Wednesday, June 29, 2011

Icons

When you first grew serious about reading beyond your ability to realize how serious you were or what it meant, the mountain man and cowboy were there for you as icons, ideals you had to force-fit yourself into accepting as persons with whom you could identify.  For one thing, you were somewhat shorter than your current six three; you wore thick glasses, and the closest you'd come to a horse was a visit initiated by your material grandfather to a small oval on La Cienega near Beverly in west-central Los Angeles, where two moody Shetland ponies lumbered about, more as though they were doing you a favor than bridging any sort of gap between man and animal.

In time you came into possession of a matched set of faux-pearl handled Gene Autry cap guns, but still the notion persisted that the Shetland pony had it in for you, that your own squinty-eyed visage and lack of height made thoughts of identification with the West a quixotic dream.  Frequent visits to the Hitching Post Theaters, one on Hollywood Boulevard, near the famed Pantages Theater, the other in Santa Monica, intrigued you with the issues portrayed, but left you struggling to see where you fit in.

Your early attempts at writing Western fiction revealed this sense you had of being an outsider in a place you longed to find some wriggle room.  The results were odd bits of whim and history in collision.  It was not until your late twenties and thirties that you arrived at any sense of Western identity, but by then you were immersed in Western stories intended for television, and some producers warned you off your more or less constant portrayal of class consciousness and the inherent bigotry and racism in such plentiful supply.

You abandoned the West with mixed emotions, simultaneous in your love of it as a place and a concept, not yet able to decode it to the degree necessary to write about it as the men and women you admired were able to do.  Even so, you came away aware of the figure of the cowboy as an American myth, even as you turned to another myth created with studious deliberation, the Indian.

Which leaves you, as though kicking and screaming, into the one you are even more able to identify with,the loner,investigating injustices because it feels right, because he or she is driven to do so, having already been hurt by discoveries of what people can do to one another. This individual may at one time have been military or sworn peace officer but is now right out there on the margin, wanting some sort of romantic justice in the land of the noir.  He or she may well be of a less-than-glamorous size or shape, perhaps as afflicted as Jonathan Lethem's Lionel Estorg, perhaps needing thick-lensed glasses, perhaps as Tony Hillerman's Jim Chee, wanting to become as well as an investigator a shaman.

Perhaps is the watchword for such individuals.  Perhaps they will achieve a moment or measure of a result.  But there is no doubt they will try.

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