Friday, June 22, 2007

Fascinatin' Rhythm

from Jacqueline

Funny old thing, when Friday comes around, and you think it’s still Thursday – heck, where did that day go? Did anyone see that day, I lost it somewhere this week? This is what happens when the rhythm of your days is changed, things get out of line. I’ve come to really relish days having a rhythm since I began spending so much time on book tours and other events, and also flying to the UK several times a year, because my parents are getting older and I worry about them (sorry, Mum, but you are getting older, and I worry, OK? And you know who I inherited the worrying habit from, so don’t nag me, please).

There’s something solid about rhythm to the day, like a grandfather clock with it’s slow, heavy tick-tocking in the corner. Here I go, from dawn to dusk, I’m the clock, tick-tock, tick-tock. Having that rhythm, that knowledge that this is the time you do this, or that, gives the day a beat, so that if the rhythm goes off a bit – the unexpected guests just as you are about to start writing – you know where to come back to. Sort of.

I have two basic rhythms to my life, aside from the frantic hiatus when I’m on and off ‘planes: The hot weather rhythm, and the rest of the year. Here’s how it goes. In those months when California is baking itself silly, like cake left in an unattended oven, after I’ve walked the dog and checked my email, I begin my day with my riding, otherwise it will get so bloody hot I won’t be able to think straight. That’ll take me up to around noon, when I have some lunch. By that stage I could eat the proverbial horse. Sometimes I am so hungry I cannot stop to even wash my hands first, and eat my sandwich with dusty fingers, grit under my nails. I don’t mind this at all, in fact, it reminds me of my childhood (this is where my mum is thinking, “Oh, great, now what’s she going to say?”).

When I was a child my mother worked on the local farms. It was a rural area, and if you had children, the only job you could really do was farmwork. So, like many country kids, that’s where I started work, and at a very early age, earning my first wage at six years old. Admittedly, for much of the time, the kids would go off to play in the woods, while the women worked. There was Gladys, and Willie - the Dutch girl who’d married a British solder and was now was as Kentish as the rest of us. Then there was Flo, and Mrs. Bridgeland, who’s first name I can’t remember, and a whole clutch of women who were strong from working on the land, and all of them with an earthy sense of humor to match.

In the school holidays we’d take our bikes and off we’d go to the farm. It always makes me laugh, to tell you the truth, when I see mountain bikers (and I am one), puffing away up hills with their super-multiple gear bikes with aluminum frames, or titanium, or whatever. Each of the women who went to work with my mother had a bike that was essentially a gearless old boneshaker, usually laden with at least one child, plus a big basket with food, flasks of tea and water for the day – and you never saw them stop on a hill, or slow down on the other side, because most of those bikes didn’t have brakes anyway. And when it came to sitting down to eat, you might be able to wash your hands in the stream first, but more likely, you just wolfed back that sandwich with your dusty hands and that was that. So, I guess that’s why I like working outdoors – takes me back to the country, and that rhythm.

On the hot days, after I’ve showered, washed away the sand and sweat of the ranch, I set about my writing, and that’s me, locked away for hours until a snoovering (that cross between a sniff and a Hoover that dogs are really good at) outside my office door reminds me that it’s time to take Sally for a walk. Sometimes she’s in the office with me, but whatever the case, she makes it known when it’s time to stop this work business and get out. And there I am, outdoors again, coming back an hour later, to work until dinner, then watch a movie or read in the evenings. In the cooler months, I change things around – writing first thing in the morning, ride in the afternoon, then more writing and reading. That’s my daily round, with a tweak here, a nip and tuck there to account for the emails, the trips to the post-office, the car to the shop, the dog to the vet, the vet to the horse, and all those things that make up an ordinary life, my ordinary life.

But in the past month, as you know, the riding has been taken out of the equation, and I have found myself missing more than just the horse, more than just the art and the sport of it. Because I cannot even groom Sara, though I visit her daily, I miss the light ache in my body that follows work outdoors (I’ve had plenty of pain, but it’s different). I miss the way my food tastes when I am ravenously hungry because I’ve used a lot of physical energy in the fresh air. And I guess I miss that really close connection to the natural world, to my rhythm, even though I live in a quite rural area, by some standards.

Which reminds me of a conversation I had with my mother when I was a child. Despite loving where I lived, loving that freedom I knew my cousins in London didn’t have, I had the travel bug. I wanted to go to every country in the world, However, one thing struck me at a particularly early age, and that was that the old people who lived in our small community – and all of our neighbors were old – seemed to be really wise, but not one had ever traveled. I doubt that any of them had even been to London, with the most ambitious expedition being a summer day out by the sea, twenty-odd miles away, and hour and a half on the bus. And we talked, my Mum and me, about the business of rhythm in life, that all these people saw the sun rise in the morning, and go down at night. They knew spring would follow winter, that summer would come, eventually, and that in autumn, the leaves would turn and we would marvel at their colors. They knew that there was a time to be born, a time to live, to love and a time to die, and that one would follow the other when it was supposed to. They had, most of them, seen tragedy, they had lived through wars, and took it all in their stride. Something to be said for that.

So that’s what I’ve been thinking about this morning.

Funny what you end up writing about, when you mislay a day because you’ve lost your rhythm. I was going to write about something completely different this week, a post based on the terrific show on BBC America, “The Trial of Tony Blair.” Set in 2010, the story covers events leading up to Tony Blair’s trial at an International War Crimes Tribunal, charged with the crimes associated with the invasion of Iraq, and the subsequent carnage. It was interesting, really interesting, alternatively comedic and raw, with the actor Robert Lindsay turning in a terrific performance as Blair. I guess, though, seeing as I didn’t write about that after all, it only needs to be said, as my Sally knows only too well, that every dog has its day. Something to do with rhythm.


  1. So that's what my Nikki has been doing..."snoovering" at the door. You've got some great words for us, Jacqueline.

    As for "The Trial of Tony Blair," I think it would be a shame if he didn't have two co-defendants in the dock, Messrs. Bush & Cheyney.

  2. The wonderful memories of your childhood brought back some of mine. My house was surrounded on four sides by an apple orchard, a pear orchard, a hop field, and a corn field. My friends and I spent the summer playing in the irrigation ditches, looking for crawdads. Great fun. Great post!

  3. I think what Patty is leaving out is that they made some good moonshine from the products of those four fields. Organic, of course.

  4. I love this, Our J. And I can just picture you running around with those wonderful women in the fields, as a kid. My personal rhythm is so out of whack lately that I just lost a whole week.

    On the bright side, it means I'm seeing you far sooner at Book Passage, so hurrah for that!!!!

  5. from Jacqueline,

    Yep, snoovering it is, Paul, and dogs do it best on the kitchen floor and anywhere kids are eating. And in "The Trial of Tony Blair," GW could not come to the rescue of his poodle, because he was still in rehab! Sure, they took some liberties, but the scene where TB is standing there with a bloodied, dead Iraqi child in his arms is wrenching - for the child, not for our Tone, of course. This "special Middle Eastern Envoy" business has just about fried me this week.

    Patty - you must have the same memories as me, that lovely spicy-fragrance of hops. My next book is set in Kent in hop-picking time - and I loved every minute of writing about it. And Paul, as to the "organic products" - you should try my Dad's country wines sometime. Or maybe not - they are very lovely, but very potent.

    See you next week at Book Passage, Cornelia - really looking forward to it!

  6. Jacqueline,
    A couple of winters ago, when my horse and I had a disagreement about going over a jump (ultimately I did and he didn't) I broke my leg, and the first thing I asked the doc after the xray was "when can I ride again?" He grumbled something about riders, ballet dancers and marathon runners being overly eager to return to the field, unlike more "normal people." Here's hoping you're back in the saddle again soon, and routine can reassert itself.

  7. from Jacqueline

    Thanks, Lisa - and I know exactly what you mean, the first thing I asked was, "When can I ride?" In fact, when I broke my arm badly six years ago, I asked the surgeon, "Will I ever ride again?" He rolled his eyes with a dont-be-dramatic look and said, "Well, if you must - of course you'll ride again." Then he went on about the riders, marathon runners and ballet dancers, to say nothing of the guys on motorbikes, and even said that without us he would be out of business. So there you are, we're keeping the orthopedic surgeons off the street - well, someone has to.

    At the moment, I'm throwing all that I can at this injury - by the time I'm done, there will be no therapy untested - so I can get back in the saddle asap!

  8. Jacqueline,
    I know this is slightly off subject, but I have been wondering your horse is doing. Didn't he have some sinus infection issues?


  9. Paulie, you promised not to trot out that moonshine story again. I'll cut off your supply if you keep doing that.

  10. from Jacqueline

    Thank you, mjoy, for asking about Sara. Yes, it was almost a year ago that I was told to "lay her to rest" given the seriousness of her sinus infection. A long haul followed - two months in an equine hospital (not the one where I received the prognosis, got her out of there pronto), a couple of nasty procedures, with Sara finally being discharged last October "to be a horse again."
    The turning point came when I tracked down an amazing natural healer ("Charlie"), who used different methods, from accupuncture to herbs, from magnet therapy to healing massage, to get her on the mend. I don't think her progress would have been so amazing without either the veterinary surgeons at the Alamo Pintado Equine Medical Center, or the natural healer - they were all crucial to her survival. She was back in training in late October. I have, however, seen some very mild signs of a re-occurance lately - so minor that if you blinked, you'd miss it - however, I remembered something that Charlie said about cellular memory bringing back symptoms, and here we are just days away from the anniversary of her bad prognosis. So, I've stepped up the herbs, put her magnet mask back on (it's more Star Wars than Mister Ed), brought out the cider vinegar mouthwash and put her on her Vitamin C regimen - which is easy, she lives in an orange grove, so it's effectively on tap for her. And we'll see how it goes. One thing though, that was crucial throughout all of this, and which was the light for me at the time when I thought I would lose her, and that is the amazing spirit of this horse. She may be a diva, may be a prima donna, but she's one heck of a fighter. Thank you so much for asking.

  11. I just wish to tell Jim Born how much I have enjoyed his first four books.(Field of Fire especially!).Lastly, I await receipt of Patty's new book ordered yesterday.

  12. Your cousins in London had freedom when we visited you in Kent. We loved it and visited often. I wonder sometimes how your mum coped. She always managed to feed us all.