In The Unraveling

Thread that binds us

is impossibly strong;

we are more closely knit

than we can fathom

(even if we do try

to deny this often).

 

Seams sometimes split;

some places need

more mending and tender

care. In mending, time

has a strengthening way

of altering the original.

 

Sometimes in the unraveling

we find and follow

the thread that binds us;

it’s then we see how

strong we are and what

we have been together.

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Post-It Note

I’m in my 7th month working at a job I really enjoy: selling jewelry and stringing pearls for Olufson Designs, a jewelry store in downtown Corvallis. This gig began as a part time job working at their silver shop on Madison Avenue in the front retail shop of the TOBY POMEROY company (where the BEST jewelry is created by Brandon, Brandon, Hank, Toby and Les). Just before I started work, I was told that Les’ dog Tawny had recently died. “Oh,” said, “I’ll paint her portrait for you.”

In my efforts to tidy up at the shop, I found an old wooden platform that would make a perfect canvas for an Australian Shepherd named Tawny! For Les’ birthday I finished the painting. Overall I was happy with the results: I included a bird (Les, his wife and his 3 year old are avid bird watchers) and Les’ favorite strand of pearls from the Olufson’s Jewelry store). Most importantly, I was able to include the “snaggle tooth” that Les’ sister Elisa insisted be in there! It sounded like Tawny’s most recognizable feature. Les kept the painting in his work office where he at first said it made him feel sad, but now makes him smile.

Just yesterday, Les passed on one of the best stories I’ve heard in a long time; one that makes my heart melt to a warm liquid consistency.

As I was putting my son to bed, he had some Post-It notes and he asked, “Papa, what are these yellow papers for?” I told him they were made for people to write things on that they wanted to remember. His son replied, “I want to remember Tawny Pup.” So he drew a picture of a dog with a big tooth and we posted it to his bedroom wall.

Then Les told me the best news! He and his son were in the work office together when his son noticed the painting of Tawny.

“I miss my Tawny Pup,” he said as he reached over to touch the snaggle tooth.

He recognized his dog in my painting! It makes me ridiculously happy to know that what I painted can convince a three year old that it is his former dog, and maybe bring back some sweet memories of his beloved canine family member. Knowing that Tawny (as a visual image) won’t fade away in the early memory of this boy is what really matters to me. It’s what my work as an artist is about.

Baritone Ukulele

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It’s time for me to tell this story–about the broken baritone ukelele, Buddy the Australian Shepherd and the artisan acoustic instrument shop on 2nd Street in Corvallis.

Just about one year ago, when I was wandering the streets of Corvallis looking for dogs to befriend, short of funds and a job, I found myself on 2nd Street. Since I had never before entered Troubador Music I decided to go in that day. The small container garden out front, mixed with the mysterious and thrilling wood and rosin smells coming from inside as I opened the door, immediately welcomed me.

Imagine a working violin shop: beautiful, well-loved instruments hung above the front counter at about head-height, a large open space which doubled as a showroom and intimate venue for evening concerts, musical sounds in the form of ‘plucks’ and ‘thumps’ coming from a back work room. That is Troubadour Music.

Since I was considering selling my hard-earned Blue Lion Mountain Dulcimer (I’d been playing Mountain Dulcimer for more than 20 years) I decided to ask about their consignment policy. Selling it would pay my living expenses for one month.

I had a lovely talk with Kent (the owner) and the kind sales associate; both gracious and helpful.

Then I had a sweet interaction with Buddy, the elderly Australian Shepherd lying on the floor at our feet. When I stood though, a catastrophe occurred. The baritone ukulele hanging above the counter met my up-coming head and bounced to the cement floor. Many emotions bounced across Kent’s face. He told me it was beyond repair due to the broken inner body. I couldn’t stop from calculating how long it was going to take me to pay for this instrument, especially since I was already having trouble paying for just my rent. Of course I was crying.

“Wait,” Kent said thoughtfully, “you were giving love to my dog when this happened. I don’t want you worry about this. In the bigger scheme of things, love is more important than money or this instrument.”We went on to talk for nearly an hour about potential jobs, including teaching English at the nearest Community College (where Kent sometimes teaches poetry).

I left that day exhausted by the event. I spent much of the following year thinking about this baritone ukulele but my energy was spent looking and trying work that suited me. I didn’t come any closer to paying for that instrument and it weighed heavily on me. My dulcimer hadn’t ended up selling, so I kept it at home with me and played it occasionally but found little joy in it since my chronic pain interfered with the playing.

My walks still took me past Troubadour Music and I frequently saw Kent and Buddy enjoying breaks outside together. Each time I’d cringe inside and remember the feeling of that ukelele hitting the concrete floor. Two weeks ago I formulated a plan: I’d leave my dulcimer as a gift for Kent. He’d be able to sell it eventually or use it himself. I set aside the perfect time and dropped it off. Tears came a little as I reminded the sales associate about that earlier baritone ukelele falling day. She told me that Kent wasn’t there, but that maybe I should reconsider. I didn’t need to pay for the broken instrument. But I was insistent and I left my name and phone number and a note explaining the gift.

Later the same day, Kent called to thank me. He invited my dog Pearl and I to visit he and Buddy at the shop any time. We have since met on the sidewalk near Toubadour Music and Pearl and Buddy instantly appreciated each other. Kent reached in his pocket, found two small treats, one for Buddy and one for Pearl. Before giving them to each dog, he kissed the treats (a trick known to increase the value of the food).

Now my walks down 2nd Street are more pleasant again. When I think of that baritone ukulele hitting the cement, I don’t feel like crying anymore.

Home: Continuing the Walk, 2

Once we pass the US Post Office, Pearl’s feet usually pick up the pace because, 1.) she thinks we must be going to the city dog park and/or 2.) we are getting close to Robnett’s Hardware store, and everyone knows that’s where you go to get home made dog treats! Robnett’s img_0790is another city landmark and the building shows its long history. Inside, the best feature is the ceiling height rolling ladder, to reach all the important items stored on the top shelf. The well-worn wood shines with smoothness and the metal casters roll easily across the vintage wood floor.

But before Robnett’s and before the city dog park is Bob’s Mirror and Glass, where Bob recently installed my car’s new windshield. It’s also where Cami the blue heeler used to live and work with her family. I was lucky enough to meet her and become her friend during my “lots of time/not enough work” ramblings around 2nd Street. She was tough customer (her owner told me right away that she didn’t always make friends easily), but we became fast friends and eventually, my dog Pearl even got along well with her. Cami is one of the working dogs I painted last year and her portrait now hangs on the wall of the business. A couple of months ago, Cami’s young owner learned she hIMG_7288ad late stage cancer and only had a little bit of time left with him, so he’s extra grateful for the portrait. Just yesterday I stopped in to see how Cami was doing. I took Pearl with me in case there was bad news and the owner needed some dog-comfort. Immediately Bob motioned to me to look behind the counter: a very small blue heeler puppy greeted me! “Her name is Mya,” he told me. There is something very special about a blue heeler pup. Pearl recognized it right away and was tender and kind. Mya kept her distance, but was clearly interested in making friends. “Pearl is the first dog Mya has met outside of her immediate family,” the owner told me. I left feeling hopeful about Mya, Pearl, and the world in general. Life has a way of keeping on.

 

Working Dogs of Downtown

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“Redda” from Sibling Revelry

During the past two years, as I pined for the past dogs in my life, I gave myself the project of attempting to paint the dogs I had been visiting along 2nd Street (which has since become my neighborhood). I began with Redda, the dog who had participated in my interview at the clothing boutique Sibling Revelry. She is a  sweet girl who had been showing me love when I thought no one else could. She lets me hold her on my lap and has participated in my small art show at the boutique. She is easy to love.

Next was Indy, who I met as I walked near my apartment on a particularly busy downtown October day. I remember seeing children,

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“Indy” from The Shoe Hutch

dressed up in Halloween attire, trick-or-treating at various businesses when I happened to turn my head toward The Shoe Hutch door. This little puppy face was peeping out to see the kids while James, his human, handed out candy.  I immediately put on my ‘brakes’, turned toward the door of the store (nearly trampling the unfortunate holiday revelers) and bristled my way inside to give Indy love. Seeing him made me so happy! He still gets excited to see me, though it’s a little more complicated nowadays.

Cammie from Bob’s Mirror and Glass was not so eager to make friends, which I took as a challenge. My daily walks took me to the south end of 2nd Street often and once, as I turned east toward the river, I saw her in the store front window. Again I put on my brakes, turned and entered the store (the fact that I have no immediate business to give any particular store never deters me, evidently). Cammie didn’t budge from her curled-up position in the middle of the floor. I asked whether it would be alright if I gave her some love and the young man at the desk said, “She doesn’t warm up to everyone.” My previous dogs had been heelers, so I felt the need to make friends with Cammie intensely. After some cautious sniffs, she decided I would be okay and now lets me scratch her belly without hesitation. It helps that I carry treats.

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“Cammie” from Bob’s Mirror and Glass

 

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“Merlin” from Zooey’s

By now, I was on the hunt for other dogs who work at downtown locations. I was between jobs and needed a project to keep my focused and productive. I also needed this project to fend off impending depression that comes with lack of work and the lack of confidence that comes with that. Someone told me about Merlin who worked at Zooey’s. I made an appointment to photograph Merlin and his human helped pick the pose, saying it was kind of “iconic” for him to sit there on the velvet couch. Merlin let me pet him just a little, but seemed kind of nervous about it all. I took the photos and left, thanking them for the opportunity, of course.

Since The Shoe Hutch is the place I frequented most, and since Indy had by now become one of my favorite animals in the entire world, I also became easy friends with Huckleberry and Bella (dogs who also work at the shoe store). Many days I’d have nothing more on my schedule other than to take treats to Bella, Huck and Indy. The humans that work at The Shoe Hutch made me feel welcome, even though I rarely purchased anything. I can easily admit that I felt so guilty about being such a pest that I bought one pair of shoes and several pairs of socks that I didn’t truly need over the course of the year.

 

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“Huckleberry” of The Shoe Hutch

 

Up to this point in my self-guided project, I felt I was definitely practicing the art of painting dogs, but it wasn’t until I saw all the paintings in order that I realized practice really does pay off. My technique was improving and I gained some confidence. It’s extremely hard for me to face a blank page/canvas and I have procrastination down to a science when it comes to beginning a painting. All kinds of negative talk passes through my mind until I’ve convinced myself that I’m wasting time.

I decided to attempt painting the dog of my heart, the Blue Heeler that stayed at the farm when I divorced. Ruger and I tried visits for the first year, but logistics made them difficult and both our hearts hurt a lot. I had taken a photo of him at my Corvallis apartment and wanted to try to capture that look of love in a painting. I was scared. It was painful. But I really did find him in my painting. My sister’s comment was: Jaqui’s paintings are getting more and more realistic. My heart was in all of the initial paintings, but my soul was in this one. I still miss Ruger and he still has part of my heart.

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At this point in the Working Dog Project, things get a little sketchy; there were roadblocks. I began really searching for all the dogs that work downtown. I found there were more than I could fathom! The project became a socialization practice for me–a chance to force myself outside when all I wanted to do was sleep, or go teach overseas in Indonesia (which I came a hairs-breadth away from doing). I arranged for meetings and took photos of more and more dogs: Peak Sports, Corvallis Home Brew Shop, The Frame Shop, Troubador Music. These dogs’ pictures are waiting for me to paint them.

But it doesn’t stop there! One incredible aspect of this Working Dogs of Downtown project has been very personal. One of the roadblocks of staying right here in Corvallis has been living in an apartment, and the thought that I could not have a dog of my own. Once I crossed the hurdle of that limiting thought, so much changed for me. And it happened all at once: 1. A new co-worker shared information about her companion dog, 2. I happened to look at Heartland Humane Society’s website and found “Moonstone”, a terrier mix that looked a lot like a puppy I had met and loved three months earlier, 3. I talked with my landlord about the possibility of having her as a companion animal, 4. “Moonstone”/”Pearl” came home to live with me!

Pearl currently works with me at Irenes’ Boutique and I am so grateful to Rebecca Robinson for making this arrangement work. Because I live and work downtown Corvallis, Pearl has become a recognizable presence. When I first brought Pearl home, she surprised me in so many ways (positive ways), but my veterinarian cautioned me that I’d need to work on several problems with her, especially since it was just her and I. She needed some interventions in the way of confidence and socialization. Of course I took this as a challenge and wore it every day as my “job”. We went to the dog park downtown, I walked her all around the riverfront, took her to the outdoor restaurants, asked every dog/human I could find to give her treats. She was always with me for the first few months–I didn’t go places to which I couldn’t bring her. I was exhausted!

Pearl is a lightning fast learner and met our challenge like a champ most days. I took her to visit my former neighbor Jo (96 years old). There was mutual love immediately and I was impressed with Pearl’s ability to discriminate play time from serious time.

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Jo, with son John, and Pearl

Pearl also has her favorite stops along our daily walks, including the shop across the street run by Reed and Colin. It’s her favorite because feeding her tortilla chips has become a tradition. She loves these guys a lot. It’s pretty obvious they kind of like her too.

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Reed, Colin and Pearl

Pearl and I have become inseparable, and I am lucky we found each other. The unconditional love of a dog is the closest thing I’ve felt to the love of God. Ever. And Pearl is exceptional. What I love about her is her ability to bond with other people too. She adores the newest member of her pack. They also have a close bond, which makes me happy to see. I love seeing her love in action.

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This post is the encapsulation of my past two years. What I’d like for the next two years is to paint more and more dogs. I have finished my first commissioned dog portrait–‘Atticus’ who lives with my dear teaching friend Alicea. It was scary to do and to be paid for, but I loved doing it and I hope to do a lot more commissioned portraits!

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“Atticus”