"When dawn spreads its paintbrush on the plain, spilling purple... ," Songs of the Pioneers song from TV show "Wagon Train." Dawn on the mythic Santa Fe Trail, New Mexico, looking toward Raton from Cimarron. -- Clarkphoto. A curmudgeon's old-fashioned newspaper column, cross-breeding metaphors and journalism and art, for readers in 150 countries.

Monday, December 28, 2015

Why America needs characters, not cookie cutters

"We have become a tamed people."
                                                --Sean Prentiss
I read to explore, to learn, to get new ideas, to marvel at the power of words, to be inspired, to be prodded, to be angered, to think, to imagine, to discover, to travel,...the verbs go on...
My books are marked up--underlined, starred, words circled, phrases boxed, marginal notes made. My books are as varied in subjects and genres as my interests. 
When I read....
I keep discovering books and authors and worlds I didn't know about, and at my age, and as a repentant English major, I know I should have been more aware. Every visit to a bookstore opens my eyes. Every book read opens doors to more books and authors.
So much to read, so much to write, so much to find.
So it is today as I'm reading "Finding Abbey, The search for Edward Abbey and His Hidden Grave" by Sean Prentiss. I'm about a third of the way through and am reminded why Abbey, an iconoclast, a Western Thoreau, and people like him are so important.
We live in a politically correct world that is trying to standardize everything, from school tests, to college syllabi, to housing and clothing styles, to restaurants and politics and unbridled corporate materialism--cookie cutters.
Abbey fought against that. He was a character, and as I get older and more comfortable with myself, I too don't want to be a shallow copycat. Being a character is fun...
Even teaching has changed to where I try to provoke my students' thinking, to teach them to adapt, to follow their passions, to stand out as individuals. 
Wish I had earlier.
Here are a few of my marked words from Prentiss's book:
  • "America needs Abby's ideas now because we're stuck in a slow slide to the suburbanization of our lives. We've tamed everything from our land, to create those hollow suburbs, to our voices, where we talk and write in whispers so as not to offend our neighbors, to our actions, where we sit behind desks hour after hour, day after day, waiting for someone, anyone, to do something to shatter the routine. But nobody does. We have become a tamed people... ." 
  •  "I don't want answers.  Answers don't solve questions. Only searching does. The wandering, the wondering, the exploring." 
  • "We focus on how much our economy has grown rather than focusing on how we have grown as a people. Our focus is on consumption, not lifestyle or overpopulation." 
  • "Recently, everything has become normal, routine, repetitive, monotonous. As if I have morphed into middle age simply by accepting a job. I've got a house, a garage, a mortgage, a lawn to mow, a slew of house repair projects. This is not who I am."
  • "Wilderness? Wildness? Gone. Replaced by an urban cage." 
 America needs characters, not cookie cutters.

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