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.
In the early years of my marriage, when kindness and courtship mattered, my husband was generous with the gift giving, he was fun to shop with because he bought me stuff, pure and simple. But over time, shopping with my ex became abominable, argumentative; hissing and cursing over cheap Christmas ornaments and Chinese coin purses I wanted, never mind the big ticket items like clothing, linens. Control was the game, I was the enabler. I am now, however, 3 years without the angry overlord on my tail and I’ve worked retail (clothing) long enough to qualify as an astute observer of the female+male shopping dynamic; certain behaviors mimic that which I experienced, certain behaviors leave me scratching my head.
The most commonly observed male-tag-along is what I call Bank of America Husband. He holds the card, he says yay or nay to the purchase, he sits in the fucking chair and his wife twirls before him wearing the garment in question and anxious eyes. Oh my, too close to home. Yes, most women I see in my shop have the means to pay for their own purchases and yet they still defer to the big guy—because Bank of America Husband controls more than dollars. He controls the subservience of those around him. Are there women who are grateful, appreciative, cognizant of all that her man gives to her, does for her, women who feel that this stamp of approval is an equitable balance of power? Yes. And are there women who genuinely want to please their man with garments that he finds attractive, women that dress solely for the man? Absolutely, sure, great, but of no matter to this shopping husband. His m.o. requires that ladies jump through hopes regardless of their means or their wiles.
Another commonly observed husband shopper is the one I’ve dubbed “Get Off Her Fucking Heels,” the man who moves right behind his wife, who occasionally whispers something to the woman, who sits on her ass like an ill-fitting backpack. I don’t get this guy at all—and he shows up quite often. What is he whispering to his wife, what is the point of being so close? My best guess is that this gentleman is freakishly intimidated by shopping in a woman’s store and clings to mommy out of fear of being choked by something cashmere. Whereas I believe this woman could buy anything she wanted without her husbands yes or no, the couple typically leaves the store quickly and empty handed, the man gasping for air at his wife’s back.
There are men who mistakenly think they know about fashion and men who actually do. One time, an old, white fool in white sneakers said to his wife, “…. it makes you look fat.” Oh My God. A gasp from within the store rose and roared down Duval Street like some man-eating tumbleweed. The man, forever more known as Dumb Ass Husband, was laughingly asked to wait outside and he not so laughingly did. But there are good guys who shop with their wives. There are men who say, “anything you want, baby,” and men who are perfectly content to play games on their phones while the ladies shop. There was once a gentleman in the store who kept telling his wife, “buy something, buy something.” We complimented and thanked the male shopper for his efforts and he replied, “Why the hell is she shleppin’ me down the street if she’s not going to buy something?” Point taken. I love this type, the Reluctant Shopper Husband, often quite endearing and starved for conversation. Not quite sure why women want them there.
But the question that keeps coming to mind the most as I write is–why did I and why do other women play this shopping game with men? Low self-esteem, guilt, fear, clearly defined yet distorted marital roles? As many reasons as there are marriages I suppose, a question that requires more examination than I care to get into at this time. And why are these guys out there is the first place? Aren’t there enough sports bars around to entertain these droids? I’m just glad I’m not somebody’s wife anymore and no longer participate in this baloney. Best husband shopper out there? The Husband Who Stays Home.
post script – Solo Shoppers and Women Shopping With Women have their own stereotypes.
If you are anything like me, a sap for all of time, there are a slew of songs that make you cry. I cry through hymns, songs of celebration and praise–Amazing Grace, How Great Thou Art, Christmas hymns like Joy to the World make me swell and tear with an almost fanatical fervor (I have a healthy religious background). I cry with the Beatles, Barbara Streisand, songs from the musicals Rent and West Side Story, Disney movie songs, the theme song from Legends of the Fall, songs that I attached to loved ones and lovers. But one of the oddest pieces in my music box of tears, and one that gets me every time, is John Mayer’s Bigger Than My Body.
Someday I’ll fly Someday I’ll soar Someday I’ll be So damn much more ‘Cause I’m bigger than my body Gives me credit for
When my sons played high school football, the big rivalry game (Severn vs St. Mary’s) was held on an arbitrary field. Luckily for my sons, me, for the entire community, it was often played at Navy Stadium in Annapolis. It was awesome; the boys suited and ready to rumble, echos of wars fought on and off the playing field, history and teen age histrionics together for one night, for one big show. It mattered not at all that Navy Stadium was (and still is) considered a puny and technologically pathetic venue by any university standard. It was Navy, for cryin’ out loud, and far superior to either team’s home field, equipped with (among other pluses) a jumbotron and a great sound system. And at my second son’s big game, through a fog of hot breath and hot chocolate, I watched the team warm up on the jumbotron while John Mayer sang his heart out. I cried like a baby, like a football mom, overcome with maternal and national pride, overcome by lyrics that confirmed what I believed then and believe still–that someday I’ll be so damn much more. If I want it badly enough. Truth and tears.
She came to visit the other night, sometime after 9 p.m., something
that doesn’t happen very often; basically because, God’s honest truth, she’s
too stinkin’ drunk to walk across her yard to my porch or because she typically
passes out around eight. She’s wrapped in a thick, pink, terry cloth robe, and
really (I know this is so bitchy), I immediately thought, “pig in a blanket.”
Ugh. She sat down next to me, smiling that dumb-ass smile that drunks get when
words become too hard to sort through.
“Oh, my dear …. on the lane …. drama, draaaama.”
“What, Dotty (not her real name but she could easily be a Dotty),
haven’t heard a thing.” Can she see my eyes roll, I suspect not.
“The twins …. that pool …. thirty thousand dollars …. Leo’s
daughters …. little cunts ….”
Ugh. Like that for fifteen minutes, my finishing her sentences, her nodding and laughing and cursing and close to tipping over in her chair. She paws, she drawls, she drools. Play the work card, said my brain, a trick I often employ regardless of whether I’m working the next day or not. “Well, so sorry, got to go, Dotty, work tomorrow. Good night, sweetie.”
“Good night, my dear,” and she stands, opens her robe and flashes me, twirling around the porch several times. Not an ugly woman, but yes, pig in a blanket. Ugh.
There are many things that disturb me about Drunk Neighbor Dotty. As another neighbor has said, “she has more issues than Time magazine,” and indeed she does, but alcoholism is the primary one. She’s my peer, a woman close to 65, a woman who assumes the role of a twenty something party girl, holding hangover court on her porch once or twice a week. Her attempts at acceptance and recognition are ridiculed and rightfully so—and I want to shake her. I want to tell her to put the bottle down, stop being a twat, get over the mountain of fucking pity parties that stand in the way of everything. And, of course, I can’t and won’t say those things. I’m not her family, not privy to her demons, I don’t want to be a fixer. I’m 27 years sober and far enough removed from the insidiousness of addiction that I am no longer as empathetic as I once was. It’s her fight. I just wish she would get past the denial and get on with it. But it’s also a sisterhood thing–and it’s painful (in ways I don’t want to remember) to watch this woman spiral downwards.
I’ve not written anything about the Key West critters for some time–fortunately, it’s been a thin critter year (unless you consider worms to be critters which I don’t). There was a smaller rodent and reptile population after Irma, not so many rats, iguanas. And right now the temperatures are too cold for the few, fool iguanas hanging around and they are either unconscious or dying or trying to sun-survive on white, cemetery slabs.
However, my latest, mostly definitely unwanted, critt visitor is a possum, opossum, whatever you want to call them, I’m not at all interested in finding out if there’s a difference or what variety of possum he may be. He’s big and ugly and comes out from under the house at night when I’m sitting on the porch and scares the crap outta me. I curse and yell at him and he runs back under the house. Fortunately, he doesn’t seem aggressive and I’m not about to provoke (and I call him “he” because he is just too unattractive to be a woman–hairy face, thin lips, no make-up). So now what?
As I’m asking my neighbors what to do about this bastard under my house, one lovely lady that I like very much says, “Oh my, you can’t touch him. That’s Ricky Martin (I guess he is a “he”). He came to this neighborhood as a baby and I named him and watched him grow.” Really? This woman isn’t old and senile–for whatever reason, she’s a frickin’ possum-hugger with a love for Latin pop stars and a sense of irony (I once saw a FL facebook post that rallied for the misunderstood possum). Oh, for cryin’ out loud. I can’t harm him now–it’s Ricky Martin. Jesus, no man-slamming here, he’s gorgeous, I love Ricky Martin. Sigh … I promised my neighbor that I would leave the critter alone but that it would be hard for me to embrace the Ricky association. I also promised to leave a trail of trash to her porch till he moved down the lane and scared the crap outta her.
I’ve lived in Key West for 2 and a half years but this weekend attended my third Key West Literary Seminar. I somehow managed to secure the coveted position of volunteer immediately upon landing here, a stroke of luck, for sure, as this position gives me free entry into the event. (The Seminar is ridiculously expensive with registration selling out in minutes, yes, minutes—a problem having to do with patronage that has no clear or immediate solution). I was not completely onboard with this year’s theme, Under the Influence: Archetype and Adaptation, primarily because I know little regarding the classics, the Greeks, Shakespeare, the Bible, nor have I paid particular attention to their influence. My literary knowledge is sub-par. But within the marvelous broad stroke of author/panelists (diverse but heavily female), assembled with extreme expertise and consideration by the KW literary team, was a treasure trove of imagination that went far beyond adaptation, that reshaped archetypes as far as genius and respect for original works allowed. It was awesome—even though I sadly missed chunks of this awesomeness. The elite tourists that come to the seminar are the customers at my place of work and it’s all hands on deck. Although my volunteer status could get me into just about any event, my financial status prohibits total immersion.
I can’t touch on every panelist nor every topic (visit kwls.org), but visiting royalty included Margaret Atwood, Joyce Carol Oates, Geraldine Brooks, Emily Wilson, Michael Mewshaw, Victor LaValle. Atwood possessed an unexpected and snarky humor, Emily Wilson possessed the voice and presence of a rock star, Oates’ reading was gruesome, Mewshaw on Pat Conroy was revealing and tender. Unknown to me (although I’m now a big fan of both) was cartoonist, novelist and Marvel Comic writer, Eric Shanower and Key West resident, Meg Cabot, author of Princess Diaries (and slutty novels under a pen name that she did not immediately reveal—who knew?). Topics or works touched on included The Odyssey, The Wizard of Oz, Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde,Aquaman (Atwood’s spin on Aquaman was fabulous), Cinderella, slavery, women as minor characters, as major characters, along with influential references from the New Testament to Jane Eyre to DC Comics and fan fiction. My take away from this breadth of talent—there are new stories to be told, stories that burn within the stories we already know or think we know, there are a thousand voices yet to be heard—all for the writer to grab and wring out every single word that he or she can imagine.
But beyond the spoken word, beyond the brilliance, is the combined influence of these contemporary, master authors and the theater effect—the act of sitting and listening to purposeful voices in a dark and quiet space that is mesmerizing, an actual high, a journey that one was not prepared for. It’s like going to the movies on a summer afternoon and you step outside after the show and get smacked by the sun. You’re disoriented, confused perhaps about what you just witnessed, heard or felt. That disorientation times 10 is the Literary Seminar—it’s holding your breath, it’s an enormous ah-ha, crying, laughter, it’s an event that makes you think about things you have never thought about, an event that leads you to ask, “What was that? What just happened in there?” Genius at work.
While the Key West Literary Seminar is cost prohibitive for many, they offer a variety of scholarship and program opportunities for students, teachers and young writers, workshops that follow the Seminar for advanced and beginning writers, and lectures that are free and open to the public.
“Why is it that we want so badly to memorialize ourselves? Even while we’re still alive. We wish to assert our existence, like dogs peeing on fire hydrants. We put on display our framed photographs, our parchment diplomas, our silver-plated cups; we monogram our linen, we carve our names on trees, we scrawl them on washroom walls. It’s all the same impulse. What do we hope from it? Applause, envy, respect? Or simply attention, of any kind we can get?
At the very least we want a witness. We can’t stand the idea of our own voices falling silent finally, like a radio running down.”
There is a hard, cool, much needed rain falling on the island, 5 days before Christmas. The rain is romantic, nostalgic, holidayish, not depressing in any way, a small storm that is perfectly appropriate for the season. The palm are crashing, the gutters gushing.The cat, silly thing, has this very strong instinct-thing to go under the house rather than wait the storm out inside. He’s a fabulous cat, a true gypsy who seems to have a crush on me. I’ve managed to find decent live greenery for decoration (difficult in the Keys) and have an abundance of candles. I have a ton of groceries sitting on the counter waiting to be put away, a fresh pot of coffee, I have cigarettes and weed and 2 invitations for Christmas Eve and 2 events lined up for Christmas Day. I have Jingle Bell Rock playing on pandora. I have friends that bring me fruit, a friend that is helping me hang a lighted peace sign, and a pile of packages to open from friends and family everywhere. I have enough money to make it through another year and I have good health.
I pass this along to you in hopes that you have such feelings this time of year and hope that simple gratitude fills you to overflow. I wish you peace and love and know that they are attainable—even if you live alone. Cherish your family and friends, cherish yourself. From the bottom to the top of my heart, I thank you all for reading.
I’m a grandmother now, the proud matriarch, the beaming mama who now understands the enormity of future generations, little ones who share my blood. I try my hardest to not be the nauseating nana, to not be gooey or sappy, to not bore people with adorable photos and snippets of life with baby. But, oh my, do babies suckle at your heart. They attach perfectly shaped lips to your thumper and you look down on them and are mesmerized by their innocence, their purity, their miraculous entry into life, their trust in you as provider and nurturer.* Babies are the antidote to the contemptuousness that poisons us all. I look at them and think that close to everything they come to know will begin with this circle called family. It’s a big deal, an enormous yet delicate responsibility, a thought that is sometimes overlooked when in the throws of parenting, but one that the grandparent with less responsibility and more time can ponder. But more time can also generate more worry, and I think, “what the hell kind of world will this innocent little soul inherit?”
And why Key West, what possible connection? Obvious, really; I worry about my island paradise as I worry about babies. This remote rock of misfits and drunks, contrarians and cross-dressers faces perhaps an even more ominous future than that of our children. Since my move to Florida the state has been shaken to its core by Hurricanes Irma and Michael, and the latest environmental report says we’re up shit’s creek, if creeks can indeed survive the geographic apocalypse. Will this island still be standing in 20 years? No one knows. I do know that my house was worth a lot more 2 years ago and I may never see that number again but I’m okay with that—truly. I bought a lifestyle that fits me like a tee. I just want this place to be here long enough to see the grandkids sitting at my kitchen counter for lunch, damnit—and for a while, I won’t give a shit about the rest of the world.
* I have often wondered if men’s authoritarian anger towards women, their diminishing of the female stems from jealousy over the fact that they cannot give birth—no matter how bullish or rich or famous or whatever—they cannot perform, although they will certainly try to manipulate, the most profound act of life. Womb envy, click here.