Getting Back On a Horse

I used to do this thing when I was a kid. Actually I still do this sometimes. I’d lay my head down, usually on the mattress or on a desk, and I’d start drumming my fingers. Always with the pad, not the nails. And I don’t drum a rhythm or a tune, sort of a cadence. Crescendo and the decrescendo, like a Doppler effect.

And if you do this, drum with the pads of your fingers and with a cadence instead of a beat, and the surface is right, you will conjure a sort of distant a large booming sound of a horse galloping. For me, when I do this, I almost always conjure the cliffs of Dover. A place I’ve never been. Shots from a movie very like Kenneth Branagh’s Henry V (1989) come to my mind. And they’re fanciful, knights and horses and so on, a childish sort of vision which is quite literally at my finger tips.

That drumming is sort of always back there in my mind really. In some sense the hooves sort of running over the hills and the waves beating on the cliffside is a bit of a constant somewhere. Perhaps it’s because of the nearness in mind that the physical act of conjuring this sound through a table with my fingers brings it so vividly close.

I’d like to get back on the horse of writing, and doing it right this time. I’d like to try and be a little more meaningful and direct my efforts. I have to right now. Properly directing my own efforts outward, broadly, in every vector has been hard over the past few months.

Of course, not it’s good not to spread yourself thin, but it’s good to be working. And I’ve skipped off the surface of not quite working as much anymore. However, I’m left with a bit of a question as to what direction I’d like to take my writing after this vacuum.

So this isn’t some new commitment of work. Just an acknowledgment that there’s unfinished business in my world. By the way, there’s always some unfinished business in my life, but naturally I don’t get around to it all so I point it out periodically instead. For instance, I have unfinished business with the one mile race. I’ll get back to it someday even if that race is finished with me.

In due time, I’d like to run down where I’d like to take some of my writing next. I’d like to point to the unfinished businesses of this unfinished business. Talk specifics you might say. For now though, rather than overwhelm with projects new and old, I just want to say I’m getting back on the horse.

Some of this momentum has to do with a book I’ve been slowly making my way through. The book is Blood Horses by John Jeremiah Sullivan and it’s sort of a collection of essays. Some are excellent, some are a little self indulgent or a little too detached for even my taste. But it’s a commendable book.

Blood Horses really raises a bit of the place the horse has in all of human narrative and metaphor. I think it’s really interesting to see this animal sort of crop up through the threads of our lives and stories we tell each other. Sullivan points out that the horse is almost more of our language and of our mind than almost anything else humans have. After all, it is nightmare not nightdog you might say.

In this way the book is oddly always relevant. It feels illuminating up to the current moment. Even prescient at times. That being said, Blood Horses is a series of essays often from a very specific time and place. Its this scope of metaphor and history that sort of bring reading the whole book toward a more universal experience.

These are essays steeped in motif to the point of occasional alienation from the events which opens the reader up to reflection. When those passages with a sort of out-of-bodyness crop up, I experience a moment of the strangeness of everyday life what's kind of exhilarating. The book is powerful in these moments where it can conjure those moments of the daydream through a sparsity that reminds me of Kubrick's filmmaking.

Somewhere I read a piece by George Lakoff, I can’t remember exactly, but I think it was probably in Moral Politics: How Liberals and Conservatives Think maybe it was Metaphors We Live By but I don’t think so. At any rate, he describes the abundance of certain kinds of metaphors in the Western lexicon. He goes on to contrast kind of broadly with other frameworks for metaphor.

The long and short of the chapter was that Western languages tend toward metaphors of conflict and of family if I recall correctly. If you think about it you will notice a preponderance of metaphors in everyday English which turn a situation into battlegrounds and tribal organizations. And this trend sort of peters out from literal war metaphors to sport metaphors and frankly the lack of diverse material for metaphor in English is kind of a disappointment.

Lakoff talks about how there are more collectivist sources for metaphor, using the body for instance as the primary source of your metaphors changes how what is being referred to metaphorically is seen. If you view a problem in terms of a bodily metaphor as opposed to a war metaphor, Lakoff posits, you are more likely to view the problem as one which requires mending rather than defeating. For instance.

But this book, Blood Horses really makes a strong case, and a sort of peculiar one too, that the horse is a very high and sort of transcendent metaphorical vehicle for people. Almost as much as it’s been a literal vehicle for humans. That point of view makes this book very interesting.