Friday, May 25, 2012

Introspection and Horses

"Your horse is a mirror to your soul. Sometimes you might not like what you see. Sometimes you will." - Buck Brannaman

     And unlike last week, this thankfully isn't about Animal Farm. It's about actual farm animals.

     I've ridden horses for around eight years. Some rough estimations placed me on upwards of fifty different horses in that span of time. I've been able to ride Greek horses, Oklahoma horses, Arizona horses, Missouri horses, and Michigan horses. Each one is profoundly different from the previous, and each one has taught me something new. Riding is a sport that is not based on any set of rules. For each new horse, it's not a binary "do this, don't do this" that determines how it should be ridden. Riding is a sport based entirely upon feel. 20% of regular horseback riding is skill. 80% is nuance. For a horse to understand a rider, the rider needs to understand the horse. And for the rider to be able to understand and fit to a horse, the rider needs to understand himself. The goal is to turn into something of a centaur. The rider should be able to think something and the horse should react. This takes not only a sensitive horse, but an even more sensitive rider. When the rider can jive and adapt with the horse's style, the horse should react more to the thoughts of the rider than to the rider's actions. 
    Though I have not owned a horse, I am riding a Morgan-Arab cross named Sasha at a horse farm near us. This particular horse is sensitive to the point of detriment. Sasha can tell more about me than I can of myself. It's becoming disturbing. She can read my thoughts better than I can think them. She pulls nervous energy and insecurity out of me that I didn't know existed. A simple gait transition, however controlled I make it on the outside, can become dangerous within a second because of a subconscious misgiving or over-analysis on my part that the horse reacts to. The key is being more sensitive than the horse. But when the horse is more sensitive than you are, it's quite frightening. I've realized that a stressful day of school, even if I've convinced myself I've put it behind me, can throw my off my balance with Sasha because she reads the subconscious stress. I can mask this well enough with other horses, but Sasha is disarming. She makes me find that modicum of nervousness that I didn't know I had and get rid of it entirely, not just subconsciously bury it.
     I don't speak well on the spot. It takes me days to collect my thoughts enough to form something like this blog post. It's the nature of the introvert. As a result, I rarely vent. I can hardly communicate. And I seldom initiate conversation unless I can dominate the situation. Some call it social retardation. (And it doesn't help when you address people with Shakespearean greetings. I think it's classy. The world thinks it's stupid.) The telepathic-ish communication between horse and rider, then, is rather nice. But when the horse takes the upper hand and starts telling you about yourself, it's like a stranger off the street telling you your ancestry. 
     My introversion probably doesn't help my tricky situation with Sasha. Leave it to an equine to pull out the worst. But you can certainly forget about psychology. Just ride a horse. 

     This is Irish. Irish is a neighbor's horse that will be boarding in our pastures throughout the summer. I grabbed these shots in the brief intervals when he's ceased from his ravenous consumption of the grass. The sunset Wednesday was epic.

Friday, May 18, 2012

Intertextuality and Pigs

"I am fond of pigs. Dogs look up to us. Cats look down on us. Pigs treat us as equals." - Winston Churchill

     Freddy the Pig is, in my opinion, one of the most brilliant and enjoyable characters in children's literature. The brainchild of writer Walter R. Brooks in 1927, the curly-tailed, talking barnyard porker became the lead character in 26 novels from 1927 to 1958. Get your hands on a few of them if you've not read them before. They've got all of the freshness of modern children's books without all of the cringe factor. The depth of character and story development alone is fantastic, and they're nuanced with subtle morals you'll never find in today's books. 
    The stories follow a group of colorful barnyard animals on a New York farm famous because its animals openly speak English. The owners of this farm, a Mr. and Mrs. Bean, are quiet, respectable folk who admire their animals, but give them generous autonomy and tend to stay out of the way. The books follow Freddy, the pig detective, poet, banker, news writer, and dandy; as he turns cowboy, pilot, magician, and others on his various adventures. Brooks is a relatively obscure author, but his work can be found in most libraries.
    It was with no thoughts of Freddy the Pig--the stories of which I had not returned to in over a year--that I picked up George Orwell's famous satire, Animal Farm. Finishing the chilling tale in two days, I was beginning to hold suspicions. Could Freddy the Pig, one of my old favorite series, be a shameless caricature of Orwell's masterpiece?
    Animal Farm is an allegorical piece that, through the story of an animal uprising, the overthrow of human control, and the slow slide back to a condition worse than human treatment, mirrors the natural human progression from monarchy, through revolution, to democracy, to social democracy, to communism, to totalitarian fascist despotism. And who's to blame? Why the pigs of course. Talking, costume-wearing, poetry-loving pigs. Sound familiar? Just read Orwell's Animal Farm next to Brook's 1939 Freddy the Politician, and a profound sense of parody is immediately apparent. From mere phrases like "chalk gripped between the knuckles of his trotter" to broad concepts like the "First Animal Republic" in Freddy and the "Republic of the Animals" In Animal Farm. Not to mention the woodpeckers' plot to create a dictatorship in Brook's work that very nearly follows Napoleon the pig's plot in Animal Farm; and the common theme of pigs walking on two legs.
    If you're still reading, I'm impressed. I'm sure not very many people would get quite this excited over two seemingly unrelated books. But for a fan of Freddy the Pig like myself, the possibility that it was inspired by Orwell was intriguing.
    I did a date check, and I was surprised to find that Animal Farm was written a full six years after Freddy the Politician. Perhaps, I conjectured, it was the other way around. Perhaps Orwell had been inspired to write his famous, stinging political satire by an obscure children's book written by an even more obscure American author.
     Some quick internet research proved that I'm certainly not the only one to have observed the similarities. Several less-than-credible sources hold that Orwell's piece is nothing less than a "humorless parody" of Freddy the Politician. It seems I wasn't the first to draw the connection, but I am the first, I hope, to admire Orwell for his blatant thievery. T.S. Eliot once said that, "immature poets imitate; mature poets steal." Stealing is the drive behind the expansion of a textual network. Brooks himself is seen to retaliate with his own 1956 intertextual installment of the Freddy series, Freddy and Simon the Dictator, in which even the all-knowing Wikipedia agrees has plot elements "similar" to Orwell's 1945 Animal Farm. It follows in the vein of revolution as a band of rats stirs up rebellion among farm animals who, in a sweeping uprising, overthrow human control in farms across New York.
     Of course, using the word "steal" like Eliot did, is too strong and tainted a word for such a commendable practice; and literary "transformation" is what most prefer to call it. It's what Tom Stoppard does when he rewrites Shakespeare, and it's what VeggieTales does to Indiana Jones and Lord of the Rings. But these are extreme cases. Most experts will say that all literary work is transformation of earlier texts. At once, this begs the question of originality. If all work is inspired by a competence built by other work, can a writer really pull something completely "new" out of his brains? These same experts will say that there is no such thing as pure originality; that every piece of literature is, at some fundamental level, a transformation of countless other pieces of art. But what about at the beginning of time? There must have been some spark of originality to set the intertextual ball rolling. Of course, I got smacked down for irrelevance by a professor after bringing this up. It's a touchy subject without appealing to the notion of God. With God in the picture, it's easy to see that first divine spark of creativity placed in man--that breath of life that turned dust into humanity and separates men from pigs--is where the first originality came from. Humankind has the ability, not to create new things, but to continually transform what God has given us.
     God is like the Mr. Bean in the Freddy tales. He's invested in the lives of his animals, yet he provides them with free will and the independence to have their own adventures. It's only when the animals grow discontent that things start to go downhill. Orwell illustrates this fact wonderfully. 


Friday, May 11, 2012

Farm Defense 101

"Nothing in life is so exhilarating as to be shot at without result." - Winston Churchill

     Our farm has become the site of genocide. Nine of our free-range chickens were slaughtered in a single night by a criminal mastermind who's red tail belongs nowhere but between the crosshairs of our new 22 gauge rifle. To live on a farm in Northern Michigan and not own a gun is something like an unspoken sacrilege to many of our neighbors who could supply a small army if they needed to. You get strange looks when you say you've never tried your hand at deer hunting, and people shake their heads in consternation when you point to the WWII rifle hanging just out of reach above the door and explain it's for decoration only. "You're not in Chicago anymore" they say.
     But the war came to us. After I saved one chicken from the jowls of Mr. Fox, he came back a week later to off them all in spite. Thanks to my grandfather, we now have a semi-automatic '22 by the front door, loaded, and within reach. Thanks to one of our friends, we can all shoot the thing like pros. And thanks to another friend, I'm now a card carrying member of the NRA. Our family's a group of assassins now. With any luck, justice will be dealt, and we'll have a fox hide to pin up on the side of our barn like every other respectable Michigan farmer. Fox beware.

Friday, May 4, 2012

Time and Again

"Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it" - George Santayana

     Time is tricky business. That much is certain. It is also a very nice orchestral piece by Hans Zimmer from Inception, and just about as tricky for me to figure out on the piano. But when humankind gets in the way of time, it does some interesting things.
     Time is often modeled as a linear, eternal progression. Timelines, for example, are obviously lines. Not squares or parabolas. Viewing time as a line is convenient and logical. I think however, that approaching time, but more importantly history, with a linear viewpoint can obscure some interesting facts about how time interacts with the world. For example, I think we could all attest to the fact that history has a tendency to repeat itself. Why does history repeat? Simply because those in the present do not learn from the past. Until humanity as a whole returns to the failures of the past (an impossibly idealistic assumption), the events of time will continue to loop around in circles. Imagine a cog rolling down a slightly inclined board. Humanity is this cog, and the board is time. The cog is going somewhere, but it continues repeating and repeating until it falls off the board, or it hits a wall, or is struck by a meteor. Imagine that the present is a single spoke on the cog. Perhaps you might think that this spoke would simply move in a uniform circle around the center of the cog, and you would be right. But that would be a rather hopeless situation if that spoke turns and turns forever without any linear progression. That is why the board is important. It creates opportunity for a new pattern for the spoke on the cog to trace. Now, that spoke, when viewed relative to the board, neither goes in a circle or a straight line. It moves in a pattern of cycloids. I just found out about cycloids when studying pendulums, and it further proves that there is a word for everything. A cycloid is the arch that is traced by a point on the diameter of a rolling circle. It looks like this:

     Imagine a whole bunch of these arches lined up, and you can picture how I think the timeline of history should be drawn. This model has its low points and its high points, but it is a consistent pattern that I think could be fitted to the history of the world in a suitable fashion. Only when we learn and study this repetition of history can we begin to foresee the tell-tale signs of the low points and the high points of the future.