Wednesday, April 17, 2013

Empathy: The Food of All Literature.

Where Books Come From:
Yes, empathy. And an empathetic mind evolves from adversity, from disappointment...from deceit.  Broken trusts held in the hearts of small children. Children who become adults, mentors to those who follow them...custodians of the planet we share.
They become our legacy, the next chapter in our dreams and quite sadly, and too often, the cold granite marker of our failure.  A desert, where a garden was destined to grow.

I wrote this piece in 1989.  In the middle of a personal and physical crisis of my own making.  I was watching my career end.  Or so I believed at the time.  But during this thankful intermission, my days were spent in introspection, retrospection, negative self-analysis...all while a rather unattractive and brutish nurse was going through her initial catheter training...on me.
Some people know my early history.  Most don't give a shit and that is perfectly fine. Sympathy merely feeds self-loathing and this planet has enough practitioners of hate's various manifestations to go around...twice.  It is the spiritual pandemic of our times.  And while many people doubt that it is possible...I was a child once, born to the garden that traveled from watershed to Wasteland at the very moment of cognizance.
"A young adult retells a story of depression at its miserable height.  Endless driving, back and forth across the same bridge, trying to find the right spot, just the right moment to pierce the railing.  Tears streaming down her face, she finally stops the car on the shoulder of the road.  "Who," she thought, "would take care of my horse?" 
And that is where I live.  These children are my mentors.  My knights in tarnished armor.  For these are the soldiers of my army, the cherished one's who failed to "pierce that railing."  We know each other by our eyes...we feel each other in the rare moments of calm.  And we never stop questioning the value of this thing called life -- deep down in our souls, where the secrets live.
That is the great metaphor stalking the pages of this book.  The horse as friend, confidant...healer. And the role of the many custodians of our sport...the teachers, trainers...the sacred camp of other students...grooms, barn owners, vets, organizers...those who create a place in the sun, never realizing that the last line on their ledger is really a child's second chance at life.  And off to the side, beyond the comprehension of accolades and applause...a horse.
After decades spent tromping about the show grounds of the world, I still find these kids.  We own a mutual awareness -- a road traveled -- words unspoken, but heard.  It used to sadden me to think that love had a power of ability to hide behind the mask of sanctuary.  But then I had to consider that these children were still here, still standing...they had hold of the reins. And I would smile, for in the end, I knew they would be okay.  Because the horse, this dumb and often frustrating creature had usurped the pain...traded the worthlessness these kids felt for the responsibility, the accountability of putting an animal's needs above their own.  For showing that failure brings humility, not scorn -- that tomorrow is really a new unspoiled opportunity; the clean slate these kids never experienced, never knew.  So today, I celebrate the horse world...from all the Knights in tarnished armor:                

They Might Be Alive

Of distant fields and triumphs,
An aging eye believes.
That fading accolades upon,
Such things we might deceive.

As ghosts go rushing by the gate;
And pastures fade to brown.
This horse upon the edge does fall--
Go round and round and round.

Spirits leave to live in wood;
Electric lights they dance.
Carousels by night do haunt,
These horses of romance.

In children’s hearts where horses dwell,
Forever to survive.
Touch such wood with gentle hands--
They just might be alive.

                                                       A. Allan Juell  1987
For: John Turner and those like him. You know who you are!

Tuesday, April 16, 2013

The Sign...

Quite Obviously a Case of Rogaine Abuse
Superstitions and Thoroughbreds...
Gotta Love it!

     On this farm, I decided to wean the old-fashioned way.  The first thing I do is check for the sign.  The sign is an off-shoot of some long forgotten secret society of Kentucky horse breeders who were expelled from The Odd Fellows Society for hanging around seedy places like racetracks, which in itself probably wasn’t that odd – though what they did with the winnings evidently qualified.  However, they could keep a secret it seems.  All most people can remember is that it has something to do with astrology, Bourbon, black mysticism, animal bones and an albino buffalo.  Nancy Reagan could explain it better than I can though I am willing to try.  Here goes:

Now according to “The Farmer’s Almanac,” that frightfully right-wing manual for potato farmers, each part of the body (apparently this also applies to humans, including children.  More on those possibilities later.), corresponds with a particular constellation – the 12 signs of the Zodiac.  This occurs when the moon wanders into say, Capricorn’s neighborhood.  However, since the moon’s orbital cycle is about 28 days and somebody just randomly decided to add a day or two to some of the months of the year, the system is kind of sloppy.  That leads to all that rising and falling stuff you read about in your daily horrorscope.

This system was actually formulated about 2000 years ago, though the Almanac didn’t say by whom exactly.  Plus, there is the small matter of the origin of Thoroughbreds, which only dates back to the 1700’s and was not only contentious, but pretty arbitrary as well.  Thoroughbreds were derived from Arabian horses (well, one Turkish horse too, but nobody likes to talk about that one), and given British colonial policy, probably stolen on top of it.  The British actually liked the Arabian horse overall, but wanted something with longer legs.  Once they achieved their goal, they changed its name and pretended the whole thing was their idea.  That’s really why oil is so expensive.
But who decided on the birthday presents?  Obviously it was Aires.  He got the head.  Virgo – poor buggar, he got the bowels.  And Libra?  A kidney.  Aquarius got the legs, but Aqua is the root word for aquarium so he should have gotten something like fins or a good face mask.  Ah, but there is Scorpio.  Nothing like having your loins rising or falling every 28 days or so.  Everybody else got appendages.  Thighs, arms or a foot.

So according to our 2000-year old anonymous soothsayer, young horses should be weaned when the sign is below the body.  Why?  Because we’re weaning the ‘body.’  No, I don’t know what good a body is without some legs attached, but who am I to argue with twelve constellations, the moon, Nancy Reagan or Aunt Bea’s favorite moonshine recipe.  This is tradition talking.  Oh, children should always be weaned in December.  You have at least six good days and they all fall before Christmas.  That’ll save a few bucks.  And guys, be careful about May.  The Almanac says it’s a good month for castrations.

Regardless of which system you choose to deny a young horse his/her rightful udder,
this is what follows:
     Most new weanlings follow the same routine.  I call it the weanie shuffle.  The weanlings all run around crazy for the first hour.  Then they congregate in a corner to choose a leader.  The guy that gets the long straw picks out a path and head to tail, they march around the paddock like soldiers on a scavenger hunt.  Every so often, a voice from the wilderness will cause the formation to break up into small, noisy groups that think they heard something important.  After a few minutes, they all decide it was a wrong number and return to their treks, only stopping occasionally to see if one of the group happened to sprout a bag.  A bag being an unattached mammary gland, preferably one that was both available and full of something close to 2% milk fat.  Colts are the worst, as they assume, quite illogically, that another colt’s penis has a mystical power to convert urine into milk, leading to all sorts of crotch snatching and less than sincere apologies.  Fillies join in of course, but they categorically fail to reciprocate the favor.  Instead, they just kick the offender senseless.
I can only stand about an hour of this nonsense before I retreat into the house.  Sure I feel guilty, but the best thing I can do is watch the “Wheel of Fortune” and let the boys and girls process the mess.  Besides, this is going to go on for at least a week, which is about the length of time it takes for me to lose my hearing and them to lose their voices.  Now if I could just lose my vision.

     UPS Guy:  “Sign here, sir…ah, what’s that horse doing…is he…?”
     Me:  “Nothing, nothing.”
     UPS Guy:  “Well, I just took over this route…Geez!  Look what he’s doin’!  Can I get a picture of this?”
Good thing there was no YouTube in the 80's
                                                                                               Excerpt From:

Sunday, April 14, 2013

Lessons From A Horse

Horseshoeing School, 1971:
War is sometimes a very personal experience and not
always shared on the evening news.

    PTSD hadn’t been invented yet, though the whole class decided that we’d be happy to testify that it really exists whenever they actually got around to identifying war as a causative in anomalous behavior.  I found these two guys oddly reassuring in what seemed like a morbid or perhaps desperate kind of affection.  Certain noises – the backfire of a car, a news helicopter in the distance; those things would suddenly silence them.  Their bodies would tighten at the sound, yet their eyes never sought out the source.  Then laughter, almost hysterical; another swallow from the brown paper bag.  I knew that feeling.  It would come over me when I heard a beer can open, or when the door knob rattled in my darkened bedroom.  The muffled noises that filtered into my private space, delivered overtly from a sad kind of distant privacy. 

      I too, was among the drafted -- in 1969.  Same year I attended our non-graduation party from high school.  Couldn’t really stand one more achievement followed quickly by an elevator ride down the totem pole.  This time it wasn’t just peer digression, but a potentially fatal encounter with most of Indo-China.  On the surface it seemed like simple cowardice – not necessarily a negative reaction to being killed in whatever scenario the imagination could produce, but something else.  An awakening born of a subtle oppression that lived in the ‘50’s, but was being swallowed by the energy of a new decade that seemed to embrace an ideal that recess should never end.  Woodstock put other people’s expectations on notice.  The 1968 Democratic Convention, held in Chicago, was a declaration of a different kind of war for America.  One that would be waged unarmed -- on the battlefields of conscience.  The great orchestra of America would play on, but one by one, the musicians were leaving the building.  I had left myself about 1967, the result of smoking my first joint while listening to my sister’s Frank Zappa album:  “Absolutely Free.”  Can’t quite remember if it was “Son of Suzy Creamcheese” or that arresting symphonic riot known as “Brown Shoes Don’t Make It.”  Probably the latter, given the fact that I was never able to wear brown shoes after that day.  Seemed sacrilegious or something.

      1969 also marked the introduction of “The Great Human Egalitarian Though Slightly Obscene Body Lottery for Eighteen Year-Old Males Born in the USA.”  Winning was actually losing and the grand prize was an execution hosted by a mob of well-armed angry strangers.  Yes, the draft went democratic – or so they said.  Instead of poor white boys and poor boys of color going first, the poor white boys and the poor boys of color would compete for the coveted title of,  “Less Likely to Celebrate Another Birthday.”  I fell for it until I found out that my birthday was drawn in the 38th round.  A recount seemed out of the question.

     I was requested to report for a physical by the Selective Service the same summer that Jimi Hendrix re-wrote the National Anthem.  During the ‘pee in the cup’ ceremony I noticed the fellow next to me was wearing black panties and a bra.  One of his fingers looked vaguely familiar.  I figured he was a shoe-in for some kind of deferment since the Army probably frowned on cross-dressing in combat.  Funny how things work.  He went to ‘Nam’ – I was excused by a cliché:  flat feet.  That only resulted in a 1-Y classification.  Three more slightly scorched draft cards finally earned me the coveted 4-F.  The only question more difficult than one’s own potential cowardice is the question about who’s left standing at the end and why.  But then again, I already knew the terms and consequences of violence.  So I suppose if the military taught me how to kill, then the only remaining question would center on who I might shoot first.
From: "Mares, Foals and Ferraris." 

And yes, shortly thereafter, I bought a horse.  And the horse began the long journey back to humanity.  And yes, we have all been at the crossroads.  The place where our mind must choose war or peace; in all its complicated and multi-layered facets.