Not only geographically but every which way — in other words, I am drawn to anything/place/idea/person/art form etc. that conjures wide open space and no limits, wandering or busting into new territory (and often that can mean getting completely still — doing nothing) in order to get there. I also am drawn to the plants and critters we encounter along the way or vice versa. Most of all, the spirits that are neglected, overlooked, misunderstood, not treasured, used up and thrown away.
If you too are in synch with the desert/West/space/modern frontier/animal/plant presence, with or without the people who live in it; if you would like the answer to the question, “What’s it all about, Alfie?” but suspect that there might not be one, I recommend the following books, short stories, plays, music, and actions.
Books: Anything by Wallace Stegner; Unassigned Territory by Kem Nunn; the works of Rick Bass; the works of Barry Lopez; the works of Jim Harrison; The Land of Little Rain by Mary Austen; Edward Abbey’s Desert Solitaire; Great Plains by Ian Frazier; the poetry of Denise Levertov; the works of Ursula K. LeGuin; and America by Jean Baudrillard; In Cold Blood by Truman Capote; The Executioner’s Song by Norman Mailer; Shot in the Heart by Mikal Gilmore; On Common Ground by J. Anthony Lukas; All God’s Children by Fox Butterfield; Mojave, a short story by Truman Capote — actually everything Capote has written; The Living and the Dead by Paul Hendrickson; the works of John Steinbeck, especially Of Mice and Men and Grapes of Wrath (his writing is always nourishing and amazing; he is one of the few American writers to have dealt so memorably with the inexorably down-and-out); Moby Dick (yes, I’ll say it — Melville rocks hard and heavy); also for epic American stories involving characters who should be treasured but aren’t, the plays of Tennessee Williams and Arthur Miller are must reads, and see them if you can!
Music: There is a great litany of rock and roll, blues, jazz, hip-hop, and r&b that explores this spiritual and geographic terrain, including Bob Dylan, Metallica, Steppenwolfe, Robert Johnson, Billie Holiday, Alice Coltrane, John Coltrane, the early rappers, Tupac Shakur, Roy Orbison, James Brown, and, now that I’m thinking about it, a lot of the best heavy metal and hardcore rock bands/musicians (powerful music for powerless people). They include Hendrix, Led Zeppelin, Cream, the Yardbirds, Van Halen, ZZ Top, Foreigner, Guns ’n Roses, Blue Oyster Cult, Mountain, Stevie Ray Vaughan, Kenny Wayne Shepherd, Nirvana, and a whole buncha other ear-busting bands (hey, I’m from Ohio, remember? — the girl can’t help it!); the sound unleashed by an electric guitar and those who play it well (Dick Dale, say, or David Arnson of the Insect Surfers) transports like no other.
Actions: Recycle. Pick up trash when you see it. Don’t kill bugs unnecessarily — if you see spiders, etc. in your house, put them in a jar, take them outside, and release them. If you think this is a weird idea, imagine a world without Charlotte’s Web. Join the Sierra Club. Support your local library. Give money to organizations that take care of your favorite wilderness area/animal/plant. Have a favorite wilderness area/animal/plant. If you are a woman, don’t — I repeat DO NOT — take premarin; it comes from pregnant mare’s urine and its extraction involves widespread abuse of horses (see www.doctorsagainstpremarin.org). Play baseball. Or just read the box scores. Ride a wave. Listen to an animal drink water. Observe a plant while it’s raining. See if you can watch it swell.
The Horse that Wouldn't Trot
Stephen Graham Jones
Mary Yukari Waters