Archive for February, 2009

probably not entirely coincidence

I was on antidepressants from “Mission Accomplished” to Obama’s inauguration. Down to the very day.

we go all out

[14:00] mizchalmers: remember that time we got married?
[14:00] FurHordinge: oh yeah, that time
[14:00] FurHordinge: happy anniversary of that time
[14:00] mizchalmers: back atcha
[14:00] mizchalmers: mister
[14:00] FurHordinge: missus

the early days of a better planet

Great news from my international network of business partners (with thanks to Google Translate, which now has a Detect Language feature that is distinctly from the future):

Si Caroline is great businessman with his wife and
thence they nakabili a new set of fishing net as another
source of income.Her Crab vending previous project is still on-going to
where every week he sells in the city of Calamba.

The goal of Si Caroline’s fishing business is to generate enough income to send those adorable children to school. At my end, my 48 Kiva loans are repaying almost faster than I can reinvest the proceeds. My default rate, incidentally, is well under 3%. America’s bailed-out investment bankers can kiss my progressive, apple-shaped ass.

Said apple didn’t fall far from the tree. My Dad, recovering warmonger, is also busy saving the world, starting with rural New South Wales.

fell off

…although I still maintain it doesn’t count if you land on your feet, facing the horse and holding the reins. More of a rapid involuntary dismount, right? I’m riding a new mare, the beautiful Elle, who is a Glenoaks veteran like me and who was originally imported from, um, Australia. She’s for sale, so if you didn’t get me anything for my birthday…

…KIDDING. Anyway about Elle; she’s just as beautifully trained as Cassie, but she’s less sort of lenient. Cassie will take the most liberal and generous interpretation of your aids and act on that. She’s a progressive on the Supreme Court. Elle requires things to be *just* *so*; she’s the Biblical literalist of lovely bay hunter-jumpers, with a strict constructionist position on the Constitution.

I learned this after the fall – look, all that happened was that a breeze went through some fabric tacked to the judge’s kiosk, and when I looked down the horse had teleported eighteen inches to the right and I had not. If I’d only kept my heels down, LIKE ERIN WAS TELLING ME TO DO, I would have teleported with her. Anyway, that was our first canter transition. After poor Erin, my sainted instructor, had hoisted me back on the horse, we cantered again on that side, no fallings-off, then tried again on the other side.

I thought I was keeping good contact with the outside rein but there is a tendency, when one has recently arisen from the dirt, to mistake good contact for hanging-on-like-grim-death. Erin brought this to my attention and told me to ease up on the poor mare’s mouth. I did so and behold, Elle moved fluidly into the canter. The second time we tried this the contrast was even more pronounced. With no more than a gesture of relinquishment in my outside shoulder, Elle picked up the contact and cantered away.

Always the same lesson: freely forward. Let go of the resistance. Do not fear. I was all messy and disorganized because, different horse, trying to feel for her likes and dislikes, her rhythm and cadence. Even more than Cassie does, Elle thinks in cadence – it’s one of the differences between jumpers, who have to be clever and forgiving, and hunters, who are judged on the hypnotic qualities of their canter. Have you seen the fantastic, the amazing film The Triplets of Belleville? There’s this running metaphor where racing cyclists whinny and snort like thoroughbreds, and it’s funny and apt because of this quality of being unwilling to break rhythm. My challenge with Elle is to sit still, to stop fussing with my reins, to keep my heels down, to be quiet. “Point her where you want her to go and ask her to go forward,” said Erin.

You could argue that Elle broke rhythm when she shied but in fact if I’d had a softer, more secure seat, we would have changed direction in perfect rhythm with each other. And indeed the bewildered expression she gave me was that of a sleepwalker woken too abruptly: What are you doing on the ground? Why aren’t you where you are supposed to be?

The good news is that slight resistance in my outside shoulder on the canter transition is about all the fear I felt after the fall. That’s a lot better than I felt for the first year or so of riding Noah, my first really good big horse. I was scared pretty much every second I was on his back. And not without reason; when I fell off him I tended to land on fences and get hurt. And I fell off a lot, because I had the reins in a stranglehold and no horse needs that.

It took me a long long long time to let go. If what you’re scared of is that the horse is going to take off and you’re going to fall off, how can you release the brakes? Only through faith. And in the end, I did. Just before we sold him, when I was riding him very nicely over big fences, I held the contact as lightly as you would hold an egg.

This fall hurt my dignity but nothing else. I got back on and rode this sweet mare and got three flying changes out of her – two of them decent and one quite nice. Part of the pleasure of starting again is feeling the years and years of riding behind me – the teenage bolting around like a lunatic and learning how to land on my feet, the years in my twenties when David drummed cadence into me – coming up and helping, like a whale surfacing under a struggling swimmer. As if those years weren’t wasted after all; as if all is not lost.

your expressions of love are deemed acceptable to me

Nerding out over birthday geography, I am especially tickled to see Canada, Argentina and Mexico making strong showings on my world map of love. Yoz is listed as The Internet because he was spending the day as a series of tubes.

You know you’re all well-dressed, well-read and discerning types. Puppies and babies gravitate towards you.

practically like a grownup, except that it’s me

Corner office

Originally uploaded by yatima

gigantic, unashamed

Francis: I hear that Sausage Day is a new holiday
Yatima: a celebration of all things sausage
Francis: I assumed it was a post-Valentine’s celebration of all things not very romantic or not involving any special effort
Yatima: i laugh every time i think about it
a lone sausage

Francis: as I was IMing to Rose about it:
[12:33] francis heaney: “Here, I bought you a Hershey bar. It was on sale.”
[12:34] francis heaney: “I ate half of it already.”
Yatima: “happy sausage day!”
funny you should mention it
jeremy got given free hershey’s bars, the little ones, and keeps offering them to me
i’m all “hersheys? …thanks, pet”

Francis: I’m actually addicted to the tiny Special Darks
Yatima: i eat michael recchiuti
and scharffen berger
when i settle, i settle for lindt

Francis: I only eat chocolates that were hand delivered to me from Germany
Yatima: gigantic, unashamed chocolate snob
germany? bah
the chocolate baths on venus, or nothing

Francis: MY chocolate comes from ATLANTIS
Yatima: MY chocolate comes from the civilization that DROWNED atlantis for its inferior choc
you can’t buy this chocolate

Francis: it is transported from the future and is made of special cocoa-treated stem cells
Yatima: you have to donate your menstrual blood
for the stem cells
beat that, sausage

Francis: *hard to breathe*
*too much laughing*
also here is the Sausage Day Gift of the Magi:
Yatima: i sold the corkscrew to get you a tin of cat food, but you sold the tin opener to get me a bottle of two buck chuck

a yatima glossary of the recent past

American Kookaburra

I’ve been volunteering at Claire’s school on Friday afternoons, and have somehow earned a reputation as the lady who makes the kookaburra sound. Seeking to outsource the love, I said “Who here watches American Idol?” and pulled Abraham, Sarah and Ivy up the front to do their versions of the laughing jackass. Sarah won narrowly, seven votes to the others’ six and six.

My Bloody Valentine

Lemming-like behaviour on the part of the USonians never fails to drive me batshit. Valentine’s Day is an excellent example. All I ask of a Saturday evening is inexpensive childcare, a passable flick and a bowl of noodles with my sweetie. This week the Kabuki annex parking lot was full, meaning I had to park in the main garage! Our seats were not ideal! The film, Slumdog Millionaire, was pretty great, but then we had to wait almost five minutes for a table at a nearby noodlery! The trouble with Valentine’s Day is everyone else trying to shoehorn in on my regular Saturday night, and getting in my way!

This is, I have been assured, a very First World problem to have.

The Feast of the Lonely Sausage

Jeremy was in charge of making a hot lunch today. He presented us with – a single hot sausage. No vegetable, no bread. Just sausage. It was, as he pointed out, very good sausage. Kathy was reminded of the time she was served pizza on the head of a pin. Francis made the point that no one could mistake the gender of the preparer of this meal, not for one single second. I propose making February 15 an annual Feast of the Sausage. As it’s also Fraser’s birthday, the choice of anthem is a no-brainer.

Fluffy the Seagull the Horse the Bicycle

This is my foldie, named for Julia’s pet horse Fluffy the Seagull the Horse, who is named for Julia’s seagull, Fluffy. I rode Fluffy the Seagull the Horse the Bicycle back from her safety service at Valencia Cyclery this evening, in the rain, and raced the 14 Mission up the hill. And I won. This crazy scheme just might work after all…

Public Service Announcement

In the wake of Race Fail 2009 I’ve joined the 50 Books by People of Colour LJ community and will be posting there from time to time. So far the project has been amazing, making me feel like I read fiction for a reason again, and to learn things I couldn’t possibly figure out for myself.


I’m seriously annoyed with President My Boyfriend for perpetuating the Bush Administrations self-serving position on state secrets. It’s bumming me out. Our first real fight. C’mon, big O, why you even got to do a thing?

I jumped Cassie on Sunday! It was like an eighteen inch crossbar, sure, but a Taste of Things to Come!

Claire’s been all up on stage lately. Last week it was her first wushu demonstration. I would be very surprised if there is anything on earth cuter than my six-year-old’s kicks and punches, except possibly the expression on her face while she’s doing them. “WE R SRS NNJAS.” In January she and her classmates sang “Chickadee” at the school music recital. That was beyond hilarious: crowded cafeteria; tuneless kindergarteners; doting parents; phone cameras aloft.

Speaking of that cafeteria I am pursuing funding for a new school building that would include a proper auditorium. Ideally we’d like solar energy, grey water reclamation, the whole shebang. I am having a ridiculous amount of fun finding clues on the Internet and brazenly calling people at their places of work with naive questions. Last Friday I discovered $3.6m earmarked for it in the SFUSD facilities budget and tonight I talked to the head of facilities. The plot thickens! It’s not going to be easy by any means, but it is actually possible! I bounced into Kappy’s office and said:

“I love research!”

“I’ve heard that about you,” she said.

More: I’m off Zoloft; everything seems a bit colder and brighter. I loved Thrumpton Hall, The Arrival, The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao, The First Part Last and Stories of Your Life. Frost/Nixon was pretty good too. Claire wanted to come with us, but when I said “Great idea! It’s the story of the confrontation of two huge mediated egos over foreign policy at the cusp of the electronic age!” she decided she’d rather hang with McKenze instead. Julia, and now this is going to astonish you, remains delightful.

i love them above all things

Julia is given a trophy. Her acceptance speech: “Yes I will do that and I got this cup. Now go!”

Claire is mad at me: “I will give you NOTHING for Mother’s Day. NOTHING but SNAILS!”

ancients on horseback

Trying to explain riding, real riding, why it matters to me and what it feels like, is like trying to get a firm grip on the flesh of a mango. Rose suggested “exhilarating” the other day, which is correct but incomplete. Swinging on a swing is exhilarating. With riding there is concentration and discipline, work and patience, all layered on top the speed and flight. I tried “internal combustion Zen.”

I cannot, I simply can’t process my luck in having found McIntosh Stables. I trained with Toni back in the day and when I walked into the barn I found that the office manager is another very dear old friend, Beth. I won a Medal round at Creekside on her beautiful Paint horse Austin, who was chewing on his hay in a spotlessly clean stall around the corner. That was one of the two best rides of my life, the other being the stadium round on Wilma the Wonder Pony at the Rancho Murieta 3-day in 2002.

In each case the entire round was complete in my head before I started. I knew the strides into each fence. I knew how the horse would move underneath me, and how I would react. I was outside of time. All I had to do was sit there.

David Murdoch – David the great, my trainer when I had Noah – taught me about cadence. It’s an incredibly powerful and subtle idea in riding, which I don’t completely understand but which I would presently describe as – let’s see.

Horses have cadence naturally, by the way; it’s what makes them beautiful to look at when they move. We describe some horses as being good movers – Noah had spectacular movement, for example, and Alfie had a very fine trot. But we’re splitting hairs there, distinguishing the best of the best, because pretty much any horse moves with the heartbreaking elegance and expressiveness of an inhumanly athletic dancer. Of course they do. Their lives depend upon it.

A good way to understand who horses are, why they are themselves, is to watch them running around at liberty.

Anyway, the idea of cadence in riding is to let the horse move like that even though there’s a rider on its back. (My teachers’ teacher Franz Mairinger wrote an entire book about this.) One of the subconcepts of cadence is “free forward movement,” a term you’ll see over and over again in serious discussions of riding. Movement should not only be forward, although forwardness is extremely important; horse and rider should fearlessly embrace whatever lies ahead. But freedom is also key. There should be no constraint, no blocking, no coercion, no cruelty, no discord, no jarring, only harmony. A horse should flow through you like a river around a stone, like pain. Do you know that trick when you have a broken leg or are in labor, when you forget the last moment and the next one and just let the pain go?

I am digressing again. The damn mango, it is slippery.

To get to this point as a rider you need a lot of very simple and practical techniques – balance, heels down, shoulders back, strong core, quiet leg and hand, loose shoulders, look where you’re going. But you also need a kind of – I grope for and fail to find the words. A stillness in your heart. Goodwill. Trust. Lack of fear. Forgiveness. Absolute patience. Lack of ego. Things are going to go wrong; the horse will evade or baulk, because you are not Alois Podhajsky and you are insufficiently Pure of Heart. Doesn’t matter. Failure, like pain, should run through you moment by moment.

So. Assuming you can be clear and open and perfectly correct yet kind, and give quiet but firm aids for the walk and trot and canter and halt, you create the conditions in which you can ride through cadence. If you don’t actively impede your horse, he or she will find a good rhythm, a free forward gait. This feels wonderful! Your job then is to collect, for shorter, more powerful strides, or extend, for longer, lower strides. Change gears, if you will. A collected canter for going uphill – ie, over a fence. A more extended canter for long straights.

You do this, ideally, by knowing that your horse is going to do it. Truly. I do know how wiggy that sounds. But horses communicate by feel, by gesture, by touch. They express themselves through balance and cadence. You also, though you don’t know it, you monkey with hypergraphia you, you speak through your body and breath.

So if you are on a good horse (and by grace I have been lucky enough to ride some magnificent horses, like Austin, and Alfie, and Noah, and Wilma) the aids for, say, a twenty meter circle include things like looking at the path of the circle. Your horse can feel that your head has turned. Your horse will follow the path you see.

All of which is to give some context to my ride on Cassie yesterday. It was the first time I had ridden seriously in many, many years, but because Cassie is a beautifully trained horse with the temper of an angel, I was able to channel my inner David and my inner Colonel Podhajsky, and ride a 20-meter circle at the canter by looking at where I wanted to go. And then I cantered on the diagonal and looked around the corner and she hopped onto the other lead in a perfect flying change.

The first time she did it I had to pull her up because I was alternately laughing and crying. I can’t ride flying changes! What was my trainer thinking? But every other time I asked her to do it, we nailed it. She gathered herself up in the air and struck off on the other canter lead like being a small Pegasus is no big deal, like her nerdy monkey rider could actually ride. With cadence. She danced for me, a big old Canadian Warmblood mare with a long back and a spiky mane.

I can’t explain even to myself what it is about horses, although I used to try. Why horses? Why me? I had theories of snobbery, but the truth is their horsiness is pretty much the only thing that interests me about the English upper class. I secretly wanted to go to Oxford so someone would invite me to their stately home to go hunting. Next I thought I might have been ruined by books, and one day I will write a great essay on horses in English children’s literature from Enid Bagnold to KM Peyton. But the books were just the intersection of the two great passions of mine, not their source.

The truth is (and you thought I was being wiggy before! Take cover! California in the house!) that when God broke herself into particles of consciousness to run the simulation that is this universe, I got the books and the horses. They’re important to me because they are. I didn’t get opera or Nascar, not in this life. Team sports and languages were, by and large, parcelled out to other people. I got some politics and a fair old dab of science and technology. I got these kids to raise, the best and scariest and happiest job by far. But for comfort and joy, God gave me books and horses.

I can’t thank her enough.