Tag Archives: rantage

Rant: Why aren’t there more good horse novels for adults?

This particular rant got set off by my reading of Lord of Misrule, by Jaimy Gordon. It’s won some literary prizes, is highly acclaimed and…it pissed me off so much when I read it that I’ve spent some time this afternoon composing this particular little rant in my head.

The problem with Lord of Misrule for anyone who has grown up reading any standard juvenile and later on adult horse fiction is that it hits damn near every. single. solitary. cliche in the hardbitten adult horse novel subcategory. Broken-down racehorses at a bush league track, so of course you have corrupt trainers and grooms, fun and games with claiming races, doping, Magical Negro grooms, at least one gruesome horse death, a girl determined to save a broken-down horse, and, and….yeah. Except, of course, it’s all done in a particularly artsy literary style where there are no marks to delineate dialogue (no dashes, no colons, no quotation marks), no character whether human or horse is redeemable, and it attempts to replicate the writer’s perception of racetracker dialogue. And, dear God, the particularly gloomy portrayal it has of horses and humans involved with horses would send a sane person screaming away from any sort of involvement with the equestrian world. There’s damn little joy in the relationship between human and horse, much less love between human and horse or the ongoing nonverbal communication that exists in a good horse/human relationship.

Not that this book is a singular offender. With few exceptions, primarily in genre, when horses show up in adult novels, they’re either poorly written, part of a Spiritual Experience, are unrealistic adult versions of juvenile horse novels or are gritty hardbitten looks at the dark side of commercial equestrian industry. The horses don’t get to show up as horses, complete with equine humor and varying temperaments. Good grief, dogs and cats get better representation than horses in adult fiction. You’ve got to pick up Rita Mae Brown, Natalie Keller Reinert, or perhaps even Jane Smiley to get a more balanced look at the horse world in non-genre fiction, and Brown is more crime fiction, ergo, genre, than mainstream when it comes to her horse lit. And don’t get me started on The Horse Whisperer. That was another book I wanted to throw across the room (but was saved by it being a library book). Yes, you can find good horse fiction in genre–fantasy and romance in particular (though I’m not much of a romance reader).

So why aren’t there more good horse novels for adults? I’ve tried. I picked up one Western-themed romantic suspense novel that was part of a series and ended up wanting to chuck the book across the room because of the inaccuracies in it. Currently my top favorite adult horse book is actually two books, Rider at the Gate and Cloud’s Rider, a short science fiction series by C. J. Cherryh. The nighthorses in these books are carnivorous (and have a love for bacon that any horseperson who’s seen an equine reaction to peppermints will recognize). They’re a telepathic protection for humans in a world where telepathic wildlife would drive humans insane–and the nighthorses associated with humans due to their own curiosity about human minds. The nighthorses are fascinated by human minds–and Cherryh’s nighthorses are a heckva lot closer to horses I’ve known than many non-genre horses I’ve read. Judith Tarr also writes some dang good horses, especially in A Wind in Cairo.

Is it because there are only so many plots that can be told about horses and humans? Somehow, I don’t think so.

What I find myself missing are the stories where the horses are there as companions for their people. Not Companions as in supernatural beings in horse form, but horses as the opinionated, quirky, humorous beings they are. Horses that are well-treated, that have jobs they enjoy doing (yes, there are horses who like to work and be ridden), and empower their humans to succeed in everyday, regular ways. Stories that show the ordinary part of horse world where you spend more of your time mucking, grooming, and schooling than in cutthroat competition. Where the drama of human life that drives fiction is not dependent upon something awful happening to the horse.

I mean…today on Facebook I watched a video clip of a horse kicking butt on an alligator in Florida. Horse saw gator lurking near its herd in a park, and…aggressive horse stomping ensued, with gator slinking away. How likely are you to see this scene happen in a story about horses? Or a story with horses in it?

So, you may ask, why aren’t you writing these stories, Joyce?

Answer: I am, just mostly in genre. And I break my own rules because I’ve done horrible things to my horses in fiction–but the horses are performing heroically before the Awful Thing happens, rather than being forced to perform and getting hurt because of human frailties. They are in partnership with their humans. They’re joined with their humans in battle. Missy in Alien Savvy is not taking any guff off of those aliens, by golly, because she can herd them like she can cows. Mira in Pledges of Honor is fighting right alongside her bonded human Katerin. Narasin in Beyond Honor provides emotional and magical support for her human. Sox in my as yet unpublished ghost story “Lost Loves” confirms for Joni B that what she is seeing is real. Drinker of Wind and Sleipnir in “Tricksters, Horses, and Beer” have an agenda of their own, and who’s to say is manipulating whom…the horses or their Trickster owners?

I don’t know. What I do know is that I’m sick to death of depressing and poorly researched adult horse books, and there ain’t enough of the other stuff around unless I dip into my stash of horse juveniles. Or racing stories from the 1930s. Somehow along the way, the horse stopped becoming what it is–a quirky, opinionated being with an interesting sense of humor–and became an item to exploit in literature. Instead of being a generous companion, it became a shadowy icon representing the baser nature of humanity.

Somehow I think our literature is poorer for this lack.

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A breather between stories

It seems like I’ve been flying around dealing with stuff since Netwalking Space got finished, not all of it about the writing. Among other things, I had the day jobbe online work to keep me busy for three days this week, and then I participated in a book giveaway which ended up giving me a rather nice addition to my email list. Good stuff to do, but time-consuming.

And then there was the day lost to stomach objections. This happens once in a while, and it laid me flat for a whole day. Ugh. But the weather has turned, and I’m thinking a lot about writing stuff and art stuff as we’re getting close to bazaar season. IOW, STUFF.

On the other side of things, the Portland house is now mostly painted except for touch-up work. It’s pretty, but not as nice as the Enterprise house (IMO).

One of the things that happened last weekend was a second go-round at the Wallowa Valley Farmers Market in Joseph. I sold a couple of books and discovered in conversation that I am most likely THE science fiction and fantasy writer in Wallowa County. So, hmm. That makes for a nice piece of publicity–Wallowa County’s Science Fiction and Fantasy Writer.

And then there’s the election. Please, dear God, can it just go away? I have this dreadful feeling that 2016 is going to be too damn much like 1980 and 2000 for my liking, including the almost-20-year bit. Either that or 2016 is going to be a nasty set-up for major ugliness in 2020. Neither really works for me. Yes, I know it’s probably extinction burst of some attitudes, and we do seem to be making progress, but really. I’m fed up with the Purity Brigade on the left that whines and fusses about their presidential election choices, but doesn’t do squat in between those presidential years to organize and put together some real grass roots forces for significant change from the bottom up. I’ve spent too damn much time on Facebook griping at people who clearly haven’t spent time in the political trenches, can’t be bothered to do political organizing, but don’t like their choices.

If you don’t like your party’s choices? Then DO SOMETHING ABOUT IT. Get involved.

But for God’s sake, with the Supreme Court at stake, don’t mouth sanctimonious platitudes about how your vote really isn’t going to get Trump elected if you decide that Jill’s your girl because HRC ain’t pure enough. For the record–you’re wrong. And don’t whine at me that you don’t like any of your choices if you haven’t spent time working for candidates at the local level and put in time organizing. Look, damn it. I worked for Jerry Brown in 1992. I tried to collaborate with people in the 90s to bring about some significant organizing change. The same people moaning about the Clintons being centrists and dragging the Democrats to the right had NO INTEREST in doing the grunt work to change things from the bottom up. The strategy of voting third party to bring about change is worthless, and only gives power to the 1%. Period.

Ah well, hopefully all will be well in November. But I’m worried. And I’m tuning out a lot of politics because I know how I’m voting, I’m not changing my vote, and there are too many people I know who seem to have lost all common sense when it comes to Trump. ARRGH.

And with that, I’m done with the political rants. Oh well, it’s helped me figure out who I don’t want to deal with on Facebook. Sigh.

We do have the prospect of a pretty hunting season ahead. I’m hoping it will be cooler and feature fewer yellow jackets, as I’d just as soon be able to sit down and eat without having to resort to the pickup cab. Or do reading or writing work in camp without having to hide in the pickup cab. Or manage deer/grouse carcasses without having to fight the yellow jackets. One sting this year is plenty.

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[Rantage] These things keep happening, and I want to scream

2016. Two things keep happening that I never thought would become so damn commonplace and continue to be a problem when I was a younger and more idealistic woman.

1.) Mass shootings and

2.) Murder by cop of black men.

Granted, #2 has been going on since way before my birth, and it’s only now that it has become news. But for the love of all that’s divine, why is it still going on? Why didn’t we learn from earlier incidents? Why is this behavior still justified? Why should black men who are doing nothing different from their redneck working class white male counterparts (wait a minute, the black man is probably being more careful and polite) be living in fear? After all, dear Lord, our President is a black man. Why should his counterparts be living in fear?

In case you’re wondering, every. damn. one. of those questions is rhetorical. I know the answers and I don’t like them. Racism exists. It benefits the Powers That Be. Do we need to say more?

And then there’s the mass shooting piece. Why do they keep happening like this?

I have no answers, save that perhaps we need to be thinking about a new and better world where we figure out how to get along with each other instead of fighting. That seems to be so obvious…and yet so many remain so clueless.

Meanwhile, Ammon Bundy whines about poor treatment when it’s been clear that he and his compatriots have been handled with kid gloves and catered to. Does anyone think at all that Bundy would have been handled the same way if his skin was anything but white? ARRRGH.

This is not a post with answers. This is pure rantage out of frustration.


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Reflections on men and feminism (long and rambly)

The short version of this particular set of musings is: it’s complicated. My feminism is inflected and informed by a 60’s childhood raised in contradictory but powerful influences. I’m the product of at least two (and most likely more) generations of strong and opinionated frontier farm women (Grandma was a chicken farmer; Mom could grow one heckva garden, can, and raise a good flock of layers and fryers). I also got exposed to a particularly toxic form of fundamentalist Christian repression of women in my late teens through school Bible groups and the Christian college I attended–Basic Youth Conflicts, one of Bill Gothard’s groups (go here for the Wikipedia TL:DR version). However, I never quite fell within the lure of Basic Youth, especially after I went off to college and discovered Ms. Magazine. Various adventures with conservative religious boyfriends which usually ended up with me being handed things to mend also had an influence, plus growing up in Springtucky and getting hassled by men for being blond and big-busted.

My family followed rather traditional roles that I viewed with a jaundiced eye as I got older. It didn’t help that during my high school and early undergraduate career, any boyfriends I had soon got chased away when we decided it would be romantic to take classes together. Um. Yeah. The first time I got a better grade than boyfriend did, it was bye-bye. I had three boyfriends in my college years who took me seriously as an intellectual; I married one of them nearly thirty-three years ago.

But there was more to the man I married than just taking me seriously as a thinker. One of the light entertainments of politically oriented students at the University of Oregon during my era was engaging with the different right-wing preachers who ranted at U of O students as part of their ministry. Of course, what they didn’t know is that about half the students arguing were liberals from the neighboring Christian college who were honing their theological arguments…but I digress. The man I married took extreme exception to one of these preachers personally threatening me by getting into that preacher’s face. He also did things like cook for me when I was working as an organizer on the previous boyfriend’s campaign. He wasn’t and isn’t perfect, but he “got it” (in the terms of a recent internet discussion about men and feminism) at an early age, in part because, like me, he was the son of a working mother who carried quite a bit of weight in the family economy. The personal was political for him at a very early age. He had a personal stake in understanding feminism because he saw it on a daily basis.  Was and is his feminist awareness perfect? Nope. Neither is mine, and I don’t think anyone can make that claim about themselves.

Way back when my son was little, we attended an indoor park for toddlers. It was all female, until a single at-home father started attending with his daughter. Many of the women were feminist. Did all of them embrace his attendance? Um. No. But enough of us did that we banded together over the others’ attempts to exclude the father and got ourselves elected to the governing board. I remember being heartily annoyed by complaints about insensitive spouses, but then the rejecting shoulder to a father walking the talk.

As part of the upbringing my husband received, he’s a nurturing male who has no qualms about doing housework. Our housework divisions in past years have fallen either into skill areas (yours truly doesn’t have chainsaw skills and arthritic hands mean if I do, it will be with a light saw; I still end up doing the sewing) or allergy areas (water used to irritate my eczema and dust irritates his sinuses). He likes cooking, while I like baking and canning. Our son was raised to be nurturing and with the model that the men do the housework. He likes cooking, and when he’s had a partner, part of what he does is cook.

That’s one reason why I get grouchy with those who complain about men who apparently don’t Get It about feminism until injustice touches their wives, their daughters, their sisters. If you look back far enough, every man who Gets It had that little spark of feminist awareness fanned by some sort of personal stake, whether it was watching his mother struggle or his sisters struggle. Somehow, somewhere, personal connection fueled awareness. That’s how people learn and develop politically. That’s why consciousness raising is such a crucial task in developing and maintaining a movement, and sitting back to think that it’s all done is folly. That’s why, no matter what the issue is, dear God, we have to have basic Feminism/Racism/Ageism/Ableism/etc 101, because there will always be someone new who Doesn’t Get It, until the personal becomes political and awareness flares into being for that individual. It would be nice if people were born with their consciousness raised, alleluia, alleluia, but by golly, unless we all suddenly get raptured into some sort of progressive heaven, it ain’t happening (Let’s listen, for example, to how men talk about what they’ve lost by never being able to express their nurturing sides due to traditional male roles. We have to be honest and listen to that oppression as well).

Until we reach the understanding that we are all people together, and that we should respect each other, we’re not going to get anywhere. Slamming folks for not immediately developing advanced awareness is foolish. Awareness is a learning process. We don’t expect kids to enter school reading at a twelfth grade level (at least not yet), nor do we expect to be immediately proficient in a new language. The same is true for all forms of awareness. So yes, there will always be a need for Basic Consciousness Raising, and excluding or condemning people because they are insufficiently advanced is just another form of exclusionary arrogance. It’s acceptable to be annoyed about it sometimes, as long as you take a deep breath and acknowledge that learning is hard for both student and teacher.

And with that, I’m not only tired and have probably bored everyone, but I wanna go play with my new sewing machine. Curtain-making awaits. I’m gonna go be creative in a new way.

Have fun, y’all, and remember to pay it forward. That means being patient when it’s time to trot out the 101 learning. Everyone had to start there sometime.

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A ranty morning

What is it about today? Already I’ve gone off on someone about Patrick McLaw (the Maryland African-American teacher detained allegedly because of the themes in his self-published sf books), and now I’m all ranty from a pompous interview in the Guardian with Ian McEwan. Since I’ve exhausted myself with McLaw (let’s just say I’m pissed, pissed, pissed), I’ll just rant a little bit about the McEwan.

Keep in mind that he’s a mainstream writer considered to be writing about family and drama. I think it was the subplot of his newest work that set me off originally, with the 60-year-old husband wanting “one last go” at a grand affair. Grrr. I’m afraid that these days, I wouldn’t make it past the first few pages of a work with that subplot element. I’m sick and tired of the glorification of the male sexual fantasy, especially in a work where the author is allegedly trying to think like a professional woman with homelife drama who encounters a big ethical challenge. Dear God, take me now. Ugh. Can we just say cliched, overdone, trite? Quite frankly, I think “spouse fed up with his work and wanting to retire” or “spouse dealing with onset of illness” is probably more realistic as homelife drama, unless one happens to be part of a particular rich and privileged class. Affairs? Jesus, John Updike did that to death. I don’t care what genre it is, if there’s an affair involved, I’m probably going to throw the damn book against the wall. It’s why I don’t spend much time on the literary genre. Male infidelity is just so done in fiction, in my opinion.

Maybe I’ve just had too many other family dramas in my life to be able to engage with the egotism involved in a man’s desire for an affair. I don’t know. The concept of “one last go” is somewhat offensive to me. Either you’re monogamous and you both agree, or else you’re poly and the rules and structures exist for how you engage with others and it’s No. Big. Deal. To be monogamous, and then have this one last desire for a fling with someone else is profoundly so much a violation of the original relationship (in my opinion) that the other person is justified in chucking the whole relationship and ripping the man to shreds in the court system.

Yeah. So please slap me if I ever decide to write such a thing.

There are aspects of McEwan’s interview that I like. He’s unapologetically placing himself in “what he calls the ‘family division’ of English prose.” I like his advocacy for bringing work back into contemporary writing. I just–I don’t know. Something about the tone of the description of the latest work set me off. Probably it’s more an argument with the character in the latest book who feels himself entitled to ask for permission to have an affair. It’s the male gaze issue

And probably a huge chunk of it is that the sort of sf and fantasy I want to write is more of that sort of family interactions and dynamics stuff. The as-yet undisclosed heart of the Netwalk Sequence involves some very dark and horrible stuff that happened within the Stephens family. It was kept successfully hushed up for over a hundred years. It explains a lot of Sarah’s dynamics, and her star-crossed relationship with Francis Stewart. Only I also bring in gadgets and tech and other stuff because, well…I like boom today. Boom tomorrow as well, but boom today is good. Anthony Trollope in space is fun. So is Jane Austen, the Brontes, and etc.

But it’s not taken as serious writing within the genre, unless you get very, very lucky and you write about the male protagonists. Me, I like playing with multi-generational female protagonists, including the additional drama of reproductive realities. So yeah. Probable obscurity.

However, I intend to have fun doing it. And now my ranty mcrantypants rantage is done. Whew. That’s enough for one day.

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The tiresome sexualization of female equestrians ( a mild rant, of sorts)

It happened again. Rarely happens when I’m wearing jeans and packers to ride Western, but if I go out and about in my English riding attire, either before or after a riding session, I run into some man who starts leering at me, in different stages of politeness. This time was at a fruit stand, with my husband. I heard the guy commenting–“hey, she’s got spurs on.” Then he started ogling me, even with the husband right there. He kept talking to his female companion, but kept snatching glances even as I kept talking to my husband about what fruit we wanted to buy for the next few days.

Then he asked me if I actually was a horse person or if I was just wearing those clothes. Needless to say, I was taken aback, and weighing two possibilities. The other car at the fruit stand was a trendy Fiat Smart Car with California plates. The odds were very good that this was a very urban Southern Californian who didn’t get the idea that people really do go around in barn clothes because, after all, this is Tourist Season and all. But the look in his eye was just a little different. I know that look. He was being very polite about it, but nonetheless, I was getting The Look, and matched with it, The Fantasy, which spills on over into a general dismissive attitude toward horsewomen (in particular) and their desire to be around horses and work with horses. We can’t have a nonsexual interest in horses. You know, that assumption is really, really tiresome. Stupid. And incorrect.

(Thank you Sigmund….NOT!)

So a woman wearing dusty breeches and faded t-shirt with dirty and scuffed tall black boots with stained spurs clearly must be walking around with intent to arouse rather than using plain practical English riding attire for efficiency and comfort, if you follow that particular line of reasoning. I’ve seen normally rational males start gibbering and slathering just a little bit when I talk about riding in English gear and carrying a crop (okay, I’ve also encountered that from a non-horsey lesbian, too).

It’s stupid. It’s irrational. It’s annoying. I don’t put that stuff on to arouse. I put that stuff on because, quite frankly, when I want to school my horse in English tack, I’ve found that tall boots just plain work better with English stirrup leathers. Pinched skin on calves ain’t no fun, really (plus I’m not really fond of purple-blue spots on my legs), and on a hot day my secondhand field boots are much cooler than half-chaps. It’s much easier to change clothes at home than at the barn. Jeans tend to scuff up the leather on my saddle. Therefore, I wear breeches and boots when I ride English, with whatever layer of top works best for the season, and I run errands wearing barn gear rather than waste gas by going home to change.

Sigh. This is just a part of the whole women and horses thing, though. No one really talks about men and horses having some sort of weird relationship. But females and horses? Ooh, must be sexual. Grrr.

One of the other arguments for female attraction to equines is just as annoying and circles back to sexuality. Some proponents knowingly natter that girls like horses because they enjoy the power to direct and control a large animal like a horse with an agency they lack in the rest of their lives. Poke at that one too deeply, and it comes back to sexuality, both with what that argument says about the daily lives of women and with the manner in which the woman’s dominance of a horse is portrayed.

But neither the sexual nor the dominance arguments entirely explain how men and boys can develop the same type of deep attachments to the horse life. Heck, anyone who reads the plethora of horse fiction out there starting with the early 20th century would know better. Will James didn’t hold up dominance or sexuality as motivations for connecting with horses when he wrote his stories about the ranch horses he worked with. Walter Farley wasn’t writing about dominance and sexuality. Neither was Mary O’Hara, nor does Natalie Keller Reinert, or a number of other folks who write insightful fiction and nonfiction about the relationships between people and horses.

Certainly the ability to direct a powerful horse is an issue. But I would argue that this is just a symptom of a deeper level of something else. As any horse person will tell you, the true reward in working with a horse is the ability to develop a deep-level nonverbal ability to communicate. Smart horses learn to communicate with humans on human terms while humans learn to communicate with horses on horse terms. More than most dogs, horse-human communication spans the range of communicative senses in ways and depths that we don’t necessarily use with other animals (we’re not in control of our scent communication like other species and we don’t seem to be able to read their scent messages). However sight, sound, touch, and proprioception play huge roles in horse-human communication, both in the saddle and on the ground. A large part of schooling horses is about refining cues and communication between horse and human, until they become one being in motion, able to shift directions with a turn of the human’s head, speed up or slow down based on where the human weight goes, or (for the horse) become entirely dependent on human visual perception and signalling about the correct place to take off for a complex and difficult jumping line.

In essence, that’s a whole-body experience. Horse and human in tune with each other is about grace, beauty and communication in coordination with each other. If there’s anything sexual about that, it’s that the horse-human link at its most insightful can rival the relationship between a long-term bonded couple.

Not that this is what those who make the cracks about women and horses, or who leer at a woman turned out in English riding gear who’s clearly using it have in mind. They’re just focusing on pale shadows of a reality they don’t quite understand.

And it’s damned tiresome to deal with. So no, buddy, I’m not dressing to fulfill your fantasies. I’m dressing for practicalities, and if I seem remote, snippy, and a bit like your image of querulous locals, well, it’s because I’m kind of tired of being looked at in that manner. Making loud comments about my spurs and boots doesn’t really endear you to me. Knock it off, and grow up. Instead of commenting about my clothes and asking me if I really am an equestrian, ask me where there’s a place to ride around the area. Ask me about horses. Just leave the clothing and the sexualization out of it, okay?

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A plethora of posts to write–quick hits–teacher politics, horse politics, and a fun reflection on writing with kids

As usual, life’s gotten busy and I have things to write about which just ain’t happenin’ as individual posts at the moment.

To start with, David Gilmour (NOT the Pink Floyd musician but the writer and lit prof) doesn’t like teaching about women writers. There’s dozens of excellent rants around the web about his sexism, but I’ve got an additional reaction which seriously provokes my ire–the assumption on his part that teaching is all about being able to present material smoothly and effectively (his assertion that “I’m a natural teacher” where he goes on to state that his experience speaking on camera gives him Magic Teacher Juju).


There’s significantly more to being a good teacher than whether you can deliver a brilliant presentation. If that’s your only tool, then you’re a good lecturer. That’s different from being a good teacher. A good teacher can develop the sort of connection with his or her students that allows the teacher to quickly ascertain student understanding on the fly, diagnose what is/isn’t working, and modify both presentation and individual/small group instruction (which may or may not include the lecture) IN PROCESS to facilitate learning. You can be a brilliant lecturer but a crappy teacher.

Additionally, that conflating of lecture and the art and science of teaching is symptomatic of the sort of mentality that pervades much of the current educational deformist movements in the US public education system at the moment, usually mouthed by those who haven’t set foot in a classroom since they left it as students. Yes, you have to be able to know your subject and communicate what you know to students. But–you have to be able to diagnose when learning runs off of the rails and figure out how to fix it–fast. That sort of understanding doesn’t come from book larnin’, folks–it comes from practice, observation, and more practice.

My sense from both the linked interview and Gilmour’s own statements, plus additional commentary from students, is that he may be a brilliant lecturer, but at least half of his students aren’t necessarily learning (and can we guess which gender that is?). I don’t care whether he’s at a university or in the k-12 system–that’s not the mark of an effective or natural teacher. ‘Nuff said.

Next item. Mark Arbello, the San Diego horse trainer who killed a horse in training by using a tie-around method of bitting up. From what I’ve read so far, there are so many things wrong with how he executed that particular method that it isn’t even funny. I have seen this tool used effectively with a limited subset of hard-case rehab horses whose next stop was the auction if they didn’t turn around, but Arbello did Every. Damn. Thing. Wrong. Shanked bit, not a snaffle (for the non-horsey, a shanked bit puts leverage pressure on the horse’s head in a very painful way if used for this purpose and can lead to the type of reaction which caused this lovely mare’s death). Cranked tight and hard (nope). Tied the horse up instead of letting the horse move on their own. Unsupervised. Grrr.

For the record, I don’t use this tool. I know how to use it, but I don’t. I prefer a side rein method, loosely adjusted so that the horse practices moving in balance but is figuring it out for themselves–and the horse is supervised so that if it causes anxiety instead of the desired result, the human can quickly intervene to prevent a blowup.

Of course, there are plenty of folks out there condemning both techniques with a broad brush and insisting that the way they use side reins is the Only True Way. Sigh. Horse politics are too damn much like health care politics these days, everyone’s waxing opinionated with closed minds. ‘Nuff said with that grumble.

And last of all, for those who are still reading, I’m having some fun times working on a vocabulary story with my intervention class students. I’m not fond of the drill and kill method of vocabulary development where you make kids look up lots of words in the dictionary and write them down, plus use the word in a sentence. A little bit of this work to teach how to use the dictionary is useful, but that’s what you use it for. For vocabulary development, they’ve got to use the words and understand their meaning. I’ve graded enough half-ass-done dictionary vocabulary exercises with poorly written sentences that I don’t like to do that method.

Instead, I want kids to use the words in a way that helps them understand the meaning of these words–ergo, vocabulary pictionary, vocabulary charades, and what I’m doing now–the vocabulary story.  This is a new thing, but basically, I created three categories–event, personality, scene–and had the kids classify the vocabulary words accordingly. Boy, was that ever a knock-down, drag-out argument in some cases, but the kids came up with good justification for that placement. Then, yesterday, we started creating characters, settings, and the first beginnings of plot.

Wow. Can we say buy-in? And, as we discussed how to incorporate various elements of the words into a story (conundrum, assonance, inference are just some of the vocabulary words), I noticed that the kids started talking authoritatively about the meaning of the words, and when I’d throw out a question about how we could craft a character to reflect those words, they got it.


Though I’ve gotta say, the stories may well turn out to be this rather bizarre mishmash of Philip K. Dick, Terry Pratchett, and some very, very odd cartoons. But all in good fun. After all, how often do I get to work with pink unicorn ninjas in a moldy candy cane forest? Nonetheless, the kids are excited and engaged–which is really, really good.


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My two cents on the recent sexism/ sf convention harassment controversy

Apologies in advance for all the rambling, but…it’s been a busy day and I’m tired, and I’m still pulling my thoughts together.

First of all, I want to give MAJOR props to the women who have spoken out on this issue, especially Elise Matthesen. Speaking out in the face of physical and psychological harassment is a huge thing, and she’s right. If we’re going to stop this sort of behavior at conventions, especially by people in positions of power, then we women damn well have to make formal reports when sexual harassment happens, no matter how powerful the person doing it is. Period. Full stop. No two ways about it.

I don’t have a lot of convention horror stories to share, for various reasons. Some of this may just be that I flick the verbal harassment back and ignore it. Another is that as a result of years spent around horses in various stages of training (as well as being a middle school teacher), I have a pretty firm set of boundaries/personal space and when they get violated, I’m vocal (and, if sufficiently threatened, well, I have heels, elbows and other stuff and I’m not afraid to use them). I do engage in horseplay occasionally with trusted friends (there’s one gentleman who likes to pick me up when we’re goofing around at parties, but–we’re both laughing and it never crosses my personal boundaries). And that’s the key. They’re trusted friends, with established relationships. If I don’t know someone who puts hands on me, um, well, y’know, I might decide you need to be treated like a recalcitrant stud colt who wants to put his lips and teeth on me. Doesn’t need to be big and dramatic, but I will make a correction. Don’t go there. You might not like the result. I have a Teacher Voice, and I work in middle school, so I’ve had lots of experience observing just how to stage a dramatic scene without worrying about how dignified I look. If you have any dignity, you won’t survive teaching in middle school. That’s just the way things roll.

But, in counterpoint–I have specific circles I run in and I don’t go to a lot of the big, popular cons. I don’t necessarily do a lot of parties because, hey, I have a day job with day job sleep habits so I tend to bug out of parties early. I’m older (55) and that probably puts me off limits. I also have a spouse who goes to conventions with me and I usually talk about him being in the hotel room waiting for me. Sometimes he even comes to panels. In any case, I cultivate the “very married” persona and privilege (which not everyone has as an option). Because I was a political activist in college and spent some time as a legislative intern, I’ve had experience in fending off creepy politicians and lobbyists cruising the cute interns (OMG, now there’s a snake pit for you–being a female legislative intern). As the same activist, I’ve also led more than a few meeting charges (my friends–male–used to feed me talking points, aim me, and have me lead point on some of our political meeting arguments, under the general principle that having the articulate, assertive woman who was young and attractive leading the charge would put our opponents off their arguments. It worked, for the most part.). So I am not afraid to speak out in my defense, even if it burns bridges (ouch!).

Because of the combination of these various elements, I’ve been very damn lucky at conventions. I know it, because that luck hasn’t always held in other settings. I’ve survived one rape (pre-writing, pre-convention era). I’ve been pursued by another rapist when going home from class. In the workplace, I’ve filed one formal complaint for sexism against a supervisor and informally complained about another supervisor (who was so awful that sexism and harassment were actually relatively minor parts of his utter awfulness). That’s recent history. Past history has not been so kind.

At my first job, at an isolated river resort in Southern Oregon (the owners have changed so there’s no need to call them out now), I was specifically directed by my boss (female) to let one of the boat pilots fondle me. In front of customers. Loudly and brazenly. This was in the mid-70s, BTW, so not a lot of recourse then. When I left at the end of my employment, the only pilot available was that one. Who fondled me all the way down the river.

I was young, powerless, and had no options, in an era where I had even less support than women who are the age I was then have now.

There were other incidents at other jobs but that was the worst. I had a stalker confront me at work and the boss took his side. I almost got fired over that.

So…yeah. Convention experiences have not been bad for me, but then again, that’s been a combination of circumstances that have skewed in my favor. Other women have not been as fortunate. And that is absolutely, totally, NOT RIGHT.

And that’s the bottom line. I don’t care how old, how powerful, or how privileged someone is. Age, power and privilege do not convey the right to violate other people’s personal boundaries and personal dignity. This should be social functioning 101.


We should have learned this lesson by now, damn it.

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Okay. Teachers and general school staff should NOT be carrying guns. Here’s why.

Note: I own guns.  I hunt.  I am familiar with guns and their safe handling and use.

Which is exactly why I argue that teachers and general school staff should NOT be carrying guns in school settings or expected to carry guns in school settings.

I’ve run across this particular meme often enough on Facebook already since the senseless tragedy at Sandy Hook, and it’s making me angry enough that I want to address it explicitly.  Because so far, not a single person promoting this argument has sufficient experience managing kids in a school setting to make a seriously valid argument.

First of all, a school setting is not a home defense setting.  It is a crowd situation.  Teachers and staff are the managers of the crowd situation.  They are known authority figures to the crowd.  They have some idea of who the reactors within the crowd are going to be.  They can manage and direct the group.


Keep in mind that in most settings you will have an adult-student ratio of 1-25 or more.  With older students, you might have certain highly-regarded, level-headed kids who can perform specific tasks to help secure the setting–i.e., close curtains, calm peers, overturn tables, etc…(yes, I have a multi-scenario, rather elaborate security plan should I need to implement it.  I’ve just spent time tweaking it).  Might.

You might also have a panic-stricken, hormone-crazed crowd that you can’t step away from, except to do the basic steps to secure the area.

For example, here are the steps I need to take to secure a classroom–

Get students to a safe location out of sight of window in door and outside window (impossible, therefore overturned tables).

Close blinds.

Lock door (requires I step outside the classroom).

In my regular classroom, I have to walk fifteen feet to secure an outside door that opens onto a covered play area.

Do I really have the time to prepare a weapon safely while doing all of the above?

What happens if I have younger children that I can’t leave unsupervised throughout any of this process and who may need me to soothe them and forestall dangerous panic behaviors?

What is the MOST IMPORTANT thing for me to be doing–managing the kids or managing a weapon safely around kids?  Keep in mind that I may be the sole adult in the room.  It may fall upon me to get the kids quickly to safety under direction.  I am the direct kid manager.  Do I have time to manage a gun?

I’ve also been reading a rather useful book about force decisions by Rory Miller and Lawrence A. Kane, Scaling Force: dynamic decision-making under threat of violence.  I’m currently in the Level Six–Deadly Force–section.  After reading Miller and Kane, I am very comfortable in stating that teachers can’t do it all.

See, that’s the other piece about putting it on teachers and staff to carry guns in school.  This isn’t a home defense setting with limited people.  This is a crowd setting.  In order to safely and effectively shoot an intruder without causing harm to innocent bystanders (for whom you may be charged if you do injure or kill them), you have to practice that scenario and train in assorted crowd scenarios.

Many teachers already don’t have enough time in their lives to do the daily tasks required of them as a teacher.  Where’s this training time going to come from?  Who’s going to pay for it?  What further academics get cut from tight budgets to fund this sort of aggressive security scenario?  I can pretty much guarantee you that it’s likely to be PE/Health followed by Social Studies that’ll go bye-bye (the arts are already gone in many schools).

There’s also the issue of safe secure carry within a classroom around kids who might decide to try to get that weapon from you.  The potential emotional impact on struggling students of a teacher carrying a weapon (and please, don’t get me started about finding a place to secure a weapon in my room.  That just adds to the reaction time if it comes down and it’s another temptation for kids).

Now does this mean I’m unarmed in my classroom?

Let’s see.  We have staplers.  We have scissors.  We have chairs.  We have books and other things to throw.  We have tables to stack and form as door and window barricades.  White board cleaning spray.  Trust me, if it comes down, I’m going to roll with the situation but there are many lovely tools in a school setting that can be used as self-defense, given the time and secure setting to prepare them.

It’s just getting to that secure setting.  To that end, more effective school entry security is a must.  The ability to secure settings such as libraries, cafeterias, and outdoor playgrounds quickly is a must.  The ability for staff to communicate quickly and privately is a must.

None of these require the use of guns.

If society deems that we need armed staff in the school, then put one or two deputized, sworn, trained police officers in each building.  Their job will be to keep the building secure.  Many high schools already do this, some getting the staff from the local police department.

Better that than teachers carrying.  Period.

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Thinking about disability, part one, The Rantage, or why I hate disability novels

This, too, is an Orycon thought post but I’m not going to go meta on it because I don’t feel like opening that particular can of worms.  Rather, I’d sooner contemplate some of the results of my thinking–or, at least where I am on the pathway of my contemplation.  And because I am thinking globally and not in the context of any one disability category or culture, I’m not identifying any one type of disability.  Rather, I am using “disability” as a catch-all, metaphrase to speak in this generalist POV.  Far from perfect, but because of the widely variant nature of disability, including the widely disparate attitude of those who have it (from those who see it as profoundly disabling to those who see it as a simple difference or even a superpower), no one term is really going to work.  Except human.  And I just don’t see the general population as sufficiently evolved to work with that term–no matter what their relationship to disability is.

Some of this is Disability 101, and for those who know, you can probably skip this post until the end, when I get into the rantage.  Which is happening pretty damn fast, really.

First of all, not all disabilities view disability in the same manner, and even within the disability there are widely disparate approaches to it.  Some disabilities have strong internal communities sufficient to maintain their own cultures–for example the Deaf and Autistic communities.  Others strive to get rid of disability or overcome it.  But even within those strong communities, voices differ.  Some prefer person-first language (i.e., “person with—” language).  Others abhor it.

This wide variance is confusing to the general public that has little to no understanding of disability, and it’s not made easier by the media bias overall toward a certain type of disability story.  I think the best summation of that sort of story comes from Jeffrey Cohen, The Asperger Parent, where he characterizes the typical “Asperger parent story” that the media seeks to write as all about “smiling through the tears.”  That is, there’s a lot of weight given to the overcoming overwhelming odds to achieve some semblance of normality despite the disability.  That there are happy moments but those happy moments are overshadowed by the sorrow of the disability.

Enough explaining.

Cohen’s book was one of the first ones I read as a parent of an autistic kid that I didn’t want to scream and throw across the room in utter frustration (and then I discovered Liane Holiday and Luke Jackson, yay!).  There’s been a lot of that sort of book that got thrown.  Too damned much of it.  What was even more frustrating, when I went through my special education training, I got referred to even more of that sort of book I wanted to throw across the room.  Oh, those who did the recommending were well-intentioned.  But they’d never lived with disability, either in themselves or in others.  They’d only remediated disability and their focus was more on making people fit into the mainstream, not on helping people cope with the mainstream to make it work for them.

For the record, I don’t read novels about disability any more.  There’s too damn many of them that make me angry.  I don’t fracking WANT to read about the miraculous cure.  I flinch whenever someone starts raving about this wonderful book that REALLY SAYS IT ALL about a disability.

Because it usually doesn’t.

Take autism/Asperger’s.  I know this one pretty damn well as a parent and spouse and quite likely someone who is on the spectrum in a minor way (I vacillate between autism/ADHD as an explanation for my quirks).  I don’t like anything I read (when I still let myself do it) with an autistic character in it.  If the characterization came close, then the driving factor was about a cure.  Not about the strengths of the disability but about the weakness.


I am tired, tired, tired of reading about the weaknesses of disability.  I work with different disabilities daily.  I see many strengths, if only the people who had them would be allowed to believe in those strengths and develop mechanisms which allow them to use those strengths.  Now getting to that understanding is going to take one hell of a lot more tolerance on the part of society…and evolution on both sides of the disability.

But that’s a subject for another post….the contradictory demands and desires of the different disability stakeholders.

I’ll leave you with one last thought, though…disability is not weakness.  It is a difference.

And the sooner we learn to live with that, the better.

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