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Sunday, April 27, 2008

Required Reading

What could be better for an author than to read, read, read? This is how I justify my long hiatus from a page a day of my own books…by reading and writing essays about other masterpieces.

My son is enrolled in English 1A and being the good mom that I am, I wanted to read the required reading list so he and I could have meaningful and provocative discussions about these extraordinary selections. And have we EVER! Truly it is every parents dream come true—especially parents who write—to have insightful, intellectual dialogues with a teenager about life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness as inspired by Dai Siiji’s Balzac and the Little Chinese Seamstress. Exploring further, I suggested he read The White-Haired Girl, by Jaia Sun-Childers for a memoir perspective on China’s Cultural Revolution.

For extra credit he read A Thousand Splendid Suns, by Kahled Hosseini, the sadness he felt made me want to cry. Every day we wake up in California, USA is such a gift of fate.

Fight Club was a great read as well. The black humor…the plane food…the consumerism as religion. Yikes. And the juxtaposition of China and Afghanistan, yikes again. Gift indeed.

Imagine Tyler Durden on Phoenix Mountain; what would that have been, Book Club? From the boys, to the Seamstress, to the city and beyond? In fact, were there really two young men? Hmmm, perhaps the unnamed narrator was indeed just Luo. And didn’t Luo even hit the narrator…

The last book in the curriculum is A Handmaid’s Tale, by Margaret Atwood, another classic I had not read. Although written 20 years ago, the parallel to our involvement with Iraq, Afghanistan and our own home grown militant Mormon’s in Texas makes one wonder if we have thrown caution to the wind. Banner of Heaven in New England, anything is possible.

Steven hasn’t finished A Handmaid’s Tale yet, so a stimulating discourse is yet to come. Oh, but it will, along with the previous literary jewels to fuel our spirits.

Gail McCallum put together an engaging and highly commendable course of study: Great books, complementary themes and contemporary issues to seize the attention of students old and new.

As a writer, studying these gems, I see again and again the tight, economical use of the words. Only the most accurate will do; embracing the intellect of the reader, propelling the story to its climax, the pay-off for the vested reader, culminating in a sound resolution and the sad, yet final, ‘The End’.

Self-determination is recurrent theme in my own books. Like Luo and the Narrator, in Balzac…, Eloise longs for the formal education denied her. She does not wish to be defined by her possessions as Tyler Durden fears his generation is, but rather by her acts. Most certainly, like Offred and the other Handmaids, Eloise refuses to be a broodmare for the nobility. Facing poverty, disinheritance or imprisonment, Eloise never gives up the belief that she, that women, deserve a voice, too long denied, in the human chorus.

I may never see my books as college curriculum. A bestsellers list is more to my liking. Having a philosophical heart to heart talk with my second born over the virtues of some of the great books of our time…priceless. (Tyler Durden is rolling over in his virtual grave)

Thursday, April 10, 2008



More specifically, my dream horse. The horse I have dreamed about for, oh, at least thirty years or so. The refined version of childhood legend and writer’s fantasy…in flesh and hide…the dapple grey equine companion, Lady Eloise’s Garth.

Except I’m not Eloise, I lack the requisite equestrian credentials to even consider purchasing a true courser. A lively palfrey with an indulgent heart is in keeping with my skill and recreational goals.

And why oh why couldn’t I covet the most basic and noble of equine representatives, the stalwart, hard working, every-man horse, the PBH. They are everywhere in numbers uncounted, the best darned horses anybody ever had. These PBH’s do it all, take home the prizes and play with the kids, performance or pleasure they top the charts. Man’O’War and Seabiscuit, Ginger from Black Beauty. In fact it is an exercise in arrogance that I even label them PBH’s. Truly there is nothing mundane or common about them, for no living, sentient being should ever be categorized, nay discriminated against for the color of their hide. Yet here I am doing it. Holding out for the Dream Horse in living dapple grey Technicolor (ha, that isn’t even color, it is black and white mixed together like Dorothy in Kansas).

There are many ways to classify the PBH. Glorious, colorful descriptions all meant to better distinguish one PBH from other PBHs. Chestnut, sorrel, liver. Now a bay, there is an exotic step up, and a bay with black knees and white feet is beyond PBH. Even dun, dunskin or liver chestnut make for decorative adjectives, for what in the end is indeed a plain brown horse.

I should write a story about a PBH, a heroic, romantic PBH to compete with Hidalgo, and the Black Stallion. A PBH to replace Trigger and Silver in the publics’ conscience. The original Flicka was a PBH, only to be replaced with a black horse the likes of TV’s Fury. Did Hoss ride a PHB in the antiquated Bonanza? I rest my case.

Our first horses came as a pair: black Morgan gelding and flea bitten Arab mare, take it or leave it. We took it! We still have the Morgan. My second horse happened to black, but Dobby chose me as well. With a premature semi retirement for Dobby looming, I created a very specific list for my next, and perhaps last horse (if health and time are very good to us). Grey is on that list, but is not the first criteria.

Of course, two of my favorite R-Wild Horse Ranch horses are indeed PBHs and I would LOVE to own either of those grand equines. Actually, Quincy, in his twenties is older than I want, although still going strong. Scooter (I called him Wishy) is a magnificent chestnut mustang gelding with the look and bearing of his conquistador ancestors. His body and feet may hint at draft, but his head and neck say Spanish. The quadro-lube glide of his gaits murmur Cadillac.

I will continue searching for another trail buddy, arena colleague and round pen partner. A horse I can bond with, an equine looking for a herd leader. Soundness heads the list, with a big, eager walk on the trail. Temperament and work ethic a tandem second place; a horse that wants to get it right, and wants to be with me. We ride some pretty extreme trails and like to picnic with our horses. We play horse soccer and I want to do some jumping—not hunter/jumper, eventing stuff—barrels, low obstacles, fallen logs. I love grooming my horse and ‘spa’ time is a high priority. I don’t compete, don’t need a pedigree or high grade performance horse. Arab, Morgan, Quarter, Mustang, gaited or not, just a plain, good horse, is all I ask, who just happens to be dapple gray.

That said, may I never become so colorblind that I overlook my equine soul mate, if he happens to wear a plain brown wrapper.



There is always a risk buying living things. Some more altruistic beings believe it is immoral to buy or trade in sentient creatures—they may be right. My husband and I do buy or adopt-for-a-fee animals and strive to provide a quality, healthy home with dignity and love. A forever home is our goal, and in thirty-three years we have only re-homed three companion animals, all birds. Our beloved, Phydough is a canine senior citizen, waddling deafly through her days with ever increasing incontinence and cloudy eyes. She is happy to see us and even happier to be fed. Although her tail seems forever stuck at half staff, she wags it with subtle, underwhelming enthusiasm. She is ‘pack’.

Last summer I wrote with vigor and concern about my ‘new’ horse and ‘herd’ member. A little black, Arab gelding stole my heart with his adorable face and joy to have his own person once again. He was older than I wanted at 17-18. As a rescue, he came with little background. I named him Black Diamond; he was a girl’s best friend. Within a month, I realized his real name was Dobby, the resourceful and devoted house elf from Harry Potter. And so it was, and we enjoyed our time together on the trail, in the arena and especially at the ‘spa’ where I could lavish Dobby with all the grooming and foo foo we could tolerate. He was the most adorable horse. Adorable.

Hmmm… He has an incomplete Arab brand. I know he was born in a year ending in a “1”, 1981 or 1991, making him 16 or 26. In November he had his teeth floated and the vet said he was 23. Hmmm…

Winter was harsh this year. Platina got about 13-14 days of snow. This is nothing compared to the Midwest or Northeast, but for Platina—perhaps a record. None of the Ranch horses have blankets and most have no inside privileges. They live like ‘real horses’ growing wooly mammoth winter coats. Dobby has a coat like a rabbit pelt, thick and soft as down. It wasn’t enough. Along with his paddock mate, Mica Morgan, the hooligan food hoarder, Dobby was unable to get enough nutrition. Even with daily supplemental grain in a pen by himself, it wasn’t enough. Dobby withered to a bag of bones, a pathetic stick character of a horse, a threstal. He was stiff, almost sullen when asked to ride. Ever sweet and affectionate at liberty, he was not thriving.

Four months after proclaiming Dobby to be 23, the same vet said I had a 30 year old horse with significant arthritis in both front legs, the lameness extended down to the tips of his hard, black hooves. Dobby was--as I had worried--in chronic pain and starving. How does a horse go from 23 to 30 in four months??? How did a horse go from 17-18, to 23 to 30 in eight months? As most experienced horse people already know, after 15 yrs teeth become less accurate. There is a LARGE fudge factor. Other elements: nutrition, care, living conditions, become more significant. Most obviously, Dobby is a hard, hard keeper, an elder statesman deserving a relaxed and warm dining experience with no competition. I can picture him in a quilted silk smoking jacket by a fire lit hearth, a glass of vintage brandy glowing amber. On an end table a cut crystal bowl of rich, fortified alfalfa cubes. He is reading a book on the care and feeding of humans.

Happily, Dobby is back where we got him, at the “Fat Farm” in Hayfork under the direct care of the woman who rescued him once before. She still believes he in his teens, and no where near 30. In just two weeks of daily weight building vitamin and mineral supplements he is already perking up and running to the gate for his senior banquet. Once the weight is back on, we will try arthritis pain management—not to mask any injuries or infirmities, but to keep him comfortable. Then we will assess his future. I believe semi-retirement is lurking.

The best news is whether Dobby returns to active duty (with a hard keeper regimen and new roommate), limited service (flat work or short trails) or total retirement; he has a place to convalesce with full benefits at a reasonable price, hopefully for the rest of his life. What horse needs a gold watch? They know what time it is. Time for peace, eating, dignity and love.