December 31, 2009

2009: what I got

I never explicitly told you this, but my resolution for 2009 was "choose adventure." It was what I told myself when I decided to buy Cookie in December 2008. Choosing adventure as a credo meant that given a choice between action and inaction, the choice was to be action. Adventure was to be taken in ways both big and small. If friends called and said, "Let's go out," then choosing adventure meant saying yes. I wanted a motto rather than a specific goal because I found the idea to be more lifestyle-changing and also more motivating than an individual resolution.

Some adventures I chose (and some that chose me):

bought a horse
went to Disneyland
shot a Winchester rifle
drove through open range BLM roads in Utah
climbed a tiny dead volcano in Hawaii
met Nub
lost Nub
found Nub
walked along the Hollywood Walk of Fame
drove a four-wheeler
swam across the Columbia River
stayed out all night with friends
wrote letters every day for one month
moved in with a roommate
ate cupcakes with my sister in southern California
met Philip Glass
went on a blind date
cut a rug at my cousin's wedding
starred in my own episode of reality TV
soaked naked in a hot tub with friends
worked at the opera, symphony, and baroque orchestra
won ribbons at a horse show
stood on a roof in Manhattan
drank countless martinis
suffered through countless hangovers
got stranded for a night in Honolulu
swam from Sunset Beach to Ocean Isle, NC (and back)
cut my finger open and got baby's first stitches
caught a fast ground ball to second with my knee
went vegetarian for a month
played a role onstage in an opera
participated in a zombie apocalypse
ate a real grasshopper
read a couple books
threw a sweet, sweet holiday party
wrote this blog, sometimes

2009 was an extraordinary year, overflowing with goodness. I cannot tell you how grateful I am for the shape of my life -- the work that I do, the place where I live, all the people near and far whom I have the great privilege to call friends. I hope that 2010 is full of wonder and adventure, peace and affection, satisfaction and contentment, accomplishment and joy. For all of us.

December 24, 2009

home for the holidays

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I'm home in maryland for a few days, enjoying the holidays (and the snow, and the giant hill in the backyard) with my family. merry christmas, everybody.

sled, party of four

December 10, 2009

how far we come

While looking for an unrelated old email in my email archive, I just came upon part of a long dialogue I had several years ago with a friend from high school, one with whom I have been in and out of touch since moving to Portland. (More in than out these days, for which I'm grateful). This email was a response to a very unexpected message I had received from him; in it, he wondered at what point people become who they are, and whether I had been headed down the path I ended up on as early as high school, when we knew each other. His message, at the time, was extraordinary to me, in no small part because I had had a wild crush on him as a teenager. Reading my response, now, is equally incredible; I don't know if I could write something so eloquent and self-assured anymore.


What a nice surprise! And on a day where I am feeling under the weather and a little bit blue, with the worst cold in ages, not to mention horseback riding-related bumps and bruises on important body parts (foot, elbow, tailbone) from being thrown off and trod upon. Ouch, oompf, ugh. But other than that list of ailments, I am indeed alive and mostly well -- as are you, apparently, thankfully.

I believe the last time I talked to you was over coffee and a meal at some diner somewhere -- Towson Diner, probably -- with RF and maybe JA, several years ago in a summer during college. I don't remember what we talked about or how we all ended up in that same place together, but I remember it was pleasant, there was some interesting discussion. I remember R didn't feel he had a place in the conversation, and was sullen afterwards. Oh, those days.

...

I remember knowing that you wanted to get into business, and your reasons for it, and I remember it resonating with me then how different we were; I never would have spun my life in that direction. I was in awe of you, though, although I wouldn't have wanted your goals myself -- I rarely ever reached for one singular goal, and I always had a certain envy for those of you who did. It seemed more admirable than my comparative waffling around.

What I know about my seven-years-ago self is that I didn't have the damnedest idea what I wanted out of my future. I wanted to ride horses and read poetry, drink coffee, have stimulating conversation, move to a new city on my own. I wanted pretty hair and a boyfriend, nice clothes, self-possession. If someone had swooped in on me during my senior year and said "AT AGE TWENTY-FIVE YOU WILL BE AN OPERA LIBRARIAN" I probably would have fallen on the floor laughing. But I ended up in the place I set out for too, though my place is broader and vaguer than yours.

Also, (even though I have them) I continue to want all of those things.

What can I say about it? I was always the way I am, I think. For me I think it's a product of how I was raised. I was always bookish and imaginative, immersed totally in the world of the lonely only child, full of made-up people and fantasy. Also there was an intense focus on play within my small family unit: my best memories of childhood involve afternoons of Around the World with my mom, or sledding, or pretending my bike was a horse. I now have the benefit of understanding how this shaped me, in watching my mom with my two young siblings. Last week she encouraged them to ditch school for a day so they could go to Lexington Market and see the circus elephants. (Surprisingly, they are such "good" kids that they didn't bite! They didn't want to miss school. "Who are these alien children?" my mom asked. She went anyway, with another mom).

Also money was a non-issue. I mean, we were never well-off and I was always wanting things I now know we couldn't afford. But money was just not something I understood as a consideration in life. Maybe not entirely to their credit (I made a lot of my own otherwise avoidable financial mistakes), my family shielded me entirely from the concept of having or not having enough. We did things or we didn't do them, and money wasn't ever brought up as a reason. So I never thought of it as key to any sort of success in life, and I couldn't understand why other people seemed so wrapped up in it. Even now I'm not the kind of person who could take a job I hated in order to make tons of money. I guess the way I see it, my happiness has never been for sale.

This is turning into a long-winded autobiography, which is not what I set out to write, nor what you're expecting, I'm sure. I guess it's my best attempt at explaining why I'm where and who I am. I should warn that it also seems to imply some sort of self-possession, and I'm not sure that's accurate. Yesterday I mentioned your message to my best friend, and said to her, "What if he finds out how crazy I actually am...?!" There are a lot of things in question in my little blue life. I can't imagine myself married, for example, even though I have a boyfriend. I'm just not that settled, and it feels impossible that I ever would be. I'm always amazed at those people I know who are, at our age. It seems like you all found something I am still looking for. Or maybe I would just rather have a dog.

ok, I promise I am wrapping this up. I am really flattered that you seem to think I have ended up in an enviable place, and I'm so glad you decided to write -- it's good to hear from you. I appreciate the opportunity to assess my life in a different light. And I'd love to keep up the conversation. What else have you been up to?

Also, if I had it to do all over again, I would go about everything with more kindness and cheerfulness. Who says there isn't time?

sorry to be so incredibly long-winded (blame it on the cold meds?),
jess

what I understood

When I was a child I understood everything
about, for example, futility. Standing for hours
on the hot asphalt outfield, trudging for balls
I'd ask myself, how many times will I have to perform
this pointless task, and all the others? I knew
about snobbery, too, and cruelty-- for children
are snobbish and cruel-- and loneliness: in restaurants
the dignity and shame of solitary diners
disabled me, and when my grandmother
screamed at me, "Someday you'll know what it's like!"
I knew she was right, the way I knew
about the single rooms my teachers went home to,
the pictures on the dresser, the hoard of chocolates,
and that there was no God, and that I would die.
All this I understood, no one needed to tell me.
The only thing I didn't understand
was how in the world whose predominant characteristics
are futility, cruelty, loneliness, disappointment
people are saved every day
by a sparrow, a foghorn, a grassblade, a tablecloth.
This year I'll be
thirty-nine, and I still don't understand it.

-- Katha Politt

December 9, 2009

the hoof of an unbroken filly

one year ago today, I drove to the barn and dropped off a check for $350, which served as deposit and first payment for my first horse.

before halter class

I didn't anticipate it, wasn't planning on it, and never expected to buy a horse at my age. I thought of horse ownership as something I would do in my thirties or forties, once I had settled down. It was a faraway goal, one that required a great deal of planning, and money, and time. I was 27; I was working four and sometimes five jobs just to stay afloat. "Buying a horse is literally the stupidest financial move I can think of," I told my mother over and over again.

June 6, 2009 horse show: Halter

I have loved a lot of horses in the 13 years I've been riding. Thea, the 3-year-old chestnut Thoroughbred who sailed over jumps and once threw me off four times in a single lesson; Mario, a little gelding who would do anything you asked; PJ, the Appaloosa who was a total jerk but athletic and honest over fences. There was Dalton, a wonderful horse at the dressage barn where I rode in college, and Roxy, the bay mare I once saw throw an 8-year-old and then go tearing around the ring like something had bitten her. Angel and Merlin, Luke and Leia. So many horses but only once -- with Mario -- did the thought even occur to me that they might ever be mine.

Years of lessons on other peoples' horses; a few years of leasing my own:

Toby
(along with the bruise he once left on my foot after he pounced on it while spooking at a tarp)

And then Cookie.
Nub and Cookie
before our first class
Cookie.

When I handed the check to Heather, she gave me a big hug. "Aren't you excited?!" she asked me, grinning. But I shook my head, sheepish. "No," I replied. "I'm terrified!" As I surmised that day, it took me weeks to feel even a glimmer of excitement; I didn't believe I had actually bought a horse. Nothing changed physically: Cookie lived where she'd always lived; there was no trailering or settling in. The transfer of her papers didn't occur until April, after I had paid her last payment. So in those first few weeks it was just an idea. Oh, and also this little blue line:

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But now, of course, she is my horse. One year later, she nickers when I walk to her stall, and has developed an endearing habit of nuzzling me when I'm standing on the mounting block. She does occasionally have her bad days, like this past weekend when she was so upset about another horse leaving the arena that she went careening off in a wild bucking spree; it was the closest I've come in a year to being tossed off her back. But in a year we have worked on fundamental steering and collection; we've been on trail rides and to a horse show, and even on TV.

Despite the fact that buying her was a crazy, ill-advised decision, in one year I have never, ever regretted it.

horse & rider portrait