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    Bridge Ladies Sometimes I think a meteor could strike the earth and wipe out mankind with the exception of my mother’s Bridge club — Roz, Bea, Bette, Rhoda, and Jackie — five Jewish octogenarians who continue to gather for lunch and Bridge on Mondays as they have for over fifty years. When I set out to learn about the women behind the matching outfits and accessories, I never expected to fall in love with them. This is the story of the ladies, their game, and most of all the ragged path that led me back to my mother.
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I Belong With You, You Belong With Me

Today, I was accused of not being a free spirit. Guilty as charged. Not only am I not a free spirit, I might even experience a fair amount of animosity when in the presence of free spirits. The first time I knew that I wasn’t a free spirit was when I was about to graduate college. My roommate was pursuing his dream of being a modern dancer. The boy I had a crush on was moving to London to be a playwright. A woman I envied was going to Provincetown to write a screenplay. Me? I had accepted a job as the corporate file coordinator at a major investment bank because, well, the idea of trying to be a poet for real was not happening, not then, not now, not ever.  And please don’t tell me about William Carlos Williams being a doctor and Wallace Stevens an insurance executive. And please don’t mistake promiscuity for being free ha ha ha ha. I am the emperor of my own damn wheelbarrow. I am a little old ugly man, cousin to Rumpelstilskin, friend to none. I am obsessive, compulsive, anal, retentive. Free spirits implode when they cross my path. Please don’t ask me to walk barefoot or wear flowers in my hair.  Free spirit? I can barely manage spontaneity.

What is a free spirit and are you one?

52 Responses

  1. Hell no. I am a control freak trying to learn to let go before my control issues drive me insane! Free spirits make me a little angry, but mostly out of jealousy because they seem to feel so…free 😛

  2. I’ve been accused of being a free spirit many times.
    If they were in here, I’m pretty sure they wouldn’t see it that way.

  3. “And please don’t mistake promiscuity for being free.”
    Sing it, sister!

  4. Dionysian or Appolinian? Drunken ecstasy or dreamy reason? Every time I try to straddle that dichotomy I get really bad rug burns.

  5. I’m a bit of a free spirit, yes, but I adore you, and I’m still in one piece, so I can’t be that much of one.

  6. Betsy, this is my kind of topic. Yes, I try. In my songwriting phase, I wrote a song called “The Free Spirit” soon after reading Nietzsche’s Part Two of BEYOND GOOD AND EVIL, called “The Free Spirit.” Here’s a quote from that: “Independence is for the very few; it is a privilege of the strong. And whoever attempts it even with the best right but without inner constraint proves that he is probably not only strong, but also daring to the point of recklessness. He enters into a labyrinth, he multiplies a thousandfold the dangers which life brings with it in any case, not the least of which is that no one see how or where he loses his way, becomes lonely, and is torn piecemeal by some minotaur of conscience. Supposing one like that comes to grief, this happens so far from the comprehension of men that they neither feel it nor sympathize. And he cannot go back any longer.”

  7. Oh, how I’ve aspired, but I shot myself in the foot before I even began the journey. How can I be a free spirit when I envy…JK Rowling (she stole my life), Nigella Lawson (she stole my life), and Annette B from school whose photo appeared in the News of the World as she smoked a pipe in the foothills of Tibet when I was a day away from hitching my wagon to the wrong man. Does free spirit mean selfish? If so I know lots. I’m shackled to convention, my wings clipped by responsibility, my thoughts of freedom reduced to numbness by my neurosis. Bah, free spirits. Just piss off! You’re OK, Betsy. Don’t let ’em get to you.

  8. The Free Spirit is a state of mind, in my experience, that exists only within the context of the broader society. All the free spirits I have known and currently know, are free spirits because they can afford to be. There’s someone out there supporting them economicaly, in some way, or know they will expect an inheritance in old age. Does this make me angry? You bet? Jealousy? You bet. I am a closet writer, struggling on the knifes edge between the luxury of writing, and finding an income.

  9. To answer the question – Am I a free spirit? when I am in my garden, or I am writing. when I am not accepting my responsibilities and doing what I want when and how I want. A non-commital state of being. When my creative mind wanders free, with me in tow.

  10. It’s too early for this. Do you people ever sleep?

    I’ve taken up obligations freely, often stupidly, and done my best to keep them, even when it didn’t make a damned bit of sense. The military, a tough marriage, a career, keeping my word because I gave it.

    The other side is a long and fine marriage, another career, great satisfaction and many laughs, with angst as faint memories. Christ, sometimes I feel older than Sinbad and broke as Wimpy, but I don’t give a shit. This fine woman who puts up with me laughs a lot, and I do too. Yesterday we sat on a beach with old friends and drank too much, and this morning I’ll walk by the bayou with a good dog. Tommorrow I’ll head out on an adventure with a friend who’s a very good sailor and boat builder.

    I don’t know if I’m a free spirit or not, nor do I care. I have all I need, and want little. I’d be ashamed to ask for more, except maybe a bit more time.

  11. I’d argue that if you’re a parent of a child, you’re automatically denied a “free spirit” tagline. The two are diametrically opposed. One is oblivious, the other hyper aware. How could you possibly be a “free spirit” when you’re responsible for another human life?

    Whether it was meant as one, who cares. I’d take it as a compliment.

    • Yes, this. I think I’m a free spirit who needs to know her mortgage will be paid and her kids get to school without wearing short pants and sandals in the middle of winter. Many people I know look forward to retireing at a golf course resort in palm springs. I look forward to retiring to a small house in Portland where I can be surrounded by artists and writers and let my freak flag fly.

  12. Betsy, your post title says it all.

  13. Free spirits don’t do laundry, or use deodorant or shave their armpits. Free spirits cop cigarettes from their mother’s purse and vodka from the corner cabinet. They are not afraid to hold a sign, say what’s on their mind, put a daisy in a gun barrel, spit in your eye and get arrested. Oh wait, we’re not in Kansas anymore Dorothy, I had a flashback to the sixties.
    Free spirits believe in the righteousness of the individual therefore they say the hell with the rest of us and travel to the mountaintop. I do not envy the self-centered, pipe smoking unwashed at the feet of the Dali lama. I envy the social security’d, 401K’d, IRA’d retired x-sixties dreamers who thought they’d make a better world but instead prepared sufficiently for the future they get to retire in.
    Moral of this story Chicky…feed your 401K like it’s a starving pit bull. Free spirits need their hands licked too.

  14. I’ve always defined “free spirits” as deliberate “lilies of the field,” which would exclude those who are willing to put in the work and also those who have the common sense, self-awareness, and innate responsibility to know that bare feet, free-form dance lessons, and a long scarf aren’t going to automatically make one into the next Isadora Duncan—and even if they could, there’s a glut on the market and the styles have changed.

    I have no idea what to call people who write seventy-four word sentences where several talented editors can see them . . .

  15. I am absolutely a free spirit…so long as everything is going just the way I want.

  16. Being a free spirit sounds exhausting, all that flitting about. I hate surprises and resent spontaneity. Life is precarious enough without having to look for a bed each night and worrying about whose grubby feet have been tangled in the sheets. And where’s the challenge in Woodstock, anyway? I am house and homegirl, a subversive Betty Draper, fucking it up from the inside where it counts.

    • Is there anything worse than a surprise? I don’t even like surprise conversations, you know the ones, like where your husband follows you into the closet and says, “I need to talk to you about something.” This kind of thing freaks me the hell out. I think we were married about 3 weeks when he learned to never, never do that again.

      And to Lyra’s point above, I need to know the rent will be paid, that the kids can count on me to drive through the school parking lot at exactly 2:38 pm to pick them up, that there’s milk in the fridge for my morning coffee and kids’ cereal.

      • Oh, the damage I could do just by not showing up to work….leaving the confused client waiting outside a dark door in a silent hallway. I would never, could never do that. In fact, I can’t even imagine being late. Responsibility feels good to me and the opposite is a horror.

  17. “What is a free spirit and are you one?”

    A free spirit is either the beneficiary of an adequate cash flow or the wasted wreckage living under the bridge in a cardboard box. I am neither. Having had sufficiently close encounters with hunger and homelessness but no acquaintance with a capital investment that never depletes, I have chosen the middling way of steady low-intensity employment, meager savings, and acceptable personal grooming. It’s an un-hard life, and somebody’s gotta live it.

    • The first thing that popped into my mind was behind every free spirit is a person willing to pay the bills. The next was the homeless man I watched picking around Boston Common yesterday. He smelled of urine and sweat, and had the most peaceful demeanor I’ve seen in awhile.

      As for me? You would hate me, wish for my implosion. I am an antagonist, a coercer of boundaries, a ditcher of comfort zones, and I suck other people in too. I don’t know why, but that’s just the way it is and I’m too old to change now.

      • I wouldn’t hate you, Deb. My hater broke a while back (my cold spike of vengeance still works, though).

        Tell me tales of the stenchy peaceful vagrants of Boston of yesterday, I will tell you tales of the rancid hopeless homeless of New York City ca. 1990. There was a subway station close to the Midtown office building where I worked that was so full of putrid men sleeping along the passageways that I came to avoid it and get out one stop further away, as I had no interest in puking up my breakfast and adding to the miasma (I paid good money for my breakfast).

  18. I wear cowboy boots when everyone else is wearing flats, button-down shirts rather than gauzy sweaters, and my colleagues consider me their pet bohemian. My constraints are just different than theirs.

  19. From the outside it may have looked like I was a free spirit, but the reality had much more to do with insecurity and general laziness, the pessimist planning to fail.

    • Yes, on the insecurity front. All I needed was a little tethering. They likely don’t know this but It’s what all free spirits are ultimately seeking.

  20. I’ve had periods in my life, before I was bogged down by reality and practicality, when I was considered a free spirit. But it’s all illusion anyway. Nothing comes without a price.

    • Agreed. I’m wearing clogs and a poncho right now as I lovingly feed my kids (it’ll be nutritious enough but I’m distracted; my daughter just said “Why can’t you be more like Nigella?”) as I worry about deadlines and grapple with the plotlines of a) a contracted trilogy, b) a self-published serialized erotica sideline that’s the current cause of my sleep deprivation and is also selling like hotcakes thank you very much, c) my literary opus, d) Iowa (see c), e) a post-apocolyptic mess of weirdly inspired craziness, f) two other *very* different books that are currently out on submission. And I wonder which of the above, if any, actually encapsulates who I am as a writer as I consider whether or not I should just go out and get a “real” job.

  21. No. I’m not…I’m such a rule follower, for starters. And, I hate the sort of chaos that comes with being “free” spirited, the not knowing – which is probably why this writing life (such as it is) makes me occasionally freak out. Free spirited is for those who can do this, that or the other without worrying about consequences, good or bad. Most definitely not me…worry wart here.

  22. I am a walking contradiction as I have the props of a free-spirited life (like IC said above, I am often the pet bohemian,) but in reality I like to make order out of chaos, and I prefer solitude, books and saving my money to other, more extroverted, free-spirited, ventures.
    Sometimes it’s shocking when people see how organized and practical I really am.

  23. I live a fairly self-regimented life, but there are parts of me and sometimes whole days of my life where I feel like a free spirit. It’s nice to jump out of order sometimes.

  24. In my mind I’m a free spirit yearning to break out. Fortunately, or unfortunately, depending on one’s perspective, I took the path less uncertain. I knew I needed to pursue a practical career while nurturing the dream to the side. Nature, nurture, what the hey. This is where I am. This is who I am.

  25. For the record I think it dangerous to conflate the way we need or want to live our daily lives with our ability to conjure imaginative literary worlds—worlds that at their best allow one to explore alternative realities. Which need not be mundane moralistic middle grounds to have value.

  26. If my underwear is not folded, and the socks not sorted, and the bed not made and the doggy canister not filled with Milkbones for Harley I am all a-shutter. Look up homebody and you will see my name.
    I am not a control freak, I am not obsessive- compulsive I am comfortable in my shirt with the hole in the underarm and perfectly happy as long as no one asks me a question which I can answer by raising my hand.

  27. Well, Viola said it best: “I am not what I am.” So we all have our guises. There is no such thing as a free spirit anyway. The operative word is “spirit” — to tend to in our own ways–to grow, to nurture, sometimes to tether. Betsy, what’s “free ” about you, and what truly matters, and what I admire and, yes, envy, is your kaleidoscopic ability to connect to all sorts of references–Rumpelstilskin, WCW, wheelbarrows (actually there’s an allusion to an allusion!). You write so freely and indomitably that I bow to your talent.

    My favorite line came from a poetry professor a while back. “Work is good,” she simply said.

    BTW, I find myself unfree at this point in my life precisely because I am tangled in too much freedom. There’s the real danger.

  28. I might be a free spirit, if a free spirit is a person who believes in spirits. Oh, I don’t just believe. I know. Hello, I call out, waving. Hello, spirits!

  29. RE: Spontaneity. My husband and I came up with this as our motto when packing the car for a weekend trip with enough stuff for several weeks: “You’ve got to be prepared to be spontaneous”.

  30. Well, now, isn’t this a sticky wicket. I find myself, at 6 a.m., replying to a post on a blog, posted by a friend on Facebook, about the illusive oxymoron of the state of being called “free spirit.” I would have loved that moniker in high school, that waving-blonde-hair girl with the infectious laugh, picking wildflowers. But, the minute you accept any responsibility whatsoever, you must give up the belt to the children, for being a free spirit after the age of 16 means selfishness, a desire not to work but to live off the good graces of others, to shy away from relationships because they take work and rather to make polite conversation that goes nowhere and means nothing. I would much prefer to be known as a person who lived in the world, every moment of every day, soaking up the experiences and smelling the scents of new knowledge with every breath. I am a gypsy, slightly Bohemian, but not a free spirit. My spirit has paid a price for who I am today, and I am comfortable with that.

  31. So many people think I am a wild free spirit and oh it comes with regard to certain things, usually helped along by alcohol and unburdening. I am a fake free spirit, entrenched in duty and blame, sometimes envy. I think I’m just a worker bee with a lot of buzz

  32. I’m not a free spirit. The thought of it would keep me awake at night. My husband either, that’s why we fit together so well. Even when he was in college, when he got tear-gassed during a demonstration, it was only because he was on his way to the library.

  33. A week ago on a beach in St. Petersburg, FLA, not far from the shore, a pod of dolphins passed by, slick bodies arching out and dipping back into the sea. Children running happily along the shore and splashing in the waves. Sand and ocean, foam and breeze, smiles like the waning southern crescent moon.

    Later, a late dinner at the Taco Bus, a bucket of 5 cold Coronas for $10 and surprisingly good Mexican food made by happy young hippies.

    Glimpses of freedom for a minimum cost.

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