Thursday, September 10, 2020

Pied Beauty

I began living with Bear and Buster fulltime a year ago, when my ex moved back to the Midwest and I moved in with the kids and dogs to began Peak Parenting. The dogs had just received their summer haircuts. I began growing my autumnal beard after Labor Day. All fall and winter, we watched each other turn into our furball selves. In the spring when I shaved off the beard, the dogs kept on getting fuzzier – dog grooming didn’t make the governor’s list of “essential” services during a pandemic. 

When Bear reached peak shaggy, I couldn’t decide which one-word hair icon he most resembled: Barbra? Farrah? Rachel? Or a Mad Max: Beyond Thunderdome Tina?

After Washington entered pandemic “Phase 2,” we finally scheduled haircuts. By then the dogs’ hair had become a hopeless tangle of knots and mats. The groomer had no alternative to completely shaving them.

Each aussiedoodle lost 80% of his volume. At least Buster retained his coloring – hairy or shaved, Buster is a black dog with white trim.

When I picked up Bear from the groomer I didn’t recognize him. He was all brown and white blotches. My son said he looks like a rat. A friend said Bear was more like a hyena. Or a weasel.

I tried to convince myself Bear was going for a “masked superhero sidekick” look.

Normally Bear’s fur looks like an expensive salon hairdo, with elegantly layered shades of brown and white. After his buzz cut, the naked blotches made me self-conscious on Bear’s behalf. He didn’t mind, of course, and probably enjoyed a cool break during the dog days of summer.

Fortunately, after a few weeks Bear’s fur began growing back in attractive white and brown. While walking on the Boardwalk last week I was relieved to overhear a young Latina girl admiring his “dos colores.” 

Priming is a powerful mental process where exposure to one stimulus automatically effects our response to a subsequent stimulus. Your thinking will go in different directions depending on which modules of your brain have already been primed. For example, psychologists know that if you respond to survey questions about your political affiliation while the smell of garbage is wafting by, you will give more conservative answers. (As we learned from the Pixar movie Inside Out, thats your braindisgust module at work.)

I thought of priming last week shortly after I encountered Bear’s young Latina admirer. Fifty feet further along the Boardwalk, I overheard another little girl excitedly tell her mother “Look, the dog’s eyes are two different colors!”

I was so embarrassed by Bear’s blotchy fur that I’d forgotten about his more obvious dos colores feature.

I recently read in the college alumni magazine that my first English professor had died. When I arrived at BYU, Karen Lynn Davidson was the director of the Honors Program. She was a thoughtful feminist role model in a painfully patriarchal community, and an excellent teacher. I still rely on the principles she taught in Introduction to Literary Criticism, and I still remember the literature she introduced us to. 

For example, I first encountered the Victorian poet Gerard Manley Hopkins in her class. Professor Lynn told us that Hopkins was an earnest Englishman who converted to Catholicism while at Oxford and became a Jesuit priest and scholar. Hopkins never published any of his poetry during his lifetime. Fortunately, a college classmate who became Poet Laureate championed Hopkins’ work thirty years later. (At BYU in 1982, the professor would not have mentioned that Hopkins probably was gay.)

My favorite Hopkins poem is still the one we read in our Intro to Literary Criticism class: “Pied Beauty.” Four decades later, I believe more than ever in redemption songs, prodigal homecomings, and the beauty of imperfection.

Glory be to God for dappled things – 
   For skies of couple-colour as a brinded cow; 
      For rose-moles all in stipple upon trout that swim; 
Fresh-firecoal chestnut-falls; finches’ wings; 
   Landscape plotted and pieced – fold, fallow, and plough; 
      And all trades, their gear and tackle and trim. 

All things counter, original, spare, strange; 
   Whatever is fickle, freckled (who knows how?) 
      With swift, slow; sweet, sour; adazzle, dim; 
He fathers-forth whose beauty is past change: 
                                Praise him.

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