Here Be Dragons…When Pipes Are Not Pipes

Stephen King once wrote a short story about the heyday of youth with all it’s freshness and trials. He called youth: Pony days. We all have a brief time as ponies. There were two times during my pony years that I was given horses and both times my father said no, absolutely not, she can not have a horse. I understand now, that even though the landlord had a pleasant disposition, horses were not allowed! We lived on a small hill overlooking a busy highway! One day, there was a terrible accident out front. Nothing new, they happened all the time. My father called police and jogged down to the scene. A horse trailer (with a horse in it) had come unhitched and although no one was hurt, (not even the horse) the cars involved in the melee were quite damaged. The man who owned the horse told my father, begged him really, to take the horse ‘off his hands.’ He was too much to feed, shelter and transport. Seriously, he said, take the dam thing now, free. My father had to decline. I sulked a long time. But I’d ridden Buttermilk the sweet off white pony…, many times at my Aunt’s house in Vermont! I pleaded on deaf ears.

A month later my little family was traveling to my Grandma’s house in Pownal, Vermont when we were stopped in traffic in front of the Green Mountain Racetrack, which raced horses back then. “Keep your head down!” My mother yelled at me. It was nighttime, lights from emergency personnel flashed red and white on the wet pavement. What didn’t they want me to see? Another horse accident? Another one? Yes. “My God the poor horse is beheaded right in the middle of the road! Oh my God we’re driving through its blood!” My mother was sobbing. Why bother to tell me to avert my eyes (which I dutifully did) when in fact my vivid imagination allowed me to see everything, for many sleepless nights and days to follow?

That summer my Uncle Edward tried to give me a horse. He had a farm that kept retired racehorses. When people put old horses “out to pasture”, some of them went to Uncle Edward. He had ponies too. He told my father to pick one and I could have it free of charge. Maybe he saw the wonder in my eyes, the way my face became bright in their presence. Again my father had to say no. Again I sulked. But not for long.

Surely I was meant to have a horse then? I created one. I kept it hitched to the picnic table, to the side of the house, to the clothesline pole. I brought it food and water and covered it with a special blanket when it rained. I rode it in every spare moment, for years I did this. Tired from a day spent galloping all over the yard, holding the reins just so, I’d brush my horse, look into it’s eyes, say goodnight and hitch it up securely. In the morning I knew exactly where I’d hitched it (of course) and I rode it some more. Not too much as I didn’t want to get him overtired but I absolutely needed to make up for the dead horse in the road, as well as the two I’d been given and couldn’t receive. The reins, the horse food, its blanket-all imaginary, all of it just as invisible as Wonder Woman’s car but not invisible to me. I created a horse, for lack of one. And a fine one it was. I was three or four years away from meeting the candystriper at the hospital.

Many things could happen to a pony. Unpredictable terrible things. Many things, many unwanted attention did happen to me growing up, as guarded as I was by my protective mother. My pony name was Naivete. I remember the first time I was ever “paid attention to” by an older girl. This is noteworthy because as an only child, any notice from a mature girl who had been there and done that…was mesmerizing. I’d had my tonsils out, was about twelve years old, and worried about my mother who could not visit me because she was having open heart surgery (she was just in her thirties) at Yale New Haven Hospital. My father was dividing his time between me and she. I didn’t have many visitors.

I resented being on the children’s floor of the hospital. There were paintings of Pinnochio and other childish things on the wall. I felt beyond that at the age of 12. I was visited by a teenager. She came into the room and sat on my bed. I was told she was a candy striper so I imagined that her job was way in the Willy Wonka-like backroom of the hospital cafeteria, working stripes into hot malleable candy…I know now she was a volunteer earning some volunteer time to put on a college application or job resume. She was visiting sick kids. She seemed to enjoy it. She was smiley, bouncy, well spoken, with a face like Snow White. She had Farrah hair of course. Black like mine.

She told me her name. I’d never heard that name before. I decided it was the most beautiful exotic perfect name I’d ever heard. I wish I could remember the name. It had two syllables and began with a “Ssh” sound. Sharelle? Charlaine? Charisse? I don’t know. I don’t even recall the conversation, suffice to say she asked why I was there, if my throat was real sore and she said she hoped I’d feel better soon. I didn’t register at the time that she was visiting ALL the kids. She was an angel friend, sent exclusively to me. I mattered. That’s how the mind works. How important it is to reach out to kids! What an idelible mark we can imprint! Children, like hot candy canes, are yielding, compliant, moldable like that.The bad people we encounter leave imprints too; but not pleasant ones-rather sticky grooves like the way old LPs skip and get stuck, playing the same phrase over and over…But the reverse is true-  Imagine a little visit from a teenager (Chantay? Shanelle?) yielding such a big result in an otherwise isolated reclusive kid’s life.

I estimate this girl (Shanise? Chavonne?) to be a woman in her mid-fifties now. For all I know, she’s a bitter bitch now. A real narcissistic passive aggressive winner who bellyaches about everything wrong with her life but for five minutes out of her life she “felt” like my friend. I mattered (or seemed to) to a cool stranger.

Ever put your thumb over the tip of a hose to create a propelled sort of pressure; to make it spurt out? Simple thing really, but a guy named Venturi took the concept a lot further. He used this basic method to develop what’s now called the Venturi method. Now this “thumb over the hose nozzle” is used to dredge filth off shipwrecks, it’s used in jet engines. A little pressure can yield a different result. Too much “thumb over the hose,” mind you, and the water backs up. I was trickling when the teenage candystriper walked in, and when she left I was propelled.

I was becoming aware that MY world could be penetrated and that random, unexpected things are not always bad. I was propelled into a new way of seeing the world outside of myself: Hooves for example. You hear a stampede! Hoofbeats pounding; thumping, thudding! A large group of animals are charging this way. The most common conclusion when you hear hoofbeats is to think: horses! (Unless maybe you’ve an autistic mind then maybe you might think the hoofbeats are something else but I digress.) There’s a saying in the medical profession: Look for horses first but then think zebras. A person with confusing symptoms could be a “zebra.” However when a doctor first hears hoofbeats (metaphorically, in a person’s ‘presenting symptoms’) it is wisest to first go with the most common malady-that is to ‘think horses’ first. Eliminate the most common of ailments before considering the more uncommon. Sometimes, more rarely the sound of hoofbeats is from an uncommon source: zebras. The rash could be poison ivy or maybe it’s a “zebra”: flesh eating bacteria.

Creation for me, has always come from heartbreak, from loss and from love. All of those things make indents, impressions, fissures… The Art of creating fills me in.


The Treachery of Images (1928–29, as The Treason of Images) is a painting by the Belgian Rene Magritte, painted when Magritte was 30 years old. The picture shows a pipe, right? Below it, Magritte painted, “Ceci n’est pas une pipe.“, This is French for “This is not a pipe.”

The famous pipe. How people reproached me for it! And yet, could you stuff my pipe? No, it’s just a representation, is it not? So if I had written on my picture “This is a pipe”, I’d have been lying!

His statement is taken to mean that the painting itself is not a pipe. The painting is merely an image of a pipe. Hence, the description, “this is not a pipe.” The theme of pipes with the text “Ceci n’est pas une pipe” is extended in his 1966 painting, Les Deux Mystères. Currently it is shown at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art.

Compare this “pipe” with Korzybski’s “The word is not the thing” and “The map is not the territory.”

I see my past as having strange floating double entendres like that- hovering in the air in font size 12, times roman script—above transient incidences in my life-contradicting what I know to be true:

“The little kid here is not riding a horse.”

“The candy striper is not really a friend.”

There are so many early maps, including maps of North America on yellowed parchment that exist to this day…early ones, incomplete maps that include terra incognito-that is to say PARTIAL maps, because everything outside explored areas was an unknown. These unfinished maps are well thought out, except for the unfathomed, unknown areas where no explorer up to that time had set foot. Upon the outskirts of these mysterious regions is written upon the map:

Here be dragons.


For the record, there are uncharted parts in my brain with this very warning stamped across the folds. Next week I’m going to paint a whirling dervish for the upcoming art show I have in February at the Good Purpose Gallery in Lee Massachusetts. I’ve painted whirling dervishes before (see my blog: Here ART thou)… I don’t know what it is about them that speaks to me. Perhaps it’s because their art involves no speech at all; just a spinning whirling devotional fakeer at one with music and self. Perhaps I’ll find the phrase for: This is not a whirling dervish” and write it across the bottom of the painting! In fact I will! I’m borrowing your trademark, Magritte, but look at this way-I’ll give you credit on an accompanying index card and keep your memory alive! I’ll post the non-dervish when it’s complete!

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