“A Writer’s Credo”

My friend Jennifer mailed me a book on Yellowstone Park by a man named Jack Turner a few weeks ago. I can only imagine spending serious time in Yellowstone. It’s one of those places most people only read about. You know it exists, you’ve seen it on PBS specials but you’ve never been.

Consequently, making it to the east side of Yosemite National Park was one of my goals for my six-week stay in Reno this summer for the Maynard Editing Program, where I met Jen.

Unfortunately, it didn’t happen. It was simply a casualty of circumstance. I did see Lake Tahoe twice, Virginia City twice, and I made it to San Francisco and the West Coast for the first time in my life. (Not to mention, despite not being gay, I’ve now been to two major Gay Pride parades. Bizarre.)

Jennifer, who lives in San Antonio, saw the book at a booksale, knew about my unfulfilled goal and bought the book for me. She sent it along with some Alamo crackers for Dylan.

I haven’t got around to reading it yet. I will as soon as I finish the book I’m reading about the South. But I have perused “Travels in the Greater Yellowstone” enough to find this nugget between the acknowledgements and the introduction:

“The moral duty of the free writer is to begin his work at home: to be a critic of his own community, his own country, his own government, his own culture. The more freedom the writer possesses the greater the moral obligation to play the role of critic.”

The words were not written by Turner, but by Edward Abbey, “an American author and essayist noted for his advocacy of environmental issues and criticism of public land policies,” to quote Wikipedia, which of course, is always dangerous.

Apparently, Abbey, who died in 1989, was quite a controversial character. He was quite the environmentalist, with most of his attention focused on the American West, yet he refused to be associated with those we commonly know as environmentalists and tended to anger those on both the right and the left. For example, he advocated burning draft cards as early as 1947, but was known to support the National Rifle Association.

Abbey’s politics aside, his “Writer’s Credo,” originally written as a lecture and included as a chapter in his book “One Life At a Time, Please,”  is as on the money as one could be. And though Abbey was an author and not a journalist, at least in the common sense, he hits on what some of the goals of a journalist should be.

In the process of finding out more about Abbey, including spending considerable time on a Web site dedicated to his works and fans, per se, I came across a treasure trove of interesting quotes by the man. Here are a few: 

To truly bring about change, one must be willing “to oppose injustice, to defy the powerful, to speak for the voiceless.”

“Truth is always the enemy of power. And power the enemy of truth.”

“Whenever I see a photograph of some sportsman grinning over his kill, I am always impressed by the striking moral and aesthetic superiority of the dead animal to the live one.”

“Better a cruel truth than a comfortable delusion.”

“A knowledge of the true age of the earth and of the fossil record makes it impossible for any balanced intellect to believe in the literal truth of every part of the Bible in the way that fundamentalists do. And if some of the Bible is manifestly wrong, why should any of the rest of it be accepted automatically?”

“The tragedy of modern war is that the young men die fighting each other – instead of their real enemies back home in the capitals.”

“Society is like a stew. If you don’t stir it up every once in a while then a layer of scum floats to the top.”

“There is no force more potent in the modern world than stupidity fueled by greed.”

“In art as in a boat, a bullet, or a coconut-cream pie, purpose determines form.”

“Grand opera is a form of musical entertainment for people who hate music.”

“Science is the whore of industry and the handmaiden of war.”

“The rich can buy everything but health, virtue, friendship, wit, good looks, love, pride, intelligence, grace, and, if you need it, happiness.”

“The feminist notion that the whole of human history has been nothing but a vast intricate conspiracy by men to enslave their wives, mothers, daughters, and sisters presents us with an intellectual neurosis for which we do not yet have a name.”

“There’s nothing so obscene and depressing as an American Christmas.”

“Motherhood is an essential, difficult, and full-time job. Women who do not wish to be mothers should not have babies.”

“The best American writers have come from the hinterlands–Mark Twain, Theodore Dreiser, Jack London, Hemingway, Faulkner, Wolfe, Steinbeck. Most of them never even went to college.”

“Abolition of a woman’s right to abortion, when and if she wants it, amounts to compulsory maternity: a form of rape by the State.”

“In the Soviet Union, government controls industry. In the United States, industry controls government. That is the principal structural difference between the two great oligarchies of our time.”

America My Country: last nation on earth to abolish human slavery; first of all nations to drop the nuclear bomb on our fellow human beings.”

Any hack can safely rail away at foreign powers beyond the sea; but a good writer is a critic of the society he lives in.”

“There never was a good war or a bad revolution.”

“Baseball serves as a good model for democracy in action: Every player is equally important and each has a chance to be a hero.”

“The most common form of terrorism in the U.S.A. is that carried on by bulldozers and chain saws.”

“A patriot must always be ready to defend his country against his government.”

“Jane Austen: Getting into her books is like getting in bed with a cadaver. Something vital is lacking; namely, life.”

And last, but not least:

Life is too short for grief. Or regret. Or bullshit.”

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One Response to ““A Writer’s Credo””

  1. oneshorething Says:

    I second that quote. Now if only I could truly live by it.

    I wanted to go on that trip, too. But I suppose there’s always next time. Let’s all invade the program one week in the next few years and take the trip then!

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