Friday, November 17, 2017

Adding Her Voice to An Important Conversation

I have been lucky: No one I've ever worked for has made unwanted sexual overtures in my direction.  

I had a colleague in Hawaii who told me that our boss (moments before) kissed her on the mouth with tongue,  totally without her permission.

Neither of us knew what to do about it.

I expressed empathy... "Ew!"

It happened in the last days of our employment, when our boss had nothing to lose.

It was 1991, and sexual harassment in the workplace had been a violation of the Civil Rights Act since 1964. But, my friend and I were unaware of any law or policy or prescribed recourse that defended our physical sanctity.

Perhaps, if she had gone to H.R., she might have learned that there was a policy and a process in place to support her grievance against him.  She did not report it to HR, and anyway, I doubt there was any such process in place.

Truly unhandsome, our boss bore a striking resemblance to C. Montgomery Burns from "The Simpsons." He was tall, slouched, beaky, and profoundly cynical.

Beyond that, what made his kiss unwelcome was that my friend had been working with him closely and had actually grown to like him better as a person.

She was fragile when she took the job.  She had just moved home to her parents in Hawaii to get away from a high-flying life and relationship in New York that crash-landed.  A man whom she worked with in New York broke her heart, and she came away feeling used and discarded.

With the support of parents and friends in Hawaii, she was trying to make a new start.

She was 29, and half Hawaiian on her mother's side. She was excited about working at the state museum of natural and cultural history, where she was hired as the marketing director of the museum's small press. (I was the assistant editor at the time.)

For months, we were both rudderless, treading water while our boss holed up in his office catching up on personal correspondence.

He had been an editor on the East Coast for twenty-odd years, and seemed to think of this job as his retirement.

For over a year, our jobs seemed practically fraudulent. It was only at the very end that we began to have meaningful work.

What our boss knew, and we didn't, was that we would soon lose our jobs. That iteration of the press was soon to be disbanded.

The director relished his last weeks and days as publisher and indulged us, finally, as we looked to him for leadership.

After he was fired, our ex-boss moved back to the mainland. About a year later, he flew to Maui for a vacation. That was a big mistake.

The islands, you see, well...

I learned a few things about Hawaii, and one of them was that the land--a'ina--was intrinsically connected to the people and spirit of Hawaii. In essence, it was alive.

And so, it surprised neither my hapa-Hawaiian friend nor myself that our ex-boss died while on Maui.

I know! Magical thinking!  Whatever! Judge me harshly. Scorn all religion. That's your prerogative.

I wouldn't say that our ex-boss deserved to die for a stolen kiss, for the promises he failed to keep, or for the cynical eye he cast upon romantics and every form of idealism.

But, consider this: Hawaii, the a'ina, barely tolerated me.  Young, idealistic and compassionate as I was, I remained every inch a haole from Boston.

Think Dole pineapple acid in canneries dissolving Hawaiian fingerprints. Think lacerating sugar cane and the overthrow of peaceful monarchy. Those were my people, the Bostonians.

Think Navy-girlfriend-occupier-parasite. Hello! Here I am.

The more I learned about Hawaii, the more I loved it and understood that I did not belong there.

When my husband's tour of duty was over, we moved back to the mainland.

My friend stayed in Hawaii and continued her struggle to feel whole and strong.

I'm not saying that her mental breakdown was our ex-boss's fault for kissing her, or that it was my fault for leaving.  It wasn't the fault of the man in New York who made her feel loved and used and discarded.

But I can't imagine that any of us helped.

I've wondered what would have happened to her if I had stayed.  I know it sounds  egotistical to even suggest that I might have made a difference...The fact that it does sound like pure hubris assuages my  guilt.

She jumped off a building. She survived, but her foot had to be amputated.

By the time I returned for a visit in 2000, she had recovered her mental health.  She seemed strong and happy. She held a position on Honolulu's Board of Mental Health.

She told me how she lapsed into schizophrenia the first time, and somehow, through intervention and medication, managed to get healthy again.

She expressed compassion, and even admiration, for that schizophrenic version of herself: the feats of travel and deceit (credit card charges, false identities) as she traveled from that South Pacific archipelago all the way to New York and back (and later, again, to Boston).

Mentally ill though she was, she had been resourceful and cunning.

Sometime after my visit, she became ill again and moved to Massachusetts, where I lived.  She called and left strange messages.

I saw her for the last time on Beacon Street in Brookline.  She was angry and sullen.  I tried to move conversation but it wouldn't budge.

We sat across from each other, barely speaking. She threw off hate vibes as I attempted small talk.

We walked in brooding silence to a building where her boyfriend lived. She invited me upstairs. I declined.  She was angry, I didn't know her boyfriend, and it didn't feel particularly safe.

She wanted to return a book I had given her.

I waited outside. It was cold and dark.

She went into the building and retrieved the book, with a card I had written tucked between the pages.

She said she didn't want anything of mine.

I took the book and offered a hug. She scoffed at the suggestion.

I walked back to my car, sad, hollowed out.  I couldn't begin to imagine how she felt.

I know CPR.  I've been instructed to use a defibrillator. I could probably tie off a bleeding artery.  But I don't know the first thing about rescuing a friend in the grip of mental illness.

She seemed to view the world through the prism of metaphor (yes, even more than myself).

In voicemails, she accused me of reaping souls to sculpt heads out of clay.

This was flattering, actually, because I wasn't that good a sculptor. And it was ghastly-funny, because, while in Hawaii, I did sculpt several heads from clay and they all appeared to be stuck on pikes--the metal armature visible beneath the neck.  I had several life-sized heads on pikes in a single studio apartment, unintentionally creating a kind of gallows aesthetic.

Other messages were affectionate. Some were warm and platonically effusive. The messages came at odd hours.  I only spoke to her on the phone twice.

She died in 2010.  I'm sure she committed suicide, but I don't know how.  The obit said nothing about how she died or about mental illness.

I can avoid assigning blame to myself, and admit that I had no idea how to help her, and in that way, and in other respects, too, I may have failed her.

But I can write on her behalf, and add her story to an important conversation.

She experienced sexual harassment at work.  It was damaging, and nothing was done about it.


Cooper Report #3

Cooper is settling in nicely.  He has excelled in his lessons and become a star pupil.
 He doesn't mind being petted or haltered.  He is learning to walk nicely on a lead rope, and to lift his feet up one at a time so we can pick and trim his tiny little hooves.

Cooper only becomes aggressive around food, where, in his greed, he loses all perspective, shoving aside and threatening to kick two much bigger horses. I definitely would not use treats to reward or train him; once he realized they were in my pocket, I think he would probably mug me.

The burden of Cooper's misbehavior has been entirely transferred to my Palomino Quarter Horse, Tanner.  You may recall Tanner from earlier posts in which I waxed poetical about his many triggers and how I successfully addressed each one with great insight and compassion.

Yeah, well that all went out the window.

Psychologizing, ethics, and religiosity will only get a horse so far.

Tanner woke up one morning and decided that he would never allow me to put a halter on him again.

This put me in the exact same predicament with Tanner that we (the trainer and I) had just overcome with Cooper.

Dammit, Tanner! What about all the love and trust we built up over the years?  What about the bit-less bridle?  Where now that sweet soft eye?  Did none of it mean anything to you?

I couldn't get near him with a halter in my hand.  He wouldn't let me touch his poll or ears.

Of course, I had my theories about why this was happening.

I had used Tanner to get Cooper into the round pen. I had haltered Tanner, walked him into the round-pen, and when Cooper followed us inside, I promptly ejected Tanner and closed the gate behind him.  Then I worked with Cooper exclusively--my star pupil!  I had hurt Tanner's feelings by using him to get to Cooper and then rejecting him.

I tried to make it up to him. I spent time with Tanner and paid no attention to Cooper.  Tanner stood nicely while I petted him, but at the sight of a halter, he turned tail and charged at Cooper, nipping and lording over the littlest herd mate, an easy mark outside of meal time.  (Cooper's choppy trot reminds me of someone other than Sarah Jessica Parker running in very high heels.)

Yesterday,  Fire and Tanner were posturing like stallions.  The 21-year-old Polish Arabian paraded like a young athlete, and fended off Tanner's challenges to his number-one status.  They put on a good show.  They looked wild and tall.  It struck me as absurd to think that I should insert myself between them and assert my own authority.

Not for the first time, I felt overwhelmed. Having such large and wild pets may have been a mistake.  Maybe I was getting too old for this.

Not long ago, I had the impression that I knew so much about horses; but now, unable to get a halter on my main ride, I felt like I knew absolutely nothing.

All my pretty behavioral theories had gotten me exactly where? Outside in a field holding a halter in the rain.

For all my observations and surmisals, I could not outsmart a Palomino.

And that's when I called Jen, the engineer who trains horses.

She was not especially interested in hearing about my theories on how Tanner came to this hostile position via a path of betrayal and jealousy.

While the conflicts and insecurities of herd dynamics make nice conversation among horse people, at the moment, they posed a digression.

The way to get around Tanner's resistance was by a method of approach and retreat.

Approach. Retreat.

Approach. Retreat.

First, without the halter.  Then, with the halter.

Jen broke down the problem, stripped of all embroidery, into its component parts.

Within forty minutes, the problem was solved.

Part of it may have been my method of haltering. Jen showed me a better way to do it that is nicer for the horse.

But that was not the entire reason why Tanner had stopped tolerating my technique.  I believe it was all of the little insults that had added up, from face to ego.

Not that it matters.

Sometimes, I find that meditating on a problem is the key to advancing beyond it.

Sometimes, I simply need to accept my limitations.

Sometimes, all I want or need is empathy--a sounding board...A friend.

But last week, I had a problem that I genuinely did not want or know how to solve.  I made up meaningful excuses and explanations for the problem, but they didn't change or solve it.

There are all kind of people.  People like me start out writing a post about some small rescue horse and end up writing about terrorism or the utter pointlessness of theory without application.

And then, there are people like Jen, thank God!  Practical and brilliant, they see a problem for what it is--with or without a gilded frame.  They teach people like me, overwhelmed by my inventions, to focus on what's broken and how to fix it.

Friday, November 10, 2017

There Goes the Neighborhood

It seemed that Mary Baker Eddy was no more than an embarrassing footnote in American religious history--and nothing to do with us.

Growing up in Lynn, Massachusetts, I would pass by the Mary Baker Eddy House on Broad Street on my way to the Girls' Club, or on my way to guitar lessons at Lou Ames' on Union Street.  I must have walked past the Mary Baker Eddy house a hundred times.  It was well-preserved, with a plaque by the door, and it stood out handsomely on a wide street that reflected the city's checkered history of economic ups and downs.
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The Mary Baker Eddy House on Broad Street, Lynn

On the way to King's Beach, I passed the First Church of Christ, Scientist (see photo below) on the corner of Kings Beach Road and Lynn Shore Drive.  I liked to walk along the top of the stone perimeter wall, holding a parent's hand.

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First Church of Christ Scientist on Lynn Shore Drive
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Mary Baker Eddy House on Paradise Road, Swampscott

When I was a teenager I lived on Paradise Road, a couple blocks away from yet another Mary Baker Eddy House, also on Paradise Road (above).

I grew up surrounded by these houses, these monuments to Mary Baker Eddy.

And yet, I managed to remain almost perfectly ignorant about Mary Baker Eddy's life.

All I knew was that she had concocted some sort of kooky religion.

Despite being a feminist of the Betty Friedan generation, my mother expressed zero interest in Mary Baker Eddy.

The ever-popular Mark Twain referred to Mary Baker Eddy as "the sordid and ignorant old purloiner of that gospel."

Mary Baker Eddy was a charlatan.

It was because of her that foolish Christian Scientists refused to have their children vaccinated. Nor would they authorize surgery or blood transfusions for themselves or their dependents.

Christian Scientists simply failed to pass the reasonable person test.  They were duped. They were had. They were played.  It wasn't their fault that they were fools, of course, but it was Mary Baker Eddy's fault that they were Christian Scientists.

That was my full set of prejudices and grievances toward Mary Baker Eddy and her darned church, based on a nearly complete lack of information, and despite having spent my formative years surrounded by her homes and institutions.

In my thirties, I could walk to the resplendent Mother Church of Christian Science in Boston from where I worked on Boylston Street.

A friend took me to see its Maporium--a planetarium-like space in which we viewed the surface of the world from the inside of a globe. It was really cool.

He was the first person I ever met who didn't have a bone to pick with Mary Baker Eddy.  Image result for christian science mother church in boston

He thought that the Mother Church was beautiful and its Maporium extraordinary.  He was impressed that she had replaced the clergy with readers.

Well, all I had to go on were my inherited prejudices, so I clung to them tenaciously.  My parents were smart people, and I generally profited from parroting them.

My friend, on the other hand, thought more independently.  He was not saddled with Ivy league parents and a posh accent like I was.  He did not have to carry those weighty pretensions around like I did. His was an original and marvelous intellect; and I, if you haven't guessed, was dazzled--and constantly trying to cover up the gaping holes in my education and my inexcusable ignorance with the hand-me-down opinions of my better educated parents. And, according to them, Mary Baker Eddy was a charlatan--cool Maporium not withstanding.

I am 52 now, and I have grown up a little since then.  I finally got curious about Mary Baker Eddy.  Because I don't usually ignore loudly recurring themes in life, and looking back, I can see that Mary Baker Eddy is one that I have for years ignored completely (as is the custom).

So, I looked into her, and I made an appalling discovery:

Mary Baker Eddy was okay. 

There was nothing terribly wrong with her.

In fact, she was extraordinary.

I think it is very interesting, in a painful kind of way, that we have managed to make so very little of her.

This is where you remind me about the vaccination/surgery/blood transfusion thing...

But listen...Do you remember from books how back in the late 1800s medicine was in its fetal stage?  It was only slightly less barbaric then than it was in the days of Henry VIII.

Nothing was clean.

There was no penicillin.

Coca Cola had cocaine in it.

Medicine in the 1800s and early 1900s was abysmal, especially for people of ordinary means, but also for the wealthy.

Death was a constant presence.

That was Mary Baker Eddy's time.

She was a sickly child who grew up to be a sickly woman.

Her favorite brother died while still a young man.

Her mother died early.

Her first husband died young, while she was pregnant with their child.

They all generally died from natural causes, because medicine was really, really terrible.

Can we blame Mary Baker Eddy for wanting to fortify herself and others against such awful fragility?

She studied homeopathic remedies.

Homeopathic medicine, by the way, is still practiced throughout Europe today.  Our exchange students from France and the Czech Republic both brought homeopathic remedies with them to the US to cure ailments such as stomach aches and sore throat.

But MBE's own complaints weren't relieved by homeopathic methods, so she continued her search.

She heard about a man, a mesmerist by the name of Quimby, who used hypnotism to heal people.  She went to him as a patient, found his treatment beneficial, and asked him to teach her his methods, which he did.

Then Quimby died, and MBE lost a friend, mentor, and the only physician who had ever successfully treated her condition.

But it occurred to MBE that maybe she didn't need Quimby, after all; perhaps she could figure out how to heal herself.  Maybe she could tap into that same inner resource through prayerful meditation.

A major turning point occurred in the home on Paradise Road in Swampscott, a couple blocks away from where I used to live (across the street from C&L Liquors).  

Mary Baker Eddy had fallen on the ice and suffered a concussion. Everyone seemed to think she was going to die, but, to their amazement, she woke up the next morning feeling fine.

MBE attributed her miraculous recovery to the holy spirit through the power of prayer.

You say potato, I say potato.  One person's hypnotism is another person's power of prayer.  I don't know what the difference is; maybe there is one; maybe there isn't.

Alcoholics Anonymous is predicated on the idea that we can't recover from addiction under our own power, but must appeal to a higher power and put ourselves in the hands of that higher power; that only through the grace of a power greater than ourselves can we prevail over this disease.

This has become a widely understood, accepted, and mainstream method for dealing with addiction of all kinds.  If addiction is a disease, then I argue that the contemporary treatment for that disease is no different from what Mary Baker Eddy prescribed for all diseases.

Her error may have been in prescribing the same method for every malady.  But remember, she practiced healing before medicine had discovered the benefits of sterilizing instruments or wounds. A patient with a compound fracture may well have fared better with prayer.

MBE grew up in a strict Calvinist household. Her father was a grim, moralizing, cheerless man.  The family believed in a God that was judgmental and bureaucratic. It has already been determined that you are going to Hell and there is nothing at all that you can do about it.

Mary Baker Eddy chose to believe in a God that was merciful, compassionate, and loving.  Her God did not want people to suffer physically, emotionally, or spiritually.   To the contrary, she believed God was a source of relief from suffering. This was the basis of her theology.  Not so terrible.

At the age of 45, from that house on Broad Street in Lynn, MBE practiced healing and began teaching others the techniques that had started with Quimby and then developed into something uniquely her own.

Her followers went out into the community and healed people. They charged for their services, and they called themselves Christian scientists.  They were allowed, in the loose regulatory environment of their day, to bill themselves as medical practitioners.

This was the 1870s. Their results were probably as good as or better than traditional medical practitioners of the day.

There are mysterious methods of healing among us today.  For example, the Masterson's Method applies an extremely light, hovering touch over key points along a horse's anatomy.  The horse indicates the site of pain with a quiver, a shake of the head, or a swish of the tail.  The hand hovers over that spot; the horse's mind focuses on the target and, somehow, wondrously fixes it.  The horse's relief is indicated by a yawn or a lowering of the head.  (This is a gross simplification of the technique, but an accurate sketch of the process.)

If Mary Baker Eddy is a charlatan, perhaps we should tell the Equestrian Olympic Team to stop using the Masterson Method, regardless of the results.  It's just too damn weird.

We should also shut down Alcoholics Anonymous and its affiliates.  Nothing scientific about it.

We should ban faith healing in every form.

We should cease and desist from employing hypnotism and the placebo effect in lieu of anesthetic or nicotine patch.

We should tell those folks in Europe to stop using homeopathy, because it's silly and we don't understand how it works. Embrace the GMOs for God's sake!  It's good food and good science.  Science is never wrong.

Pharmaceutical companies have their heart in the right place.

I'm just saying.  There was nothing wrong with Mary Baker Eddy.    

A sickly child surrounded by illness and death, she discovered a way to heal herself and set to healing others.

She grew up in a religious family that feared God, and believed contrarily that God was loving and merciful. She took the clergy out of the church and replaced it with readers.

What is so loathsome about any of this, Mr. Twain, that we should not know or appreciate this woman?  

Wednesday, November 8, 2017

Cooper Report #3

I don't mind admitting when I am wrong. The trouble is, where to begin?

When I finished writing Cooper Report #2, I think I had resolved to try to get Cooper a prescription for medical marijuana....

I didn't procure that prescription, but I did do one smart thing: I called a trainer.

I needed the trainer to show me the basics of working with a beginner. I also needed her for moral support--to lean on her confidence and courage.  She is not blindly fearless when it comes to handling horses that have all kinds of issues and problems; rather, she knows how to handle these horses safely and effectively.

A display of aggression is a useful way to remind the horse who's boss. The trainer also reminded me that aggression is different from anger--there is no role or place for anger when training horses.

Later, she mentioned, as a friend, that in other areas of her life, she wasn't always as good at using aggression  effectively, the way she can with horses.  Sometimes, she finds herself backing down.

There are other areas in my life where I have less trouble being aggressive (than I do with adorable pets):

For years, I served on a local committee; and before that, as an advisor at church.  I never minded speaking up or challenging people on any subject. No one who has been on a committee with me would call me a shrinking violet.

And yet, the trainer, who has known me for almost ten years now, sees me as an utterly benign character, which she expressed less pointedly. "I've never seen you angry," she said.

"We've never been on a committee together, have we?" I didn't say that, but if I had thought of it I would have.

With horses, the rule is clear: use as little pressure as possible, but as much as necessary.

Horses correct each other through aggressive behavior, which, once they've made their point, can be followed up with a simple reminder: "You do know that this hoof is for, right?"

Case in point, it wasn't me who got Cooper to run in the round-pen, but Tanner, my Palomino. Tanner was damned if he was going to be the only horse running around in circles, so he nipped and prodded Cooper into motion, and kept him going the same way.  (I, being a sentimental fool, felt sorry for Cooper and let him out of his lesson early.)

The next time Cooper was in the round-pen, he was with the trainer and me.  We were firm and consistent.  And, thanks to Tanner, Cooper knew what he needed to do: Move his little feet!

In the round-pen, we used a whip.

I know what it feels like to get hit by this whip, because I have accidentally smacked myself in the face with it plenty of times.  It stings, sure, but it's not like getting flogged on a whaling ship at sea.  It's not skin-ripping lashes.  It startles, it delivers a sting, and it leaves a trail of disordered fur--or, in my case, a temporary red mark on my face.

In a broadly related aside, I was driving to my son's wrestling tournament yesterday, when, over the radio, a man from Sutherland Springs, Texas, said he used to feel safe because he lived in an obscure town, far from a city or any obvious target for terrorism, domestic or otherwise.

But, he said, after the shooting at his church, it became clear to him that such horrors could be visited upon anyone, anywhere, at any time.

Like, for example, at a wrestling tournament in Cross Plains, Wisconsin.

On the radio, they said that w all need to be prepared to respond in a situation where there is a shooter. We should think it through in advance, so that we're prepared to respond appropriately, should the need arise.

On the drive to Cross Plains, I thought about what I would do if I was standing near a door and a man entered the gym with a semi-automatic gun, and I had a fraction of a second in which to act appropriately.

I would stomp on his knee as hard as I could to dislocate the joint and get him down.

I thought about my elbow, and where it might make the most impact.

I thought about how much damage I could possibly do in the space it would take the shooter to turn  his gun on me.

My response would have to be instantaneous and surprising.  The shooter might assume that I was too terrified to act, and that would be my only advantage.

Was there anything that I could use as a weapon?  Keys would be good, but I don't have metal keys anymore, only a key fob in the shape of a suppository.  Advances in technology had disarmed me. (I used to walk to my car at night with a key-clawed fist.)

Arriving at the middle school, I parked the car and rifled through my purse. I found a comb with a long pointy handle that would do for a shank. As the gunner steps through the door, I would pounced on him from behind and plunge the handle of the comb into his jugular artery.

Thus armed, I entered the building with several clear plans of action.

However, I ended up sitting far from the door, perched on the bleachers in plain sight, my back against the wall.  I surveyed my options, but  could think of nothing I could do that would neutralize a shooter, short of shielding myself behind a lunch box and a felted-wool pocketbook.

With horses, (unlike maniacs with guns), I can be prepared and it won't be just vain-glorious fantasies of violently heroic feats.

As things progress with Cooper, I approach the little horse...I stand by his side, comb my fingers through his unruly mane...My heart melts, but I bear in mind that I do have an elbow, and I am not afraid to use it, should his mouth come swinging around in my direction again.

Bite mark with bruising. Lesson learned.

Wednesday, November 1, 2017

Cooper Report #2

As I explained in an earlier post, Land-Shark! Cooper is a miniature horse, as cute as they come.  But he comes with baggage.

With Tanner's help (Tanner is a horse), I managed to lure Cooper into the round-pen.

I have worked with several horses in the round-pen. I have written about Gracie in  The Work of Grace. She was a big alpha mare who needed to express her wild side in the round-pen before settling into her work.

I've written about my own mare, Belle, The Horse that I Grew Up On who bucked me off years ago; I worked with her in the round-pen to assert my control, earn her respect, and re-establish trust between us.

I've written about my Palomino, Tanner, Pain, Fear, Memory, and Compassion who was a rescue with a chip on his shoulder and a horrid attitude toward being ridden.  We worked a lot of that out in the round-pen.

I won't bore you with the details of round-pen technique; let me just say that I stand in the center and hold a long whip, which I use to threaten the horse if he's ignoring me, to conduct the tempo of his gait, and to indicate a change of direction.

I rarely touch the horse with the whip, unless they are convinced that I am constitutionally incapable of asserting myself and I catch them actually laughing. Most of the time, I crack the whip, or wave it around, and bring it down close behind them.

Most horses, unless they're feeling poorly, have some go, and don't mind moving forward when asked.  If they're not moving well, and their energy never picks up, I tend to think there's something wrong and they're having an off day.  We take it easy then.

Cooper, in the round-pen, wouldn't move at all.  He turned his head toward the wall where he could see his friend Tanner and hunkered down, ready to take whatever punishment he had coming.

At first, I didn't understand the depths of his commitment to passive resistance. I thought I could motivate him with a bigger and louder display of heroics. I waved the whip around and let it land on him once or twice to let him know that I was serious. But, I did not hit him repeatedly, and I did not hit him hard.

I could picture myself from the neighbor's perspective, flailing away like a fiend at this small darling animal.  (From a certain angle, you could not be sure that the whip was falling beside or behind him, and not upon his rump.)

Cooper didn't come to us with physical scars, so I can't assume that he had been beaten.  But, man, the way he hunkered down with such resignation, prepared to take whatever I could dish out...It seemed really sad and troubling.

The lesson ended as soon as I realized that what had worked out so well for other problem horses was not going to work for Cooper at all, and I'd have to figure out something else.

Of course, that lesson set us back.  In Cooper's mind, I just demonstrated that I meant him bodily harm and was not to be trusted.

I had set out to do what I believed would be the most useful and helpful exercise for Cooper, and our relationship. In my experience, horses responded very well to this type of groundwork. It gave them a chance to blow off steam, express their rotten attitude, burn off excess energy, and literally make a fresh start.

It also established me as the lead horse, so to speak, which is usually a relief to horses who don't have any kind of real agenda.  I also prefer to follow, but I've learned from hard experience that if I'm going to ride a horse, I have to lead.

For all of these reasons, the round-pen was Plan A.

I had no Plan B.

So, for the time being, I continued to carry a stick when in the barn or pasture to defend myself against Cooper charging at me like a bull.  He would either charge forward with teeth bared, or turn his rear end to me and kick out with lethal force.

Plan B...Sedate him.

After hours researching various herbal remedies, I drove to the feed-store and bought an equine calming supplement. Active ingredient: tryptophan.  I added it to Cooper's feed.

I took note that one reviewer of a popular calming supplement wrote that it had done nothing for her troubled rescue horse, and that she had found no substitute for spending many hours with him in the pasture, sometimes reading a book. The trust built up slowly over months.

And that approach would be fine, except the vet is coming next week, and Cooper needs to  be dewormed, and his feet need trimming soon...And I can't even get a halter on him.

So, while I've set up a daily care routine that makes us both feel safe and secure, I still don't know how next week's visit with the vet is going to go. I'm thinking we might have to sedate him, because I don't want to use force, I don't want to man-handle him, I don't want to add more trauma.

On the plus side, I do see improvement day by day.

Cooper no longer charges at me in the pasture.  He tolerates me being in his vicinity, shoveling manure.

The other two set a fine example. They come running from the back pasture to see me.  They want to be petted, they want this, they want that.  They're bored, they want me to entertain them.  They see me as an asset.  I'm a popular mom.

I have to assume that Cooper observes this, and it blows his mind.

Tanner was the first to take Cooper under his wing when he was just a complete dork.  Cooper didn't know anything about horses, and he was high on crack--all that testosterone whirling around his system.  Fire wouldn't give him the time of day.

But now, Cooper has somehow weaseled his way into Fire's heart and stall.

Fire allows Cooper to stand beside him in his stall--a fantastic development for Cooper, locked up in a stall by himself all those years.  The door is always open, his big friend Fire is always there...It is a wonder to behold.

Predictably, Fire's interest in Cooper has renewed tensions between Fire and Tanner.  Herd instincts dictate that Cooper kiss up to the dominant male.

The good news is that Cooper no longer sees himself as the dominant male, which wasn't the case one week ago.

Fire and Tanner have managed to teach Cooper how to behave in a manner that is acceptable for a horse of his stature.

Yesterday, I opened up a section of fence in the back pasture.  Fire and Tanner immediately walked out of their pasture and set to eating the grass along the periphery. They didn't have a halter on or anything, but they stayed right next to the fence.

Cooper saw that the fence was open, and he could walk right out of the pasture and join his friends; but he chose not to.  Perhaps he wasn't sure what would happen if he left. Would the fence close up behind him?  Would they all be spread out into chaos?  Would someone grab and haul him off?

He wasn't going to take any chances.  He stayed where he was and nibbled the same old grazed-over lawn, keeping a close eye on the other two.

The fence was down for fifteen minutes. Cooper never showed any interest in leaving.

I brought Fire and Tanner in with carrots.

I believe that experiencing freedom is good for horses, but I also know that Fire and Tanner won't run away. They are happy where they are.  They simply want to eat the grass that's always greener on the other side.  Because, in fact, it is.

It was nice to see that Cooper did not want leave the pasture, where he felt secure and at home, and which he valued even more than a taste of freedom.

Tuesday, October 31, 2017

Slipshod Dreamy Realism

Having met yet another meaningless milestone in the endless process of finishing my manuscript, I cast about for something to write other than another blog post and what do I find in my In-Box?

 Calls for Themed Submissions 
(Short Stories, Essays, Poetry) 

Dreamy realism,  magic realism, and slipstream.  

slip-stream: 1. a current of air or water driven back by a revolving propeller or jet engine. 2. an assisting force regarded as drawing something along behind something else.

Horror stories about avarice and  fealty to Mammon ("You cannot serve both God and mammon."); weird and eerie speculative fiction about people consumed by wealth; decadence should be paramount.  The tales should not be moralistic. (But may they be extremely sarcastic?)

Image result for mammon

Adventure on the High Seas....gangs of pirates, steampunk sailors...

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Steampunk is a subgenre of science fiction or science fantasy that incorporates technology and aesthetic designs inspired by 19th-century industrial steam-powered machinery.

LGBTQIA call for stories about interspecies romance--specifically, of the human/alien variety.  

Hardboiled or noir fiction private eye stories that represent the diversity of Texas.

Image result for hard boiled eggs and texas toast

Image result for spirit of the adirondacks
Poems, stories, and essays about water for a literary magazine dedicated to the spirit of the Adirondacks and regions similar in geography and spirit.

Quiet horror and dark fiction with a literary bent...

Subversive, multicultural work with an environmentally apocalyptic bent...

Poems and Short Stories about Water...

Articles, stories, and flash fiction on the theme of flight...

flash fiction also micro-fiction. a style of literature in which stories are extremely short and often consist of less than 300 words. "A good piece of flash fiction, for me, is one in which I, as a reader, am not just complicit, but necessary."

Stop looking at me!

Sunday, October 29, 2017

Synthetic Spencer Tracy

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Spencer Tracy

We saw Blade-Runner last night.

It occurrs to me that I haven't seen any movies that focus on a male robot/replicant/AI character as a companion to a human woman. 

Clearly, the female AI robot-types are like Geishas in their essence; what would their male counterpart be like in relation to human women?  

The brief narrative below explores that question.

Because my son was so embarrassed to have left his wife for one of those things, (like so many other men, like his father, who left me for a synthetic as soon as my son turned 18), he somehow persuaded me to have one in my house.

I told my son I didn't want one, that I deplored them on principal: They were sycophantic dolls contrived to appeal to our most base and narcissistic tendencies.

But my son said it was entirely up to me how I chose to define the terms of the relationship, and  I could use the synthetic either as a companion, a house-keeper, or an errand boy. It would be safer to have one with me when I went out at night in public.  

Finally, I was persuaded. Or maybe, just curious.

"Okay, okay.  But I don't want to be seen with a Russell Crowe or a Colin Firth.  And for pity's sake, do not send me Ryan Gosling."

"Alright," he said. "Don't worry."

They sent me Spencer Tracy in his forties, with dirty-blonde hair instead of strawberry-blonde. Very clever. He looked enough like an every-man that I let him in the door, thinking, if I send him back now, they'll just send Ryan Gosling.

"I'm sorry I'm late," he said, rushing in, holding a bottle of champagne out as though he were late for a party. It was only 7 pm. He went straight to the cupboard where I kept the glasses.

"Here you go, Darling," he said, handing me a fluted glass of pink and bubbly champagne.  His movement and gestures were breezy and confident, as if this were a thing that we did; as if I had been waiting for him to hand me a glass of champagne.

He gazed into my eyes with those baby-blues.  I thought of Katherine Hepburn, her quick reposts and one-liners, her self-possessed laugh and sparkling eyes, as bright and arresting as Spencer's.

"I thought you could use some champagne," he said, adroitly filling in the space where I didn't say anything cunning.

After a few sips, I began to feel lighter and brighter. He topped off  my glass and declared that he had loads of energy, so, if I didn't mind, he'd cook tonight.

I didn't mind.

While he cooked, he talked about his day at the office. He was an editor at a big newspaper.  He knew everything that was going on in the city, in the country, in the world.  Even the office gossip was interesting, perfect little stories about human folly, scandal, and betrayal.

I knew it was a fiction, composed for me. But it was good.

He set down plates of boeuf bourguignon, garlic mashed potatoes, asparagus, and a warm loaf of crusty bread.  Where did it come from, I wondered.

I lifted the fork to my lips and glanced across at him, tucking a napkin in under his chin.  I caught his eye. He winked and smiled, ruddy, full of appetite.

"You eat?" I said. The females do not eat. No one seems to mind.

"You betcha!" he said.  I was glad, because I would find it uncomfortable to be the only one eating. He kept pace with me, and ate every last bite.

I wondered if he used the bathroom.  The females didn't.

"I know what you're thinking," he said. "It's not quite the same, but it's efficient and tidy. I don't leave a mess. I take it out right away with the garbage."

Huh, I thought. Really, what could I say? Even Katherine Hepburn might have found herself tongue-tied.

"More champagne?" He topped me off.

We didn't talk very much while we ate, which I appreciated. Delightful as I admit he was, I couldn't see carrying on at that level of intensity and volume all evening. It would get to be exhausting.

"Do you mind if I clean up the kitchen?" he said. "It helps me decompress."

"I don't mind. Would you like me to help dry?"

"I would sure enjoy the company!" His eyes twinkled.

The kitchen sparkled.

Spence pulled a small slim volume of poetry out of a pocket, and turned to a dog-eared page.  It was thankfully brief and mildly thrilling, both the words and the sound of him reading it. It got me thinking in a way that I had not done since I was younger and more open to new ideas.

It had been an unexpectedly fine evening, but I began to worry about what would happen when I wanted to go to bed. Was he supposed to sleep in the bed beside me?  I wasn't ready for that yet. I still hadn't figured out exactly how I was going to define this relationship....He certainly wasn't going to be the delivery boy.

Spence glanced at his watch.  (The watch, a nice touch.) "I'm sorry! I have to go. I have to get back to the office. We're working on a big story and--well, you know how it is."

I nodded, sympathetic.

He pulled on his coat and fished something else out of yet another pocket.

"Well, what do ya know! How did that get in there?" He pressed two gold cellophane-wrapped chocolate truffles tied with silver ribbon into my hands.

His skin felt warm and real.

He kissed my cupped hands and looked deep into my eyes. I was unnerved.

"I'll be back as soon as I can," he said. "Don't wait up. And don't let the bed-bugs bite!"

When the door closed behind him, I felt relieved.  I knew that he would come back. There could be no question about that.

So, before I could change my mind, I went right on-line and cancelled the subscription. It was surprisingly easy, because no one ever did it.

Then I knew that he definitely would not come back.

And yet, for weeks after leaving me with chocolate truffles melting in my hands, I secretly hoped that Spencer Tracy would come back of his own volition, that there had been some mistake and he was in fact human, and not synthetic.  I made up stories to explain his delay, which became more and more elaborate as time went by.

Finally, I made myself watch Spencer Tracy in "Captain's Courageous," in which his truncated body sinks beneath the fearsome waves to Davy Jones' locker.  I cried like a baby and said good-bye, and then I got on with my life.

Wednesday, October 25, 2017



Adorable, isn't he?  Meet our new mini-horse, Cooper. Clever name, huh? Yup! He is cute! He is a mini-horse that looks like a Saint Bernard.  In fact, his coloration reminds me a lot of the Saint Bernard that I grew up with.  But that's where the resemblance ends.

Cooper is a rescue horse, which doesn't tell you anything about his personality. Despite being rescued from an appalling existence, he could well be the sweetest equine ever.  But, he isn't.  Not yet, anyway.  He's pretty damn feral, and very pissed off.  

In the photo above, that cute little face is actually lunging at me with evil intent.  

You can see that one of his eyes is white with violence. The other, however, is brown and soft. I suspect he has mixed feelings--two completely divergent attitudes toward the hand that feeds him. 

He's my new project horse. 

And I'm writing this now for two reasons: 

1. To postpone going outside to start training pony-face (the name that comes to mind instantly, unlike Cooper,  which doesn't actually leap to mind, but sinks like a stone, beyond reach; so, for the time being, he's pony-face, unofficially).

2. To motivate me to go out and train him on a regular basis, spurred on by the pressure of having to report back to you, dear reader, on our progress.

By the way, contrary to what I wrote in an earlier missive, I've discovered that offering Cooper treats as a gesture of friendship or a means of persuasion is a terrible idea. In the picture above, he's saying, "Give me a treat now, b&#*^!" I kid you not. Perfectly articulated. 

In the absence of a treat, he will lunge out of spite because there is no treat and because I look like someone who needs to be subjugated by a tiny, adorable horse. 

You can see how small he is in the photo above.  That was his first day at our farm. He's been with us a week and a half. Within an hour, he had ducked under the rope separating him from the other two  horses (it wasn't electrified, intentionally). He made friends with Tanner and installed himself in the barn that night.  

Fire, the white Arabian, was aghast as Cooper kicked out with his hind legs and usurped Fire's place  at feeding time.  Now, pony-face eats where Fire used to eat, and former rivals Fire and Tanner eat from the same pile of hay, head to head, fending off Cooper's intrusion like action heroes standing back to back to fend off the onslaught of hostiles. 

That's how it goes now for Tanner and Fire, except the hostile is a tiny adorable mini Cooper. 

Don't be lulled into a false sense of superiority. Cooper easily weighs 200 pounds, and he thinks he's a stallion. He was gelded just a few weeks ago.  His hormones run amok.  He has sharp little hooves and powerful teeth.  Basically, he's a land-shark.

He nearly sodomized Tanner, if you can imagine, and perhaps you'd rather not. It really takes the adore out of adorable.  So, while I want to get chummy with pony-face, I do want his hormones to settle down before we get into heavy petting.  (Perhaps we should have named him Weinstein.)

Don't worry!!!  Cooper will be fine. Time is a great trainer, and I its humble servant. Already, I think Cooper has stopped molesting the Palomino.  

Sometimes, he doesn't seem to mind my being in the barn to feed and clean up after him, but that's still unpredictable.  I keep a broomstick handy to impose a safe distance between us, and I use a rubber feed bowl as a shield.  It works. It's not ideal. It's not a permanent solution. 

So, that's why I hafta go outside.  And that's why I'm procrastinating. I have to get the pony in the round-pen.  I have to run him around and show him who's boss. (I am.) 

He does take our minds off of Belle, I will say. He doesn't remind us of Belle at all. She was a big beautiful horse with a heart to match. Yeah. Well, it has been that kind of year.

Truly, though, I won't ever give up on this little guy, just as  I never gave up on my rescue dogs who all three temporarily ruined my life for about nine months at a time each, on average.  

I'm a sucker for a furry face.