Surviving Freedom, Hope and Popsicles

A way to slow down and practice listening to yourself

In the back of my mind is a memory of summer camp. Freezing cold lakes, JUMP IN AND SWIM THIRTY LAPS, just for exercise and maybe too for the sake of wasting time so mom can get things done with her own life.

I hate summer camp. I am introverted. On my favourite days, you can find me hiding in a closet and talking to myself about the possibilities of friends enjoying my company through various activities which may or may not involve being beautiful and funny and smart.

I am unsure of how or why this becomes my life but I attend a summer camp that offers the opportunity to ride horses.

As a Torontonian adult, a woman who has grown up in Toronto, I cannot believe that I, for a brief period of time, regularly rode horses.

It’s said that when the world ends, we’ll be needing the animals. The more animal you are, the more animal you can be, the better chances you have, in general, of everything.

The horses are deeper in the forest. We take a hike just to get to them, a barn with a stable and a dirt-laden yard, benches circled for communion, we, campers below the age of ten, sit and face each other, engaging in survival training.

Grounded wood benches, more like curbs, we sit and look at each other.

It stinks. Foul animal shit wafts through the air. The Horses are surrounded by flies in an aggressively un-majestic display of wild wild whatever, I am not afraid because I usually calm my own social anxiety by telling myself stories in my head which makes me quite slow at processing. I do not yet realize that I will be asked to sit on one of the monsters in the shade.

The lady that runs the horse place is noticeably older than the other counsellors.

Most of the counsellors look like they can be my older brothers or sisters, like they might have moms and dads that are almost the same age as my parents but this lady looks like she might have her own kids. She has given birth. For sure. This horse lady. Is: Matronly.

Horse lady lights a fire in the centre of our circle and begins to tell us about the horses, 

“The Horses won’t like you at first. You will have to teach the horse to like you.”

I am small, eight years old, covered in sunscreen and mosquito repellant and… mosquitos. My tangled long hair shoved beneath a white sunhat, I am oily and cute.

My mouth hangs open, as it always does. There are roughly ten girls to a troupe and then, to match us and fill capacity, there are ten boys sitting with us. 

“Is anyone afraid of the horses?”

Most hands fly into the air.

We can see the horses in the stable. Large. Kicking. Their mouths are like garage doors, slowly opening to reveal a hold much larger than you expected. 

The Horse Lady sees me and laughs, “You aren’t afraid?”

I do not really know what is happening. I nod my head. 

“You are afraid, then?” Horse Lady is grinning at me. 

“What?” Still, no idea.

I spend most of my childhood trying to figure out what the hell is happening…just generally. Always.

What is this circus of socially bizarre mayhem and why did my mother bring me here? I ask that about Horse Lady, I ask that about Summer Camp and I ask that basically everything I encounter for most of my life.

I am wild and virtuous: Not here to hurt, but usually confused about the protocol for helping. At first you may think I am benign and adorable but then, later on you will likely label me intimidating and threatening. I am a horse.

I cannot panic because I am hiding somewhere, with other horses, unaware of anything but the fresh air and the fact that the sun will eventually set today.

The lady laughs at me, dismissing me, a common reaction to my seeming attitude. No, Horse Lady, make no mistake, I am just as afraid as everyone else, if not more afraid.

I am not just worried about meeting the monsters in the shade, I am concerned for the monsters, I am concerned for the flies, I am concerned that someone carved out a bit of this forest just to make room for a stable of horses that are alive on earth for the mere purpose of escorting ten children at a time along a safe wooden path. 

I am worried about the wooden path.

I am worried about the end of the wooden path, the end of the day, the part where I go home and eat a popsicle, the sugar relieving my brain from the pain of enduring a displacing social anxiety all day, all week, only to have her ask me what I did to day and for me to just not know.

How do we survive the moments that make us feel futile, rebellious and angry?

I learned very young to displace myself with imaginative distancing. 

I cannot panic about reality because I don’t keep up with it, I can’t.

Most of us live a version of that. Most of us participate only as we want, only as we can. For some people, that’s a constant participation exchange of information as currency: What is happening now, every number, every title, every image, video, sound. 

Don’t let those people fool you. 

If you asked them, “What are you really afraid of?” It would be hard for them to hone in on the answer, “I am afraid I will lose my job” or “I am afraid my parents will die” or “I am afraid that I’ll fail you by not being more prepared.”

Those with information often lack insight.

Of course, those without information can also lack insight.

I am going to teach you a practice of personal testimony.

Sixty minutes a day. Two tasks:

  1. Write down your day
  2. Discover inspiration from past texts

Sit and listen. What did you do today? How did you react to the things around you? Was everything ok? Were some things not ok? Who was there? How did those people make you feel?

Untangle your experiences. Allow the memory of those experiences to effect you. Trust your soul and let it breathe.


Picture a clogged air duct.

Recently my dryer’s duct was clogged. The hot air from the dryer couldn’t escape. It stayed in the dryer. The clothes got hot and stinky.

My boyfriend inspects the duct. He runs the dryer and discovers that half way up, the air refuses to continue exiting. He reaches his arm into the duct and pulls out chunks of lint.

Now the air in the dryer is free of hot, condenscing heat.

Picture your arm and hand (if you’re writing), or your voice (if you’re voice recording), as the air duct to your soul.

You have to clean out the lint.

Because otherwise it gets hot and stinky and eventually people avoid staying close to you.

Get it?

If you currently have the privilege of reviewing enough media to render yourself “informed” then you can also afford yourself the privilege of stopping the information.

Give yourself an hour.

Write or video or audio record a testimony, to yourself or to your future self, and try to hear, from yourself, what you’re really afraid of.

When you’re done, because you won’t fill an hour, take part in step 2: Pull down some books, or flip through some old audio, and witness a text from the past. Keep something from the past for inspiration.

When I say “The Past” what I mean is: Something that isn’t from the present media.

I spent four years studying Physical and Social/Cultural anthropology at U of T which means that my entire education is based in studies of human adaptation.

We have been through a lot and we will continue to get through a lot, believe me. OR, don’t believe, and look through OLD texts for inspiration, find the artifacts. Whatever moves you, art, cooking, history, physics…I don’t care. Find your soul mirrored in some other text and keep it with your maybe even post it online if that makes you feel connected.

I like to do this all in the morning. But any time of day is great.

They say that one of the keys to survival is listening to animal instincts. Believe me, you will never hear your instincts if you don’t stop to practice listening. Listen to yourself and listen to the past.

Learning to ride horses never strikes me as special. Horse Lady is not a special leader. I do not want to be anything like her. She stands in front of the fire, demonstrating a matronly cynicism that shrinks her humanity. She makes me feel like running home. 

“You have to teach the horse to like you,” she repeats.

The horses pay no attention. They wait to be freed, wait to laugh at their freedom, and hope, soon, for a meal and a chance to hope for an upcoming change.


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