Archive for March, 2011

you can’t learn to ride out of a book

That said, I read a book about Bruce Davidson winning the 1974 World Championships on Irish Cap. He was pretty green himself at the time and humble with it, so he watched the great riders of his day to figure out what they did right and he did wrong. He noticed they rode with short stirrups and crouched over fences.

I think I’ve told you that I’ve been riding shorter lately and that my lower leg has greatly improved as a result. It turns out that for human corgis like me, long-bodied and short-legged, the mythical straight line from head to hips to heels just isn’t. Your leg needs to sit further forward. So I wondered what would happen if I tried crouching as well, to get my weight in my heels and stop anticipating fences.

What happened was that Dez said: “Oh my God, I love your position over fences today! What are you doing that’s different?”

It was a brilliant lesson. We ran over the hour and I wanted to keep going. I’ve been in a warm and happy haze ever since, which has made me much more patient with errands and children, which is nice because I was pretty awful to the kids all day yesterday. Got myself caught in that horrible cycle of disliking myself for being snappy, and then immediately turning around and snapping at them again.

I’ve actually been stricter today, giving them only healthy food and refusing to turn on the TV so they have to go do imaginative play. But it’s been mellow because I haven’t felt the need to excuse or defend my hardass-ness. I simply make decisions and refuse any further engagement. A curious game, bickering with the kids; the only winning move is not to play.

how does my garden grow

When Kay and I were kids living in the far-flung suburbs of Sydney, we used to dream of living in New York City. The appeal, to me, was specifically being able to order Thai food at 3am. Now, of course, my digestive system rebels at such outlandish notions. I do eat home-delivered Thai about once a week, but at a civilized hour.

That said, my daily life in this very dense neighbourhood is far better than long-ago lonely teenager could ever have dreamed. Yesterday I bumped into Ann Hughes and Jakie, Julia’s future husband, as I exchanged library books in the Mission branch of the SFPL. I got home in time to take Claire to wushu, and then I put on gardening gloves and attacked the weeds in our flower bed. Gilbert and Ada came out and found me there, so Gilbert went off to run errands while Ada helped me in the garden and Julia sat on the stoop and made up stories to entertain us. And then we all went to collect Claire from wushu. Did I mention she has her green belt? No? Really?

I’ve been sleeping erratically, waking at 4am and drowsing fitfully until the alarm goes off at dawn, so it was a bit surprising that last night, squashed between Importunate Cat and Julia, I had the best night’s sleep I’d had in ages. Not to mention an elaborate and escapist dream. He was an exiled North African prince. I was a cypherpunk anarchist whose help he sought, but instead I subjected him to long lectures on the evils of kleptocracies. We lived in a sunny north-Mediterranean city whose skyscrapers could be raised on pneumatic lifts to avoid tsunamis. You know. That old story.

We all woke very late and had to scuttle to get to school in time for the bell.

notes from a sleepover

you should have warned me that Julia gets, uh, rather *excited* on chocolate!
she is in the front room yelling, “fight like a man Dre”
and “YAY DRE!!!”
she’s on the purple chair jumping up and down.
and screaming!
it’s pretty funny.
Not sure she’ll ever fall asleep. ever. for her whole life!
I’ll let you know how this all turns out.


New horse in the barn. 15 years old, longtime show horse, purebred Oldenburg gelding. Lesson with Colin on Sunday morning. Colin rode in the Seoul Olympics. It is at once shaming to be the worst rider in the lesson by far, and inspiring to be in the lesson at all. Colin always has something trenchant to say, like a Zen master. This time it is that I am hanging on with the backs of my thighs. If I stop doing that, my heels should sink.

Which reminds me of an exercise we’ve been doing lately: three-loop serpentines at the rising trot with no stirrups. The point is to make you stop hanging on with your legs. Of course when you think about it, if you can’t hang on with your legs, and you don’t have any stirrups, the only way to rise to the trot is by periodically levitating. Which is impossible. We do it anyway.

I bounced around on Archie’s back at the canter until I suddenly found a place to sit like a centaur. I should have bookmarked it, because after every fence he stuck his head between his knees and bucked. I only just barely stayed on each time, but kept going out of childish pride. The challenge was to keep my heels down and my hands quiet. I tried. Colin said: “I can see that you’re trying, and no trainer can ask more than that.”

Afterwards I said: “I was pretty sure I was going to eat dirt.” “You had me worried a couple of times,” he said, grinning.

Francis asked what it’s like to have lessons with an Olympian versus with a regular mortal, and the answer is: they’re the same, only the jumps are higher and you’re expected to do everything to a much higher standard. But we walk, trot and canter on each rein exactly like beginners. It would be very boring to watch.

I rode Archie again on Tuesday night and he didn’t buck much. I had more trouble getting him to move off my leg. But I also got a little bit of nice work out of him. I forgot to blog one particularly good ride I had on Omni, where I started to get a feel for keeping the reins alive and having a conversation with him through them. I tried that on Archie as well (smarting from a comment of Colin’s, perfectly fair, that I let my hand go dead sometimes) and he seemed to respond.

That feeling of surging forward into contact, with the horse round and soft under you and no coercion anywhere, just flow: it’s good. I went a whole hour without mourning the tsunami victims or being sick with fear for my family. It’s an unforgivably elitist pastime, I know, but nothing’s better at forcing me to let go and live in the moment, attentive to the phenomenal world.

Archie is a hugger. He will rest his head against your chest and you can put your arms around him and hold him and breathe into his mane. He reminds me, a lot, of Alfie and Noah, the best horses ever. Sarah says he’s too nice to stay in the lesson program long, and not to get too attached. Check.

music with which to confront the quake/tsunami/meltdown/volcano

against which

I keep forgetting to mention that while we were up at the Big Yellow House I figured out the secret to happiness. It is to make enough money without hurting anyone, if you can; to work humbly at something impossibly difficult (like fiction or equitation); to find the people you can love unconditionally and love them with everything you’ve got; and to play games with them. Hence the world-historical importance of Carcassonne and mahjongg.

I didn’t promise that it was going to be original.

note to self: just stop watching the footage already, idiot

I happened to be online when both the Christchurch and Honshu quakes took place. Christchurch was unbearable, of course, but Honshu – I checked and saw the magnitude at 8.9 and thought, nah, that’s gotta be a typo.

If only. Then after I glanced at headlines on Saturday morning that suggested Fukushima was under control I told Claire, with whom I had been discussing the internal design of nuclear reactors, that it was going to be okay. How hard am I kicking myself now? I daren’t even bring it up again. It was another example, and 2011 has been freakin’ full of them, of the sheer hubris of having a kid. You engender these lives that you love past all reason, far better than you love yourself, and you send them out into a world with leukaemia and tsunamis in it. All you can do is bite your knuckles, and hope, and tell them over and over again how perfect they are, how magnificent and unlikely, how whenever you look at them, it feels like the sun is coming out.

You have to set up college funds and lean on them to do their homework and practice their piano and teach them table manners and force them to eat a frickin vegetable at least once in a while: and you must ALSO shower them with your love as if the life they’ve had so far is all they are getting, as if they’re going to walk under a bus tomorrow. Gotta be the ant AND the grasshopper, every second, without fail. Or else.

I ordered an emergency kit off Amazon. I tried to figure out how I can fit NERT training into my already impossible schedule. I kissed them goodbye this morning. But I honestly don’t know how I can do this. I want to grab my little family and run away with them to somewhere safe: but the image I always had in my head of a safe place was -ha! – Christchurch, New Zealand.

I want my mum.

ultra-recherche “hey it’s that guy”s in hogfather

Mister Teatime is Elton Pope from the Love & Monsters episode of Doctor Who.

Susan is Lady Mary Crawley from Downton Abbey.

You will not be tested on this.

midlife pisces

I can’t leave the house without five bags of stuff to donate. I’m rearranging the furniture. I’m not myself, at all.

slap cheek fever or fifth disease

Pretty sure this is what we all have, including Jeremy and Blanca. The girls had bright red cheeks, fever and snot noses. I have the aching joints and malaise, by which I mean I keep leaking tears and feel no hope for anything, ever. I can’t recommend it.

downton abbey

This is the Big House story for beginners. Everyone Speaks In Topic Sentences, and the estate is entailed in default of heirs male. I am loving it to death.