“I think he makes movies so he doesn’t think about dying.” –Robert Weide, on Woody Allen
Over the past five years, I’ve on at least three distinct occasions come to be grateful literally beyond words for a style of music I appreciate even though (and very possibly because) I can’t understand the lyrics. Recently I added Desi-electronica to this – this is a genre largely comprised of eminently danceable and somehow spiritual house beats looped and mingling under languages ranging from Hebrew and Arabic to Hindi and Urdo (check out Eccodek’s “Behind The Mask” or just the whole “Suburbs of Goa” channel at soma.fm)
I’m listening to some unintelligible and inspiring chant from the north of the Subcontinent now. Heck, the vocal sample could be deep Rumi-esque poetry, but if it’s like Dance Hall Reggae, Raga, Salsa, and my favorite Latina hip hop artist (talkin’ to you, Mala Rodriguez), I find I’m the bigger fan when focusing on music, not words. The beat. The groove. That’s where I lose time.
Which is the goal. I forget death through dancing and (one of the few things I feel pretty safe declaring in a relative Cosmos) won’t stop dancing till I die. I’ve generally got an internal (but sometimes full blown dance party of a) groove going in line at the DMV. What the Allman brothers rhythm section members refer to as a shuffle. I think of it as the circulatory system of the cosmos.
Which, I now realize, is why I’ve never been able to dismiss it as cynical crossover pablum when Faith Hill chants, “I hope you DAAAAAANCE.” (That is to say I usually don’t change the station for at least a minute.) Because in the end, I deeply believe that Mrs. McGraw is issuing forth very solidly the right message. The song is a positive educational broadcast, as far as I’m concerned, and as my kids remind me every morning before 7 a.m. And it came to the zeitgeist through the McNetwork. Care of the Music Industrial Complex. It’s almost as though we, (those of us still in possession of an independent spirit) have somehow installed a lyricist spy in Nashville or something. Like the Simpsons airing on The Network That Shall Not Be Named.
I recently finished fifteen months of hard but fun work on a book. Since the preliminaries have largely been completed (discussions about the edits, cover design decisions, and color insert captions are down to one or two panicky emails from Manhattan per day), I’m in the phase now of wishing it were August 2 already, so I could at least stop waiting for TOO HIGH TO FAIL to hit shelves and e-readers. But it’s not yet August 2, so my mind wanders.
Accordingly, the above lesson about mainstream zeitgeist sometimes being (from my perspective) spot-on has this morning filtered into my grateful astonishment about the nearly blanket support for the thesis of TOO HIGH TO FAIL (namely that America will be stronger, safer, healthier, smarter, wealthier and cleaner if the War on Drugs ends immediately). The encouragement is coming from all ends of the political spectrum: I feel like a second place marathon running getting water and back pats as he closes in for the lead. Even Pat Robertson chimed in against the Drug War last month and Reagan’s Secretary of State George Shultz is considering writing a cover blurb for me.
From the world at large, I appreciate the rah-rahs but am not shocked – just pleased: Gallup and Rasmussen polls, after all, are showing the public is done with the insane, wasteful and ineffective-though-democratically-undermining Drug War. The zeitgeist is clearly in place. But the go-get-‘ems I’m getting from inside the publishing and television industry — that’s got me thinking that maybe the final piece of the puzzle — the as-yet prohibition-friendly federal political world — might actually fall into place in our lifetimes if not in this phase of the Mayan calendar.
Now, most of us recognize that almost the entire organism of government is about providing a bureaucratic economy (and not just in the most popularly known corrupt places like New Mexico, old Mexico, New York and Illinois). But over the years I’ve come to feel that it’s all for the cause of American Strength and Freedom. I hold on to this belief with as firm a grasp as I do my hat in a New Mexico thunderstorm. In retrospect, the national-level trend toward forgetting this raison d’etre seemed to begin in earnest (in the modern phase of the continuous-until-we-learn-genetically wrangle between good and evil) with former Merrill Lynch chairman and then-current White House Chief of Staff Don Regan ordering Ronald Reagan to “speed it up” during a 1981 speech (as Michael Moore points out in Capitalism: A Love Story). That’s when the thieves really took over this time (at least chunky polyester ties went away for a while, too). But maybe because I was too young to notice at the time of Regan’s information coup, early in my journalism career I pretty much always returned from work travel abroad extremely grateful for American’s general lack of poison water and death squads.
But the ying counterbalance to the yang of banditry-as-government, of one-quarter-tunnel-vision (wherein executives earn a golden parachute regardless of company performance), usually represented by slightly less thieving-friendly Wall Street rules for a while, has been slow in coming this time. Probably because technology allows the thieves to develop loopholes more quickly than Congress or executive branch regulators can act even during brief sunlight periods of national outrage (the way, say, Watergate changed a few ethics rules until, um, Reagan). This integrity-rotting, self-destructive, and hypocritical phase has simply gone on for too long — the computer tricks during the Facebook IPO just the latest example.
In what will no doubt go down as the least surprising sentence in this Dispatch, folks are losing faith in the integrity of the Republic. Support for Congress among members of “both” major parties is in the teens. The main reason for this, I believe, is that we all like to see a cleansing rain now and then. It’s like when I first heard about the Hundred Years War, my reaction was, “Man, can’t you just get past it?” Likewise, I think it’s high time for America to regain her strength through the forces of good. Which, I’m sorry to have to tell my left-of-me friends, she has more-than-periodically represented, and probably more often than any other nation in history (though the Scandinavians are catching up).
As a result of this sad, nearly yin-less phase (on official levels, at least), manifest in the new Millennium with the very Supreme Court unable to abide by (let alone provide role models for adherence to) the most basic first year legal ethics (hey Arch Criminal Scalia, don’t fly on Air Force Two at taxpayer expense with the Vice President whose case you’re about to hear, unless you plan on recusing yourself, hey apparently rotten-to-the-core Thomas, if you used to be a corporation’s staff attorney, you must recuse yourself from their alfalfa GMO case), I’ve had some moments where I had to remind myself that on five continents doing my reporting, probably 99% of humans I met would drop everything and get on a plane empty handed and alone if it was headed to the U.S. If their boarding pass was to be accompanied by a green card, they’d do it in a Kathy Griffin costume. That’s even now, would-be-doomsayers.
The fact is, I didn’t know what to expect about the response to writing a book about the War on Drugs while it was still going on. Truth, even more so than your average New Mexican (being a denizen of a place which doesn’t count minutes; where “same day” is considered synonymous with “on time”), is a chronic late arriver. Most of the Vietnam War’s lies, for example, got broad mainstream exposure only very, very close to the end. And so amidst this blessedly, overwhelmingly supportive reception to news of the coming TOO HIGH TO FAIL, I find myself re-energized to give this amazing country of ours another chance: if the People end The Drug War, there is hope. The Republic still works.
It means I am raising a family in the Land of the Still Free. It means a multi-billion dollar game benefiting only incarceration bureaucracy, pharmaceutical executives, and drug cartels is being called off. Simply ended. No more border corruption. No more Mexican chaos. And a $20 billion a year economy (grounded in a revived cadre of small American farmers) added to domestic coffers. Sure, it’ll mean new, younger, more ecologically minded bosses in the financial world, but that seems to me likely to be good for America, too. I mean, what with yet another JP Morgan scandal breaking.
On a somehow to be shown to be related note, I was engaged in what passes in rocky, piercingly-sharp canyons for “on a morning run” in sandals the other day (less demolished trail running shows are on order, the older pair having slightly out-performed their usual three-month desert lifespan before the kind of total implosion that would have Scotty on the Engineering Deck hailing the bridge in order to suffer a public breakdown) on a cattle road only marginally less reclaimed than the adjacent arroyo. And by “reclaimed” I mean by the only reclaimer, physics, sometimes called (all, I believe, are correct) nature, the universe. The Divine.
Or perhaps “recycled” is the more appropriate term. What’s happening to the rocks underneath my feet (some of them are billion-year-old Cambrian pebbles) and, I believe simultaneously, to my conscious existence, is, for me, something like the spin cycle of a washing machine as viewed in extreme slow motion. Makes it like a dance. Or surfing. Or river rafting. True, I had several only-subsequently-appreciated desert “ouch” moments on that inappropriately-clad run. Particularly (but not only) in the foot region. Don’t know how those Kenyans do it barefoot. Rarumari too.
I noticed only on that same jog (after passing the spot dozens of times) that a successful desert oak has rerouted twenty yards and years of deer trail (AKA my running route) just as a flood or a beaver dam fine tunes a river. And folks say plants can’t move. They sure can relative to the rest of us. They can rearrange the chessboard. Hereabouts ‘specially with sharpness and roots. This high desert presents plenty of both. The chessboard here, being the aforementioned billion-years-old at the surface, is among the moat durable available terrestrially. Makes a fellow feel young. Like a newborn sprite.
Nature, strictly as a landscaper, is a genius. At this time of year wild mint is interspersed fragrantly every morning in a garden of half germinated ponderosa cones and a flowering yucca. That’s smell and sight. Moving to sounds, when I rounded the next bend on my run I stopped and realized that no orchestra will ever match the steadily crescendoing symphony performance of planetary noise on a sunrise skedaddle before the goat milking in spring. Doves were on the bottom end, closest to timpanies, with cicada viola whole notes layered below staccato hummingbirds, who provided the zipping high end strings. The storyline. It was riveting. And relaxing.
Now here’s the promised tie-in of morning run philosophizing to my decision to optimistically use the status of the Drug War in, say, five year’s time, as a litmus test for whether or not our Republic is functioning healthfully – ya know, is in the shape of the exerciser never afraid to push him- or herself. It was while pulling a particularly savage cockleburr from my left distal phalanx during that Vitamin D inundation that I realized something quite suddenly and as naturally as a whispering stream arcing over a rock. I realized that no matter what I try lately, everything seems to be working out.
No matter my scheme for or method of trying to mess up. Most of us over the age of three months have seen this phase more than once before, and without question it’s a pleasant one, as welcome as an unexpected UPS package. I find the main trick to enjoying this period of time, usually, is just to be brave enough to try for (or ask for) something. Poof, it’s there. Like avocado/lime goat milk ice cream. But the practice for me this time around the psychic Circle Game as I dodged baby prickly pear cactus and ran through the exercises I’m doing to fix the minor hernia you’ll see referred to in TOO HIGH TO FAIL, is a smile of amused and humble appreciation.
With so much going right in the goat milk ice cream over-consumption category alone (thank you, Nico) – and not even getting into the giant but immature red-tailed hawk learning to aerial hunt (had to scare it off one of my shaken and somewhat feather-re-coiffed but otherwise OK chickens outside the kitchen window), nor the wild rose-scented walk from omelette-aromatic house to vegetable oil-powered truck to go to “work” reporting from horseback for New Mexico Magazine about the sustainability efforts of an Apache wilderness guide, I’m nonetheless trying to train myself to receive it all — all phases — with that simple grateful grin.
This feels right, but it’s hard to say why. Could it be that I’m engaged in a practice of doing bad poorly? That I’m simply learning to be better at good? I suppose it’s possible, since it reminds me of what a river guide who has a rapid named after him in the Grand Canyon told me when I asked him in Alaska if I’d ever learn to read currents the way he does with almost no effort, or if it is a born with it thing. “Devil ain’t smart,” Nelbert said. “Just old.”
One of my friends calls it pacing yourself — spiritually. I like to think of it as cosmic fuel economy. Still on any given day, at any given moment, years after learning the pleasure not just of driving slowly, but hiking and boating dreamily I would like to be able to describe my energy, scale of 1 to 10, as lovingly embracing double digits. I don’t need a “rush” to feel blissful. Just bliss. Or maybe it’s accurate to say bliss moves my belly as much as any Class IV rapid.
My kids provide my most consistent role models in this effort. They are pretty much either double digit hummingbirds or asleep. Yesterday they were in fact engaged in what felt like a long, intentional game of Hummingbirds In Bliss (they were mimicking the ruby-throated specimens devouring the Funky Butte Ranch’s five or six hopping feeders — the Studio 54s of this spring’s bird social scene). The human imitators sported static-attached balloon wings and were buzzing their lips through these as part of an intricate language. An inflection at my office door during an about-to-be-delayed magazine deadline indicated that a new batch of ice cream (cardamom/honey this time) was ready to be shaken (mostly by me) for 40 minutes.
My replicants, like Faith Hill, all other things being equal, will pretty much advocate dancing in any situation. My oldest, when excited, reveals from whence derived the term “jumping out of your skin.” Why is this outlook considered sane at age four but somehow questionable at 42? Which chapter in the Psychology handbook defines the moment of transition? I missed it, personally.
Folks talk about the TV being their babysitter. My babysitter is birdsong while my toddlers are on their tire swing — I run to open the goat corral or collect eggs and return just as they’re losing momentum and ready to swing “the fastest ever — really really REALLY fast this time, Pa.”
Wellup, with that energizing tableau and tantalizing question in mind, wish me luck: I’m off for a twelve hour round trip vegetable oil-powered organic goat grain pick-up. Oh, and my emergency brake (and evidently alternator)’s out. Sometimes a mantra is thrust upon one: “Chock the tires every time.” “Chock” being from the Sanskrit meaning, “Piece of crap conveyance made by a company no longer even attempting durability what with three year leases becoming the norm.” I’ll be very pleased, but again, not astoundingly surprised, if I return in the same mindset in which I pull out amidst the usual cloud of Kung Pao Chicken effervescence. That is, a timeless one.
Postscript: Do I sound even more than usually chipper? It could be because I post this Dispatch as the sun comes up over the cholla-dotted hills where I am not just immersed in a hotspring, but with a cup of java at my elbow and within WiFi range. Because of the neo-Rugged Individualist Organic Goat Herder parts of my life revealed in FAREWELL, MY SUBARU, many humans think that for me the goal is getting away from it all. At dinner parties, they serve me organically-steamed dirt and fairly traded gruel. The goal for me is getting away from it all except nice people, serious sushi and Thai, and Internet.
A blue heron just flew by. I’m not kidding. Small dinosaurs is what they are. I smell honeysuckle! I see toad mammas watching bulbous egg clusters with a hardly necessary wary eye on me. It occurs to me, as I again become gelatinous (for reasons I can’t yet explain, I somehow believe that approaching enlightenment becomes easier the closer we are to invertebrate status), that to demonstrate time’s relativity, Al Einstein needn’t have devised his famous family-dividing Twins In Space example. He could’ve just suggested the reader plop into thermal waters.