the view from my bike

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?

good bye, game of thrones

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?

where the sidewalk ends / shel silverstein

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

Silverstein on wikipedia

a poem from my mother (it’s still national poetry month)

Sometime in the early sixties, my mother clipped this poem from a newspaper and gave it to me. Since then, I have recited it aloud and to myself 1,000 times. Way to go, Mom.

In youth it was a way I had
To do my best to please
And change with every passing lad
To suit his theories.

But now I know the things I know
And do the things I do.
And if you do not like me so
To hell, my love, with you.


an opinion on the question of pornography / Wislawa Szymborska

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

her / by billy collins

It’s National Poetry Month! Share the love.


There is no noisier place than the suburbs,
someone once said to me
as we were walking along a fairway,
and every day is delighted to offer fresh evidence:

the chainsaw, the leaf-blower blowing
one leaf around an enormous house with columns,
on Mondays and Thursdays the garbage truck
equipped with air brakes, reverse beeper, and merciless grinder.

There’s dogs, hammers, backhoes
or serious earthmovers if today is not your day.
How can the birds get a peep
or a chirp in edgewise, I would like to know?

But this morning is different,
only a soft clicking sound
and the low talk of two workmen working
on the house next door, laying tile I am guessing.

Otherwise, all quiet for a change,
just the clicking of tiles being handled
and their talking back and forth in Spanish
then one of them asking in English

“What was her name?” and the silence of the other.  – Billy Collins, Horoscopes for the Dead

art: American Gardeners by Ramiro Gomez, a spin on David Hockney’s American Collectors

anne morrow lindbergh, shedding and change – version 2

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.

My 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.

husbands who shop with their wives

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.

songs that make you cry

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.

Full lyrics here – Bigger Than My Body

drunk neighbor

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.