Mulie the Horse

One of my mom’s horses, Mulie, died on Monday.  He was 25.

Mulie was a thoroughbred, registered as Oat Bran Blues.  My mom trained him as a racehorse and he won some races, coming close to a track record at Delaware Park in the early 1990’s.

Here is my mom on Mulie for a morning workout, maybe 1992:


When Mulie was done with his racing career, my mom brought him home to her farm and taught him a second career as a show horse.  When he was too old to be ridden,  Mulie spent most of his time in a field with another gelding, living out his years as a well-loved grass-eating machine.

The problem with horse racing, as I see it, is what would have happened to Mulie, a gelding with no breeding value,  if he hadn’t had the good fortune to be trained by someone like my mom, a woman who feels responsibility for every horse she works with.

The problem is people who can afford to buy a horse,  or dozens or even hundreds of horses, but don’t see these horses through to the end of life. In the case of most thoroughbreds, not  even seeing them through their entire racing careers, letting them get sold down the food chain till they end up sore and neurotic, potentially suffering a fatal break down, being sold for meat on the black market or, maybe, if the horse is lucky, getting pulled by a rescue group and taught a second career.

The act of making anyone who buys a horse, any horse, accountable for that horse for its lifetime would revolutionize horse sports  -and racing in particular.  It could be something as simple as setting aside a percentage of the purchase price of the horse.

Buying another living being is a karmic contract.  There are no two ways  of looking at it.

As a foal, Mulie was very curious about the world and he once poked his nose into a hornets nest and got stung so badly one of his ears was stunted and flopped to one side, making him look like a mule.

Mulie was a goofball.  Though basically a mellow guy who could be trusted to give a safe ride to even a small child, he was prone to spooking and shying at the sight of unexpected things.

I last saw him a few weeks ago when visiting my mom:

He had lost some weight over the winter and his coat was a mess, but he was still Mulie.  Polite, but indifferent when I came into his field to be near him for a while. He was standing there munching hay and, once in a while, acknowledging my existence by looking over at me.  Then, a  bird landed on a nearby fence post and Mulie lifted his head, widened his eyes in horror, and snorted loudly, spooked at the sight of a bird he’d probably seen 80,000 times before.

I rode Mulie a number of times through the years, and my mom had done amazing things with him.  You could get on his back, and just LOOK in a certain direction and he’d go there.  She had taught him to respond to and enjoy every nuance of a human’s body.  It was an incredible thing.

Most of the horse trainers I’ve met possess this skill to some degree. Working with horses is an artform.  It’s a calling.  You do it because you have to.  Because a life without horses would not be one worth living.

My positive experiences with horse people at racetracks are why I am not categorically opposed to horse racing. I don’t think the problem has much to do with the trainers, jockeys, grooms and hotwalkers. The problem is lack of accountability.

The problem is in what would have happened to Mulie if his owner hadn’t given him to my mom at the end of his career.

It’s funny the value we arbitrarily assign to the lives of other beings.

People were all up in arms about horse meat in burgers a few weeks back and yet,  by now, everyone knows just how graphically hideous the life of your average beef cow is.

Why is it fine to eat a cow, but horrible to eat a horse?

Pigs are a lot smarter than horses. Yet, for some reason, it’s okay to keep pigs in gestation crates, but the NY Times is outraged when a race horse is given too much horse Advil.

I don’t eat animals, and I don’t condemn those that do, I just wish they were more CONSCIOUS about the whole thing.

We are a strange, fickle species.

No wonder Mulie was looking at me like: What? What do you want? As I stood in his field.

Animals don’t understand us very well, because we make no sense whatsoever.

Rest in Peace, Mulie.




Buried in my previous post about Non-Hoarding, is a link to the skulls of the Mutter Museum and, fearing no one will click on it, I want to say: CLICK ON IT.  Or here: Adopt a Skull.  

It’s a catalog of old skulls needing some upkeep.  It gives delectable, poetic descriptions of the people whose flesh once wrapped the skulls.  Also, if you’re heading to Philadelphia, the Mutter is a REALLY cool museum (of medical oddities) AND my  friend Cristin O’ Keefe Aptowicz just got a fancy book deal for her book about Dr. Mutter which I can’t WAIT to read and which, I suspect, will set the world on fire.  Or at least my brain.

Okay then.  As you were.

Non-Hoarding (When The Cat’s Away, Throw His Stuff Out)

The cat is not away.  As previously documented, though Lulu the Cat used to travel – at least around my old neighborhood in NYC — she is now 19-years-old and doesn’t get out much.

My boyfriend, however, IS away.  I’m not doing anything debauched in his absence, at least not yet, but I’ve already filled an enormous garbage bag with expired food, dish towels the color of gym socks,and old plastic containers, their sides yellowed like the teeth of an old horse.

One of the things I love in the philosophy of yoga is the concept of Aparigraha – non-hoarding.

Not grabbing for more than what we need.  Traveling lightly.

I’m not  a neat freak, nor even particularly tidy, but I hate excess, especially if it’s not aesthetically pleasing.  If my eye has to rest on any clutter, I want it to be really interesting.  Like some of the rooms at the Mutter Museum, especially the one filled with cases of skulls

I spent most of my teen years living with my dad, a nomadic horse trainer.  We moved every six months, sometimes very suddenly.  I’m not sure why except my dad was restless.  He went from one horse training job to the next, always hoping the next one would be better.  Sometimes, he’d get a job managing a huge riding stable, taking care of up to a hundred horses.  Other times, he just trained a few show horses for persons of wealth.  We lived on lavish farms and in tiny cramped cabins.  We lived above and next to barns and, once, actually in the barn.

I  learned to pack really fast and not grow attached to any objects.

I was nearly 30 before I bought an actual home furnishing. A Moroccan lamp.  I remember feeling really weird about buying it.  Like now I had this THING to take with me everywhere.  I felt some sort of responsibility for this beautiful THING.

My boyfriend, though he does practice yoga, has missed the non-hoarding boat.  The first time I walked into his old apartment, I almost vomited.  There was stuff EVERYWHERE.  Mostly magazines and newspapers, in leaning towers, in every corner.  But other stuff too. He had something like 50 rolls of toilet paper.  Six jars of sunflower seed butter.  80 boxes of tea.

Fortunately, he has a lot of good qualities, so I gritted my teeth, bought a bunch of garbage bags, and helped him throw out 80% of his stuff.  Now, we live together and he claims he has NO STUFF,  that I’ve thrown it all out.  So he hoards things in small, secretive ways.

He’s really skinny and eats constantly, so he has his office right next to the kitchen and he can do whatever he wants in that kitchen so long as, once in a while, I can get a meal from it.  I’m not even sure what all goes on in that kitchen.

Five minutes after he left for a trip to Boston, I opened the fridge to look for a snack, and suddenly, I saw it.  EXPIRED FOOD.  HALF ROTTEN VEGETABLES. Mysterious pools of STICKY STUFF. 

I started pulling open kitchen cabinets and drawers.  STUFF EVERYWHERE.  More Ziploc baggies than the Van Patten Family could use in a lifetime.

I started hyperventilating.  The dogs, sensing my agitation, started barking and Stevie, the 10-month old pup, snatched a grimy-looking dish towel off the counter and raced outside to shred it.

I got out a garbage bag and started gleefully throwing stuff out.  Eventually, I had to stop myself or I was going to throw out everything in the house.

The thing is, my boyfriend is a man, so he probably won’t even notice that he’s missing seventeen yellowed containers, five expired yogurts, and several jars of BROWN STUFF.  And, at the end of the day, it’ll all work out.  Maybe my boyfriend will start to hoard less, maybe I’ll stop throwing EVERYTHING out.

On a hoarding-related note, here is a sad and horrible thing: My dear friend Susan Roth sent an email that the Kingston, NY, SPCA has just intervened in an extreme hoarding case.  103 cats and kittens were seized from a hoarder and they are at the Kingston SPCA, getting care, and will eventually all need homes.  Here is a link if you’d like to help by making a small donation or, better yet, adopting some cats: UCSPCA.

Then, when your cats are away, you can throw out all their stuff.






Sangha, T-Rex, and the long arms of Jenny Meyer

So, it’s been scientifically proven that human beings need community.  Sangha. Without it, we get crazy. We are pack animals, like horses and dogs and sheep and cows and wolves. We need one another.

Some of us admire cats for their independent attitude, but, if we try to live like cats, we end up wearing hats made of tin foil. Or becoming increasingly cantankerous and hoarding plastic bags.

For most of the last twenty years, I’ve worked for myself and by myself.  But, much as interacting with other humans can sometimes be problematic, painful, etc. I’ve pretty much always forced myself to do it.  To see people and talk to people every day.

People make us think things. Sometimes they make us feel things.  Sometimes they make us feel unpleasant things, but, still, we are feeling, we are being, this is GOOD.

This is where yoga comes in. I attended my first yoga class 12 or so years ago.   My best friend, Jenny Meyer, was doing a very extensive yoga teacher training program and I was so sick of hearing her talk about yoga. I hated yoga.

Then I took a yoga class.  And really liked it. And went back the next day.  And the day after that.  My body felt good but also, there were things mentioned, non-harming, speaking the sweet truth, things I had long believed in and suddenly found in words and concepts.  There was also a yoga community. A sangha.  I sort of thought all the yoga people were freaks.  Then I remembered, I’m a freak, and these are my people.  Or some of my people.

I have short arms and a long torso.  This makes some of the yoga poses that women are traditionally good at, those gumby twisty poses where one wraps arms around oneself or under a leg, not that much fun. Jenny Meyer, my best friend, of course has long lovely monkey arms.  See here:

Recently, one of my favorite people in the world, the writer Kelly Sue DeConnick, posted on Twitter about having short arms like a T-Rex.  I have spent time with Kelly Sue’s arms (not in an intimate way, but, for example, we have been to Great Adventure together clad in skimpy outfits) and can assure you that Kelly Sue’s arms are not T-Rex arms.  Here is Kelly Sue:

Her arms look like nice, good, Kelly Sue arms. However, I thought it was really funny that Kelly Sue posted on Twitter about having T-Rex arms and, because Kelly Sue has many followers on Twitter, other women posted about having T-Rex arms too.

I have T-Rex arms.  Now I am part of a community, a Sangha, of women with T-Rex arms.  A community started by Kelly Sue.  Who I have not seen in the flesh in too long, but with whom, thanks to social media, I have some contact.

Here is me with one leg over a shoulder. My arms looks deceptively long in this picture.  But it’s the iPhone.  Making my arm look long when, in fact, my arm is barely longer than an iPhone.

There was a story in the NY Times about a You Tube star, a young woman who basically never leaves her house.  She just stays in, making low-tech You Tube videos of herself impersonating other people, videos that literally millions of people watch.   And millions of people communicate with her.  But she’s all alone in her house.  Is that community?

On the other hand, there’s Suleika Jaouad, the young woman who contracted a horrible cancer and wrote about it in the Times and, as a result, has zillions of followers and many of these became actual friends who helped her as she battled cancer.

Our internet interactions aren’t the same as sitting down and comparing T-Rex arms on a water flume, but they are something.  Sometimes something really good.

We are social animals.  We are dogs and sheep and horses and people.

Here is Mickey with his old friend Candy, playing T-Rex.  Mickey and Candy both have short-ish arms.  Not full-on T-Rex arms, but they definitely look like T-Rexes when they stand on their hind legs and bat at each other with their arms.  Can interacting through the sangha of social media keep us connected and  stave off a trip to the hat factory?

I dunno.   But, if it weren’t for Twitter, I wouldn’t know that Kelly Sue considers herself to have T-Rex arms.  So I wouldn’t have had my heart warmed by the thought of Kelly Sue.

I would have a whole different experience if I could go have coffee with Kelly Sue right now. But I can’t.  She’s in Oregon and I’m in New York.  So, for now, I’ll just take my T-Rex arms to yoga.

Recanting, Coyotes, and Cooper Lake

A couple weeks back, I posted the first few pages of The Story of Giants, the novel I’m writing these days.  I threatened to keep posting from it till I’d posted at least all of the first chapter.  But I’m recanting.

Like everything, the publishing world has changed wildly since I put out my first book in 1997.  I have some friends who still publish the old school way,  actual physical  books in hardcover, but, mostly, that’s only profitable for Big Names, people who sell boatloads of book and have multiple Actual Bestsellers.

Other writers I know do direct-to-e-book stuff or even self-publishing.  With success.

I have no idea what I’ll do with the book I’m writing now, but I may end up publishing the old school way, in which case, having given big chunks of it away on my blog would not be all that great.

So, for now,  I’m going to keep this blog space for Actual Blogging  –about whatever I’m thinking about any given day or week.

Meanwhile, look, I just re-found this picture I took of Cooper Lake in Woodstock, NY. 

No, it’s not Photoshopped or anything.  In fact, it was taken either on the very first version of iPhone or possibly on the Motorola phone I had before the first iPhone.

Mickey and I used to go to Cooper Lake a few times a week to walk.  In Summer, when my ex-dog Spike, an avid swimmer, would sometimes visit, I’d sneak him in to Cooper Lake to swim even though he could have been arrested as a terrorism suspect for doing that as Cooper Lake is actually a drinking water reservoir (you should only freak out about drinking Spike-contaminated water if you live in Kingston NY, I believe it’s the water supply for Kingston and anyway, Spike swimming in it is nothing compared to decomposing deer carcasses, beer cans, and food wrappers, all these things presumably filtered out before the good people of Kingston turn on their taps.)   Spike is clean, see:

One evening, maybe three years ago, I was having heartache about the end of a brief but fierce relationship and I was really depressed.  I needed to be in nature.  I drove Mickey to Cooper Lake.  We parked and started walking, I wanted to see the lake with moonlight on it.  I’d never been there at night, when nature belongs to wild beasts I don’t know very much about.

We’d only been walking a few hundred  yards when we heard  coyotes yipping .  Like a LOT of coyotes.  It sounded like a thousand coyotes.  It also sounded like they were in the woods directly between where we were standing and where I’d left the car.  Some people will tell you coyotes won’t attack humans or large dogs.  But there had been a lot of stories circulating about coyotes hopping into people’s back yards to eat their small dogs and, in one case, supposedly trying to take a small child.   Rural legend?  Maybe, but, still, I was scared and so was my Bronx-born pit bull dog.

There was this moment where Mickey looked up at me and I looked down at him, both of us eyes wide with fear, and then I said aloud: RUN! And we both RAN as fast as we could back to the car.  Didn’t see a single coyote.  But at least I wasn’t depressed anymore.


Not reading!

For logistical reasons, I’m NOT reading May 13 for Henry Miller thing in Brooklyn.

So, next reading will be for the Howl Festival, Tompkins Square Park, NYC,June 1st, 2013, afternoon.

Of note:  This will be the first time my dog Mickey will get to hear me read.  Stevie, the one on the left, will not be attending as he has an engagement in Vermont that day.  

Lulu the Hungry Ghost

As some of you know, I went to Buddhist college. Though I was attracted to Naropa because Allen Ginsberg, Gregory Corso, Anne Waldman and William Burroughs (among others) were teaching there, a little bit of Buddhism soaked in and is always with me and sometimes colors (in a good way) how I see things.

There is, in Buddhism, the figure of the hungry ghost.  A revenant with a tiny mouth and a huge belly, constantly hungry but unable to sate itself through its miniscule mouth.  It’s meant to symbolize beings who crave insatiably.  Often, it refers to addicts.  In some cases, beings who eat, um, FECES and the bodies of dead humans.

This brings me to Lulu, my 19-year-old cat. 

Lulu came in my window eighteen years ago and refused to leave.  She weighed five pounds and was very angry.  She clearly had not had a good start in life and didn’t like people, but she needed feeding, so she chose me.  She didn’t let me come near her but, even though I left the window open, she didn’t leave.

She would study me from a safe distance.  She wanted something, but it was unclear what that something might be.  She grew finicky about food and would go around the tiny East Village apartment I lived in then, knocking stuff off shelves, shredding toilet paper etc. until I bought food that pleased her.

Whenever she went outside, she would fight. She got her ass kicked a lot and once fell off a roof (I eventually found her, after three days, lying in a cellar behind a bar half a block away).  By the time she had broken her arm and two toes and run up thousands of dollars in vet bills, I stopped letting her out.

She would pace and scream, demanding to go out.  I got a leash and harness and took her out onto the streets of Manhattan.  She was horrified and never asked to go out again.

Eventually, she became almost friendly.  With me at least.  She hated the rest of the world, including a long succession of other cats and eventually dogs.  She has lived with me in NINE different abodes at this point.

One Summer, after I’d moved up to Woodstock, Lulu convinced a friend, Pam, who stayed in my house when I was at Yaddo, to cook chicken for her.  Lulu was horrible to Pam, but ate every scrap of Pam’s chicken.  When I got home, Lulu refused all food except chicken.  I’m a vegetarian. I had to start buying Lulu pre-cooked rotisserie chickens then donning plastic gloves to rip pieces of chicken off the chicken body and put them in the cat’s bowl.  Once the chicken was 48 hours old, Lulu would spurn it.  And wander the house, screaming and pushing objects off shelves, hurling her narrow body at walls until I went out and bought her a fresh chicken.

Nowadays, Lulu spends her days roaming the upstairs of the house here, where my office is.  She knocks stuff off shelves, screams and howls, tries to roost on my chest to drool on me ONLY when I am working.  She still wants something and I still don’t’ know what it is.  She is a hungry ghost.

A long time ago, I had a job taking care of elderly people.  Some were lovely, even though beset by painful ailments of aging. Others were cranky, miserable beings who were never satisfied by anything. Hungry ghosts.  There was something they had not gotten in this life and they were angry about it.

Lulu is like that.  And I keep thinking, since she came in MY window,  I’m the one who is supposed to somehow figure out what she wants and give it to her.  I’ve tried.  I treat  her with homeopathy, herbs, tranquilizers, chicken, attempts at affection, but nothing works.  She still WANTS.

No one can fill our big hungry ghost stomachs.  I think we have to come to terms with wanting or be doomed to die wanting.

I just took Lulu out to the garden to perambulate.  She made a few rounds then found the budding cat mint plant and parked herself in the plant, eating and rolling in it.  When I brought her back inside, she yelled at me for a while, bossed one of the dogs around, ate some chicken, and then passed out on my clean laundry, seemingly contented for the first time in a long time.

Sometimes, very small things fill the giant ghost belly.







The brutality of fact


The Brutality of Fact

This post has nothing to do with the above title, but I used to have a biography of Francis Bacon of that name.

The only brutal thing today, so far, is it’s still cold enough that Mickey, with very  little hair or body fat,  shivers and has to wear a coat to stroll down by the river and take a conquering pose on a block of cement.  

Francis Bacon made some paintings of  dogs. They were all pretty brutal-looking.  Mickey is not brutal.  His head is enormous and looks weaponized and some people cross the street when they see us coming — in spite of the fact that the worst he would do is lick them and try  winning their approval, exposing his pink stomach if necessary.

I didn’t know, when I adopted him six years ago, that forming a bond with a dog with a wedge-shaped head was some sort of political statement.  That I’d have to become hyper-vigilant to see that he behaves better than the average dog because, by virtue of his appearance, he is held to a different standard. I have literally feared for his life the few times he’s gotten away from me and been lost in the woods.  I had to worry someone would see a loose “pit bull” and shoot him on sight.

When I was in my early 20’s, I saw a MOMA retrospective of Francis Bacon.   I was floored.  I’d seen some good art as a kid, but this was the first time that paintings spoke to me.  The marriage of violence and beauty. The way the two co-existed.  This was my experience of the world.  A beautiful violent place.  And here it was, on canvas.

Francis Bacon’s work was my entry into truly loving visual art. I became staggered by Caravaggio.  I wept uncontrollably at a Rembrandt show in London.  I wrote a really bad screenplay about stealing a great work of art and keeping it in my apartment for a while.  Later, I became smitten with the works of contemporary artists, Fiona Rae, Marcel Dzama, to name just two.

I’ve vowed to keep these blog posts small.  Little outbursts.  Sometimes, maybe, beams of light or possibly even magic.  Sometimes expressions of frustration.  But short.  Usually with pictures.  Mostly of my dog(s).

So this is the end of my outburst about winter, Francis Bacon, and the shape of my dog’s head.



Shut up.

Yes the world is fractured and sometimes scary.  Bombings and death are horrible, but there’s no use magnifying the horror by endlessly talking about how horrible it is. Doing that means the bad guys won.

We need to either take an action or be quiet about it.

I wrote this, about this very subject, a few months back.



Magical Beasts.

This is a picture of Mickey in Maryland.

The trees in Maryland are like strange gnarled spirits.  Cheerful, but gnarled.

It’s hard not to think about magical forest beasts when walking near these trees.

I took this photo at  Fair Hill, a few miles form where my mom lives (with a whole bunch of horses and dogs.)  Fair Hill is a vast preserve of land where many people ride horses.  There is horse manure every few feet so, while Mickey’s favorite urban sport is Hunting For Sidewalk Chicken Bones,  in Maryland it becomes Horse Manure Diving.

I admire his enterprising spirit, if not the end result.