Monkey Mind

There have been many times that I have wished for a steady-on sort of brain. One that would grab a thought and stick with it until I (emphasis on I) wanted to quit. This was especially true when I was studying mindfulness meditation.

Let’s see, you sit on the cushion like this … that’s good, comfortable … then you begin to pay attention to your breathinghere’s an in-breath … there’s an out-breath … here’s – I wonder where I put that book that I bought yesterday … wait … I’ve gone off track … here’s an in-breath … there’s an out-breath – I bet it’s still in the back of the car, probably fell behind the seat, I’ll go see … no … wait … off track again …here’s an in-breath … etc. etc. etc.

But in the great body-part distribution I got what the Buddhists like to call a monkey brain, one that swings through the trees from one branch to another with no more thought for the moment than the next piece of fruit. If those same Buddhist sages are right, well, some of you have probably got one, too.

So anyway I went out to the backyard deck because it was so lovely out there with the dappled sunshine and the low humidity and the gentlest movement of the air and all. I turned on my music and the first tune up was Ripple, by the Grateful Dead. This has been a fave since 1985, when I first heard it in the movie Mask. It was a melancholy song which made it figure so well in a melancholy story. But hearing the tune today set me off to find out where I could see the film one more time. This was what I did instead of staying with the project I had brought with me to the porch. Classic monkey-brain-ness.

The film starred a young Cher and a young Sam Elliott and a younger man who turned out to be a fine actor in his first big role, Eric Stoltz. It’s one of those “based on a true story” movies – this one about a special boy and his strong bond with a strong woman, his mother. Sounds all good except that the boy had an illness that was both severely disfiguring and life-shortening to boot.

Back in the day film critics Gene Siskel and Roger Ebert gave it two thumbs up, and this glowing review. I wasn’t able to find that the movie was streaming anywhere or I would have watched it last night. Instead I give you the review.

The Review

Ripple is one of those songs that move me quietly at each listening. Here’s a piece from American Songwriter:

For “Ripple,” Garcia constructed a melody that was pure and humble, tinged with a bit of sadness. Hunter recalled to Rolling Stone when his old friend came up with the music to match his lyrics: “We were in Canada on that train trip [the Festival Express, 1970] and one morning the train stopped and Jerry was sitting out on the tracks not too far off, in the sunrise, setting “Ripple” to music. That’s a good memory.”

In the studio, the band caressed the song with the gentleness of a lover. Garcia’s acoustic guitar is the song’s tender heart, while the rhythm section of Phil Lesh and Bill Kreutzmann nudge the song forward. By the time they got to “Ripple” on American Beauty, the Dead had darn near perfected the harmonies they used heavily on Workingman’s Dead. The ensemble voices on “Ripple” provide comfort when the words evoke hardship.

Hunter delivers lyrics that evoke cosmic wisdom and serenity without ignoring the darkness on the fringes of even the most blessed lives. The song nods at different religions and philosophies, from the Christian overtones of the lines about cups both empty and filled, which recall the 23rd Psalm, to the Buddhist koan feel of the refrain. The chorus even breaks off from the relatively straightforward rhyme scheme of the verses to form a haiku, another example of East meeting West in the song.

The song opens up with Garcia opining on the power of music, or perhaps it’s better to say the lack thereof. Even if his words glowed and were majestically propelled through the air on a “harp unstrung,” he has no certainty that they’ll have any positive impact on the listener. Still, ineffectuality aside, he also concedes that the world is better for having music: “I don’t know, don’t really care/ Let there be songs to fill the air.”

American Songwriter: The craft of music

As the man says, let there be songs to fill the air.

Ripple, by The Grateful Dead


From The New Yorker


The weather app on my phone went off on an alert Wednesday afternoon, warning of a strong thunderstorm headed our way. I didn’t panic, mostly because the app sends these alerts fairly often and then nothing materializes. But I clicked on it to find that the storm was less than an hour away and at that moment was delivering quarter-sized hailstones along with high winds and drenching rains. It was those hailstones that got my attention, and I made sure the car was in the garage and the door was shut. I have this thing in that I think an automobile with a thousand dents in it lacks a certain something.

When the front finally hit us there was no hail left to worry about, but the light dimmed as the temperature fell nearly twenty degrees. Powerful winds and heavy rains followed. Robin and I were all smiles and enjoying the drama, because rain in this country is so very, very welcome. This stormfront was the kind of stuff that on the prairie might have raised a tornado or two, but that particular annoyance happens here vanishingly rarely. That’s a good thing for many reasons, one of which that most of the houses in town don’t have a basement to duck into, including our own.

I know that I’ve said it many times before, but I am one of those weirdos who enjoy storms and are energized by them. There’s something about being exposed to that awe-inspiring power which emerges seemingly out of thin air .

You’re fishing in a small boat on a Minnesota lake on a bluebird day and not paying full attention when you turn around and become aware that the sky behind you has turned green-black and has a murderous look about it. The shore that you must reach for safety now seems a god-awful distance away but you crank up that five-horsepower outboard motor and off you go full tilt, knowing that being the tallest thing on a lake is a poor location when the lightning comes. Now the wind begins and the goosepimples erupt as the temperature drops. You are fully alive and trying your best to keep things that way as all hell breaks loose, then at long last you tie up the boat at the dock as the rain lashes and nearly blinds you. One more safe harbor gained in the knick o’ time.

Safe and dry later in the cabin you muse, do you have nine lives like the proverbial cat and was that one of them that you just used up?

Storm, by the North Mississippi All-Stars


From The New Yorker


Those books whose aggressive titles go something like this seem foolish to me, and the person buying them a special type of fool as well.

100 Places You Absolutely, Positively Have To Visit Before You Die Or You’re A Schmuck

First of all, if you have to buy one of these books to tell you where you should go you are not much of an adventurer to begin with, are you? And since none of us knows the day and time that we will leave this planet behind, it would be impossible to properly plan such an ambitious itinerary. So why begin at all if you aren’t going to finish the job? How about if you get to only 99 of these required destinations and then blow the whole project by kicking the bucket … what an utter bummer. To leave this vale of tears a failure in one’s final lap is just too sad an ending to contemplate.

A guidebook like this introduces a feeling of desperation into one’s life. An unnecessary race against an invisible clock. Pfaugh! Who needs it? The authors of these things are usually someone you never heard of and why would you ever follow their advice over that of any other stranger?

Better to buy a book with this title:

If You’ve Got Nothing To Do Next Tuesday And You Are Still Breathing Here’s A Nice Place To Go

See … no pressure. I would totally buy this one.


When the former POTUS Richard Nixon resigned in disgrace I remember reading at the time in more than one op-ed that there was no need to prosecute him for his criminality because the “poor fellow had already suffered so much” in not being POTUS any more. This eventually led to a pardon issued by his replacement, Gerald Ford. I disagreed vehemently with that line of thinking at the time.

If we as a society have decided that the best thing we can think of to do with crooks is to put them in prison, then why not a bozo whose misdeeds had already been laid out in front of us so clearly in the televised Watergate hearings?

So when the same sort of murmurings begin to be heard with regard to former POTUS Donald Cluck, I lose patience quickly. This country will eventually recover from the harm that he has done, but not in my lifetime, so if there is justice in the world, I would like to see him at least be given at least … let’s say … 200 hours of community service. Perhaps with a canvas shoulder bag and a pointed stick to pick up litter on the White House grounds. Or better yet, cleaning cages at the Lincoln Park Zoo in Chicago. Something suited to the man’s true talents.

I am vindictive enough that if this happened, I would drive all the way across the country just to take a picture of him serving out his sentence. Gloating is unseemly, you say? Perhaps you’re right … how about a few moments of smug, would that be okay?


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