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April, 2012

Funny Things Are Everywhere

by Valerie

I have a suspicion that a major focus of my entire life was solidified back when I first read One Fish, Two Fish, Red Fish, Blue Fish, by Dr. Seuss. At the time, it was simply a book with intriguing drawings of odd animals and a text easy enough for me to read by myself. I read a lot of different books in first and second grade, but those that had to do with animals were my favorites. I know that I read "Dick and Jane" books in school, but can't recall a thing about them (except that they had a dog named Spot) and have never had a desire to see them again.

The curious thing about One Fish, Two Fish is that it has no plot and is not really a story with a beginning, middle and end. I never noticed that there was no directed narrative when I was a kid. It was simply a parade of interesting little 2-page vignettes. Sort of like reading short stories. REALLY short stories. I never outgrew my preference for short stories over novels, and I suspect it started with this book.

Another realization that came to me much later (like, decades after I first read the book) is that it resembles a dream. It is sort of free associative, but many of the episodes do not really even have any connection to each other. However, they seem to progress in a logical sequence, at least to a very young child intent on just reading the words and looking at the peculiar pictures. It reminds me of how our brains turn disparate ideas and thoughts into seemingly cohesive tales in our dreams. There are slight differences in mood, such as night vs. day, or active vs. passive, but the general gist of the entire book is just the flow of creatures, events, and ideas. If one wanted to get "deep," it is the analogy of a river to life.

One Fish, Two Fish has a theme, if not a plot, and that is summed up several times throughout the book. I was never consciously aware of it until I reread the book as an adult. The theme is simply that the world is full of engaging things and one need only notice and experience them, day to day, to enjoy life. There is a sort of Zen minimalism to this idea and it is certainly appealing.

Ever since I learned about the Myers-Briggs personality types, I realized that the reason I like to do certain things is because they fit my character traits. I am an observer and like to watch, discover, and learn about the world by looking and piecing together what I see around me. Studying my surroundings comes very naturally, and I've been taken with taxonomy ever since I was about 8 years old. Looking, finding, and subsequently organizing my observations is a passion. Whether I am fossil hunting, leading insect safaris, or just walking around in a field, I can't help but notice all the creatures and plants and rocks and fungi, often thinking their names as if they are friends.

I have persisted in my chosen vocation (classically trained musician) mainly because of my observational skills. Playing in orchestras requires attention to many different sounds and visual cues, and the better I can be at reading these, the easier it is to do my job in the ensemble. I think my love of the visual arts is also tied into this information-gathering style. I can't seem to get enough of the endless variety produced by centuries of artists.

But the things that really enthrall me are in the natural environment. I certainly gravitate towards like-minded people in this respect. I have a long-time pen pal, Froggy, who told me of how a friend and he came up with the idea of an "Oink Club." As Froggy and I got to know each other through our letters about 10 years ago, he told me of the club and said that now it had three members: Froggy, Max (his friend), and Val. At the time, Frisky was our dog and she was made an honorary Oinker. The idea behind the club was that it was definitely a good thing to go out into nature and poke around, looking for interesting things and just absorbing what there is in the world around us. As Froggy put it, the Oink Club was "created for the soul purpose of finding items of interest." Yes, that spelling is correct, as this activity is considered to be healthy for one's innermost self, and even silly puns are also good things. The Oink Club motto is: Discover it now before it gets any older!

I have not yet gotten to the incident that sparked this little ramble. A couple of weeks ago, my husband, Larry, was sitting at the computer and said that some turkeys had just walked past our house. We live in a suburban development and turkeys do not often wander into this neighborhood. I went out to have a look. It was even stranger than he thought - there was a trio of, not turkeys, but peacocks, calmly strolling down the sidewalk.

As the birds wandered into our neighbor's yard, her two cats' reactions were hilarious to watch. They obviously were not used to seeing such big birds and, after exchanging furtive glances, slunk off to the backyard as unobtrusively as possible. The peacocks ignored them.

For some reason, this incident reminded me of a line in One Fish, Two Fish, Red Fish, Blue Fish: "What a lot of funny things go by."

At that point, I realized how much I appreciate the little opening verse in the book:

"From there to here,
from here to there,
funny things
are everywhere."

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