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Saturday, August 25, 2012

Being Human

It has been an interesting week on the Facebook-front. While it is generally my practice to minimize any and all social media nonsense, and to relegate it to "entertainment" status, I am realizing it really DOES accurately reflect the opinions and beliefs of actual people. Being old and therefore dismissive of social media no longer renders it irrelevant. Scary. This week's hot topic (at least within my FB circle) has been women's rights. It has been a bumpy, scary tour through the various opinions this week, and a very enlightening one. While I prefer to dwell in the realm of fiction, to NOT be angry and to cruise through my life secure in the knowledge that better folks than I are in charge and making sure that all the right things are happening, this is a luxury I don't feel entitled to any longer.

I think I have always been a feminist. Truth be told, it isn't something I ever thought much about. I have always agreed that women should get equal pay and have equal rights on all fronts, but I know that men and women are different from each other and always thought those differences were kind of cool. Equal, but different. Seems like a pretty reasonable assessment, eh?

I read a book called "The Handmaid's Tale"  in college. It was published in 1985. If you want to look it up, its Wiki page is here:  The Handmaid's Tale  Just briefly, here is a line of the description:

"Set in the near future, in a totalitarian Christian theocracy which has overthrown the United States government, The Handmaid's Tale explores themes of women in subjugation and the various means by which they gain agency." 

Back in 1985, to say the themes in this book seemed unlikely is an understatement. I thought there were some really cool, far out ideas within the story (the idea that we would have bank cards instead of checks or cash seemed especially far out and futuristic) but I felt pretty secure in knowing the war for women's rights had been won. A done deal. I no longer feel so sure.

There are people who are not just angry, but actually up in arms about women having rights to their reproductive health. There are organizations that have actually singled out women's health issues as something that should be excluded from insurance coverage. At first, I thought it had to be some kind of a joke. I mean, employers and agencies who provide health insurance for people just provide what is needed, correct? Nobody, I mean nobody would ever tolerate one gender being singled out and picked on for one specific health care need, right? That would just be ridiculous! But it's happening. It's happening under the guise of "women want us to pay for their abortions". Newsflash, angry people: No federal funds are used to pay for abortions. Period. A ruling back in 1976 decided that, and it still stands. The exception is in the case of rape. My opinion here? If you want this to go away, make rape go away. Very simple. Even a caveman could understand it. Well, in theory. But there are people who are angry about women having abortions in the case of rape and would like nothing better than to take that right away. Why? Are there people who are so hell bent on saving fetal life that the life of the woman, the VICTIM, becomes irrelevant?

The part I am having even more trouble with (I mean besides the complete disregard for a living, breathing cognizant human being that's been relegated to nothing more than incubator status) is that those same people screaming "save that baby" won't give a rat's behind if that child goes hungry every night because it's living on welfare. Then it's just another dirt molecule to put down and dehumanize. But hey, it's alive, right? We can all sleep at night knowing we did the "right" thing.

Okay, I don't want to be angry. I am a Christian and don't like the idea of abortion on many levels. I am also a woman, a rape victim, and someone who has more than two brain cells to rub together. It's more than an abortion issue though, it's birth control. Somehow that's up for debate too. Condoms aren't, Viagra isn't; but birth control for women is suddenly a big deal. From my point of view, don't even bother with the Viagra if I don't get my birth control. Just sayin'. It's funny how rarely it's the men left alone to raise the children, isn't it? I've spent half my life as a single parent, as did my mother. Yeah, great judgement men. Can you please make all my decisions for me? And yet when it's time for the government to discuss women's issues, it's a panel of men that's assembled.

Don't get me wrong, I love men. There are some really fabulous guys out there; wonderful Dads, devoted and respectful husbands and all around great folks. I had a grandfather in this category. Even guys I disagree with fiercely are still basically decent human beings at their core. But this isn't a guy thing. A guy can't relate here, and can't understand how incredibly disrespectful it is to make consideration for the woman last in decisions about her own body. It's dehumanizing. Some women disagree with me, and it makes me sad. It makes me sad because if we won't stand up for our own humanity here, we will loose it. This isn't about politics or political leaning (on some level there is a connection, but it's not really the point) this is about being human, and the right to remain so. If you don't want to be loud and obnoxious, don't want to protest or be outspoken, that's okay. Just don't be complacent. Think about it.

Sunday, August 19, 2012

Going "Postal"

Maybe "going postal" isn't the most PC way of describing what I'm doing, but I suppose it's as accurate a description as any (without the semi-automatic firearms and bloody, unfair deaths, of course!). I went back and forth about writing this entry: I'm in a really crappy place and that's not exactly the stuff I want to be projecting outward into the world. But I'm nothing if not honest, and life is a process. It's easy, when times are great and smooth, to forget how tough things can be. It's not a place to wallow and revisit in a tangible sense, but remembering difficulties can be a good barometer at times. I write this fully anticipating the day when I can look back and say, "wow, look how far I've come".

There's no shame in having a tough time. It's not the 'tough time' part that's shameful. The shameful part would be the "Whaaa, poor me, I'm having a tough time and I'm going to just sit here and whine about it...Whaaa!". Doo doo happens. It isn't realistic to walk around all lilty and cheerful when there are real-world things to freak out about. It's okay to acknowledge, "hey, this is kind of sucking and it's really, really difficult. I need to take a moment to process and assimilate this." But something needs to come after, and sooner rather than later. Oh, and BTW, there's nothing new and major, I'm just feeling especially overwhelmed by more of the same ol' same ol' and frustrated to tears (like, for real) by my current inability to move past the same ever-present and stubborn stumbling blocks. The world is a wheel, and sometimes my discouragement is too: My financial situation makes it nearly impossible for me to sort out my panic/anxiety issues, and my panic/anxiety issues make it nearly impossible to sort out my financial woes. I'm not talking a bit of nervousness here folks, we're talking sometimes paralyzing, debilitating fear that makes no logical sense (despite my dogged determination to try to find some logic, and by doing so attempt to control it) and has been a problem for so long that it affects me physically in several...inconvenient...ways. I've lived with it so long that most of the time I have just gone forward doing what I could and pretending not to even notice the things that are beyond my capabilities. And when I throw phrases out there like "beyond my capabilities",  there's never a period after that phrase in my understanding of it. I mean "beyond my capabilities for right now". I'm wallowing today, no doubt, but it's a pity PARTY, not a pity way of life. It has a brief shelf-life because I said so.

As Zen and positive as I'm trying to be about my irrational negativity (see what I did there?), there has been some amusing fallout. I think I scared the CRAP out of another dog owner at the park this morning. He had not one, but TWO loose dogs, neither of whom had any recall and both of which made a beeline for my dog upon sighting him. Don't get me wrong, I am never warm and fuzzy to the "he/she just wants to say hi" crowd (click large DINOS badge at right if you can't imagine why), but this guy hit me at the worst possible moment and I completely unloaded on him. Not that he didn't have it coming. Seriously...TWO untrained loose dogs in a public park with a leash ordinance. WTF?!  But I usually at least manage to get through one of these exhaustingly-frequent exchanges without shouting things like "you inconsiderate GIT!" at people. In fact, I find firmness and assertiveness far more effective than anger and shouting. Oops. C'est la vie.

But a couple of coffees and some deep breathing later, I have at least reconnected with the logical part of myself that manages all of the problem-solving functions. Logic is much cooler than my Irish temper, and I embrace it's return with gratitude, even if it doesn't have any immediate solutions. Not digging a deeper hole is as good a temporary-fix as any;-) Logic likes to perseverate. Not always a good thing, but when it perseverates on finding ways to adjust my attitude, it can be very helpful indeed. It's Sunday. I have the time.

I think if you don't want to be miserable, you won't be. I also think if you are determined to be miserable, nothing can stop you. I know (believe me I KNOW) that misery visits us all; but I would rather turn it away at the door than invite in for tea. I spent my day reading blogs. I read the blogs of all the positive, uplifting, strong, gifted and determined people that I could absorb, and I let their words permeate the veil of  boo-hoo-ness and whaaa and reach the parts of me that they needed to reach. I did my level-best to do away with the "but"'s and allowed myself to be absorbed by the "what if" 's. I still feel like crap, but it's better crap. It's a step forward. If you keep facing and moving forward you can stay ahead of the ground crumbling beneath your feet. Well, at least in theory, right?

So this is the 'gratitude' part; I am grateful to have the tools I need to pull myself out of a hole, and even more grateful for the people, knowingly and unknowingly,  who reach their hands out to assist in that endeavor. Tomorrow is a shiny, bright new day:-)

Friday, August 10, 2012

Warm and fuzzy

Photo: Huffington Po
I've had a bit of a tough week, but consoled myself with a 'time out' and some Olympic dressage. It's the first time in a long time that I can recall watching equestrian events on television, and I haven't seen any dressage in what feels like forever. This year the stars aligned so that the Olympics occurred at a time in my life when I actually have cable. Cool beans.

As thrilling as it was to have the opportunity to watch, I will admit that I was somewhat disheartened by what constitutes Olympic-level dressage these days. I saw more than a few horses working front to back, overbent and tense, with mouths gaping open. I have no doubt in my mind that this is a direct result of Rollkur used in training. Not only was it used in training, but in the warm-up area at the Olympic games, and even on the way to the arena. It is supposed to be an illegal technique, but nothing was done about it by stewards or officials. Shame. I thought I was alone in my disappointment until I read some of the many comments on the FEI Facebook Page . Holy kaka batman, but people are cheesed off! I encourage you to follow the 'Rollkur' link if you are interested in understanding how abusive and ugly it is. It seems like it must be a new-ish thing, as I don't recall it ever being a part of classical training. Of course, I AM old though;-)

I love dressage, or at least what it is supposed to be. When I was first learning about it many years ago, I read a book (two, actually, as I wore out the first one) by Alois Podhajski called The Complete Training of Horse and Rider. I believe it was published in the late 70's, early 80's, and it was a fascinating read for anyone interested, even peripherally, in training a horse. Colonel Podhajski was a pretty amazing dude. He was the director of the Spanish Riding School in Vienna, Austria during WWII and is even credited with saving the Lipizzaners (with the help of General Patton). Here is his wiki page: Alois Podhajski
Even for non-equestrians, the story of Colonel Podhajski and his Lipizzan stallions is an interesting bit of history. He is a man I've never met, but my familiarity with his writing has given me a great deal of respect for this amazing man. His sensitivity to the horse and his compassion jump off every page even as he's describing training techniques in great technical detail. My point is, this man was my first introduction to dressage and he set the bar on most of my experiences and opinions since. One can only wonder what he would think of today's competitive dressage.

So often, "new" is synonymous with "better". This is one of those circumstances when "old" and "traditional" definitely should be the standard.  Dressage is one of those sports that has declined and fragmented as tradition has been left by the wayside. People are replacing common sense, time and sensitivity with rope halters and games. Don't get me wrong, "natural" horsemanship has it's merit, especially in light of what passes for training so often these days, but it seems to be a response to a need to be more kind in the training of horses. If the principles of classical training were still adhered to not only would abusive training like rollkur disappear, but there would be no need to seek more compassionate training methods. I'm just sayin'.  I won't bore you with the details here, but suffice it to say I spend a lot of time watching and shaking my head. To each his own I suppose. I will say that since I was a kid (back when dinosaurs roamed the Earth) that some things HAVE improved. I love some of the new bits. As we've learned and understood more, we've developed more anatomically-friendly bits that can enhance classical methods; bits by Herm. Sprenger and Neue Schule especially come to mind. And I would be lying if I said my old, lumpy self wasn't excited about the development of flexible stirrups like these: system 4 stirrups. Much easier on the ol' bones, especially the knees. But I digress.

As disheartened as I felt about most of what I was watching, one great story did unfold. The gold-medal winner was a young British woman named Charlotte Dujardin, riding her wonderful horse, Valegro (pictured above). Valegro was supposed to go to Charlotte's coach, Carl Hester (also a British team mate) but he loved the pair of them together, so history was made. Not only is this a great story because this wonderful coach let go of his ego and gave a student the opportunity to shine, but she shone without the use of cruel training practices and she WON. Not only did she win, but she did so wearing a safety helmet. At the upper-levels of dressage it is traditional to wear a top hat. Many dressage riders won't even wear a helmet when they train. I am a HUGE advocate of the safety helmet, and am so pleased that this wonderful young rider set such a great example to other up-and-comers by making safety a priority and doing it with style. The story of Charlotte and Valegro was where I garnered most of my "warm fuzzies" this week, and knowing that conscientious folks still exist gives me hope.