Being problem-solving animals, we have this unfortunate tendency to look for problems
By John Darling
Clouds dapple and dampen the hills again and I note each day the deepening saffrons and scarlets of that big sugar maple by the market. There’s a lottery ticket on my dashboard and they’ve already announced the number and maybe I’m already worth $3.5 million but I don’t care if I am. I’m thinking about going to Lorn’s shop and picking out a nice bottle of red for tonight.
The kids chirp — what’ll we buy if we win? Let’s get a hot tub and a horse and a new VW Bug and go to France. I say hot tubs are a lot of work and so are horses and I’ve been there and to France too and I like this old car. I want to clue them to other uses for money. I tell them I would set up an endowment to buy and preserve beautiful land, to provide respite care so spouses of disabled people can go to the movies and to provide scholarships for young Oregonians who promise to get an old-fashioned liberal education, including philosophy, Greek and Latin.
I pronounce: I don’t live this way because I’m poor; I live this way because I like to live this way. And they say I’m no fun and I laugh. We all laugh.
I don’t want to go to France. I want to be here. I want to drive through the leafy streets of Ashland, where I’ve gotten used to the slow pace of traffic. I want to be driving the kids to soccer practice and the gymnastics meet, where I sit near my ex and when the kids do well, we exchange those parent glances, shaking our heads from side-to-side: Aren’t they doing well and aren’t they unbelievably cute?
I love talking to the other mothers at meets. We’ve been through so much and can speak plainly about the travails — and the happiness it’s brought the kids. They were just toddlers when they started all this. Now they’re budding out and still pretending they don’t notice boys. They run at that vault with a look of savagery that would stop a buffalo. They touch and hug each other after each victory or stumble. They sit on the floor in their little group in their sparkly deep-blue leotards between events. Their gymnastics is a fierce girl-warrior society in which they harbor the last autumn days of girlhood together before that first kiss that will start changing everything.
As the days count down to the deadline, I want to make Nicki happy and write a relevant essay. She’s the best editor I’ve ever had. She always signs her emails “love” and always thanks me for my work. Most editors have no idea of the vulnerability of writers and how much it hurts when they put a lot into a piece and get rejections, which, for freelancers, is most of the time. She liked the last one, about what’s happening to our town and thanked me for putting up with the abusive phone call and the email that directed me to a website that gave me the finger. “The wages of truth-telling,” she said.
So, by way of relevant essays, I’m thinking of thanks, as in Thanksgiving. I recall a wise and gentle medicine man in this town who taught me to journey with the animals and find answers and healing. He’s a well-known professional man and didn’t want townsfolk to know he’s a shaman, too, as his professional role would suffer. During a hard passage once, I asked him to do a soul retrieval ceremony for me. A big part of my soul had grown sad and left me. He found it, played with it, persuaded it that I really wanted it to come back and help me start having fun again. And I did. It wasn’t easy, but I started having fun again.
This man taught me of the Huna of Hawaii, who, when they do their rituals, spend an entire day giving thanks. They thank not only the gods, but all the animals, the trees, sky, clouds, rain, sunsets, their bodies, the bugs, the ancestors, night, fire, sex, food. Everything. I tried it. It’s a very consciousness-altering discipline. Very soon I realized, like that bumper sticker says, it’s all bliss. There’s so much here. We’re all gifted. But being problem-solving animals, we have this unfortunate tendency to look for problems. Eventually, we solve them all or nature solves them for us. And in the meanwhile, 99 percent of the work we put into solving them was in replaying the thought of them, also known as worry. And so …
Thank you worry, thank you problems, thank you Huna, thank you my medicine man-friend, thank you soul come back to me, thank you Ashland, thank you leaves, thank you Nicki, thank you lottery ticket, thank you France, thank you my children, thank you mom and dad, thank you bugs, thank you autumn, thank you mother of my kids, thank you fellow parents, thank you my old car, thank you laughter, thank you Ashland growth, thank you red wine, thank you gymnastics, thank you bliss.
John Darling lived in Ashland from 1971 until he died at age 77 in January 2021. A US Marine Corps journalist, he went on to write for the Oregonian, Mail Tribune, Daily Tidings, and United Press International, among others, along with stints as a news anchor at KOBI, executive assistant to the Oregon Senate President and press secretary of campaigns for Oregon governor and U.S. Senate. Ashland.news is, with permission, publishing monthly excerpts from his collection “The Divine Addiction: Essays Out of Oregon.”