasons behind its demise require more than a heavy sentence. 

The world took to the streets to help a fallen tree be heard, 
representing a myriad of silenced trees in the woods. 
As with any tree, its life may not have been perfect, 
but had a different tree fallen in a different forest 
rest assured, the world would have heard it. 

Morning, Be Gone 

Written by Charise "Lake Lady" Sowells

It's here. Morning. Like an uninvited guest. The eternal party crasher. Just when the fun begins and REM sleep is in full swing for the second or third cycle of the evening, morning intercepts, squashing my dreams. Sometimes it's the sun coming in through the window. Or the no longer piercing but still skin crawling cellphone alarm, obnoxious if only due to what it represents: the death of the night and the impending doom of dreaded obligation. "No more rest for you, sleepyhead," the Bossanova fusion groove says attempting to gently ease me out of my resting state. Its tone growing louder and more persistent with each repetition. 

Somedays, it's the slow moving chill from the absence of blankets that wakes me up, climbing down my spine, vertebrae by vertebrae. Or the earth shattering mattress movement as my husband shockingly jumps out of bed with more energy than I seem capable of having at any time of day without a shot of some kind of caffeine to my system. But no matter how it happens, morning always comes bright and early, like it or not. And knowing that somehow doesn't make it any easier. 

Lucky Me: A Close Call With A Predatory Producer 

Written by Charise "Lake Lady" Sowells

Published on Mind Equals Blown

 

In 2001, I graduated early from Orange County High School of the Arts feeling that even in a 
school full of misfit weirdos I still didn’t belong. I’d moved from St. Paul, Minnesota to Orange 
County, California just a couple years prior. It all felt like some strange drug induced nightmare 
in a parallel universe and I wanted out. So I kept myself busy by studying, volunteering, 
waitressing, creating, performing, and socializing. 

In the year before NYU, I worked full time to save money and took music and dance courses at 
Long Beach City College. It was there that I met a producer more than ten years my senior in 
front of the bulletin board. We recorded a song I had written about 9/11 at his home studio. 
Unfortunately, he lost the files after months of work so we never released it. But we kept in 
touch for years, recording other material. I also wrote songs for other artists of his and he used 
some of my writing in a musical he produced. He became like family, my mother quickly trusted 
him and so did I. 

Years later, he called me as I was sitting in Virgin Megastore, just down the block from my 
freshman year dorm. We caught up, I was a junior or senior then at NYU. Life was good. New York 
was still magical. Then, he chimed in and said I was lucky that he never tried anything. I asked 
him to explain because I hoped I had misunderstood what he was saying. I hadn’t. 
He went on to say I was lucky he never tried anything because he definitely could have. I was a 
teenager alone in his house, recording, eating pizza, drinking his boxed wine, and he perceived 
me to be “eager” to make it as an artist. Suddenly, everything this relationship had been to me 
for years changed in that instant. 

I hadn’t realized it, but apparently I truly was lucky this man hadn’t “tried anything” with me. My 
stomach dropped and I ended the conversation abruptly. He attempted to connect time and time 
again via various social media channels, email and phone but I wasn’t eager to maintain that 
relationship, naturally. A collaborative relationship with anyone is already a vulnerable and 
intimate space to hold, some might even call it sacred. Whatever it was, he killed it and I felt 
anything but safe, trembling on the other end of the line after we hung up. 

This story feels important to share because as artists, people prey on our dreams and as 
women, people often prey in other ways as well. I’m not sure why this producer didn’t put his 
thoughts into action with me but I’m grateful to have been “lucky” in that regard. Others are not 
so lucky. I too have been not so lucky in other circumstances and when that happens, it 
changes you.

Artists as Limitless Changemakers 

Written by Charise "Lake Lady" Sowells

Published on Haulix Daily

 

The creative path sometimes feels like a selfish and lonely road. Finding ways of using your talents to make a difference and give back to the community can truly be a positive shift. It was for me.  

Several years ago, I came across an ad for a nonprofit event that was truly transformative. It was a screening of the documentary, Very Young Girls, about underage sex trafficking in our own backyard, the US of A. When the movie was over, everyone in the room was bawling or enraged. All of us wanted to get involved somehow. As an artist, I immediately started thinking about how I could raise awareness through my work. 

Due to my background in film production, I decided to make a PSA. After researching for several months, I reached out to local organizations, the police department, and abolitionists to deepen my understanding. Upon completion, Channel Austin added the video to their rotation. I also screened it at one of the music showcases I put together as the Editor and Event Planner of The Deli Magazine. People were shocked and disturbed, the community was moved. They wanted to know more, including ways to get involved, so I referred them to local organizations working to fight against modern day slavery. 

To be able to make a positive impact on the world with something I created was not only fulfilling, but also very motivational. It was a game changer for me as an artist and entrepreneur and something I work to incorporate into projects I take on moving forward. As long as you are authentic in the charitable work you align yourself with, the change you can make as an artist is limitless.

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