From January, 2008:
How often do we dismiss imagination as childish, an utter waste of time, as foolishness – brief, immature attempts at escape from an unwanted job, a hollow marriage, unfulfilling friendships? Far too often. And what a pity. Harmless fun, mind wandering, a cheap vacation, a hope that has little to no chance of fruition, a break from the norm. Why do we catch ourselves and dismiss it? Why do we punish ourselves for natural creativity?
Probably every boy born before 1985 has dreamed of the West, of longhorns, campfires, dust, leather, and denim. The drifter’s life, a horse the closest companion, the unrestrictive walls of his home the masterpiece of endless miles of unfenced land, sage brush, and rocky, unaccommodating soil. And it has a romantic appeal, the huge hat, the strong, silent cowboy, a pair of sixguns about his waist, cutting his swath through untamed country. Every boy’s dream.
Here’s a thought that, even in my older age, pressing responsibilities, and the crushing weight of reality, refuses to die back.
If you lived out there, in that era, who would you be? There’s quite a cast of characters, albeit those derived from watching them eke out their living on the hills of Italy in innumerable spaghetti westerns. They may be one-dimensional, but dream a little.
Most men, without even pause for thought, blurt out that they are cowboys. The quintessential hero. The tall, slender guy with a swagger that steers his horse from one village to the next. Few possessions, few wants, content in the elements. The man who never dies in the movies and always gets the bad guy. The man who tracks hundreds of miles for a handful of rustled cattle. The man who makes the girls swoon when he strides past them, pretending not to notice. Somewhere there’s one that’s his – in a distant town, brown eyes, long hair, and a beautiful smile. He thinks only of her. He’ll fight, and he sure knows how, but only to defend himself or the innocent. And he’ll win, too. Many see themselves as him.
Maybe you’re the barkeep. The good listener, the indiscriminate servant of his guests. The guy who instinctively grabs the mirror behind the counter before he ducks down to avoid another brawl. When it’s over, pick up the broken furniture, scour the pockets of the unconscious (or apprehended) troublemakers for payment, and continue commiserating with the dejected, supervising the card game in the corner, and watching. Perhaps you are he.
Or the barber. Another friend to all men, men who trust you sufficiently to allow you a go at their chins with a straight razor. A listener, an observer, neutral. Up on all the town’s goings on, where the shady guys are, where to buy the best goods, stolen or otherwise. The socialite. Maybe him.
The general store manager. Another friend of many. Neutral, informed on what the townspeople need, taking pride on his work. Clean store, packed shelves, interesting stock. The smell of leather, rough cut floorboards, tools and ropes. The bare essentials. No frills. Just tools, some candy, soap, saddles and hats. Another essential character.
Or the rancher, long ago settled on some dry, dusty pick of ground, scratching out a living from inhospitable soil. Building a business with your own two hands, herds from nothing, barns, a ranch home, a bunk house. Keeping to yourself, fighting for what’s rightfully yours. Large family, beautiful wife and mother to your children. A difficult life, yes, but nevertheless rewarding. Perhaps you are he.
There are a million others – the cattle rustler, the mayor, the town drunk, the mariachis, the perpetual gambler, banker, land baron, carpenter, the criminal, the blacksmith, each with their particular appeal. Perhaps I betray my bias in writing this. Perhaps I do not.
Which character from this cast are you, and why? What is the appeal? How does it stir you? How does it steer your dreams? And where will it take you next?
Copyright © 2008, Ben Shaw
All Rights Reserved