• make the motions of boxing without landing heavy blows, as a form of training: one contestant broke his nose while sparring.
• engage in argument, typically of a kind that is prolonged
or repeated but not violent: mother and daughter spar
regularly over drink, drugs, and career.
• (of a gamecock) fight with the feet or spurs.
I believe I’ve sparred pretty much my whole life, remembering myself as the impish child, the one to provoke, stir the pot, defiant, contrary – training for adulthood, no doubt. And my only guess as to why I’m this way stems from a healthy curiosity regarding people; not just where they’ve been or what they do or like, but what they reveal when challenged. Show me the good stuff. And I like sparring; a little jab here, a little jab there. And my most favorite friends, writers, artists, professionals, comediennes, musicians and celebrities are those who also like to spar. I am, however, often viewed (and often incorrectly viewed) as passive aggressive, obnoxious and opinionated. I apologize to those I’ve offended, I’m working on the negative. But I have no intention of stepping out the ring—it’s too much fun. Carry on, my lovely sparring partners, my snappy sparring mentors; keep me sharp, keep me in the game.
We were stopped at a red light on Hill Street, downtown Los
Angeles, near the Grand Central Market and the jewelry district. We were the
second car from the corner, waiting to make a right on red but the car in front
of us couldn’t turn—as the driver of that car was in a heated argument with
some crazy dude on a bike stopped in front of her. I couldn’t see the driver
but say her only because her head did not appear over the little, black
Mercedes headrest—a small person, probably a woman, older, I thought
incorrectly. With windows closed I could hear the crazy dude cursing like
crazy, incoherently, giving no clue as to his beef with the driver. He spit on
her windshield multiple times and finally biked away as the other drivers, the
many pedestrians and my carful shook our heads in disbelief.
We were stopped again by the light in the next block,
Mercedes to our right, and the dude on the bike appears out of nowhere and
continues his rampage. The woman, a small, young Asian woman with a blond dye
job and edgy haircut steps out of the car and starts screaming at the biker,
Jesus no lady, get the hell back inside the car. She does. The man starts
kicking her door, pulls his bike away to reposition, and again, out of nowhere,
a pedestrian I recognized from the first corner comes racing towards the crazy
man and body slams him and his bike onto the street. He kicked the man several
times in the face and gut and the crazy dude on the bike lay face down, unconscious,
in a pool of his own blood.
Holy shit. I was sure he was dead. I looked around our car and there were at least a dozen phones capturing the assault. All I could think of was he’s dead, lets get out of here, please, go around. We did. My fellow passengers tried to assure me that the man wasn’t dead but I wasn’t totally convinced—he remained motionless and face down as we made another right turn and lost sight of the body. Wow, wow, wow. I had never seen anything like that. City of Angels and Demons.
But the reason for this trip downtown was in fact the jewelry district—I wanted to sell my engagement ring—and in doing so, the second assault. Not that anyone treated me unkindly, not that I had strong romantic feelings regarding this ring. My ex-husband and I are friends, he will forever be an important person in my life but this ring was no longer a symbol of love shared, and interestingly, the ring I wanted to sell was actually my third engagement ring—the first stolen from our home and the second lost in the Chesapeake Bay. Clearly, the ring no longer held the significance it once did. But it was an assault to my ego, an older woman with her adult son navigating the diamond district for cash, which yes, I needed and wanted. I hoped to heaven I didn’t look desperate (perhaps too strong a word to describe my financial situation) but it sure as hell felt as if I did. I met every jeweler in the three shops we visited, all of them men, straight on in the eye, seemingly proud but it was humiliating and embarrassing to say the least. Back to the first as he was the only gentleman to make an offer. It felt as if I had been body slammed.
I left downtown that day with some diamond education, a little bit of cash in my wallet—not at all what I foolishly hoped for—and the image of an unconscious, bloody man on the street. I’m still shaking my head thinking about it all but better now that I’m removed from the wreckage and no longer sitting before a man with a loop and bad news. No regrets about selling the ring. I did what I had to/wanted to do and can safely say that the jewelers of Los Angeles have seen plenty of gals like me. And I bet you the residents of Los Angeles are no strangers to street violence but this day took me to the edge and back. A double assault, double whammy, double feature starring angels, demons and diamonds.
I am in part going to tell a story that I promised not to tell—but I’m pretty sure that the part I share will not violate any vows.
Last year, my dear Frenchie friend (who lives alone here in Key West the majority of the year and yes, who is still my employer) broke her ankle at her beach house in Edgewater, MD. Being that I am from that area and still own half a house there, being that I know the hospital and shopping environment, being that I am single and capable, the co-owners of the shop where I worked asked if I would go to Maryland and take care of their partner, Frenchie. Absolutely.
Beach house is a stretch—it is a beach shack, in the shackiest sense of the word. A two bedroom, dusty, old thing, with brown paper, hula-fringe-wall-covering in the living room, D.C. and French memorabilia filling in wherever the fringe has torn. The tiny bathroom walls are papered (by Frenchie’s late husband) in fading and blistered New Yorker magazine front covers—completely. Beach remains, photos, art (exceptional pieces along with flea market finds), fishing rods and reels, rusty buckets and tools are everywhere. There is a single, ancient air conditioner in one window. There is no central air, no microwave, no dishwasher, no disposal, no washer or dryer. There is wifi, a stack of movies on cd’s, but only French tv. There is a rotting deck outside and an ample table with assorted chairs, all sitting under a slightly shredded awning that bows with the weight of dozens of crab pot buoys. The view is outstanding.
While staying with Frenchie, I, of course, visited my former home, my ex-husband and his girlfriend. Difficult, to say the least, as that property, once my source of comfort, safety, and joy had been seriously violated. But the shack grew in importance and held me close as challenges mounted, a crowded simplicity to the space that added no baggage to my brain. This curious and funky, slightly moldy and slightly grimy, Chesapeake cabin became one of the most nurturing properties I have ever had the experience to enjoy. And in a recent visit back to Maryland (as my home there is now for sale), my darling Frenchie offered me her empty shack, my second stay confirming the sanctity of this space. Challenges were more difficult this time, the pain of letting go and moving on slapped me at every turn. But it was at the shack that I finally acknowledged my brokenness, there that I fully looked at all the sadness that I carried and still carry, there that I could admit that my courageous act of jumping off the cliff was also my running away. What is it about a place, a Walden Pond, a Bhutan monastery, a Chesapeake cabin or Key West cottage that offers peace, safe enough to offer confession? Is it just that we treasure those places where revelation, where understanding comes to us, that those places are just the lucky locations where the light bulb finally comes on? Is it profound experiences, history, children, lovers that make a property special, or merely a moment in time when we feel whole? Are there spirits within these places, a wind from a certain direction, a tilt to the ceiling, a light that falls with exceptional clarity that carries us to knowledge, to creativity, to wisdom? I have no earthly clue. In Alcoholics Anonymous they tell you there is no such thing as a geographic cure and with regards to the alcoholic I absolutely believe that to be true. But that adage holds no weight whatsoever with regards to my soul. That shack has seen my soul, held it, loved it, and gently nudged me out the door with a kiss. Peace to you and your abode.
It will be 3 years this September that I’ve lived without a car. While I know a few people who could pull off this lifestyle (yes, only a few), none of them are, and I consider my decision and my act of ditching the four-wheeler to be something close to superhuman. It is not doable with children, at least not easily; clearly not an issue for me–I’m 68 years old. It is, of course, comfortably doable because I live on a 2 x 4 mile island with everything I need within biking (or walking) distance. Also possible because this island is flat, weather is (typically) not an issue and there’s no heavy volume of vehicles. A tropical village is a whole lot easier to navigate than any city or suburb. All that considered, challenges remain. I can only carry so many groceries home, run only so many errands. If I forget my lock (which doesn’t live on my bike because of rusting) it’s a trip back home to get it. It’s rainy season. It’s hot. I deal with it. I take Lyft, my Publix (grocery) now delivers, I’ve rented a car on a couple of occasions and plan on renting more. Superhuman? Maybe a stretch, but I still think I’m a pretty big, damn deal.
A few biking observations and thoughts below, along with a little bit of advice–3 years on a bike comes with plenty of opinion. While I do still bike for exercise, my biking is primarily for transportation, and much of what I experience is the same as if I were sitting behind the wheel of that fancy M5 I used to drive.
YES, THERE IS ROAD RAGE ON A BIKE. In my travels, I share the road with idiot-out-of-towners both on bikes and in cars (not even gonna touch the scooter issues), and all the blue sky in the world cannot save me from occasionally flipping someone off. Anyone who doesn’t signal, bikers traveling 4 across, cars moving so slowly I can tap their rear fender with my front tire—same things that piss you off in your car can piss you off on your bike. The funny part is, that while you sit inside your windows-closed-air-conditioned vehicle and curse a blue streak at the fool in front of you, I’m sitting on a bike seat, and my cursing is loud and clear. I kinda like it—silly, gray-haired, old lady, yelling at a bunch of 20 somethings—very Key West.
YES, YOU CAN SPACE OUT WHILE BIKING—just like in your car.
Of course, anyone who drives has experienced miles (or what seems like miles)
of blankness, those times when you’re lost in thought and suddenly brought back
to the road. Easy to do down here—all those palm trees waving, a straight line
downtown, little congestion. Not to mention that I’m prone to spacing out
regardless of setting or activity (or lack thereof). Be mindful.
NO, YOU CANNOT RIDE YOUR BIKE ON THE SIDEWALK. For anyone who doesn’t know—the rules of the road are the same for both bikes and cars. Period. You don’t drive your car on the sidewalk and your bike doesn’t belong there either. If you’re uncomfortable biking on the street, then you shouldn’t be on a bike. [I will confess to breaking one rule of the road—I travel the wrong way on a one-way street in 2 different locations. It’s just for a block in both places and a huge convenience. I told my neighbor I would have to be ticketed or hit to conform—also very Key West.] I don’t wear a helmet and leave that decision up to you, but side view mirrors are a must-have. Get decent lights for night biking. And take the ears buds out, for cryin’ out loud. How the hell are you going to hear me cursing?
from Tyrion Lannister, game of thrones, final episode
“What unites people? Armies? Gold? Flags? Stories. There’s nothing in the world more powerful than a good story. Nothing can stop it. No enemy can defeat it. And who has a better story than Bran the Broken? The boy who fell from a high tower and lived. He knew he’d never walk again, so he learned to fly. He crossed beyond the Wall, a crippled boy, and became the Three-Eyed Raven. He is our memory, the keeper of all our stories. The wars, weddings, births, massacres, famines. Our triumphs, our defeats, our past. Who better to lead us into the future?“
A late but important addition to National Poetry Month. Silverstein was Key West royalty, a brilliant cartoonist, composer, poet and author. His biography below is well worth a read.
There is a place where the sidewalk ends And before the street begins, And there the grass grows soft and white, And there the sun burns crimson bright, And there the moon-bird rests from his flight Too cool in the peppermint wind.
Let us leave this place where the smoke blows black And the dark street winds and bends. Past the pits where asphalt flowers grow We shall walk with a walk that is measured and slow, And watch where the chalk-white arrows go To the place where the sidewalk ends.
Yes we’ll walk with a walk that is measured and slow, And we’ll go where the Chalk-white arrows go, For the children, they mark, and the children, they know The place where the sidewalk ends. –Shel Silverstein
There’s nothing more debauched than thinking. This sort of wantonness runs wild like a wind-borne weed on a plot laid out for daisies.
Nothing’s sacred for those who think. Calling things brazenly by name, risque analyses, salacious syntheses, frenzied, rakish chases after the bare facts, the filthy fingering of touchy subjects, discussion in heat—it’s music to their ears.
In broad daylight or under cover of night they form circles, triangles or pairs. The partners’ age or sex are unimportant. Their eyes glitter, their cheeks are flushed. Friends leads friend astray. Degenerate daughters corrupt their fathers. A brother pimps for his little sister.
They prefer the fruits from the forbidden tree of knowledge to the pink buttocks found in glossy magazines— all that ultimately simple-hearted smut. The books they relish have no pictures. What variety they have lies in certain phrases marked with a thumbnail or a crayon.
It’s shocking, the positions, The unchecked simplicity with which one mind contrives to fertilize another! Such positions the Kama Sutra itself doesn’t know.
During these trysts of theirs, the only thing that’s steamy is the tea. People sit on their chairs and move their lips. Everyone crosses only his own legs so that one foot is resting on the floor while the other dangles freely in midair. Only now and then does somebody get up, go to the window, and through a crack in the curtains take a peep out at the street. -Wislawa Szymbroska
I recently received a lovely note from a dear friend thanking me for my sending her Anne Morrow Lindbergh’s Gift from the Sea, a book I have treasured since I received it as a gift in 2003. I try to re-read this book every couple of years (it’s that good) but it became of particular importance when I moved to Key West.
friend writes: “You were in my thoughts as she talked about shedding,
simplicity, and islands of solitude as you took the courageous step of doing it
all at once.”
“Perhaps middle age is, or
should be, a period of shedding shells; the shell of ambition, the shell of
material accumulations and possessions, the shell of the ego. Perhaps one can
shed at this stage in life as one sheds in beach-living; one’s pride, one’s
false ambitions, one’s mask, one’s armor. Was that armor not put on to protect
one from the competitive world? If one ceases to compete, does one need it?
Perhaps one can at last in middle ago, if not earlier, be completely oneself.
And what a liberation that would be.” –Anne Morrow Lindbergh
My shedding experience was indeed courageous. It was radical. I shed a car and a marriage a very large house to live small in a very remote place; a move that was researched, but sealed by emotion and intuition. I have never had much ambition so the shedding of such behavior was not an issue. And shedding the shells of accumulation and possession is not as difficult as many think. I have fond and loving memories of people and places with only a handful of framed faces and souvenirs, my love is no less with fewer objects, my lifestyle is in no way compromised because I only have five vases instead of fifteen. Lindbergh writes:
One cannot collect all the
beautiful shells on the beach. One can only collect a few, and they are more
beautiful if they are few. One moon shell is more impressive than three. There
is only one moon in the sky. One double-sunrise is an event; six are a
succession, like a week of school days. Gradually one discards and keeps just
the perfect specimen, not necessarily a rare shell, but a perfect one of its
kind. One sets it apart by itself, ringed around by space—like an island.
For it is only framed in space that beauty blooms. Only in space are events and objects and people unique and significant—and therefore beautiful.
The shedding of a marriage (and car!) is a topic of its own, an act that rattled the ego something fierce and peeling away the shell of ego is a work in progress. I take tremendous ownership regarding my actions, a pride that borders on cockiness, and I often find that I am bloated with self, judgmental and vain. But living alone requires others, a community of workers, comforting shoulders, and while I sometimes think that I can do just about anything, I am humbled by the understanding of how limited I am. I laid down the mask and armor. It is beyond liberating; it’s the birth of a full-grown woman.
My friend continues: “A change is upon me and have been meditating on allowing it to flow. I often think about On the Edge of Old, and realize I might have gone over it. Feeling healthy and bright most of the time and a change is afoot.”
Change, change, change; the buzzword of the 60-something set (and I feel the need to note that I am talking about elective change, not change forced upon one). Again, I take great ownership regarding this subject and I’m offended by all the memes and platitudes one sees on Facebook that minimize change to a few pithy words or some celebrity’s spin on life. You want change? Prepare to work. While I fully support mediation and the natural flow of the cosmos, change will not wash over you like a spring of warm water. Change only comes with courage and action, with tears and hard work, loneliness and doubt, with getting up every ding-dong day and doing some dumb-ass task that moves you closer to the change you envision. And therein lies the real problem—identifying what you want that change to be. Determining the source of our discontent is often difficult, and meditation could only help.
I was able to identify change through my work with the amazing Laura Oliver of St. John’s College. In one of Laura’s classes, she asked us to write a paragraph of 250 words under the prompt of, “I want …“ This was not to be a list but prose, a meaningful and thoughtful look inside, as in, “I want to live by the water for it soothes my soul, it makes me feel maternal and strong” and/or “I want to be free of my body as burden, to be light and mobile and healthy.” While this was a writing exercise, it became my manifesto; my wants on paper were simple, pure and attainable, the brevity of the writing made it manageable, made it so only the important wants shone brightly. “One cannot collect all the beautiful shells on the beach. One can only collect a few, and they are more beautiful if they are few.”
But sometimes … as you mull and moan over what it is you want to do, as you sort through your needs and wants, serendipity steps into the mix and bam, you’re slapped in the face with if-not-now-then-when? Weeks after receiving the thank you note from my friend, an offer was made and accepted on the sale of her house, a sale that she was only beginning to investigate, the house not even listed. Courage rumbled up her spine and she jumped, unsure as to where she would land, yet a fledgling with the most marvelous view of the entire world below. Sometimes … if you are one of the lucky, you know what to do–you embrace the change. And you begin to fly.
To dvd: “Standing on the edge of old, she wanted to be startled at every turn.” – pn
Apologies for the in-your-face marketing, the only link I was able to successfully place is this monster below.