Monday, February 27, 2012

Two Things, One Being the Monoculture

First, a bit of a product endorsement.  

Steven Blassingame and his Aspire products have been around for 16 years, but they were new to me when I found Steve on LinkedIn.  He was looking for outlets for his natural animal care products, and was kind enough to send me samples of his Pond Water/Stock Tank cleaner and his natural equine shampoo.  It's been too cold to start shampooing yet, so that review will have to wait, but the tank cleaner has had ample time to do battle with the crud that grows in my 100-gallon tanks in direct sun with de-icers helping the bacterial growth to full bloom.  

After about a month of regular weekly use, I can honestly say that my experimental tank is far cleaner than it's ever been before, and it puts the untreated tank to shame.  The untreated tank is slimy, yucky-smelling, and has to be dumped and scrubbed once a week.  The cleaned and treated tank went three weeks without requiring any additional care.  

The untreated tank with yuck intact

After three weeks the tank above required cleaning again, but it was still in fairly clean condition, so I will be buying more of this natural tank cleaner come spring time when the tanks blossom with all the bird droppings and dead bugs to feed the growth.  Thanks Steve!  Can't wait to try the shampoo on the brown crud caking my white mare's coat.  Now, there's a test!

 Monoculture:  How's Your Story Coming?

A few posts ago I talked about your personal mythology and how it affects your horse life.  This time around I want to add a book recommendation:  Monoculture:  How One Story is Changing Everything This isn't a horse book.  It's a sociology/psychology/cultural anthropology book that I am sure will wind up a staple on the shelves of well-read humans.  I knew after the first chapter that R.S. Michaels was speaking straight to me.  She had me at the opening quote from Ben Okri that says, in part, "Beware the stories you read or tell; subtly, at night, beneath the waters of consciousness, they are altering your world."

Oh, yeah!  I read this passage while I was waiting for my favorite hair stylist, Jen, to finish her client and take on my whiny, miserable head and my endless quest for Good Hair Days.  Jen has the patience of a draft horse and the horse experience to understand when I say I need my cut to fit flush under my riding helmet.  As I bitched and complained about my rotator cuff, the lump on my head from the tumble off the hay bale, the piece of my thumb I removed taking the new chef's knife out of the package, and my hair that seems to be turning in to feathers, she matched me fuss for fuss with her knee surgery and other bits of her life's trials.  Between us we were battling one hell of a story, and I realized that when I stuffed my new head into my car for the ride home.

The story she and I are battling is the Youth Story.  It's part of our current culture almost as securely rooted as the Religion Story and the Science Story, but more personal.  Jen and I are would-be outliers who truly want to buck the trend and be amazing into our later years.  Mine are much later than  hers, so my story is harder to swallow.  My story includes tales of triumphs past and lies about future plans.  It includes notations about the economy and the state of healthcare in this country.  It has illustrations from books I've read and written and is firmly based in some sort of fictional twist on reality.

I'm not finished reading the Michaels book, but I want to offer this passage about the Economic Story for your consideration in light of your own stories:

"You are the sole and final authority on your preferences.  Though what you want and prefer can be shaped by advertising, tradition, a changing context, or your own experience, the economic story maintains that you know yourself, you know what you prefer, and you know whether or not you were satisfied with what you chose the last time.  That may not always be true, but that's how the story goes." (p.12)

Now, that passage is meant, as I said, to define the economic story, but it applies equally well to all the various stories of our lives and our culture.  And I can't help but think that, really, I have no clue what I want.  Or if I do, I've covered it in so many layers of defining characteristics from the social structure of my world that I can't really see it anymore.  

I'm sure there's a truly fascinating story behind this.
The stories Michaels is defining are not the picayune stuff that defines my personal sphere.  She's talking about the Big Stories that our national and global cultures use as their underpinning and how they often conflict with our personal sensibilities.  The current war between the Religion Story and the Economic Story (with public forays into the Mental Illness Story) is clear on the front pages of newspapers around the world.  And those, too, have an impact on my sphere.  I'm suffering a distinct malaise (or possibly a stomach virus), and reading about the Stories being touted by the crazies who are vying for control of the sectors of our society isn't helping my recovery one bit.  The Big Stories are clearly available in the microcosm of the horse world, from the economics of the biz (the story that horse culture is strictly bottom-line-directed), to the religion of rescue (God wants us to shepherd our fellow critters) and management, to the social aspects rife with vanity and competing strategies (I look better in breeches than you do in jeans, and my horse breed has prettier hair than yours, and I'm all about Natural while you're all about Stupid).  And for us Outlier Hopefuls, they are anathema.  We independent types believe we can avoid the monoculture and live a life that is "true", and often we "disappear without a trace" (p. 116) as our "parallel structure" hasn't got the social legs to make a ripple in the face of the overwhelming adherence to the accepted Story of the Day. 

I've read a few chapters now, and I'll finish the book, and that means I'm going to know something I didn't know before and be forced to apply it to my life, horse and otherwise.  I'm hoping this will be a good thing.  A better thing perhaps than some of the other things I've applied like the belief that one more bit/saddle/pad/pair of stirrups/lesson/video or audio book will make me the horse person I'd like to be.  And it will possibly make me think about why, if being a Person of Horse is so vital to my story, I fantasize about being a princess in languorous repose on a beach somewhere when I don't even like to sit on beaches, hate sand in my pants, and much prefer sleeping in a comfy bed to anything having to do with sunburn, even if there are Mai Tais involved.  With little umbrellas.  And a cabana boy.  

I suspect a new perspective will result.  One can only hope!  The old one is forcing me to buy an unreasonable number of hair products that I don't know how to use and make excuses for why I'm not an Olympic-level rider.  Anything will be an improvement, I'm sure. 

Monday, February 20, 2012

Finding Authenticity

It took 20 minutes of this hour lesson for me
to breathe.  That's the Authentic Me.  Fortunately, Linnea Seaman's
Authentic Self is used to idiots.

t’s not an absolute requirement that you watch the video below.  Today I'm putting it at the end of the post because some of you will undoubtedly be offended by the song centering firmly on the F-word as applies to our current social and political and financial and every other –al situation.  Personally, I found myself humming it for days after I first heard it, and I ordered the t-shirt.  And I wore it.  In public.  That's my authentic self.  Putting the video at the end of this post isn't, but I'm going to roll with that to avoid offending...which is my authentic self.  We are nothing if not completely screwy. 

Anyway, you can skip the vid if you like.  There will not be a question about it on the final exam.

What’s important in the TED lecture below isn’t that the world is a mess and none of us wants to take responsibility for it.  The point of the lecture is the difficulty in finding (and releasing into the wild) our authentic selves.  The Real Us.  The voice inside that lets us know that we’re faking it when we’re shaving the facts to suit the listener.  We may become more popular with the PTA for not announcing that the planned Spree Day Fantasy Outdoor Wind Chime Fundraiser is a about as exciting as watching milk curdle.  But those close to us, including our animals, aren’t fooled.  You can’t control that hitch in your voice or that slight increase in your pulse rate that screams to the sensitive, “Liar!  I’m a damn LIAR here!”

This morning I had a very interesting email convo with a friend who is having a scary problem with her horse.  She wrote about it this week in her catalog newsletter, and you can read it for yourself here:  Hoofprints Catalog.  Click "archives" under "newsletter" and read the first entry.  Order some stuff while you’re there.  Anyway, it was that conversation that got me thinking about authentic selves.  Gina, bless her little heart, is being completely authentic when she admits publicly that she has made a training mistake and is regretting it.  She is authentic in her fear, her anxiety, her worry that what she has done can’t be undone.  She is like the rest of us, only without the heavy makeup and perfume that make us feel like pretty flowers instead of flawed humans.

Like Gina, I have my own training issues and my own anxiety, and I’ve posted about both in the past.  Admitting to those problems is the first step in excavating one’s authentic self from the rubble of desires and requirements it's buried under.  Doing something about them in a way that is in keeping with that self is more difficult and constitutes the next step in the process.

For me, ignoring the naysayers and the railbird critics was hard.  I had a public persona to defend, after all, and that persona does not brook idiots or stupid mistakes.  Unfortunately, that’s not who I am.  I am an idiot generating stupid mistakes like my cat generates hair on the carpeting.  Accepting that I could get past the problem by accepting myself and the horse was the next step, and using that to advantage is the current stop on this Success Train.  

Letting our animals smell the fear on us is bad, according to Conventional Wisdom.  The thing is, it's there; they know it; they smell it, and they probably wonder why we're behaving so oddly given the obvious terror we're experiencing.  That can't be good.  Nor can bulling through a scary situation--rearing horse, dog in a state of stress over an interloper, teenager in angst because the BFF is BF-ing with some other F--when it's obvious that we have no plan and are about as inwardly-hysterical as we can get.  That doesn't help anyone, including us.  Feeling inauthentic is feeling like a fraud. That's hard to live with.  That kind of disconnect is incredibly stressful and probably accounts for that knot in the pit of your stomach when your public face is challenged.

Now, before anyone jumps on me for flying in the face of research, yes, it's true that if you can put a smile on, you'll feel happier.  That's really, truly true, I swear.  Our mind-body connections work in mysterious ways.  And sometimes--sometimes--making that leap past your wall of fear can kill the demon you're dreading and let you move on.  But admitting who you are and what you're feeling and making a plan that sticks to those principles will do the same thing and probably more safely and with far less drama.  

Where my authenticity lives is a place that swings wildly between bravery and bravado-laced-with-terror.  I'm easy pickin's for my big Paint, Zips Terrorist because a huge part of my self hates pain.  It didn't when I was younger, but, well... I was younger then.  My last attempted outing with the big lug resulted in an injured rotator cuff...and I wasn't even on him!  That means he's had three weeks off, learned that I'm a wuss, and has no idea why he's lost his spot in the riding rotation.  All of that will have to be sorted out and corrected as soon as I can raise my left arm high enough to saddle him. But my new Authenticity-Forward approach means I will do it when it's possible without worrying about whether my progress meets any standards but my own.  And Zip's.  Authentically. 

PS:  If you're in a place where you're questioning yourself and your horse life, I'm going to recommend once again that you listen to (really, the audio book is the best) Healing Shine: A Spiritual Assignment, also available at the link above from the Hoofprints catalog.  

Monday, February 13, 2012

Interrupt-driven Lives

Meet the Life Hackers - New York Times

I apologize up front for the corrupt use of the programming concept.  I didn't start this, but it sure works for me, so I'm running with it.  

Translated into Human Speak, the big question here is "How much of your time is spent multitasking?"  Oh, I know that's all the rage these days.  I had a dressage instructor once who yelled at me for being so limited in my ability to multitask in the saddle.  If you're not a multitasking, you're somewhere below dirt on the totem pole.  In the classroom, I prided myself on being on top of every interruption--and if ever there is an interrupt-driven task, it's teaching high school kids anything.  It's in the job description.  But there's a point where both self-  and other-directed multitasking takes a toll on one's productivity in every aspect of life.

By "other-directed", I mean driven by interruptions and demands from outside oneself.  It's bad enough, in my not-so-humble opinion, that we've developed a societal knack for self-interruption.  Some of that is just human nature.  I'm sure there was an Early Man who, in the midst of mammoth hunting and fire starting suddenly realized he hadn't brushed the dirt off his pile of twigs bed in a month and needed to get on that right away.  To do that, he needed a new branch with flat leaves, so his hunt took on a distracted air.  Perhaps he even came upon the fire thing along the mammoth trail when his spear head nicked a rock and sent up a spark that got him distracted.  Maybe he "put a pin in it" (or "a rock on it") for later, or maybe he stopped and checked it out.  Hard to say since his iPad probably wasn't charged enough to take a memo.  

The Organized Life is one with some sense of decorum.  I'm trying to regain that even as I type.  For the first time in ages, I lined up the postcards and notes reminding me of the appointments I needed to make, and I made all the calls in order this morning before I fired up my email app.  I felt incredibly liberated!  Not only are those chores no longer hanging over me, but I actually got through them all without once getting up to do something else that would have led to still another activity (because nothing spawns nothing), and so on.

Invitation to Multitask: 
My tack room is an attention sponge.

Nowhere is my Interrupt Drive in higher gear than in the barn.  It's my first stop in the morning before breakfast, and I can almost guarantee that I walk through the door these days without a plan other than to make sure the barn is still standing.  Oh, I might be harboring some vague thought about what I'll do in the afternoon, but that's a whole half-day away.  I walk through the door, and if the phone doesn't ring (the most common interrupt sequence in my personal coding is a call from someone needing to rant or asking for information or advice that has nothing to do with the task at hand), there's probably an unidentified sound coming from the loft that needs to be checked out.  While I'm up there, and assuming I don't fall off a hay bale like last week and whack my head, leading to an entirely new event sequence, I make note of which hay we're using now based on the color of the twine.  And perish the thought that I actually put the feed into the buckets without stopping to rehang some tack or improve my saddle pad feng shui

If I'm lucky, by the time I walk out of the barn, I've accomplished something that moves my barely-recognized plan forward.  That's not guaranteed.  So add on the multiple false starts requiring house-to-barn-to-house transits.

The end result of just this one task event (and it truly is an event) is that I feel frustrated and at loose ends.  And it's in that frame of mind that I'm supposed to approach my horses (not to mention family and other humans) and work with them.  Really?  Is it any wonder that Zip sometimes catches me unaware with one of his tricks--usually the one that involves clipping me behind the knee with his front hoof as I'm not in position when he gives me his leg to brush--and a whole new event is launched?  

Can I talk on the phone and email at the same time?  No.  Not well.  I sent a rambling email one day to my lawyer because while I was emailing him my question, I was also on the phone with my daughter answering hers.  The mish-mosh that resulted was comical at worst, but it could have been seriously damaging to the lawyer's opinion of my intellectual ability if that weren't already in doubt.  

Can I read the instructions on the bottle of meds while I'm using it on the horse and talk to a friend who dropped by to pick up the coupons from the Sunday paper?  No.  Not at all.  That's the sort of thing that leads to powdered meds being smeared on the mare's butt without the required addition of water. 

Can I get my horse's attention while mine is scattered all over?  Do I really need to answer that?  

Read the article from the Times about the "Life Hackers" and weep.  We have met the enemy, and they are multitasking.   

Monday, February 06, 2012

The Art of Positive Thinking

Call it "reframing" or positive psychology, or whatever you like, but I do believe that being a baby unicorn is a far better fate than spending one's life as an injured five-year-old.  Shawn Achor's lecture is loaded with memorable moments, and I predict, positively, that you will bookmark it and return to it over and over in the coming months.  

Eliminating the outliers--creating the Cult of the Average--is a problem bigger than all of the political BS we're suffering through in this pre-election Silly Season.  It's bigger because it goes on day after day, in every sector of society, and it's more depressing for its relentless attack on our joy.  Like Bo-bo, I seem to find a new disease daily and the symptoms I see in myself are rampant and unrepentant.  I don't have leprosy--yet--but I sure have a passel of other things wrong with me!

So I, for one, needed to hear a positive message.  Not "You're positively never going to be an Olympic rider and you are doomed to ruin more horses than you can possibly imagine" positive.   More like, "Zip is eating his blanket, and once again you've got more wormer paste on your jacket than in Leo, but look at the pretty flowers growing in the manure pile!" positive.  Happiness is far over my cognitive horizon, and that needs to change.

My problem is that, like so many of us, I consciously strive for Outlier status.  I want to be above the mean (preferably), though in some cases below will do just fine.  I learned to ride when I was 13.  I thought that was the best thing since sliced bread, mostly because only one of my friends had ever touched a horse, and I felt  it gave me the right to wear my hair in a ponytail that would bounce, horse-tail-like, as I walked through the junior high hallways.  No one else needed to know about it.  It was an internal and private  Big Deal, and I was happy.  Then I found out about horse shows.

I learned to ride better when I was 15, and I was incredibly excited.  I rode in two horse shows--one a year, which was all they had at the lesson barn where I was learning--and won a blue ribbon in one and two blue ribbons in the second.  And I was so proud of those trophies that even though the cast-metal horses broke off the tops, I still keep them in my hutch as a reminder of how special I once was.  Briefly.  Briefly special.  Briefly an Outlier.

Briefly, because the next thing I found out was that there were better riders, better horses, better disciplines, better breeches and boots, and more things I needed to accomplish before I could be happily average-or-above again.  So I gave it a good go.  The old college try.  And as years went by, I got degrees and certificates and more ribbons and trophies and plaques and, in one case, a typed note saying I'd won some class or other.  I framed that, too.  And I was happy again because I was special again.  Above average.  Good.  Better than many. 

Until...well, you can finish the sentence as well as I with your own discoveries that set your HQ (Happiness Quotient) back  and made you think you needed to just work harder.  

The question Achor asks is, "But are you happy?"  The answer, sadly, is "Not really".  Why not?  Because the media--mainstream and interest-specific--keep showing me more and better and bigger and smoother and costlier and up and up and up, and I'm on the downhill side.  There's no clawing back up that hill from 64 to 34.  

I recently had the great good fortune to be interviewed by a niece of my idol, Cowboy Hall-of-Famer Connie Reeves, who died in a fall of her horse at the age of 101.  Talk about raising the Outlier bar..!  Now, Reeves isn't merely notable for longevity and for being saddle-worthy at an age when most women are drooling into their oatmeal, but because the horse thing--the ranch for troubled girls she built and ran until her death-- was a second career, piled on top of several decades as one of the first females in  banking...ever.  Women weren't real popular in financial circles when she cracked that glass ceiling.  

Connie Reeves
[Photo courtesy of Julie Stratton]

Naturally, I hope to be riding at 101.  Hell!  I hope to be breathing at 101!  But I've already missed the banking boat and the glass-ceiling-busting boat, so while I remain a loyal fan, I can't realistically hold Ms. Reeves up as the average I expect to be above. 

But, and this is the salient point here, he also says that we decide whether to be happy or to continue the battle to become above-average, as average is a constantly-moving, man-made target.  And I think it's time, at least for me, to embrace my average-ness and stop worrying about how it looks from the outside.

Honestly, from the inside it's pretty cool.  I've got six horses I love, three horses I enjoy riding, only one that does regular damage to my body and my self-esteem, and others I get to try out on occasion to remind me that I'm not locked into an inflexible routine and to keep the fear factor from entering the picture.  I've had a career that I truly loved despite the fact that I never ran a corporation or got my name engraved on anything more impressive than the "Hi!  My Name Is" tag I had to wear for Back to School Night and a clock that hangs in my office.  I have a daughter who makes me proud every day, grandkids who do the same though I can't take credit for anything other than a genetic contribution to their makeup, and a partner who makes me smile every time he walks through the door despite his not being Brad Pitt.   

So from here on, when I find myself on all fours (or upside down on my back, which, unfortunately, happens more often than I'd like), I'm going to be a unicorn.  And if at 101 I'm still here, that, alone, will be sufficient.  Striving for excellence is what keeps our society moving forward, but it's also the key to the rampant depression that is more and more evident.  I will do my best not to wind up in therapy or drugged in order to be my  happiest self.  

Welcome to my Positive World!