Saturday, May 30, 2009


Things haven’t been going particularly well for me lately. There certainly hasn’t been anything completely catastrophic and, as has been pointed out to me on numerous occasions and in multiple formats, in the general scheme of things and the course of a lifetime, these current events are mere trifles, speed bumps, annoyances, and uncomfortable memories. Still, I can’t help but feel my characteristic “que serĂ¡, serĂ¡” attitude ebbing away in the midst of these unfavorable situations. My get-up-and-go has got up and went, as they say, and I haven’t been the most chipper individual lately.

Ah well. Be that as it may, things are certainly bound to turn around eventually. I still have much to be grateful for, as I constantly try to remind myself. My late-night readings of Kahlil Gibran and my current view out the window (a yellow field of tall grass bending in waves to the gentle breeze) remind me of that.

But keeping things in perspective—that’s far easier said than done. While I’m in the middle of some philosophical-religious work, I feel elevated to the heights of transcendence and peace and contentment reign. The next day, however, I’ve again sunk into a woe-is-me, the-world-is-ending-so-why-even-bother mope. Bah. I think most of us are guilty of this at some occasion or another, so give me my time to complain and it’ll all work out in the end.

The state Special Olympics are in town this weekend. Yesterday, I saw a group of athletes walking around the mall. My problems suddenly palled in comparison. Three summers ago, I volunteered for 50 hours at a workplace for the mentally handicapped. I had been told that the experience would make me appreciate what I had been given, because these people were always so happy, despite their situation in life. Far from it, I learned, for being so closely involved and interacting on a personal basis with these individuals only served to show me the suffering and monotony that was their daily lives. I was deeply touched by several of them—“Annie” who always gave hugs, “Marlene” who was madly in love with her supervisor, “Greg” who referred to me only as his “buddy.” The managers and supervisors, however, were obviously incredibly burnt-out with their jobs, and their frustration was apparent, giving the whole workshop a stressful, wearisome, uninviting atmosphere.

So, in the end, what right do I have to whine about my roadblocks since, when it comes down to it, I’ve got it pretty damn good? See—typing this out and working through it has me feeling better already. I wish more people would try this little exercise…maybe the world would be a happier place without all of the unnecessary self-pity.

Monday, May 25, 2009

Keeping Up with the Joneses: 2009 Edition

I got a new cell phone on Saturday.

I didn’t need one. There was nothing wrong with my less-than-two-year-old one, save for a few cosmetic scratches on the front and the annoying tendency of the side flaps to avoid sliding back into their proper position. Still, it worked just fine, and since it was capable of making and receiving phone calls, I was happy with it. No need to upgrade.

But after my mom’s phone fizzled out last week and it became clear that I was eligible for a trade-in, the urging of the Sprint employee and the insistence of my father had me examining the display cases.

“What features do you want?” asked the helpful fellow.

“Something that won’t break when I drop it. And that will fit in my pocket when I ride a horse. And, oh, I like to take pictures, but I don’t transfer them to my computer or anything.”

He showed me fancy expandable QWERTY keypads. I don’t text. He showed me large, technologically advanced screens. I don’t watch TV. He showed me fancy Internet features. I don’t connect to the web.

Finally, I settled on a model slightly above the basic line—an upgrade of my old Katana. It came in three colors, but the pink was reminiscent of a certain stomach medication and the silver was unavailable, so I went for the black. “Boring, boring, boring,” said my father, who hasn’t seemed to realize that I’m no longer 10 years old.

On the drive home, I amused myself with picking out a new ringtone (a modernized rendition of Pachelbel’s Canon), then quickly grew tired of my new toy and stuffed it in my pocket, taking the old phone’s place. Meanwhile, my parents struggled to figure out the new features of their high-tech choices, repeatedly asking for my assistance and exclaiming in frustration. Simplicity triumphs again.

But in this era of supposedly increased concern for the environment and renewable resources, why are we so willing to constantly “trade up” for newer, bigger, better options when doing so is completely unnecessary? Far from making our lives easier, it’s simply more complicated and frustrating, as my parents found out. It’s not really a matter of impressing people, either, is it? Is it that consumer culture teaches us that our happiness is tied into constant transience, the pursuit of the newest, coolest, bestest thing? Does our value rest solely in our stuff? Is this Keeping Up with the Joneses: 2009 Edition?

And, of course, it’s wasteful. We’ll be keeping one of the spare phones, but the others will be donated to a charity—perhaps a battered women’s shelter—if we can find one, that is. The store wouldn’t buy them back, as it has no use for them, and didn’t offer to recycle them, either. So much for being green.

To make the situation even more absurd, I’ve had to opportunity to compare it with a completely different cultural outlook. As our roof was badly damaged in this month’s storm (now classified as a “land-based hurricane” rather than a tornado), a crew has been hard at work resetting shingles this week. An Amish crew, that is, who hitch a ride in a driver’s van from their homes several towns over. Although the Amish aren’t an uncommon sight in some areas around here, my interactions with them have been extremely limited. I’m sorely tempted to engage them in conversation about their beliefs, but too shy and embarrassed (not to mention rude and whorish, by their standards, I imagine) to carry out my plan. Besides, where does one begin? How would I respond if a “foreigner” (for although we live geographically close, culturally, we are continents apart) approached me and asked me to explain my fundamental values in 500 words or less? Instead, I checked out a Wikipedia article and pretended that that was all I needed or wanted to know.

I’ve observed them hard at work on the roof, though—all the way from boys of 15 or 16 to a man well into his sixties. They never remove their wide-brimmed straw hats, and they’re much more comfortable speaking amongst each other in Pennsylvania Dutch (at least according to the Wiki article—I can’t recognize the language). They brought a tin can to fill with water from the spigot, and they all share. It’s all so alien to me.

At one point, a man in his forties approached me as I was unsaddling my horse. Earlier they had all been having a good laugh at my expense as the mare spooked over their ladders and refused to come near. The man asked me questions about her, and I gladly answered, happy that we had found a common point of interest and expertise. Even on this subject, however, the discrepancies were notable. He was fascinated by her build, her gait, and the fact that I rode her every day—for pleasure, no less. To him, horses are a necessary mode of transportation, a machine that may be thought of fondly. To me, they’re pets and sources of amusement.

Funny how that is.

Tuesday, May 19, 2009

The Proverbial Rock and a Hard Place

I’m between the two.

My dilemma is thus, and if anyone has any advice, please pass it along. I’m stumped and most horrifically confuzzled.

Without giving too much information away, I was recently hired to work as a horse trainer. My employer has proven to be nothing but kind. However, there is a situation with her large herd of horses that is quite troubling. They are all suffering from an obvious medical issue, and she doesn’t seem to be aware of it. It predisposes them to severe problems affecting health, comfort, longevity, usefulness, and monetary value. Several of them are already suffering crippling consequences, and the owner is neither particularly concerned nor aware of the extent, seriousness, or even possibly the identity of the problem. I have tried to gently coax her in the right direction, but she is not inclined to heed my advice, since she has decades of experience on me. For several of the horses, this is a veterinary emergency requiring immediate treatment. For the rest, they need drastic intervention to prevent them from going down the same path as the unfortunate few. I can’t stand by and let this happen, yet at the same time I don’t want to offend my employer, make myself into an obnoxious uppity whippersnapper, or lose my job.

Of course, there are several paths I could take here.

The emotional side, unchecked: Call the ASPCA and the veterinarian and the sheriff! I can’t bear to see an animal in such obvious stress and pain without reporting it to the authorities! OMGOMGOMG!!!11!!

The practical business side: This ain’t my problem. Keep the ol’ trap tightly shut.

The rational side: I have a moral responsibility to act in the best interest of the animals, but I must balance it carefully with my duties to my employer. I can only take baby steps and hope that by the time my advice sinks in, it’s not too late.

The common sense side: Um, why am I posting this potentially incriminating information on the Internet?


In other equine news, pictured at the top of this post is the new horse we bought for my mom. The shopping process was long, frustrating, and at times heartbreaking, but I won’t get into that here. The light at the end of the tunnel was this boy. I wanted to call him Fabio, for obvious reasons, but my mom decided on Sawyer.

Thursday, May 14, 2009

That Missionary Zeal

Last Monday, I had the opportunity to speak to Jessica Valenti, author of Full Frontal Feminism (which I discussed in a post several months ago) and co-founder of We read the book in my Women and Gender Studies class, in large part because Valenti was slated to speak at a convocation event in April. We were to listen to her speech, then follow it up with a private lunch where we could ask her questions and engage her in dialogue. Unfortunately, she became ill and had to cancel the event. With the end of the school year rapidly approaching and no time to reschedule, we opted for a phone chat, instead. So, after extensive planning, our large class huddled around an odd contraption for a teleconference.

It started out poorly. None of the students had prepared questions, and there was an awkward silence punctuated by our professor’s whispered, “Does anyone have anything to say to Jessica?” Valenti took pity on us and launched into a spiel about her new book while we worked hard to gather our thoughts. Then the conversation turned lively. Interrupted only by doorbell-ringing and dog-barking at Valenti’s home, we threw a string of questions and comments at her, often causing her to pause and think carefully before responding.

One girl asked her how she handled all of the negative attention she received for her very public feminist work. “I’m in therapy!” came the quick reply, accompanied by not-quite-sincere laughter. “No, seriously, I am. It’s hard…the weekend after my appearance on The Today Show, I received 500 hate mails. Five hundred emails in two days. It’s really difficult to deal with, but there comes a point when you turn to your friends for support and you realize it’s not worth worrying about. You can’t engage these people in dialogue—there’s no point in trying, because they don’t want to hear it. Don’t waste your time and reason arguing with them.”

I mulled this over for a moment, then overcame my shyness and leaned forward to speak. “Then how do you reach those people?” I asked. “The ones who are sending you hate mail—the ones who are so resentful—those are the ones who most need to hear your ‘message,’ right?”

“Well,” she said, “if they’re reading and responding so vehemently, that means they’ve heard your message. Otherwise they wouldn’t be writing at all—in effect, you’ve already reached them.”

This didn’t satisfy me.

But how do you answer that very difficult question?

I have found in my limited experience that even the most close-minded and angry of people will eventually cede somewhat and listen to the point they so strongly detest. Often they’ll consent that their opposition has a point, and if both parties can provide solid evidence to support their claims, they’ll be able to respect one another, agree to disagree, and coexist peacefully. Obviously, this is not always the case—far from it, in fact. I wish more people would be willing to give the method a try, though…the world would be a much more peaceful place.

But the next point is more of a philosophical one. How do we know that our ‘message’ is the right one? Feminism (or sexual equality/ egalitarianism, to use slightly less provocative terms) seems to be intuitive, a no-brainer for so-called progressives and liberals. But what about other topics? I can’t help but be reminded of the missionary mindset—the certainty that one knows the only right answer and has a responsibility, nay, a duty to spread the word and enlighten the poor, uneducated, uninformed masses. The absolute certainty of the superiority of one’s beliefs—it’s a thought that makes me cringe.

Reason, of course, can be employed to determine the validity of an idea, but we should still take care to avoid the trap.

(I apologize for the nonsensical ramblings. I just worked an eight and a half hour day, and I took a nasty final yesterday. That’s my excuse for incoherency.)

Friday, May 8, 2009

A Cruel Wind Bloweth

Today was supposed to be the last day of instruction before finals week. Two of my four classes were cancelled, so I planned a leisurely day. I’d get up at 8:15, eat a good breakfast, attend the review session for the upcoming (and much-feared) American Chemical Society comprehensive examination, and get home in time to assist with the pre-purchase exam on our new horse and help the vet check Bones, as she’s been limping pitifully for the past few days. It should have been a good day, and hopefully some of the ongoing equine health issues would have been resolved.


I woke up just a few minutes before my alarm was set to go off, vaguely aware of an ambulance. “Odd,” I thought groggily. “You don’t usually hear ambulance sirens out here.” But the sound didn’t fade, and as I drifted slowly into consciousness, I realized that the sound was in fact the tornado alarm. The background noise was rain smashing into my window. Fully awake now, I vaulted from my bed and peered out the window to check on the horses’ status. It was so foggy and dark outside that, coupled with my lack of glasses or contacts, I couldn’t see a thing. I stumbled down the hall and woke up my mom. “The storm siren’s going off,” I said. “Get Sawyer in the barn!” she replied, so I ran out in the rain to grab the horse and put him in a (hopefully safe) stall. I slipped in the mud and almost fell, and as I tore back towards the house, rain crashed down around me, and the wind whistled ominously. Lightning flashed and thunder rolled. I was starting to get a bit worried.

I wondered whether or not it would be safe to go to school. As I weighed my options, the power flickered, then went out. The phone lines were dead. The sky was black. Then the roaring wind suddenly stopped. I usually keep my calm in situations like this, but I couldn’t help feeling a bit panicky. I went to find my mom, and she was staring out the window, watching shingles fly from the roof and smash into the front yard as the wind picked back up. The legs supporting the decorative windmill snapped, and the whole tower collapsed to the sidewalk. The purple martin house bent on its stand at a perfect 90-degree angle. The house shook.

We took the dogs and hid out in the closet beneath the staircase. Every so often she would go out to check on things, and come back with a dire report. The door I sat against was vibrating violently. The sound of the wind and rain was unbelievably loud. Then the fire alarms starting going off, in that obnoxious way of fire alarms (a shrieking squeal punctuated by a woman’s voice calmly repeating, “fire, fire”). The culprit turned out not to be a lightning strike, as I had feared, but rather water leaking in from the roof and soaking the wires in the ceiling. The carpet was flooded. Water streaks ran down the furniture and across the ceiling. The stone on the fireplace looked like a natural waterfall, with a vivacious spring bubbling from its surface. It was the strangest thing I’ve seen in a while.

Outside, after things had calmed down, we surveyed the damage. Shingles littered the yard, the road, and the neighbor’s pasture. Many objects were either broken or tilted haphazardly. One of the barn doors had blown completely in to a symphony of shattered glass and busted beams. The door on the other end was badly bent, bowing outwards in a strange convex shape. Debris and rain and torn into and through the barn—it’s a miracle that the one stalled horse wasn’t injured. I can’t imagine how terrifying that must have been. Judging from the splintered wood and uneven flooring, the entire barn must have been lifted in the air and then set back down, destroying the structural integrity without actually collapsing the structure.

The pasture, too, was a mess. Besides being horribly flooded, many trees had fallen, littering the ground with huge sharp limbs. Some branches had fallen across the fence, and other trees had split right down the middle. A magnificently large black walnut had uprooted itself completely, while another giant tree had collapse right onto our electric fence, bending and/or breaking several posts on its way down and stretching the ropes to the ground. With no power and no height to the fence, nothing is holding the horses in right now. Hope they stay.

Well, I spent a good chunk of the morning helping my parents with cleaning up and assessing the thousands of dollars worth of damage (missing, of course, the studying that I so desperately needed, but that seems like a pretty minor issue now). The only consolation is that all of the horses survived and appear to be on four sound legs—with the exception of Bones, who is actually much worse today. But now the vet can’t see her, because her barn lost its roof and her house is completely flooded. She’ll have to gimp around for at least another day. Poor horse. Poor house. Ugh.

But such is life. Nothing to do now but pick up and move on.

Friday, May 1, 2009


I’ve been hearing a mockingbird sing like crazy lately whenever I make my way through the potholed Shewmaker parking lot. The asphalt there is so riddled with divots and holes that it just about gives me whiplash to drive through it, and with all the rain we’ve been having lately, it’s currently a spectacle of raging rivers and stagnant lakes. "Shouldn't our tuition money be going towards fixing the parking lot so we don't die on our way to school?" a friend asked me the other day. The bird doesn't seem to mind, though, and he keeps singing his heart out, alternating and switching every few seconds to a different loud call. Every time I walk past I look for him up on the radio tower or the telephone lines, but I never actually saw him until Wednesday. He was perched on a high limb of a flowering tree, puffed up in cocky pride, warbling as loud and clear as he could. Then he took off in flight to a blur of white-barred wings, tail fanned cheerfully, still singing although airborne. I had to chuckle at his confidence. “I hope you find a girl,” I told him, amused. “You deserve it.”

I don’t think I would have even been able to identify a mockingbird either by appearance or voice just last year, but after seeing them out here in the country, I’ve realized that they’re dedicated city-dwellers, too, and they seem to particularly love Drury’s campus. It’s funny that after being shown something obvious, you suddenly become aware that it was always there, present in your subconscious, waiting for you to notice.

Mockingbirds always seem so earnest, but there’s a peculiar quality to their song. It’s not authentic, I guess, it’s an imitation, a phony, a fake. The birds are cheeky little thieves, nature's downloaders of pirated music, the famous pop stars who get all the credit but don’t write their own lyrics. A line, as from a song or a poem, came to me—I don’t know if I made it up or heard it somewhere—“It was just me and the mockingbird, singing a borrowed tune.”

Seems like I had a point to this when I started out typing, but I can’t for the life of me recall what it was….I blame the last week of class and finals, which will be here shortly. Yep, that must be it.

And how cool is the picture? It’s a mockingbird…made out of elementary school students.