…an unexpected visit from the Dream Police…

On April 28th, I’m gathering my thoughts on the back patio as temperatures ease, enjoying the Enchantment radiating from the Land, even on the concrete slope of Albuquerque. I’ve been listening to a contemplative poet, speaking in a voice I share, on a cherished radio program, then writing a bit, and I’m about to begin some satsang duty, transcribing for a Spiritual Space-holder whom I greatly appreciate. Much as I eschew computer work, this is something I enjoy, mainlining the rare sanity she exudes as I conduct her words from ear to keyboard.

The tone of a Mac receiving an email invokes a Pavlovian reach for the cursor to investigate. I delay a few minutes, but soon respond to an urgency I barely feel consciously. 

My oldest friend has sent me a message that simply says “Live Streaming Now,”  with a link to the Cheap Trick Live at Budokan Anniversary Concert. I click it. Why not?  I am perversely sucked in.  Curious, yes, Voyeuristic, somehow, examining the mannerisms 30 years on, of these folks whose music and faces had ruled and rocked my world, and also watching the perpetual twitch and scroll of the live chat among over 3000 people around the world. They banter as enthusiastically, presumptuously and intimately about these guys as I might have in the day (and will still, perhaps, before I’m done rambling here); yet for all the sweet fan talk, a fair amount is meaningless ejaculation and pettiness I’ve never understood, as it issues from people at concerts or other public venues–now including the internet.  The chat is so populated and fast moving that the one thread of any interest to me– where was original drummer, Bun E Carols?– is hard to follow, and not really worth the trouble. Gossip’s easy enough to find, if you want it, especially on Facebook. And there are raves abounding about Bun E. Carlos’s Facebook page.  Yet, I’m still not on Facebook, and even that doesn’t tempt me.

Cheap Trick (with Rick Nielson’s son sitting in for Bun E. Carlos) seems to be going through their entire catalog, at least the catalog released at the time of the Budokan concert in 1978. Pretty Grueling…and amusing. And the familiarity of the music makes it easy to tolerate much longer than this nervous system normally would now.  But eventually, I can not deny what a strafing Rick Nielson’s guitar playing is (always has been I guess) as hallowed a space as it may hold in my personal tapestry.

 Except for the Faustian Nielson (who has looked a bald 40 for as long as I’ve known him, and who still kinetically embody’s ADHD to the degree that he blurs any apparent wrinkles),  the guys are showing their age, of course; but their stamina is impressive.  It’s been cute to see the custom earplugs gleaming out of the ears of each of them– Rick Nielson’s, of course,  in his iconic houndstooth checks.  His voice still cracks like a 12-year-old’s. Luckily, Robin’s doesn’t. His is still a mighty impressively modulated roar at 60, after all these years of growling and howling at volume.  It’s a voice that influenced me in and out of time. I knew it before I heard it, and I certainly still take cues from it when I sing down and dirty.

Eventually I must mute the concert, and I start writing my reflections on it.   Occasionally I un-mute, identify the song, watch their antics and note any meaningful costume changes, like when Robin dons the Dream Police cap (which I just mistyped Cream Police cap, at first; a Freudian finger-slip if ever there was one, considering how hard I fell for that dude in his heartthrob days). The sight momentarily stirs my heart anew; a second toast to Pavlov!

While they are muted, I hear a rustling through the earplugs; I look up into the eyes of a doe, about eight yards in front of me. She is startled by my movement, and I, by her stillness, considering the racket still echoing in my ears. Not just the guitar cacophony but all the giddy memory vibrating in my field. I greet her from between worlds. She eventually ambles off. The next time I look up, it is into the curious down-the-beak gaze of a hovering hummingbird. These have been my more accustomed friends in the interim years. And they are coming to check on me, to cast their vote for Silence, maybe.  And I notice and savor a certain muted glee at this variegated human experience I so often take for granted.  Such a breadth of distinct qualities of experience and intimacy available to us, especially in this privileged culture.  Yet we partake of a relatively limited palate so much of the time.  Limited like the palate of Nielson’s guitar sound. It was enough for me at the time; it’s enough for many still, judging from the chat. Bless us every one, and may my bleary eyes never lose sight of the new, unimagined color awaiting in each dawning day.

And thanks to Ann for forwarding that link to so many sounds and colors bleeding and blending through time.  

(If I could post sound files on this site, I’d offer up an impressive a capela version Ann and I did of a Cheap Trick song nearly 10 years after Budokan– sure to go viral, or at least make a few people sick!).
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The Gauri Story so far…

We were settling into the weekly A Course in Miracles meeting in the fellowship hall (read: kitchen) of Unity Spiritual Center of Albuquerque. The door was wide open to let in the winds and sounds of outside and the expansive energy of sundown. 

Chris had just read some tenets from The Way of Mastery, among them: “It is impossible to experience real loss.”  Now Alison was reading.  We’d redouble our focus when noise from outside would intrude. Many people used the throughway onto which the door opened as a shortcut from neighborhood to major thoroughfare.  A family had just ambled by, conversing in several octaves.  We noticed, we filtered.  

Shortly after, I heard a familiar engine sound, as a white car drove by the door. I thought little of it, but something in me registered enough recognition to look up. A car like mine. I looked back down. Back it came, the sound, the car passing in the opposite direction. Hey. I felt myself prompted to rise. Not really believing, but just checking, I excused myself, as I walked to the door. “I’m sorry, I just feel like I need to check….” I stepped out the door, a knowing coalescing in advance of belief, and peered at the back end of the white Legacy exiting our parking lot. I knew it was mine precisely for the reason I’d just discovered I could not be sure it was mine: The license plate was missing.  I stepped farther into the parking lot, to see if…sure enough, the place I had parked was empty.  

I returned to the table of folks who’d suspended their study to await my return.  “Someone just stole my car.”  I was already laughing.  Various appropriate utterances and suggestions issued from the group.  Realizing (and appreciating the fact) that I’d half-distractedly made a choice to leave my cellphone at home ( I might have otherwise left it on the car seat), I borrowed Gus’s phone, and and pressed the pre-programmed 911 button.  I got a recording perpetually repeating, “Your call will be answered in the order it was received.” 

“Glad there’s no gunshot wound involved,” I said aloud.

When someone answered, probably within 30 seconds–which  I imagine must  be an agonizing stretch in some situations– I reported the apparent, but still not quite real, facts to the dispatcher.  After hanging up, I apologized for the interruption to class , and we tried to settle back into reading until officer Ramirez showed up; but this gave such opportunity to exchange anecdotes that it took a while.  I was distractedly listening to the reading when an attractive hispanic uniform showed up: A. Ramirez. We wouldn’t be quite on a first name basis.

She took my information and gave me instructions, implying all the while in her apologetic demeanor that it was unlikely I’d see the car again; they were understaffed and this was low priority.  She intoned a melody of fatalistic foregone conclusion with lyrics about all the more positive contingencies.

She asked about any identifying features. The dash ornament, a Dancing Shiva statue, was the best suggestion, but how to describe it? I found myself there in the parking lot aping Nataraj, explaining it was a Hindu god….She clamped on to the word brass, brass or bronze; that she could grock. I didn’t go to much trouble promoting the rather small Ganesha on the front bumper!

She left; I returned to the group; and once they had been briefed, we set about finding our way back to Miracles. We succeeded enough that when Gus’s phone rang he was apologetically moving to silence it until I suggested it was the APD. It was. A Ramirez was calling to report that my VIN number wasn’t turning up anything. No such car. I was suddenly faced with having to find my title and fax it later.  The conversation turned to questions about my vehicle: Did it have a roof rack? Tinted windows?  I sheepishly had to confess that I honestly couldn’t remember exactly how much was on the roof– got the car under stress, hadn’t had it that long, etc. She mentioned that there had just been a robbery in the vicinity, and the car involved was thought to have been a white station wagon.  Ah. Assuming that, by robbery, she actually meant burglary, I said that might explain why they chose my car over the other candidates in the lot, some of which were wide open. Mine had, we assume, been locked. But it had cargo space.  A 1997 Subaru wagon is not your first joyride candidate, unless you have a lot of friends and it’s snowing hard.

I happened to mention my license plate number toward the end of the chat, and the glitch revealed itself. They’d had that part wrong. That corrected, my and my car’s existence popped back into this dimension. Once I was legitimized, the wheels of bureaucracy were back in motion.

I came back and dutifully briefed the Course group. Chris asked if I had insurance, which reminded me that my insurance agent had called me only that day to ask if I wanted to update my address and policy, and I’d said that things were just pending enough to wait a few more weeks until the premium came due.  Eerie. 

I also recalled that I’d been consulting bus routes and schedules, ostensibly for a different reason, earlier this very day, and had had wondering thoughts about getting around this sprawling slope of city without a car.  I’d mentioned it to the cop, and she’d actually observed that if I was making that a causal or blameful thought (my words), not to go there. 

There was more wowing and chuckling. I was offered a ride home. A woman read from her phone how to list your alternate phone numbers so they are most likely to be found and called from a lost cellphone.  How the ego loves drama and distraction from A Course in its annihilation.  But in wrapping up the meeting, the group thanked me for modeling “It’s impossible to experience real loss” detachment.  (I’d already observed in class discussion that I’m wired to fear failure (ego death) more than physical death. So the gone car was not as troublesome as the prospect that this was somehow my fault, warranting financial punishment.)

Once home, thanks to Alison, I was called promptly to bed, though with the phone on.  I’d been told that if my vehicle was found abandoned, they’d generally only give me about 15 minutes to respond to their call and arrange to retrieve it from that site before they’d have it towed to impound.

Up early, I began my full day of hoop jumping and conversation with police, insurance, car rental folk, and the occasional sympathetic friend.  I laughed often and then showered at the end, to wash off the general dinge of officious and suspicious Institution, to unmatch from the metallic-plastic-armed hearts, talking through occluded lines of communication and possibility.

The last of those conversations was a multi-call and multi-transfer attempt to reach an officer who had called Gus’s phone earlier in the day to report that my license plate had been found.

Phone calls resumed before I was even dressed and dried from showering. Officer Lorraine Lopez Stadler (??) called. After an almost Abbot/Costello rally of introductory orientation, it was established that I was who I was and she had some belongings from my car.  Feeling as mortal and lost as I had when I arrived in Albq, I’d had had the foresight to put a card in my glovebox “Newly arrived in Albuquerque. In case of emergency, call…” and I’d listed about the only two friends I had in Albq. When a good samaritan had found trash strewn in front of her house, she’d realized, upon closer assessment, that this was from someone’s car and had names on it. She called APD.  Officer Stadler had called my friend and found her way to me.  She had, among a few other items, the remains of my mother’s remains, which I’d forgotten had been in the car. “There’s this little can with Rosemary written on it….” I got a little misty!  Admittedly, I’d been trying to liberate them for months.  Two ash-scattering expeditions later, there were still ashes left. I’d been at a loss for what to do with them.   And today they’re baaaaaack, and  I’m rather glad.

It was like Jungian dream analysis with props. I sat in our driveway, in the shade of the squad car, like a child engrossed in her sandbox, reaching with latex gloves into Officer Santa’s garbage bag, and taking stock, letting the emotional flavors, the general curiosity and wonder, wash through. It was uncanny, the random precision of– the subtle messages divined from– what the car-nappers had cast off: some of the groceries I’d bought just before the theft (probably a little too green granola for those guys); some kissing winged pigs from my dash board; a bundle of vetiver and some sweetgrass and copal; the paperwork on the car, including owners manual; maps; my can of Rosemary (ashes–which I quipped to a friend could not be resold; they weren’t a complete set); my multicolored chico fleece; one CD and one book among the many in my car….   I didn’t keep all of what was in the bag.  I signed for the items I kept and we threw the bag in a dumpster. 

Later, as I sorted through the kept items again, I couldn’t help but sense that the odd fact that the owner’s manual and paperwork came back to me was a clue that the car would too, for better or worse.  I had found myself almost refreshed last night by the prospect that it wouldn’t, that I’d be liberated to a more suitable car. 

It was late, I was hungry. None of the returned groceries made a meal, so I got on the bus and duplicated the rest of last night’s purchase. I’m still hungry.  

Despite all the inconvenience of its loss, I have not lamented about the car nearly as much as my camping gear: a tent, a camp-stove, some sleeping pads, including the one snugly covered in my own Bambi bedspread from childhood; and a Cannon AE-1 Program camera outfit that I intended to get rid of, but on my own terms.  

And I’m also sorry for all the folks in the library’s Hold queue behind me that the audio-copy of LIfe of Pi, which I was almost finished listening to, will not be available to them.

The story of Gauri (my car) is not over, her ministry is does not feel complete. I simply wanted to collect and post details while they were fresh and so I don’t have to repeat the tale quite so many times in coming days.  Stay tuned….

Ol’ Bud Ebert

Just a couple of days before Roger Ebert died, when I read of his announcement about taking a “leave of presence,” I felt the tide of grief rising. It was a swell deferred; it  began when I read more about him and his illness some years back, and would surge a little with each new visit to his trusty website for a review of some film; I would wonder if the review would be there, whether he was still generating reviews. Miraculously, they all still were, until the one that wasn’t, just a couple of days before his death. Ebert was a touchstone and he leaves a hole of a depth most of us tried not to think about until we had to.

Roger Ebert had more impact than most filmgoers realized. It was quiet and pervasive; it was a reliably balanced view.  I haven’t yet heard what revisions to his cosmology his final months, weeks, days might have brought, but he gave the general impression of being a very stable agnostic (maybe atheist), and yet he didn’t offend the sensibilities of many of us with more spiritual, faith-oriented or even superstitious leanings.  He was a pragmatist, and, as a reviewer, not inaccessibly intellectual nor superficially sentimental. So, in reading his reviews, I felt an abiding trust; his decency, clarity and candor were a known quantity. I could gauge for myself where and how his reviews would serve me and where we might diverge, as we can gauge such things with anyone we’ve known a long time. This was a great gift.

I felt a support and kinship with him as he announced he was now giving himself permission, in his leave of Presence–  in fact a prescience of leave– to review only movies he wanted.  Hosannah. What a relief that must have been (yet hinting at his diligence of duty in not having done so long before now)!

I know that one now as a media reviewer, and I know it from way back in film school.  I remember one particular evening in 1987ish, after a 12-hour day of working on a peer’s film, when the crew gathered in the director’s living room, bonded and beat, and popped in the movie Robocop.  I had no interest in the film; I was there for the human interaction, for the belonging, for a soft spot on a sofa after script-supervising from the hood of a car all day, probably.  I wasn’t into violent films. And I was soon cringing with shock, dismay, horror and alienation as the room full of guys was avidly rewinding and frame advancing through the scene where the character gets his limbs shot off. It was about the craft for them; how had that effect been pulled off?!  They were numb to the  inhumanity portrayed.  The only other female in the room was numb with inebriation.

It took me a while to act on the impulse to leave. But leave I did. And that night probably steered me more into film criticism in my remaining college years (away from the technical aspects of film production), and also, though not consciously, into my more feminine, healer side. I didn’t stay in the media production world long; soon I’d stepped off the fast track onto the meandering path of health and spirit.

I was still a film buff, and I probably appreciate film now more than I was capable of doing back then. There have been many years in the interim, though, in which I took both film craft and Roger Ebert for granted.

As I matured and my life took on more spiritual focus, I knew Ebert’s experience couldn’t necessarily follow me there. But there was a meta-consciousness, an analytic perspective, we shared, as maturing human beings and as contemplative writers. And his reviews carried a transmission from his heart and mind that I could recognize, and I could glean from how a film landed and rested in his heart and mind what it might hold for me.

He was a clear vessel for a certain kind of intelligence, lucidity, reason, and I grieve its loss.  In my  decades of digression from cinema-centric life–I went from seeing a film or two a day to a handful of films per year (in the theater)– I have not been reading many other reviewers, and I don’t know who to trust anymore.   We in my generation grew up with Roger Ebert; I feel the void he leaves this morning more acutely than the loss of four other pillars in my life in the past three years, two of them my parents. This is likely because of his impact on the collective, on the culture, not just on my personal history.

Yet, I trust that the new voices of balanced, sane, basically decent and non-sensational reviewing are out there, or are coming, and will fill the void, will honor him and even evolve beyond him.

And speaking of voice, an additional personal musing:  He was a voice, but through print for the most part. His voice was somewhat soft, but his clarity spoke with force and focus. I think he came through in print even more effectively for me than in his televised tete a tetes on Sneak Previews. And it’s interesting to me that, after the removal of his jaw, he proved that his Voice did not need his voice. In a way, his heart spoke even clearer once his sound was silenced.

I cannot help but observe a parallel with my father, a PhD’ed linguist who lost the ability to speak long before he passed away. The mind saw cruel irony, but our hearts came to apprehend a greater Grace, imposing the growth of opening to other means of communication and sources of trust than the habituated could allow, that the ability to rely on intellect and voice precluded for him most of his life.

I smile at the thought that a film about Roger Ebert would be pointless. That is no negative commentary. It points to the consummate realization of his professional dharma. The best commentators need no further commentary.  His influence is undefinable, his absence, at least for a while, will be aching and stark.