I have a new understanding of Dickens’ words from “A Tale of Two Cities.” *
It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness, it was the epoch of belief, it was the epoch of incredulity, it was the season of Light, it was the season of Darkness, it was the spring of hope, it was the winter of despair…
After a very focused and intense beginning, everything sort of unraveled in September when I got back from my trip. I had two really awful intense bouts of illness – unrelated as far as I know, but involving lots of incapacitating abdominal pain. These were within a few weeks of one another and both were so intensely painful I thought I was going to die. <– I usually handle illness and pain pretty well, so this is saying something. What the heck, body? What is wrong with you?
After recovering from those, I had a few more riding lessons at the therapy barn and realized that it really wasn’t meeting my needs. While I really like my instructor and have learned a lot from her, I wanted to have more riding time and more independence and horse interaction. Because of their therapy focus, that just wasn’t possible – everything was very supervised and they didn’t have the flexibility or time to let me groom and tack my own horse or even ride every time I had a lesson (there were only 2 horses that could do walk/trot/canter lessons and the 1 I had been riding regularly was lame for some reason they couldn’t ascertain, so I was doing a lot of groundwork). If I can’t ride and get my body to remember what it’s supposed to do to communicate with a horse, then I’m not going to make any progress. I started researching some new places and found another barn that’s as close (or possibly closer) to my house that has a more traditional riding program with more lesson horses and will school me to jump if that’s something I want to get back into. I met with the trainer/barn manager who gave me a tour and took a couple of lessons and decided to make the switch.
Shortly after that, I learned that the trainer was looking for a couple of people to work at the barn on Sundays. I thought that might be a good way to pay for my riding lessons (I’ve traded barn chores for lessons in the past), so I signed up to try it out. My first Sunday (also my last Sunday) I worked with a 15 year old girl who had just started the weekend before and who was trying to show me how to do everything that she had only just learned. She was doing a good job explaining how things were done, but we were a little slow because it was my first day and her second. We would have finished more quickly, but boarders started arriving while we were still cleaning stalls and it was really hard to work around them. We were supposed to be using the four-wheeler to carry out muck buckets, but you can’t drive that down the aisle when there are horses in the cross ties. So we were molasses slow for the next couple of hours. Then, when I was leading a horse back to her stall, she brushed up against a trash can and spooked. Leaping forward she hit me hard with her shoulder and knocked me right off my feet. I hit a wall and landed hard on my right knee. She was still freaking out above me and I still had hold of her, so when she lifted her head up, she pulled me back up on my feet. This was good, since I was no longer on the ground where she could step on me, but also terrifying because it was so effortless for her. BIG, POWERFUL ANIMAL. Check. Also, I wasn’t so sure my legs were going to support me. I let go of her at this point and she jogged a little ways down the aisle where someone else caught her and brought her back to me. She was fine after that. I was not. Bruised and swollen and hurting all over and it was only noon. I’d said I’d work mornings, but I ended up staying through the afternoon because there was still so much work left to do and I felt bad leaving the teenager to do it on her own. I didn’t see any way that she was going to be able to handle it all by herself. I limped through the rest of the day, and we finished up after 5pm, whereupon I took myself home and discovered after sitting for the 5 minute drive that I could barely put weight on my right leg, let alone walk, when I tried to get out of the car. So that sucked. It was so uncomfortable that I couldn’t rest or do much to make it better. I tried R.est, I.ce, C.ompression, and E.levation (RICE) and some ibuprofen and still couldn’t find any relief. I was worried that I’d broken something so I had myself checked out at Immediate Care the following day (after having a friend come over and retrieve my crutches from the basement – NOTE TO SELF: Do not store your crutches in the basement as you will not be able to get down the stairs in any graceful way in order to retrieve them when/if you need them). They didn’t see any obvious fractures on the X-rays they took, but recommended I keep using my crutches for the rest of the week and see how I felt after that.
Unexpected time off from work! That was right before Thanksgiving. A few years ago I fractured my elbow on a bike ride (well, a bike Fall) the same week. Late November is a bad time for me. I don’t think there’s any supernatural explanation, it’s just that it feels like the last opportunity before Winter Sets In to do a lot of the outdoorsy things I like and then I injure myself. Adventure! Anguish! Discomfort! December! December is for healing. Also unexpected time off from riding.
About barn work – I like working physically hard and I like mucking stalls (I know this might be construed as weird). It’s satisfying. I do *not* like dragging 60 lb plastic muck buckets up a hill of horse shit and dumping them. That’s just silly. Also, it hurts your back. Why not put a ramp up to the muck pile, which is already enclosed in a walled concrete structure, and dump a wheelbarrow down into that? Makes more sense. That will be my suggestion for the first barn upgrade! I think the most unhelpful thing that the manager told us was that we needed to “work faster.” Other than that we received basically no guidance. We *did* get a 5 minute lesson on how to drive the 4-wheeler. I let the 15 year old drive. After watching some more videos of that whole process I might finally feel comfortable attempting it myself, but, you know, I probably won’t need to, since I’m not going to be doing it anytime soon. Disappointing to have injured myself and be out of action, but also a relief to be able to say, “I’m not going to be able to do these Sundays like I wanted.” It turns out that I like having ONE day a week where I can do whatever I want and am not committed or beholden to anyone else. That’s probably worth at least $35.
I’m currently on week 5 of my riding hiatus and my knee feels mostly sound, but my foot is still sore. It’s much better than it was, but I’m not entirely sure that it isn’t broken. Still, if they didn’t see a fracture, maybe it’s minute (my-noot!). The last time I fractured my foot (Jones fracture, same foot) it took about 6 weeks to heal and the orthopedic doctor just observed it (for about $2000) during that time and made Pronouncements of Doom that made me worry about it ever healing. It did. I am hoping it will be completely healed in a few more weeks. I will return to my riding lessons in another week and I’ve already returned to water classes (which, despite all of the leaping and jumping around we do, aren’t bothering my foot too much).
* * *
I haven’t spent much time *processing* my Iceland trip. It was wonderful – lots of fun, enjoyed the horses and the riding, made some new friends, wish I could go back. I don’t know that it was profoundly transformative. I want more time there to figure out how I feel about Iceland itself and meet more of the people who live there. Our guides were really interesting people – from England and Germany – and I think that their jobs are pretty amazing. I sent out a few feelers after I graduated from college, looking into something similar for myself – horse work/guiding – and there was a distantly related cousin who had a ranch out west I might have connected with. That was the summer I managed our school’s student run barn. I was the student running the barn. Barely qualified manager, but I learned a lot, and kept all the horses clean, exercised and fed for 3 months. AND NO ONE ESCAPED! Best summer. The school received a nice donation a few years after that and built a very fancy facility across campus and hired a professional, so I think the program is a lot more posh than it once was. It was a path not taken. And now I am OLD and decrepit. (And would probably not find it nearly as enjoyable now as I would have then!)
Mostly, I think, it was hard to come home and have nothing be different. There were a lot of projects to catch up on at work, and with my bouts of illness I’d be off for a few days and get back only to be behind again. It’s very demoralizing to live in constant panic/stress that you’re not going to be able to complete everything. My supervisors and coworkers are very understanding and supportive, but still, sometimes I just felt overwhelmed.
It was also an unpleasant shock to see our election results. Really, people? I am so disappointed in you. Early on in the “race,” when the parties were still deciding which candidates to back, I felt really hopeful. Bernie Sanders was a contender and he really inspired me in a way that I have never been inspired by any other politician. I even donated money to his campaign – unheard of! So, when he lost, that was disappointing, because, although Hillary Clinton did end up adopting some of his proposals/espousing his ideals, she still comes from that big money/corporate political dynasty background (that needs serious revamping), I didn’t think (along with many others, apparently) that she was going to be the agent of change I was looking for. And Trump was a joke. Really, Republicans? That’s all you’ve got? And then he wasn’t. And then it was scary, and now it is terrifying. So, to find, come that November morning, that there were SO many people who couldn’t see what a bad choice Trump was/would be was a really rude awakening. Who are these people? They are some of my family, my neighbors, my friends. Did they not read the same things I was reading? Do they not have similar values? How could they know these things about this man and STILL vote for him?
Since I have only been a passionate and active participant in the last couple of elections (after the embarrassment and horror of George W. Bush I decided it would be prudent to care/vote), I’m not sure if people always feel this way when their candidate loses, or what. This feels particularly bad, though – like we are on the edge of a knife. It shouldn’t be happening. What can we do to fix it? Will someone just make him go away? Trump doesn’t even seem to want to be president (if you can judge desire by the wacko things he says in public). So, how about a do-over? And shouldn’t there be some sort of option on the ballots to indicate that we have NO confidence in or desire to elect ANY of the candidates available to us? If Illinois’ government can stall their agreement on and implementation of a state budget for months, years, then SURELY we can take some more time to find a better president. Maybe one who isn’t going to pander to all of his friends, destroy any goodwill we have toward one another (despite our many, many differences), and bring about the apocalypse through some careless remark.
It has contributed to a sense of unease that I do not really know people (my people, people in general, all the people) or understand their motivations, and they do not know or understand me. It is bewildering and alienating, and probably the exact way that those in power want us to feel. Alone and powerless. But also, increasingly angry. That’s dangerous, too. Because it’s energy I/we don’t know what to do with. I am a fixer and I want to fix it. Not tomorrow, not a few weeks from tomorrow, but now. I can’t see a way to do that. And the people I see as RESPONSIBLE for fixing this aren’t doing enough (or maybe anything?) to fix it.
This is not how I want to spend my energy or my life, and probably why I have avoided news and politics in the past (which are super pleasant and uplifting) and focused my attention on adventure and cute animals. Remember how I mentioned that my priorities/motivations seem to be misaligned with other people’s? Here we go again. I just want to ride my bike, grow things in my garden, raise bees, read and recommend some good books. I *should* want to make a ton of money, generate a ton of waste, buy all the things, fuck all the bitches, do all the drugs, drink all the alcohol, drive and fast and recklessly in my Escalade, and have a staff of yes-men (and women) catering to my every whim. I am not of this world. [I do not know how people maintain the energy, either, to remain constantly outraged. This is a huge problem on social media – like FB – where I can’t even follow some of my friends’ posts because they are constantly liking, posting, and reposting disturbing things. Is it helping? Or is it just spreading misery and making us too exhausted to be truly effective? THE WORLD IS ENDING! /begin random rabbit rant which might be loosely tied to this subject in that it goes along with things I don’t want to know: People also like to tell me, when I inform them that I have pet rabbits that they either had one or knew someone that had rabbits who were horribly mangled in some way by family dogs, or wild animals – if kept outside – or cruel people. WHY WOULD I WANT TO HEAR THIS? Please stop. /end marginally related rabbit abuse rant
It is immensely irritating that we can’t just trust people to be good and not fuck you over as soon as you turn your back. That is what we have elected, that is the sort of regime we have been supporting. Because people with money and power make the world go round.
Even more disturbing is the whole conspiracy theory world that’s come to light – where anyone can believe anything despite evidence to the contrary. This has always been the case, but it seems to have gotten out of control. It seems much larger now than the sort of fringe madness that lurked in dark corners before. So, it no longer matters if you have proof, scientific evidence, research, fact-checking to back up your claims. Just say things a LOT and believe in them ABSOLUTELY and that is enough. Dear world, you are so fucked up I don’t even know what to do with you anymore.
I was listening to an episode of “This American Life” the other day, where Australian Australian writer/reporter Eleanor Gordon-Smith interviewed catcallers about the reasons why they accosted women, and then attempted to get them to change their ways (since statistics and personal experience show that MOST women hate these sorts of encounters – they feel uncomfortable and unsafe and they do not enjoy them). The men she talked with seemed pretty decent, but honestly believed they weren’t doing anything wrong. Even after Gordon-Smith told them how she felt about catcalling (one of the guys was also slapping – or tapping, as he put it – women’s butts). They listened to her, but dismissed her feelings and indicated that she was probably an anomaly (a DAMAGED woman who should probably seek therapy for her ISSUES) and that their perception of the situation was more accurate – women like it. SO wrong. After being upset by that, I ran across an article in Booklist (book review journal): “Make Them Hear You: Rape Culture & Girls Voices in YA Literature,” by Maggie Reagan (Booklist, December 15, 2016, p. 44) Reagan described a conversation she was having with a man at a party about rape culture and all of the things she wanted to say to him, but didn’t.
I wanted to say that when I left that party, I’d do so with my keys between my knuckles and the thumb on the call button of my phone. I wanted to explain that it’s more than that. It’s the catcalls, the endless dialogue surrounding women’s rights, the interruptions and the condescension, the workplace microaggressions. Rape culture, I wanted to say, is people like you telling me that my lived experiences are invalid because they don’t match your perception of the world.
This. So much this. Women are not necessarily broken, but this world sure is.
I am thinking and writing about all of this as I watch the last of 2016 trickle through the hourglass. This ending and beginning are pretty arbitrary. I’m hoping the dread and tired that I feel will be replaced with something more positive, and I’m actively pursuing options to find my optimism and energy. Remember that bumper sticker I had on my car a few years ago? “Losing my faith in humanity one person at a time.” At the time it was just kind of funny, and when a stranger asked me about it and then spontaneously hugged me to restore my faith, it was kind of sweet. I removed it when it started to deteriorate and figured I was taking some of the negativity out of the universe, but man, THIS YEAR.
Thanks for listening.
*The other day a patron asked for classics suggestions for her 13 year old granddaughter to read/listen to. Since they were wanting something they could borrow immediately, I took them over to the audiobooks section where we were discussing some options when grandma had a thought. “What about ‘Tale of Two Cities’?” she asked me. “There’s no sex in that, right?” I couldn’t recall. But would it be appropriate for the 13 year old girl who told me she loved “Divergent” and Marissa Meyer’s Lunar Chronicles series? As I recall, it was kind of a downer of a book. And it’s winter break. And said 13 year old seems to want to read something fun. Is “Tale of Two Cities” fun? I read it in high school, which was 20+ years ago, but in a time where I would read ANYTHING because I wasn’t very particular. But that’s the kind of reader I was. My brother, on the other hand, wouldn’t read anything unless he’d personally hand-selected it. There are far more readers like him than there are readers like me in the world. So, I suggested that they *try* “Tale of Two Cities,” and then I talked them into “Anne of Green Gables,” too, and a couple of other things, and they said they’d be back for more recommendations. I was relating all of this to my coworker who was also trying to come up with suggestions and when I said I pretty much enjoyed everything I read back in high school (novelwise) she narrowed her eyes and asked, “Well, what about Conrad’s ‘Heart of Darkness?'” Oh. Well. No. Not that. That was awful. But maybe I read that in college.