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

Image result for spencer tracy
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. 

Saturday, October 21, 2017

Gender Reassignment: An Obviously Great Plan

I have an announcement to make...  

I am thinking very seriously about gender reassignment.

This may surprise some of you who thought I identified as a woman all these years.

If it makes you feel less confusion on that point, you weren't wrong. I do identify as a woman.

I'm not uncomfortable in my female body.

I'm uncomfortable in society.

I tried to make it work, I really did.  But it's impossible!

And now, after all these years, I am becoming invisible, the way older women become invisible.

I am fading, and if I don't do something drastic and fast, I am going to disappear completely.

Think about it: It's genius, isn't it?

When I emerge as a man, I will still be in my prime.

I will look distinguished.

I will go to a bar by myself and have a beer. Someone will strike up a conversation for the sheer pleasure of conversation.

A lifetime of adventure and travel will make me one of the most interesting men at the bar!

I will be friends with men. Imagine! friends with men!

I used to believe it was possible for a woman to be friends with men, because I was interested in being friends with men.

Come to find out, men are not interested in being friends with women.  It either confuses them, complicates their lives unnecessarily, or makes them feel neutered, as though my desire to be friends means I am not attracted to them enough to want to destroy our relationship and devastate the people we love.

Like so many things for women, friendship with men is impossible.

As a girl, I grew up being told that I needed to have an education and a career.  But as soon as I got a  career, there was all this pressure to have children.

There is no logical time to have children.

If you do it when you're 16 or 18, you'd rather be out having fun than stuck at home with demanding babies and toddlers.

When you're 25, you're trying to find an inroad to a career.

When you're in your thirties, you may be saddled with job responsibilities that you've worked hard to prove that you can handle.

There is never a good time to have a child.

I had my baby when I was almost 38, but I was lucky, because for many women 38 is physically too late.

Like I said, it's impossible: the whole being-a-woman-and-having-a-career-and-family thing.

I don't know how other women with kids manage to hold down full-time jobs. I was lucky to work freelance from home for many years.

These days, however, I'm just writing and not getting paid for it.

I used to feel guilty about not earning money or having a job, but I have worked through that particular strain of guilt because I do clean the house and buy the groceries and make dinner and manage our finances and plan our vacations and clothe and feed and ferry our child, etc., etc., etc.

So, there really is nothing to feel guilty about, except that we divide the labor of family life along traditional gender roles. That seems really lame, but the alternative seems incredibly difficult if not actually impossible.

In a few years, my son will go to college, and there will be less reason for to my be at home.

Speaking of impractical and having no value, I continue to write blog posts and work on my manuscript--that same manuscript I've been working on for nearly four years.

Nobody's ever going to publish it.  Why?  Because it's a contemporary adult novel about a girl and her horse.  There is no such genre as that, and therefore it doesn't really exist--much like I won't exist for much longer if I continue to live as a woman.

Don't get me started on publishing and genres. Another writer has written eloquently about the perverse human need to stuff everything into tidy little boxes, without which a thing cannot be properly understood or identified.

I'll just say this: Who is the most successful author of all time, with the possible exception of Shakespeare?

Answer: J.K. Rowling.

And what is J.K. Rowling's nom de plume when she writes adult murder mysteries?

Answer: Robert Galbraith.

Even J.K. Rowling (whose original pen name tells you nothing about her gender) chooses to publish under a man's name.

I can guess what J.K.Rowling's advice would be to me as a writer: Man up.

Okay, let's do it!  I'm ready! Sign me up!  Quickly, I'm fading!

I want to be gay with men and friends with women.

I wonder if my men friends will make me feel bad about wanting to be friends with women. There might be rules against that kind of thing. Will I have the temerity to  shirk those rules?

YES. Of course I will.

Women friends are the greatest thing since sports bras, and before that, they were the greatest thing since sliced bread.

Women friends, hear me: Nothing is going to change except my gender. We will still be friends, you and I, only I will be more visible than you and more respected and more powerful.

Who knows? Maybe I'll become a humorist or a commentator.

I mean, a female commentator,  blech!, who cares; but a man...?

I could totally rock commenting.

Imagine me, a man, saying something like, "Despite popular belief, feminism isn't about man-hating, bra-burning, screaming, or angry females; it's about equality." 

YEAH. And everybody would be like, WHOA, did you hear what Barmack just said?

People will pay attention!

In a few years, you'll be able to Google "Barmack" and there will be more pictures of me than of my cousin Erik!  

Yes, I know that's over-reaching and being a man is not that simple.

It's not like you become a man and you get all these perks and people admire you and pay you a thousand dollars just to cut down a tree.

But I do know that being a woman is just about impossible.

If you want me, I'll be the distinguished gentleman holding forth in the bar... talking loudly, being witty, and making new friends.

Thursday, October 12, 2017

The Americans

Phil and I are watching "The Americans," a series about two Soviet spies in the 1980s who have a genuinely married life in Washington D.C. with two genuinely loved children. But they pass themselves off as Americans--with perfect American accents--and in this, as in a host of other assumed identities, they are imposters.

In hopes of having a more authentic relationship with their teenage daughter, they admit that they are Russian spies, but they compare what they do to mission work, drawing comparisons between themselves and their daughter's trusted pastor.  This is partly true; they both believe that what they do protects and defends the interests of their country, Russia. But we, the ardent viewer, know better: their work, however important to Russian interests, looks like a continuous narrative of deception and violence.

The husband, Phillip (the one in the series), woos and marries a secretary of the FBI director. He spends two nights a week living with her, and this goes on for years.  Both of the spies do whatever they have to do to cultivate or protect their "source" (a human being).

Anyway, this couple are not the classic sociopathic personalities that I associate with international espionage. And this is one of the great things about this series: It manages to avoid expected stereotypes. Phillip, the husband, is more emotional and sensitive than Elizabeth, who is not cold,  but  is rational and discerning. We feel sympathy for the spies, their sources, their associates, and their American counterparts. We feel sympathy for the FBI agent who is their neighbor.  It strikes me as remarkable how fairly they treat Russia and its spies in light of American history and prejudices (and the renewed Cold War environment).

We're watching the fifth, most current season of "The Americans," and I find myself, not coincidentally, contemplating the emotional power of their homeland.  Is it a sentimental attachment to a place they think of as home?  Or is it the place itself?  They are haunted by memories of growing up with more or less constant physical and emotional hunger.

I was going to, but decided not to say, "growing up in poverty with hunger...," because if everyone is experiencing poverty, is it poverty?  In this country, poverty exists outside of the mainstream until something sea-changing, like the Depression, makes economic struggle almost universal.  The Great Depression had a leveling effect on mainstream society. Poverty was no longer someone else's problem. It was the way people lived--which, I imagine, would take some of the sting of shame out of it, especially for kids growing up that way.

The point was that growing up in Russia, Phillip and Elizabeth (not their Russian names) wouldn't have viewed themselves as poor because everyone was in the same boat. Everybody also shared memories and scars, wounds, from the horror and grief of WWII, (which claimed 20,000,000 Russian souls).

Yeah, so, I would conclude that our spies' attachment to their homeland doesn't rely on memories of a happy childhood, or the promise of opportunity....There isn't anything like what the American Dream is to Americans (or aspiring Americans).  I would be really stretched to say what it is, exactly. I've never been to Russia.

However, when I was in eighth or ninth grade, my mother was part of a study group that read Monopoly Capitol.  I remember listening in on those conversations, and later, peppering my mother with questions.

When she was a young woman, my mother was a little bit Marxist. She grew up in a large family, the daughter of a philosopher.  I imagine it was a little like growing up Russian: They were poor; they had grandmother and grandfather living close by.  For years, Mom's grandmother made clothes for all the kids.  They didn't view themselves as poor, of course; nor perhaps were they viewed as poor, because my mom's parents were very well educated. They were erudite. Her father had a Ph.D.  in philosophy from Harvard. Sometimes he was a minister, sometimes he was a professor.  So, my mother grew up in genteel poverty, in a very free, laissez-faire parenting environment.

While I was growing up, my mother shared Phillip and Elizabeth's (our spies, don't forget) condescending attitude toward American materialism and status symbols.  To my mother, being intelligent and educated and open-minded were more important than wearing the right clothes or driving a fashionable car.  She rented an apartment in the town that had the best school system for me. When the rent got too high, (my mother was divorced), she moved to one that she could afford.  We lived in modest apartments, surrounded by impressive books.

When I was in seventh grade,  my mother discovered that she could add protein to Ragu spaghetti sauce with several tablespoons of wheatgerm.  It wasn't bad. It wasn't good.  Our milk came from a box: Carnation nonfat powdered milk.  We ate a lot of Hamburger Helper.  We shopped the ghetto-ized no-name-on-the-label section of the supermarket.  While I was at my father's house, my mother occasionally ate organ meats (which, if you can choke the down, are an excellent source of nutrition, but I couldn't stomach it--so, I guess I wasn't that hungry.)

With her Bachelors from Radcliffe and her JD from Northeastern, and with a bunch of commie feminist friends, my mom started the Women's Law Collective, in Cambridge.  One banner year she made $7500, gross.  My father was appalled; he thought she was squandering the opportunities Radcliffe gave her to make a decent living for herself and her daughter.

My father's rebuke fell on deaf ears. My mother didn't care about money, not in those days. She had a terrific group of friends--funny, smart, idealistic young lawyers, recently graduated, most of them women. (I remember two men of note: one lanky charmer who would look like a hipster in Starbucks today; and a man named Murph, who was Woody Allen if Woody Allen had a soul and moved to Alaska.)

But I digress. No, I don't!  The point was, I did kind of grow up in Russia. Not exactly, of course; given my tendency toward self-expression and Judaic affiliations, it might have been a different HBO series altogether.  Nonetheless, I can use some of my memories from my childhood to get an idea of what homeland meant to Phillip and Elizabeth (our spies, don't forget).

And, as much as Russia today is an enigma, as far as I'm concerned; my homeland, the United States of America, is even more confounding, looking like a failed experiment in democracy--an idiocracy, if you will; a grotesque parody of capitalism, and the very worst of usWe have literally elected an anti-intellectual, ideologically opportunistic, ultra-materialistic, narcissist as President. What were we thinking????

If Elizabeth, our spy, could see us now, she would surely shake her head and say, "America!"

Sigh.  It's so depressing.

It wasn't that long ago that we elected Barak Obama to his first term in office, and the spirit of Abraham Lincoln (so often quoted in Obama's stunning oratory) seemed to live and walk among us.

Do you remember how Obama convinced us that we were good people?

You heard the story dozens of times: His grandparents were white folks from the heartland. His mother was a free-thinking intellectual idealist. His father was an intellectual from Kenya.  He grew up in Hawaii (always more progressive than most of the country in terms of diversity, healthcare, gender, and sexuality). His middle name was Hussein, for God's sakes.

He never let us forget any of it.  He told his story at every stump speech, optimistic and hopeful that we would not hold it against him.

Obama told us that he had faith that we could think with clear heads and open minds, and make the right decision. And we did!

Obama told us that we were a caring people. He often quoted from the bible, and I think his favorite quote must be, Thou shalt love thy neighbor as thyself. 

From my perspective, the hope and promise of Obama was not about healthcare. It was not about fixing the economy or regulating Wall Street.  It was not about climate change.

It was about us, as a people.

In the words of Rev. Martin Luther King Jr.:

Now is the time to make real the promises of democracy. Now is the time to rise from the dark and desolate valley of segregation to the sunlit path of racial justice. Now is the time to lift our nation from the quicksands of racial injustice to the solid rock of brotherhood. Now is the time to make justice a reality for all of God's children.  

Two-thousand-eight wasn't so long ago that we can't remember when the world celebrated with us, inspired and hopeful, as though America had been born anew.

I pledge allegiance to the flag of the United States of America and to the Republic, 
for which it stands, one nation, under God, indivisible,
with liberty and justice for all. 

Monday, October 2, 2017

Pain, Fear, Memory, and Compassion

I have a Palomino who used to explode as soon as my butt hit the saddle.

He didn't buck during his initial interview, when I rode him for the first time to see if I wanted to buy him. I had brought my trainer friend along to prevent me from making a foolish decision (he's so cute!).  She rode him too, and thought he seemed like a reasonable guy.

Jesus, what a faker.  Either Tanner interviewed well because he was on Reserpine, an antipsychotic drug, or because he wanted to live with the two horses down the hill, instead of by himself with no herd. 

For whatever reason, Tanner let Jen and I saddle up that afternoon without a fuss. 

Not so much at my farm.  From the mounting block, I lowered myself onto my English saddle and Tanner went berserk.  It was like riding a rodeo bronc. 

On You Tube you can find videos of people riding bucking horses--falling off, laughing, getting back on, doing it again. They make it look fun. 

But it isn't fun. It was scary enough to make me not look forward with enthusiasm to my next ride on Tanner.  

But that was alright because Tanner was my project horse, and I generally rode my other horse, Belle.

Long story short, now Belle is dead and I have to ride Tanner.   

You might remember that Tanner was the horse that viciously bit me twice.  But he doesn't kick! And in his defense, he really is quite adorable. When he was in a sweet mood, which was often, he enjoyed being petted and loved on. He definitely had a big heart. 

So, why did this horse want to buck me off? 

And why did he go ape-shit when we cantered? 

I didn't know. But if I was going to have a horse that was enjoyable to ride (assuming I didn't sell Tanner and buy a different horse), I was going to have to address these issues.

Right around then my friend told me that she got a horse at her barn that had killed a man.  

That's like your friend telling you she has a malignant tumor. 

I had a lot of questions. 

It all boiled down to this: There was a reason why the horse bucked the rider off repeatedly. They found that something sharp beneath the saddle had been hurting the horse (perhaps a bur, or a thorn, easily overlooked). 

Still. Understandable though it may be for a horse to react to pain in that way...to train and ride any horse that has committed involuntary manslaughter is really scary--and not just for my friend, but I was also afraid for her; and it gave me pause, frankly, regarding Tanner.

My friend and I both knew that if she went about things in a safe way--from the ground--until she was 125% confident that this horse did not want to kill her, then everything would be okay.  

So that's exactly how I proceeded with Tanner, having ridden through so much of his bucking, and now knowing that it was exactly that behavior which had killed someone from whom I was separated by a scant one or two degrees. 

I observed Tanner moving in the round-pen wearing first one saddle, and then the other; first one bridle, and then the other; first one bit, and then the other, etcetera, etcetera.  I was in no hurry whatsoever to mount up. 

I felt a little ashamed, as if I were being lazy and abjectly fearful. Not very cowboy at all. 

On the other hand, I profited from that slow approach: my interest in trying different things and closely observing his response to each item paid off.   

I learned that Tanner didn't want me to saddle up from the mounting block.  It went much better if I saddled up from the ground.  

He hated my English saddle. He was more tolerant of the Western saddle. 

He fussed with the bit all the time.  The faster he moved, the more the bit troubled him.  By the time he broke into a canter, Tanner was ready to explode.

I tried two bits, the snaffle and the Kimberwick; and two bridles: English and Western. He clearly preferred the English bridle, but the bit continued to bother him.  

I could have tried a whole bunch of bits, but researching them was a grim exercise, like standing in front of the meat display at the supermarket. It made me wish that things could be otherwise. 

From the snaffle bit (the kindest and most gentle), things just got heavier and less kind. If you have a sensitive hand, it doesn't matter as much; but it seemed like a negative approach to a problem, pairing pain with error. 

What if I eliminated the bit altogether?  Would that work? Or would it just make Tanner more dangerous?  Would he be out of control?

I obsessed about bit-less bridles and researched the heck out of them. Finally, I felt confident about buying a bit-less bridle from an outfit in Australia.  While it was being shipped, I was guardedly optimistic that it might solve at least one problem. Maybe.

I had to watch an instructional video three or four times to figure out how to put on the bit-less bridle.  The side-straps kept poking Tanner in the eye, but I couldn't help it, so I reimbursed him for his troubles with biscuits. He was perfectly willing to shut his eyes and grit his teeth for a biscuit.

Hell yeah, I give biscuits. 

Horse people are like feminists and Republicans: There's very little that we agree on.   There's a huge divide between those who give treats to their horses and those who don't.  I have always been in the first camp.  

Those who never reward with treats know for sure that Tanner bit me viciously twice because I gave him treats by hand (the worst possible way to tithe in that religion). 

Nothing I could possibly say will ever change their minds. If he never bites me again, it would be too late.

I don't let Tanner demand biscuits. That's forbidden--he knows he'll never get one from me that way. Certainly not usually.

I watched Tanner assess this new apparatus, the bit-lessness of the bridle.  He moved his jaws, prepared to make a fuss, but there was nothing to fuss about.  

After some time, and pulling his head this way and that, feeling out the various pressure points, he seemed to forget all about it.  He wasn't annoyed or distracted.  He began to watch me and pay attention. The bridle was just as transformative as I had hardly dared hope it might be.  

We did not have any bucking. We have not had any since.  

Last week, I heard another scary story about a horse that unpredictably goes berserk.  He had no issues with pain, no baggage from a checkered past... But, unlike Tanner, who is gushingly transparent, this horse did not respond to insults at the time they were committed. 

Instead, he became quietly bitter. He harbored resentments. Every little thing that didn't go his way played like a tincture of poison until, at some random moment, he exploded.  It didn't  matter if he was alone when it happened or being ridden. He did not necessarily need to hurt somebody, he just needed to flip out. 

Last week, he flipped out while someone was riding him, and my friend had to call an ambulance.   

What to do about a horse like that?  

I really don't know.  

I wondered whether a calming supplement might help.  A mood-elevating herb, perhaps?  A cup of chamomile tea? Something to boost the self-esteem? 

That's what I would try if it were my horse. Actually, I would probably try biscuits, first. He might feel less resentment if he felt compensated.  

But I would not take any chances.  I would test the hell out of any possible solution in the safest possible terms.  I would want to know exactly what that horse's temperament tasted like before I ever rode it again. Was he bitter? Was he sweet?  

(To the suggestion of a calming supplement, my friend texted, "He's calm. He's just an asshole." She could be right.) 

I am happy to report that Tanner's attitude is getting better and better.  

He used to see a halter and take off in the opposite direction. Now, I don't  tie him up  at all. 

I find him in the barn, stuff my pockets with biscuits, and fetch the saddle pad. I put the pad on Tanner.  I give him a biscuit and a pat.  I fetch the saddle. Put it on him. Give him a biscuit and a pat. Buckle the cinch, not too tight. Biscuit and pat.  

By the time I'm ready to put a halter on, Tanner is saddled up.  I put the halter on. Biscuit and pat. 

Sometimes, I think about how far away a mad horse will run from her home, through electric ropes and over barbed wire. And, by contrast, I see how content sane horses like Fire and Tanner are, just  to be at home. Sometimes, I let both horses graze at liberty on the long grass at the periphery of the fields.  No halter. No tether. Fifteen minutes or so of freedom and autonomy.  The time passes slowly, like a walk in the woods.  

After eons of looking down their noses at those who would attribute human emotions to animals, current scientific research now suggests that animals--a surprising number of them, if not the whole lot--are sentient.  Their emotions are not that different from our own.  Attributing human emotions to animals no longer qualifies me as an idiot. 

Horses learn differently from humans, in specific ways:  The two sides of their brains are connected by just a bridge. You have to teach both sides of the horse, left and right, as though they were two different children.  They're herd animals, so they are political. And they are herbivores and naturally distrust predators...like us. 

But everything else is human-ish. 

Tanner came with baggage: A dent in his nose from a halter left on too long...might explain his lack of enthusiasm for halters. His feet had been allowed to grow out to where it would certainly be painful to run.  I can imagine someone getting on him from a mounting block and putting him through his paces, which would have become more and more painful as his feet grew out and the bone deformed. This might explain his attitude toward the mounting block. And the English saddle.

But someone loved him. They taught Tanner how to bow, which he does willingly and with flourish.  He knows all the basic commands: walk, trot, whoa, canter kiss.  

I learned how to put the bit-less bridle on him without getting straps in his eyes. We spent fifteen minutes one day figuring it out. I was afraid I might have to watch another video.

I've got him walking a circle around me while I stand at the top of the mounting block.  After circling it, he positions himself next to it so that I could climb onto his back if I wanted to.  For now, I'm focused on making the mounting block a happy place.  I want to be sure that he has good feelings about it before I climb into the saddle.  I brush his mane, scratch his back, check him over for signs of pain, and give him a nice massage.  I am in no hurry.  I believe that soon Tanner will let me saddle up from the mounting block of his own free will. It won't be easy for him, but he'll do it. And that will be a big personal victory for him that makes him saner and safer to ride.