“Human beings are not born once and for all on the day their mothers give birth to them, but … life obliges them over and over again to give birth to themselves.” — Gabriel Garcia Marquez
Early in Mark Dayton’s run for governor, he told the Star Tribune about his successful battles with alcoholism and depression. “I want to reassure people that I feel extremely confident of my abilities,” he said. “I feel stronger, more confident and more capable within myself than I ever have.”
Within myself. Not exactly an expression from the politico handbook, nor are we likely to hear it coming out of the mouths of Dayton’s frighteningly unimaginative enemies, who mock his “mood swings” as an inability to govern. But it says here that the late-to-the-Tea Partiers would do well to recognize the core of the man they’re dealing with.
The fact is, the 64-year-old former U.S. Senator’s confrontation with his inner demons — “all my adult life” — are undoubtedly serving him well now as he stands up, virtually alone, for the elderly, poors and infirm of Minnesota in an historic filibuster against a narrow-hearted and mean-spirited GOP minority.
It remains to be seen how long Dayton’s toughness will be tested, but the hard-won temerity of his inner fortitude and his fighting of the good fight has me on his side. “Nobody knows the trouble I’ve seen,” goes the old blues tune, and when a human being spends a lifetime weaving personal turmoil into something positive, into a moment of truth such as the one Dayton finds himself embroiled in, that’s worth saluting. And as it turns out, he’s not alone.
Men of a certain age are often walking, talking clichés caricaturized as late-adapters, silly old bulls, and lonely lost souls whose best days are behind them. But enough about Tim Pawlenty. Today I’m thinking about men of a certain age and experience who, along with Dayton, are and deserve to be in the limelight — David Carr, Buck Brannaman, and Woody Allen, to name only a few. Call them survivors if we must, and yes we must, for all four men bring to the conversation a certain depth and wisdom that mere youth can’t muster.
Carr is the star of the new documentary “Page One: Inside The New York Times.” The former Twin Cities Reader reporter and editor chronicled his wild youth in “Night of the Gun,” a memoir about his addiction to cocaine and his pursuit of gonzo journalism. Carr is now the media and culture critic at the Times, and his curiosity for a good story and journalistic tenacity at this late date is inspiring for wet-behind-the-ears journalists, new media mavens and crabby ink-stained wretches alike.
Carr is a great reminder that we are all constantly reinventing ourselves, and that we are all storytellers. One of the finest stories I’ve heard lately is “Buck,” a new documentary about the life and philosophy of horse trainer Brannaman. The guy reminds me of so many Midwestern musicians I know, with his lilting no-nonsense cadence, steely eyes and easy grace. He grew up under whippings from his alcoholic father, who forced Buck and his brother into performing as a child rodeo act.
It’s as hardscrabble a beginning as they come, and difficult to watch sometimes, but as he tells it, if he hadn’t been mercilessly beaten by his father, Buck wouldn’t be the man Robert Redford based his film “The Horse Whisperer” on. He would also tell you that he was not as good at his work in his 20s as he is now.
Then, he was an introverted cowboy. Then, he was trying to find his way in a cold world. Now, his connection with wild horses is mystical but not mysterious to anyone who truly loves their animal. Now, there’s Buck on the big screen, a guru in chaps and spurs talking about the importance of living in the moment, not dwelling in the past, and how our animals mirror our deepest selves. Oh, and how he plans to be doing the rodeo circuit until he’s in his 90s. Not a bad fifth or sixth act.
Another stay-in-the-moment guru of the moment is Woody Allen, whose “Midnight In Paris” is his highest-grossing film in 25 years and one of the surprise box office hits of the summer. It’s a gorgeous, romantic film in which a writer who mythologizes the literary scene of the Roaring 20s and other “Golden Ages” gets time-traveled back to his heart’s desire only to discover there’s no place like now.
To be sure, this is Allen’s reading of Ram Dass’s “Be Here Now” or Eckhart Tolle’s “The Power of Now.” Allen’s very wise message is that the speed of life circa 2011 is no different than it was decades ago and that human beings aren’t all that different from their great great grandkin. It’s doubtful that a younger Woody Allen, he of the eternal existential angst, could have delivered such a message, one that gently reminds the rest of us to stop yearning for smarter, simpler times and start living our own epic lives here in the new Golden Age.
Jim Walsh lives and grew up in East Harriet.