Thursday, May 13, 2010

Westward Ho, Freud

Cowboys are cool. They just are. They tame wild mustangs, don their wide-brimmed ten gallon hat, and ride off into the sunset.

Why do they call movies about cowboys Westerns? Is it because the take place in the West? If so, perhaps the powers that be should consider Hawaii or even Japan. There are places farther west than Texas or Kentucky. There will always be a place farther West, because West is a direction, not a location, or even a destination.

Maybe it's a Western because West is not so much a place as it is a philosophy. That maverick-adventurous-pioneering-spirit philosophy. Don't settle, keep exploring, keep growing. For America, that spirit was encapsulated in The West, or whatever was left between civilization and the Pacific coast.

If a Western is really about that philosophy, then a cowboy is more than just a guy with spurs on his boots and a tobacco addiction. He's the determined pioneer that leaves the comfort zone of civilization and makes riding into the Sunset a lifestyle, both for the love of his horse, and for the love of discovering something better out there in the unknown.

I finally read up on the basics of Freud's model for the human psyche. You know, the Ego, Id and Super Ego. How I lived this long without learning about this stuff, I can't even tell you. But when I read the basics of the model, I immediately thought of the American Cowboy, his horse, and that Sunset.

Brace yourself. This might get a little weird.

Before, all I knew about the Id was what I learned from that 1950's movie The Forbidden Planet. It starred a serious Leslie Nielson (a serious Leslie Nielson? I know. But he was serious in this film). It also starred a horrible monster of pure energy. As it turned out, the monster was the Id of this guy named Morbius, who had inadvertently super-powered it with alien technology. Morbius would go to sleep and his Id would party all night, wreaking havoc on the countryside and murdering people who ticked it off.

Now, repressed Ids do get a little psycho and will lash out when ignored. I didn't live during the 1950's, but after reading Keats' Crack in the Picture Window in American History class, I do get the feeling that people back then did more than their share of repression for the sake of appearances. They probably feared their Id would materialize in energy-monster form and kill the neighbors in their sleep.

But, really, the Id is just a big ball of needs. That's it. You pretend you don't need what you need, and the pressure cooker will blow its top in an ugly super-powered alien monster kind of way. Admit you have the needs, take care of the needs, and your Id will take you anywhere you want to go.

Like a cowboy's horse. A good cowboy feeds and waters his horse. Gives it breaks. Rubs it down at the end of the day. Talks to it like an old friend. He reigns it in when the horse wants to run off a cliff, but lets it run its heart out over an open meadow. A good cowboy loves his horse and meets the horses needs better than the horse could do by itself. In return, the horse transports the Cowboy in style. Whenever I think of my own Id, I think of it as unruly mustang that I have to reign in, that I need to feed, that gets me places fast.

Now Super Ego, I used to think that was someone with a big head. Somone who's ego - in the self-confidence kind of way - had become so inflated it was now super. But that's not so. Not at all. If Id is the needy little kid, then Super Ego is the stern unforgiving authority. The Super Ego starts every sentence with Should. You should eat your vegetables. He should watch his step. She should do the right thing. Super Ego knows how things should be, and fills your head with soapboxes and ideals. Super Ego gives you something to shoot for, because unless you decide how things should be, you'll never know what you want to change about the way things currently are. But those shoulds, if you let them, can cripple you with guilt, shame, and an inferiority complex, because you aren't where you should be. (I think it can also create a superiority complex, but I won't get into that)

For a Cowboy, Super Ego is the sun. As it sets, it is way more than obvious which way is West, which way to go. It gives the cowboy a direction, a goal, and kick starts him into getting off his arse and get moving. I've wondered about cowboys and sunsets before. Looking into the sun hurts! Why would you go straight for something that causes your eyes pain? I think a lot of people say this about church. Why go? I just feel bad about myself, realize I'm no where near what I'd like to be, and then I'm too depressed to do anything.

Sometimes church does that for me, too. But, luckily, I've learned from the best cowboys, and gotten myself a ten gallon hat with a very wide brim. Religiously, that brim is grace and forgiveness. It blocks the part of the sun I'm not ready to handle. Because, honestly, who wants to see the full glory of what you should be and know you just aren't there yet? It only makes you want to give up, or pretend you've already arrived.

Cowboys (and Egos) aren't about arriving anywhere. They are about other things.

The Ego's job is to make decisions, to balance things. It has to make calls between the needs of the Id and the demands and expectations of the Super Ego. Does the need of the horse warrant a temporary stop on his westward journey? The Ego must think ahead about the needs of the horse, and must make sure his West is really West. He must decide how much of the brim of his hat to use to shield his eyes, and when his horse would benefit from a romp in the field.

Most of all, Cowboys are about being in a Western. They are about going West. They love and care for their horse so it will carry them along. They keep track of that setting sun with the careful use of their ten gallon brim so they know which way they're going.

Really, it's all about going West. Don't let how far East you are get you down. West is not a place that you need to get to. It's a direction. it's a state of mind. It's the act of going.

I'm farther West today than I was yesterday, and that's all that counts.

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