Friday, October 3, 2008

Magazines in Hospital Waiting Rooms

So Tonya and I were in the hospital today for the first ultrasound of her pregnancy....

...and incidentally, we don't have a whole lot to report, other than the fact that things are going well. Our sweet little blob had a healthy heartbeat, and this veteran daddy was able to pick it out of the ultrasound the moment that the doctor scanned in the right direction. And the kid is the right size for this stage of development. At this point--according to the doctor--there is only about a 2% chance of miscarriage. My wife's only real risk factors have to do with the fact that she's an "older mother"--meaning thirty-five or older--and the fact that our babies have averaged just about nine pounds thus far. But then, she's been an "older mother" for every one of her pregnancies, so far; and the babies are all long and skinny, with smallish heads, so there's no big deal there...., while this is all very welcome news, there's not actually that much news there. So! I thought I'd post a little comparative review of the magazines we found in the waiting room.

Hey, this is my blog, and I can write what I want. You actually want to read a blog post about important stuff? Great. Go write it yourself.


Of course, it's pretty typical when we go to see the doctor that we'll have to wait a minimum of half-an-hour before we get called in--and it's longer when it's an afternoon appointment. So we sit down, we get comfortable (or, as comfortable as is actually possible on those chairs--When you're pregnant....), we talk about whatever weird stuff has been going on in our lives; then we discover pretty quickly either that: A. Our lives aren't very weird at all, or B. There's so much weirdness in our lives that it's become normal, and is thus not very noteworthy. At any rate, pretty soon we decide that our own company isn't mentally stimulating enough, and we start checking out the local reading material.

Usually the pickings are pretty slim. Once in a while you score a National Geographic, and that's cool. But when you're sitting in the waiting area for Women's Health, the magazines tend to be parenting magazines, and fashion magazines, and pregnancy magazines, and news magazines (which are usually several months old, so the punditry therein is good more for laughs than anything else, since you get to see in retrospect just how wrong most of it was) and magazines on food, and entertainment, and (if you're less unlucky) interior design.... And today the pickings were pretty slim.

Except! There were a couple of issues lying about of a magazine I'd never seen before, entitled Western Horseman Magazine. Now, there could be several reasons why there were issues of Western Horseman lying around in the Women's Health waiting area:
  • Women like to look at pictures of pretty horses.
  • Women like to look at pictures of pretty men riding those horses. Although in this case, "pretty" means rugged, muscular, rustic, and strong. Even the older cowboys who showed up in this magazine, with the leathery skin and lined faces, were obviously Men with a capital M.
  • Some guy there to give his woman moral support got thoroughly desperate for something non-girly to read, and so sneaked across the hall to Urology or Orthopaedics and filched a few copies of something decidedly non-girly. To them, I say, good for you.
I note that, as I write this, the advertisement at the head of the Western Horseman website demands to know, "Are You Tough Enough?" This is not a magazine for wimps.

Well, after flipping through this magazine, it's pretty apparent that I'm a wimp. And for that matter, dear reader, so are you.

The thing is, the magazine doesn't intend to make you feel like a wimp. No: it's mainly just filled with good, practical advice. And it's the fact that you'll never find yourself in a situation to use this advice is what makes you feel like a wimp.

For example, one of the articles I read had to do with the selection and use of a proper Dutch oven that can be taken out on the trail. The writer offered several really good pieces of advice: you don't cook in these by putting them on the fire; you cook with them by putting them on coals. And for some recipes, you need to pile coals on top of the lid, as well. The writer recommended that you get two of these Dutch ovens when you head out on the trail, so that you load one on each side of your pack horse, to keep the load balanced. Of course, they need to be cast iron to stand up to the rigors of the trail; and the two 11" Dutch ovens will be about 50 lbs; but since pack animals can usually take up to 150 lbs, that gives plenty of extra capacity for loading up food and other necessities. Just make sure that when you pack the Dutch ovens, you do it with the lid-side toward the animal, so the legs on the ovens don't rub sores in its side....

Then there was the article about the proper way to get a cow into a trailer. I found myself unable to keep from laughing as I read the article--not because there was anything wrong with the article itself, but because it so clearly illustrated just how pampered and sheltered my life really is. The article kept talking about how the rider should position himself just off the cow's point, and be prepared to block the cow's avenue of retreat. And I kept thinking to myself: "What? Cows have points? What else do I not know about them that could serve to get me killed?"

Well, at least I now know much more about getting cows into trailers than I ever imagined there was to know. It appears that if you just try to push them into the trailer, the cow thinks of this as a Bad Experience, and it gets harder and harder the next time. And if you have several cows and you're trying to get them all into the trailer (at the same time!) pushing one cow in tends to scare off all her herdmates--by the time you get the first one in, the others will generally have long since taken flight, and you'll have to go hunt them down again....

You see what I mean? This magazine is geared toward people who actually go out on cattle drives. This is for people who actually go out in the bush on horseback for days or weeks at a time. This is for people who actually need to know what a spade bit is and when it's appropriate to use one--and where to get good ones. This is not a magazine for people who like to dress up like cowboys so they can go line dancing on weekends. This is for people who need to know how to deliver foals, and repair their own saddles.

This came through even the parts of the magazine dealing with fashion, and the puff-pieces on "Women of the West". There was a review of some women's boots in there, which explained that this particular brand was really well designed--that the soles weren't glued to the boot (as is usually the case), but rather that the sole was sewn to the welt, which in turn was sewn to the rest of the boot. The reviewer said that her pair held up really well to the rigors of the trail, and that she's managed to keep them in good shape for several years' worth of pretty constant work, which made them a particularly good buy--and, oh by the way, they're really purty too.

And the puff-piece interview I read of a ranching woman (Australian!) had questions along the lines of, are there any special challenges for you, being a woman, in dealing with the physical demands of such a highly physical way of life? The answer in essence was: it's hard, and there are times when I have to ask someone for help lifting something that's particularly heavy; but I've always known that the physical demands were just part of the lifestyle, and so I just be as strong as I can...

Meanwhile, I'm thinking to myself that this woman is more of a man than I am.

So, anyway, after reading several of these articles, I put the magazine down and looked around me.

There was a copy of Vogue lying there, with a very pretty makeup model on the cover.

And after Western Horseman, there was just something about the model that made me ask, "Yeah... but what is she good for?" I mean, can she rope a wayward calf? Can she whip up a meal for a bunch of hungry ranch hands just from the stuff she's packed on the back of a mule? Is she good at anything other than putting powders and greases on her face to make her look better than God really intended her to? What's she actually good for? I realize this is just a surface-level snap judgment; and I realize that Western Horseman is also trying to sell an image of its own. But after reading that interview with that Australian gal, reading about how she takes pride in her lack of sleep during calving season--because she knows her presence results in healthy calves and healthy mother cows--well, I'm not one to have curiosity in Vogue under the best of circumstances, but in juxtaposition with what I'd just read, I felt positively repelled by that model.

It's not that she wasn't pretty; she was very pretty. It's that her prettiness required her to be seated for hours in a makeup chair. They want their target audience to value looking good to others, and feeling good about being seen in society. It's a narcissistic beauty. Now, that Australian cowgirl was plenty pretty, but that wasn't the basis of her desirability: it was the fact that she had proven herself worthy of respect in a very tough man's world. She wasn't trying to make herself look pretty; she was just trying to keep her family's ranch running, and she did it passionately and with a smile on her face. And, unlike Vogue's target audience, this girl didn't give off any vibe that she might be suffering from self-esteem issues. In fact, I rather doubt that she even thinks about self-esteem on a regular basis--because she's just too busy doing things that matter. That's what was beautiful about her; and next to that, the Vogue cover model looked nothing so much like a cheap counterfeit.

Ok, I'm getting a little heavy here. And as I said, I fully accept that there's a whole bunch of image in Western Horseman, too. And Lord knows there are plenty of "cowboys" out there who couldn't tell one end of a cow from the other, who just want to look the part.


Ok, so Western Horseman Magazine has indirectly informed me that I am, in fact, a wimp. But! The first step in any recovery is recognizing that one has a problem, and I am now duly cognizant of the fact that I am a wimp, and I can now take action.

(In fact, this is true of nearly all people who use terms like "duly cognizant". Have you ever heard a real cowboy talk like that?)

And, at least now I know something else about cows, if I ever have to manage them: they have this thing called a "flight zone", which I'm supposed to block with my horse if I want to keep them going in the right direction. I wouldn't have guessed that. I would have thought that you would want to keep out of the flight zone, to avoid being hit by low-flying cows...

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