Harriet Tubman: Honored at Last

The name Harriet Tubman brings to mind an American legend—a woman who risked death in pursuit of freedom and continued to do so in order to bring others to freedom. She has become a mythic, larger-than-life character on the stage of history, which makes me wonder all the more—who was this woman? Where did she find the courage to do make multiple trips into slave states to free others, knowing there was a price on her head? What prompted her to live in poverty in order to continue to give to others more in need? How did an illiterate and uneducated slave become the voice of civil rights, humanitarianism, suffrage, and champion of basic human values in a time when women, especially black women, were powerless and without voice? I had to find out.

Tubman bust at UGRR Museum

Tubman bust at UGRR Museum

The best autobiography I’ve found is one by Catherine Clinton entitled Harriet Tubman: The Road to Freedom. In it, Clinton not only provides what scraps of facts we know about the early life of Tubman (not an easy task, separating fact from legend), but also sets these events within the context of the times. Readers, be prepared to learn more about the true nature of slavery and the laws and economic conditions that perpetuated it, than you ever knew before. Tubman was born in my adopted state of Maryland, then a slave state, but also had the largest free black population by 1810. You would think that a good thing, however, it was not. Maryland became a source for slave labor when the import of slaves was halted because those involved in the trade did not care overly much whether you were free or not. Slave merchants raided Maryland’s black population and transported slaves to the south for a hefty profit. Tubman was born into this milieu and saw her sisters torn from the family and sold off into slavery in the far away deep south.

A daring rescue!

A daring rescue!

Clinton’s book should be required reading in all schools. As Annette Gordon-Reed put it, (Clinton) “rescues Harriet Tubman from empty symbolism, restoring her full humanity, while showcasing her incomparable efforts on behalf of enslaved African Americans.”

 

Tubman freed herself by walking from her home on the Choptank River on the Eastern Shore of Maryland to Philadelphia. I cannot imagine that trek. When she became a conductor on the Underground Railroad, she boasted that she never lost a “passenger.”

ChoptankMap

She was fearless and filled with a holy spirit, convinced that God would protect her. Dubbed “Moses of her people,” I understand how that moniker came about, not only for her guidance to freedom, but also because of her close relationship with God. Despite her spirituality, she was also a fierce and cunning soldier. Abolitionist John Brown called her General Tubman, and during the civil war she acted for years as a spy, a scout, and in any other number of other roles as needed. Despite her service, sadly, she had to fight for years with the U.S. government to receive any kind of compensation.

 

I am heartened to learn that a museum in her honor has opened close to her birthplace. The Harriet Tubman Underground Railroad Historical Park in Church Creek, Maryland, is a fine museum full of compelling images chronicling her life. Miss Tubman, you were an amazing woman and so ahead of your time.

Faith_Tubman

 

 

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How Weeding is Like Writing a Novel

weedsWhile kneeling in the sand and weeding by hand my riding arena (yes, I do this because I am obsessive compulsive about weeds) it occurred to me that the task was a lot like writing a novel. How so? I looked at the overgrowth of weeds invading my ring and resolved to do something about it. I had the will. But as soon as the heat and the magnitude of the task pressed down on me, I was compelled to quit. What does this have to do with writing? A lot of times I have a great idea and I sketch out the plan and dive into writing, only to feel that “deer in headlights” immobility when I look at the magnitude of the task ahead of me. Can I really flesh out these characters, spin a compelling plot, unravel the problems, give it a theme and make it marketable to a capricious and demanding readership? No! No, I can’t do it. I want to run away and give up. Like the weeding task, I want to abandon ship and leave it to the professionals. But. Taking a deep breath. I see that when I go out and do a little bit, even a small amount each night, I do make progress. The results are starting to show. If I keep working and don’t lift my eyes to take in the daunting task ahead, I can maintain hope. It is just that simple. Plodding. Don’t look at the bigger task, just the little patch ahead of you. And pull.

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Embracing the Dark

Night falls quicker. The days are shorter. I rush to get everything done before dark because I hate to go out in the evening. This is autumn and every year I know it will send me down a dark hole of lethargy, pessimism, and the blues. I hate the darkness (and I’m not crazy about cold, either). It comes every year and it passes every year. Still, I have not taught myself to embrace the dark.

It’s interesting to note that Carl Jung believed we all have a shadow self–a dark side–that holds all the darker, selfish, nasty aspects of our personalities. Of course, in polite society, we aim to keep that side hidden. But like the change of seasons, we can’t keep our nature down permanently. And when it erupts, it sometimes does so with impulsive behavior, destructive judgement, crippling illness, or other harmful expressions.

But some psychologists have pointed out that our shadows are only to be feared if we repress them. Indeed, writers such as Clarissa Pinkola Estes in her book Women Who Run with the Wolves maintains that “opening the door to the shadow world” a little bit at a time allows us to relate to the dark, perhaps even find a use for it. It seems she describe it almost like bleeding off the pressure before an eruption. The concept of embracing the dark side of life on a broader scale is fully explored in Barbara Brown Taylor’s NYT bestseller Learning to Walk in the Dark. It is a fascinating work that explores our need to accept the dark in the world at large as well as within ourselves. It recommends we dispel the vilification of darkness and instead walk into it and find out for a change what’s really out there. In her exploration of darkness, the author explores the experience of personal and physical darkness.

On the eve of the Blood Moon last year

On the eve of the Blood Moon 

As the days shorten, the darkness stretches and lengthens the night, and we descend into the mystical times of Halloween and Mid-Winter, I plan to re-read Taylor and other works on a hunt to discover what lives in my darkness. I plan to explore the darkness in the natural world (circadian rhythms, seasonal affective disorder, fears and myths), the symbolic darkness in the world around us (concept of evil, why bad things happen, how to live in the adversity), and the personal darkness within (concept of sin, depression, etc.)

Tomorrow promises a full moon. Come along and let’s see what’s out there.

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Solving the Puzzle’s Puzzle

puzzleI finished this puzzle, but for weeks I didn’t think I would. It sat on my dining room table with just its outline and a few areas filled in. Several times, I was ready to break it apart, stuff it back in its box, and forget about it. I guess I’m just no good at jigsaw puzzles, I thought. And it is only a 300 piece one! 

That’s a fixed mindset. I was faced with a hard task. I judged (myself in this case) as not being talented or smart enough to tackle the task, and immediately leapt to quitting. Don’t try and you won’t fail! Wrong. Not trying is failing. Even for little things like putting together a puzzle.

I was overwhelmed by my inability to see where the pieces would fit to make the picture since they were all such uniformly washed out shades of white, yellow, and soft green. The image had few “landmark” images to go by so my usually approach to solving the jigsaw was not working. Instead, I had to find a new approach. Quelling my frustration, I decided to sort the pieces by color, shade, and then by shape. I worked in one, limited area, inching my way along. Using reductionism, limiting the options, I found it easier to select the right pieces until the picture started to appear. When a piece that was the exact color still did not fit, I turned it in all possible directions and more often than not, it worked! The more I succeeded the more confident I became in picking out the right piece.

I learned a great deal about mindset from reading Carol S. Dweck’s bestseller, Mindset, the New Psychology of Success. I still have a lot to learn, but now know for sure that a fixed mindset can be debilitating. An open one that accepts challenges and refuses to judge them as failures opens up the world to new experiences. It is hard to change, and not just quit. It is uncomfortable to set aside fear, judgement, and insecurities. It takes practice. Maybe start with solving a jigsaw puzzle :)

 

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Judge the Book Cover

I have no idea why the old adage “Don’t judge a book by its cover” has stuck around so long. Clearly, that’s exactly what we all do initially. Okay, as a metaphor, you should not similarly judge a person by their outward appearance…but as for books, that is the first thing a potential reader will see and that reader will make any number of snap decisions based on the cover: is it intriguing, attractive, makes you want to know more… But the most important clue the cover imparts is this one: genre.

Let’s agree that there are indeed certain types of covers that grace particular genres. Think for example of the romance novel. Whether historical romance, contemporary, or romantic suspense, they all share common elements. These may be a portrayal of hero/heroine in an embrace, in a pose of longing, or sometimes just in an outfit that suggests steaminess. Often there are lips or certain body parts featured. Enough on that. How about fantasy? I’m sure you are already conjuring up all sorts of starry images or hidden glens or fractured beams of light over a mysterious world. You get the point.

So what does an author do when she’s told her cover (and her title) are not representative of Young Adult literature, her target demographic? That happened to me. I’ve been told the cover does not attract YA readers, it looks more like historical fiction, it is not clear what the story may be about…on and on. So, I decided to give a new cover for the ebook version a try. Now I have a new problem.

The old cover

The old cover

What should that cover look like and can I find a graphic artist who gets horses? Gets the theme of the novel? Gets the mood, branding, look that will represent False Gods and future books in this series? Well, I think the artist struck the right balance between realistic and abstract concept. What do you think? I would LOVE to hear from readers.

The new cover

The new cover

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READY, MindSET, GO!

Don’t believe everything people tell you is an old adage. But we often do, don’t we? Especially during the young, impressionable years or when we feel particularly vulnerable. If people tell us something about ourselves then, it often sticks. For a lifetime. When I was a girl, my father laughed at me and said I wasn’t athletic. I believed it. My mind grasped that image of myself and formed a whole script about it so that later during sports events or other athletic challenges, I would quit, hide, or defer to others. When it was my turn at bat, I’d let the next kid in line take my place to avoid the pressure and risk of failure. Any and all things that even hinted at sports were to be avoided, even after I was no longer forced to participate in them in school. That is the fixed mindset. And it has plagued me in other aspects of life, besides sports. (You’re no good at math!)

A fixed mindset does not believe there is any possibility of change or growth. You are either good at something, meaning naturally talented, or not. There is no room for change with practice and fortitude. Moreover, if you are blessed to be good at something, you certainly don’t want to challenge that safe place, either. You remain in your comfort zone and never test the boundaries. And you become stagnant, ever watchful for failure, and miserable.

runningI learned a great deal about mindset by reading Carol S. Dweck’s recent best seller: Mindset, the New Psychology of Success. Everyone should read this book no matter their outlook on life. It describes the fixed and growth mindsets. Guess which one I recognized? The good news is even those of use who have cocooned ourselves in the fixed mindset can change and learn to expand, grow, learn new things without the associated fear. Since reading the book, I’m setting off down that new path. It is rocky and very much all uphill at this point. But if you want, follow me and see where it leads. I’ll give you one hint: I’ve signed up for a 5K race.

 

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Back Pain: Is Permanent Relief Possible?

I’ve always congratulated myself for having avoiding back problems like those suffered by many of my co-workers and friends. I was especially smug, considering the abuse I had put my poor back through getting thrown from horses over the years. No, not a gentle “fall” but more like a projectile launch into a fence or body slam onto rock hard ground. I walked away, albeit gingerly. Now the bill has come due. Like many horsemen and others, I suddenly started experiencing pain down my left leg. I initially thought it was a pulled hamstring as a result of taking up running again. When it failed to go away and even escalated to some foot numbness, I contacted a doctor.  The usual first go-to treatment is to reduce swelling with a course of oral steroids. I did that twice, now on a third. I underwent physical therapy with no results. Eventually I sought the advice of an orthopedic surgeon, who ordered an MRI. The results showed various forms of degeneration from about L4 to S1 along with disc bulge. Still, it could be that the sciatica was being pinched in there, too. The ortho rather dismissively told me to find a spine pain management center and a series of epidural steroid injections. Might work, might not. A lot of people find relief from them. But others don’t.

Call me cautious, but I’m not crazy about the idea of someone stabbing me in the spine and injecting steroids, which may not be the problem area or may not work. Seeking alternate advice, I’m planning on seeing a chiropractor and maybe acupuncturist before I take this step. Now, I must say, I am so much more sympathetic towards those who live with constant pain, especially along the back. Stay tuned for updates on my pain remedy adventure. I’d love to hear from others who have been down this same road.

View from the saddle

View from the saddle

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Climate Change and Weather

Even the weeds are dying in the pasture

Even the weeds are dying in the pasture

The weather has been so capricious this year, especially here in the mid-Atlantic. The winter was extremely cold and more snowy than usual, followed by a cool and very rainy spring. At that time, I delighted in the lush green of the pastures and how I no longer was running through a bale a day of hay. Standing on my deck and looking over the fields, it seemed I was on the Emerald Isle–not the usual hot and steamy Maryland summer. Then the rain ended as if a faucet were closed with the snap of an impatient wrist. Whatever summer storms rolled through missed my farm entirely.  We sat untouched as if we were located in a dry pocket covered with some invisible dome or force field. The grass stopped growing, then it turned brown. The horses ate down to the ground despite my efforts to rotate them to different fields. On a small farm, one runs out of acreage quickly! I started scanning the long term forecasts obsessively, hoping to see the little storm cloud image within any of the upcoming ten days. Nothing. When we did have another high percentage of rain forecast, every town around me had a deluge but us. The thing is, we can’t do anything about the weather but wait. I see the other extremes of flooding in Japan, the SouthEast and wish we could all enjoy some moderation relief from the extremes. August has come and gone and the ground is still parched, hard and dead. All we can do is wait. And pray.

The lawn looks like straw

The lawn looks like straw

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Foxhunting or Foxchasing?

Release the hounds!

Release the hounds!

Last week I was invited to attend a “meet and greet” with a local foxhunting club to learn about the sport and ostensibly to entice new members to join. I made it clear at the outset that I had neither the appropriate hunting horse nor the riding skills at this point to join. The friendly club members told me to worry not, that they could certainly find me a suitable mount and that I could go out during the slower cubbing season to get my legs back, as it were. Well, the jury is still out whether I’ll get up the courage to try, although it does intrigue me a great deal.

Part of the hunt club evening included a tour of the kennels, which was impressive to say the least. Approximately one hundred hounds were housed in luxurious and spotlessly clean accommodations, one side for the dogs and the other for the bitches. We learned that this particular pack of Maryland hounds could trace its bloodlines back 200 years to an original pair from Ireland. All the hounds know their names and the huntsman knows all their individual cries. They are amazingly well trained both from the ground and while hunting with horses. In fact, they are called off if a fox has gone to ground or cornered. The highlight of the kennel tour was when they opened the gate and a flood of puppies charged out to greet us with exuberance. Who can resist that?

Fox hunting can be an intimidating sport to break into in part because of the inflexible traditions, but it is such a part of the history of this area, I also hate to see it dying out. Fall is nearly upon us with kids back in school, leaves turning color, and the cry of the hounds on the hilltops…

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