BY PIPER KLEMM
If you told me that I would be home and spending 100 days without horse shows in 2020, I would have had about the same reaction as the rest of us. But our ability to adapt as humans is incredible. Time, which was once so precious with my husband, fell into a usual rhythm of work apart, lunch at 11, midday walk, work, work, work, dinner, evening walk, work some more. Day in and day out, we strolled in the sunshine as it went from fully winter to fully summer, making our orders for necessities online, and mostly just staring into our computers forging through a sea of emails, contracts, Zoom meetings, and phone calls. Was it the life I imagined for myself? Well, no. I haven’t seen a horse in person in 100 days. Nevertheless, it had its own charm. We had movie nights and made popcorn. Discussed grand theories. Did a few plant projects. Most of all, we built for who we wanted to be post-pandemic. We put the work into ourselves. Our emotions, our depth of literature, our understanding of our craft.
I made some positive changes. I took all social media off my phone—I am now only checking it on my computer. I set hours to answer emails. I learned new tactics for being more proactive with manipulative people. I shared laughs with my friends from afar. I clicked on their links and casually intertwined with them online. The richness of genuine relationships, though, is that they go in directions you would never click on, to places you would never go. Would I click on a cartographer or history of Jack London? Probably not.
But the thing about reading is that while it is ostensibly the most solitary activity, it can be shared. I have few memories of reading with my mom, other than asking her and her saying it was my father’s job. And his job it was. We read every day together—from being very small on his lap on an orange sofa, to curling up next to him, to eventually camping out on a brown chair across from the couch when I knew I was much too old for him to read to me. We would read chapter after chapter with never a concept of a bedtime or tomorrow.
He would interject stories of his own childhood and monologues of professorial lectures from a field that he had long abandoned. His empathy for every character, every human, every struggle, and every part of the human condition emerged in his tone of voice. He never shied away from tough topics—early memories include him explaining the Donner Party to me. He always emphasized that good people often had to make tough decisions in life. We could judge them from the orange couch (which, while groovy in the 1970s, was absolutely uncool by the time we were reading on it and would not come back “in” until the mid 2000s), but our judgements were not hungry. They were not cold. Our judgement did not want for anything, really.
He told me of the unspeakable cold that Almanzo Wilder grew up with in upstate New York, a place even colder and more upstate than he had grown up in, while he read me every single Little House book in my box set. He paused and told me to imagine that I built an entire house by hand, just to have the government tell me that they moved the border to Native American land and I would have to walk away, now homeless, and completely rebuild from scratch yet again somewhere else.
When I started off pony ownership with an unbroke two-year-old and no concept of what I didn’t know, I started to read to her when my knowledge on training ended. I couldn’t catch her or blanket her or saddle her, so reading with a bag of carrots for her appearances seemed like as good of a way as any to build a relationship. We read homework frequently, moving our way from the Middle Ages through medieval times and, mercifully, the Renaissance. We looked at paintings and portraits and discussed horizon lines and tried to appreciate art. Both of us were a little young, no matter how hard we tried.
I remember those days today, when I look to a bay gelding with bugged out eyes as my muse. I read to Reuben whenever I get the chance, which now is more tempered in singing him some songs and telling him how special he is, in a much less self-conscious relationship than that very first one. I buy books for us to plod through that I think he’ll like, such as The Horse Who Loved Sandwiches (thank you to Sara Zimmerman for the recommendation)!
Today, I log thousands of hours on Audible being read to, Adam reads to me when I can’t sleep. And occasionally when I travel still, he will read by phone across the world from me. We’ve been reading Hunter S. Thompson’s The Great Shark Hunt since about 2009. It’s slow going. Sometimes we discuss, but mostly we sit with the rich characters, growing empathy for experiences we will never have, and sharing the human experience. And we share the absurdity of how life changes, how nothing changes, and how we can only rely on the power we put in ourselves.
Which brings me back to today. Having exhausted my being-read-to quota from Guns, Germs, and Steel in almost its entirety this quarantine, I picked up the phone. “What do you want me to read to you?” Chris Klemm asked. “Whatever you want,” I replied.
So we embarked upon the story of a cartographer on the hunt for German maps during World War II and the literal fall of Aachen to the Allies. The next day, he started in on a history of Jack London, and while there is much less editorializing now, I could still hear it. His throat swelling as he imagined these men carrying close to 2000 pounds each in 100-lb increments and running 16-17 trips across terrain that literally felled them. From blizzards to the stench to deciding whether to go down or around rapids, to the all-encompassing quixotic quest for the gold rush.
Having come off the day listening to Curtis Jackson (a.k.a. 50 Cent) on Dax Shepherd’s podcast, London’s literal Get Rich or Die Trying journey lacked what Generation Z struggles so much with. No one knows what the right decision is, ever. We need to build our ability to have the confidence to go forth and know that we are living our true life, no matter the consequence. There is no crystal ball for any of us. We might be on track for our gold rush, only to be literally buried next to the path by worn-out survivors. There might not actually be a gold rush. We might do all the things for all the right reasons and not prospect the right area of town. Whether we get lucky or not, the adventure is what is calling all of us.
The only way we will become is to put it all out there—right or wrong —and know that failure is inevitable. And as long as we can keep shame and contempt at ourselves and our actions at bay, we can persevere and keep showing up to the next phase in our lives. Whether that is finding your gold rush in the form of writing about your gold rush instead of in your pan, or having a life well-lived and well-loved in the pursuit of something greater that is never achieved… physical, emotional, and spiritual vulnerability awaits all of us.
As we come back, I’m focusing on all the things I was a little too green to learn last go around. I’m focusing on my breathing, I’m putting my shame behind me, I’m listening better than ever to the experts, and I’m enjoying the bay horse for every moment he stands there chewing in my ear while I read to him. I’m thinking of bravery on the scale of people who have really been confronted with big decisions.
Reading the classics, I am yet again reminded that the wild of putting myself out there is calling. I’m lifting the phone off the receiver.
About the Author: Piper began her tenure as the Publisher of The Plaid Horse Magazine in 2014. She received her B.S. with Honors in Chemistry from Trinity College [Hartford, CT] in 2009 and her Ph.D. in Chemistry from the University of California, Berkeley in 2012. She is an active member of the hunter/jumper community, owning a fleet of lease ponies and showing in adult hunter divisions.
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