I think we all sense that a compression, a strange diminishment, of both time and place is in full gallop now...The world will never and should never become all one thing. There will always be some differences, enough differences, between which and in which artists will be able to continue to make art. But the more similar our world and our culture becomes, the more we need wilderness. The more we become different from the wilderness, the more we need the wilderness...because I believe too that "the more civilized man becomes, the more he needs and craves a vast background of wilderness...to which he may return, a contrite prodigal from the tasks of an artificial life."
- Rick Bass, Why I Came West
I was in New Orleans this weekend, just a quick overnight trip. Still, I had to get through security, get on an airplane, get off an airplane, take a shuttle, check in a hotel, check out of a hotel, and then shuttle in reverse back home. I'm usually very aware of differences when I travel. I listen and look much. There were differences on this trip. I think of my seat-mate who, due to size, spilled over into my seat as well. His left hand had only a thumb and pinkie finger; pointer, tall-man, ring-man, they were all gone. He had to use his right hand and his teeth to open the pretzels. Think about it.
I also think of my shuttle driver, a black man. I use the word "black" for this man was black, it was his color. There is no disrespect in that, only observation, looking, paying attention. He talked of his rovings but, for some reason, always found himself back in New Orleans. It was his home, his people.
There were other differences, distinctions that I noticed. There were. But what I saw most was "same."
As we sat in the plane awaiting take-off, I could not find a person not talking on a cell phone or checking the screen of a cell phone. I'm aware of my tendency to exaggerate, but honest to God, everyone around me was doing this. And as soon as we landed? These hand-held devices sprang to life and hand and ear and eye. Gotta be "on." We are an anxious people, no?
As I stood in front of a window on the 35th floor, I looked out over the river and saw traffic and hotels and sky being scraped and the endless chain of headlights and Saks Fifth Avenue and the casino that looks like a library. And I thought "I've seen this before." I'm sure there are differences there, people, stories. I fully believe there are. However, there was a vast backdrop of sameness. I could have been standing on the 35th floor in Vancouver or Dallas or Philadelphia. Even Colorado Springs, if they allowed 35 floors.
I kept thinking this is, to use Mr. Bass's phrase, "an artificial life." Life is about colors, like black and distinctions, such as left hands with only a thumb and pinkie.
Some say the greatest threat to America is nuclear weapons and the hands they are in. It could be that the greatest threat is this compression, this diminishment in full gallop now.
I'm craving wilderness.