Love Your Enemy

Ani, not long after I got her in March of 2003.

Ani, not long after I got her in March of 2003.

When I first got my horse Ani, I immediately entered into conflict. She was difficult, even dangerous, and constantly frustrated me. I believed the solution was to force her to understand what she needed to do to live a good life. Because if she was well behaved, then I’d stop being frustrated, and could treat her with the all-the-time love and kindness that she’d no doubt appreciate.

After a particularly frustrating training session, we both stood in the center of the arena, sweaty, exhausted, yet still tense. I stared at her, angry, wishing she was different. Then for some mysterious reason, a new thought popped into my head. I thought, if I were her, how would I perceive this situation? And it occurred to me that I would feel lost in the midst of change and confused as to what was expected of me. And then I thought, if I was her, how would I want to be treated? And I realized I’d just want someone to love me and tell me it was going to be okay. So I petted her neck and told her exactly that, and for the first time in days, she relaxed. And I cried.

It might seem like the story should end with, “And from then on, everything was okay.” It wasn’t. Ani, as it turns out, had been severely abused. I wound up taking her to a few trainers, many of whom specialized in problem horses and many of whom felt she had the deepest trust issues they had ever dealt with. Eventually, I was contacted by other people who had purchased horses from her previous owner. All of the horses were extremely dangerous. Some of them wound up being put to sleep. None of them returned to life as a riding horse. Her previous owner was convicted in North Carolina – and animal owners will know how rare it is that such cases reach successful conclusion. As for Ani, a year after I bought her, she finally got to the point where I could trail ride her.

A very different Ani in 2005.

A very different Ani in 2005.

It sounds like such a simple sentence, but it isn’t. A former racehorse, Ani was relatively okay with man made places like nice arenas. Take her out to the woods and she’d freak out. To get her to trust me enough that we could go on a nice ride through the forest took working with her just about every single day for a year. It was a huge commitment. A lot of people thought I was crazy to spend so much time on an animal who was so mentally damaged. The thing was, though, underneath her fear issues she was a very sweet horse. At no point did she ever hurt me. I never even fell off of her. And perhaps most importantly, she taught me volumes about patience, love, and loyalty.

I was sitting in church on Sunday, thinking about politics, and about how we seem to not only expect to find the worst in our enemies, but hope to. We Christians throw around the phrase “love your enemy” a lot, and I think there is a sort of complacent sense that this is achieved simply by refraining from killing other people. I am being hyperbolic, but not by a lot. Frequently, our best effort at loving our enemy comes in at gritting-our-teeth tolerance, and often not even that. So again, while sitting there in church, I thought, “Well, what does love mean?” I think it involves treating others with kindness, respect, and appreciation. I think it means approaching them with humility and engaging with them in a real and human way. And I do think love involves honesty, always honesty. It is not love to pretend to be okay with things one is not okay with. But so too it is not love to come at the world with judgment and anger, with the hope that all our negative expectations will be borne out, proving our righteousness. Instead, we should hope to be proven wrong and celebrate if we were mistaken, even if only in part (and that’s another thing, isn’t it? We often deal in all or nothing sums in our judgment of others). Ultimately,  we should always look for the return of the Prodigal Son, not hope that he remains lost.

My neighbor has a new dog. He’s a very large (but too thin), unfixed, black pit bull with ice blue eyes. Not gonna lie – I love animals, but he’s one creepy looking dog. He obviously has a lot of fear issues and is currently allowed to roam free in our downtown neighborhood. He’s been menacing my dogs and people walking down the street. For the better part of the last twenty-four hours, I’ve wanted to kill him.

Tonight, driving home from comedy, I saw him cross the street. He had something white in his mouth and I thought it was a kitten. I stopped my car, got out and said softly, “What do you got there, buddy?” He dropped what was in his mouth. It was a soft pretzel he’d found in someone’s garbage. He was hungry. I went home, got some chicken and threw it at him (he wouldn’t get within fifteen feet of me). He’d swoop in, eat, bark, eat, bark. He thinks I’m his enemy. Granted, I did want to murder him for the majority of the day, so there’s that. But I don’t aspire to be anybody’s enemy. My hope is that I remember to treat others the way I want to be treated.

 

 

The Launch of Ruthless

Pot Belly Deli Writing Group reunion FTW. Kim and Lisa help me celebrate!

Pot Belly Deli Writing Group reunion FTW. Kim and Lisa help me celebrate!

My friend Alrinthea, with whom I have shared innumerable adventures since we met (the story of our meeting was recorded here), summed it up best when she said, “It’s like a family reunion.”

So many wonderful friends and family came to celebrate the launch of Ruthless. My cousin Margaret and her husband Stu came from Portland! All of the exclamation points! They came from Portland, you guys! My friend Cheryl, aka Red, and her husband Chip and her daughter Helen came from Tennessee. We’re old horse racing friends and we hadn’t seen each other in many years. I don’t know if it’s because Red has seen me through so many of my lowest times or what, but seeing the Hoye family made me emotional as nothing else has.

Ben LeRoy, awesome person extraordinaire, surprised me so hard I threw a pen at him. I’ve spent less than a total of 12 hours face-to-face with Ben, and yet he’s changed my life in so many ways. Changed my life dramatically, no less. Please read the story here.  The fact he was there for the launch was perfectly appropriate and brought me so much joy.

The ol’ crew from Clemson showed up in force, as did my Alchemy comedy sisters and my brothers in stand-up, as did my family – my parents and my siblings were there to help me celebrate. There were so many people there. Including people I didn’t even know! I signed books for well more than an hour, then there was talking into a microphone (always my favorite!) and then dancing and champagne. My mom supplied the champagne and kept it flowing all night – she is the hostess with the mostest!  It was the perfect party.

And then, because it’s me, I lost my keys. But other than that it was perfect! Well, there was another sad note – my poor sister Becky had gone to get me food and missed all the talking into the microphone. Her sacrifice was appreciated, though – I was starving.

Afterward I retreated, exhausted, to my house with Ben, Al, my mini me Courtney Colella (she’s my niece, she comes by it honestly) and my longtime sister from another mother, Lisa DeWaard, who had driven down from Chattanooga. We decompressed with a bunch of storytelling, Ben serving as an extremely patient audience.

The thing is – it’s not just the people who came to the launch party. Friends and family have come out of the woodwork to spread the word about Ruthless. Every day I am becoming increasingly acquainted with the feeling of my thanks being inadequate. As Conor McGregor said (because OF COURSE it comes back to Conor) – there is no such thing as a self-made man. He said that just a couple of weeks ago. I got it, appreciated it, and appreciated his gratitude toward his team. But just fourteen days later I suddenly have a whole new understanding of just how deep that sentiment goes. There is no such thing as self-made. The success Ruthless is currently enjoying has as much to do with the love of my friends and family as it does with the words I put on the page. I am left feeling unable to thank everyone enough.

 

 

Under Pressure

So, today is the day RUTHLESS launches! Yay for Ruth! Go buy a copy! But that’s not what I want to talk about right now.

On Saturday, I watched #UFC 189 with some friends. The entire card was epic, and I don’t use that word lightly. By the time my beloved Conor McGregor walked out to the haunting sounds of Sinead O’Connor singing, “The Foggy Dew” my emotional gaskets were nearly blown. By the time McGregor beat Chad Mendes late in the second round, after a brutalizing ten minutes of fighting, I was overwhelmed. So was Conor. Usually one to beat his chest and declare his supremacy  after a fight, instead Conor met his coach on top of the cage and cried, then kneeled on the canvas and cried some more. In his interview with Joe Rogan immediately after the fight, he talked about the crazy mix of emotions leading into the fight and I suddenly realized just how much pressure he’d been under.

This was just for the weigh in, you guys. Not even the fight. The weigh in.

This was just for the weigh in, you guys. Not even the fight. The weigh in.

In the words of my friend Mary Quinn, “Ireland doesn’t have a lot going on right now.” The last twenty years have been a roller coaster for Ireland in a lot of ways, and right now, things aren’t great in the island nation. The Irish have latched onto Conor in a big way. 16,000 plus people were in the arena in Las Vegas. 10,000 of them were from Ireland. That’s love and support – it is also pressure and expectation.

More immediate and intense is the pressure Dana White and the UFC have put on Conor to be their avatar and breakout star. They flew Conor around the world twice. He did a monumental amount of press and promotional engagements. They spent more money marketing this fight than any other. All the while, he had to be getting fit and cutting weight, going from his normal 170 to 145 lbs by fight night.

Conor did this for six months. It exhausts me just to think of it.

David and Freddie ask us why we can't just give love one more chance. Sigh. "Under Pressure" is definitely in my top five songs of all time.

David and Freddie ask us why we can’t just give love one more chance. Sigh. “Under Pressure” is definitely in my top five songs of all time.

And then, two weeks before the fight, the champion Jose Aldo drops out. Conor claimed he had far worse injuries and fought anyway. I don’t doubt him, given the injuries he’s fought with before. At this point, the entire thing hinged upon Conor facing an opponent that he hadn’t prepared for and offered a challenge he had fewer resources to combat.

That is so much pressure. Millions of dollars of promotion, the money and travel plans of his countrymen, not to mention all of the money that could be made for everyone involved. All of it hinged on one man who’d been going at a breakneck pace for six months and who had been on a continuous ride for two years – a ride with little to no real downtime.

No wonder Conor fell to his knees and cried when it was over.

When I was a kid, I hated group sports. Especially group sports that involved balls. I never understood the rules and I had crappy hand-eye coordination. There’s a John Fogerty song, “Centerfield,” with the lyrics, “Put me in coach, I’m ready to play…” That lyric blew my mind. ‘Who’d want baseballs hit TOWARD them?’ I’d wondered. The last thing I wanted was to be put under pressure.

I’ve also thought a lot about freedom and responsibility lately. Specifically, the common desire for freedom – especially the freedom to be truly ourselves – and the corresponding lack of interest in taking responsibility for much of anything. It strikes me that we’ve become a nation of committees, people hiding within herds of other people. It strikes me that there is little reward offered for sticking out our necks, and so we don’t. We want to maximize our freedom and minimize our responsibility whenever possible. This is not a recipe that breeds greatness. Which makes me wonder, do we even aspire to greatness anymore? I don’t see it. Not often.

And this is why people like Conor McGregor capture the imagination. You can say he’s a narcissist and I’m sure you wouldn’t be wrong. (Although the man gives regular and humble thanks to his team.) But narcissist or no, it takes courage to ask for the pressure, to want to the point man, to believe you can live up to millions of dollars worth of expectations. Of course, Conor found himself in that position to begin with because he loves what he does. He has followed his bliss, it has led him here, and he has simply said yes to providence.

For myself, I am no longer the 5th grader who desperately didn’t want the ball thrown my way. I’ve found my own place of embracing pressure. Not nearly in such a dramatic way as Conor McGregor, but let’s just say if Simon & Schuster wants to send me to San Francisco to sell Ruthless to librarians, you better believe I am all about it. To quote another song lyric, “I’m a put on a show kind of girl.” (Britney, Circus.)

 

 

 

Annual Handy Dandy Guide to the Kentucky Derby – 2015 Edition

SUBTITLED: A Tale of Two Horses

Well, looks like American Pharoah <---the spelling on that drives me insane --- is for real. I haven't been a huge fan of American Pharoah for the following reasons. One, he's owned by Ahmed Zayat, who is a world class idiot. He's also super enthusiastic about horse racing and loves his horses more than a lot of owners, but he's an idiot. For example, back in 2009, Zayat decided to block Rachel Alexandra from entering the Preakness. Rachel had not been nominated to the Triple Crown, so he could have made that happen, had he entered all his nominated runners. His reasons were that Rachel hadn't had a rigorous schedule so it wasn't fair (not true), that the Triple Crown is a showcase for future stallions (?), and that, as a filly, she was more likely to break down, so he was saving us all from seeing her dead on the track. (Ugh.) Rachel, of course, won the 2009 Preakness. [caption id="attachment_1991" align="alignleft" width="300"]Do you see how darn cute this horse is? So happy turning for home! He's pretty adorable, you guys. Do you see how darn cute this horse is? So happy turning for home! He’s pretty adorable, you guys.[/caption]Two, Bob Baffert has been so high on this horse for so long, it just felt too over-the-top to be real. Even now, despite his absolutely sterling performances in the Rebel and Arkansas Derby, I still feel skeptical. (There’s a link to the Arkansas Derby embedded in this article.) Perhaps more to the point, Baffert trains not just American Pharoah, but the other horse featured in this post, Dortmund. I’ve been a Dortmund fan from the get, and it’s irritated me how Baffert has described American Pharoah as a supernatural being and Dortmund as rather ordinary. This has evened out since Dortmund won his last two races, but even so – I definitely feel like Dortmund received the Rodney Dangerfield treatment from Baffert.

Three, American Pharoah only has two races this year thanks to a suspensory-related injury. He’s sound now, but I think it’s tough to come into the Derby without having had a dogfight ahead of time. Both of his races have been ridiculously easy, so it’s hard to say if he’s gotten enough out of them. Also, especially with soft tissue injuries, I find myself just waiting for the other shoe to drop.

But I’ll also say this – watching him glide over the mud in the Rebel Stakes turned me into a believer in his ability, and watching him canter home, happy as a lark, ears pricked, in the Arkansas Derby turned me into a fan of him as a horse. He loves his job and he’s profoundly talented. He’s a superstar – no doubt about it.

As already mentioned, the second horse in this tale of two horses is Dortmund. Dortmund likely doesn’t have the raw talent and ability that American Pharoah has, but here are the three reasons why I love him. One, he has heart. He’ll be undefeated going into the Derby. Undefeated horses stroll into the Derby here and again, very rarely do they win. Often, their undefeated record marks a lack of rigor in their prep races. That absence of conditioning usually shows up in the Derby, in the case of Dortmund’s sire, Big Brown, it perhaps came into play in the Belmont. Dortmund is different. I don’t think any undefeated horse has come into the Derby as battle tested as Dortmund. Watch him lose this race and then somehow find a way to win it again.

Dortmund winning by a nose, as he is wont to do. Please note his enormity compared to the two little bays beside him.

Dortmund winning by a nose, as he is wont to do. Please note his enormity compared to the two little bays beside him.

Two, I love his looks and athleticism. He’s an enormous chestnut, standing over 17 hands. But for a big horse, he’s nimble. He has stumbled coming out of the gate a couple of times, but he always rallies quickly. He runs straight and true, every time. Because he is so big, nobody is going to push him around in the wild stampede that is the Derby. However, big horses tend to suffer from getting blocked off and not being handy enough to avoid traffic. Baffert says Dortmund is a stop and go kind of horse, so maybe he’s good enough to have that not be an issue. He’s obviously a super sound horse, which is awesome. Just as great, he has a wonderful mind. He can win from way back or from the lead. He’s so tractable jockey Martin Garcia can put him anywhere.

Three, I always root for the underdog. Granted, at this stage in the game he could possibly go off as the Derby favorite, so that doesn’t make him much of an underdog. But his sire, Big Brown, has been a massive failure at stud. Until recently, Baffert talked about him like the redheaded stepchild of the barn. And maybe, just maybe, he’s broken through to a whole new level. He clicked off his final eighth in the Santa Anita Derby in 12 seconds flat. That’s FLYING and that’s what you need to win the Derby – the ability to close. He’s already won over the quirky Churchill Downs surface, so maybe he’ll prove himself once and for all on the first Saturday in May.

I’ll be honest, this year these are the only two horses I really care about. I also love a horse named Bolo, but he may not even get into the race. So, just know if Bolo wins, I’ll be really happy. But for a great recap of the other top contenders, let me send you to this excellent summary of the horses to look for.

The Exodus

The first time I rode Johnny. His mane was long, he was underweight, but he was already awesome - truly, the best horse I ever rode.

“Life is a series of natural and spontaneous changes. Don’t resist them; that only creates sorrow. Let reality be reality. Let things flow naturally forward in whatever way they like.” – Lao Tzu

Everybody is gone or going.

Not literally everybody, of course. But it feels that way. For me, 2012 and 2013 represent a high water mark of connectedness. In 2012, my family of Clemson friends was very intact and a good thing, too, because that’s when I needed them the most. So many people were there for me. One of the friends I relied on most heavily, Dinger, left for New Hampshire in 2013. Another one of those friends, Brenden, is about to move to Denver. His wife, Kate, instantly became one of my favorite people. My traveling compadres Alrinthea and Lisa, moved to Greenville and Chattanooga, respectively. Odd though it may seem to those on the outside, my frequent breakfast buddy Evan is on to new adventures, too. Sean went to Charlotte. The list goes on.

In 2013, I met a whole new crew of friends, the comedians. On the plus side, I enjoyed them thoroughly while they were here, but they’ve fled, too. Justin Thompson, Camilo Potes, Nick Shaheen, and Charlie Grey. All taken by Atlanta, as though it were a giant monster in the night, stealing away with the comedy children I’d come to love so much. When I learned Charlie was moving to Atlanta, I mourned the loss of him. Not just because I will miss Charlie, but because I will miss the era that is now ending. It was sad to lose Justin, Camilo, and Nick. I miss them all. But the loss of Charlie feels like a tipping point.

Of course, I haven’t lost any of these people for good. Even if they’re no longer in my town doesn’t mean they’re no longer my friend. I still see all of these people, some of them pretty regularly. But it is not the same. Dr. Seuss says, “Don’t be sad that it’s over, smile because it happened.” I am struggling to follow Dr. Seuss’s advice. For a long time, I was eager for change. I wanted a new job, a new life. And then I got that new life. And I liked it a lot. Loved it, in fact. And suddenly, I am not so eager for change. Change is a lot harder when you’re letting go of something that was good.

For a lot of people reading this blog, this next part may sound strange, because it’s not about a person – it’s about a horse. In October, I met a black Thoroughbred gelding I dubbed Johnny. I’ve ridden horses my entire life. I started showing at age three. I’ve been fortunate enough to work at some elite level barns, took care of and rode horses who had been short-listed for the Olympics. I’ve owned and ridden some great horses, but Johnny was my favorite. He is an exceedingly special horse. He was exceedingly special to me. When I met him, he was for sale and he eventually sold to someone else. He sold to someone else because I failed to sell the books I’d spent months working on. They may yet sell somewhere else, but the influx of money I was hoping to receive is not coming anytime soon. The failure of those books to sell was a significant disappointment. This might sound odd, but my main sense of loss is tied up in losing out on Johnny.

In early January, I learned Mama Cat, my oldest pet, has cancer. She’s still hanging in there. She has very suddenly gone deaf and she gave up bathing herself, but her appetite is still good. Even so, I know the end that is inevitable for us all is much closer for her than it is for most. Mama Cat entered my life in 1999, when I was still in college. She was feral. Evan and I trapped her because we saw she was pregnant. She really domesticated quite nicely and she wound up having Little Bastard. She is a sweet, patient, tolerant cat. She is also symbolic of another era.

When I went out to Charleston to write, I did exactly that. It was a very productive trip in a lot of ways. Coming back has been hard. I instantly realized I needed to get out of this house that I’ve lived in for ten years now. Hindsight is 20/2o and I find myself looking back over some of my decisions of the last two years and thinking perhaps I made some mistakes. Evan and I engaged in what was essentially a slow motion divorce. Some aspects of that method were definitely beneficial, working out logistics on the other side of emotion is a good idea. But on the flip side, I still have an attic full of memorabilia that needs to be gone through. I see now the benefit of ripping the band-aid off and taking care of everything quickly, of getting it done and over with. In the slow motion divorce, you deal with it again and again. And again. And again.

It’s not that I wish I was still married. Truth is, every time Evan and I see each other it becomes increasingly bizarre to us we were ever married in the first place. The nice thing is we can laugh about it. When we were married, there were so many things left unsaid, so many personality traits stifled. Now that we are free to be wholly ourselves around one another, it’s kind like, “How did that happen?” I’d like to think we’re both pretty decent people, and as such we make pretty decent friends. In this, I am incredibly fortunate. And yet, despite all of this intellectual knowledge, this peaceable resolution, divorce still sucks. It is painful. The feeling of rejection runs deep. Believe it or not, this segues back to the horse. Johnny, it seemed to me, liked me. I get that there are a lot of people who like me, who even love me. But as I said before, Johnny was special. I have trust issues, and there were so many times that that horse, had he been a normal Thoroughbred, would have behaved badly. Instead, he was good and brave, which made me good and brave. It’s not supposed to go that way, you know. The rider is supposed to create confidence in the horse, not the other way around. In the end, everything that the rejection of divorce does, working with Johnny did the opposite of that. And all of a sudden I find myself surrounded by artifacts of that rejection, including this house. So now, I too am going. Not far away, but I am going.

Everybody is going or gone.

There have been times in this process where I handled things really well, where I was strong and felt the living peace of faith. Now is not one of those times. This has been a time of mourning, weeping, throwing things away, it has been a time to die, to tear down, to give up. I don’t like it and I don’t want it. I hate feeling weak. It is my least favorite feeling in the world. It brings out all the worst in me. But this is where I am, whether I like it or not. And change is coming, it is almost here. I know there will be times of planting, building, laughing, dancing. A time of rebirth. There is a season for every activity under Heaven.

“There is a time for everything, and a season for every activity under heaven:
a time to be born and a time to die,
a time to plant and a time to uproot,
a time to kill and a time to heal,
a time to tear down and a time to build,
a time to weep and a time to laugh,
a time to mourn and a time to dance,
a time to scatter stones and a time to gather them,
a time to embrace and a time to refrain,
a time to search and a time to give up,
a time to keep and a time to throw away,
a time to tear and a time to mend,
a time to be silent and a time to speak,
a time to love and a time to hate,
a time for war and a time for peace.”

(Ecclesiastes 3:1-8, NIV)