by Julie, summering in Somerville
I first saw Delia Pitts on a Sisters in Crime webinar about being an indie author, and then met her in an online committee meeting. In subsequent conversations about writing and her series, one thing is clear–she loves them both. Her Ross Agency series centers on Shelba Rook, a PI who works in Harlem for the Ross Agency. When I reached out and asked her to write a post for the Wickeds, she agreed to blog about relaxation.
by Delia Pitts
At ease. Chill out. Cool it.
I’ve always wondered, can you really relax on command? By doctor’s prescription? By boss’s order? Will a friend’s recommendation of a favorite beach resort or a colleague’s suggestion of a yoga class actually result in the longed-for letting go?
I’m not the kind who easily relaxes. I go on vacation only when absolutely required. Usually in small increments, a day or a weekend at a time. Prone is not my desired position: lying on the sand or stretched in an Adirondack chair won’t send me to Shangri-La. Even with a rum-laced umbrella drink on hand. There’s always something more to do, something to ponder, something to plan, something to revise or expand or invent.
Since I’m the keyed-up one in the family, I asked my son how he defined relaxation. Quite a smart man, Nick said, relaxation is enjoying yourself without pressure. So, I thought of those things in my everyday life that check both boxes: enjoyment minus pressure. I write, I walk, I weed, I shop, I read, I talk. I even do laundry. Fun? Often. Necessary? Sure. Relaxing? Not quite. Why didn’t these efforts fit the bill? Perhaps because they involve doing something. Achieving a goal; striving for an outcome, collecting a prize. Even if it’s only a clean basket of laundry. I decided submission to the Tyranny of Doing was not my path to relaxation.
But the inventory of a week’s worth of my activities did yield two sure-fire winners: watching a live baseball game and watching a Fred Astaire/Ginger Rogers movie. No waiting to exhale. I didn’t zone out, but I did let go. By the end of the game or the film I was relaxed. I wondered why these spectator occupations worked as relaxants. Here’s what I came up with:
- Outcome is unpredictable
- Or entirely predictable
- Movement as ritual
- Talent beyond my ken
- Emotions intensely engaged
- But I have no impact on the ending
Baseball, like any other live sporting event, is unpredictable. That’s what makes it such fun to watch, no one knows how it will turn out. (Unless the match is fixed. As a South Sider, the residual guilt of the Chicago Black Sox scandal looms large in my consciousness more than one hundred years on.) With the ending unpredictable, my attention is engaged, my imagination flies with each swing of the bat. Every pitch is fresh, every catch unscripted. Anything can happen. Elegant execution marks each pitch, catch, or slide. But errors are just as thrilling. They testify to human frailty behind the consummate skill. I am drawn out of myself because I have a front row seat on the unexpected. Relaxation is the enjoyable result of giving myself to the whims of the baseball gods.
In contrast, every move of a Fred-and-Ginger routine is painstakingly scripted. Pleasure comes from knowing each dance of seduction will end exactly as it did the previous thirty times I watched Top Hat or The Gay Divorcee: as he starts the dance, Fred is consumed with longing, his eyes and limbs strained with desire. Ginger begins with her supple waist stiffened by reluctance, her face clenched for the contest. Their dance dialogue is meticulous, each step precise, each arm curve, finger extension, head tilt, or change of eye level planned. The upshot is utterly predictable. Yearning persuades resistance. Every time. Knowing the results in advance, I relax into the sweep of the music and the folds of Ginger’s sequined gowns. The outcome is foretold and it’s deeply pleasurable to experience it again. And again. One more time with feeling.
So, that’s my formula for relaxation. Nine innings of baseball, indolent and sweaty, laced with black-and-white glamour in fox trot. Or swing-time. Even a waltz. As long as it’s tuxedoed and bedazzled.
What does the trick for you? Do you find relaxation arises from letting go or taking hold? From diving in or retreating? Leave a comment and I’ll pick someone to receive a paperback of Murder My Past.
Delia C. Pitts is the author of the Ross Agency mysteries, a contemporary noir private eye series featuring Harlem detective SJ Rook. Murder My Past, published in February 2021, is the fifth novel in the series. Her short story, “The Killer,” was selected for inclusion in Best American Mystery and Suspense 2021. Her short story, “Midnight Confidential,” will be published in the crime anthology, Midnight Hour. Delia is a former university administrator and US diplomat. After working as a journalist, she earned a Ph.D. in history from the University of Chicago. She lives with her husband in central New Jersey. She is an active member of Crime Writers of Color and Sisters in Crime. The next novel in the series, Murder Take Two, will be published in 2022. Learn more at her website, www.deliapitts.com.
About Murder My Past:
Alluring lost wives. Vengeful academic superstars.
A memory-plagued widow. A detective on the edge.
Harlem private eye SJ Rook wants to forget his past. Ex-soldier, ex-drunk, ex-tramp are titles he’s eager to bury. He’s building a new life at a neighborhood detective agency. And he’s working on a solid relationship with his crime-fighting partner, Sabrina Ross. But without warning, Rook’s past returns with a vengeance in the enticing form of his ex-wife. Visiting New York for a convention, Annie Perry is a self-made millionaire with more than business on her mind. She’s confident, alluring, and ready to rekindle feelings Rook thought he’d left far behind.
When Annie is murdered shortly after their reunion, her death sends Rook over the edge. To find her killer, he must delve into her past, even if it hurts. There’s the oily vice president and the angelic business associate, plus the three thousand people who attended the conference. But Rook’s suspicions focus on a clutch of university professors who buzzed around his ex-wife. Driven by grief and distracted by jealousy, Rook digs into fraught campus politics and buried scholarly history in his search for the truth. Violence and betrayal dog his investigation. Rook learns that envy, greed, and fraud are not merely academic.
As he hunts Annie’s killer, Rook’s relentless quest uncovers clues to another mystery from the past, a case that strikes even closer to home. His boss’s wife was talented, volatile, and troubled. She vanished without a trace twenty-five years ago. Her disappearance stunned veteran detective Norment Ross and devastated their daughter Sabrina. If Rook solves this ice-cold missing person case, can he restore peace to Norment and closure to Sabrina? Rook wants the truth, for his boss and for his lover. But the only clues to this strange puzzle are hidden in the addled mind of a lonely widow. As the old woman’s memory blurs, Rook is running out of time to solve the case of the detective’s lost wife.
Faced with old grudges and buried lies, unsettled desires and secret promises, Rook races to untangle the threads of these twisted cases. Can he bring the killers to justice before the past fades forever?