Monday, September 21, 2015

The Yin & Yang of My Heart

From the time I can remember, I’ve always loved horses and stories. Like many young girls, I devoured books about horses like they were my grandmother’s Thanksgiving turkey.

I was luckier than most. I was born to a horse crazy mother who traded daily chores for partial board at a local hunter jumper stable. Too little to wield a pitchfork, I investigated every inch of the barn while she cleaned. I was not, however too little to ride.

I have a candid black and white photo of me aboard my aunt’s mare. It’s not the best picture – the frame stops before the horse does but what’s important is that I’m smiling and you can tell that I’m so young that I probably haven’t taken my own first steps yet.

By the time I was 2, I would ambush my parent’s friends as soon as they walked in the door, and drag them to a couch. They were made to sit while I “read” to them. Page by page, I read them the story of Cinderella. More than a few of them were shocked! Two years old and reading? That was until the day that I was reading away, pleased with myself, oblivious that the book was upside down.

When I started going to school and teachers would ask me what I wanted to be when I grew up, it never occurred to me to be anything but a writer and a horse trainer.

The thing is, as I grew up, I never thought to put those two dreams together. Yet, it seemed obvious to everyone I met. “Why don’t you write a horse novel?” Truth be told, when someone pointed it out, the idea terrified me. And here’s why.

As a preteen, I read and reread every Walter Farley book I could beg, borrow or buy.  I loved them all – the freedom of the Black, the extraordinary bond between him and Alec, the wise words of their trainer, but my favorite was always The Black Stallion and the Girl. I was miserable for at least a week after I finished reading it. So heart-breaking and so healing and yet – every time I read it, I always wanted to rewrite the ending. I had horses growing up, great horses, but as a youngster I couldn’t truly imagine the bond between Black Sand, a traumatized colt and his bohemian rider. It fascinated me. To this day, that novel is on my Top Ten Novels to reread every few years.

But somehow in my own world, writing and horses were two separate things. The yin and yang of my heart that never blended. I started to wonder why I wasn't comfortable linking the two loves of my life.  

Fear.  If I fail at writing, at least I have horses. If I fail at horses, at least I have writing. If I combined them and failed – who would I be?

Fear held me captive until I lost my heart horse, Took. At the time, I’d been scribbling away at a fantasy story about a princess who was really a tom boy, a court jester who was really a magician and a young prince who had removed himself from court for so long, he’d become an urban legend. Let’s not forget the Princess's lazy dog-type companion and last but not least, her faithful and feisty war horse.

Of course her war horse was modeled after my heart horse. Through the story, I was able to describe him as I saw him and how I saw us in some alternate universe. It was a fabulous escape and it was safe as I never had to let anyone actually read it. No one would be able to see my vulnerability when it came to Took.

Then Took died. I found it too painful to craft amazing adventures in faraway lands for us. Remembering that no one ever had to see my story, I did something I never thought I could do. I killed off my protagonist’s war horse. I stole her best friend. I wrote about losing Took, each key stroke banging out the pain of his death. I wrote exactly how I felt.

And then, much like I challenged myself, I challenged her to learn how to live again.

That story hasn’t grown since then. I intend to finish it and now I know I will. After all of that, I’m no longer afraid to combine the two halves of my heart. Perhaps melding them is where true happiness lies. 

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