Wednesday, February 26, 2014

In Which I Will Meet Annette Gordon-Reed, and Probably Drool

So I'm at the barn, holding onto my daughter's horse's ear with one hand, and the big twitch attached to his nose with the other. The idiot horse, despite being tranquillized, is having some sort of post-traumatic flashback, hurling himself around even though he's only having stitches removed. He flails. The vet, scissors in hand, jumps backward. I tighten my grip on the twitch.

"So I'm speaking at the University of Maryland on Thursday," I say.

"That's nice," the vet says, around the tiny flashlight clenched in his teeth.

"Yes, but I don't know what to wear."

"Ah, easy," he says, removing the flashlight and making another jab with the scissors.  "Easy," he repeats, to the horse this time. "Just hold still. And wear whatever you'd wear for a job interview."

Surprisingly good advice for a man who spends his life in Carhart overalls.

So. I'm going to the University of Maryland. I leave tonight. Tomorrow morning I will speak on writing about controversial subjects to a session of "Intro to Creative Writing: Through African-American Voices," which sounds really fun, and then--and then, you know, I'll just spend the day hanging out with Annette Gordon-Reed.

I've been casually name-dropping all week.  "You know, me and Annette Gordon-Reed--" But Bristol is not the halls of academia, and even my friends who know they've heard of AGR somehow can not immediately place her. "Wait," they say, "Didn't she win something?"

"The Pulitzer Prize," I say. "For The Hemmings of Monticello. She also wrote An American Controversy, which correctly analyzed the Jefferson-Hemmings relationship long before DNA testing was available."

"Ah," my friends say.

"And she's on the faculty at Harvard law school, and she's very smart and she's the world's expert on Sally Hemmings, and, you know, I wrote a book about that too."

"Ah," they say.

"I've emailed her a couple of times, mostly when I was getting all those crackpot emails from Herbert Barger, and she said, that was probably because I mentioned your book when I gave that lecture at Yale, sorry, and I was like, ohmigosh, Annette Gordon-Reed mentioned Jefferson's Sons! At a lecture at Yale!"

"Ah," my friends say. "So, you're pretty excited."

"And my friend set this up because she's a dean at Maryland and she knew how much meeting Annette Gordon-Reed would mean to me, so she arranged to have me come to speak too, and I'm really looking forward to seeing her again also. Her daughter events, and she's a freshman at Smith."

At which point my friends smile gently and begin to edge away. Because I can't stop talking. Because this is so astoundingly cool.

I'll report back tomorrow, from the front row. 

Tuesday, February 25, 2014

Blogging About The Blog

Yesterday my son told me he thought the day's blog post was whiny. He said I usually either whined or ranted. "You know," he said, "you may have a broken refrigerator, but you're sitting there with your books, the dog, and your horse. It's a good life."

I'd like to point out that later in the conversation he complained that his university's wifi wasn't strong enough to allow him to play Xbox Live.

Anyway, I tried to explain narrative tension to him: how conflict drives interest. Thou Shalt Not Be Boring is an author's first commandment, and The Day It Rained in My Kitchen is intuitively a more interesting story than The Day Everything Was Fine.

Whatever, he said. I whine too much.

I felt indignant about this, so I complained to my husband when he came home. "That was a pretty whiny post," my husband said. "Also, I do not have to wait less long in doctor's offices because I am a doctor."

Huh. Some people you just can't please.

Bert and Ernie, however, other than trying to figure out which one I was calling Bert and which one I was calling Ernie, are quite pleased about my post regarding their wedding and have forwarded it to each of their 37,000 friends. I teased Ernie that I didn't think s/he read my blog. "Bert made me," was the reply. I just wish now I'd written that post a bit tighter. I may go back and revise.

A kind anonymous reader thinks I've been brainwashed, only they stated their opinion so rudely that I deleted it. My blog: my delete key. I don't mind if you disagree with me, and I don't mind if you think I'm wrong, but be nice when you're saying so if you expect me to leave it up for all Bert and Ernie's friends to see.

One thing I appreciate about Facebook is that I can hear news from friends from long ago, people I still care about but with whom I probably would have lost touch without the internet. So I know that yesterday, one of my high school friends lost her mother, and another lost her grandmother. I'm so sorry, and I'm glad I was able to tell them so.

Two more old friends have birthdays today. One of them, I'll call her Kitty, came to watch me compete in Florida. I can't tell you how much fun it was to see her, especially around horses, which is way outside her natural environment. Sarah (my horse) whinnied, spraying spit everywhere, and Kitty snatched a little bottle of hand sanitizer out of her purse and tried to pass it around. Those of us who ride found this hilarious. There are way grosser things about horses than their spit. Kitty is pretty much the epitome of a non-horse person, disgusted when she stepped in manure and appalled by the portajohns. (I was glad not to have to pee in the back of the horse trailer. Later in the day, when I stepped in fresh manure, I scraped it off my boot onto the running board of a friend's truck, right in front of that friend, and neither of us noticed. I only thought about it later when comparing myself to Kitty.)

My husband's father, who spends winters in Florida, also drove several hours to watch me and his granddaughter ride. He doesn't know much about horses, and he can't hear well enough to understand my daughter's chatty explanations, but he watched her with interest and afterward told her he loved her and was proud of her. Kitty was moved enough by this that she sent my husband a message, telling him how sweet his dad is.

I do think my father-in-law is sweet, but I'll be honest, I rather took that, "I love you, and I'm proud of you," for granted. I realized later that I shouldn't. I whine about my refrigerator, and my elderly incontinent dog, but I am every day loved by my family. Even my grumpy son said, "Look, you write well, you're just whining."

So there. Not today. Today I'll just be grateful for my family, for Kitty, for Bert and Ernie, and for all my varied and marvelous friends.

Monday, February 24, 2014

Scheduling Conflict

Some days I really want to write something astonishing and inspirational, but my head seems full of fluff. Or rather, my head seems full of the stuff you get when you're a mom and a wife and a part-time writer. Such as, I've got a lot of laundry to do. The incontinent dog showed an unprecedented level of interest in the dirty horse boots left over from our Florida competition, which pushed those right to the start of the laundry line (so that the dog, who's already eaten about $6000 worth of riding gloves* this year, didn't start in on the boots). So now those are in the washer going thumpthumpthump. Meanwhile, the dog has moved on.

The refrigerator repairman is coming today, alleluia, "sometime between 8 and 12," though it's 8:30 already. Supposedly the job will take at least 2 hours. This means it will take 5 hours, and he will arrive at 1:30. (My husband said, "I'm sure since this is such a big job they'll schedule it for first thing."  Right. You can tell who usually handles the appliance appointments in our family. **

The vet is also coming, to do Sarah's next shockwave treatment, and, though he doesn't know this yet, take the stitches out of Mickey's head. I may have forgotten to mention it, but while my horses were busy being jerks in Florida Mickey opened up a half-moon slice of his scalp that required 8 stitches on a Sunday, and a double-dose of tranquilizer because he hadn't been enough of a jerk so far. The vet and I both called him bad names. If I have to tranq him to pull the stitches out I'm stopping it out of his pay. Or his grain. Whatever.

The vet is scheduled for 2 pm. In theory, you see, there is no possible way that the refrigerator guy (here by 12, 2-hour job) and the vet could collide, but you know what will happen, don't you? The vet will show up first. Then, just when I've brought the horses in and am holding Mickey by a twitch and his ear, the refrigerator guy will come. If I don't drop the horse immediately and run for the house, the refrigerator guy will decide I'm not home, leave, and it'll be another week and a half without a fridge.

This morning my husband suggested that since our daughter's cough was still persisting*** perhaps I should ring the pediatrician. After a moment in which I sputtered--how do you sort this out, refrigerator, child, vet****--he offered to take her in. The pediatrician will not be pleased when I tell them exactly what time I want an appointment, but on the bright side my daughter will be seen quickly, because no way will one physician let another wait three hours in a waiting room.

Obviously that's an argument for my husband doing all the pediatric appointments.*****

*exaggerated for effect. But he has eaten two gloves entirely, both for the right hand.
** me
***horrible. Like she's hacking up hairballs. For two weeks.
****obviously, child usually comes before anything. Likewise, anything that's bleeding or in imminent peril comes first. But a cough that's persisted for 2 weeks versus a dead refrigerator? Hard call.
*****Sound logic, but it never quite worked out that way.

Friday, February 21, 2014

Library Round-Up

So yesterday I did make it to the library, and it was one of those days when the books not only fell into my waiting arms, they tracked me down the aisles and flung themselves upon me. I left staggering under a load that would make you think we didn’t have a single book back in the house where I lived, which, let me assure you, is not the case.

When I looked at the stack of library books I was pretty amused. They’re about as eclectic as it’s possible to be, which is actually pretty much the way I read. So here goes:

Snobs, by Julian Fellowes. He’s the creator of Downton Abbey, and I read his other novel, Past Imperfect, while I was in Florida. Past Imperfect was gorgeously written with a plot so preposterous and unwieldy that I downgraded Fellowes to borrow-don’t-buy for book #2.

The Shadow of the Wind, by Carols Ruiz Zafon. I had a friend specifically and emphatically recommend this to me, so I’m going to try it. Appears to be about a bookstore, originally written in Spanish, could be very interesting.

Happy City: Transforming Our Lives Through Urban Design, by Charles Montgomery. Sounded cool.

Love Wins for Teens, by Rob Bell. I wanted to read something by Rob Bell, probably best known for What We Talk About When We Talk About God, and this was on the new books shelf. I’ve not read any of his work before.

A Surrey State of Mind, by Ceri Radford. Hopefully a smut book.

The Butler, by Wil Haygood. I didn’t see the movie—I never do see the movie—but it sounded interesting.

Extreme Couponing, by Joni Meyer-Crothers. The chances of me becoming an extreme couponer are zero, but I just love books like this. If it’s a TLC tie-in, I’m usually in. (Exception: Duck Dynasty.)

Dog Songs, by Mary Oliver. My favorite living poet now that Maxine Kumin is dead. Oliver makes poetry look easy, which it isn’t—trust me, I’ve tried.

Openly Straight, by Bill Konigsburg. This got rave reviews so I’ve been keeping an eye out for it, and I found it first at a library, not a bookstore. It’s a YA book about a teen boy who’s openly gay in his hometown, but, because he’s tired of being the representative gay boy, remakes himself as “straight” when he goes off to boarding school.

Someone, by Alice Dermott. I don’t know a thing about it except that it’s by Alice Dermott, which should be enough for anyone.

Zealot, the Life and Times of Jesus of Nazareth, by Reza Aslan Another book I’ve been wanting to read for a long time.

And, finally,

Rude Bitches Make Me Tired, by Celia Riverbank. I started this one first, and already I want to read everything the author ever wrote AND phone my next-door neighbor and read it to her out loud. I think I may have become a Southerner, since some of this humor would wash right over Yankees’ heads. Bless their hearts.

Thursday, February 20, 2014

Stuff That Will and Will Not Make You Gay

You know, sometimes people surprise me. Actually, mostly people surprise me. If you start to look at people, really look at them, you can become filled with wonder at the infinite variety and absolutely gorgeousness of them all. Recently my daughter and I were speed-walking through the Atlanta airport,  and my daughter growled, "Getting-sick-of-so-many-people," because it was rather late and we were rather tired in the same way that Olympic athletes are rather fit, and I, who had been mesmerized by the self-same crowd, said, "But look at them. Every one so beautiful." (My daughter responded, "Getting kind of deep," in a way that made it absolutely clear she intended the double meaning, but whatever. I meant what I said, too.)

Aometimes people surprise me by not being who I expect them to be. Take my post on Bert and Ernie's upcoming nuptials. People I didn't even realize read my blog, or really even remembered my name, hit "like" on Facebook, and a few of them were not people I expected to like my post.

And then I read other stuff posted on Facebook, also by people I know, that I wouldn't necessarily think are cretins until I read what they posted on Facebook. And then I get the urge to rant.

So. Can we please all do the following thought experiment? If you are straight, imagine you are gay. If you are gay, imagine you are straight. Imagine looking at someone who you care about very much, who you like and respect and enjoy spending time around, but have never felt the slightest iota of sexual attraction toward, because of their gender, and now imagine that you do feel that attraction. Go ahead. Try hard.

Did you feel it?

Me either.

And so I present my list: Stuff that Will and Will Not Make you Gay

What Will Make You Gay:
1. Receiving certain hormones in-utero.
2. That's pretty much it.

What Will Not Make You Gay:
1. Reading about the existence of gay people.
2. Knowing gay people.
3. Failing to hate gay people.
4. Intensively praying to God to make you gay.
5. Being around gay people.
6. Having a gay person as a parent.
7. Having a gay person as a brother, sister, child, grandparent, aunt, uncle, nephew, niece, or friend.
8. Having a gay person as your accountant, grocer, physician, lawyer, postal employee, or pastor.
9. Having a gay person in your Scout troop.
10. Having a gay person on your rec team.
11. Having a gay person on your professional team.
12. Being sexually abused. (This might make you a hot mess, but it won't make you gay.)
13. Being sexually promiscuous. (Ditto.)
14. Being celibate. (Note: this also doesn't make you not gay.)
15. Loving people, whether or not they are gay.
16. Hating people, whether or not they are gay. (Again: also won't make you not gay.)

Please. Quit being afraid.

Tuesday, February 18, 2014

Twenty Years Later.

Bert and Ernie are getting married.

Not that Bert and Ernie. My friends Bert and Ernie, who, like nearly everyone else I mention on this blog, are not actually named Bert and Ernie.

I've been married for nearly 25 years now. My husband and I were young to have gotten married, I know that now, not that I care in the least. We were smart about some things and lucky about others, and we were always completely committed to each other and our children. We've had a happy 25 years; I look forward to at least another 25 more.

Bert and Ernie have been equally committed, and equally happy, for the past 20 years. The difference is that they couldn't be married, not until just recently. Because, you know, their names are Bert and Ernie. They're gay.

I've known them for almost ten years. Once one of my children and their child spent a weekend playing together while we were all gathered for an event. My child was still pretty young. Afterward--weeks afterward--my child came up to me and abruptly demanded, where exactly did Bert and Ernie get their kid?

"Ecuador," I said.

"OH, thanks!" my child said, and skipped away.

Because they are getting married, they can now both be the legal parents of the child they've raised from birth. Because they are getting married, they can inherit each other's social security benefits and pensions. They can't be denied access to one another in case of medical or other emergency.

Other than that, I don't think much will change for them. Their commitment to each other has long since been proven.

But as soon as I write that, I think I'm wrong. I try to imagine living the last 24 years of my life as an unofficial "life partner," not a spouse. I think marriage would be pretty important for me.

Whatever. I just need to come up with a decent wedding gift (are they registering anywhere?) and when I get to their party, dance. And maybe sing. I'm a whiz at karaoke now, as you may have heard.

Monday, February 17, 2014


If you're looking for a profound, well-written, and insightful blog today, look elsewhere. I haven't got one.

It's a two-nap kind of day.

I got home from my Florida adventure late last night, exhausted in body and mind. I slept a lot down there--it was such a bummer, because the Olympics were on, but even if I willed myself to stay awake I usually couldn't make it past 9:30--but somehow the sleep didn't seem to take. It's true that the only two days I didn't wake at 6am I woke at 5 and 7, and it's true that I was more physically active than I usually am, and rode one or two horses reasonably hard every single day. But sheesh. The pros down there ride a dozen, most days, and then go out to the movies.

Anyway, I'm tired, and I had a wonderful time, and I'm loving being back home, too, not least because I got to see my beautiful husband, who did a hero's job taking care of things while I was gone. I'll be paying him back for that dang refrigerator for a long time.

(In an aside: since repairing the refrigerator cost 1/8th the price of buying a new one, we're definitely repairing it. However, we need parts, which won't come for 10 days. We're making do with one of those little college refrigerators. I'm telling you, when you're using them to store actual groceries instead of soda, beer, and leftover pizza, those suckers fill up fast.)

I was back in my minivan, in my hometown, running errands. I went to the library not so much because I needed something to read as because I longed to wander among stacks full of books. I read 2.27 (according to my Kindle) novels while I was away, and no non-fiction other than USA Today, and I am way book deprived. But the library was closed. I stood looking at the darkened doors, and an elderly man with a book in his hand came and stood beside me and looked at them, too. "I didn't think the library would be closed on President's Day," I said.

He shook his head bleakly. "I didn't even know it was President's Day."

Then I went on to Food City, and tried to balance the groceries I wanted to buy (all the fruits and vegetables! Fish! Yogurt and hummus and cheese! I have a kitchen to cook in again!) with what I reasonably could buy (no refrigerator!).  The usual Monday check-out clerk (no, I'm not making that up. Yes, I live in a small town) narrowed his eyes at me and said, "You look different. Your hair? No, that's not it. What's different?"

I said, "I have a tan. I've been in Florida," and he growled at me.

Wednesday, February 12, 2014

In Which I Might as Well Sing

Well, first, the disappointment: I am in Florida, as before. And my husband is not.

He was supposed to be. He should have flown in here tonight. There's a little matter of snow in the south; perhaps you've heard? We're not sure if he'll make it down here at all. Also, our refrigerator/freezer died. So, instead of flying down to a loving reunion with his wife, he spent the evening throwing out defrosted meat coated with melted ice cream.

Which is not as much fun as it sounds.

Anyway, being without him sucks. Other than that, however, I'm feeling like a rock star. I can't even tell you. I had a lesson in pouring rain today, and followed that by watching my daughter have a lesson in pouring rain, and it was six kinds of awesome. And though I feel I'm having trouble articulating it, something big changed in my riding this week. And then I think, if I can jump like I just did, I can do freaking anything. Ever.

So tonight I sang karaoke.

You need to know that, first of all, I don't have a naturally good singing voice, and the voice I have has never been improved by any sort of training. I have a warble. I can sort of match my daughter's voice (naturally quite a bit better than mine), in, say, church, which has heretofore been the only place I ever sing out loud, unless it is somebody's birthday.

But Wednesdays are karaoke nights at Blanca's, a small restaurant in a small golf course development here in Ocala. Most of the patrons are over 60 and everyone is happy to be there. And while I've never had the guts to sing in public before, I do know. So I got up and sang, "Lean On Me," which turns out to be harder when you've got the background music but no singing to follow along with. Then my lovely daughter got up and sang something from Les Mis, which I had no idea she could do, and then we sang a duet: Macy Grey's "Beauty in the World."

There is beauty in the world, so much beauty in the world. Pick your diamond, pick your pearl, there is beauty in the world.


Tuesday, February 11, 2014

Sailing On the Good Ship Sarah

Please excuse my absence from the blog. My horse is sound, my horse is flying, and I feel like I'm actually learning to ride. After years, years, it's all falling into place. I mean, I've got a ton of work to do. But I understand stuff I've never understood before. And Sarah and I jumped a table that I would have to use a stick on to know whether it was Prelim or Intermediate. Yeah.

The only thing I can compare this week to is the time in my Advanced Inorganic Chemistry class (a class for senior chem majors) when I suddenly understood quantum mechanics. It was like a veil was lifted to a particularly lovely and intricate part of the universe. I was in awe.

This is like that, only one better, because I've got a partner. My beautiful Sarah is trying her heart out, and is so happy too. Yesterday at the end of a marathon showjumping lesson (because how could we stop? that shit was amazing) I rinsed Sarah off, then turned her out in her paddock. She threw herself onto the ground and rolled, thrashing and grunting and stretching. Rolled and rolled. Then she stood up, shook herself all over, looked me in the eye, and grinned.

Friday, February 7, 2014

Happy, Crazy, Happy, Wild

So I'm down in Florida in a horseman's paradise for two weeks. This is so unbelievably awesome I can hardly believe I get to do it. I started several years ago going down for five days, then upped it to a full week, then, last year, upped it to two. I think that's likely my limit; even though my daughter and husband are coming down for part of next week I miss them hard already.

But. It's really amazing to be here. I've got pretty much the most excellent set-up possible, because my trainers, Angelica and Betty, stay at neighboring farms. There's a gate in the shared fenceline, so I can ride back and forth between the properties. The first few years I stayed at Angelica's place. Then I stayed at Betty's, for two years, and this year I'm back at Angelica's. They get along great, and they train the same way, so I do a sort of tag-team training where I get some kind of excellent lesson every single day. I don't have a trainer at home, so I have to pack in the training where I can, and every year I get some amazing revelations--oh! I'm supposed to do THAT with my inside leg! With horses you can have revelations til you die and still not know half of anything, but I'm making progress which is very very cool.

The other thing that's so terrific for me is that this whole place--both farms--is completely dedicated to horses and eventing. The stalls aren't paved with gold or anything like that, but they're clean and spacious and well-ventilated, and when you go to do chores, the pitchforks are right where they should be, and the wash stall is neat and organized, and the hay and shavings are handy. The grounds are immaculate--dressage rings raked every single day, cross-country jumps weed-whacked regularly. Over at Angelica's place we've even got a flush toilet. I kid you not. And also, everyone there understands horses. Everyone talks horses, and knows horses; when my horses got down there ahead of me, the text I got read, "Can they go out together and do they need protective boots?" not "do you want turnout?"

So we're in paradise, and my two horses--Sarah and my daughter's horse, Mickey--are being assholes. We tried to clip Mickey's heavy winter coat right before he left. He hates being clipped, so he fought it, so the clippers sort of stuttered over his coat, leaving clumps of hair. Then he stepped on the clipper cord and severed it, and that was the end of that. He was about 80% clipped. In patches. He came down to paradise looking like a bum. I didn't mind the people who asked what the hell was up with his clip job. I mind the people who stare, and then silently look away, thinking it's the best I can do.

Sarah and Mickey can't stand each other at home, but on foreign ground they are joined at the hip. Whenever I ride Sarah, Mickey weaves back and forth at the door to his stall, working himself into a lather, screaming his head off. (I can't leave him in the field when I ride, because he runs so hard he excites all the other horses.) The first day, Sarah did one better. I took Mickey out, and she leaned against the lower half of her stall's dutch door until she broke it, and escaped. She ran straight to Mickey's side. We fixed the stall and put a rubber stall guard over the door, so that she could still look out but couldn't lean against the door. The next time I took Mickey out, she reared up and tried to jump out the stall, hooking one leg over the door and coming closer than I'd like to breaking it. Now when I take Mickey out, I shut the top of her door.

Meanwhile, her lessons have been a series of temper-tantrums. I would be wholly frustrated by this--but. It's a problem that horses can't speak. Sarah was doing the worst, bolting, inverted, horrific canter of her life, in front of Angelica, of course, and Angelica said, "Wow, let's go back to the trot and re-organize," and we did, and then--half an hour into the lesson--Sarah started to limp. It was a tiny limp, but it was a limp. Angelica pulled out her phone and videotaped it, and then we called in a world-class equine vet, who just happened to already be on the farm, because that's how this place rolls. We jogged Sarah and rode her and--well, it gets complicated, but eventually discovered that she had an inflamed annular ligament in her back right ankle. So she got shockwave treatment, right there on the spot (they don't do this stuff in east Tennessee; any disappointment I had in having a lame horse in Florida was way mitigated by being able to properly diagnose and treat said horse, because I was in Florida). She had a couple of mild days, and we had to pull out of a competition this weekend, but today she was much, much better.

Much less lame, I mean. She was still a witch in high heels. It was dinner time, and cold, and raining, and she threw a giant hissy fit in the sandbox in front of Angelica, with me on her. I can tell you, my treadmill work has gotten me more fit, and that's a good thing, but I'd better start lifting weights, because that mare nearly pulled my right arm from its socket. But she was sound. Honestly, I'll take a sound fit-throwing witch mare over a docile lame one any day, and furthermore, tomorrow we're going to let her jump, which should please her. I just hope she doesn't break the door down again.

Thursday, February 6, 2014

The Olympics: The Rest of the Story

I've been a bit dissatisfied with my Olympic stories. Not because they weren't true, but because they were only part of the story. I've been trying to figure out what I should and shouldn't say, as I always do when the story isn't mine alone.

My daughter and I had tickets for one round of diving. It turned out to be the women's springboard preliminaries (when we entered the ticket lotteries we didn't know which events would be when). Each venue had different levels of seats--some had only 2 or even 1, others as many as 6. When you entered the lottery, you indicated the highest level of seating you'd be willing to pay for. If you chose A-level seating, you'd be entered in the lottery for, say, levels A, B, C, and D, but if for the same sport you chose C-level seating, you'd only be entered for C and D levels. The more you were theoretically willing to pay, the better your shot at getting any seats at all--but the trick with the lottery was that you had to agree upfront to either pay for everything you got in the lottery, or decline it all. You couldn't pick and choose out of what you were offered.

In the first round of the lottery, I asked for all 4 days of eventing, then one day each of diving, gymnastics, fencing, and something else--can't remember. I asked for the best seats for the stadium days of eventing ,because I very much wanted those tickets, and the best seats for diving, because diving seemed like something that would be much cooler close up than far away. This turned out to be a very good choice. In the first round of the lottery, I got 3 of the 4 days of eventing, fencing, and diving, and we were able to get the other day of eventing plus archery and badminton in later rounds.

Our diving seats were level A, which put us right at the diving board end of the natatorium, just above the judges' seats. They were superb tickets--and, in fact, everyone in the seats around us was actually a family member of a diver. We sat beside the mother and brother of one of the American women, who made it to the final round but didn't get a medal. Every time she dove, her mother and brother utterly ceased to breathe. Watching them, I got a sense of how much effort had gone into this diver making the Olympic team.

Which brings me to the part of the story I don't entirely know how to tell: a friend of mine made that Olympic event team. Now, I had to register for the ticket lottery almost a year before the Olympics, and the U.S. event team wasn't named until 6 weeks before the competition, so I didn't know I was going to be able to watch my friend. But with a friend on the team I got access to a sort of lounge set up for friends and family of many of the equestrian teams; it was there that the Brits threw a party to celebrate their team silver, which is how I got my photo taken with eventing superstar Mark Todd and how I got to hold Mary King's medal in my hands. All that was exciting, but, for both my daughter and I, the essence of the Games could be distilled into one moment, after cross country ended, when the lounge was packed with people from several nations, and my friend, entering the room still in riding gear, caught sight of my daughter, went up to her, and said, "Take me to my mother," and my daughter did.

Wednesday, February 5, 2014

The Olympics: Welcome to London

I don't know how the games will go in Sochi--safe, I hope-but they could not go better than in 2012. I've never known a city to open up and blossom the way London did as the welcomed the world.

I've been to London a few times, including a week in March, 2012, and what was most remarkable then was that there were almost no signs that the city was about to host an Olympics. I later realized that this was because they delayed putting up any Olympic signs or decorations until after the Queen's Jubilee, but at the time I was pretty concerned that they either weren't ready or simply didn't care. The British tend to keep themselves to themselves, as the saying goes.

Something magic happened when the games began. I really think it was the Opening Ceremony. I didn't even try to watch that live--eventing started the next morning at 8--but I watched a big chunk of it, all the way until the athletes began marching in, on television with a bunch of eventing enthusiasts at a bar in Greenwich. Something about the whole drama--pastoral England, the industrial revolution, the Queen dropping out of a helicopter and then being so moved that she nearly cried as she pronounced the games open--created such a groundswell of national pride, such a feeling of hospitality, that it changed the atmosphere in England to one of constant happy welcome. I had people spontaneously asking me questions on the subway, and on the ferry ride to Greenwich on cross-country morning, one of the eventing Technical Delegates [which meant they were a Very Big Deal, the absolute arbitrator of the competition] entertained my daughter and me with salacious stories about our then Olympic eventing coach.

It was glorious.

P.S. This year marks the debut of women's ski jumping. Today I hacked out in the fields with a woman whose ex-boyfriend was a national level ski jumper. We both agreed that nothing on earth would get us to try ski jumping. Not. Ever.

Tuesday, February 4, 2014

The Olympics: One World

When I decided to go to the London Olympic games, some acquaintances tried to talk me out of it, on the grounds that the IOC was entirely corrupt and picked host cities based on bribery. That may or may not be true. The only Olympic athletes I knew--a handful of eventers--were not themselves corrupt, and I wasn't going so that I could watch the IOC.

I didn't understand until I was there why we need the Olympics: it shrinks the world.

In Wembley arena, a Norwegian woman and a Chinese woman began a badminton match. A few fans on one side of the arena yelled out, "Norway, Norway!" [clap, clap, clap]. A moment later, a man on the other side stood and yelled, "Chi-NA!"

Ten seconds later the entire arena was chanting. Chi-NA! Chi-NA! on one side, Norway, Norway! [clap, clap, clap] on the other. Between points the players looked up at the stands in wonder.

A handful of Koreans sitting near me during a fencing match had developed a long, complicated chant. It was entirely in Korean, so I have no idea what it meant. But partway through the match, the lead Korean leaned over and tapped the person in front of him on the shoulder. Gesturing, he asked them to display their flag. "Ah!" he said, "Panama!" From then on, the long Korean chant ended with "PANAMA!" (There were no Panamanian fencers.)

My daughter and I are walking through the Olympic village. We stop at the outdoor broadcast booth for the United States tv feed. Hoping to get on prime time, we wave our flag and yell, "USA! USA!' Behind us, a pair of Australians break out their flag and yell, "AUS! AUS!" until all four of us are collapsing with laughter.

Over and over, the audience cheers. For the victors and the losers and the ones in between. In eventing, a Japanese man gets the best score in dressage. He's very unlikely to medal, because he's never done well at the other two phases, but even before his score is posted the audience is on their feet, screaming like crazy, because his test was poetry. When his score went up he burst into tears.

People talk in line and in stands, on ferries, on the Tube. Over and over, we share our stories. Where we are from, why we are there, who we care about. At the lunch break in fencing I ask the Korean man leading the chants, "Family?" and point to the pistes.  "Ah," he says. "No. Friends."

We were all friends, watching the Games.

Monday, February 3, 2014

The Olympics and That Mom Commercial

There's a commercial making the rounds of the internet (what has it come to, that we not only voluntarily watch commercials, but share them with our friends?) anyway, a commercial showing a bunch of little children, toddling on ice skates and skis, falling down, mothers picking them up--the children get bigger and more proficient; the mothers tend bruises, bite their lips--and then the children are grown, competing at the Olympics, throwing their arms around their sobbing mothers. It's the same commercial that ran during the last summer games, only with winter sports, and I've heard divided reactions to it. Some people find it emotionally moving. Others see evil helicopter parents forcing their children to succeed.

From what I've seen, you can't force anyone into the Olympics.

Anyone with a child who's ever played any sort of sport knows parents who take things too seriously. I coached kindersoccer once, and got told off by a mother for not giving her child enough playing time. Her child had begged to be taken out of the game, and by the rules of the league wasn't allowed to go back in--so, by following the rules, I was wrecking his nascent soccer career. My son played Little League, a minefield of wackos who think their children will make the bigs, if only they scream loud enough. Basketball, tennis, golf, riding--my children played all those, too, and I've got weird-parent stories for every sport.

I'm sure I also count as a weird parent, but I never expected my children to be professional athletes. First of all, they get half their genes from me. Second, I've known some actual Olympians, and I understand how rare they are. Read the book The Sports Gene. Our greatest athletes are physical anomalies--bigger, faster, stronger, or perhaps just more responsive to training, or quicker off the mark, or better balanced. They're at the far end of the genetic bell curve. And then they work, insanely hard. They throw themselves into their sports head-first, full-on, and you can't stop them. Maybe somewhere they've got a helicopter parent. I just don't think it matters. If they don't have an insane to win, if they don't want to make one thing their whole life, at least for a few years, they aren't going to the Olympics.

I'm headed down to Florida now, to ride with friends; coincidentally, while I'm there, some of the superstars in my sport will be riding in training sessions with the Olympic coach. I'll get to watch. It'll be like auditing a college calculus class when you've ever only reached long division. Mine isn't a sport where people peak early: most Olympic eventers are in their 30s. Over the years, going to Florida, I've watched some talented young riders grow up, and you can pick them out, the ones that might make the Olympics, not just by the way they ride, but by how they're still working, year after year after year.