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My father was a horse breeder and breaker. Riding was to him as natural as walking. I was the fifth child, the youngest by far, so by the time I came along my father’s bones were already beginning to wear. But when I was very young, we would drive to Stroud to watch him ride in the rodeo. And every time the bronco threw him, he got straight back up. The one time he walked from the ring was the last time I saw him ride rodeo. “You always get back on the horse,” he said.

Horse-riding was not my natural mode. When Penny, my pony, threw me, I wailed and refused to get back in the saddle. My father said, “If you don’t get back on now, you never will.” I did get back on but I did not stop crying. And though I never became a good rider, I am not afraid of horses.

If you’ve read The Breaking, you’ll have a sense that my father’s lessons came at great cost. But this one is so foundational that it is almost a cliché. We all have some version of it: horses, wagons, surfboards, boats. To be thrown is to face the challenge of remounting.

In the case of my rodeo-riding, horse-breaking father, this message was delivered as indictment. A tough guy always gets back up, a tough guy doesn’t care, doesn’t feel, and never gives up.

I don’t remember how often I did get back on the physical horse. But it seems to me that the exhortation to get back up doesn’t have to be about stern judgement. Rather, it can be about absolute compassion and positive expectation. It can say: I know you can do this.

Getting back on the horse, or the wagon, or the boat, or whatever metaphor is the one that works for you, is an action that has compassion at its heart. It acknowledges that this moment, this day, is its own self. The one that preceded it is gone.

I had a brief stint as a stand-up comedian (by which I mean, I did some gigs and then I realised that I did not like stand-up comedy). But in that brief period between being an actor and becoming a playwright, I received some brilliant advice.

In stand-up, unless you are Hannah Gadsby post-Nanette, it is common to appear on bills with other comedians, performing one after the other. One night, I was about to go on after a truly brilliant comedian who had absolutely smashed it. As she finished her set, I muttered ‘oh, that’s a hard act to follow’ to another comic waiting in the wings. He shook his head and said, ‘Once she leaves, the stage is empty. You’re not stepping into her spot. You’re stepping into an empty place which is waiting for you. Remember it’s always a new stage.”

It was a profoundly useful reflection, one which I’ve used many times over the years. Didn’t show up for your writing yesterday or last week? Remember, it’s a new stage. Empty, clean, waiting just for you.

If you’ve ever tried to give up smoking or any other addictive habit, you’ll know that it takes more than one attempt. You stop, start, stop and start – the success is in your willingness to try again.

In other words, it’s in your willingness to believe your own internal voice when you say: I’ll try again. To meet that new attempt not with scoffing (‘sure, you said you’d write every day and you haven’t written for a week… that’s what you’re like) but with loving-kindness, compassion and expectation.

Give yourself permission to fall off the horse. And give yourself permission to get back on it. Because you can do this.

Today’s prompt:

Music sounded across the city….