Dorothy Burlingham, the famed British analyst, believed that our love of animals came from our earliest fantasies, our loneliness and need for connections even before we could speak or think in words. In our earliest years and months, we were often lonely, often afraid and confused. We often imagined an animal friend, a connection beyond words, where language was not necessary, a consciousness beyond our understanding. Feelings were everything. Our animal friends loved us, protected us, saved us from loneliness, gave us strength to fight off our fear.
This profound insight has been my experience with animals, and at the core of our powerful connection with Rocky, an aging pony who has changed profoundly in recent months, as we have changed also. When he puts his head against my shoulder, or against Maria, I think of Dr. Burlingham and am grateful to see this connection beyond words and away from our very meager and limited understanding. Animals make me humble. They are beyond my imagination. Some photos on Facebook.
Had a landmark fight with the former girlfriend last night, what I now call a Blondie-Dagwood moment, me playing the odd role of the long-suffering Blondie. Not exactly “Death Of A Salesman,” but still, a moment in my life. Our life.
Background: I have not married a domestic person, but an artist who barely tolerates domestic life. I do have a domestic streak in me. I love to shop and I love to cook, especially for people I love. I did most of the cooking in my previous marriage and it is a natural thing for me. My wife would rather not. It works.
Last night, it didn’t really work. I got obsessed with cooking a really good meal. I visited my daughter in Brooklyn Monday and Jay, her boyfriend, cooked some snazzy meal and inspired me to do the same. Okay, maybe I got competitive. I went to the market. The menu was flounder, cauliflower and chopped up garlic (to be roasted in the oven), some fresh shrimp as an appetizer. Maria was working on her blog, or making a quilt. It took me an hour to prepared this meal. I put flour on the fish and chopped up some organic corn flakes for a crust. I diced the cauliflower carefully, mixed it up with garlic bits and put it in the oven.
As I was carefully co-ordinating everything, I yelled up to Maria to come down for dinner and then Frieda started barking and Maria yelled that someone was coming up the driveway. Tell them to come back, I shouted, trying to concentrate on the food but it was too late. Maria saw some friends that had been away and were strolling up the road and decided to say hello. Just as the (too much) olive oil in the cauliflower began to smolder and burn, and the flounder was ready to come out of the pot, all three of them strolled into the kitchen and started chatting, asking me how I was, what was new. I’m busy right now, I said, as friendly as I could. “Doing what?,” they asked. “What’s for dinner?” I tried several times to politely suggest that this wasn’t a good moment for company, as my gourmet meal was going up in smoke.
Finally, they got the message – as the kitchen filled with smoke and I shouted at them to leave, please. Okay, maybe a bit loudly. As they left, Maria came in to ask why I seemed agitated. She was quite puzzled. I’m pissed off, I said, just wanted to get it off my chest. Maria was astonished. Angry at what? It was great to see our friends. And then I went into Blondie mode. I realized what I was and had become. I pouted, stewed, blogged, took a walk with Lenore. I took yet another step towards understanding the old role of some women.
I explain. It wasn’t easy, this cooking. I had been in the kitchen for an hour trying to make a really good meal, and it wasn’t a time for chats! For visits.I felt unappreciated, just as Blondie did when she had been in the kitchen for hours and Dagwood went off to his workshop to play with some of his tools. Maria is so wrapped up in her art, I thought, she just didn’t notice how hard I was working on this special meal, even down to the wine. Maria took it in strike. You’ll be fine, she said.
My God, I thought (and said), I feel like Blondie. I’m like a suburban housewife in the 50’s waiting for her unappreciative and oblivious husband to come home. Oh, said Maria, I didn’t know you cared that much about the meal. It took me until this morning to start laughing about it all. I like the Blondie-Dagwood thing, I told her, and she rolled her eyes. Oh, she said, this is becoming a story. I’ve got to go to work. The phone rang and a friend called and I tried it out on her, and it worked. At least I get a story out of it.
I was in the garden and looked up and saw Fanny watching me in the intently curious and intense ways donkey’s have of watching the things that interest them. Maria and I love the rythyms of the barnyard. In the morning, the donkeys come down, the chickens hang around hoping for food, the dogs sit in the yard and watch us. Maria brushes the donkeys, cuddles with the barn cats, we check each of the animals for cuts, sores, limps, ticks, eyes. We check food and water, gates and doors.
Then, the hens vanish, perhaps laying their eggs in secret since we can’t find them. The donkeys go up the hill. Maria goes to the Studio Barn. I go to my computer. A barnyard has magical rythyms, the people and animals intensely connected, especially around food. This is healing, soothing, stimulating, an elemental part of our day. In the afternoon, we do it again. These are the rythyms of life. They connect us to nature, to animals, to ourselves.