A Horse is a Horse, but a Human is Human


Shamefully, opening arguments were heard this week by the Connecticut Supreme Court about an Appellate Court’s decision to rule horses “a species naturally inclined to do mischief or be vicious.” The ruling stems from an incident in 2006 when a young boy was bit in the face by a horse at a Connecticut Farm while trying to pet it.

It was an isolated incident, no different than my cat biting me when I try to do something she doesn’t want. Anyone who has animals understands this dynamic — it’s not mischief or vicious. It’s communication.

I found myself more and more incensed this week, as the headlines developed on local media. Horses vicious? Let’s put this in perspective, shall we?

  • HUMAN BEINGS are responsible for more than a million deaths every year due do intentional violence. One million.
  • Their list of vicious behavior includes murder, rape, domestic violence, suicide, war, genocide, terrorism, and torture.
  • HUMAN violence is among the leading causes of death for people aged 15-44 years worldwide.

Yet Connecticut’s court system is wasting precious resources to debate the danger inherent in horses? Horses.

I can’t help but be reminded of Gulliver’s Travels, and his visit to the country of the Houyhnhms where he lives among the majestic horse-creatures and the “Yahoos” or humans. Upon his return home he remarks…

“I must freely confess the sight of them (humans) filled me only with hatred, and the more by reflecting on the near alliance I had to them. For although since my unfortunate exile from the Houyhnhm country, I had compelled my self to tolerate the sight of Yahoos… my memory and imagination were perpetually filled with the virtues and idea of those exalted Houyhnhm.”

• • •

Statistics courtesy of writer and philosopher Filip Spagnoli’s blog on human rights.

IMAGE: Horses in West Texas, ©2013, Jen Payne

That’s Not What God Means

This summer, a Baptist church in Mississippi refused to marry a couple because they were black. In Vermont, a 7-year old girl was kidnapped and protected by Evangelical groups for three years because she was living with her lesbian mother. Thousands of people, in the name of their god, ate at a popular chain restaurant on Wednesday, to proudly and joyfully protest same-sex marriage.

There is so much hate in all of that it makes my stomach hurt.

That’s not what god means, folks.

God is about living in love, not judgment. It’s about peace and kindness and goodwill, not hostility and hatred and bigotry. It’s about being open-hearted, not narrow-minded.

God isn’t about politics or ideological segregation…it’s about being connected. We are all connected because we are all the same.

Until we realize that, we’re no better than religious persecutors, slave owners, genocide perpetrators, ethnic cleansers…the Nazis.

And we should be ashamed of ourselves.

• • •

Image: Dove of Peace, Picasso.

Sign of the Times

I was at a museum in New York City this past weekend, standing in front of a 10-foot wall filled with QR codes. For those of you not yet familiar with these, a QR code — or Quick Response Code — is a barcode of sorts; it can be programmed with a variety of information, so that when scanned by a smartphone, you may see text or watch a video or link to a website.

But since I don’t own a smartphone, I can’t tell you what that 10-foot wall communicated.

Standing in front of that wall, I had the same feeling I had last week on Amazon.com. I tried to purchase a book I discovered was only available for Kindles. Since I don’t own a Kindle, I am not able to read that book.

Now granted, I am voluntarily low-tech. If I was so inclined, I could load up on the technology: a smartphone, an iPad, a Kindle. I could be plugged in and linked in and synced up and part of the collective — 24 hours a day.

But what about folks who can’t?

In the Analogy Where Bull = Change

Take the bull by the horns. We’ve all heard that before — meaning to deal with something in a direct manner or to confront a difficulty rather than avoid it.

While it may sound like a modern, American-esque idiom, it traces its roots as far back at the 18th and 19th centuries. Scottish writer Sir Walter Scott used it in The Journal of Sir Walter Scott in 1828: “Wordsworth has a system which disposes him to take the bull by the horns and offend public taste.”

Perhaps no one represents the meaning of this famous idiom — both literally and metaphorically — better than bullfighter Conchita Cintrón.

Just two years after the Nineteenth Amendment gave women the right to vote in the United States, Conchita Cintrón was born in Chile. Raised in Peru by her Puerto Rican father and Connecticut-born mother, she would grow up to become a world-famous torera, or female bullfighter.

She rode her first horse at the age of three, and took formal riding lessons when she was only 11. She trained as a rejoneadora, a bullfighter who rides horseback, and made her professional debut as such when she was only a teenager.

Cintrón famously fought as both a rejoneadora and a traditional matadora (on foot) in Peru, Portugal, Mexico, Spain, France, Venezuela, Columbia, Ecuador, and the United States. But as a female, she often met with resistance and laws designed to keep women from bullfighting.

“Her skills were not always welcome. This was, and is, a man’s world. She had been trained as a rejoneadora, in the Portuguese version of bullfighting, and was supposed to stay on her horse. Men went on foot to do their dueling with the bull, and to kill it; this was not women’s work. But Ms. Cintrón found her horse got in the way. “Twos always work better than threes,” she liked to say. In her rejoneadora gear—no flashy suit of lights, but a silk jacket, leather chapped trousers and a wide-brimmed hat—she would slide from her steed and right into the close, bloody dance.”

“One late fight, in Jaen in 1950, was especially famous. Women were forbidden to fight on foot in Franco’s Spain, in case they were gored in unseemly ways. (Ms. Cintrón was often injured and twice gored, once in each thigh, but managed to finish off the bull after fainting briefly.) On this occasion, having slipped illegally from her horse, she snatched a muleta and sword from the waiting novillero, raised the sword as the bull charged, and then dropped it, instead caressing the huge black neck as it hurtled past. For this “burst of glorious criminality,” as Orson Welles described it, she was instantly arrested and as instantly pardoned, as the crowd rained down hats and carnations. That final caress, with her delicate fingers, was a gesture only a woman might have thought of making.”

— Conchita Cintrón obituary, The Economist, March 5, 2009

Don’t get me wrong. I’m in no way wanting to glamorize bullfighting. But, there is no denying the strength and resilience of this woman claiming her life on her own terms, with such intention and passion.

In Conchita Cintrón they called it tener duende, loosely translated from the poetic Spanish meaning to have soul, a heightened state of emotion, expressions and authenticity.

Who wouldn’t want to strive for that as we make our way in this world? Life brings us challenges every day — small decisions, big decisions, moments of change and transition, charging bulls. We can cower and ride safely above it. Or, we can get down off our horse and take the bull by the horns!

“I have never had any qualms about it….A qualm or a cringe before 1,200 pounds of enraged bull would be sure death.”

— Conchita Cintrón, The New York Sun, September 1940

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Photo courtesy of Cultoro. References from Wikipedia, Wiktionary, The Economist, and The New York Times.

Not Just a “Pretty” Role Model

Who didn’t fall in love with Carrie Fisher as Princess Leia in Star Wars? For most boys, it was that infamous Jabba the Hutt pseudo-bondage scene, right? But for girls—ah! for girls, we finally had our swashbuckling role model who could battle storm troopers with the best of them!

Finally, we got to be brave and beautiful. We got to be sexy and snarky…

Will someone get this big walking carpet out of my way?

We got to be all of that AND fall in love with the dashingly handsome renegade space cowboy…but I digress.

Carrie Fisher was beautiful in Star Wars, she was. Since then, she’s continued her acting career, starring in countless movies and television shows. She’s also an award-winning writer with best-selling novels, screenplays, televisions shows and magazine articles to her credit. She’s been on the New York Times Best Sellers list, won the Los Angeles Pen Award for best first novel, and has been nominated for both a Grammy and an Emmy Award.

She’s been married, raised a child, battled addictions and mental illness, succeeded in multiple careers—and remains an American icon now, more than 30 since her Princess days.

The first Star Wars film came out when I was 11 years old and more interested in Han Solo than female role models. I can’t claim to be an avid Carrie Fisher fan—most of the information herein came from her own website. What I can say is that I’ve always thought of her as smart and funny, successful and beautiful—part classic Hollywood, part modern woman.

So, I did a double-take when I saw her on television last night. A Jenny Craig commercial. Apparently, she’s lost 30 pounds. Which is great, really it is. Except that the parting image is Carrie looking into the camera saying:

“Thank you for letting me be pretty one more time.”

And it just broke my heart.

“You ARE pretty!” I yelled at the television before I shut it off in protest. “You always have been!”

Shame on you for thinking any less of yourself.

But SHAME ON YOUR MORE Jenny Craig for trying to make us think we’re only pretty when we’re thin and dieting. There is so much more to all of us than that kind of pretty, and so much more to which we can aspire.

Life’s a Little Weird & I Love It

“We are all a little weird and life’s a little weird,
and when we find someone whose weirdness
is compatible with ours,
we join up with them and
fall in mutual weirdness and call it love.”

— Dr. Seuss

Then it’s official. I am in love with photographer Michael Garlington! I stumbled on this photo, titled Le Girl from Ohio, during a Google search. Then discovered Garlington’s website filled with photos from his book Portraits from The Belly of The Whale. He’s been described as “David Lynch meets Leave it to Beaver,” a bizarre juxtaposition that gives me goosebumps—like his photos. Please go look now: michaelgarlington.com!

• • •

Photo ©2011, Michael Garlington. Click here to buy his book Portraits from The Belly of The Whale.

So, what if today is Judgment Day?

Several years ago, I celebrated Yom Kippur—the Jewish holy Day of Atonement. I took the day off, fasted, meditated, and honored it as a traditional Sabbath, or day of rest. I was not raised in nor do I practice the Jewish faith, but at the time, I was needing a way to sit with and make amends for a grave error in judgment. Yom Kippur presented itself to me as an opportunity.

I was thinking about that experience this week, as the clamor of the propaganda that is “Judgment Day” got louder and louder. For those of you who do not know, misguided Christian radio broadcaster Harold Camping has predicted that today, May 21, is the Day of Judgment foretold in the Bible.

How can you ignore that? If not as a another fear-generating attempt to keep us all under control and addicted to the media, then as an opportunity to consider:

What if there really is a Judgment Day and what if today is it?

What would you do?
Would you say to hell with it and be worse?
Would you make changes and be better?

Mr. Camping uses numerology in his Biblical predictions—a divination tool that looks to numbers for prophecy and future-telling. Interestingly enough, Judgment also appears in the divination tool of Tarot cards.

The Judgment card, pictured above from the Rider-Waite-Smith deck, is a Major Arcana card. In readings, the Major Arcana relate to matters of a higher purpose or the “big picture.”

According to Aeclectic Tarot, the Judgment card “asks us to resurrect the past, forgive it, and let it go.” That past may include old wounds, past sins, or bad habits we can’t lose, and this card tells us it’s time to move on. Often, the message of this card is that we “need to forgive or be forgiven, do something [we’ve] been putting off, or have the courage to finally end something that isn’t good for [us].”

The Judgment card, by no surprise, is also a card of healing, and foretells significant change, “one that involves leaving something old…behind and stepping into something completely new.”

Unlike Mr. Camping’s predictions, this Judgment is not about doom and gloom and death, “this is about deciding to make a change, to stop doing something that isn’t working and do something that will work.”

“Which means that it’s really a card about courage, and about recognizing that you’re holding onto something that needs to be let go.”

So, what if today is Judgment Day?
What if this is your opportunity to make a change?
What would you do?

• • •


Aeclectic Tarot
• More about Yom Kippur
Rider-Waite-Smith Tarot

It’s a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World

Mad Mad World

I had been delightfully “off the grid” for 48 hours when I got back to work this morning. After coffee and a healthy volley of emails, I checked in on the state of the world for the first time in two days via the local news.





Good lord, really? Do you have to be that loud?

We all know the world is in dire straights.

We know that if our roofs don’t collapse this winter we can be sure our homes will flood this spring.

Yes, so-and-so doesn’t agree with so-and-so, and obviously the only solution is genocide, nuclear retaliation or civil war—my god is better than your god BANG!

Of course taxes are going up—Ben Franklin could have told you that 200 years ago—and guess what folks…we are all going to die of something!

But do you have to be so loud about it?

When I started to feel a little anxious for no reason other than reading headlines, I knew I had forgotten my rule. Gleaning the news is like looking at the sun—wear protective eyewear and don’t watch for too long. Really, all you need to do is make sure there are no incoming asteroids, invading armies, or impending hurricanes, and you’re all set for another 24 hours.

Just do good work.
Be kind to your neighbors.
Laugh and sing and dance.
Love the ones your with.
And TURN DOWN the volume.

• • •

Photo of Jonathan Winters from the 1963 classic movie It’s a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World.

The Unread Book Project: A Death in the Family

James Agee + Family

It has taken me three weeks to crawl my way through James Agee’s A Death in the Family. Crawl as in slowly, gradually pulling myself through and over the dense landscape of words and pregnant prose.

The Pulitzer Prize-winning book is set in Knoxville, Tennessee in the early twentieth century. Woven with themes of loss, religion and memory, it is an autobiographical account of the death of Agee’s father and its effect on his family when he was a young boy.

That may explain the excruciating detail of the book—I felt, often, as if I were a fly on the wall, pacing back and forth while the characters interact and respond to what is happening around them. Each breath, each movement, each thought becomes a mountain of words as heavy as the grief. The story is Agee’s memory, and the slow-motion of its tragedy is as weighted in his heart as it is on the pages of this book. “The mere attempt to examine my own confusion would consume volumes,” Agee once admitted himself.

That is not to say that the story is not delicious in its detail—it is just a little too rich for my taste.

Photo: James Agee as a boy, pictured in 1915 with, from left, his grandfather Joel Tyler, his grandmother Emma Tyler, his sister Emma Agee, his uncle Hugh Tyler, and his mother Laura Agee. The photograph is from an album that belonged to Hugh Tyler, which is now in the East Tennessee History Center’s McClung Collection, found online at the Knoxville News Sentinel.

• • •

The Four Agreements

The Unread Book Project
Book #3: The Four Agreements by Don Miguel Ruiz

Click here to purchase a copy of A Death in the Family or The Four Agreements.

• • •

Related Posts:
The Unread Book Project
The Unread Book Project: It Took 20 Inches of Snow
The Unread Book Project: Things Fall Apart
The Unread Book Project: Finding the Poetry

State of the Union


I was listening to NPR on my way to pick up groceries before yet another snowstorm.

“Call now and tell us what you want President Obama to say in his State of the Union address tonight,” the announcer said, enthusiastically.

I laughed a little. As much as I am a proponent of the good work of words—and of this brave man—I cannot imagine a collection of them that will appease the masses or quell his drooling antagonists.

Ironic that I would think of Reason for Hope again—the Jane Goodall documentary I watched last week. From it, I found my way to a poem by Wendell Berry called Manifesto: The Mad Farmer Liberation Front.

Can you imagine…

Madam Speaker, Vice President Biden, members of Congress, distinguished guests, and fellow Americans:

“Love the quick profit, the annual raise,
vacation with pay. Want more
of everything ready-made. Be afraid
to know your neighbors and to die.

And you will have a window in your head.
Not even your future will be a mystery
any more. Your mind will be punched in a card
and shut away in a little drawer.

When they want you to buy something
they will call you. When they want you
to die for profit they will let you know.
So, friends, every day do something
that won’t compute. Love the Lord.
Love the world. Work for nothing.
Take all that you have and be poor.
Love someone who does not deserve it.

Denounce the government and embrace
the flag. Hope to live in that free
republic for which it stands.
Give your approval to all you cannot
understand. Praise ignorance, for what man
has not encountered he has not destroyed.

Ask the questions that have no answers.
Invest in the millennium. Plant sequoias.
Say that your main crop is the forest
that you did not plant,
that you will not live to harvest.

Say that the leaves are harvested
when they have rotted into the mold.
Call that profit. Prophesy such returns.
Put your faith in the two inches of humus
that will build under the trees
every thousand years.

Listen to carrion — put your ear
close, and hear the faint chattering
of the songs that are to come.
Expect the end of the world. Laugh.
Laughter is immeasurable. Be joyful
though you have considered all the facts.
So long as women do not go cheap
for power, please women more than men.

Ask yourself: Will this satisfy
a woman satisfied to bear a child?
Will this disturb the sleep
of a woman near to giving birth?

Go with your love to the fields.
Lie down in the shade. Rest your head
in her lap. Swear allegiance
to what is nighest your thoughts.

As soon as the generals and the politicos
can predict the motions of your mind,
lose it. Leave it as a sign
to mark the false trail, the way
you didn’t go.

Be like the fox
who makes more tracks than necessary,
some in the wrong direction.
Practice resurrection.”

Can you imagine?

• • •

Manifesto: The Mad Farmer Liberation Front by Wendell Berry.

HOPE poster by the phenomenal artist Shepard Fairey.

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