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Carlyle Brown

Heralding in a New Year: Morbid Jokes, Boozy Cocktails, Aspirational Artists, So On

Hi, hello, happy new year! We all made it to 2023. I can celebrate just in the sheer fact of making it to this fresh mark on the calendar. 2022 was emotionally, mentally, and circumstantially taxing in ways I could both foresee and never could have imagined.  

I am not an optimist by nature. I’m a pessimist who expects the worst yet continues to work towards desired outcomes despite myself: begrudgingly committed to moving forward. Oh, did 2022 test my mettle. I thought I just about lost this quality of persistence that I believed was fundamental to who I am, something uniquely immutable and unbreakable. And yet here I am, arising each new day, still toiling toward my idea of a better future, which can feel like a Sisyphean task. The march into the future is the longest thing I’ll do with my life, and there is only one conclusion, so I best make it worthwhile. 

I digress. A blog post headlined by a collage in pink and blue hues was not intended to be so emotionally charged. And yet, there’s a thread of hope here. Despite everything, I’ve sheltered and nourished my desire to create for creation’s sake, and I’ve catalogued my recent pleasures, both simple and complex, at the dawn of this new year. So let’s unpack them: 


Color and texture are two sensory experiences that give me pure joy: thick globs of paint, lush landscapes, decadent food and drink, a vibrant sky, a parasol or a pair of fur-cuffed gloves. I used an Amazon gift card I received for Christmas (thanks Douglas clan) to purchase Slim Aaron’s photo book, “A Place in the Sun.” Slim Aarons is known for saying he photographed “attractive people doing attractive things in attractive places.” His work fills me with an aspirational desire for the pursuit of an aesthetically beautiful life. Max Maufra’s “Flowers near Belle-île-en-Mer,” which is hanging in the Birmingham Museum of Art, also fits this sensory category. That’s a landscape I could melt into. 

I’ve also been revisiting the works of Joan Didion. My favorite book of all time is “Play It As It Lays,” which I read nearly yearly, but I haven’t read her famed essay book “The White Album” since I was in college.  


With regards to my Spotify top ten: I readily admit that my 2022 “most played” playlist is not the year I’m most proud of. The part of me that’s a cultural elitist blushes a bit at the fact that so many pop stars grace my top 10. But the part of me that enjoys fun does not care in the slightest. Data doesn’t lie: this is what I jammed out to from coast to coast. 


If you know literally anything about me, it’s that I’m a lifelong horse girl. It’s terminal, incurable. Ms. Peppermint Patty joined the fam this year as a joint ownership project between myself and a dear friend. She’s only three years old, but I’m convinced she is a child prodigy and a genius. This must be the way people feel about their human children. 

I love being a part of the journey of a talented young horse as they make their way in the world. I’m certain she will be no exception. 


If you’re Southern you may recognize that glass of wine comes from the prominent restaurant Bud & Alley’s in Seaside, Florida. I biked 16 miles roundtrip for that drink and a cup of seafood gumbo. 

I’ve been teetering on the precipice of a teensy little nervous breakdown for a while now. Given the choice of marinating in my own misery in damp, cold Birmingham, or at sunny Inlet Beach, Florida where my maternal grandmother lives, I obviously chose Florida. I think this text I sent my mother best illustrates my decision-making process: “Well it was either come down here and do this [go biking, drink a glass of Rosé] or walk into the middle of a six lane highway, so I figured everyone would like this option more.” 

The Reed Linam cocktail is a fabulous drink at the equally fabulous House of Found Objects, the successor to Birmingham’s iconic bar The Atomic. The cocktail is described as “elegant, boozy, and worldly.” I recently went on a first date where I asked my date to select which specialty drink best described me, and this is the one he chose. Having succeeded at my game, he did in fact get a second date. 

Level Appropriate Mistakes

When I worked as a horse trainer and riding instructor, we talked a lot about the concept of “level appropriate mistakes.” I want to attribute that phrase to either Amy Knowles or Guerry Force – I’m not sure from which of them I heard it first, but it became a staple in my mindset surrounding teaching. “Level appropriate mistakes” (LAM) is a useful concept to explain and categorize where a mistake falls within someone’s skillset. To use riding as an example: a beginner rider may make the mistake of picking up the incorrect canter lead before they’ve mastered the aids to ask their horse for the correct one; a student who has experience jumping courses shouldn’t have such errors if they’ve been given a good educational foundation. 

I’m sure this concept is applicable in other sports, but as I’m no good at anything else physical, I lack the context to provide a good example. But what I’ve been thinking about is whether this concept can be applied to life more broadly. 

I’ve been undergoing some pretty significant life changes recently which have forced more introspection than usual. Earlier this year, my 3.5 year relationship ended & I made the choice to move back to my hometown of Birmingham from Salt Lake City. I’ve found myself scheduling apartment tours from my parents’ house, surrounded by my worldly belongings which are crammed into every corner of my temporary living quarters. 

So here I am at 27, sitting in my parents’ house, and I’m wondering to myself if I’m making “level appropriate” life decisions, or if I am woefully behind, caught in a current while everyone else has their sails capturing the wind. Dear reader – it is not a good feeling! In a moment of supreme melodrama (which I am occasionally prone to when my pragmatism has been tested) I laid down on my parents’ kitchen floor and declared that I was being punished by the universe for my own poor decision making and thus deserved to suffer. I felt like a dog locked in God’s hot car, left to bake in a Walmart parking lot. My father obliged this outburst by pouring my glass of Prosecco in a bowl – if I was going to feel like a dog, then I could act like one. I feel comfortable sharing this anecdote because no one reads what I write anyway, but I understand if this sounds a little unhinged to you. Desperate times, desperate measures – something like that.

To summarize: As a fairly motivated person, I don’t do well with the feeling of regressing in life. Packing up, driving across the country, and returning to my parents’ house (albeit temporarily) certainly felt like regression. So back to the concept of level appropriate mistakes: sure, I can’t be the only 20-something in the world whose life is uprooted after a failed relationship. But when my friends are getting engaged, getting married, buying houses, and I’m drinking wine out of a bowl on the ground, it’s hard not to feel like something has gone painfully awry, and who could be to blame but myself for landing in this position? 

Societal pressure dictates/suggests a path towards what one could consider a reasonably accepted standard of adulthood. I’ve struggled to tread that path. I transferred colleges after two years to course-correct my career trajectory and gave being a professional equestrian a try. I rode horses for a living for several years before doing one “conventional” thing in my life: working a corporate marketing job. And then, naturally, I left that field to join a startup which better suits my relentless, workaholic disposition. So is imposing upon myself a comparison between where I feel I “should be” and where I am a useful yardstick, or is it reductive and harmful? Can I so easily categorize my life choices against the age I was at the time I made them? Perhaps there is a middle ground, wherein the concept can be applied without feeling like a punishment for my own haphazard journey towards being a fulfilled, self-actualized adult:  

I think LAM applied more broadly should stay within the realm of moral choices rather than material outcomes. For example, I think it’s a better measurement of my decision making if I’m handling a disagreement with a friend or family member in a more open, transparent fashion at 27 than I did at 24. I can hold myself to an increasing standard of behavior in my interpersonal relationships as I gain experience being alive: a useful way to categorize where a mistake might fall within my emotional skillset. 

So all this is a verbose way of saying that I can compare myself against my previous self’s handling of various situations and evaluate whether life experience has made me wiser, or if I continue to make the same old mistakes. And if I continue to make the same old mistakes, they’re no longer level appropriate, and I need to apply my lived experiences to make better choices. Ergo, if at 28 I’m back here in my parents’ house again, something has gone horribly wrong and my faculties for decision making need to be evaluated. But if I’ve made some new, exciting mistake, then I’ve leveled up. To quote Guerry Force, “we love new mistakes!” 

As 2022 draws to a close, here’s to new mistakes, to relinquishing the urge to compare myself to others on their own paths, and to getting the fuck out of my parents’ house. 

Once a Horse Girl…

This is going to be a hard pivot from talking about decentralized identity and enterprise authentication. That’s okay – I contain multitudes. 

Some of you know that for most of my adult life to this point, I worked as a horse trainer and riding instructor. What you may not know is how deep, how all-consuming that desire runs. Being a horse trainer was a childhood dream fulfilled. I chose to pursue that career path because I knew if I did not, it would be an unanswered question that lingered over the rest of my life. I felt I owed it to my younger self to have the chance to get what she wanted. So often in life we do not. 

My mom tells this story often when we’ve broached the subject of my “horse craziness”: I am at my first horse show away from our home barn; I am about 9 years old. We’re standing by the show arena watching other little girls trot around in circles on their ponies. Coming up the driveway to the farm is a woman driving a truck that’s hauling a horse trailer. I turn to my mother and say “I’m going to have to learn to do that someday.” I think I really believed that; I think I knew even then that I would grow up and find myself driving up the farm driveway one day, horses in tow. What I couldn’t have foreseen were the obstacles to get there. What I certainly couldn’t see was that one day, I’d give that up.  

When I chose to leave the horse industry, I was at peace with it. I wrote about it at the time: being resolute in my decision, even though the path ahead for me was murky. But there’s something about being a horse person – the passion you have for the animals and for the sport does not go dormant. You can take the girl out of the barn, but you can’t take the barn out of the girl. Or something like that.  

I spent a year and a half or so occupying my life with other things. A new career, a new state, skiing in the winter, tennis in the summer, painting when the mood struck me. But the longing to ride never subsided. It stayed in the periphery of my mind, something I tried to push out as I made space to explore other parts of myself. And as I gave myself the time and space to explore my other interests, I found that none of them compared to my longing to be at the barn. Therein lies the difference between an interest and a passion.  

There was one problem, though: I was pretty broke. I’d moved across the country, I’d started a new career as a relatively entry-level employee. So I waited out my time until USEF would give me my amateur status; I got promoted at work and then started a “nu” job. I worked quietly toward the end goal of having horses in my life once again, on different terms, which has slowly paid off. 

Here I am, returned to it, riding with the same people who got me started nearly 20 years ago: my Fox Lake Farm family.  I’ve been immensely fortunate to be half-leasing a horse, which is the perfect arrangement since I’m in Alabama about half the time. I’ve even been able to go show in the Adult Amateur Hunters & Equitation at the Tryon International Equestrian Center this summer – my first horse show in nearly 3 years, with plans for more later this year. I find myself still giddy at the prospect of horse showing the same way I was as a kid riding ponies. I’ve grown up; my responsibilities are greater, my steps a little wearier, but I’m still just happy to be going to the barn. 

I don’t know what’s next in store for me & my involvement with horses, but I know for certain that some level of involvement is necessary for me to feel fulfilled. My younger self wouldn’t fully understand this journey of falling in and out of riding so many times, but she should never doubt that I love horses just as much as she does.