Blind Luck

Head up, tail up - everything's in order for little Blind Luck.

Horse racing is a business. I know this. And yet, I had an upswell of irrational sadness when I saw that one of my all time favorite racemares, Blind Luck, was going through the sales ring again. That sadness turned to anger when I watched the attached video of a potential buyer, unseen on camera, telling the groom to walk Blind Luck down and back. (You have to scroll to the bottom of the article to get to the video.) I didn’t like the woman’s tone of voice, for one thing. And for another thing, in my world order, Blind Luck outranks her. Blind Luck should be telling that woman to walk down and back, not the other way around.

Thing is, everybody in racing knows exactly who and what Blind Luck is. She isn’t pretty. Everybody knows it. She’s bandy-legged and croup high and the more you look the more you can find wrong with her. You know what else everybody should know? It doesn’t freaking matter. She won 3.2 million on the track, including the Kentucky Oaks, and was as dead game as a racehorse can get. Blind Luck wasn’t fancily bred, wasn’t trained by Pletcher or owned by Godolphin, she was a working racehorse – and man, did she work. As a two-year-old, she showed a freaky turn of foot, but myself and many others were just waiting for those bandy legs to give out – they never did. She went from synthetics to dirt without a hitch, and her trainer, Jerry Hollendorfer danced every dance with that mare. Blind Luck traveled the country, criss-crossing back and forth to face the nation’s best horses on their home turf. A small, wiry mare, her weight never changed, nor did her attitude. Blind Luck was a warrior.

This is Blind Luck in the Kentucky Oaks, doing what she always did – dropping back to dead last before making a furious last minute rally. Not even her jockey knew if he’d won the race. Blind Luck like to keep things exciting and unlike the great Zenyatta, she didn’t always win. It’s extremely hard for come from behind horses to keep perfect records. And, let’s be honest, Zenyatta benefitted from a far less taxing schedule. The goal wasn’t to keep Blind Luck’s record perfect, the goal was to pick up checks.

Of all of Blind Luck’s exploits on the track, perhaps most memorable was her rivalry with eventual Horse of the Year Havre de Grace. Here they are dueling down the stretch in the Delaware Oaks. Havre de Grace was the opposite, in many ways, from her scrappy little opponent. Havre de Grace was big, beautiful, correct, a stunning bay mare based in the east and afforded automatic respect from the racing community. Blind Luck didn’t know any of that.

Although Blind Luck compiled an impressive record of wins, her triumph in the Alabama was, in my opinion, her greatest. The slower the pace up front, the harder it is for come from behind horses to win. In the Alabama, they were just about walking, but Blind Luck was, as always, last headed into the final turn. For her to close into that slow pace and still pull of the win is a profoundly difficult task for any racehorse – let alone an undersized, bandylegged croup-high mare.

I have to include one more race. This is Blind Luck closing out her two year old year in the Grade 1 Hollywood Starlet against a bunch of top fillies. She made them look ordinary that day. A quick maturing filly, in this race you can already see some of the hallmarks that made Blind Luck so special. She ran with her head and tail up, something rare in racehorses. But that mare knew exactly how awesome she was, and what better way to let everybody else know, too? She was born confident. She was born knowing she was great.

She also knew when she was done. After twenty-two races against the toughest competition and thousands upon thousands of miles of travel, one day Blind Lucky retired herself. Entered into the Lady’s Secret Stakes, Blind Luck had other ideas, cantering along, out of touch with the field and staying that way around the track. Extensive tests showed nothing was wrong with Blind Luck. She was just done. It was the first time she’d ever finished worse than third in her career. She was sent to the sales ring and became a broodmare.

I haven’t seen her babies. It wouldn’t surprise me if they were incorrect and it also wouldn’t surprise me if they failed to inherit their mother’s ability. Blind Luck was a freak. All the same, I wish she had an owner who loved her so much she would never be sold. Somebody who would bring her peppermints and tell her how special she is. They are other racehorses who’ve won millions of dollars, have similar race records to Blind Luck’s, but she is unique and deserves to be treated like the rare queen she is.

Which is why that video bothered me. It’s just the horse racing business, I know. But Blind Luck isn’t just another horse.

Can’t Wait

The other day I was driving away from the barn. I’d just ridden Johnny, the big, black thoroughbred I am exceedingly taken with. The sun was shining. I thought to myself, “I can’t wait!” Those were the words that popped into my head. “I can’t wait!” I paused and thought, “Can’t wait for what?” I had no plans that evening, I had no significant plans coming up that week, or even really for the rest of the year. I planned to write and ride and do comedy, but that’s just everyday sort of stuff. All the same, that sunshine-sparkling-on-water feeling of happy expectation rose to the surface anyway.

It’d been a long time since I experienced that sort of feeling.

Today is New Year’s Eve, a day where it’s natural to look back, especially on past New Year’s. For a good long stretch there, my New Year’s were internally sad affairs. Hoping against hope that this year would be better than the last. Sometimes, like at the end of 2012, I was simply glad the year was over. I wasn’t necessarily looking forward to 2013 – although I should have been, because that year rocked – I was just relieved to get to the other side of a finish line. 2014 has been, in a lot of ways, sort of an endless slog. It’s been a year of waiting, of preparation. Of trying to get my mind right and deal with all the battle damage I’ve accumulated. If 2013 was like Mardi Gras, one giant Fat Tuesday, then 2014 was Lent. A time of withdrawal and reflection.

Perhaps for the first time in my life, I look forward to the flip of the calendar page with the feeling that Easter morning is almost here at last.

To be sure, Ruthless doesn’t come out until July, and that will function as the natural centerpiece of 2015, but straight out of the gate this is going to be a different sort of year for me. Before things really kick off, though, I am – much like Luke Skywalker – going to head off to the Dagobah System, and by that I mean Charleston, to spend a month in final preparation. I have found a Yoda, and by Yoda I mean a CrossFit instructor named Beth, and it’ll be her job to teach me to move X-Wings with my mind. When I am not moving X-Wings with my mind, I’ll be writing. And then off I’ll go…

This year is going to have a lot of adventures in it. A lot of travel, a lot of things brought to fruition, and hopefully plenty of surprises! (I love surprises the most.) Regardless, it is time to do. As Yoda said, “Do or do not. There is no try.” I’ve been trying for a long time, it feels like, and that won’t cut it anymore. It is time to make good.

I can’t wait.

Epiphany

So last night I was listening to Johnny Cash’s God’s Gonna Cut You Down and I had an epiphany. I want to tell you about it, but first I need to back up a bit.

W.C. Fields once said, “I was born with a fatal facility to juggle.” Because of his natural juggling ability, he fell easily into vaudeville and subsequently into comedy. Personally, I was born with a fatal facility to con people. We all have good qualities and bad. I’m just being honest about one of my shadow sides and con artistry is one of them. Luckily, I’m both risk averse and at least fairly moral, so this tendency has never veered into criminal territory. Instead, it has been relegated to my personal life and various aspirations. Historically, anyway. I’ve been drifting away from this modus operandi for awhile now, and since late September I’ve picked up speed.

During my first counseling session with Father Pat, he told me I wanted to “steer” – by that he meant orchestrate outcomes. I’d always mentally referred to it as “bending the universe to my will.” Note to any self-professed Christians who may be reading this, if you sometimes use the phrase “bending the universe to your will” you should probably invest in some self-examination. In order to bend the universe to my will, I’d use my ability to read people to put events into motion and hopefully secure the outcome I’d deemed the correct one. I had some talent in this arena, but more than that I had a habitual way of thinking. I was always looking to game the system. Two exceptions were writing and riding. I’d learned nothing replaces a work ethic and dedication when it comes those activities. Somehow, those lessons didn’t spill over to the rest of my life.

Somewhere in 2011, I was playing cards with my dad at the cabin. We were talking about faith and I told him that I felt I was pretty solid in all areas except obedience. I knew about my penchant for thinking I knew best and universe bending. My dad kind of laughed and said, “That’s the most important quality a Christian can have.” I blithely thought, “Huh. Oh, well.” Cue Johnny Cash singing, Sooner or later God’ll cut you down…

I got cut down, alright. But it didn’t fully change my thinking. I started down the road, but I kept returning to my steering mentality. (No doubt, I’ll tend toward that my whole life. “It’s a process,” to quote my friend Charlie Grey.)

Part of being a con artist lies in control of information. Or, as my mother has said, “You like to keep your cards close to the vest.” And I do. Even here, on this blog. People give me a lot of credit for being brave, for sharing personal information, but there’s a degree of illusion in that. I do genuinely share. My eulogy for Little Bastard pops to mind as something I wrote on this blog that cut deeply. But I don’t share quite as much as it seems like I do. So, even as I tried to give up steering, I held onto my Kenny Rogers’ The Gambler mentality – living in constant analysis of what cards to hold, what cards to play.

Recently, I was struck by the largeness of God and the smallness of man. An image came to my mind of boys on a beach at night, scribbling in the sand, their noses inches from the ground. At their backs was the moonlit ocean, above their head was the vast, starlit sky. This scene came to me one night when I was feeling particularly fatigued at the prospect of walking around the doctrines of men. And I do mean “men.” I have no woman in my life that I must similarly walk around. For whatever reason, it’s much easier to look up at the stars with women. Men want to show you their scribbles in the sand and tell you why their scribble is better than their neighbors’.

C.S. Lewis said repeatedly in the Chronicles of Narnia that “Aslan was not a tame lion.” Even as a child I was struck by the brilliance and the necessity of this observation. On Monday, Pope Francis spoke to Curia, telling them, “The Church shows herself to be faithful to the Holy Spirit to the extent that she does not seek to regulate or domesticate it.” It is precisely the same sentiment and it is the engine behind my image of the night sky above the scribblers on the beach. When we tie ourselves into the knots of doctrine we lose the vastness of God. Doctrine is important. It is a needed map. But it is inherently human in its construction. When we lose sight of that, we bind ourselves to something smaller than that which our doctrine describes.

For awhile now, I’ve been cognizant of the fact that the more authentic and honest one is, the better your life will be. Fabricated and edited personalities are where the seeds of unhappiness take root, and we edit ourselves out of fear that our true selves won’t be accepted. It’s Bad News Bears, you guys. It is our job to embrace the idea that we are wonderfully made, to celebrate it and live joyfully. This hit home for me when I recently visited my friend Mary Tannery. Mary’s boy Lachlan is in the hospital with leukemia, and it’s been awhile since I’ve had a chance to spend time with her. I’d been having all these thoughts rattling around in my mind, but to be with Mary was to see these thoughts in action. Mary, in so many ways, is living the way I want to live. So many of the rooms in the pediatric oncology ward were sad, drab affairs – and this during Christmas. Lachlan’s room was a celebration of life and to walk into it was to walk into a party. How healing for him to wake up to that! Laughter is good medicine. Mary’s ability to not only be her true self but to choose hope, faith, and joy blew me away. Seeing Mary’s choices in action made me aware of how often I choose the opposite – and for absolutely no good reason whatsoever.

Not long after visiting Mary, I went to Midnight Mass at St. Anthony’s of Padua. Father Pat’s homily was about the Christmas truce of WWI. It was amazing, as always. Then he talked about how Christ died for us, how “He died to save us from ourselves. To save us from phrases like, ‘Whatever,’ and ‘As long as nobody finds out.'” This struck me, but not yet in a fully formed way.

Then, last night, I cued up a Johnny Cash song, but instead of the one I selected “God’s Gonna Cut You Down” started to play. It’d been a long time since I’d last heard it. Along with the refrain of “Sooner or later, God’ll cut you down” there is the stanza:

Well, you may throw your rock and hide your hand
Workin’ in the dark against your fellow man
But as sure as God made black and white
What’s done in the dark will be brought to the light

And this is what brought me to my epiphany – that my Kenny Rogers’ The Gambler mentality stretched all the way to my relationship with God. Subconsciously, I felt I could control the information I shared with the Almighty. I could withhold cards from Him. Granted, I wasn’t so stupid to think this intellectually, but I realized that on a subconscious level that’s exactly where my head was at. Or perhaps more accurately, I thought I could bargain with God via the way I thought. Again, a note to any Christians reading this – if your conversations with God resemble Clarice playing quid pro quo with Hannibal Lector, it’s time to take a second look.

As much as I was wanting to be a stargazer, I was scribbling in the sand, too. Worse yet, I wasn’t even scribbling primarily for my neighbor’s benefit, but for God’s. My con artistry, my bent toward gaming the system, included a twisted belief that I could game God. Listening to Johnny Cash, I recognized I’d paid a lot of high prices for my lifetime of disobedience, but what also struck me was that, to quote Shakespeare, “The truth will out.” Aslan is not a tame lion. The Holy Spirit cannot be domesticated. I cannot manipulate God into manifesting anything other than the truth, for God and the truth are one and the same. With this thought came the realization that all my mental aerobics amounted to nothing, and with that realization, great relief and freedom. The actual words that came to mind were, “It doesn’t matter.” My assessment of what “should” be doesn’t matter. It’s not my job to bend the universe to my will, to make things happen. That’s God’s job. My job is way easier. Namely, be true to what God made me to be and let tomorrow take care of itself.

New Year

St. Patrick’s Day, 2014. I was talking to Nick Shaheen on my front porch. I can’t remember what I was talking about, but I remember giving a lot of time-related mile markers. “That happened in October of 2005,” or whatever. Shaheen said, “Wow, you’re really obsessed with dates.”

Up until he told me that, I had no clue this was true. In fact, I thought the opposite. I have no memory for anniversaries. Actual dates don’t stick with me, just months or seasons. But recording the specific day isn’t necessary to be really obsessed with dates. And the thing is, numbers don’t mean much. Certainly not to me, who can’t do simple math, but also in terms of the calendar year. Just because you turn the page doesn’t mean things are going to change.

And yet, I find myself looking forward to 2015 like a dog watching her owner open a new can of tennis balls.

2014 has lasted roughly four regular years. I was trying to think back to my first visit to Simon & Schuster. Turns out – December of 2013. WHO WOULD HAVE GUESSED. You guys, that’s a year ago. It feels like four. In a way, a lot has happened in 2014. There’s been a lot of comedy and a lot of writing and even a good bit of production. I went to Los Angeles and New York, got to spend time with old friends and make new ones. I found Crossfit (need to refind it, you guys. Anybody know where it went? hahahahaha) and I started riding horses again, which has been awesome. But it’s been a year of waiting. Waiting on my divorce to be final. Waiting for Ruthless to come out. Waiting on collaborators. Waiting on myself to get new writing done.

2014 has been the Year of the Wait.

Yesterday, Evan and I did divorce paperwork stuff. (Quick plot cul-de-sac – we went to the notary for literary the 6th time and – once again – she didn’t know who we were. What is that? This isn’t over a long span of time, just two or three months. What’s up with this woman’s memory? Does she live in a perpetual state of Groundhog’s Day? Okay, sorry, plot dul-de-sac over.) ANYWAY – Evan and I grabbed lunch and, as is often the case, he was sort of taking a long time to wrap things up and I heard the little microwave *DING* that goes off in my head when I’m ready to move on. Evan could see it in my eyes. I said, “I get impatient. I like for the things to be doing.”

I like for the things to be doing.

You guys. In case any of you missed it, I’m a professional writer now. A master of the English language. And I like for the things to be doing. I really do, too. I like roller coasters. Not merry-go-rounds. 2014 has been long and sloggy and against my nature.

More importantly, 2014 has been a year of intense hardship for a lot of my best friends. While a lot of my waiting has been for joyful things like my book to come out, others have been waiting on things like test results. Others have waited for the worst part of grief to pass. I’ve been witness to a lot of suffering this year. There’s an inherent waiting involved in that experience, too. We say, “this too shall pass” for a reason. We are waiting for a brighter day. In a sense, we never stop waiting, because we don’t arrive at our destination until the day we die.

But there are years where you sell your first book and go to New York City for the first time and go back to Los Angeles and reunite with friends you haven’t seen in more than ten years and learn how to just float in a lake and have fun and take up stand-up comedy and finally find your tribe and none of it feels like waiting, because instead you’re wholly in the present, because the present is alive with the new. Of course, every year can’t be 2013. Sometimes, instead, your year is 2014 and all you can do is wait.

Records

I’ll take your part/When darkness comes…

When I was little my parents had a Simon & Garfunkel album. I loved it. Listened to it all the time. I loved all the songs, but I especially loved “Bridge Over Troubled Water.” I remember interpretive dancing my heart out to the dramatic conclusion of that song, but my favorite lyric then remains my favorite lyric now, almost 30 years later. I’ll take your part. I just liked the idea of it. Loyalty. Someone to have your back. Someone willing to help you fight your battles.

In addition to Simon & Garfunkel, I had my very own Mickey Mouse record, wherein Mickey and friends sang patriotic songs, Peter and The Wolf, as narrated by Sterling Holloway, and then I liked three of my sisters’ records an awful lot – Van Halen, Def Leppard, and Ozzy Osborne. Rounding out my favorite record collection was an odd little 45 from National Geographic that was nothing but the song of humpback whales. So, to recap: humpback whales, Ozzy, Van Halen, Def Leppard, Walt Disney, and Simon & Garfunkel. It still serves as a useful summary of me as a person. (Important addendum: when I went to my friend Amanda’s place, I got to listen to Joan Jett, repeatedly leaping off the arm of their couch whilst playing air guitar. Joan is important part of the mix.)

Not last October but the October before, October 2013, I found myself rather magically in Madison, Wisconsin. I met Ben LeRoy in person, watched Nick Hart and Cody Hughes kill it at Comedy on State (great room – all comics should go there), and crashed at a La Quinta. The next day, Cody and I drove around Madison in my dad’s truck, just sort of taking in the town. My dad didn’t have much music on hand, but one thing he did have was a Simon & Garfunkel CD – the same recording from my childhood. I remember “Bridge Over Troubled Water” came on just as the waterfront came into view. Madison is a pretty town, especially in fall. (I presume especially in fall. It’s the only time I’ve been. But I’m guessing winter is a safe bet for a sucky season up there.) Cody and I were driving around in part to stave off the inevitable return to Chicago. We decided to go to Milwaukee en route, which was a pretty effective time killer. Especially when I took a wrong turn leaving Madison.

Tonight I heard that song again. It’s funny. Normally, I loathe cheesy, melodramatic songs, and “Bridge Over Troubled Water” is nothing if not melodramatic. The dials hits eleven on the sincerity scale. But I still love it just as much as I did when I was four, coming up with interpretive dance moves in the living room. It wasn’t Joan Jett, but I’m sure there were leaps off the couch arm all the same. Not with air guitar, but with a modern dance expression of ecstatic joy. After all, it ends so happily.

Sail on silver girl, sail on by/Your time has come to shine/All your dreams are on their way