relationships

Beyond the Sidewalk

sidewalk

There is no quote today. Only me. And I’m not going to lie to you. I’ve had a lot of heavy thoughts lately, as I analyze and over-analyze my life, my decisions, my actions—midlife consideration, as I’m calling it, rather than crisis. As such, the way true consequences work, my blog may or may not be as heavy, clouded, jumbled, deep, or murky as my mind has been, but well, there it is… you’ve been warned.

When I was five years old, I watched King Kong with my friend Billy. Billy, and his sister Trina, lived kitty-corner from us in a quaint little neighborhood filled with tiny one-family homes and brownstone buildings sporting anywhere from two to four families. It was a nice neighborhood—houses lined up like pretty maids all in a row—in a time when the world may not have been much safer than it is now, but we perceived it as such because the news didn’t report on every single atrocity happening around us for the sake of shock value, by career-climbing newsmen who were more ambitious than judicious, hired by the unwieldy number of stations focused only on ratings. My memories are that of a child. I remember pretty little maids, with nice yards, friendly faces, and a feeling of community and safety—where a kid could fall off their bike, get hurt, and stop at any neighbor’s house for help without worrying about being buried in the basement with the other hapless souls who had wandered by.

Inside that child’s memory is Billy. And King Kong. After we watched the movie, we went out to play in the yard—because that’s what kids used to do. And while he had his arms out in front of him ala The Mummy, slowly stalking my sad impersonation of Fay Wray, I was backing up to get away from his supposedly menacing monkey. I tripped on a piece of sidewalk that had broken and buckled, like the one in the picture, and fell straight back onto my head, with a loud crack and an echoing bounce I still remember. Long story short, I cut the back of my head wide open and ended up with several stitches (ask me for the long story sometime at a con, it’s fun and includes gems like blood vs sweat, freaking out babysitters for fun and profit, and ruining mom’s day out with the girls).

Over the years, I’ve thought about Billy and Trina—specifically the day of King Kong for Billy, and an unfortunate tanning experience because of Trina. But this is about King Kong, and that sidewalk… that damn sidewalk.

The sidewalk is a magical thing when you think about it. It’s the first boundary we need to cross as children. When we’re finally allowed to play outside by ourselves, no mommy watching our every move and chasing us away from the dangers of the street, we are told to “stay in the yard.” And we do. Dutifully most of the time. Our initial foray to the sidewalk is the (still present in my life, always) chalk that let us express ourselves in fits of proud glory until the rains washed away our hard work. We didn’t cry when our hard work was erased, because we didn’t see the downside. We saw the clean slate and cheered because we’d get to fill it with the colors of our imagination all over again. Then we used the sidewalk to tackle and master the great and terrible vehicle of doom that would become our lives until sixteen allowed for four wheels instead of two—the almighty bicycle (yeah, banana seats!). Even then we were told to stay on the sidewalk (or driveway if you had one), but absolutely no going into the street. Eventually, we were allowed to roam past it, to go beyond that magical sidewalk. At which point, the sidewalk became a boundary again only when we found ourselves in trouble and were grounded back to the yard. Back within the confines of that cold gray slab which marked our home turf. Our safety zone.

We started with that sidewalk, but as we grew, we strove to go beyond other boundaries. To reach out and stretch our legs, taking strides—sometimes small, sometimes giant—to push on and go forth. To explore and adventure. We left the safety of the neighborhood and went to school. We finished that and moved out to find our own sidewalks. Some stayed close to the unforgiving cement they were comfortable with, others took the chance to run, either chasing their dreams or looking for them. Some left their hometown and found new sidewalks. Some left the state just to see if there were sidewalks elsewhere.

Every time we crossed the sidewalk, real or metaphorical, we experienced life. Good and bad. We saw amazing things, we met new people, we made incredible memories, we survived horrible tragedies—those no one warned us of, as well as those we had to learn for ourselves, even though we’d been warned, repeatedly—and we learned the varying degrees of disappointment as it balanced against achievement. Life is not a smooth piece of glass we walk along. It’s a sidewalk—full of cracked slabs, raised pieces waiting to trip you, and weeds desperately poking through any weaknesses along the way.

They say you can never go home again, and it’s true. Home isn’t the same once you’ve been beyond the sidewalk, but the yearning to return to its safety is very real. When we’re up, we call home and share our excitement. When we’re down, we think of going back and hiding behind the boundaries we knew… but outgrew. We can’t go back. It’s not the same. It may look like it, but it’s not. Not once you look past the fresh paint and new street signs. Not once you walk down that familiar sidewalk to the exact spot that became your first scar only to find the sidewalk isn’t buckled anymore. It’s been replaced. It’s no longer yours. It belongs to a new generation who doesn’t even know your blood was spilled there.

I suppose it’s the mature thing to fully realize the meaning behind “you can’t go home again.” It’s good to be at a point where you understand exactly why, and accept that it’s not necessarily a bad thing. It’s just change. Change happens.

So here I am, not quite awake on my first cup of coffee, listening to the birds chirp as the world wakes up around me. And I find myself sitting on my steps looking out at the sidewalk. I’m thinking back over all the sidewalks I’ve crossed. All the porches and steps I’ve sat on before crossing them, or after. I’m cataloging all the lessons and losses, dreams and disappointments, smiles and scars. And it all becomes a swirl of doubt, leaving me to ponder whether I should have crossed the sidewalk and gone exploring in the first place. It has become a question of whether or not all that wonderment was worth all the wounds.

My older self thinks of the welcoming smells of mom’s kitchen, the safety of her stoop, the fact that I always have and always will sleep best under her roof. But I know, I know, “you can’t go home again.”  I accept that and swim in a little lake of self-pity for a bit, feeling lost as I stare at my coffee. Lately, I feel like I’m floating aimlessly, treading water, unsure if it’s toward shore or away from it. And when I look up to the sidewalk again, I can see the younger me, standing there with her long waves made darker by the streak of blood running down the center of them. And I remember. She didn’t curse the sidewalk that tripped her. She didn’t try and step back inside the boundaries of the grass. She stood up, wiped her face—mixing tears and blood into something that would dry and be labelled determination—and took a brave step forward.

I have a full box of chalk, a handful of band-aids, and a lot more sidewalks to cross. Whether I cross them or not, only time will tell…

 

 

 

Dance With Me

tango-lesson“Please, just for me, forget the steps…
Hold me, feel the music,
and give me your soul.
Then I can give you mine.”
~Sally Blake, author of Happy Tango

The modern tango is a dance which borrows from a multitude of cultures, combines traditions from dozens of countries, has many musical influences, and is a pure amalgamation of the physical movement of an emotional soul.

It has both smooth effortless-appearing moves, and sharp twists and turns to break up the monotony. The steps ebb and flow with the music, while the fervor and passion ride the chords like a wave. It is perfect. The perfect dance. The perfect expression. The perfect balance. It requires flexibility, trust, faith, grace and guidance.

It is love in the form of motion.

I took dance as a kid, and by kid I mean from about 8-17 (when I promptly destroyed my Achilles tendon and had to leave dance behind). But I didn’t have partner classes. I was in group tap dancing—large ensembles of stumbling children alongside the more graceful toe-clicking students (I was both, in order). And I was in ballet, specifically pointe, aka up on my toes rather than in soft flats (explains those calves of mine, doesn’t it!). But ballet class was just me and the scariest tiny little woman I’ve ever known—who slapped my calves with a stick and was constantly saying “higher”, “head up”, “stretch your neck/spine”. But I was alone in ballet. No other students. No partner, ever. Thus, I’ve had classical training in the art of dance, but absolutely none of that taught me how to dance with another soul.

So I do not know how to tango. I can barely do the box-step with someone without laughter. Oh, but it’s on my bucket list. Near the top, actually. Complete with the shoes, the dress, and the rose in my teeth. But I need a partner. Someone willing to get their toes stepped on. Someone patient enough to teach me how to follow rather than lead. Someone I can trust not to drop me. Someone whose moves both echo and complement my own. Someone who understands the intimacy of the dance—the grace and forgiveness required. And someone who, if they don’t know all the steps just yet, is eager to take on the adventure as a partner, a team.

Doesn’t sound like a tall order, but it is. Everyone enjoys watching the tango in movies or at wedding receptions, many will jokingly perform the basic and/or most well known positions and moves, but I’ve yet to find one that actually wants to complete the dance. And so I am stuck in the familiar, dancing alone. And when that music starts, I stand back and watch the couples lucky enough to have the partner and know the moves, as they grace the dance floor with beauty and emotion. A wallflower in the music hall.

Until we get to the page. Then I can dance.

They say writing is a solitary thing, but that’s not entirely true. While we writers live in our own heads (sometimes to the detriment of our relationships) and dance with our own creations (characters we often know better than even our closest friends), we do invite the reader to the dance floor. The act of writing is solitary, but the twists and turns, the grace and beauty, is truly a dance of its own with our readers.

I may not have found a partner willing to learn how to tango on the dance floor, but if I do my job correctly as a writer, I will tango with the reader until the last sentence. And as the last notes fade into the corner of the dance hall, and the words creep off the page and into their heads, they should be left out of breath, feeling a bit seduced, with a sense of satisfaction… And a rose in their teeth.

 

 

 

Disney, Dreams and Disarray

I know you, I walked with you once upon a dream.
~ Sleeping Beauty (1959)

Sleeping Beauty…my favorite Disney movie. Hands down. Always has been. I’ve watched the movie a million times (most recently, just last week as background noise at work instead of Pandora). I’ve seen the ballet. Know the words, know the songs, have the soundtrack—with and without the words on the Tchaikovsky selection. And with the new Maleficent movie out, my eleven-year-old self, the dreamer of a girl hiding behind that tomboy facade, is all excited. Thus, I’ve been giving this movie a lot of thought.

I used to think I loved this one because the witch was just a witch. Not a wicked step-mother, no real reason for evil, she just was. And she’s always been my favorite Disney villain. Evil for the sake of being evil (like the original Michael Myers, not that watered down give-him-a-reason-and-remove-the-scary version Zombie did). Petty, bitchy, pissy Maleficent who, for all the script tells us, is so angry she wasn’t invited to the baby’s announcement she curses the child to be beautiful and perfect and DIE. Yeah, I’d like to have dinner with Maleficent and find out exactly what happened in her childhood to make her so damn evil.

For a time I thought it was purely for the Tchaikovsky aspect, as I was in dance class and loved the ballet version of the tale. I knew the ballet version of the waltz, and I knew the movie version. (Yes, I’ve danced with invisible owls dressed as princes in my kitchen, don’t judge.)

Or maybe it was for the fairies. I liked them better than most other fairy-type creatures in the other films. And the magic in this one was fun and wicked and all around accepted as normal.

Nope. Turns out it might just be because of prince freaking charming. I hate to admit that.

What Barbie has done for the body dysmorphia this country suffers, Disney has done for female expectations, and websites like match dot com should really pay them some sort of kickback for convincing people prince charming no only exists, but they can find their own for only $39.99 a month. My eleven-year-old self believed in prince charming and happy endings. By twenty those same thoughts would have been followed by yadda yadda yadda, as the adult put childish thoughts aside and was happy just hoping for the best. The dreams Disney insisted on and instilled in the psyche of little girls everywhere were shattered across a whole generation by the harsh reality of dead chivalry, condom vending machines, and impatience preventing the sweet build of friendship first in lieu of one night stands and “digits.”

However, tiny rant aside, this prince was different and I think that’s why I loved this movie. Let’s look at Disney princes for a moment, shall we?

  • Cinderella: one-night stand, but he returns her shoe and gives her a castle. aka Cindy wins the lottery.
  • Snow White: he kisses a sleeping stranger to save her. Or, molesting unconscious and/or dead girl in the woods is okay.
  • Little Mermaid: this tard doesn’t even notice her because she can’t talk? Then he’s completely sidetracked by a witch in disguise as a hot chick and only gets the girl because her dad changed her fins to legs.
  • Aladdin: not even a prince. A lying, deceiving street rat. Yeah, that’s who we want to fall in love with.

Sad, depressing, pathetic. Yes. However…

  • Sleeping Beauty: Phillip—this prince deserved to have his name remembered—did a bit more than average. He fought to escape the dungeon, battled goblins, cut through a forest of thorns, defeated a freaking dragon, beat the witch, broke the curse, and got the girl.

But most importantly, he didn’t even want a princess in the first place, he wanted the girl next door he found in the woods talking to nature and dancing to music only she could hear (aka he was okay with her being a little crazy). And she didn’t want to be a princesses betrothed to someone else, because she had found herself a nice boy just riding his horse through the woods who actually played well with her brand of crazy. Even though they were unknowingly betrothed, they were much more, they were destined and determined. He didn’t come in armor—hell he had to borrow a sword and shield. She didn’t come with a tiara.

I can’t speak for the rest of the females on the planet, but I’ve never been interested in a prince charming with a white horse and shiny armor. Just a guy comfortable in his own skin, with personal demons and dings in his armor, willing to fight the metaphorical dragons and goblins and witches of the world. Thus while the other Disney princes promise “happily ever after” but base it on almost nothing—giving little girls dreams and hopes only to crush them and fill their empty spaces with disappointment and disarray—Phillip actually works through issues and fights for his girl next door. He wins. This movie wins. Even though it was met with horrible box office receipts upon release and caused Disney to avoid fairy tales again until Little Mermaid years and years later. Win.

So, while my eleven-year-old self excitedly awaits the night I slip out to the theater to watch Maleficent, my jaded adult self agrees to let the innocent youth hiding inside to infect her. Just a little. And hum the waltz while dancing with an invisible owl dressed as hope.

Adventures in Time

mammoth2Faith and doubt both are needed—not as antagonists, but working side by side to take us around the unknown curve.
~Lillian Smith

I clearly remember waking up freezing under, not one but, three heavy quilts on that fateful December morning in Wisconsin and mentally saying shouting, “Enough!” But, being the over-analyzing soul I am, I asked my parents to be my rock, my logic, and tell me why I shouldn’t move. They said no such thing. Instead, mom said, “Go! Go while you have the fire. Go before you wake up at sixty-five, still live here, and still hate it.”

Five years ago today I shoved everything I owned, two kids, and a cat into a huge u-haul with a mammoth on the side of it. I turned in my apartment keys, and handed the keys of the mammoth to my best friend (volunteered to drive the u-haul). I watched the sun set at a gas station near Ed Gein’s, said good-bye to my Wisconsin residency, and began the next adventure…

It’s been an interesting five years.

My kids have grown and flown the coop. The best cat ever, Chaos, ran away. I’ve loved and lost. I’ve made new friends and lost old. I’ve hit writing deadlines and missed life goals. I’ve learned. I’ve grown. I’ve aged. I’ve changed.

Life has offered challenges and provided pitfalls. Time has both slowed and sped up. The universe has played yo-yo with my emotions, suggesting I run while begging me to stay. I’ve seen divorces and marriages, births and funerals. I gained a new title, wear a new hat, gotten new ink, earned new scars—physical and emotional. And in the end, I’m glad I listened to my mom and took the plunge.

Because life is an adventure. All of it. Period.

Whether it’s going to the grocery store, or sitting on the porch, or hopping in the car and driving until you find a beach. It’s all unwritten. Merely outlined. And attitude is half the battle. I was raised by a crazy woman who blessed me with the right attitude—enjoy the little things, make memories, accept the adventure, and make it in the mundane.

So, happy anniversary Pennsylvania. Thank you for the much warmer winters, four actual seasons, and flowers on my birthdays instead of blizzards. I’ve finally realigned my brain to your night sky and get that even if he’s in the wrong spot, Orion is still Orion. I’ve loathed and loved, laughed and cried, but it all goes into who I am and who I become and how well I pack for the next adventure.

Though I really do miss that cat.

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