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!
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.