Turtle Tales

My musings on life and music... but keep in mind that my spirit animal is the turtle, so I may not be all that quick about it...

A Horse and His Girl 

I had a crazy dream last night, and it got me thinking…

I think about the horses I grew up with constantly. It’s the (only) part of my childhood that I truly miss. There was my Dad’s Unicorn/Appaloosa, Turk. He was my reining horse, my barrel racer, my polo pony, my emergency entry for the hunter hack class (when my hunter pickup ride of the day decided he was in no mood to put out), my Showmanship Halter Horse (it wasn’t his fault that I couldn’t run in a straight line), and the absolute best audience member for every barn concert I ever gave. There was the shaggy Shetland Pony who took care of me as a baby rider and only galloped away with me in a walk-trot class once (which delighted me, but not the judge). There was the majestic “Sovereign Lady” Quarter Horse/show pony: just small enough at 14.1 1/2 to cart me around the large pony hunter classes, but talented and athletic enough to deliver a beautiful 3’6” working hunter class round with my trainer aboard at the AQHA shows. And then there was this guy. My great love. My handsome boy. RH.

Not many days have passed in the last 30 something years that I haven’t thought of my big and fast and wiley sorrel Quarter Horse. He’d come from a breeder out west who had freeze branded all his horses with his initials, RH, so my horse had a big white RH on his hind quarters. Hence his barn name…RH. (Listen, we also had a horse named White and another named Black Mare, but I digress.) I actually held on to his engraved bridle plate until maybe last year’s spring clean.

RH wasn’t the babysitter that Turk was or the flashy show girl that Lady was, but he was so many other things - most importantly - mine. I didn’t share him with anyone. I believed in him and adored him. Nonetheless, our partnership was a constant struggle. Not in the love department, mind you - but not unlike doomed human relationships, we both just wanted very different things. He did NOT want to slow down, pretty much… ever. I went through an inexcusable number of different bits. He had no interest in being the quiet pleasure horse or obedient equitation horse or the calm and collected hunter carrying me gently around a low course. By that time in my life, my family had converted full time to polo, and we didn’t have a lot of money for other things, so I didn’t have many resources or a big support system for showing. I was a fairly resourceful kid, but I didn’t have the access to really take him in another direction, like bigger jumper classes which he might’ve loved, because he always settled in when the opportunities ahead of him were big and fast. He’d over-jump or pop small fences with me barely hanging on, but when I snuck out on my own with no rules, we’d soar over a 4 ft fence out in the field. That 4ft fence presented a challenge, whereas the 2’6” fence presented sheer annoyance. He much preferred the challenge. Once, at a horse show, he acted up all the way around the first course of the day. The horse show venue was walking distance from my farm, so I’d gone to the show alone, and there was no one to tell me what I could or couldn’t do, (which was rarely a good thing for me…) Left to my own devices, when it came time for our next round, I decided to sacrifice any chance at placing, and just let him open up “a bit.” If only speed was a component!!! We’d have cleaned up that day! He was thrilled with this idea and jumped beautifully. You’ll have to take my word for it. I’m pretty sure we were only a blur to anyone watching. He was the only horse that day to take that last 5 stride line in 3 strides. I had as much fun as he did. I really don’t know how we didn’t get thrown out of more places more often. Our second year together started off with a nasty injury that only required patience, but the timing was lousy and we missed out on some valuable training time together, and I never did have much patience. That season was a wash.

The following year, we sold our farm. (My feelings around that are a story for another day.) As my entire family and all our horses relocated out of state, RH and I stayed behind at another farm where I worked and taught. It was my final summer before college, and I didn’t want to leave my home. My boss - the trainer at that farm - had no love at all for RH. Also - gone was my access to large turnout paddocks and big spaces to ride my somewhat unwieldy boy, and jumping him in a small ring in a group class was not going well at all. So, with a bit of a push, I made the painful decision to send him down to my family to be sold. I spent the rest of that summer on a horse named Rocket who found new and inventive ways to leave me on the ground regularly and would occasionally hold a trick up his sleeve which he’d use simply to embarrass me in the show ring. He was actually my first comedy partner. But this isn’t about Rocket. I don’t really have any Rocket regrets…

As fate can sometimes be kind, we did find the perfect buyer for RH. It wasn’t until my family relocated again a couple of years later to California. There, RH was discovered by a roper/slash cowboy who used him for roping. It never occurred to me to try and find my way back to my western roots with him. A) it wasn’t what I was doing at the time; and B ) he was over 16 hands which is pretty big for a cow horse! That said, he came from a good line of ranch horses, so despite his build, I guess it was in his blood. From what I heard, he was rather brilliant and became a favorite for his new owner. As for me - I went on to college, and while my horse days weren’t completely done yet, it would only be a few more years before I’d taken my last ride and gone off to start a new chapter.

In recent years, I’ve started catching up on the happenings of the horse world. These days, I find myself watching all kinds of videos from all kinds of horse whisperering trainers. I’ve seen how training techniques have evolved and how we’ve learned to listen to our horses more than ever. LISTEN. What a concept. We’ve learned to communicate in completely new ways since my early days of galloping through walk-trot classes on a sassy pony, or jumping a 5 stride line in 3, or being dropped on the ground in front of a judge by Rocket. I’m amazed and humbled and awed by the brilliance I see now only (mostly) on a screen. All that I’ve since learned, now has me wishing I could go back in time. I wish I could go back and learn how to listen to RH in new ways and be a more disciplined, more diligent, and more sensitive partner to him. I wish I could’ve honored his talents, instead of just searching for the perfect bit, the perfect shoes, the perfect whatever to slow him down and mold him into what my own insecurities told me I should be. The truth is, what I needed more than anything in those days was a friend. But I, in turn, wasn’t a great one. Not then.

So.  Onto my dream last night!!! Well… I was 18 again and RH and I were headed to a show - BUT - he could TALK! He could tell me what he was thinking and he could understand my words, so we were able to find a middle ground for a great partnership. It was a beautiful dream, and someday, if I get to see him again, I’d love to really have that conversation with him. I hope he knows how sorry I am for getting it wrong and how grateful I am for all he tried to teach me, and how very much I miss him.

Epilogue to the tail…

Loading RH onto the trailer that fateful summer day wasn’t our last moment together. As he was still in with my family in Pennsylvania during my first college year, I got to ride him on my Christmas break. I had been invited to go on a fox hunt. (Don’t worry - it was all about the ride and not the fox. There may have even been a fake scent involved. I, thankfully, never saw a fox.) So Mom and I bought my formal wear and RH and I headed out to meet the rest of the field of riders. That’s the last ride I really remember with him, and as I recall, he was perfect. That ride was nothing but wide open fields and natural fences to jump with multiple height options and lots of space to run. Just. Run. In my mind, he’s running there now.

One of the harder journeys 

I’ve been thinking about something that my empathic friends might appreciate. It’s a topic I’ve had to really look at and work on a lot, particularly since the passing of my father who was a wonderful man but a deeply flawed parent. So here it is. 

If you’re struggling with something, and you make a reasonable request of someone to do, or stop doing, something that would help you feel a little better, and that person not only says “no,” but adds a layer of “you’re so hostile” or “you’re so critical” and turns you into the “problem” in the larger group around you… that’s classic gaslighting 101. You don’t have to take it in, even if EVERYONE around you falls for it! Gaslighting is a form of bullying. Period. I often don’t handle it well, myself. My buttons are clearly marked and easy to push. I get hurt, frustrated, angry and often experience an overwhelming sense to run. That’s me falling for it and acting out, and the responsibility for that behavior rests with me. Don’t. Fall. For it. And for those times that you do, have a safety net - friends/family you trust who will safely guide you back. 

Wouldn’t it be great if we could avoid these altercations altogether? When we share office space, home space or any other kind of space with others, we can’t simply demand respect for our needs. We also need to make an effort to understand and respect the needs of those we’re sharing space with - physically, emotionally, or work or family related. Sharing what you need is NOT an unreasonable request or a criticism of the other person. Respect each other’s emotional process instead of simply focusing on your own. Finding a middle ground doesn’t have to be that difficult. When both parties can do this, there’s no need to gaslight, because there’s nothing to “win.” 

As artists, particularly those who are also empaths, we spend a lot of time caring for those around us and we’re often afraid to ask for what we need. Don’t be afraid. It doesn’t make you hostile, critical, or anything else. You’re perfect as you are. There is no such thing as the gibe, “Oh I guess you’re right, and the rest of the world is wrong.” This was a classic dad line. The truth is, sometimes you’re just in the wrong “world”. I promise you there’s another one out there that was made just for you. 

As for that gaslighter in your life…it’s not always intentional gaslighting. Some people are so wrapped up in fighting for their own power that they don’t even see how they’re taking away yours. If you really want to reclaim your own power and remind yourself of how beautiful you really are: pray for them. Send light their way, and pray that they can experience their own healing and maybe someday be lucky enough to be as powerful as you. 

We don’t fight anger, hate, or cruelty with more of the same. We don’t need to rally a bunch of people to our side so we can say, “See! I’m not the only one who feels this way!” That’s the job of karma. We don’t fight anger and cruelty with anger and cruelty. We fight it with love. And just like the oxygen mask on the plane - we show it first to ourselves.

On turning 52...  

I thought I'd update my blog with a couple of things I've recently shared on other platforms. This is something I wrote on June 8th, the day following my birthday.

I can’t really put into words the experience leading up to this birthday, and celebrating an age where I literally have one remaining joint that works, and where... when I spotted a tampax wrapper in the ladies room I had a tender “remember when” moment... but I digress. Through my many life experiences, chapters, loves and lovers, heartbreaks and losses, bar fights (ok only one), music, and day jobs that give me an endless supply of material, like my boss coming into my office with a piece of cake singing his best Happy Birthday, I somehow arrived at a quiet evening in a beautiful cocktail lounge, with two women who are my family, and chandeliers that reflected through the windows to magically float out over the city… and I was here and that was enough. The countless well-wishes serve to remind me that I am more loved than I often believe. 

In the days leading up, and the days that have followed, I've struggled to align myself with the simple idea that "I am" and "I am here" even though I philosphically believe this to be true. I struggle with the way human beings tear each other down. I shake my head at my own behavior, and I still manage to be shocked by those that hurt me. Maybe that's not a bad thing. Maybe still being shocked means I still expect the best of people, and maybe that means I have maintained more hope than I realize. I long to be back on that magical equatorial archipelago where Mother Nature seems her most tangible, and her most at peace. But today, I'm still here. It's highly likely I will be tomorrow as well. In fact, if I trust my philosophical and spiritual beliefs, I guess I'll always "be here" wherever here may be. But that could be the gummy talking.

Music is...  

As someone who grew up surrounded by music, with a range of musicians from music educators to music appreciators to performing artists strewn throughout the family, I have had many years to contemplate the question, "What is music?" What does it mean to me? To my family? To other musicians? To my students? To my teachers? To my history? To my future? To my life? Throughout my 51 years on the planet, I've drawn countless conclusions for myself, and each conclusion... each answer... was always the right one. Why? Because music, like life itself, is somehow both constant and always evolving. It grows with us, rages with us, cries with us, laughs with us, runs with us, strolls with us, wounds with us in anger, and heals with us in love. It brings cities to life and forests to stillness. It is NOT an 8am theory class or 8am juries (which should be outlawed for voice majors), and it's not that paper analyzing the overture to Don Giovanni that you somehow allowed to be lost to the void within your Apple 2e... (or is it?)

I recently was given an opportunity to bring my voice studio into a new wellness center opening later this year, and work among a group of practitioners ranging from therapists and MDs to Reiki masters and Yoga teachers. My first thought was that this made so much sense, because mindfulness and the ability to exist in the present moment are already core elements of my own vocal technique and my pedagogy as a voice teacher and performance coach. After all, my entire technique revolves around the idea that singing is thought. Ok, it's a lot of things that I won't bore you with in a simple blog, but if I have to describe it in one sentence: singing is thought. So what could be a more appropriate teaching setting than a wellness center where my focus as a practitioner would have to be mindfulness? Well, naturally this idea lit a spark in me and inspired me to look at my teaching from a new vantage point. The only thing that would really change was the intention. Instead of being focused on artistic achievement, we'd focus on creation and healing and awareness. And THAT is an idea that truly turned me on. Regardless of whether or not I accepted the offer at this particular center, I knew there was something here that I wanted to explore, so I set out to write a new program for voice lessons and landed on a service I'm calling The Healing Voice. So, how would I incorporate into my healing voice lesson the many techniques I'd picked up from Yoga teachers, meditation teachers, the practice of EFT, the lessons learned with the author of The Thought Exchange, and the techniques bestowed on me by my favorite duo gurus of Inside Game ®? This was what I needed to design within my new pedagogical approach, but before I figure that out, I first sat down and drafted yet another to answer to my lifelong question. What is music? Here is what I came up with, which remains pinned to the top of my social media profile.

Music is thought, and vibration. It exists inside each of us. It exists around all of us. It never leaves us. Music has no judgment. Music has no limits. Music needs no translation. Music is ageless. Music is healthy. Music is strong. Music is powerful. Music is personal and private, and music is the ultimate connector. Music is prayer. Music is science and spirit and magic all at the same time. Music is timeless. Skill and knowledge and experience are secondary, because music is available to us all. Always. Music is breath, and and as long as we live, we will always have breath, so we will always have music. Music belongs to us all.

Perhaps tomorrow, I'll define it as something else entirely!

I want to leave you with an experience I had this afternoon. This directly ties to the final thought of my definition above about music being breath and as long as we live, we have breath. So... As part of a physical therapy regimen, I see a massage therapist weekly. My therapist has become one of my favorite life teachers. We've discussed every topic you could possibly imagine, and today we landed on emotional pain and how it manifests in the body. I mentioned that when I try to focus on just the physical sensations connected to my sadness, I find that I do have the ability to sit in it, but I've become aware that I sometimes stop breathing. Again, as she often has, she reminded me on how important it is to keep breathing. We breathe into the pain. We breathe through it. As she left the room and I sat up on the table, I realized the song playing through the speaker in the room had landed on one phrase that the singer repeated over and over again. "All we can do is just breathe."

Wishing you all great music,