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The Jefferson Journal is JPR's members' magazine featuring articles, columns, and reviews about living in Southern Oregon and Northern California, as well as articles from NPR. The magazine also includes program listings for JPR's network of stations.

Piecing It Together

As 2011 accelerated toward closing I looked back over the year and felt ragged. Like a picket fence in need of repair and new paint — rustic and unpolished. True, there were accomplishments. I had completed the coursework for my doctorate and via an intense diet was on my way back to fighting weight. But the constancy of doubt, instability and the world’s woes loomed large. It seemed that for every good and decent thing, there was more difficulty. Some would say that is balance, but, it seemed more an act of erosion, a crumbly mess of pieces that hadn’t yet found their place in the bigger puzzle.

Any moment of every day provides transition - the space in between, or just before, or just after. A question mark of what is to be. It’s true that some transitions are bigger than others, and sometimes, there are no spaces. But transformation is another thing — it’s about big change, paradigm shifts and new perspectives. It’s justifiably messy. And, perhaps, it’s about going back to the creature comforts, like shelter, love and companionship that can easily be disregarded in our world of split-second communications. Can holding a device of instant connection be the same as holding a hand?

I was struggling financially, emotionally, physically, figuratively, literally, metaphorically, creatively. I ‘needed’ something else I told myself. Something new I originally thought, but upon reflection, that wasn’t it. It wasn’t even necessarily a ‘need.’ In my search and work for the holy grail of academia I had forgotten, and was now casting about for the small, simply pleasurable passions in my life. Those things you can invoke every day. The touch of a dog’s soft, velvety ear, a cat’s purr and paw upon your lap, laughter, a room with a view, a walk in the park, English toffee, the perfect head on a Guinness, a favorite pub, that particular rock by the stream, the hat in which you feel incomparable.

Without a doubt, my doctoral work is one of them and it encompasses many of the smaller passions, but the Big Easy of simple pleasures is the nourishment that feeds a happy soul. So, I had to remember what I loved and also be open to something new to love. Trapped in my self-created world of expectations I needed to open the gate.

Mark Twain wrote, “Ideally a book would have no order to it, and a reader would have to discover his own.” He did this with his characters — look at Tom Sawyer and his clever fence painting. Picket fences generally portray a world of order and boundary. But the term also “describes text without spaces between words often lacking punctuation.” And that’s Tom’s (and all the boys who painted it) picket fence. Painting that fence wasn’t simply a clever act but a directive of camaraderie. And it possessed a touch of trickery and sport maneuvering. In other words, his amusement was boyplay, not unlike the competitiveness of physical sports or the companionship that is a part of it. Tom created a way to make special something he considered a tedious act- the boys took up the brush and painted till there was no more paint. It was win-win and homespun resourcefulness that made the simple an unexpected pleasure, and a surprising act of sharing team spirit. Looking at something with a whole new perspective can inspire us to look for, or create new spaces, or leave out the proper punctuation and let it all come together as it will.

And that is how I began my doting of a miniature dachshund (aka a wiener dog) named Copper.

After the passing of a beloved dog a couple of years ago I said ‘no more.’ Sitting on the bed with him burrowed under the covers and nestled about my feet I am grateful for his sweet companionship. He’s shown himself to be a comedian, quick and brave, patient (he gets a precocious look in his eyes) and charming. My mini-copper takes me out of myself and illustrates that wonderful things do come in small packages. A gift of pure presence, just one touch of those velvety ears and the wise words of Guillaume Apollinaire ring true, “Now and then it’s good to pause in our pursuit of happiness and just be happy.”

Recently, during the Oregon vs. Stanford football game I was lucky to find a seat in a local sports bar. I am not an avid sports fan but I can enjoy a good game. However, this time I may have paid more attention to a table of about eight guys who kept receiving trays filled with shot glasses. They’d have a toast to Oregon and then down the hatch. That day I learned about (and tried one, well, honestly, three)...Duck Farts. Aaahhhhh...a drink made with Irish Cream liqueur,

Kahlua and whiskey. Oh boy, they look funny but they sure are good. I know those guys had one for every touchdown and numerous good plays in between. But I must chuckle when I remember watching how wide their eyes got when the bill came. These little shots were six bucks a piece and they shared several trays of them. The owner finally came over and helped them. An enlightened Mark Twain wrote, “When we remember that we are all mad, the mysteries disappear and life stands explained.” Duck farts — letting go, letting be, letting come, delight, and solidarity of a shared pleasure.

As for my feeling like a weathered picket fence...it’s not so bad. I’ve weathered a love of life. In transition and transformation we cast away elements, thoughts, opinions, perhaps literally as skin sheds, or as paint peels. Distressed is the word to describe furnishings in this condition. Today, distressed is a trend, a way of life for anyone with a heart that keeps up with world events. Unless we choose to hermitize and live in a cave I feel this is just the way it is, and will remain. No romanticizing of the old picket fence era or wishing things were like they used to be, they’re simply not ever going to be. Other than fashion styles little has really changed with humanity since Twain’s time anyway. But as he wisely noted, “Apparently there is nothing that cannot happen today.” 

So, text to your heart’s content and hold a hand whenever you can. Beware the puzzle pieces may create their own paisley. Balance is highly glorified.

And enjoy the duck farts.