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The Shovel Mental Contagion
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Michael jones Boulder, Colorado
speaks with Gene Dillon
| Web Site

Michael jones will soon have an MFA from the Jack Kerouac School of Disembodied Poetics at Naropa University. His poetry has been published in Bombay Gin, Sliding Uteri and Tribe--a now defunct online mag where he interviewed music artists such as Michael Franti and the rapper J-Live. He is one of Boulder, Colorado's favorite dj's spinning from multiple genres including downtempo, hip hop, breaks, house, soul and r&b and whatever else he feels may move you. He hosted the radio show, "A Place at the Table," on KZSC, Santa Cruz from 1998 to 2003. Michael has performed his poetry in several places from coffee houses to stages including those of Trilogy and the Boulder Theater.

GD: Michael, thanks for stopping by.

You probably heard about the mountain lion on Flagstaff Mountain in Boulder a couple of months ago, the one that tried to drag the child of a tourist right out of his father's hand? No fault of theirs... These animals are supposed to follow a predictable set of behaviors, and on the rare occasion that this feline predator decides to devour a human, it will only take the smallish person who has wandered very far from the protection of its elders, and it typically does this sort of thing a hell of a lot farther from "civilization".

What do you suppose this animal was thinking? Can we expect this sort of thing to become more common?

Mj: I did hear about that. The first thing I thought was, "Do these people not get it?" I actually was in the work release program at the Boulder County Jail for reasons that will, at this time, not be divulged. However, I remember watching the news story in the TV room and somewhere inside feeling really flabbergasted. It was something about the incredulity with which news reporters were telling the story. I mean it seemed so perfectly natural to me that such a thing would happen. Many of us in our anthropomorphic privilege forget that we invade, err develop, the land on which so many animals have become displaced over time. One of the things I find so cool about living in Boulder is being able to witness the persistence of prairie dogs, despite campaigns by some in the community to call in pest control. Can't have those pesky critters gettin' in our way on the bike paths.

Maybe I'm just irreparably affected by growing up in the 60s and 70s and the pervasive effect of hippy culture. You know 'live and let live', animals included...or some other such radical, leftist, liberal, pinko, commie way of thinking. One of the more memorable images I remember growing up is the poster for the group "Another Mother for Peace." It contained the quote "War is unhealthy for children and other living things." For who knows how long elements of humanity have been waging a war on the environment, trying to civilize, tame and control it. Now we have mountain lion attacks and global warming.

Thinking of thinking, do you remember the conclusion much of Western science and philosophy has come to? They taught it to us in school and still remind us frequently. The great thing about humans is that we are able to think. That animal wasn't thinking. Why else would it put itself in such a position? I mean would you in your "God-given" ability think to allow yourself to become a scapegoat for the ceaseless drive of some humans to continuously expand 'civilization' into areas where wildlife continues to try and remain wild?

But really, I don't know if the animal was thinking. Do they need to? Do we? Or is it just some by-product of millennia of human attempts to avoid suffering and seek pleasure through acting out the desire to change and manipulate experience and environment?

GD: It's probably rather simple. Animals don't really think so much as they act and react on instinct. The lion had nowhere to go. Humans at every turn, occupying potential turf. Perhaps the animals have learned from the people. This one simply took something that did not belong to it, something that seemed to be available in surplus, not realizing its tremendous value. The lion could be developing a new instinct, or remembering a very old one.

Speaking as a parent of two kids, I was horrified of course. My heart goes out to that kid and his parents. We all recognized what happened, and it feels pretty clear that this wasn't some random act of unpredictable madness. I believe we need to be more cautious and respectful than ever before.

Have you ever come close to dying like that? Some random act of nature?

Mj: Not in that way, no. But I'm presently in Los Angeles dealing with the sudden death of my younger sister two weeks ago due to complications from ruptured aneurysms in her brain. Death and dying are paramount in my thought these days. If we agree that such hereditary conditions are "random" acts of nature then yes. I'm thinking here of the anthropological concept of genetic drift as it might relate to randomness. So, yes, I've been close to death in that way but not my own dying as such.

Some years ago while vacationing on the island of Maui I snorkeled out too far from shore. I'm not a very good swimmer and was caught up in the prospect of making it out to a catamaran that was anchored a ways from the beach. I barely had enough in me to make it to the boat in my frenzied attempt to overcome the previous relationship I'd had with water, swimming and the ocean. What I forgot was that I didn't know how to swim well at all. But in the denial it took for me to attempt this feat I didn't realize it was the fins that made it possible for me to get farther from shore than I'd ever been sans boat. I wasn't actually 'swimming' at all. Luckily my partner at the time, who is a strong swimmer, heard my cry for help as I struggled to make it back to shore while taking in water and basically freaking the fuck out. She pretty much saved my life. But that wasn't so much nature as it was a random act of exhilarated stupidity.

GD: I'm really sorry to hear about your sister. And that nature has to be as cruel as it is beautiful, for no particular reason.

For those of us who are lucky to be alive, yes, we've all put nature to the test numerous times and come out okay. Of course... That's nature too. Like with the lion, we can lose our minds quite frequently, especially we humans with our unnecessarily complicated lives. No wonder the world is so fucked up. These random acts of HUMAN nature are so impactful, especially when it comes to the biggest decisions that profoundly effect the lives of others and the lands upon which we dwell. Which brings me back to our place in the wild--how we need to be more cautious and respectful than ever before. We have so much less room for error now.

But doesn't everything seem so structured and taken care of? This town looks orderly and well kept. The dwellings are extraordinary, and the machines are technical marvels, almost miracles. The collective mind that has grown so much over time is a miracle itself.

But it's wild, all of it. Everything is natural, everything you see today.

Mj: I tend to agree. It seems to me after thinking about it over the years, that we live a fundamentally chaotic existence. That doesn't stop humans, I think especially in Western society, from attempting to overlay it with some semblance of order. The religious notion that there is an anthropomorphic god, often male gendered, that has a "plan" for existence is a primary example.

Chaos, or wildness if you will, seems to be the nature of nature. I mean think about it. How often have plans you've been involved in ever turned out as you hoped or thought they would? I've never thought of this before but it's another way of interpreting the saying "the devil's in the details." The dualized mind that is oriented to organize the world in opposites sees things in good/bad, black/white, divine/profane, God/Devil. I may be mistaken but I think in the Angeles Arrien book, The Tarot Reader, there is a description of the devil being symbolic of the sens(e)ual world, the physical, unpredictable world in which we as humans live. The devil being in the details of nature's unpredictability, its "randomness."

The world we live is an often scary, violent and unforgiving place. No matter how we try, we cannot "control" it. Yet there is an unrelenting drive for many of us to try and manipulate and control our natural surroundings. As we can see through things like the proposed phenomenon of global warning there is a price to pay. The parents of that poor child are paying a price. The occasional wild animal that strays into human-claimed territory unobservant of a "predictable set of behaviors" pays a price.

And yes this town is, I might say, overly "orderly and well kept." That I think adds to the tension attendant to the conflict we as a species are currently embroiled in with "nature," of which we are but a small and maybe quite relatively insignificant part. As well I agree with you it is, the dwellings, the machines, ALL of it, a miracle...and wild, all of it. And all of it is part of an inseparable natural world.

GD: It would be nice if everyone could just accept that, and relax and enjoy it.

I was hanging out at the Pearl Street Mall in Boulder the other night - I hadn't been there for a long time. I had a really hard time locating any happy faces. The same thing was happening up in Yellowstone last week. It's supposed to be a spectacular and fun place to be, and it is! We had an amazing time. Elk and bison and grizzlies and scalding hot water blasting out of the ground all over the place. But far more prevalent than the wildlife and the geothermal formations were all of these... These people... Which was perfectly natural--after all, it is an extremely popular national park. "How much longer is this gonna take," was a common utterance around geysers, whether they had blown, or were continuing to blow, it didn't matter, and then there was this odd cultural phenomenon surrounding the capturing of wildlife on video, or by camera, like it was a requirement, or some kind of a penance they were supposed to carry out, making it impossible to enjoy any sort of experience in the present without recording it for later viewing, like they would somehow appreciate this vacation a lot more in the future than they would right now. We located a moose in the Grand Tetons, lounging around next to a bush, and this guy came up next to me, looked over my shoulder, and seeing the vision of a large female reclining in the grass, only visible from the neck up, he actually declared, "Ah... That's no good," and walked away.

After some time, the absorption of all that complaining, petty bickering and shallow banter had taken its toll - I felt my brow begin to furrow. It's contagious, like anything. Stress and dissatisfaction seems so pervasive - from work, to dinner, to a night out on the town, and on into a week-long vacation for a lot of folks who can't break the chain of ongoing misery. I find myself a victim of the contact-low, and before I know it, I'm just another carrier.

Mj: I've noticed this phenomenon, the seeming unhappiness of people in places I assume they'd be most able to experience happiness. First I want to say though that I have to be operating from a certain set of assumptions about what makes a person happy and what it should look like in others. These are really quite arbitrary yet informed by ongoing and persistent notions of happiness gathered through enculturation over a lifetime.

I am reminded of an interview I read with the Spanish actor Antonio Banderas some years back. He was asked if he was happy with his marriage to the American actress Melanie Griffith or some other such personal thing. In his response, he questioned the very idea of happiness in contrast to joy. I think we have an obsession in the contemporary world, at least what I know of it here in 21st century America, with being happy. Joy, I would argue from personal experience, is something that is accesible even in times of distress. I have felt a profound appreciation for this thing we call life sometimes when my chips were down the most. Happy is fleeting, fickle and can change moment to moment. Joy, to me, is of a more tangible yet elusive substance.

That said, I have been to Yellowstone and spent much time on Boulder's Pearl Street Mall. These, if any, are two places where I would expect people to be happy. I've seen the faces, overheard the sidewalk--and trail--talk. There is an abundance of unhappiness it appears here in what some regard as the greatest civilization in human history. If so, why the glum faces, the acerbic conversation of aspic tongues? Why is there such a prevalance of dissatisfaction and distraction?

These are largely unhappy times. I think it is because we live in a society and culture that disproportionately value the unholy triumvirate of acquisition, owning and consumption. Add to that an obsession with immediate gratification and we have a formula for constant disappointment and dissatisfaction. S/He who dies with the most toys dies, I mean wins. Yyyeeeaahh, that's what I was doin', I mean meant to say. I'm no sage to reiterate for the umpteenth time that none of the shit we acquire in this lifetime is gonna go with us after that last breath.

Some us though, through investment and bequeathal over generations, have acquired more than our great-grandchildren could ever spend or use while others go hungry. But it's the standard, right? Compete, succeed, gain and win; pay it forward...I mean pass it on. And keep your hands off my capital gains. It's the foundation of the American dream. As I've observed to this point in this life that dream, the maximum experience of it at least, is really only possible for a relative few given the economic and social factors that must be in place for its realization. It's a process of creating a centered mainstream that marginalizes along so many points of identity and social place or standing.

So I think it is no wonder that we, you, I and others witness so much unhappiness surrounding us, even in places of seeming relative stability and beauty like the Pearl Street Mall or natural majesty like Yellowstone.

GD: Do you think that people think too much?

Mj: Yes. I mean no. I mean yes...too much about some things and in my quite finite modicum of wisdom, not enough about others. I say that without wanting to blame or judge, but with a studied attention to the world for a good part of the last 45 years.


Lost in S/Place
by Michael jones

Boulder Valley
              fox leave
                            night revealed
                            hidden trails to

glimpses
              of snow masked
                            killings of sun
                                          tulips and irises

as eye center on
              relentless peaks
                            mile high mountain

guardian witnesses to
violence of creeks
named for sand

cries
still heard
regardless absent
ancestors of this landscape

a ridiculously elevated
topography
that out lies known

truth and intimacy
              precluded and
              scapegoated
              like foothill felines
hint of crazed outsiders

reflect progress's
              roadkill

stuccoed, bricked, and
stoned people
dwell limbo
earthen bardo

captured and caught
contemporary drug war
victims once indigenous
now victimize
in search of power
usurped and held in fleet
of moments disappearing

linger like deer
a presence that
won't go away
living now in

              in between
              desperate desperados
                            take through desperation
                            and willed weakness

cracks, glitches
              of broken

              Babylon system trails
              remain smoke filled

unresolved disturbances
beg questions
angels named Gabriel
ask like Thomas
forgotten apostle
to trouble waters

idyllic Boulder Creek
flows unseemly
appears devoid of colonization's reverberations

but
we don't die
we just multiply
as they say in LA

sumpin' sort of
              Crip-tic blue
                            Afro
                            in space
                            held sonic

Trane blows unheard
yet collected
bought though unknown
carried on heated Rocky Mountain
              high desert winds
red earth against
              dappled flourish
                            irrigated
                            diversity
                            where
              John's disciple
tries to love supreme

talks to Niwot
hears his murdered humility
              substitutes pocket
              moleskin
              for piece
              of blue
              steel

for peace
              in the hour of
              chaos I
              a public
              enemy hide

amongst and against
mirroring of otherness of mirroring
sky/d mentals elemented
and broken down
to their very last
compound

interest in local
flora and fauna
skips over surface
glassy eyed pools
watery graveyards some
three thousand or more
miles away from middle passage

Devil's Thumb million dollar
view of pink clouds majestic
              land and sky scapes
              scrapes tender/ed
              memories



Photo by Bruce Scott


 
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