Where my neighbor sees unkempt weeds, I see a meadow that provides shelter and food for the many wild things that share our property.
Where a friend sees a messy floor, I see happy dogs playing and chewing up bags and boxes that cost me nothing.
Where someone else sees a dead tree, I see a snag that provides perches for birds who want a clear view of their surroundings.
Where my neighbor sees a pile of composting horse manure, I see rich nutrients for the garden that feeds me, as well as a ‘diner’ for birds, and a playground for my dog.
Where some horse people see wasted years in a six year old gelding who has not yet been ridden, I see a journey with a challenging horse that has resulted in a bond that those critics will likely never experience.
In this challenging time, it is important to keep things in perspective. Perhaps this is a time to actually reassess our own perspectives on everything. Life is messy. My place, by many people’s standards, is messy. Yet, where others see problems, I see joy. Joy in the birds that sing all around me. Joy in the puppies that play at my feet. Joy in the horse who trots up to greet me, and now happily joins me in our ‘work’ together.
Short of a tragedy, if something makes you unhappy, annoyed, or generally displeased – it is not really about that thing, but about your perspective. Try changing your perspective, and perhaps you too will find joy in the messiness of life!
My driving odyssey begins, strangely enough, in my eighth year. Try, try , try, I could not read the blackboard in school. Next step, see an eye doctor and discover I was deeply near sighted. The one moment I vividly remember is waiting for the bus, sporting my new glasses, and looking down at my feet…oh my god, I could see individual blades of grass! (Of course that is not what I said, horrors, not in those days!) Thus began my lifetime relationship with an extra “appendage” on my nose.
Fast forward to 1954 when I was old enough to begin the road to driving. The country was coming out of a time when not all women were drivers, and those that were drove only when their husband was not in the car. There were brave outliers, or single working women (generally looking for a husband). However, the general consensus was women drivers were a danger, or comedic, or both on the highway.
If a male character had a traffic accident or fender-bender in a comedy made before 1970, a woman driver was most likely the cause. And if the mom of a pre-1970 Dom Com got behind the wheel, it was all but guaranteed she’d come home with a crumpled fender and an improbable story that completely exonerated her by shifting the blame to another driver or perhaps a tree which lunged out into the street at her.from TVTropes
Slightly before I actually applied for a learners permit, someone, I believe it was my older brother, let me try driving on a forest road in the backwoods. As I recall the car ended up nose to nose with a bush. Thus ended his desire to teach little sister to drive! The next move was visiting the DMV with my father and going through the paper work to start legally learning to drive. This included reading the eye chart with glasses perched on my sensitive teen years nose prompting my father to explain to the agent that his daughter was blind as a bat. Imagine how the feeling of denigration and unworthiness washed over my youthful self! The next nail in my desire to drive came when a female relative applied for her license and failed the test. She ultimately qualified, but the damage to my psyche was complete. No driving, and I could avoid being laughed at, feeling inadequate and altogether stupid.
So, I did not drive until my late twenties when the army let my husband go, and he spent his release money on an aged Jaguar (that we later had reason to believe had been used for smuggling pot!) He patiently worked with me on honing my driving skills, and wonder of wonders, I took my driving test in a Jaguar and passed first time!
By now women drivers were quite common and actually expected to be ferrying their kids around. Life intervened, including separation, divorce and loss of a Jaguar to drive. Instead I became a Pony Club mother/leader and purchased a mini pickup to ferry animals, kids, tack, jump poles…you get the picture! One shining moment was carrying a pick up bed full of kids up the side of Mt. Diablo to the kitchen building. There was always a line for our “taxi”, out in the open air on a mattress in the truck bed!
The real challenge was my daughters first vehicle, an old, commercial van that she purchased for $500 and promptly named Charlie. It was great for pulling her horse trailer, and she drove it beautifully. Being the only vehicle I had available while she was interning overseas was difficult, to say the least, but I overcame my anxiety and limited my driving to a bare minimum! Not to say it didn’t cause embarrassment. Charlie coughed out fumes fairly often when waking up, and one day I made the mistake of starting him in a local mall without checking the rear view mirrors. I believe the poor lady walking past our back end was a bit surprised, and not in a good way!
Ultimately that morphed into a pink pick-up truck my daughter acquired that was…barely…capable of pulling a two horse trailer. My big brother took one look and asked my daughter “what does your mother think about driving that truck?” It probably seemed impossible that his wimp of a sister could even drive such a vehicle (he had never seen the van), much less love it, as she assured him I did (it was so much easier than Charlie! Not to mention physically more comfortable!). I had become the regular hay-pick-up driver on weekends, while my daughter worked horses or repaired the barn destruction caused by said animals! That continues to this day, only now my vehicle is a bit larger, silver Dodge Ram pick-up.
I began by eschewing driving any vehicle at all. Much of the reason for that attitude stemmed from my early observations of how women drivers were viewed, how girls with glasses were teased and denigrated, and fear that I would fail the test as my relative did. Unfortunately I was not equipped with the defiant determination and bravery of the early feminists, or perhaps I lacked sufficient motivation to drive a car. There is no question that my late entry into becoming a driver impacted my confidence level to some extent, made me a bit more cautious (no, I do not dawdle, I drive the speed limit but obey signs and laws), and kept me humble enough in that respect to avoid joining the “I am such a good driver I can weave through traffic, do illegal U-turns, etc.” club.
I allowed societies view of women during that era to affect the trajectory of at least one aspect of my life. My daughters generation was fortunate to live in a different time. She was expected to drive and took Driver’s Education and Training in her school, obtaining her license at 16 and taking over our car from that moment! How the times have changed…except, of course, where they haven’t.
No, this is not a political rant, it is a statement on body mechanics, my body mechanics to be precise. It also touches on life issues, and, yes, some of what I have learned can, philosophically, be applied to the body politic.
Decades ago I was informed by a physician that one leg was shorter than it’s mate and it was amazing that I could walk so well. The solution was for every pair of foot wear to have an eighth of an inch added to the right shoe. (Note: Jackie Kennedy had the same condition and every pair of shoes had a slight lift added to one shoe). After one attempt to fulfill that prescription I gave up. What the heck, I had spent over thirty years with no clue about my “disability”. It stood to reason I could continue on in blissful denial, and so I did into my senior years.
My daughter grew up working her way into riding horses. Cleaning stalls, working on goat farms, ultimately driving a rural paper route. As I made the fast track into my fifties she maneuvered me into riding with her and learning the elements of Dressage, the thrill of jumping and the absolute peaceful, relaxation of riding on a trail through natural habitat. Full confession, my body is not a naturally, graceful dancing machine. There is a stiffness built into my gene structure that was absent in my daughter’s DNA. Regardless of what you may hear or think you know, an agile body and an agile mind are great components for becoming a comfortable and happy equestrian. My comfort level and ability grew as she molded my bodies abilities. I will not elaborate on the exasperation on one side and frustration on the other as the journey continued! But we conquered, and I became an able rider. Then came the years when we could not ride for various reasons. My body aged, I worked at a desk until my mid seventies, and suddenly there was a horse, a home and an arena. And my skills had disappeared. Back to frustration at the lack of balance…until…my daughter noticed I was always tipped to the right. It became evident even as she watched me walking that I put all my weight to the right. It became a mantra for us, “lean left mom”, or I would be in the barnyard feeling tired and think “lean left”. The feel in my body would immediately become more relaxed and energetic.
Through all of that I discovered the importance of balance in the body whether riding or walking. More importantly it made me consider balance in life. Take a teeter totter, put a 200 pound man on one side and a 30 pound kid on the other…there is no balance. The same with your daily life, too much focus on work can be detrimental to your health. Too much focus on play can bankrupt your family! You can also apply balance to your diet (moderation is king), your language, the use of social media! Extrapolate that to the political scene. Too far right and you have an authoritarian dictator, too far left and you have a government controlling the entire economic structure of the citizenry, to their detriment.
I have learned that nuance, moderation and balance are paramount. My mantra continues to be “lean left”, carry my walking stick in the left hand, bring my left shoulder down and back, keep my life balanced. Because if you lean too far in one direction , you could fall off the horse!
Remembering my fights with big brother 70+ years back I must have been a feminist before the term was invented. My feeling as a young girl held that I was, and should be, as important and respected as my big brother. Life slapped me in the face a bit over that belief as time went on, but if the “was” got a bit tattered, the “should be” remained.
In the forties and fifties young men were taught to open car doors for their dates, which involved getting out, shutting the driver side door, walking around the car and opening the passenger side, while his date waited for the door to open. As a child I had always opened doors for myself. It was a difficult task schooling myself to wait for…essentially “permission” … to disembark. Happily the young man I married seemed to feel I was healthy enough, strong enough, and capable enough to open my own doors! After eighty years of living (many of those decades on my own raising our daughter after his abandonment) I can fault him for many things, but he respected my independence, my intelligence, and treated me as an equal partner. Perhaps that gave me the groundwork for my belief system as an adult.
Which brings me to my experiences as a mature student at the University of Washington. The red nosed elderly chair of the Audiology department, who stated that women did not do well in his department, was a dinosaur, but normal among older males for the time. On the other hand, the Principal of the grade school where I student taught was a woman. Her mantra was that I needed to be in late evening meetings where I had no vote, no voice, and all I could do was sit and listen, while my young child was home alone. “We have lots of latch key children here” was her statement when I tried to get dispensation, or even leaving early. I rode a bike the few miles to the school each morning. I chose to wear trousers for obvious reasons, and was informed that was improper. This was in the mini-skirt era, and ended with my wearing a dress over the slacks, and abandoning the slacks upon entering the school. Also being very aware of bending over in the classroom!
I did think those were incidents in the past and women had finally come out of their cocoons, until I was working at UCD. My supervisor was a very nice woman who helped me immensely as a graduate student and employee, but the one conversation among all the women that has never been forgotten pertained to so called feminism. “I like having the door opened for me…I like the men to stand when I enter a room…I won’t give up the little niceties”.
To my male acquaintances, you have no need to stand when I enter your space. As an octogenarian I still open doors for people if I am in front of the pack, I would be happy to give my seat to a person of either gender if they are frail, handicapped or stressed. Equality to me means equal in responsibility to be helpful, understanding and kind, equality in legal rights, as well as equal opportunity and pay for identical job duties. Some may remember the old saw that males had to support families and therefore needed more money, women were just making extra dollars, which enabled prospective employers to offer less salary to females: married, single, or widowed with children.
The norm was supposed to be woman in the kitchen, man in the office. This is the norm that many people, both men and, unfortunately, many women, would like to see resurrected in our social structure. I believe it is an underlying (sometimes not quite understood) motive behind the vehement “pro-life” screamers and greatly injurious laws to allow rapists, who impregnate their victim, access to the subsequent child; to force preteen children to carry their abuser’s child to term, or to require invasive procedures before permitting an abortion. For many men it is a matter of control. For many of the women it goes back to that patriarchal era when women had babies and men took care of their women .
My mother was a “Rosie the riveter”. Those women contributed immensely to helping our armed forces win WWII, and were immediately discarded upon the return of our troops. Women had a baseball league during the war to fill in for male players then soldiering. That was allowed to fail as the men returned. It has been a long hard slog to emerge from the kitchen, put on shoes, have our babies when we were ready to become moms, and choose how many children we wished to raise.
We have, and are, evolving and earning our place in the working world, gaining slightly in the political and power structures, and shedding light on abusive practices toward females that have long stayed underground. Nevertheless, the forces that abhor those changes and gains are still out there, and hitting back in egregious and harmful ways whenever possible. That reaction among some men, perceiving their control diminishing, I fully understand… though it saddens me. That reaction among women, in particular white women, is both puzzling and distressing. Why do we want members of our sisterhood beaten down? Why do we want to force our religious/moral/ethical beliefs on women we do not even know? Have we discarded the idea that an individual should be able to make their own choices, decide what is right for themselves, so long as they do not intrude on their neighbors safety or comfort? If so, who are the “deciders” that will tell us how to live our lives…old white men?
The warriors in this battle for equal respect and opportunity have been the feminists, and strangely many women who have denied being “feminists”…actually are! Do you work? Do you feel you are worth as much as the man doing the exact same job? Do you own property, and believe you have the right to do so? Do you like being able to sign for your own loans without daddy or some male relative co-signing the document (I had that happen to me in 1970, not that long ago)? Do you believe women should be able to do whatever job they choose (provided they are qualified and capable) such as astronaut, pilot, etc.? Then you are a quiet feminist. Those are rights that some personages would like to revoke and move you back into the kitchen, barefoot and pregnant.
What is wrong with women who lean toward blustery, older, white men rather than a well qualified, pragmatic, strong woman? We are faced again with, not one, but multiple strong women. And guess what? An old, sometimes comic, often misspeaking, huggy
bear, white man is leading the democratic pack , along with a grouchy, old, angry, white man. A lot of this is due to women, this time both white and black women, who identify the first with President Obama and feel he is “Uncle Joe” and will take care of them. The second has created a cult like persona similar, but on the opposite end, of our president. So I ask again, why do so many women reject the idea of handing power to a highly intelligent, empathetic sister woman, and embrace misogynistic or sexist patriarchs? And why do so many women flinch from the feminist idea of equal opportunity, equal respect? Those women who were force fed and tortured trying to get all women voting rights saw a future where women were as valued and respected as men. Sadly that vision is still far in the future. A large segment of our citizenry, many of them women, still cannot accept the idea of a female in the White House and are perfectly willing to idolize as president an old man who brags about “grabbing pussy”.
So, at the age of eighty, I am still searching for the value and respect that my brother received from the day of his birth. No little girl should be regarded as less important than her brothers, or less likely to be successful at whatever she chooses to do in life. No woman should be told females “don’t do well in my” department or class, both of which were my experiences. Hopefully those women who have fought against such equality will discover their own value, join their sisters of all religions and ethnicities, and fight for the life, choices and freedoms their daughter’s deserve to inherit.
I have loved Christmas for 80 years. That love has changed of course. As a child the excitement comes from the magical tree and lovely, wrapped packages to open. As an adult I found joy in two things, finding items that might bring a smile, a chuckle or a tear to the recipients eye, and lights filling the dark streets with color. Yes, it is presented as a
celebration of Christ’s birth, but I have known that to be something of a myth since my teen years. It is a historically accepted fact that the Christ child was not born in December. He made his entrance, by all accounts, sometime between March and September. Biblical evidence seems to back that up with references to shepherds watching there flocks, and the time of year a census would have been taken. Actually, as I am sure many of you know, the early Christians stole their celebratory practices from multiple countries, cultures and religions.
One can start with the date that was chosen for the birth story. The Roman Saturnalia was probably celebrated on or around December 25th…coincidence? There were many communities that celebrated mid winter with gatherings and festivals. The winter was dark and dreary, with agriculture on hold for spring. Light and fire was a natural counter point to that, with communal gatherings, feasting and exchanging gifts a way to connect and bring joy to the season. Gift giving apparently was a New Year’s tradition, until the Victorian era when the Queen gave gifts to her family on Christmas Eve, which changed the trajectory of gift exchanges!
As for the war on Christmas, that began centuries ago. The Puritans banned Christmas from New England for a quarter of a century, and under Cromwell all celebrations of saints were banned in Britain, including Christmas. According to this administration we can now say ” Merry Christmas ” again…very strange, since I do not remember a year in which I felt constrained in that respect!
It is true that Christmas has changed, and in ways I am somewhat sad to see. During the last recession Christmas lighting seemed to take a down turn and the lovely, lit homes I so adored began to recede into darkness. Happily this year has seen a slight resurgence in outdoor home displays.
Over the years finding the popular sold out gifts and enticing sales have taken a front seat to finding joy and love. Anxiety and chaos now reign in a season that should be fun and relaxed. We often find gifts all year long which we hold until the big day, which helps take the stress out of last minute shopping. Unfortunately my family mandated a few years back that we would no longer exchange gifts. Since I live so far from my brothers, and delighted so in finding objects which I thought they might enjoy, that was and remains a disappointment.
I use the word season deliberately, because in my mind, call it what you will…Kwanzaa, Saturnalia, Solstice, Hanukkah, Midwinter Festival or another name you may choose, to me it is always a time for lights and caring for each other,
including the vulnerable among us. To the Christians it should mean helping the less fortunate since Christ considered that his mission, and surprisingly many other religions also see that as an attribute. For myself, I was raised on Christmas, and myth or not it will always be framed by lights and love, hopefully bringing awe to children’s eyes and joy to the hearts of all.
Happy New Year to everyone, may it bring you happiness and lead into another wonderful midwinter celebration of Christmas!
I have been targeted by bullies most of my life. That may come as a surprise to those who have confided that they found me intimidating prior to getting to know me. I credit these opposing ideas to the fact that I am typically the quiet person in a room. For some, being quiet is a sign of weakness; for others, a sign of strength and confidence. In school, the quiet loner is typically the target of bullies – and, from my experience, the same holds in the world of adults. My lifetime of dealing with bullies has proven one thing – the idea that they are strong is a complete fallacy.
Comments on the social media have become so inflammatory one wonders what has happened to civilized discourse. Most disturbing are those on the far right threatening civil war, essentially stating they have armaments and would not hesitate to attack fellow citizens in order to rule the country their way. On the opposite plain are the far left, answering that they also are armed and prepared to fight back. All this testosterone may sound strong, macho and “romantic”, but it also points out our ignorance of the ramifications of war. Good lord, we have seen the results of genocidal wars, religious wars, our own civil war….which, unfortunately,
only those interested in history and how it affected the common person have a clue regarding the cost to our citizenry. War, to repeat a famous iteration, is hell. Children are killed, women are raped and killed, the so called soldiers seem to enjoy torturing those they capture, and your very nice, human neighbor becomes an inhumane killing machine.
The majority of our citizens, whether leaning left or right, want a pleasant life: housing, groceries, security, a good job, and the ability to assure their families are well cared for.
After WWII we seemed to have learned the lesson of helping surviving states to rebuild and help their citizenry prosper, seeing that as a road to peace and a pleasant life for all world citizens.
Along the way there were many missteps, including the McCarthy witch hunts, unnecessary wars (or police actions), and ignoring the needs of our own underclasses. Nevertheless we made progress, finally separate but equal was addressed as the false equivalence it was, women were making incremental advances in the work force, females were given more control over their lives and their bodies.
As a young child I was taught civility, politeness and respect for others. I loved studying our history, good and bad. I was aware of some of the arguably evil things our forefathers accomplished, but saw how those actions were balanced by moving forward toward more humane policies and better understanding of our neighbors, those on our block and those across the water. After learning about the holocaust and how thousands of innocent people suffered torture and brutal death it was hard to imagine how an entire nation could allow that. The unimaginable is becoming more imaginable, and one can see the depth of the rot within. Over and over I have read or heard that our country could not, would not, be overturned by outside attack. We could only lose our freedom from forces within. Those inner forces are what turned Germany into the dark nation the world had to overcome, those same inner forces are evident today, dimming the light of our once bright land. I can only pray that Lady Liberty’s torch will one day be the brilliant symbol of hope that it once was.
“And how can we ever get back from this dark place? From this childish, binary way of engaging with and talking about those we disagree with? How do we live with those who have embraced this breakdown of civil society to such an extent they feel free – emboldened even – to express their racism and anti-Semitism, their misogyny and homophobia, their angry, righteous ignorance publicly and with impunity? I really grieve for what has been so carelessly and thoughtless thrown away. For all those carefully constructed bridges between people, communities, countries, ways of life and thought, which have been burned, or are about to be burned, down. So when I look to the future my question is; will it ever again be possible for us not to be angry all the time?”
From an article in The Irish Times
Eimear McBride is the author of A Girl Is a Half-formed Thing and The Lesser Bohemians. She has won the Goldsmiths Prize, the Baileys Women’s Prize for Fiction, Desmond Elliott Prize and James Tait Black Memorial Prizee.