Have you ever looked up one day and realized you didn’t know yourself any more?
This is not the prelude to a confession that I’m about to abandon my nice little middle-class lifestyle for a year-long road trip around the world, or join a hippie commune, or whatever.
Rather, I recently realized that my self-perception in one area of life was no longer accurate and needs to be re-evaluated. For better or worse, it’s not writing-related (but I’ll get to that later). So what was this earth-shattering revelation?
That I might, just might, have some skill with horses.
To anyone who hasn’t known me for ever, this sounds ridiculous at face value. I’ve owned horses almost my entire life, went to school to learn about them, and wrote an entire series for this very blog, A Writer’s Guide to Horses.
But knowledge isn’t the same as skill, and I was actually a really awful rider for many years- I was impatient and didn’t always have the best understanding of cause and effect, and how concept related to reality. I confused and irritated a lot of different horses as a child and young adult, and never seemed to get any better.
So I had this idea in my head that I wasn’t very good around horses. I had all the knowledge and not much of the skill.
Until I got Bailey, about a month ago. One of the perks of working from home is that I have time to ride two or three times a week, and there have been a couple of incidents where I could have easily screwed up and undone years of this horse’s training, and that didn’t happen.
Like last weekend, when a few of the boarders met at the barn for ‘gun desensitization.’ Sounds very impressive; in reality, four of us rode around the arena while a person on foot shot off blanks, starting a fair distance away and gradually moving closer. Most horses startle at loud noises, so we were trying to get them used to it and make them realize that loud bangs are not a sign of the apocalypse.
Bailey can be a little jumpy when confronted by new things, so I was ready to hang on tight. She flinched pretty hard at the first shot, and at one other, when the horse in front of her jumped sky-high (so, she was mostly reacting to that horse’s fright). Otherwise, she was fine. A little stutter in her stride, and a little tension each time the gun went off, then she went right back to being relaxed.
For the sake of comparison, one of the other horses had definitely done this before, and didn’t even look up when the gun went off. The other two were much more nervous; one girl had to get off and lead her horse, because it was getting anxious and wasn’t able to relax even in between shots. So Bailey wasn’t the calmest in the group, but she wasn’t anywhere near the most nervous, either. I’m quite proud of her.
I can’t take all the credit for Bailey- someone obviously did a lot of work with her over the years, and introduced her to a lot of new things, possibly even gunfire. She was calm enough that I wouldn’t be surprised if she’d done this before. But it would have been very easy for me to mess that up, if I’d gotten mad at her, or impatient, or somehow turned the session into a bad experience. And there were people in the audience who expected me to screw it up, so you can imagine that I was rather keen to have it go well.
And it did, and I started to wonder if, maybe it wasn’t a one-off. Maybe, somewhere along the way, without realizing it, I’ve developed some horse-related practical skills, not just lots of book- learning. Maybe I’ve been hanging onto this bit of my identity- that I’m okay with horses but no more than that- for longer than I should have. I didn’t start out with any natural gift in this area, but I think experience is starting to overcome that.
This makes me happy, and leads me further down the road to: Maybe I need to re-evaluate my perception of my skill in other areas, since this one turned out to be inaccurate. Maybe I need to subject all of you to a long soliloquy on the subject, in the hope that someone will read it and realize that they also need to do some re-evaluation, and that if this Blake chick can do it, so can they.
I’m not talking about re-inventing your entire self every time you learn something new or have a new experience. That’s a little too close to ‘finding yourself’ for my comfort zone. I think it was Sarah who told me her standard reply to that is, “You’re finding yourself? Have you tried looking under the couch cushions?” I know a couple of people who think they have to re-invent themselves every time their life changes- moving to a new place, graduating from school, starting a new job, etc. But upending your entire identity is a big task, and it’s easy to get lost in the weeds. So they never end up reaching any meaningful conclusion, or gaining anything from all that self-reflection.
Maybe a better approach is to break it down. Examine your skills in one area at a time, as objectively as possible, and decide if you’re going in the right direction, and if you’re still shoe-horning yourself into a category that is no longer accurate. If you’re me, this might take a while, and have to be done in small chunks, because I don’t like revisiting my failures and can only do it a little at a time.
So I started re-evaluating my writing skills. It’s a mixed bag, honestly. I’m better at turning out words than I was a couple of years ago, and the thoughts flow more evenly from one to the next. But my early writings had an innocent sort of brightness, a spark, that made them fun to read. I’m also developing bad habits when it comes to focusing, and writing the difficult bits- if something trips me up, I find something else to do instead of plowing through (not always a bad thing, but it’s negatively affecting my writing). I’m also really awful at polishing a finished book and marketing it.
Am I a good writer? Getting there. Am I a good author? No.
Hey ho, hey ho; it’s off to work I go. There’s books to write, money to make, and a horse that needs new shoes.