Archive for February, 2010
Epic, unforgettable birthday weekend. If 39 continues as it began I shall be a hollow shell of a woman by forty.
Happy birthday to me! Against all likelihood I have turned out to be a happy and useful sort of person; who would have thought? Mad props are obviously due to my mum:
Down through the years my sweet mother never failed me
Held me close to her heart as she taught me to aim high
Lifted me up so I could reach and attain sky
And changed my lucky star from what it was to what it is
Never enough time to give praise for what she gives
Words of wisdom she grants as natural as life’s breath
Things to remember when day turns and only night’s left
Words like: “Always give thanks for the greatest of men is grateful”
And: “Pride can never reach where humility can take you”
Sweet mother! I’ll never forget you!
Just a fragment, really, hopelessly idealized, I mean really, a meadow beside a waterfall, there might as well have been Tom Selleck and a sandwich. What the fragment was really of though was the sunlight shining on, indeed reflecting off, a side view of his white ass and thighs that were always his best features (“What an ass!” heheh) and us being sweet to each other and happy together, as we seldom if ever were in life. And waking to remember that we will probably never speak to each other again, with excellent reason. A reminder as if reminders were needed that I am turning 39 tomorrow. Mothers! Lock up your sons!
And falling asleep again to visit the house, loved house, lost house, changed in dreamlike ways, ways that Richard both would and would not approve. The polished concrete floor half-stripped of red and green paint was beautiful, and all the rough bricks were true to life. But this version had an imperious view of rooftops and the Harbour, and it was not at all clear why Jeremy’s room did not have a door, so that we had to climb through an internal window. And waking to remember that the house has been sold to a half-Scottish half-Danish lover of Sydney School houses, whose three young sons will, I hope, love it as much as I do, although how can they?
No wonder I spent most of yesterday verklempt and listening to depressing songs of youth. I was emo before the word was coined! Last night was a lot better, a very liberal Anglican church up near Coso and Mirabel somewhere, with a friendly (two-humped?) llama eating nasturtiums out of the front garden and chickens wandering around during the service. Thussy would have loved it. We all went, Bryan and the boys, Shannon, Salome and Milo, us Fitzchalmers and even Janny and Gemma when they came to visit; there was a treehouse in a spreading live oak where they could conveniently stay. Testimony took the form of people writing famous mathematical proofs on the whiteboard, with all of us in the congregation chanting along with them. “DIVISION BY ZERO! CONTRADICTION!” A straightforwardly happy San Francisco dream.
Before I had children I used to imagine them, what kind of mother I would be, how much I would love them. Now, most days, at some random moment or other, my thoughts come to rest on my daughters and I am knocked backwards with delight.
Yesterday I sort of oozed out of bed, made Claire’s lunch, kissed everyone and drove down to the barn for a fairly amazing lesson with Erika on Scottie. We did have a couple of moments in the flatwork where I was riding him off my leg and he chewed the bit thoughtfully and then collected himself into a lovely frame. As soon as we jumped, though, I couldn’t stop hanging on the reins, so he kept running through the line, which was frustrating; what’s awesome, though, is how Erika corrects faults in riders that I can’t even see, until the horse suddenly relaxes and moves forward freely. As we were riding back to the barn Toni came out to intercept me and asked if I would ride Scottie a little longer to show him off for a potential buyer! I said “Don’t you want to ride him?” and she said “You’ll be fine.”
Toni McIntosh is not horribly ashamed of my riding! I was so thrilled I rode Scottie through the line on a loose rein and he jumped it perfectly.
Zoomed back up to the city, went to work, brought the research calendar up to date, met with colleagues to go over the numbers, started a piece of research. Got crossish mail from someone who is offering us field trips, so zoomed over early to Monroe and walked from classroom to classroom getting said field trips scheduled. Made it to Claire’s class just in time for the Valentine’s Day exchange. Zoomed to the Community Music Center for her piano lesson. Had tacos and avocado and chocolat at Los Jarritos. Picked Claire up, came home, made dinner, went to taiji, came home and kissed Jeremy on the stairs as he went to wushu. I don’t know why I don’t taijiblog as much as I horseblog; stay tuned. Got the kids to bed, had a bath. Jeremy came home and we hung out.
I would like to say that it was an anomalous day, but today suggests otherwise. We slept in and had to teleport Claire to her wushu class. Salome and I dumped the kids on Jeremy and went to the farmer’s market and the garden store and talked nineteen to the dozen, as is our wont. Now that Ritual and Great Harvest are both at Alemany, it’s sort of a food black hole, with me well inside its Schwarzschild radius, never to escape. Back to Salome’s apartment to mind the kids and work on the novel and bake eggs for lunch while the kids drew characters from Lord of the Rings and Salome and Jack went to see Avatar. Off to swim class, where both girls are coming along in dives and sprints. Home to roast the butternut squash and soup it up with the homemade chicken stock. While I ate, I linked accounts to my new financial advisor’s web site, sent mail about the field trips and more mail about an upcoming dinner. And now I blog.
And I’m leaving out the bits where I was plotting the novels, or reading, or just staring into space and thinking about you and how great you are and how lucky I am to have you in my life.
God knows I am no fashion maven rather the reverse, but news and alarms of Alexander McQueen’s awesome vision had made its way even to dorky tshirt-and-Levis-and-farmboots land where I live. I’m slammed and silenced by his death. I can’t say it any better than Jennifer Michael Hecht:
Know that the rest of us know that among the faces we have met there are some right now who can barely take another minute of the pain and uncertainty. And we are in the room with you, going from one moment to the next, in whatever condition you manage to do it. Sobbing and useless is great! Sobbing and useless is a million times better than dead. A billion times. Thank you for choosing sobbing and useless over dead.
I had two lessons this weekend, both on tall dark handsome Scottie. Here’s a video of him jumping at Woodside a couple of years ago. Note that lovely cadenced canter. Note also his serene confidence and unruffled calm. The rockinghorse canter is still in place and a big part of the delight that is the riding-Scottie experience. The confidence and calm? Not so much. Something scared him last year and now he rushes his fences and worries. Colin, the top trainer and resident genius, says Scottie is (and I quote) “chickenshit.” Michelle and I, because we like him very much indeed, prefer to say that he is anxious. We mean that he’s chickenshit.
A year after starting again, I’m still a pretty sucky rider, but I suck at harder things on better horses. Scottie has to be one of the nicest horses I’ve ridden in my entire life – even Colin says he is super-nice – and that hypnotic canter is easily, far and away, the best canter I ever sat. The trick is to learn to give him confidence, which gets harder as we try harder things and jump bigger fences. Yes! I am actually jumping him at last, over teenytiny rails it is true, but high enough that he transmits clear mental images of falling poles and pain and fear. As well as staying on and keeping my position absolutely correct and relaxed and soft, I have to reassure him of my competence and his ability. When he gets too fast I have to slow him, not with the reins, but with the rhythm, making the footfalls slower and more sure by asking for it with my abdominal core.
It’s a miracle to me that I can even try (and mostly fail at) this. A year ago I had never asked for a flying change! Now I am riding this glorious made hunter and I mean really trying to ride him, awake every stride, trying to unlock my arms, keeping my leg on but soft and quiet, doing my utmost to lull him into that beautiful rhythmic canter so he is in a cadenced trance over fences, so he forgets the fear and the falling poles, so all he thinks about is the music of his footfalls. What joy.
(If you like how I write about riding, you should go read Hannah, who says very precisely what I am always struggling to get at.)
Yesterday I rode for the first time in five weeks. Low expectations are my friend! I assumed that I would fall off and be crushed to death beneath Scottie’s iron-shod hooves, so I was quite pleased when instead I managed to more or less keep up with the-other-Erin and Sarah, who are very good, and only make two or three terrible mistakes. Scottie’s in a new bit: a jointed rubber pelham with a curb chain. He was in a slow twist eggbutt snaffle, or something like that. How awesomely English and perverse are the old horse bit names? The rubber mouthpiece makes the pelham a gentler bit, and gives him something to chew, which he loves. The curb chain supplies the emergency brakes.
I was slow to adapt to the change. Scottie’s carrying himself better, because he’s more comfortable in this hardware and happier generally. Just as Bella did last year, he’s spent a few months settling into the barn and putting on weight, and now he’s a mellower and more cheerful horse. You can feel the muscles of his back relaxed and loose and warm. I guess that means I am sitting better, too? I get some undeserved credit for my riding improving on the sale horses when it is the horses themselves that are filling out and calming down in the kind and wise McIntosh program. But that’s quite okay with me!
Anyway, slow to adapt, yes: we were warming up in the dressage arena and I was fussing with his head, when I should have been just getting him to move forward. Bad Rach! I must not fuss with heads! As soon as I kept my hands still he did move forward. A lovely thing about Scottie is that he isn’t lazy, as all my great and perfect chestnut horses, Alfie, Noah and Bella, absolutely were or are. I’ve become so accustomed to nagging at horses and pushing them with my seat that my lower leg swings like a pendulum. This is an appalling fault! I need to keep my leg very still and just apply pressure with my calf. The great pleasure of riding Scottie is that when I do this, when I press him gently into a light but secure contact, he sort of surges forward with a great generous wave. It’s so beautiful it takes your breath away.
So of course the other awful and counterintuitive thing I did was to try to mess with that awesome forwardness. We went into the jumping arena and started an exercise cantering figure-of-eights over a pole on the ground. The other Erin went first on her big hot dark bay, and he tried to run off with her, as he does (he has improved out of sight since I saw him last; he used to go straight up in the air or backwards, and now he is going forwards, which is key.) Apparently while watching this I decided that Scottie was liable to run through it as well, so I rode the exercise hanging on the reins for grim death, thus guaranteeing that he would.
It was instructive. I’ve tried to avoid antagonizing Scottie on the assumption that I wouldn’t be able to cope. He did get shirty, and was well within his rights to do so, given my death grip on the reins, which clearly violates the terms of the international convention on equine rights. But Scottie’s definition of naughty, like his definition of a hard mouth, fall well short of the insane brumbies in twisted wire bits I used to hurtle around on as an immortal teenager (hi, Hawkeye!). So his little cow-hops and evasions were not even particularly frightening, let alone dislodging, and when I did sort myself out and reinstate an appropriate contact, he cantered with his big rocking-horse cadence again and I remembered that riding properly is nicer in every way.
And then he was spooked by a person behind the hedge and did a teleport to the left, but I stayed on him, and we went to chat to the person behind the hedge, and Scottie snorted disgustedly a few times and went back to being a cow pony ridden on the buckle. All in all it was a splendid Sunday afternoon.