Tuesday, July 30, 2013

Wrapping Up a Lifetime and Putting It in Boxes

Anyone who owns dogs and cats ought to pull up stakes every couple of years, if only to address all of that fur and dander on the carpets under the beds, under the couches, bureaus, entertainment systems, book cases, etc.  From a health perspective, pet owners should vacate their homes--or at least take everything out now and then and then put everything back in.

And anyone who has a child ought to move periodically.  Otherwise, by the time your "child" has gone off to college, you will still be in possession of filthy, ripped-open things with names like "Sharkey" and "Elmo."   You'll have bins and boxes of scribbles and dried play-dough creatures.  You'll have shoe boxes full of weapons of mass destruction hobbled together from duct tape and cardboard toilet paper cylinders.

It is better to throw out these things and keep the memories.

The move itself may be the crucible in which memories are forged.

The idea was simple enough: Pack two boxes a day.

So you go over to the book case, which is floor to ceiling, and gingerly remove the first delicate object:

A glass apple from Tiffany's given to me as a wedding present for a long-dissolved marriage by Arnold Suzumoto, assistant ichthyologist at the Bishop Museum of Natural and Cultural History, where I worked for two years while I lived on Oahu in my early twenties.

I can still smell the formaldehyde as I remember Arnold lifting up the heavy lid of the permanent sarcophagus of the only extant big-mouth shark.  It was cut in two at the place where the fantastic fish had been hung from a rope by its tail for the papers.

I wrapped the apple up carefully and put it in the first box.

A glass elephant, small and fragile with a fine up-curled trunk: I had coveted it as a girl looking up at it on the shelf at my grandfather's house in Mamaroneck.

Ditto, the porcelain Loch Ness Monster, it's tiny Scottish cap held on by a remnant of cork.  Probably, my grandmother had loved it for some reason, or just because it was awfully cute.  Or maybe it reminded her of someplace she had been.  It had had Scottish whiskey in it once, fifty years ago or so.

I think my grandfather kept it because she was fond of it, and he couldn't keep her.

I wrap these carefully and put them in the first box.  The box is not filling up very quickly.

There is a very small, irritatingly trite, rather tacky dog on the shelf.  No, I did not make it.  It was a stocking-stuffer from my father.  I found it sentimental then, and I find it sentimental now.  I wondered, when I unwrapped it the first time that Christmas, if my father realized that I was  in my thirties.   He seemed to know me best as a child, and how often did I bristle at that...   He loved dogs like I love dogs--pathologically.   This one's a stupid-looking dog, though.  I don't really care for it.

I wrap it up very carefully and put it in the box.

The framed photograph of my mother under the red umbrella in Paris, outside of Notre Dame.  The look on her face is between wonder and rapture.  Mostly rapture.  It was gray and rainy-almost.  Almost raining, but not enough to be a bother.  I had her all to myself for three days--and Paris. We walked all day and ate when we were famished.  We tried escargot, and it wasn't bad.  We preferred the Moroccan restaurant, and the Moroccan wine.  We accidentally slept until noon one day because of jet lag, arrived at the Rodin Museum two minutes before it closed.  We shouldn't have made it to the top of the Eiffel Tower, but Mom slipped under the velvet rope and past the guards, and what choice did I have but to follow?

The photo of Josh, not yet two, looking directly at my camera from his jog-stroller:  He was wearing an impish expression that he would take with him into the future and always have on hand--unlike the jog stroller he was in, and the clothes he was wearing, and the dogs we had then and the house that we lived in.  All of these things would recede into the past, but that expression on his face would endure.

Such a simple task:  Pack two boxes a day.

The task overwhelms me.  I have to keep stopping and coming back to it.

How can anyone move more than every seven or eight years, even if they should because of the dogs and the cats and the dander and the fur?

It's too monumental an effort.

And yet, in that uniquely draining effort of sifting through one's entire life, all that one has, and all that one has loved and all that one has lost and continued to love; one does rediscover the meaning of one's life in the process of upending it once again.








Wednesday, July 24, 2013

The Waiting is Over

The waiting is over!

But let's talk about waiting.

And wanting.

I sometimes think about what I'll do when I'm very old, like my mother-in-law, Madelon, the oldest person I know. She will be 94 in September.

Madelon reads The Chicago Tribune and The Atlantic Monthly.  On her Kindle, she has read Catherine the Great and Peter the Great, and every volume in the Girl with the Dragon Tattoo series.   (She also weaves on a small loom, lives independently with her husband, and goes out to dinner frequently at their favorite restaurant in Mineral Point.)

I probably won't be living independently at 93.  At 93, my mooring will probably have slipped and I'll be drifting laterally through time, keeping company with both the living and the dead.

My point is that I have always thought that when I am too sick or frail to do anything else, and if I have no money to spend on luxuries, I will still have books.  And books would be enough.

However, when one is suffering in a state of want and waiting, the idea of books being enough is just obnoxious.

Hoping is part of the equation.  How much hope?  How much worry?  How much bracing for disappointment?

We're selling our house to our neighbors across the street.  They know that we have to buy the farm in order to sell them the house.

Occasionally, I have sent them  helpful updates via text:

"Brace yourself! The seller is AWOL!  No idea what's happening!"

"But I'm optimistic that everything will work out!"

"But it might not work out!"

There's nothing they can do, but at least they knew when to worry.

I passed their five-year old son on the sidewalk the other day.  He told me that he would be take Josh's room and Sylvia, his little sister, would have Adam's room.

That's great, Alex! I said.  But we have to make sure that we get the farm, right?

He gave me a quizzical look, like I was misinformed. 

I know that it's very Judeo-Christian to ask God for things to go your way through prayer.

I can't really ask God directly for stuff.  It's a vestige of the Taoism I internalized through my long dialogue with the I Ching.

It's also consistent with the spirit of the serenity prayer:

God, give me grace to accept with serenity
the things that cannot be changed,
Courage to change the things
which should be changed,
and the Wisdom to distinguish
the one from the other.
Living one day at a time,
Enjoying one moment at a time,
Accepting hardship as a pathway to peace,
Taking, as Jesus did,
This sinful world as it is,
Not as I would have it,
Trusting that You will make all things right,
If I surrender to Your will,
So that I may be reasonably happy in this life,
And supremely happy with You forever in the next.
Amen.

What I can do in my relationship with God, however, a relationship which looms huge in my mind during periods of intense waiting, is to offer bribes.

I write a bigger check to my church.

I write a bigger check to the kid I sponsor in Africa.

I make sure our bird-feeders are full.

I conscientiously focus on organizing the food pantry, while at the same time worrying that I might somehow forget to feed 400 members of my community because I am so intensely self-absorbed with my urgent need to own a hobby farm.

I've been bribing God for years.

When I was living paycheck to paycheck, at times when I had barely enough money to pay my rent, in an act of desperation I would hand a twenty dollar bill to a homeless person.

This was a God bribe.

Anonymous donations, they're God bribes.  They're between a person and her God.

You can call it selfish.  You can call it cynical.  I do.  It's not the noblest act of faith.

But it is an act of faith.

I don't think you can persuade me that it isn't.

When you put your money, energy, and sweat into something for the exclusive purpose of  bribing God, that is an act of faith.

I've never bribed God for eternal life.  I've bribed God for a modest cash windfall, a clean mammogram; and, most recently, the farm.

At the same time that I am shelling out money and favors, I am also trying to adjust to the idea that I won't get the farm.

That is a tall order, made so much harder by suddenly having a second horse in need of adoption and a family across the street in need of my house.

In fact, I completely failed to come around to accepting not getting the farm. (Reference earlier defiant posting, "Life is Elsewhere".)

That Buddhist thing about eliminating desire from one's mind..?   That's fine, as far as it goes...

But what about if you go into preterm labor at 23 weeks?

What if your child spikes a fever of 105?

Tell me that mother's problem is the wanting.

No.  That is where that seminal tenet of Buddhism fails.

One could argue that the idea of reincarnation is some consolation.  But in the examples above?  Not much consolation.  (Trust me, I've been there.)

Taoism doesn't offer the consolation of reincarnation.  As far as I know, (which is not terribly far from here), it simply states that there is no point in standing in the path of that tornado.

Unless you are that defiant young man at Tienanmen Square who stood alone in front of the tank.

We are small, says Taoism.  The trees are as blades of grass, we are so small.

I like that.

But I prefer to have a God and a kingdom of saints and a living spiritual energy; call it the Holy Ghost; call it Chi.  I call it all of the above.

While waiting, I entertained doubts about my worthiness.

I entertained doubts about the signs that I thought I'd read correctly.

I entertained the possibility of happiness, and the possibility of loss.

I diverted my attention from all of these things by writing about a place outside of it all, Prague; to remind myself that I love things every day that are beyond my reach.   And that experiences that I have already had, and experiences I have yet to have, enrich my life every day, though I fail to notice.

While waiting, I did sometimes manage to hold to the center, as the I Ching would have advised me to do had I asked it.

But eventually, a realty-related due date would occur, like a Tarot card, holding out the promise of a great reveal...

"I love deadlines.  I like the whooshing sound they make as they fly by."  --Douglas Adams

So, to recap, I've written a quasi-theological rant and provided few details about what actually happened, which probably would have been interesting.  Sorry!  I'll learn from this mistake when no one reads this post.  
Long story short, amendment signed, well report submitted, financing secured, we're buying the farm!!!















Saturday, July 20, 2013

Why I Love Prague


Someone asked me this week why I am so keen on the Czech Republic.  (I loved the C.R. before our Czech exchange student lived with us, and it was partly because of that that we chose Adam.)

I don't think I would have been asked that question twenty years ago.

In the early 1990's, people were talking about Prague as though it were the lost city of Atlantis suddenly coughed up from the bottom of the sea.

In the ultra-popular movie, The Unbearable Lightness of Being, Daniel Day-Lewis played a young Czech surgeon whose complex personal relationships were in the foreground of Prague's Velvet Revolution.  (I thought Daniel Day-Lewis's character was unattractive and narcissistic and I did not like the movie, but that's beside the point.)  Point was, Prague was the new Paris.

I traveled with my first (not to say ex, not to say last) husband from 1992 - 1993, and I have the whining journals to prove it.  I have photographs, too, but they were pre-digital, so viewing them is like being very near-sighted.

The essential issue of my first marriage, the one that led, ultimately, to divorce, became evident early in our travels.

Dan's powers of reasoning, which were acute, were also exclusively sequential, and mine were preternaturally intuitive.

I saw an early Shakespeare play earlier this month, The Two Gentlemen of Verona.  In it, the two main characters were offering proofs for their every assertion.  By proofs, I mean, those "if this then that" proofs that you have to work out in Logic class.

And that's pretty much what my first husband, (let's call him Dan, because that is his name), wanted.  He wanted me to offer a coherent proof to support my every assertion.

Well, that was not going to happen, clearly.  

When I was working at Academic Press as a production editor, (in Central Square, Cambridge, 1994), I worked on a textbook on artificial intelligence.  What I read was they had figured out how to make computers (or robots) reason sequentially; if this, then that...  But they had yet to figure out how to program them to think intuitively.

I got very excited about this, because, growing up, I got the sense that intuition was a woman's intellectual currency, which was why we made only 52 cents on every dollar a man made, with his superior powers of sequential reasoning--aka, reasoning.

But hold on!  What I read in that book said something very different.

(Stay with me, we're on a train of thought going to Prague.)

It said that intuition was a process of simultaneously retrieving or recalling all of the relevant data in your mind, consciously and unconsciously; of weighing and measuring and eliminating and, ultimately deducing, from the sum of all of one's experience and knowledge, some kind of answer.

That answer may not be empirical or correct, but it has context and relevance, and, furthermore, the intuitive mind continues to integrate all new information and experience into the general rubric.

They could not, in 1994, program a computer or robot to do this, because it was enormously more complex than sequential reasoning.

Flash back to 1992.

"What is your basis for saying that?  Where did that come from?"

How do you explain the geometry of flying confetti?

The word alienated comes to mind, but it isn't sad enough for what we both felt in our mutual misunderstanding.  Let's just say, we were together, but we were lonely.

I think I was more lonely, because I became very depressed.

And then Mom came to meet me in Europe and we took a train from Munich to Prague.

(Sometimes, during our year of travels, Dan and I would split up for a while, go to different places, and then meet up somewhere and continue on together.  He, for example, went to Everest, while I chose to hike the "Apple Pie Trail" in the Annapurna region, for obvious reasons.  All this to say, Dan was not with us when Mom and I went to Prague.)

My mother is both sequential and intuitive.  She reasons all over the place, she's very good at it.  She's one of the smartest people most people who know my mother know.  I know this because they tell me so.

(Sometimes it's not easy, being the daughter of a mother like this, but most of the time it's fabulous.)

Whereas I was weary and discouraged from months of backpacking the Hippy Trail without substantiating proofs to defend my every thought, my mother was exuberant with nonjudgmental enthusiasm for conversation and travel.

We stayed in a bright airy room in a family-run pension a few subway stops outside of Prague.   There was bottled water and beer in a mini-fridge.  There were interesting photographs on the walls.  We thought it perfect.

It was October, and shades of orange and red foliage framed the Vltava River (here, in snow).  '



Physically, what I loved about Prague, other than the fact that it contained my mother, which put me in a very high mood, was it's incredibly broad spectrum of colors and moods. Above, you see the Karlov Most (Charles Bridge), flanked by thirty statues, all of them saints, all of them heavily larded with deep religious archetypes...Statute of the Lamentation of Christ...the Crucifix and Calvary...the Statue of the Madonna attending St. Bernard...St. Francis of Assisi...

Looming above and within Prague Castle, you see St. George's Basilica, circa 920.  Super Gothic, buttresses flying everywhere, gargoyles pouring from the corners of every gutter.

Within these fortified walls, Kafka metamorphosed into adulthood.

Here, within this tower, we first read the word "defenestration," which means, to forcefully de-window some poor soul within to without.

.


To recap, on one side of the great Gothic bridge, you have Prague Castle, St. George's Basilica, and Kafka.

On the other side of that bridge, you have "the Lesser Quarter," where you find a lighter mood.




The buildings have orange tiled roofs.  The palette is pastel.

In 1992, a glass of good Bohemian Pilsner in a partially underground tavern with vaulted ceilings cost about 75 cents.

Music seemed to be everywhere playing in Prague, free or cheap, for everyone to enjoy.  We heard concerts in basilicas, we heard music in the square.  Culture, high and low, to quote Seuss was everywhere.

At an English-language bookstore, my mother found a translation of Ivan Klima's My Merry Mornings that she thought I would like.  I loved it.

After my mother and I took the train back to Munich (to Munich's compulsory window boxes full of cheery red geraniums--they had to be red), my mom flew back to the States and I returned to my husband.

Dan and I resumed by train a route through Sophia and Budapest in Hungary; Bratislava, in the Slovak Republic; and Brno and finally Prague, in the Czech Republic.

On the way back to Prague, I read the book by Ivan Klima and somewhere found an autobiography of Vaclav Havel.  They wrote about life under the Soviet Communists, when writers and artists and free-thinkers in general were treated as criminals.  There was no freedom of expression or religion; thinking had to keep step with the party line.

Back then, I had no idea why this resonated so deeply for me.  But now I recognize that I was feeling somewhat repressed in relationship to Dan--not because he was physically or even emotionally overbearing, but because he just didn't get me at all. Conversation on all but the most superficial level had become impossible. I had reached the conclusion that there was something wrong with me.

If I had had other creative types around, if I had not felt so removed from those special friends who had always enjoyed my turn of mind--if I had not been for so long separated from them by thousands of miles--I would not have felt so desperately alone.

I was in Prague for my birthday, October 15. With great kindness and insight, Dan arranged for me to speak with one of my best friends on the phone. It was a complete surprise, tremendously restorative, and such a sweet and loving gift from my husband who, despite our present difficulties, nonetheless understood exactly what I needed most at that moment.

Anyway, for all of these reasons, I love Prague.  I sort of identify with Prague.  I love it's great spectrum of mood and feeling.  I love how accessible culture was when I was there, as though great art should belong to everyone, and not just an elite class of wealthy patrons, (as it seems to in the U.S.).

Prague's struggle throughout the twentieth century to restore and preserve its autonomy, cultural identity and creative freedom strikes a deeply resonating chord in me (as it must have done for many artists and free-thinkers in the late 1980's and early 1990's), in light of Vaclav Havel's celebrated journey from prison to presidency, as the leader of that great bloodless assertion of reason, the Velvet Revolution.

And now I have another reason to love the Czech Republic: Adam lives there.

Sunday, July 14, 2013

Life is Elsewhere



Mentally, I have moved into the farm house.

I am sipping cold white wine on the deck, looking over at my two horses nibbling strands of hay from a hay bag. There is a marmalade cat purring on my lap.

I am thinking that for Christmas we will put a ping pong table in the basement.

I am living in a suspended state of hopeful and desperate desire, on the line between optimism and dread of disappointment. 

I like to have a Plan B.

I have no Plan B.

I have learned from hard experience (reference previous post), that imposing my will on the universe is the path to misery.

I am very fortunate, and I don't think that the universe owes me anything.  To the contrary.

I don't know when we will know.   I have absolutely no control over the situation.

I have a life which doesn't exist yet.  The old life is a distant spot on the horizon in the rear-view mirror.

It's going to be a big adjustment, not getting the farm.

Gracie will go to auction, probably.  Maybe they'll weigh her and pay for her by the pound.

I'll continue to visit Belle, like a visitor during visiting hours.  I love that barn, sure, but I can't see her from my porch.

I don't want to consult the I Ching or the Tarot cards or throw coins.  I would rather live in limbo than know that I won't get the farm.

I am elsewhere.  I am never coming back.  Don't send mail to me in town, I won't open it.

I am at the farm.  You can write to me there.

If your letter is returned, then you will know.  I am not home.

Tuesday, July 9, 2013

You Asked for the Truth, Didn't You?

In the past, in times of uncertainty, I have sought answers from some interesting places…

A Psychic in Salem

There is (or was) an esoteric bookstore in Salem, Massachusetts across from the East India Mall.  In addition to books on astrology, mythology, Zoroastrian religion, Christianity, Wicca, erotica, magic, incantations, covens, and vampires; they also sold crystals, dream catchers, wands, sage, myrrh, essential oils, tarot cards, talisman, semi-precious stones, and consultations with psychics.  

I paid $15 and proceeded up the stairs to the second floor, a bright, airy space where women met in quiet consultation with other women who were psychic.  

Desperate, nervous, and hopeful, I approached the laminated desk behind which sat the psychic. 

Looking like a PTO member in good standing, she wore a blunt, no-nonsense haircut, a penetrating gaze, and a disinterested expression on her face. 

I observed with my third eye that she had grown impatient with my troubles before I had even sat down, she was that good.  

I was feeling persecuted at work.

She had me say the name of my persecutor.

I said it slowly and deliberately.  

Mindy.  (Not her real name.)

The psychic gazed into the middle distance….   

…Nothing.

Say it again?

Mindy.

Mindy’s not a bad person, she told me.  Actually, she’s really okay.

It was clear from the Teflon look on her face that there was something about me that was not okay.

For my fifteen bucks, I wanted a roadmap out of a painful situation.  Failing that, I wanted validation.  Failing that, I wanted understanding.   

I would have settled for pity.

What I got was an indictment. 

That was not what I wanted, but it turned out to be what I needed to stop seeing myself as a victim and to start acting like a grownup at work, instead of the ADD-ingénue that I had been for most of my editorial so-called career.  

Hindsight can be olfactory.

I now realize that I had been wearing the pungent odor of bitterness that year.   Whenever I interviewed for other jobs ,my prospective employers could smell it.  And they could see it, too, in the slack, dejected atrophy on my face. 

She could have had a dedicated client in me, that psychic, with a little coddling, a little salve for my shell-shocked ego.  She could have told me what I wanted to hear.

I can’t imagine that that withering gaze of hers was good for business.  

But, if she’s tuning into my frequency right now, here’s to her for calling it like she saw it.

The Book of Changes:  I Ching

One cannot easily disregard such great minds as Confucius and Lao-tse, if one is at all able to appreciate the quality of the thoughts they represent; much less can one overlook the fact that the I Ching was their main source of inspiration. I know that previously I would not have dared to express myself so explicitly about so uncertain a matter. I can take this risk because I am now in my eighth decade, and the changing opinions of men scarcely impress me any more; the thoughts of the old masters are of greater value to me than the philosophical prejudices of the Western mind.

                                                                        Carl Gustaf Jung

When my first marriage was ending, (by my hand, as it were), I was in constant conversation with the I Ching. 

A Chinese oracle, there are many translations, but the one I like is The I Ching Workbook by R.L. Wing.  It’s more concise and easier to use than any of the unabridged translations.  

To use the I Ching, you write down an open-ended question.  You throw three pennies (or a bunch of taro sticks, if you happen to have some lying around).  You look up the hexagram…There are 64 of them.   Each one corresponds to a moment, a condition, a situation, a dilemma, a state of mind…   

For example,
1. CREATIVE POWER.  “Creative Power is nothing less than the detonating device in the evolutionary bomb.  The time is exceptional in terms of inspiration, energy, and will….”

36. CENSORSHIP.  “Unfortunately, your position in this situation is not powerful.  It will be necessary to submit to this time of personal CENSORSHIP and step into the background.”

The middle paragraphs provide context and guidelines for navigating through this time.  

For example,
31. HARMONIZE.  …The Chinese compared this time to the composition of music.  The persuasive and mathematical purity of harmony in music…The forceful mystery of this tonal relationship can be demonstrated as an invisible language of our perceptions of reality…

If you have no changing lines, you could be in a terminal situation—which isn’t always bad, but usually isn’t good.

Like the psychic, the I Ching pulled no punches. 
   
No matter how often I asked, no matter how improbable the math, the I Ching reiterated the same themes: 

GRACE  …you are now perceiving the most idealistic aspects of love, where day-to-day concerns would bring certain disillusionment….

CONFLICT.  It would have been wise to cautiously weigh all of the possible difficulties and oppositions at the beginning of your endeavors.

CALCULATED WAITING.  You will waste valuable energy through agitation.  When the time does come to act, your judgment may be impaired.

CRITICAL MASS   When experiencing Critical Mass in personal relationships…you must realize that this may be a time of crisis…

According to the I Ching, I was a dangerously swirling vortex of hot air and humid feeling.

Tarot Cards

It was New York City, 1997.  I was on a business trip, but my business was unclear to me. 

I was between relationships in the way that a tightrope walker could be said to be between buildings with a strong headwind. 

I had walked from mid-town Manhattan 25 blocks south in the rain.  Now it was dark, and I was walking east for no particular reason.  

Emotionally, I had hit bottom.  (No substance abuse was involved in this story.  I was organically miserable.)

I stopped into a café that looked warm and dry, and a young earnest fellow approached me.  He shook my hand firmly, and I could tell with my third eye that he had taken my measure and found me in need of rescue, like a stray dog.  

You’re such a warm person, he said.  By implication, to be so miserable and alone.

I eyeballed the deck of tarot cards he had on his table, with suspicion.  I no longer believed that the psychics and oracles would give me the pity or vindication that I sought, or even a roadmap (one that I would agree to follow; the I Ching and I were currently at an impasse about how I ought to conduct myself out of that chapter of my life).   

I believed that that they would tell me only the truth, and at the moment, I needed none of that.  

I don’t remember the name of this guy, so let’s call him Caleb. 

Caleb insisted on giving me a reading for free.

Indeed, there in the cards he revealed one of the people to whom I had tethered one end of my tightrope.  It wasn’t a good card.

As he turned over the cards, Caleb became visibly anxious.   He wanted to cheer me up.  But one after the other, the cards were not cheery. 

I was beginning to worry about Caleb.  He would be disappointed by a completely miserable set of cards that offered me no hope. (I, however, would not be disappointed or surprised.)

Finally, with trembling hands, and with so few cards left, Caleb turned over one that was in an exalted position—the one leading out into the future, toward… 

Toward what?

Caleb beamed.  He was so happy to see this card. 

It was the Something Wonderful card. 

Something Wonderful was going to happen to me, and soon. 

Caleb hugged me. 

Don’t think he was hitting on me. He was ministering to me, saying nice things earnestly.

I believed he had a clear view of every fathom of my emptiness.

To mix metaphors, he had extended his hand out just as I had reached the end of my rope.

So thank you, Caleb, wherever you are.

Afterword
Shortly after that trip to New York, I moved in with my mom, because I hated living by myself.  And that made me happy.   I met Phil about two weeks later.  And that was the beginning of a whole new chapter….



Wednesday, July 3, 2013

The Possible Return of Grace

In this story, I ought to be twelve, so try to picture me as a twelve-year old.

My hair is a brighter shade of red, eighteen inches long, tangled, bangs.  I am of medium weight (in the seventies, considered fat).  I am, in a way you can't articulate, kind of odd.

Finally, like legions of twelve-year old girls in the seventies, I am horse crazy.

When I was a girl, my dad read Marguerite Henry books to me at bed time.  Misty of Chincoteague, King of the Wind, Sea Star, Stormy...  [BTW, Marguerite Henry was born in 1902 in Milwaukee, Wisconsin.]

As a girl, I longed to have a horse of my own.  Taking lessons once a week, even going to summer camp and riding horses every day, fell short of the exclusive, romantic relationship I read about in those books.

When I was 44, I got my first horse.

Belle.

Belle is a marvelous horse.  Her coat is the same color as my hair was when I was twelve.  Her petite face is lovely enough to for the cover of a Marguerite Henry book; and she's spirited and smart, like Misty of Chincoteague.

I wouldn't say that she doesn't love me.  I've said in an earlier post, she's horse-identified.  The way that Humphrey Bogart is a man's man, Belle is a horse's horse.

In fact, she's enormously popular with the other horses and can usually be found standing in the middle of a horse herd sandwich in the dry lot, or paired off with a Tennessee Walker or Appaloosa gelding in the pasture.  They jealously block my access to Belle as I approach with her halter, and trot alongside as I lead her away.  I am always ready to spin the end of my rope in their face if they menace or crowd me.

Belle associates me with apples.  It's hard to say how she feels about me, separate from the apples.

And then I found Grace.

A tall, somewhat block-headed, slightly gangling, tri-colored pinto, Gracie ruled over the mares in her herd with unbridled contempt.

She was the horse in the books who fell for the kid.  And I was that kid.

So, even though I really didn't need another horse, I half-leased Gracie from her owner in order to spend more time with her.

Now, Gracie wasn't the horse in the books who goes on to compete in the Olympics or Madison Square Garden.  She doesn't race across the Arabian dessert or give birth to the modern day Thoroughbred.

Gracie is the sort of horse that you can walk around.

Occasionally she jumps really high over something, or right up into the air over nothing but the sand in the arena, but that's usually because she's been startled.

It has been pointed out to me that Gracie's structural integrity does not lend itself to athleticism particularly.

Plus which, she really doesn't like to be pushed.

She prefers not to be spurred on to activities that run contrary to her inclinations.

I would run Gracie in the round pen, (a large round pen about sixty feet in diameter).  I'd stand in the middle with my Clinton Anderson "handy stick" facsimile and have her run circles around me.

If you know someone for whom power and control is essential, then you know someone like Gracie.  Running them around in circles til they're tired will exorcise their demons.

The first couple laps around the ring, she'd buck and snort before settling into an agitated trot.

Then I'd imposed a change of direction, and she'd kick up a combined buck-snort-fart that was as entertaining for me as it was cathartic for her.

After a few more laps the balance of power shifted from Gracie to me.  Out with the bad air, in with the good.   Soon, she was walking spirals behind me with her head lowered like an obedient dog.  (Which is ironic, because I have three dogs and none of them are obedient.)

(For those of you who may be wondering, I hardly ever needed to touch Gracie with the stick.)

After a couple of weeks, I could thwack my whip on the ground repeatedly and loudly right next to Gracie and she'd just stand at attention, patiently waiting for me to tire of my chest-beating posturing.  (This whole process is called desensitizing.  It helps fearful, nervous horses to become steady and trusting.)

We became like equals.

It raised me in the estimation of the horses in Belle's herd.

Even Belle.

I was like, popular.

For her part, Gracie mellowed, which was good for everybody.  The herd relaxed. Like when an overbearing boss falls in love and gets happy.

Friends in the barn talked about Grace and me.  They were a little puzzled.  I already had a horse, after all, (and, arguably, a better one).  My half-leasing Gracie made no sense on the face of it.

I had some mixed feelings about it myself.

The added expense seemed decadent.

The attention I lavished on Gracie felt a little philandering.

On the other hand, the horses in Gracie's herd, including Belle, were no longer tense.  Their owners were pleased because their horses weren't tense and bitter like middle-management.

And so, Gracie and I continued to cavort in the round pen, joyfully snorting and bucking and farting, reaching detente, and building a rapport based on mutual respect and affection.

That was last summer.

When a horse you don't own is trailered off  to South Dakota, you can be pretty sure you're never going to see that horse again.

Over the winter, I often wondered how Gracie was doing in South Dakota, with all that snow and open range, and where was South Dakota.  I still don't know.

Now, remember to picture me as a twelve-year-old, because this story is about to get all Marguerite Henry on you.

I got a text yesterday.

Gracie's owner is looking to re-home her.  Do you want her?




Monday, July 1, 2013

An Open Letter to Jen, Ben, Jack, and Nick


 
We moved twelve-hundred sad and conflicted miles to the house that’s next door to yours. 

Josh was three, just potty-trained. 

Nick was two, too shy to talk.

Jack was five, big as seven.

At 41, I was as empty as a jack-o’-lantern with a smile carved into it.   

We shared a driveway. 

We took turns shoveling it. 

We borrowed your snow blower.  Then you borrowed ours.

We stood around for hours in our connected driveways, supervising the boys. 

Sometimes we spelled each other. 

Sometimes we sipped drinks and talked, and made each other laugh. 

Sometimes, we miscommunicated. 

Sometimes, we offended each other without meaning to. 

But always, we hugged it out and talked and laughed some more.

Each time, we got to know each other better. 

Each time, we came to trust a little more. 

You know that I would feed and let your dogs out.  You know that I would watch your kids any time you need me to. 

I know you’d go into my house to turn off the oven or let the dogs out and feed them.  I know you’d call to tell me that my dinner guests’ car is parked on the wrong side of the street and is in danger of getting a ticket. 

I know you worry about my dogs when I’m away.  I know that when you find something at a yard sale you think I might like, you buy it for me. 

I know you would forgive my kid and dogs 1,000 times. 
 
So I hope you will forgive me.

Sometimes, we don’t have the chance to stop and talk.  

I’m unpacking groceries.  You’re shuttling Jack to an ice hockey game.  
 
Sometimes, it’s too unbelievably cold outside to loiter. 

Josh is nine.  He’s funny.
 
Nick is eight.  He can stand up for himself.
 
Jack is 11, big as 13, soft-spoken and good-hearted. 
 
We have different dogs from the two we arrived with.   

My father passed away in 2009. 

Our families have gone through tough times.  

You’ve been a comfort to me in the midst of mine.

Sometimes, I need to be alone.  

Sometimes, I need to be with folks.

None of us is easy, except for Phil and Ben. 

Do you know how hard it is to tell you that we’re leaving?

I love you.

We’re leaving.

It’s the farm thing. 

I don’t know why I need to live on a farm.  It’s not in my blood, it’s just in my heart.

I’m sorry I didn’t tell you last week. 

I was taking the groceries in and you were shuttling the kids to a game.  Or I was late to something and you were coming home tired from work.

I know you heard it from the neighbors. 

I’m sorry.

This is a love letter with tears on it.

We won’t have neighbors at our next place.  

Not because we don’t love our neighbors, but because it’s a farm.

Will you forgive me for not telling you last week?

Will you forgive me for making my family move?  (Josh didn’t want to.) 

The farm is only three miles away. 

May we come back and sip drinks and talk while the kids take turns jumping on your trampoline?

May we continue to go trick-or-treating with your family like we always do?

May we remain like family forever?  

The light on the fields to the south of our farm can be heartbreakingly beautiful. 

There’s a deck off the kitchen with that view. 

There will be a drink and two chairs waiting for you.

Our boys can climb up to the loft of the barn,

Where the roof resembles the hull of an arc upside down.

If we drink too much, you can sleep over. 

Mi casa es su casa. 

Mi casa es su casa.

Mi casa es su casa. 

Love,

Jess