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We are friends, we are neighbors, we are both

Author’s note: And so we arrive, the fifth and final part of a unified piece that ran over the span of several weeks, everything wrapped up in a tidy package to justify my writing this multi-part piece.

Did I promise everyone who stuck with me a free beer? Really? Well, catch up with me later and see if you really want to take me up on that offer. Because you’ll have to hear me out about all five parts and why I thought it was necessary to weave all these thoughts into a long and tedious whole. That might not be worth the free pint.

A little over two years ago, I started this column to write about music. My first column made the claim that the Velvet Underground’s “Banana Cover” (or “the Andy Warhol” cover or “VU’s debut album” — it goes by several names) was an essential part of any complete rock and roll collection (I continue to stand by that claim, sincerely hoping that at least a few readers took me seriously enough to purchase or download that album, gave it a listen and perhaps saw what I was trying to get at).

Since then, this space took on a different direction as music became an underlying theme but by no means the raison d’être for writing it. The justification — that “random shuffle” is the setting on an iPod that brings anything up — allowed me to stretch my legs, to use the reader as a surrogate friend with whom I could discuss practically anything that crosses my mind.

Sometimes that succeeds, many times it falls flat. However, there must be an audience for those discussions as, week in and week out, Karl asks me, “You got a column for me this week?”

Soon after I took a permanent position with the paper, I asked Karl about the possibility of writing a column. His response to me then was, “After you’re here a year, we’ll see.”

“Has it been a year, already? Time does fly,” Karl said after I reminded him of his previous promise. “Give me something and we’ll see,” he added, opening the door for my space here in PREVIEW.

It took well over a month before I finally decided what I’d write, another couple of weeks before I got around to writing it. With the draft of that first column on my work computer, I printed out copies and shopped my handiwork around to James Robinson and Chuck McGuire, both old hands as columnists. With their red ink as a guide, I finished a final draft (limited as I was back then to 1,200 words — a single page of PageMaker file) and dropped it in the server. Where it sat for several more weeks.

It would be another half year before Karl began asking me, “You got a column for me this week?”

During that period, I fought for column space, competing as I was with the other regular PREVIEW contributors as well as other feature pieces and event press releases. I won’t say that I didn’t resent getting bumped on a particular week; indeed, I’d grumble, unfairly criticize and otherwise whine that my awesome thoughts were taking a back seat to crocheted pet sweaters or one-armed accordion players.

A lot of water under the bridge since then and I’ve learned not to gripe and cavil regarding what goes in the paper. Despite my recent reporting on the local economy (that it appears to be turning around, at least temporarily), I’m not only fortunate to have a secure job, I’m blessed to draw a paycheck for doing something I love. I’ve learned that whatever gets printed here from week to week (with the odd week or so out) is read by someone — usually someone who stops me at the grocery store or the bar or at a soccer game and wants me to hear their two cents.

That two cents means the world to me. When I landed in Pagosa Springs the winter of 2007 (to face one of the snowiest seasons on record), I knew maybe two dozen people. Since taking this job at The SUN, not only have I learned a great many things, I have learned to stop and listen to the many people I now know and who have gotten toknow me through my writing.

I need to stop a moment and confess that I’m occasionally stopped by someone who recognizes me from the awful photo that accompanies the byline here. Under those circumstances, I am utterly perplexed as we have not been properly introduced and I’ll spend the next day wondering, “Who in the hell was that?” rather than considering the substance of the conversation. It’s an extremely uncomfortable experience for me.

Having thus stopped to explain my anxiety, returning full circle to where I began with this extended column (five parts, for Pete’s sake!) seems appropriate.

Because, first of all, I can’t remember the names of everyone I meet. Thrust into the limelight of this small town, I simply can’t remember all the names of the wonderful folks I encounter. It doesn’t help that I have a terrible memory of faces and names (a condition that has plagued me my entire life) and if you’re someone who has stopped me somewhere in town to say “Hi!” and I’ve apparently drawn a blank, don’t take it personally. It’s not that you don’t matter to me but rather that I probably met you under circumstances where I was required to meet a lot of people in a short amount of time and, well, this tiny mind of mine can only handle so much input.

Either that or I was preoccupied by something at the time (a thought or anxiety or some other brain bug). Whatever the case, if I seem to be searching your name out of the fog, please don’t assume that I’m dismissing you.

Among the many things I’ve learned since I took this job is that Pagosa Springs is a very small and welcoming community. Despite my faults and propensity for spouting off, people have been magnanimous in embracing what I write about music, my kids or what I see is the truth about the world around us.

And so, to stop and hear your two cents is not just an obligation but a pleasure, amoment of appreciation, an opportunity for me to hear what you took away from what I’ve written.

In those moments of appreciation (hearing that different or even opposing point of view), I’ve learned that most Pagosans are not easily pigeonholed or stereotyped. The strident conservative surprises me with a progressive notion that seems to come far out of left field. The knee-jerk liberal bowls me over with a stance that would make Rush Limbaugh look like Bill Moyers.

I remember sitting down for an interview with Rep. J. Paul Brown and having a delightful conversation on the joys of raising kids in a rural community; although residing on far opposite ends of the political spectrum, we spent most of our time talking about how parenting was, by far, the most rewarding job either of us had ever done.

Conversely, while sharing a car with (soon to be) Sen. Mark Udall up Reservoir Hill to the Four Corners Folk Festival, I was put off by his arrogance and seemingly tone deaf disregard for the crowd attending that day. He ended up not getting my vote (but neither did the odious Bob Shaffer).

It is easy enough to make undue assumptions about the people around us; it is not as easy to reject those assumptions after having heard those people out.

During the next few months, the residents of Archuleta County will be asked to consider two proposals that, if passed, will raise the taxes of property owners. One initiative hopes to provide new school building for district students. The other would raise money for road improvements. Neither is a particularly attractive alternative for property owners who feel they already pay too much in taxes.

What I’ve learned since I started working at the paper is that most Pagosa residents will take the vote in stride — they’ll vote what they believe is right, they’ll vote the truth that is spoken in their hearts and they’ll vote without regard to how their friends or neighbors feel.

Most importantly, they’ll vote without feeling the need to demonize those who think differently or unfairly criticize those who advocate for the opposite point of view. Another thing I’ve learned since working at the paper is that most Pagosans can agree to disagree but do so without feeling the need to make lifelong enemies. Because, at the end of the day, we are a small community — a kind, caring and polite community — and we are too small to carry on like the Hatfields and McCoys.

Unfortunately, as these issues are (as I write this) certain to be formalized with ballot language, I have witnessed a bilious reaction to these measures, filled with unfair ad hominem attacks, stooping to canard and innuendo.

I can draw on my training as a therapist and surmise that these voices of negativity are projecting their own self-loathing on those they perceive as the opposition. My knowledge of psychology suggests to me that, having little or no inclination to provide something positive for the community, they hope to drag down those who seek the positive so they can paint them with the same toxic hue with which they fear darkens their own, sad visage.

I have no way of knowing how we will vote as community but I do know that, after the results in early November, most of us will continue to operate as a community, providing succor where it is needed, expressing a simple greeting wherever we go, and acting with the kindness that is so characteristic of the majority of those of us who call Pagosa Country home.

After the votes are counted, I’ll be facing yet another deadline, reporting those numbers, writing about the results. No matter how I personally feel about that vote, the story that will be printed in that Thursday’s edition will not cast anyone as fools or charlatans, it will not hint at some dark conspiracy, it will not suggest that the results indicate that the county’s roads will soon lead to hell, paved with good intentions.

What you’ll read that Thursday will simply be the facts (as provided by the Clerk and Recorder’s office) and perhaps some local reaction, but little else.

You’ll get the facts sans editorializing, not just because that is the journalistic integrity of The SUN (although those principles are in place) but mostly because I feel no animosity towards those with whom I disagree. As I said, this is an awfully small town and I prefer to live here on as good terms as I can.

I might (and usually do) disagree with a large number of my neighbors but that is hardly reason to unfairly malign them or assign them beliefs and motives they certainly do not possess. Because, that’s not how I roll.

A common misconception I hear regarding this column is that I must think that you suck just because I wrote that I think your favorite band sucks.

Nothing could be further from the truth. Indeed, it is my good fortune that I have this space to say a band sucks — then to tell you, face-to-face, that it was all in good fun, that despite your atrocious taste in music (as I grin), you’re actually the cream in my morning coffee.

There is no place I’d rather be and nothing I’d rather do, here. If I can, on the front, provide you information without the taint of my own opinion, I feel as though I’ve provided a service in helping to keep you informed; if that information holds a local official accountable, so much the better.

And if I can provide you with some good-natured ribbing in my column, fantastic. We are friends, we are neighbors, we are both — no matter our beliefs — seeking what is positive in this small town and eschewing the negative.

Life is too short to convince ourselves we are always right and “they” are always wrong. Being convinced of being right is ignorance in the service of arrogance. And it sours the sweetness of life.

A sweetness that is much more intense, concentrated as it is by the good people of a small town.

jim@pagosasun.com

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