john irving

 

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“… Technically speaking, Donna—and every other transsexual who ever attracted me—was what they call a “pre-op.” (I know only a few post-op transsexuals. I ones I know are very courageous. It’s daunting to be around them; they know themselves so well. Imagine knowing yourself that well! Imagine being that sure about who you are.)   — John Irving – In One Person

 

photo credit: magical art of shadow photography

 

change

 

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There are difficult days on this journey, of course. This is not the Isle of No Worry. I don’t sleep well here—there’s way too much brain activity and caffeine in my system, and the air conditioner stuck in the bedroom wall refuses to fan down, so days don’t always start out sunny.

I woke with the same headache I had the day before. It wasn’t a dehydration headache (my water consumption continues to build), and with no understanding of what I’m about to say, it felt like a barometric headache, like the nuts and bolts behind my eyes were being tightened by natures whims. The heat was as oppressive as I have experienced here and storms were building (barometric headache, right?), more water and steam adding more weight to the air. I was not interested in going anywhere, not even out for more tylenol because I was tired of running to the CVS for things I kept running out of, plus every time I stepped into that place, I spent double and stuffed a Hershey’s With Almonds in my mouth on the walk home. I stayed in my icy, little, rental suite, ate canned nuts (from the CVS, of course) and salami, drank a lot of gatorade, smoked on the porch and played phone games till I was cross eyed. I clung to my computer as if it were a little, silver flotation device. I checked my email (3 accounts), messages, facebook, blog, craigslist, email, facebook, blog…over and over. I googled everything I could think of. I binge watched Castle, episodes that I had already seen 5 times. And then my plans to go to MD and pack were abruptly altered and I am now looking for a bed for 11 days. Fuck.

And look where change lives, right smack in the barometric middle of rain to fair.

 

photo credit: healthtap.com

 

sir peter’s due

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I first posted the above photo of Sir Peter Anderson’s (1947 – 2014) memorial in the Key West Cemetery on facebook—and frankly, I expected a much larger response—but then I always expect a much larger response on facebook. I mean, come on, nobody made the Georgia O’Keeffe vaginal connection? Or is it that you made the connection but were too embarrassed to let anyone know your mind sometimes goes in that direction? Nobody was compelled to comment, OMG, it’s a giant pussy? Really? (Okay, Karen, sorry, I think you got it.) Pathetic. Well, here’s to you, Sir Peter, Secretary General of the Conch Republic, and the installation of your “coochie conch” (as dubbed by locals). May you smile on all who walk past your grave and chuckle.

A brief history: In 1982, the U.S. Border Patrol set up a roadblock on U.S. Route 1, the only land artery into Key West, searching for narcotics and illegal immigrants while requiring that locals provide proof of citizenship (it’s unclear as to what prompted this blockade). Key West was paralyzed—hotel reservations canceled, goods and services into the island were delayed or stopped. As attempts to get an injunction failed, an outraged local government, led by Mayor Dennis Wardlow, declared independence and seceded from the U.S., establishing the tiny island as the “Conch Republic.” The mayor, now the new Prime Minister of the Republic, declared war on the U.S., and in a symbolic act, broke a loaf of stale Cuban bread over the head of a Naval officer, only to surrender to that officer one minute later. In 1990, the tourism board of Key West decided to capitalize on the secession story, and Sir Peter Anderson, a philanthropic local, world renowned builder, sailor, and conservationist, was named as Secretary General of the Conch Republic (Anderson, interestingly, grew up on the Eastern Shore, my Maryland readers). Sir Peter established the “Conch Republic” brand—flags, towels, t-shirts, license plate covers, passports—and created the hugely successful, celebratory, weekend event, “Conch Republic Days,” parade and live bands and Cuban bread and all. He was an immensely popular, effective and creative organizer, appointing ambassadors worldwide, and establishing a foreign policy founded on the “mitigation of world tension through the exercise of humor, warmth and respect.” Presidential candidates, take note.

How this gentleman conducted his personal life is information I am not privy to (although there are several online references to his girlfriend), and as to why he wanted a huge vagina over his grave, one can only imagine. I do know that he worked tirelessly for, and was revered by, his community. He did indeed, “have fun.” Check out the photos on the unveiling of the Sir Peter Memorial, 2015. We should all be so loved that our life generates such a celebration, and we should all be so lucky to understand that humor is essential to a life well-lived.

 

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For more information on the Conch Republic visit this site

And check out the Secretary General’s page

 

the boy

 

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When he spoke of the boy, he never failed to mention how handsome he was, how smartly he dressed, as if the boy’s appearance was a virtue, or a talent or a skill worthy of a father’s boasting. And in the conversations about his son, he always seemed to lead with handsome, rather than the boy’s intelligence or demeanor, or before the many accolades his son had received.

“I was watching Henry and his friends sitting outside last night. He’s so handsome, taller than me, of course, taller than most of his friends, long and lean like his mother. He was wearing my old smoking jacket, a really beautiful piece. I’m surprised he can fit into it, the sleeves are far too short. Did I tell you what his instructor said?”

If she called him on it, if she asked why he felt it necessary to always mention his son’s good looks, he would say that he was merely “painting a picture,” trying to create an image for her understanding, as she had never met the boy, even though she had seen numerous photos. She very much wanted to meet the young man and thought about him a lot, maybe because she had sons of a similar age and could not help but draw comparisons. Or maybe she thought about him a lot because she loved the father. Or maybe she thought about the boy because his mother left him, and left him with the wounds of abandonment, the wounds of hurtful words, unanswered questions and acts of meanness that would eventually scar and disfigure his insides. What the hell did handsome have to do with anything?

 

art work: The Boy in the Red Vest / Cezanne

 

on boredom

 

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“In conventional usage, boredom is an emotional or psychological state experienced when an individual is left without anything in particular to do, is not interested in his or her surroundings, or feels that a day or period is dull or tedious.” – Wikipedia

 

Boredom: The desire for desires. – Leo Tolstoy

 

I am currently living in limbo, playing the waiting game, twiddling my twat … I am bored. I can’t think of a single friend, male or female, relative or acquaintance, personal or professional, who claims to be bored. CLOSE to EVERYONE I know is overloaded with tasks, responsibilities, appointments, etc., with only a few that are comfortably sated. I am the only person I know who professes to be bored, and it’s not just because of my current circumstances (no home, no job, no local pals, my only mail coming from my friend, Hillary—more on all of that in a later post), but it feels as if I’ve been living with boredom for some time. Listlessness is familiar territory.

And so I poked a little (and I do mean a little, I’m not the best of researchers) into boredom. I’ve yet to arrive at a conversational understanding of the subject but apparently the study of boredom is getting some overdue attention as a separate component of behavioral science. Boredom has been attached to drug use (yup), binge eating (yup), erratic and dangerous driving, and accounts for 25% of student achievement variation, the same number as innate intelligence. From nature.com:

“There is no universally accepted definition of boredom. But whatever it is, researchers argue, it is not simply another name for depression or apathy. It seems to be a specific mental state that people find unpleasant — a lack of stimulation that leaves them craving relief, with a host of behavioral, medical and social consequences.”  (and yup)

From brainpickings.org:

“Boredom has a long cultural history and an adaptive function in human life — it serves a vital creative purpose and protects us by helping us tolerate open-endedness; in childhood, it becomes the wellspring of imaginative play. And yet we live in a culture that seems obsessed with eradicating boredom, as if it were Ebola or global poverty, and replacing it with a peculiar modern form of active idleness oozing from our glowing screens.

No thinker in the history of humanity has done more to shed light on both the problem of boredom and its existential solution than Danish philosopher Søren Kierkegaard (May 5, 1813–November 11, 1855) — a mind of such timeless insight into the fundamental desiderata of the human soul that he was able to explain, in the middle of the nineteenth century, the psychology of online trolling and bullying, the reason for the eternal tension between the majority and the minority, and why anxiety fuels creativity rather than stifling it.”

 

What to do with my boredom, or how to interpret it, is also for another post. But this from Kierkegaard: and here I will leave you, as it’s getting way over my head and I’m getting bored.

 

“Here… is the principle of limitation, the sole saving principle in the world. The more a person limits himself, the more resourceful he becomes. A solitary prisoner for life is extremely resourceful; to him a spider can be a source of great amusement… What a meticulous observer one becomes, detecting every little sound or movement. Here is the extreme boundary of that principle that seeks relief not through extensity but through intensity.”

 

illustration: patrycja podkoscieiny

 

hot, hot, hot

 

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I never thought of myself as an island girl or a beach girl. Never. I have a girlfriend who once stayed in Guadeloupe after the end of our Club Med vacation to live on board a sailboat with a Frenchman—and I was not at all jealous of her staying behind (maybe jealous of the boyfriend, but not jealous about living in the Caribbean). I have another girlfriend who lived on the Jersey Shore for many years, in the beach block, and I never envied her locale. I was never a sun worshiper, snorkeler, surfer, surfer groupie, or boardwalk whore. And it was because I didn’t like the heat, and I still don’t. And here I am, about to be living full time in Key West, a sub-tropical island.

It makes no sense, I know. I typically spend a Maryland July and August as most spend January and February—indoors—and it now appears that I will be spending a Florida June, July, August and September indoors. I always claimed that the best summer vacations were in Upstate New York, specifically Lake George, where the average air and lake temperature in August is about 80 degrees—perfect. And yet here I am, in Key West, where island breezes absolutely make it bearable and palm tress make it exotic, but it’s crazy hot, and humid. A couple of days ago, I had to stop and put my grocery bags on the sidewalk to wipe the sweat out of my eyes. Yesterday, while sitting on the porch and waiting for housekeeping to finish up cleaning my rental, there was a steady drip of sweat falling off my jaw. I actually looked up “do higher temperatures thin your blood?” (the answer is no, just in case you’re as heat or body or blood ignorant as I am.) And yet here I am. Here because this island is beautiful, and because there’s an artist’s community, and a pot community, and a community of tolerance. And if I can survive August, I can survive whatever Florida dishes out.

I’m coping, adjusting, I am learning the heat-busting basics—like…drink a lot of water (I’ve never peed so much in my life) and don’t go outside between 12 noon and 4 p.m. unless you absolutely have to. Always walk on the shady side of the street and take whatever detour is necessary to make sure you have a shady street available to you. And should you get caught in the mid-day torturous temps, forget about hurrying home to dip into the sadly tepid, bath water pool—dunk yourself in the icy air of the CVS or Faustos Grocery and spend a half hour there—getting your blood viscosity back to normal.

 

artwork: Linda Monfort / Island Girl

 

p.s. – I have yet to go to the beach – 1) I don’t have a car, 2) I’m too cheap to rent a bike, and 3) it’s too hot and too far to walk.

p.p.s – I hope the winter here gets cool enough that I can wear a cashmere sweater at least once or twice.

 

the iguana saga / not a terribly epic tail

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Okay, I know it’s a crappy picture, I mean, come on, how close do you think I was going to get? That’s my iguana, making his third appearance today. He’s much bigger in person. And swear to heaven, I asked the pool boy (didn’t know he was the pool boy at the time I asked him) to chase him away. How classic Jackie Collins is that? He charmingly obliged and we had a good laugh. Lovely.

 

happy birthday, claire

 

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I can hardly believe that is was just a year ago that my novella, The Near Transformation of Claire, went live on Amazon. I find it so hard to believe, that I actually went to the calendar to check the year, not the month, that the launch took place. What an amazing year of transformation and growth, disappointment and elation. What a journey into the craft of writing and the road back to self, and yes, writing is for me and a few million others, self-exploration and examination as well as expression.

Claire is terribly flawed—the story reads like a diary, the plot is weak—my half-attempts to mask identities and experiences are completely transparent, but then, only evident to those who know me, but then again, those who know me are the only ones who read the damn thing. The formatting of the work is riddled with errors—dropped sentences, mis-punctuation, line and paragraph breaks that are inconsistent and awkward—all related to the half-assed publisher, a woman who couldn’t format a page if I sat on her shoulder and talked her through it. And yet I am terribly proud of this work, proud that I didn’t abandon that which I intended to complete, proud that I was not afraid to be vulnerable, proud that there are at least a few moments of brilliance and valid human insight within my efforts. Claire is no longer available as an e reader, and I can remedy that, fix the errors and put it back online, but I haven’t. I hate rewrites, and while my audience of readers has grown and I have many friends who are encouraging me to do so, I don’t think it’s a terribly interesting story and feel that my time is better spent creating something new. We shall see. Maybe.

But what a year since her birth. I’ve become a grandmother for the first time, my husband and I have separated, thankfully without contention, and I have moved, far from friends and that which is familiar. I’ve moved to a community where artistic expression is encouraged and embraced (be it flawed or otherwise), where no one cares if you have bat wings under your arms (who the hell wants to wear sleeves on an island), where I am free from the trappings and life sucking chores, conventions and confines of suburbia. My mentor recently wrote to me and said that Claire has indeed transformed, profoundly, that I have changed my life on my terms—few have done that, take a bow. Happy birthday to me.

 

 

conch lady

 

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She is perhaps the skinniest, old lady I’ve ever seen, and her cat perhaps the skinniest cat I’ve ever seen. They live in the blazing-white cottage across the street from my rental. I imagine her to be a “conch,” a Key West native, Bahamian immigrants who embraced the nickname “conch” to distinguish themselves as Bahamians in Key West.* Her hair is copper colored as is her skin, weathered as some island women are, her body one that would benefit from the cottage-coat-of-fresh-paint to conceal the scars of sand and storms and time. Her face is permanently scrunched from decades of squinting. I suppose she wasn’t partial to hats as she doesn’t wear one now. I’ve seen her walk to the corner grocery with the aid of a 3-prong, rubber-tipped, metal cane, walking so slowly that were I walking with her, I would have to step and pause for about 4 seconds before moving again. I see her sitting on the porch a couple times a day, dwarfed in that huge Walmart, white plastic chair, her skinny cat’s tail trying unsuccessfully to fan them both. She has guests and people who check in on her, the mailman, the senior transport bus driver. Once I saw about 4 or 5 women with packages and loud chatter come to visit and it seemed as if the conch lady were reluctant to come out onto the porch to greet them—or perhaps it was just the very slow approach to what is left of her precious life.

Does she watch me? Does she make mental notes on the color of my skin, my hair? Does she wonder where I came from, why I smoke so many cigarettes, why I repeatedly walk in a circle in the parking lot with my phone attached to my ear? Does she care why I decisively put one foot in front of the other as I walk and talk, that I’m trying to place my toe at the herringbone point in the parking lot bricks? I doubt it. I doubt that this weathered woman might think I have something to share that she hasn’t seen or heard before, that I might be of any interest. Perhaps I’m more gentrification, perhaps more tourist dollars. If I see her walking to the grocery again, I’ll ask if I could go with her and help her. She’ll probably say no—and I would like that about her.

 

* According to Conch Tour Train, after the Revolutionary War, the British started taxing Bahamians on their food just like they taxed Bostonians on their tea. The Bahamians said they would rather eat conch then pay the taxes, and came up with twenty-seven different ways to eat the sea snail.  I’ve heard that natives from islands other than Key West identify themselves, and are referred to, as “conchs.” I suspect that conch has become a generic term for the locals, and not just those that immigrated from Bahama.

 

 

on frances

 

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for gregory

 

ON FRANCES

 

Halfway

To the corner

Just beyond

The cemetery gate,

Underneath

The banyan’s stringy hair

On

The root-cracked pavement

Her lover waits.

 

Mary Jo Trible

 

photo credit: cultofweird.com    The grave of Archibald John Sheldon Yates (1911-1966) in the Key West Cemetery, adorned with a statue known as The Bound Woman. The figure, said to represent Yates’ wife Magdalena, sits nude above his head, her hands tied behind her back. It is not known why Yates wanted this statue or what it represents. The poem, unrelated to the Yates statue, can be found in the sidewalk in front of the cemetery on Frances Street, part of a city wide art initiative. My new home is on a walking lane off of Frances Street, just beyond the cemetery gate.

 

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