Writing From the Right Side of the Stall

Carefully curated musings (um, okay, rants) about the writing life, horses, bitterness and crushing career disappointment. Fun, right?

Archive for the tag “Mennonites”

Authority Figure

coloring-book1So I’m sitting here watching a gaggle of students angst and squirm over the final exam I’ve just handed them.  Some of them are making the most bizarre faces as they cogitate.  Which I guess means I have just about made it through my first semester as an instructor at the U of Guelph/Ridgetown College/Clinton Campus outpost on the furthest edge of the back of beyond.  Good christ on a cracker, how did that happen?

This is rhetorical.  I’m cognizant of how it happened.  I just haven’t quite transitioned in my head, yet, to Fully Employed Person, having been an itinerant freelancer of one sort or another for, like, yonks.  It’s likely that my credit rating hasn’t quite caught up with the news either, so I haven’t attempted to get myself a slightly-less-decrepit truck yet.  Current truck is, saints be praised, soldiering on quite admirably, with 374,000 klicks on the odometer as of this morning, and I’m invoking a variety of deities (with gifts of incense, Passion Flakie wrappers, and Timmie’s pumpkin muffins) to encourage it to continue in good faith until spring, when perhaps the creditors will be open to treating me like an actual grown-up with predictable renumeration.

That’s not to say that the U of Goo might not pull the plug on our little program at any time.  I really have no idea what the economics of running it might be, or if Guelph is more invested in its relatively shiny four-year Bachelor of Bio-Resource Management degree program, which has an “equine management” specialization and is jack blackbeing run out of the main campus (which on an academic level, is far better equipped, but which lacks the equine facilities we have here in Clinton).  To some degree (no pun intended) the two-year Diploma program we offer is rather awkward, given that the first year happens in Clinton, and the second, on the campus of Ridgetown College, about two hours away.  Ridgetown has the advantage of being able to offer student housing, while in Clinton the students have to scramble for rooms to rent … but Ridgetown isn’t really set up for horses.  There are two ancient Standardbreds housed in a corner of the dairy barn, and that’s it.  Meanwhile, if we could solve the student housing issue, we’d still have a challenge with classroom space on our campus, because we share the building with London’s Fanshawe College, which runs a couple of programs here.  They have dibs on the bulk of the classrooms; we have exactly two (plus the barn, paranoidof course).

It’s possible, of course, that I’m just naturally paranoid, after having had more than my share of rugs pulled out from under me over the years.  Then again, it’s possible that the enrollment we currently enjoy is not enough to justify keeping the program running.  I’m only on a year-to-year contract, which means that I could be cut loose this coming May with very little trouble.  It’s hard to get super comfortable under those conditions.

But here it is, December, and I have officially survived one semester, which is a pleasant surprise.  It hasn’t been seamless, exactly, but given that most of us are rookie instructors, it definitely could have been worse. (Um, the total complement on the staff side is five … plus one brave individual doing the whole second-year program in Ridgetown.)  I managed to find something to teach for every one of my lectures, I don’t think the students hate me, and after 18 weeks or so I feel like I’m approaching competency with the U of Goo’s “CourseLink” system, which allows me to post course notes and announcements and marks and such that the students can access.  That’s been a steep learning curve.

OTOH, I have utterly failed to find a place to live closer to Clinton, which is a double-edged sword.  I’d be very annoyed if I did pull up stakes and move everything, only to too much stufffind myself given the ‘here’s your hat and what’s your hurry’ come spring … and that could definitely happen.  Moving everything, in my case, doesn’t just mean the contents of my little house … it also means five horses, two hay feeders, six rubber mats, five troughs, whothefuckknows how many jumps, multiple feed bins, six huge Rubbermaid containers just of blankets and rainsheets, the contents of an entire tack room, and two trailers.  Bit daunting, that.

Nonetheless, I am continuing to look (though if I don’t find something in December, I might as well resign myself to doing the road warrior thing until the spring, as utterly idiotic as that will be, because moving all that shit in winter weather is going to be unfathomably difficult).  I’ve turned down a couple of places that just were too expensive or didn’t make the drive any easier than my current two-hour trek each way (which at least is on main roads which are likely to get ploughed).  I did find one place with an absolutely beautiful Victorian farmhouse that was basically my dream abode, and the place had a barn, arena, the works.  It was close to London, too, which would have been ideal.  Alas, the owners decided they couldn’t accommodate all five of my beasties.  I console myself with the thought that I could never have really afforded it anyway, but dammit-jesus.jpgarrrggghhhhh.  I have lots of helpful people who’ve been keeping their ears to the ground for me, but suitable spots are proving elusive.

I’m trying to be philosophical about the stupidity of my commute.  I mean, I get to see quite a lot of Ontario this way.  (Perspective:  In order to listen to the CBC all the way across from home to work, I have to change the station three times — from the Toronto 99.1, to Kitchener/Waterloo 98.7, and then to London’s 93.5 when I get to Wingham and turn south.)  People are starting to put up their Xmas lights now, so that’s pretty, given that lately I have been leaving when it’s dark and coming home when it’s dark.  I get to see some interesting Mennonite vehicles and ponies on the side of the highway.  Apart from them and the

commute

This is literally what I do 10 times a week.

occasional tractor the size of Montreal, there’s very little traffic to contend with on my route.  And I’m getting a lot of podcasts listened to.  Seriously, a lot.  I welcome podcast recommendations, especially anything science-y or historical or science fiction-y, or anything about journalism (because I might be a professor these days but I will always on some level consider myself a journalist); please post below in the comments.

puffer-vest-streetstyle-450x600

Is it working?

But the commute is also beating me up.  I’ve gone up till now in my life without having developed a caffeine addiction, but green tea is now the only thing keeping me from crossing the median and slamming into a combine some nights.  Four hours a day in a truck also ain’t doing the credit card any favours (I get about three one-way commutes to a $110 tank of gas), nor the muffin top.  I’m really only able to ride on the weekends now, and I’m so knackered by the time I get home that the treadmill is a ludicrous fantasy.  So I am thankful beyond measure that this is the season of big, camouflaging down vests, because, ugh.

So I’m understating it when I say I am ecstatic that for the month of December, I don’t have to go in every day.  I have two more exams to give in the coming week, and there will be meetings and the submission of final marks and such, but until the winter semester begins on January 7th, I can work from home a fair bit.  The batteries need a serious recharge.  And my hair needs cutting.  And maybe I should find myself a dentist too, because that hasn’t been happening for the past couple years.

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Out of the Mouths of Babes

kids and foals2.jpgA couple of months ago, I was tapped to be one of the judges in something called the Youth Literary Derby — a writing contest for kids, meant to encourage their interest in Standardbreds and harness racing.  Yes, I can be flattered.  It’s nice when someone remembers that I write, and edit, and have some peripheral connection to the sport.  I sent back my three top picks, on the poetry and prose sides, this morning, and it was quite possibly one of the hardest bloody things I’ve ever done, editorially speaking.

Reading the submissions, from kids in grades five through eight, I tried to imagine the classroom set-up for this.  Some of the entries were photocopies of handwritten efforts, and I gather at least a few of these were from schools catering to Mennonite kids who will have had some actual contact with horses.  Most, however, would have had no prior experience with horses or racing at all.  Several Ontario Standardbred farms hosted Open Houses for the kids in May, and that experience showed in the essays of the kids who were lucky enough to go.

Others, I think, were just asked to watch the video above, and then wing it — and the results ranged from touching, to a little bit scary, to hilarious.  Many didn’t quite get the difference between Thoroughbred racing and harness racing, and spent a lot of time describing jockeys.  There were a lot of immaculate conceptions, too, with owners suddenly discovering their beloved horse was giving birth right now, apparently with no previous, um, intervention.  And sometimes it seemed like the kids just took whatever plotline had most recently stuck in their heads from a cartoon, and inserted Standardbreds as the characters.  On more than one story, I attached a post-it note to myself which said, “Is this about horses?”

superheroes on horseback

I’m not sure of the legalities of a) outing myself as one of the judges or b) sharing the submissions (which were rendered anonymous before I received them), but I can’t resist at least giving you a few excerpts from some of the ones that most tickled me.   For the actual winners, you’ll have to wait till September 18Apparently there’s $2000 in prizes up for grabs.

Here’s one of the poems (verbatim): 

The Horses of Ancient Times
Baby horses are small,
Smaller than a small wall.
They all live in stalls,
But they grow to be taller than some walls.
They are quite fast,
They will be panting at last.
But not to hard,
After listening to the bard.
And now they are calm
They moved less than my palm.
Because they were sleeping
Because it’s hard to be leaping
But they wake in the morning
But not to be mourning.
But to have fun with their friends,
And this this is where the story ends.

And if that didn’t float your boat, try Little Foal:

I’m a little Standardbred foal,
I like to watch my mother roll,
Or watch her race all day long,
She must be very tough and strong.
I like to lie in the shade,
Which the big, tall trees have made,
While my mother is at work,
Which she never tries to shirk.
I like to watch a magpie,Ping-pong-tongue-animated-frogs-breakfast
Or some late nights a firefly.
They make a very funny glow.
Often times they fly quite low.
In the creek I saw a bass,
The water was as clear as glass,
Near it was a pollywog.
It was not quite yet a frog.
When I’m big I hope to be,
A race horse who earns money.
I’m just a little foal yet,
Who has never seen a jet!

Kudos to that young writer for knowing the difference between “lay” and “lie”, btw.

But this entry, in the prose category, is totally my favourite.  Because, All.  The. Drama!!

A Boy And a Horse
Once upon a time, there was a little boy named Jerry.  He had just woken up and was extremely excited because he was going to go see his grandparents from out of town.  Jerry and his mom and dad were taking a train to get there.  Also on that day, there was a horse farmer that lived nearby.  He had 8 colts.  One was just turning 4 and his name was “Flash”.  Flash was being prepared for the big race that was being held later that day.  The colt was very fast and had won two other races before and duck_tales_runaway_trainwanted to win this one.  Later on he was just waiting in his starting gate with the other horses, when he saw a train go by.  Jerry was in it and he ran to the caboose of the train to watch the race.  Flash was in third place on the final turn and Jerry was on top of the rail waiting to see what would happen.  All of a sudden the train started moving, sending Jerry flying off the back of the train.  When Flash saw this, he bounced the driver off his sulky, snapping the reins and once free he ran over to get Jerry.  He hopped the fence and started running and flung Jerry up on his back, following the train.  In 5 minutes the train had reached the station and Flash was not far behind.  He ran as fast as he cold and 2 minutes later he was there.  Sensing Jerry was barely conscious, Flash tried to find his parents.  It did not take him long.  Flash saw two people looking panicked.  Mom and Dad saw Jerry and ran over to get their son.  They rushed him to a hospital and the following day Jerry came back out thanking Flash for saving him.  Flash went back to his ranch and even though he didn’t win, he still felt like he did and Jerry went over to the ranch everyday to see Flash from that day on.  Best friends.

And if you aren’t stirred by that, we can’t be friends.

 

 

 

 

 

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