10/2/2021 0 Comments
Love Me, Love My Hair
No one knows the love-hate relationship with their hair better than a Black woman. I spent the better part of my childhood and teens in pigtails and twists, endured perms and straightening, all in an effort to tame my tresses. I’ve gone through the Jheri curl phase and even submitted to the BIG chop. It was not until I went natural and committed to dreadlocks that I learned to love my hair (and myself). But some folks just don’t get it.
I’m reminded of a time when a Black woman’s hair humbled a man who should have known better. I was a high school teacher, working at a predominately Black school in the heart of the city. While on the-much-dreaded lunch duty roster, I was talking with a group of girls in the cafeteria.
An assistant principal, an African-American man, came over to the table and casually reprimanded me. One of the girls was wearing a colorful head scarf, and he wanted her to remove it. I knew why she was wearing it. I had done my due diligence, asked her about it, and decided (in the best interest of the child) that it was not my place. For the last few months, she had been wearing her hair in a protective style—micro braids—and then spent the better part of the previous night taking them out in preparation for getting the style redone. It literally takes hours. Her hair was…out of sorts. I was not about to ask her to remove the scarf.
When the administrator directed me to make the request, I refused. So, he directed her to remove it.
The child obediently complied and revealed an unruly mane that was uneven, flaking, knotted togther, and in need of care. My heart dropped, and so did the administrator’s. But the girl smiled proudly, looking us both in the eyes. He promptly told her to tie her headwrap back in place, patted me on the back, and left us.
Marcus Garvey once said, “Take the kinks out of your mind, not your hair.” He is right. The next day, I was commended for my disobedience, and the rule was promptly amended. Love me, love my hair.
9/18/2021 0 Comments
I Am Crying
This poem is dedicated to the students of the Panther Anti-Racist Union (PARU) of Central York High School (especially Edha, Christina, Olivia, and Renee) for their justified fight against the Central York School Board's horrific ban on materials written by and about BIPOC, LGBTQIA+, and other marginalized people. Stand firm and remain undaunted! If you want to follow their struggle or donate to their cause, click HERE.
I Am Crying
I am crying.
And I am not a crier.
I am crying as I write this
because I have been strong
for too long.
That’s what tears are,
a sign that you have been strong
and carried a burden for too long.
But they are also an affirmation
to my soul
that I intend to keep carrying that load
as long as it takes.
I feel like I am suffocating
under a weight,
but I am fire
and I dare anyone to snuff me out.
I am crying
If you mistake this for weakness
Proceed at your own risk
I can’t run because
I am too fierce,
and I don’t walk well
infirmities have taken my knees,
but I can scream…
loudly I scream
I will make the universe
hear my voice and see me,
maybe even judge me,
but I fear no judgment
for as I stand before the Eye of that
which is greater than myself,
I know that I have been
A good and faithful servant
My voice has been heard in the wind.
My sacrifice witnessed by the stars.
My heart has trembled to the chords of angels
who came to console me
in my hour of need.
As I reach for my sword and shield
I am crying
I know the stakes and the sacrifice
But I also know
It is the difficulty of a stance
that makes it matter
I am crying
but...I will not deviate from my course!
9/18/2021 0 Comments
September 18th, 2021
My mare’s nickname is Double Stuffffff. The extra letters are not a typo. Maya’s gotten so fat, it’s now a medical concern. She is one of those thrifty types (like her mother). A good deep breath results in gaining 3-5 additional pounds. (Yes, social justice warriors, she is now wearing a muzzle. But she has chafed her face so badly, she’s now in solitary confinement in a dirt lot for an hour a day. And yes, the vet is involved. Back off. Unsolicited advice will be ignored.)
I got my beloved mare a size 60 girth from the plus-size store for horses, but it still took two people to get it on her. So I broke down and bought a girth extender. Having never used one, I didn’t think to use a smaller girth...I’m a science fiction/fantasy writer (emphasis on fantasy), I do words not numbers. I didn’t have the slightest worry that maybe the girth just wasn’t tight enough as I walked down to the ring to ride. 🙄
When I went to get on her from the grace of the mounting block, the goddamn saddle slid and I’m hanging off of her side like a decrepit Spider-Man. I’m 52 years old. Not at all fit or agile. My knees are shit, and if I were a horse, someone would have put me down for health reasons. And here I am hanging off my mare’s side like a trick rider.
The first and last time this happened to me, I was getting on a fit and mischievous, off-the-track Thoroughbred. I got planted hard enough to earn a 5.2 on the Richter Scale. I still have the bruise on my leg, and that was six years! A tattoo the doctor called it. I’d rather get the real thing. Far less painful!
Anyway! My magnificent mare is a sensible sort. Her favorite speeds are stop and slow. A stick-and-kick ride in every sense of the phrase. This is in the interest of preserving precious calories. She took one step away from the mounting block, and I thought, “Let the rodeo begin. This is one way to avoid going back to work.” Again, my mare took ONE step, stopped, and turned to look at me with an expression of “WTF are you doing? Is this the new protocol? This is too many calories.”
Bracing my old, cranky knees, I slid off and promptly gave Maya every cookie and peppermint in my pocket. Rules dictate that if you fall off, you have to get back on. Holding my breath, I tightened the girth, best I could, and climbed back on. Saddle still not quite tight enough, I walked and trotted a circle in both directions and went back to the barn—my bravery meter shattered. “All hail Queen Maya, may your tiara gleam for all eternity!”
5/19/2021 2 Comments
At the In-Gate: A Novel Debut
What’s it feel like to have a book coming out?
I’ve been writing since I was eight years-old. My first professional credits came from a galaxy far, far away when I was twenty-three. But I’ve been working my whole life towards one specific moment: a novel. My debut, an urban fantasy titled Forging a Nightmare, is a story about an unruly infernal warhorse and the Rider who loves her.
If you happen to be horsey, like me, you see things in terms of how they relate to the horse world. So the answer to this question - how does it feel to have a book coming out - is simple, practical, and horsey. It feels like a horse show!
While standing at the in-gate on your horse, there’s a moment of exhilaration and terror when the announcer calls your number and name. Your heart rate goes up, your blood pressure rises, and you ride into the ring. That threshold is a crossroads—where hours of training, practice, and more than a few tears all come together.
As November 23, 2021 approaches, I am thrilled by the same exhilaration I get while standing at the in-gate before a class. “All things are one,” the old man tells Santiago, the protagonist in Paulo Coelho’s The Alchemist. Training a show horse and writing are similar in process and consequence, product and result. “You only get one debut,” my friend and author R.W.W. Greene once told me. The same can be said in the show ring.
I have spent countless hours working with my manuscript. I have sent it to contests to see how well it stood against the competition. It placed well, but the big win was the representation of an agent, Sara Megibow of KT Literary, a legend. However, there was much more work to do. Beta readers and industry professionals had to put it through its paces, sending it back to the ring over and over again to polish the rough edges.
Am I nervous? Hell yeah! Am I worried? Hell no! (Okay, maybe a little!) There’s really no time to think about what could go wrong. Fear of failure is a paralysis - a living death. Channeling Aramas, Alexandre Dumas writes in The Three Musketeers, “…the merit in all things consists in the difficulty.”
It is a sentiment understood by all those standing at the in-gate, waiting for our turn to show what we have accomplished. So, live for what you believe, friends, and believe in what you love. I hope you will join me on November 23, 2021 for a ride on the Vestibule Road in Hell. Bring a flask and a sandwich case, and I’ll bring you a trusty Nightmare.
10/6/2020 0 Comments
I do believe in unicorns. I’ve been chasing them all my life. Every once and a while, I catch one—and get the chance to ride.
I recently read Hannah Giorgis’ article (https://www.theatlantic.com/culture/archive/2020/08/lovecraft-country/615259/) on What Lovecraft Country Gets Wrong About Racial Horror. The sub-title goes along the lines that the show “...fails to make its Black heroes compelling”. Ms. Giorgis is quite mistaken.
While her article was extremely well written and entertaining, she clearly missed something in her search for lofty ideals of what it means to be a hero. It’s like saying that Alighieri failed to make the character of Dante (himself) compelling because of his flaws. In this instance, she failed to see the forest for the trees, literally.
We have come to a place in time where the ideal hero, to be properly identified, must have an enormous ‘S’ printed across their chest, wield a magical hammer that only the worthy can pick up, or display superhuman powers. What a sad time! Real heroes do not need these things because they exemplify qualities that seem to be in low demand: integrity, natural intelligence, authenticity.
Lovecraft Country’s magic is subtle, subtle enough that Ms. Giorgis missed it in the depiction of Black heroes owning respectable businesses. Black heroes keeping their chins up in the face of systemically sanctioned cruelty. Black heroes even caring about (Heaven forbid!) literature and the distinctions between what is pulp and what is respectable reading, and making a subtle, but poignant distinction between the white racist H.P. Lovecraft’s poem: On The Creation of Niggers and The Count of Monte Cristo by Alexandre Dumas, a timeless classic written by a Black man.
There were heroes of all sizes, not just a size 0. Heroes with natural, lovely nappy hair. Perhaps, Ms. Giorgis should go back to the beginning of the first episode and listen with the intent to hear the message imparted to young Atticus when he excused the flaws of a protagonist, who was an ex-Confederate soldier. He is reprimanded and reminded that this officer “...fought for slavery. You don’t get to put an ex in front of that.” Yes, Ms. Giorgis would benefit from a redefinition of what it means to be a hero, a definition that should not come from a Marvel lunchbox.
Again, splendid article, but misses the mark. B-
6/30/2020 0 Comments
In the current charged atmosphere, I feel it is important that we all get LAED! LAED is an acronym for Listen—Acknowledge—Empathize—Determine. Whether our engagement level is in real social time or through social media, how we interact with each other has become more important than ever. The pendulum of political correctness is just as damaging too far left as it is to the extreme right. While we search for the balance, these four specific aspects can help us maintain a healthy respect for the perspective of other people and their experiences.
Recently, a black man posted a video of another black man being pulled over by the police for driving 65mph in a 70mph zone. While I acknowledge that this has happened to white people, it is a story all too common in the experience of people of color. Rather than acknowledging the man’s experience, a white woman posted her story of how her husband was pulled over by the police for crossing the traffic lines. Turns out he needed cataract surgery.
What the fuck?
How does crossing traffic lines, a clear violation of the law, equate with being pulled over for doing five miles under the speed limit? The poster clearly failed to listen to the message. She then failed to acknowledge the experience, which led to her inability to empathize with the situation, and caused her to poorly determine that her story was appropriate to share. She needs LAED.
A successful equestrian is being investigated for potential animal cruelty. He is suspected of using electrified spurs on his horses. The conversation on the post led to other acts of cruelty in the world of horse shows, such as tying horses heads up high over night, refusing to give water before classes, using electrical currents to punish bad behavior. A female poster declared that she had never seen these methods used; therefore, such methods could not exist.
By not listening, she clearly missed the message. You cannot determine what does or does not exist for another human being based on the very limited, very narrow scope of your own experiences. And worse, you have no right to deny that such an experience even exists just because you have not experienced it. This is how a culture of blame-the-victim has come into vogue.
In writing, a reader brings a suspension of belief to the story in order to be entertained by cyborg terminators, chivalrous dragons, and lovesick zombies. People need to bring a suspension of cultural perspective when encountering the experiences of people whose perspective might be very different from their own. This is not to say subvert or convert any belief systems, but simply to be open to the fact that your experiences are not the same. The theory of apples and oranges.
An excellent analogy is that history is a car accident. Where you were standing will effect your perspective on the incident. Input any historical event into that crash simulation and then try to see it from the perspective of ALL the people involved. If they all saw it the same way—your perspective may well be lacking.
Recently, a writer and friend lamented that they struggle with sharing their work with their parents who will not accept their preferred pronouns. I had a similar tale to tell to comfort them. Thankfully, my brain stomped the brakes! This was not the time for inadvertent one-up-man-ship. This was not the time to diminish their experience with one of my own ... so I got LAED.
I listened, understanding the experience from my limited purview as a straight, CIS woman. I acknowledged my friend’s plight with a bit of truthful humor about the short circuits that develop between members of a family unit. I empathized by offering comfort to my friend to support them in a moment of pain. And then, I determined, that my own tale of my mother’s acerbic criticism of my work was not appropriate. The tale could be told another time.
It was a powerful lesson for a prolific storyteller (translation: I talk too much) who has an eclectic library of anecdotes and no reservations about sharing.
Listening is a muscle, and like any other muscle it needs to be worked to enhance its strength. Acknowledgement comes with courage because often we are faced with looking at ourselves in someone else’s mirror and seeing our flaws.
Empathy comes with trust, trusting ourselves to be open enough, strong enough to carry the burden of another soul, if only for a moment, and determining what we will say because those words could mean the difference between salvation or damnation. Think of your favorite teacher. Now think of the one who left just as indelible a mark on your soul for the wrong reasons.
Determination is just another term for deduction. By taking away the tales we want to tell, we recognize that such stories may laminate over someone else’s experience, diminishing them. There is a proper time to share, but not necessarily in that moment. With proper determination, we will take away far more and be better for it by rising up to support a fellow human being in a time of distress.
Here endeth the lesson, my friends. Go get LAED.
8/14/2016 1 Comment
A Most Humble Invitation
Please read the original rubbish article at http://deadspin.com/the-olympics-are-for-humans-not-horses-1784662204 and encourage Mr. Bedford to accept this once-in-a-lifetime invitation.
Dear Mr. Bedford:
I scanned your blog, which I guess appeared, in Deadspin, an online news outlet. I scanned it because well, it's written with the same gusto of a high school junior who forgot about the assignment and wrote it in math class a period before it was due. I'd go so far as to say a jock, who doesn't know when profanity is for effect or simply shock value. The f-word is so cool! The blog also demonstrated that same lack of research that naive kids have, prompting them to speak before they have the facts; thus, when presented with the facts, they look...well...stupid.
Equestrian sport is as old as the Olympic Games themselves. Those first games in Athens were held to honor the gods of Mount Olympus, thus 'Olympic' games. I'm sure you thought Olympic meant more like epic, but it just isn't so. If you are such a purist, would you have us dispense with national teams and go to religious qualifications? There are a few people who still worship the Greek gods. We'll kick out the rest, unless they convert, but then I'm afraid, there would be far fewer athletes and well, the Winter Games would be scratched straight out. Besides, the humble bobsled does all the work, sliding, twisting, and braking, right?
But I digress...
As most youngsters who fail to do their research and allow the text of the Internet to make their writing look good, I simply offer you an invitation to experience what has been since Zeus was tossing lightning bolts. For you and a friend (if you have any), I offer an abbreviated version of the equestrian sports as they are programmed into the modern Olympic Games of today.
I have two beautiful horses, experienced show animals, that are rather accomplished in their fields. To honor the Greek Gods and the History of the Games, we will begin as those early Olympians did some 2000 years ago. If you make it through these Games, I will publicly admit that you are right and deserving of a Pulitzer.
(Because everyone needs to qualify these days to prove proficiency.
Because the horse does all the work, this should be easy peasy for you.)
Team Round: Trot one loop of a large dressage arena without a saddle, bridle optional, in honor of the ancient Greeks. (Using a cup is up to you, though I doubt you'd need it.) Reverse (that means turn the horse around) and repeat.
Individual Round: Canter the above exercise. Change rein across the diagonal through a simple change at X (by then, a cup won't be necessary.)
Mount: I'll let you use my Hanoverian mare because she's rather rotund and will potentially keep you from being involuntarily ejected.)
(We're going out of order here, but we initially want to keep all four feet on the ground.
So simple, even YOU could do it.)
Team Round: Training Level Test 1. Please report to your test on time or face elimination.
Individual Round: Prepare a Musical Freestyle with movements permissible in Training Level.
Team Round: As fast as you can without knocking any poles down, while staying with the horse and not lying on the ground. Fences will be no smaller than 3'3" and not larger than 3'6".
Individual Round: Having shown your true grit, we'll go with the Olympic measure for fences, which is an average of 1.3m or approximately 4'2". You got this! The horse does all the work, remember?
Mount: I recommend my off-the-track Thoroughbred for this phase, but I'd seriously consider carrying a whip, wearing spurs, and downing half a bottle of Tequila.
(This is the triathlon of the horse world and takes place over three-four days. You and your friend will compete as a team and against each other. Life insurance is optional.)
Day 1: Dressage—With the horse doing all the work, this should be cake, so we'll use the Training Level test. (With my gelding, you might want to glue on some Velcro.)
Day 2: Cross-Country—No need to unduly tax the horse, because they do all the work, so we'll go with the standard Training Level fence height 3'3". After the Show Jumping, this should be easy, right? (Again, please carry a whip, wear spurs, down the last half of the tequila and pay any and all life insurance premiums. And for goodness sake, wear clean underwear.)
Day 3: Stadium Jumping—The fences are a moderate 4'1" at the Olympic level, but we'll be fair and stick with Training Level at a height of 3'3". After your mount's hard work in the Show Jumping, you should crush it.
You must wear a protective helmet at all times while mounted, even though there isn't much to protect.
It is recommended that you wear a protective vest for your safety and one for your ego. You both will need them.
Three mistakes in the Dressage warrants elimination. Any speaking to the horse or profanity toward the horse will result in score deductions.
If you or your horse exit the dressage arena before the end of the test, you are eliminated. Exceptions: zombie apocalypse, nuclear proliferation, or your candy-ass can't handle the test.
A fall on the course, by you or your mount, warrants elimination. In your case, it will not be an issue of if you fall, but when. Medical personnel will be on site, but your ego may suffer lasting injury.
Mr. Bedford, the podium awaits. I await your acceptance of this invitation. My fellow equestrians also await your plunge into the research and the facts to find truth. I look forward to your first qualifying round.
Patricia A. Jackson
5/30/2016 1 Comment
The Grass is dying...
What is the definition of grass roots? According to Webster, it means “the ordinary people in a society or organization : the people who do not have a lot of money and power.”
I am discouraged with my USEF membership. Due to poor health and injury, I have not competed for nearly two years; yet I felt compelled to keep up my membership for the good of the order. But what has the order ever done for me? Not much. A Girl Scout and Pony Clubber, I am self-reliant and don’t look for hand outs or ask for help, even when I need it.
I’m an old foxhunter that occasionally likes to doll up and take my horse in the ring. It’s not about ribbons. I’ve got plenty of those in dusty boxes and stitched into faded quilts. It’s not about points. I left that road to a younger generation, who for the most part don’t know what it means to be up at 3am braiding your horse and the mounts of the hunt staff as well. When it comes to grass roots—I’m it! I’m no Olympian, never will be. I am not a wealthy investor with part-ownership in a superstar horse or one who can pour money into prize purses. I don’t own a prestigious breeding barn or land connected to Wellington or Ocala.
I repeat. I’m just an old foxhunter. I’m long of tooth and plagued by injuries from all the falls I’ve taken in the course called a lifetime. I’m too anxious to face a three foot fence any more. A pole on the ground is my puissance. I’ve faced my four- and five-foot questions at full gallop in my youth with no regrets. I can exchange tales with the heartiest of horsemen over a pint, but I am—by no means—ready to cover up my saddle for good. However the only competitive divisions available for me are full of ponies as old as I am and rosy-cheeked cherubs who aren’t even close to puberty. I’ve only recently seen the addition of the Long Stirrup division, which excites me! But I wonder if it’s too little, too late. The true grass roots went without watering, kept in the shade, unfertilized, and there’s little to no hope for it. So it would seem.
My injuries are catching up to me, and while I remain stoic, posting the trot is debilitating. I’ve been in rehab for a year with chronic knee issues. My doctors and my physical therapists know another fall might further damage me, but they encourage me to kick on because riding and competing are my only true motivation. I don’t walk very well or far. Can’t stand for long periods. Can’t post one time around the arena without losing my breath to pain. My knees are taped up more often than an old schoolmaster, but I persevere.
I will never return to the heartiness of my salad days, but I had hoped for a small place to continue competing. I learned about the USEF dispensations and was delighted. There was hope. The grass roots over in the corner behind the real green stuff might get a bit of sunlight after all. Fortunately, I learned that I did not need that degree of intervention. I was pleased because I would never claim the right to ride in the ring with the heroic para-equestrians, who simultaneously inspire and shame me for their fortitude.
With further research, I learned of something called a Presidential Modification. It required a letter stating my needs and documentation from my doctor. The warm reception and friendly customer reception from the CEO’s assistant was a delight to this old foxhunter. Finally, I might get something truly, personally useful for my membership; thus, I gathered the required information and passed them along to the USEF.
That caring customer service did not last long. Having dealt with dressage people since my youth, I should have expected a steely reception. My first contact with the dressage part of the Federation left me feeling like an ice cube at sea. You’d think that my request to sit the trot, rather than post, read more like asking permission to wear a double bridle in the Introductory Level, the level at which I was hoping to compete until the knees can last the Training Level movements. (Who asks to sit the trot these days? Used to be the bane of the show ring in my day.) I’m fearful of what the Hunter/Jumper side of things will say. Haven’t heard from them yet, probably a trainer holding up a ring somewhere and can’t get an answer.
I understand due process, but I wasn’t expecting the need for an act of Congress to get some consideration. It has become quite apparent to me, though I suspect the writing has been on the wall all along, that the USEF is no longer a grass roots organization, not about the grass roots of people on the fringe…just the core.
My paltry membership fee means little to a multi-million dollar company. I know this, but it's downright offensive when that organization acts as if the true grass roots folk matter, when in fact, we do not.
I’m an old foxhunter. I will fight through the pain to ride and to show, maybe even jump again someday. I will do this because in my grass roots can be found field masters and hunt staff, 4H mentors, Pony Club coaches, and clinicians (a few famous ones) that taught me self-reliance in the face of enormous odds and encouraged me to kick on no matter what the obstacle…because at the end of the day, ribbons don’t matter and points don’t matter. What does matter is the process, getting there, being there…in the moment…with no one else’s expectations save my own. Ribbons can be bought. The proud smile of a trainer, a nod from a judge, a sense of accomplishment for making it through a test, the final slap on the neck for a good round at the end of the day? These things are priceless.
Patricia A. Jackson is a writer, rider, educator, mentor, and hopeless romantic, who lives by the motto: "Live for what you believe; believe in what you love."