I liken a fight to a blank page. Entering the ring, a boxer’s body and mind stand at the ready as so many remembered movements much as a writer sits poised with words and syntax. It’s what happens next that is remembered. The boxer will engage in an improvised pas-de-deux with her opponent while the writer will engage her thoughts and ideas to fashion words into hoped for coherent and readable prose.
Given that I am wearing my writer’s mantle today, I am trying to work through the momentary panic of that blank space. As with any creative endeavor — whether the improvisation of a boxer’s dancing feet or a trumpeter’s trill — the way thoughts form on the page seem miraculous. Yes, they are based on deep knowledge of words and syntax and perhaps even a clear “plan” of attack likened to a boxer’s plan to stick and pull back, or the trumpeter’s competencies with B-flat. However, the blank page of a writer can also represent the open road without a road map. It is the moment of facing down newness. Words without a plan. A space that can take a writer anywhere the imagination feels like going.
Such is my day today. My writing has no agenda. Like shadow boxing on a Monday night without a trainer, I can take it where ever I want it to go. I can stick with one thing or write tons of fanciful little ditties. Such is my luck today — even as I swallow back that momentary taste of bile that anxiety always seems to bring!
My daughter’s alarm clock is blaring through her door as regular pulses reminiscent of the loud echoing blasts announcing a prisoner escape. How she is sleeping through it amazes me. Her strategy is to have multiple devices yell at her land of nod until one or another pierces the veil of her dreamscape enough for her to join the world of the awake. She then stumbles up and out of her room towards the bathroom and the beginning of her morning.
It puts me in mind of how much of what we do is regulated by time.
We have the “masters” of the industrial revolution to thank for that one; having invented mechanized devices as the means of production, they needed a “regular” workforce to man and woman those machines. Hence our alarm clocks which still beckon us (more like rip us) from the delicious warmth of bed and dreams into the world of work and dare I say a bit of drudgery???
Not so the boxer’s time clock! Least ways not in my estimation.
Those intervals of time feel more like the explosions of musical notes with three minutes to blow your ax before resting and blowing again.
Shadow boxing around my living room gets to feel like an improvisational dance, throwing punches this way and that as I circle my way left then right, hop skipping forward or to the side, my arms flailing at the air to their own rhythm. Then the dead s-t-o-p before repeating it all again — and yet different.
A jazzed solo, the improvisation of a boxing performance has all of the nuanced grace of a horn pushing out its notes in a staccato rhythm all its own and yet timed and lovely and full of melodic undertones, the dance of the body fluid and full of the momentum that pushes it from one posture to another for three full minutes before the ding of the bell signals the end of the round.
While I used to listen to my mother’s John Coltrane and Miles Davis records when I was a young child, I discovered jazz for myself when I turned 12. My grandmother had given me a small portable AM/FM radio and fiddling with the dial I came across the radio station WLIB. This was 1966 — and at 4:00 each afternoon, Jazz pianist Billy Taylor opened his show with Herbie Hancock’s Maiden Voyage.
What I waited and hoped for each day though was the chance to hear something by Miles Davis. Billy Taylor usually obliged with tunes from Miles Davis’ ESP or Miles Smiles albums or a song like So What from such newly minted classics as Davis’ Kind of Blue album.
Years and years later training with Johnny Grinage down at Gleason’s, Johnny used to talk about Miles the boxer. I’ve never really heard the speed-bag in his trumpet, but I still love the thought that the staccato of his solos could have come from his days of training in the ring.
I stopped into a shoe store with my daughter on Saturday afternoon on our way home from her Aikido practice when I heard Charlie Parker’s rendition of “Just Friends.” It got me to thinking about Bebop and the improvisational nature of boxing. Watch boxing at its finest and one finds not only the dancer’s art, but the improvisational character of a Charlie Parker solo.
For those who may not know, Charlie “Bird” Parker was an alto saxophone player from Kansas City, Kansas who along with Dizzie Gillespie brought a new lexicon to Jazz interpretation called Bebop. Like many talented musicians of later eras, Charlie Parker’s tenure on earth was brief — all of 34 years, and yet the legacy of his music lives on today.
PS – Catch a young Miles Davis on trumpet on both tracks.