Posts Tagged ‘writing

11
Sep
15

I prefer to remember joy and wonder …

I prefer to remember joy and wonder …

Philippe Petite (Joseph Gordon-Levitt) in TriStar Pictures' THE WALK.

I work downtown again.

The first time since the summer of 2001.

WWcentreMy office was at the Woolworth Building then and the Towers were my backyard. A place I’d run to to catch the subway, dart into a Children’s Place to pick up little things for my daughter, or to peruse the aisles at Borders Bookstore.

126135735535_338b65ceaf_o.0Early that summer, I took my team to lunch at Windows on the World at the top of the North Tower (Building One).

It was a languid lunch, with one of our number who’d moved on coming in to meet with us. We sat by a window looking east towards Brooklyn, marveling at the view, the company, and the chance to take a break during the day.

IMG_1286revisedI think of this because when I walk along Fulton Street heading to or from my new office on Gold Street, I am always surprised by the absence of the Twin Towers.

Perhaps I’ll get used to it one day and even catch site of it without a sharp intake of breath as a measurement of the loss I still feel.

But even if each and every sight of it for the rest of my life causes a momentary pause, I’ll also always remember the joy and wonder of Phillipe Petit walking between the Towers on his tight rope.

That and my lunch with the Imagine crew sustains me when I otherwise expect to see the view that never ceased to captivate me–nor burn an ember in my heart by its absence.

03
Feb
15

A no-brainer for the greater good … just sayin’

A no-brainer for the greater good … just sayin’

02_newleadership

Having spent a goodly amount of my early childhood laid up with one illness or another–including bouts of Measles, Chicken Pox, German Measles (Rubella), Mumps, not to mention continuous weeks and weeks of fever, swollen glands, strep throat, oh and a positive TB test that still means I need to get a chest X-ray every ten years or so–the notion that a few vaccinations could spare my blessedly healthy daughter weeks of that sort of misery was a no-brainer.

Okay. Perhaps there was a bit of a selfish motivation as well. Did I really want to sit up night after night nursing a highly contagious sick child who could “take a turn” and end up hospitalized or worse?

Betsy and Tacy Go DowntownReading the Little House On The Prairie series and the Betsy and Tacy books to my daughter reminded me of what the pre-vaccination/pre-antibiotic world was really like for small kids. In both series, siblings and friends of the main characters died rather uncerimoniously of Measles and Whooping Cough, Maleria or other infections, or spent part of their childhood in iron lungs or other contraptions to help limbs withered by Polio. Coming to those parts of the stories, I wanted to skip over them to spare my daughter the pain of what those losses meant in a much more precarious world than the privileged one of early 21st century America.

I didn’t though. I plowed through and explained that the world of those books was the world of places scattered throughout Asia, Africa and South America. Places where diseases, long controlled here and in other industrialized (post-industrialized) nations, represent mere glimmers of our collective past.

It puts me in mind that one of the negatives of privilege and its uglier cousin, entitlement, is the ability to forget that the niceties we all have access to are built on the work, toil and pain of others.

Sure. I can understand that for some people, such things as vaccination can bring about frightful consequences, but for those for whom it will not, don’t we owe it to those few who truly cannot take the risk to endure the “stick” and any momentary discomfort for ourselves and our kids?

And whether it’s measles today or some other forgotten horror tomorrow–maybe we should all have a bit of a group think about what it means to be a member of a community where we all pitch in for the greater good. Just sayin’.

 

12
Jan
15

Day by day by day … je suis humaine

Day by day by day … je suis humaine

Summer 2014, Harrison, Maine. Photo: Malissa Smith

I’ve been attempting to work through the recent terrorist attack at Charlie Hebdo, the French satirical newsweekly—and thereby attempt, in some small way to write about it.

For the French, the three days of carnage beginning with the horrific murder of 12 staff members, including four renowned cartoonists at the offices of Charlie Hebdo, by Said and Cherif Kouachi, has been an agonizing period of anxiety and pain. In all, 17 people were horribly murdered including a young policewoman, a jogger and four shoppers in a Kosher supermarket who were all apparently gunned down by another in the Kouachi brother’s “terrorist cell,” Amedy Coulibaly.

For those of us in New York who lived through the experience of the World Trade Center terror attack on September 11, 2001, there is an acute understanding of the almost out-of-body dissociation one can feel living through the moment-by-moment experiences of that sort of horror. We are, after all, merely ordinary, perhaps showing courage in our daily lives, and perhaps not, but certainly not prepared for the kind of terror that a Kalashnikov wielding “crazy” brings.

New York City street sceneIf I am being disingenuous at all, it is in the sense that we people who live in cities do come to understand that there are those intangibles: Cars that suddenly veer off and cause havoc and death in a restaurant storefront, or the running gun play of teens that may careen in through a window, putting a small child in harms way. Not to mention, the daily violence in families that spill out into “social services” pretty much unnoticed except for the truly horrific ones that end up on the covers of the tabloids. Still, those truly terrifying experiences do not seem to equate with the other kind of sudden violence in the cocoon of our western democracies—and go against our sense of decency, right and wrong, and collectively at least, if not individually, our sense that such things as cartoons that satirize religion and politics, are just this side of “okay” in the scheme of things, even if they tend to be on the edge or even over the line of distasteful. What they are not, are killing offenses by self-proclaimed executioners in the name of one ideological or religious belief or another.

What I keep asking myself is this. Are our beliefs really that tenuous? Are they that uncertain, that a cartoon, really, a cartoon can be so offensive as to warrant the murder of 12 people?

I write that having figured that if what I believe is strong and certain, I, me, the individual, can well afford to be magnanimous in accepting that others may not agree or share my point of view. Thus I would never consider that the words of another would so shake me to the core of my being that I would jump at the chance to “right” the perceived “wrong” by choosing to kill as many nonbelievers as I could as I made my way to whatever Valhalla I figured I was entitled to for my “acts.”

The giant, “ugh” aside—at any given moment on our beautiful earth, just such things occur day by day by day in both religious and sectarian struggles all the in the name of a greater something or other. Or, to bring down to the ground, even to the level of a power struggle between two partners where one feels the right to bash the other senseless in the name of being “right.”

Paris march, January 11, 2015, Credit: Time MagazineAnd while it was heartening to know that 3.7 million persons marched in Paris yesterday in solidarity to reaffirm the principles of Liberté, Égalité, Fraternité (Liberty, Freedom and Fraternity), I am fearful of the backlash to terrorism that can just as easily sweep through to give us yet more examples of the ugliness of revenge on the ordinary, the “us” that is not quite us that devolves into further violence and extremism.

It is the misadventure of well-intentioned reactions that scares me just as much as the acts of terrorism themselves. And having lived through the daily miasma of misery inflicted on ordinary citizens caught in the cross fire of acts for and against terrorism, I remain fearful—and perhaps the tiniest bit cynical about what the future will bring.

My best self, however, knows that just such ideals as freedom and peace and love live on anyway.

After all, in the midst of acts of terror the world over, two-alarm fires, police slowdowns, and the kind of cold that almost demands that one turn over after the alarm goes off to burrow that much deeper under the covers, by 10:30 AM this past Saturday morning, Gleason’s Gym was full of men and women in varying stages of their workouts. A quick glance showed the Give A Kid A Dream youngsters shadowboxing alongside boxing professionals in front of the mirror, amateur fighters putting in rounds ahead of the Golden Gloves, and fighters sparring in all of Gleason’s four boxing rings.

For me, sweaty from five great rounds sparring with my trainer Lennox Blackmoore, the scary fever dreams of terror were suitably buried in one recess of my mind or another. And while I have shed tears for the victims, and will likely go to Synagogue this Friday in solidarity with the French victims at the kosher supermarket in Paris, I will try hard to push forward with a smile, with little thought given to the crazies with Kalashnikovs. They are, despite their seeming out-sized appearances, a really, really tiny portion of the world, which is mostly occupied by persons going about their day in the struggles that define us.

Leastways, that is what I hope for, even if the blue meanies hit me square in the nose sometimes with darker thoughts. Oh well. Je suis humaine.

 

01
Jan
15

A Thousand Strikes

A Thousand Strikes

women-boxing

 

Having been nursing a miserable cold over the last week that has left me a sniffling, sneezing, foggy-headed wreck, I’d almost lost sight of the looming New Year. Sure, I’ve been aware of it—and have even felt myself in an interregnum of sorts eschewing anything particularly new, or when it comes to writing, even engaging in anything more rigorous than pithy “all my best wishes of the season” notes on holiday cards.

Now that the first day of 2015 has arrived, I can certainly say that I have been busy for a good portion of it taking care of chores (laundry, cleaning up the kitchen, and attending to social media), making New Year’s Hoppin’ John (the vegetarian version—an anathema, I’m sure, to the memory of my mother-in-law, and anyone with southern roots for that matter, who’d have surely had a fair amount of fat back added to it), continuing to nurse my cold (finally, seemingly, on the mend, though I’m still pretty foggy), and even catching a bit of a bowl game with my husband.

With all of that done, along with a few naps, it’s time to tackle the real part of my day—which is to ponder the boldness that a new year can bring to one’s life, along with the grand gestures that can punctuate one’s entry into them.

A Thousand Bokken Strikes on Rockaway Beach 01012015Whether it’s a thousand word blog post, a thousand strikes with a Japanese wooden bokken on Rockaway Beach, a thousand folded paper cranes to commemorate peace, a thousand jabs to start off a trip back to the boxing gym, or a thousand crisp cramp rolls on a tap dancing board, embracing the things one loves, by doing it to the count of one thousand is a brilliant way to begin or reaffirm one’s commitment to it.

Let’s face it, our lives get away from us and with rare exception most of us are at least tripled up with commitments at any given moment—not to mention our feelings of disappointment, angst, grief, anger and guilt at our inability to put the time in to the things that we consider are at the heart of what’s important to us.

Given the year I’ve just had, which was nothing short of miraculous when I consider that I published a book on the sport of women’s boxing, not to mention having reengaged in my own boxing pretty much every week all year—oh, and taken up tap dancing too—there were still the bits that I hadn’t done, such as blog regularly, work consistently on my next book and ensure that my family is taken care of in the way they should be.

With the New Year though, I have the opportunity to sort through those things that have meaning and the things that can be jettisoned, and having distilled it down—my thousand “somethings” are the thousand words of this post which constitute my way of saying writing’s the thing.

Blog posts about women’s boxing and whatever else catches my fancy, poems, essays, diatribes, and yep, “the book” are the purview of my reaffirmation to wordsmithing. And not just writing, but also finding the fun in writing and dare I say it, the joy of writing because, yes, it is a joy. A tremendous I-can-say-anything-I-want, action of plucking goodness knows what out of my thought processes and having it translated onto the page through fingers that dance and clickety-clack over the keys of my laptop.

Yes, JOY damn it! Writing can be joy—not a chore, not working to a deadline, not what the editor says or wants—but writing for the sake of it, because one can, because words can bring out ideas one never knew one had, because words have a magic and are, in my estimation as potent as anything an alchemist can conjure up. And importantly, because this year I am sixty, and if I can’t embrace the go-where-my-mind-wants-to-take-me journey that writing can be now—then when?

And, at least for me—and perhaps for all of us—that is the point, isn’t it? If not now, then when, whatever one’s passion, be it pottery, politics, winning a world championship belt (the way Sonya “The Scholar” Lamonakis did this past year) or being the best-damned cramp roller in the world.

All of these things amount to wonderful journeys—akin in some ways to the great pilgrimages. One sets out on a journey from point A to point B and through that process one can experience each point along the arc of A to B as transformative. Perform a jab a thousand times, and one begins to feel what it is like to really throw a jab. One will also have the chance to notice that jab number 10 will be different than jab number 860—tiredness aside, one will have a fluidity of action, an ease, a sense of accomplishment and the momentum to carry on forward to one’s goal.

For each one thousand “somethings,” one can journey on to the next one thousand or to whatever constituent sets one decides upon, but one will have already made one’s start, one’s leap into the thing that gives energy and joy and a myriad of other emotions and feelings that commitment can bring.

One can also find how those things tie in together. For me while writing is the thing, boxing and tap dancing are the physical embodiments of letting words unfold on the keyboard. By learning to maneuver in the ring with my trainer, Lennox Blackmoore, or by learning new tap dance sequences and steps from Michaela Marino-Lerman, I’m enacting ways to trust my instincts and my ability to do so with fluidity—all of a piece when I think about it, because for me writing is an exercise in being bold, brave and fearless without which, the writing process ends up being a lot like cheating at solitaire.

If I can offer anything, it is to say that if one possibly can, do attempt to embrace the things that have meaning, and then do it a thousand times!

25
Jun
14

Here’s to the ladies who punch …

Here’s to the ladies who punch …

A History Of Women's Boxing

Today’s my big day.

The culmination of over two years of work on my new book, A History Of Women’s Boxing.

I get to strut my stuff in the ring at Gleason’s Gym and speak to an audience of assembled friends about the courage, bravery and pure gumption that women have shown for the past three hundred years each time they’ve donned the gloves. Oh yes, and smile a lot, sign books and jump around with glee!

It’ll be a moment to savor — though I admit to a plethora of doubts:  Did I get everything right? Did I forget someone? Did I make the point about pushing social and legal boundaries enough? Will the reader understand just how brave it was for a young and plucky Barbara Buttrick to insist that she had the right to box in 1949?

The historian’s lament plagues me a bit too. There’s never enough time or materials or opportunities to interview — except perhaps if the historian is Robert Caro, be still my historian’s heart.

The writing process is also a marathon battle — reminiscent of the endless rounds of the bare knuckle boxing era.  If we consider that there are “championship rounds in boxing” — of which Layla McCarter knows a thing or two having insisted on the right to fight 12 three-minute rounds more than once —  plowing through a writing project that is voluminous in the best sense nonetheless gets very, very tough as it heads towards the final chapters.  In my case I overwrote by about two hundred pages, which necessitated a mad scramble to cut, cut, cut. Talk about taking shots — those words were my children, and in my “humble” opinion, the points made were as important as any in the final cut of book, but like any gut shot, one sucks it up and moves on because that’s what happens.

If the writing was at times an arduous task, the overriding sensation, however, was one of deep, deep respect for the women who ply their trade as boxers — such that the project became a true labor of love.  Just the act of climbing through the ropes is, in my estimation, a resounding statement of defiance against the strictures that continue to be imposed on women as they go about their work-a-day worlds — nevermind what that meant in the 1970s when women took to the courts to gain the right box.

It still boggles the mind that women’s amateur fighting was virtually illegal in the United States until 1993 when a young 16-year-old girl named Dallas Malloy sued for the right to compete, not to mention Dee Hamaguchi who opened up the right for women to fight in New York’s Golden Gloves in 1995.

I mean what was that? Amateur boxing was illegal which meant women had no safe means of learning to compete other than to turn pro? Hmmm.

I’ll add that the quickest way to become a feminist is to take on a history of women’s anything project.  Talk about a wake up call! Wow!

Gussie Freeman

As I wrote the book, I admit to having favorites, women like Belle Martell who not only was the first licensed referee in the state of California, but who was also a promoter for amateur fights, took the tickets and then jumped in the ring in a ball gown to announce the bouts–the first women to do so. Belle also tried really hard to promote women in the ring in the early 1950s with the idea that they’d save a sport that was dying on the vine due to television. Gussie Freeman was another one. Talk about a character, she boxed briefly in the 1890s, but made such an impression people still remembered her 50 years later.

Dixie Dugan

When I was a kid, our history textbooks consisted of stories of kings and queens, generals and presidents, with very little about the men and women whose lives collectively swayed the shape of society as the centuries passed.

As a microcosm of society, the history of boxing provides an interesting perspective on social interactions between people, the power of popular culture and issues of race, class and the exploitation of labor. Throwing women into that mix provides a more nuanced understanding of those same issues. For one, women’s spectatorship became an important ingredient in developing boxing as a sport from the 1790s on!

The image of a woman in boxing gloves also became a potent symbol of the changing place of women in western society at points in history, most notably in the period between 1880s and the end of World War II when the place of women was upended in a clear line.

That we still question the place of women in the ring today is just as telling. Yes, there were and are those who object to boxing period no matter who contests the fight, but the notion that female boxing is an anathema still seems to finds its place in the conversation about the sport, which goes to the heart of the argument about the “place” of women in society. Ugh …  still?

Regardless, women push through it all anyway and climb through the ropes knowing their muscles have been honed into perfect boxing shape to leave it all in the ring having given their very best.

All I can say is that I am very, very proud to have contributed in some way to sing their praises.  And yep, here’s to the ladies who punch!

Links to purchase the book:

Barnes and Noble.com 

Amazon.com

03
Mar
14

Moments in time …

Moments in time …

Snow on the morning of March 3, 2014

New York City has been sparred the brunt of a huge snow storm system that has hit a lot of other places across the country pretty hard. We count ourselves lucky on that one and otherwise cling to the notion that Spring really is a mere few weeks away.

Elsewhere in the world individuals breathe a sigh of relief or cringe at what may befall them next. Certainly friends in Ukraine and Russia must be going through a myriad of emotions and fear as they sit on the brink of another of the world’s conflagrations in Crimea–the site of so much suffering in a prior war well over 150 years ago. Having been in places during times of strife, I can attest to the strangeness of going about one’s business while across town people are confronted with guns.

Lupita Nyongo'o Best Actress 2014, APWatching the Oscars last night along with some billion others on the planet was a moment to savor fantasy and dreams as pretty men and pretty ladies adorned the images in pretty clothes, dripping with pretty jewels.

How marvelous that we could all take a collective time out from our troubles to savor Pink in pink and Ellen hocking the rich and powerful for pizza money.

Best of all were the wins and none more than lovely Lupita Nyong’o whose speech was uplifting and full of hope. “When I look down at this golden statue, may it remind me and every child, no matter where you’re from, your dreams are valid,” she said.

That is something to savor on a Monday morning when besnowed or not, troubled or fantastically happy, we chase our best selves as Matthew McConaughey implored us to do.

May all your wishes come true.

17
Feb
14

A day off …

A day off …

photo 1-2

A daily something, whether it’s work, going for a run, posting a blog piece or any of a myriad of things can bring a nice bit of order to the day–or act as a set of moments for oneself and oneself alone.

Even with that daily something, it is sometimes nice to have a day off!

Yesterday was just such a day for me–when somewhere late in the evening I realized I hadn’t blogged for the day. Yes, I could have rushed it, but the truth was–it was okay.

Sometimes that break is what we need to kick start something new.

Today, my actual day off from work (the President’s Day holiday), turned out to be a gift of another kind — one extra day at the gym.

I saw friends I rarely run into — and had another chance to box at a leisurely pace, this time going into the ring with boxing trainer, Darius Forde. With Lennox Blackmoore in my corner to coach me through it, I worked through all sorts of issues in the ring offensively and defensively — plus the different looks that Darius showed me.

The rounds on the heavy bag and upper cut bag afterwards were also something a little bit new as I worked through different boxing problems I experienced in the ring.

It got me to thinking that it’s what makes the best part of any day — working through a problem from a different angle. Rather like a piece of art — we get to enrich ourselves by creatively thinking through how best to make something work before moving along.

At any rate, as official day’s off go, it was pretty wonderful.




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© Malissa Smith and Girlboxing, 2010-2015. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Malissa Smith and Girlboxing with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

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