Joe Jencks


40 Years and a Train

40 Years and a Train
Dear Friends…

Happy New Year… Wait… You’re thinking, “Wow is he behind the times!”

But in truth for me, it is a new year. My birthday was February 1st. And it was splendid. I was home with my beloved, and a couple days later got to go to a nearby town and celebrate with several of my siblings and their families. I feel very blessed. It was a good year 39. And 40 is off to a decent start.

40 is a good and powerful number. Forty. It is satisfying as a numeral or as a word. I recall a time when I would have considered it OLD. Like when I started touring when I was 28, I would have thought 40 was kind of getting up there. 40 was other people. 40 was older siblings. 40 was mentors and more established colleagues. 40 was wisdom and knowledge. 40 was when I would sort-of have my life together. I might own a house, be free of debt. I might be wildly successful, or have failed miserably and moved on to a second career in which I would be in the process of becoming wildly successful. I might have a house on a mountain and grow my own food, raise farm animals, engage in light agriculture, make a lot of pickles and jam. I might be touring all over the world, or have settled down a bit with a family.

Forty was full of unknown possibility and mystery.

Now… Forty is here.

In my family, all the siblings engaged in what we called “Project 40.” When each sibling turned 40, we all sent them 40 some-things. I watched this tradition unfold for each sister and brother, and wondered with both anticipation and only a little anxiety what would happen when I turned 40? Well, all of my sibs went for tasteful gifts. And I got lots of good healthy road snacks, model railroad stuff (Yes, I am outing my lefty-self as a model railroad dude. HO if it matters to anyone.), and music themed stuff. All of it is VERY useful, and helpful. GRACIAS!!!

And I have been asking myself what next?

I made it. Some of my dearest friends, colleagues, and a few extended family members did not make 40. I miss them. And I wonder what they would be doing now, and what we might have to talk about. 40, arrives with joy and just a little bit of sobriety. 40, carries with it a sense of responsibility to be a little smarter about how I spend my time and energy and resources. When I was 22, retirement seemed like three lifetimes away. Now, it is not much more than half-a-lifetime away.

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I am working on getting rid of stuff. Giving things to Salvation Army and/or thrift stores that can get those items back into circulation. I did a RADICAL reorganization of my office. It involved 6, 4x8 sheets of OSB and 24, 2x4s. To say I cleaned my office does not even come close. Over the span of three weeks, I moved everything out, built shelves and cubbies, and then I only moved stuff back in that had a purpose and a place. Everything else is being given away or put in storage. And all of that cathartic getting-rid-of has made space for me to begin making-good on a promise I made to myself when I was a boy. I am going to build a fun little HO scale Railroad. 30+ years of dream deferment is enough. It is time to knock that one off the bucket list. It will be a long-term project. But it is fun, and brings a sort of levity to the biz and to my creative process as a writer.

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But in truth the biggest impact of turning 40, is the awareness that there are things I want to do in my life with music, activism, community, and family that are long-term projects: writing books, traveling to India, developing resources and doing organizing to support the people and organizations and causes that mean the most to me. I want to be healthier and more physically fit. Feb 28th will mark 1 year tobacco-free. That is a GREAT start (Thanks for all the supportive notes!). But there is so much more to do, and it requires discipline, and a willingness to engage a little bit every day/week in work toward those long-term goals. It takes a willingness to build things and organizations I might not live to see the results of.

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As Utah Phillips wrote so eloquently, “Working on a ship that I may never sail on, Ship’s gonna sail, gonna sail some day!”

Odd as it may sound, the railroad is a symbol. It is a commitment to engage in the discipline required to see a vision through. And it is also fun. Projects and goals can be both. And as I begin my 41st year, I think more than ever I realize that there is joy in these long-term-may-never-see-the-end-of-it sorts of projects. There is joy in taking on projects bigger than we can accomplish all alone. It requires us to learn how to ask for help, and how to work in partnership with other people to accomplish achieve more complex creations. (Like my band “Brother Sun.” You can’t really sing three-part harmony with yourself!) There is happiness and satisfaction in giving what we can give to a thing, whether we will ever see it “done” or not.

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So I am starting small. HO scale is fairly forgiving. Mistakes are not very costly, and can (usually) be easily be remedied. And then I will expand outward. I will begin working on my Spanish in earnest this year. I will loose weight, and exercise more. I will set no specific goals other than to say that I will move all of those projects forward. I will begin saving for retirement, and for a trip to India, where I will walk in the footsteps of Gandhi. And I will build bridges, and play with trains and write songs and spend loads of time with the many, many people I LOVE.

If you would like to share reflections from either side of 40, I would love to read them, and with your permission of course, grab some of my favorite thoughts, quotes, and ideas from your experiences to post them next month on the web-site.

Thanks for being a part of my journey, and allowing me to be a part of yours.

In Gratitude and Song



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