And the Horse Will Play Your Grandmother: My Day of Equine Family Therapy
“Will you be my father?” Connie asks with the twisting posture of a nervous child. We just met half an hour ago. She’s old enough to be my mother.
“I’d be honored,” I reply.
She places her hands gently on my shoulders. “This is my father,” she affirms, smiling sweetly.
Connie hasn’t spoken to the real man in 20 years, making this a tricky role to play. Rounding out the family is a Jack Russell Terrier named Jack (her daughter), a chestnut mare named Jackie (her grandmother), and a few other human strangers in various roles.
The matriarch of our little clan is Sara Fancy—a former competitive bodybuilder and ex–punk rocker who developed a love for horses in midlife. She was particularly fascinated by the animals’ apparent intuition, their ability to read and respond to human emotional cues. This sensitivity, she believed, could be harnessed for therapeutic purposes. Building on the work of psychoanalyst Bert Hellinger, Fancy bought several of the animals and a desolate plot of land in Southern California. She erected stables and a yurt, and named her new homestead the Silver Horse Healing Ranch. I drove down from LA this summer to experience Fancy’s horse therapy firsthand.
The cars arrived in clouds of dust stirred up from the dirt road. We all met one another inside Sara’s kitchen. There was Connie, a longtime Silver Horse client, and her friend Kay, who was there for support. After them came Christopher Rutgers and his wife Stephanie. Like many visitors to the ranch, Christopher had been referred here by a traditional therapist.
“We also get a lot of recovering alcoholics and drug addicts from the clinics,” Sara added in her cheerful British lilt.
After several cups of tea and slices of watermelon, we strolled to the stables under a blazing blue sky. A horse named Pretty Boy sauntered to the edge of the corral, pushing his cheek into Sara’s hand. “Pretty Boy’s owner was going to shoot him in the head and throw him in a landfill,” she explained, rubbing his muzzle. “Luckily, the man called me first and asked if I wanted him. I can’t use Pretty Boy with clients because he’s a little mousy, but I took him anyway. Ironically enough, some time later Pretty Boy’s owner ended up shooting himself in the head.”
Every Woman Should Have the Opportunity to Freeze Her Eggs
This week, tech giants Apple and Facebook announced that they’ll now pay for female employees who want to have their eggs frozen. It’s a big move, even for Silicon Valley, where companies already boast such perks as on-site medical care, barber shops and, in Facebook’s case, a dedicated “culinary team.”
The message is: Freeze your eggs, ladies, and don’t worry about working around the clock through your fertile years! It’s a win-win, right? Possibly. But it’s also problematic.
Overlooking the obvious (having babies and good careers should not be mutually exclusive), the move seems to confirm many fears clustered around class difference and fertility—i.e. if you don’t have thousands saved, or don’t work for a giant corporation and yet still want to be ambitious in your field, you might end up childless.
This Is What Developing Acute Schizophrenia Feels Like
A year ago this winter, I began to not recognize myself.
Sleep was the first thing to change. Progressively, over the course of about two weeks, I began struggling to drift off. As a 24-year-old man with a good supply of hash, this had never been a problem before. It was so odd. Seemingly out of the blue, I’d get into bed at night and not be able to shut off my brain. Thoughts would grow tendrils and loop onto other thoughts, tangling together like a big wall of ivy. Some nights, I’d pull the covers over my head, grab my face hard in my hands, and whisper, “Shut. The. Fuck. Up.”
Eventually I would be able to get to sleep, but I’d wake up feeling peculiar, like I had forgotten to do or tell someone something. Hunger wasn’t as aggressive as it usually was during this time, either. Normally I bolt downstairs to pour a heaping bowl of Frosted Flakes the second my eyes open. Instead, I woke each morning with a sick, creeping feeling in my gut. Still, I carried on as normal, thinking I’d just lay off the hash for a bit. That was probably it. I wasn’t panicked.
I carried on my work at a local wine shop and tried to push what was happening during the night to the back of my mind. I got through the days OK, if slightly bleary-eyed—but looking back now I can see that I had started to struggle with simple conversations.
If my boss told me to check a delivery, it’d take me a few seconds to process what he was saying, like two or three people had said it at the same time and I couldn’t make out the clear instruction. Looking at morning delivery slips and trying to make sense of them in my head was like trying to make out a tree in the fog—possible, but hard.
We Asked Doctors How Different Illegal Drugs Affect Your Sperm
Life is full of hard truths. One of the hardest is that you can only party for so long before your body starts asking you nicely to please chill out, or you accumulate so many responsibilities that drinking five beers and popping a molly just isn’t wise anymore. And when you decide you’re ready for the ultimate responsibility, having a kid, you’ll have to hope your genetic material isn’t so damaged from shoving coke mixed with Ajax into random orifices that your offspring have to suffer serious medical problems.
But what if you knew how badly you’re screwing your body up before it’s too late? Not to get all Daren the Lion on you, but I asked two reproductive experts—Dr. Ricardo Yazigi of Shady Grove Fertility Center in Maryland and Dr. David Nudell, a Bay Area-based male reproductive urologist—plus Fernando Caudevilla (also known as Dr. X, the drug whisperer) to explain the way drug use can negatively impact sperm. The general consensus is that the use of just about every illicit drug causes damage to the testicles and prevents the creation of testosterone—the linchpin substance for the entire male reproductive system.
For the purposes of this piece, we leaned heavily on a 2012 study called “The Insults of Illicit Drug Use in Male Fertility” from the American Society of Andrology’s Journal of Andrology, which is available here.
According to the 2009 National Study on Drug Use and Health, marijuana has the highest usage rate of any illicit drug in the United States, which means you probably have all or some of these problems with your sperm.
The cannabinoid compounds in marijuana are actually synthesized by the human body, so our cells have natural receptors for them. If the cannabinoids latch onto cells in the testes or the sperm themselves, some unwanted side effects could occur and ruin your day. According to Dr. Yazigi:
"About 33 percent of chronic users will have low sperm counts. Binding of the active components and metabolites of marijuana to receptors on sperm themselves has also been shown to lead to decreasing motility rates. What is less clear are the effects of more occasional users—no good studies have been done but the prevailing thought is that while these men will have rapid recovery to their sperm function with briefer cessation in use, they should avoid use when trying to get pregnant as well."
Coke is, of course, the legendary “boner killer,” in that it causes vasoconstriction (the narrowing of blood cells), which leads to erectile dysfunction. It’s difficult to pinpoint what else it does, because any studies done on human beings are going to be complicated by the fact that cocaine just makes you want to party more. I asked Dr. Yazigi why we don’t have more information on coke’s effects, and he responded that human tests aren’t pure “because most of the time there’s coexistence of the use of cocaine along with alcohol and cigarettes and other drugs, so the single cocaine users are almost a rarity.” Also, he reminded me that you can’t force a group of people to do cocaine and then reproduce. You know, ethically.
Watch: The Return of the Black Death
We went to Madagascar in the fall of 2013 because the village of Beranimbo had been an epicenter of a black plague outbreak that resulted in nearly 600 cases and more than 90 deaths across the country. Madagascar reports the most instances of the disease in the world.
Meet the Girl Who’s Crowdfunding Her Abortion
Crowdfunding is all the rage for folks who are hungry for potato salad, or in need of some dough for their stupid orchestra, but sometimes people reach out to the masses out of desperation. Meet Bailey. Bailey needs an abortion. So she went to GoFundMe.com (tagline: “Crowdfunding for Everyone!”) to ask for $2,500 for the operation. Like anything remotely related to fetuses, it’s drawn some considerable attention in less than a week and was even removed from the site for a while.
Her GoFundMe page, originally titled the ”Stop Bailey From Breeding Fund,” informs visitors that “Bailey is currently unemployed, completely broke, in debt, and in no position to hold down a job due to severe symptoms of a rough, unplanned and unexpected pregnancy.” Having just moved to Chicago from Phoenix, Arizona, Bailey says she’s 23, likes to read and go to shows, and really, really doesn’t want to be a mom.
In the past, GoFundMe has been used for some pretty noble projects, such as collecting donations for one of the victims of the Boston Marathon Bombing, and helping raise money to operate on the brain tumor of a morbidly obese 12-year-old. Somewhat more controversially, GoFundMe was used recently to support Officer Darren Wilson, who famously shot and killed unarmed 18-year-old Mike Brown, resulting in the Ferguson, Missouri demonstrations. I guess you could say the operators of GoFundMe aren’t afraid to get their hands dirty.
I called Bailey to ask about her plans to kickstart the termination her fetus.
VICE: Hi Bailey, how are you doing?
I’m doing pretty well. How are you?
Can I ask who is the father?
Can I say no to that?
Sorry for stalking you, but Facebook tells me you’re dating someone named Lücifer Ryzing, right?
Oh, no, that’s totally fine. I understand. There’s some other people who have figured out stuff, that don’t have any sort of good intentions, and they’re doing more intense things. [laughs] But yeah, Lücifer Ryzing is someone I’ve known for a long time, that I’m sweet with. He started the GoFundMe page. He’s the one that’s really managing that.
How far along are you with the pregnancy?
I just got the ultrasound on Tuesday, the second of September and the ultrasound said 19 weeks and five days, but ultrasounds can be anywhere from seven to ten days off. It could be about 19 weeks, or I could be 20 weeks along exactly.
The Hot Zone: Black Death Returns to Madagascar
sat in a helicopter as it banked around and down toward a clearing in the center of Beranimbo, a village of 80 or so palm-thatched huts tucked away in the emerald mountains of Madagascar’s Northern Highlands. My pilot, a blocky German expat named Gerd, had already made one attempt to touch down the shaky single-engine copter, but he’d aborted the landing after the rotor blades kicked up enough dust to cause a brownout.
A few hours earlier, when we’d set out for Beranimbo—a three-hour journey from the Malagasy capital of Antananarivo—Gerd had seemed excited. He doesn’t normally get jobs like this, typically making his money flying film crews around the countryside to shoot B-roll for ecotourism documentaries, usually about lemurs. “You want me to do a pass?” he asked, and before I could find out what he meant, we were swooping low through the hills. My stomach lurched upward; from this altitude we could see the spiny forest vegetation, tall ravenala trees, and great gaping wounds in the countryside, scars of systematic deforestation.
We were there because, in the fall of 2013, Beranimbo had been an epicenter of a black plague outbreak that resulted in nearly 600 cases and more than 90 deaths across the country. Madagascar reports the most instances of the disease in the world. Depending on which century you’re talking about, it’s perhaps best known as the plague—a scourge generally associated with the Middle Ages, when rats, fleas, and poor hygiene resulted in the deaths of between 75 and 200 million people. The disease remains an enduring threat in third-world nations; public-health watchdogs report up to 2,000 cases a year.
In the 1930s, the rise of antibiotics dampened and then nearly extinguished the clinical threat of the disease, at least in the developed world, and it lost its status as a global killer. But for years, epidemiologists have warned that Madagascar is particularly vulnerable to widespread rural and urban contagion. I wanted to find out just how dangerous this medieval disease is in the 21st century, and why it persists in this corner of the world. That search led me to Beranimbo.
When we arrived, Gerd’s nervousness was apparent. “This may be too dangerous,” he muttered into his headset intercom as he tried to land the helicopter. Gerd’s concern wasn’t for his own safety, but rather the security of 200 people gathered around the makeshift landing pad below. Any one of them could have easily lost an eyeball to a pebble or twig whipped upward into the air. Helicopters are rare in Beranimbo and always attract attention, as they usually carry aid workers from the Red Cross. When we finally found a suitable spot to land, villagers ran from the dusty complex of huts to greet us.
On the ground, I was introduced to the village elder, a thin old man in a light jacket and safari hat. To celebrate our arrival, he had organized the slaughter of a zebu, a type of domestic cattle with a large, camel-like hump, for a celebratory lunch. “The sacrifice of the zebu marks our friendship,” he told me. “I can’t express enough our happiness. Enjoy it with all our gratitude.” The animal’s neck was cut, and I was taken to meet Rasoa Marozafy, a 59-year-old father of seven who’s spent his life in the village. Rasoa is a plague survivor, and part of the reason I’d come to this place.
I Fertilized Lettuce With My Period Blood, Then Made a Salad
In college, a friend who didn’t shave her armpits lent me her copy of Inga Muscio’s feminist treatise Cunt: A Declaration of Independence. Paging through it instantly gave me a ton of great ideas, like supporting female-run businesses and LGBT rights and checking out my vagina with a compact mirror. Then there were some I wasn’t immediately sold on, like abortion via reflexology and, more specifically, using menstrual blood as plant fertilizer.
The period-blood-fertilizer reference is buried among descriptions of alternative feminine-care products: “You can squeeze the blood out into a jar, fill it with water, and feed it to your houseplants, who… [a friend] assured me, ‘absolutely adore the stuff.’” Shocked, I googled the trend and, sure enough, found a few green-living and apocalypse-prep websites supporting the idea of gardening with the crimson wave.
Blood contains three primary plant macronutrients—nitrogen, phosphorus, and potassium. Plants demand these in large amounts so they can actually survive or whatever. The granddaddy of the bloody nutrients, though, is nitrogen, which helps boost plants’ overall luster and growth. So, as a poor gardener and menstrual-cup enthusiast, I decided to collect my next cycle to help grow some plants.