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May 13, 2020: Doing Close Readings

I often wondered, and still do, if switching my college major from Animal Science to English was a good idea. I did want to become a veterinarian, but at precisely the wrong time I wavered and hopped on the English major bandwagon. It was an interesting ride – I was a late comer, having made this transition in my junior year.

I took two years of undergraduate English literature classes, then two years of graduate (MFA) literature classes. I then took two more years of almost the same while working on my Ph.D.

Gentle readers hang tight. I’m going somewhere with this, I promise. I’ve been working on this in my head all day.

Had I gone on for a degree in veterinary medicine, I would have had a career. Going on for a degree in English was the antithesis of a career. I might have had a career if I’d believed in the value of the thesis. This may have been my downfall. Actually, it led to my downfall.

Pete and Ryder on a hike on the bench loop
Pete and Ryder on a hike on the bench loop

But then again, I have moments in which I say, “huh,” taking all those literature classes actually served me in good stead. Today I realized that in taking these classes that I learned to do close readings, and in learning to do close readings, I learned to make associative leaps.

An example: I had put a pile of Horse and Rider magazines in the outhouse. This is a publication that promises a lot, but the articles disappoint. They have nice summations on the cover, but the articles are usually short and simplistic. I thought, perfect outhouse fodder.

I was in the outhouse and picked up a copy and began reading about training a horse to do reining patterns. Here’s where the associative leap part comes in. The subject of doing reining patterns is not of interest to me. But soon enough, I started substituting the word agility for reining patterns. Then, the importance of pausing before specific moves and varying the order of the moves made sense to me.

And so, this afternoon, I had this in mind when I did agility with the mares. I did the obstacles in the May course in a differing order. And I paused before each one, so that the mare in question and I might be more focused in carrying out the task.

I then took the ideas in the above-mentioned article a step further. I inhaled and stopped, and then I asked the horse to do the same. I then exhaled and moved on, and again, I asked the horse to do the same. I also thought of/took in a color when I breathed. In this case it was a blue and green mix.

I noticed that the horses did far better when I remembered to breath than when I forgot. This is pretty revelatory, and I think most importantly, taking a breath gives the horse a chance to also assess the situation.

Would I have had these insights if I’d gone on in a differing field besides English? I think not. Today actually made all that class time worth it.

Next: 134. 5/14/20: A Conversation with Hrimfara

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