A Good Guy Who Aged Well. ©2015

Pondering the generations, with L.E. Taylor

IN 1943 AMERICA, an eight-year-old boy’s imagination was teeming with real heroes. Certainly mine was. Not rock stars or millionaire sports hotshots; these were true, living heroes, not much older than I. Unlike our twenty-first century darlings, these icons weren’t full of themselves. These heroes didn’t strut or preen. They just worked. They got dirty and bloodied, and many died young doing the work they were paid a pittance to do.

They waged war against evil.

In the great fortified arsenal that was our city in those days, everyone was obsessed with The War. We lived in the shadow of fear and uncertainty that haunted families everywhere in the world. But we were uniquely blessed – the hideous battlefields of Europe and the Pacific would not come to us. Too much ocean to cross for the bad guys to get at us. Instead, American families had to send their youngsters “over there”.

Television wasn’t even a word. All we knew of the drama came by way of the radio, daily newspapers, and Life Magazine. But they were enough to invade a child’s innocent mind with the unspeakable. Enough for a bright, imaginative lad to draw conclusions about good and evil, bad guys and good guys.

Yesterday, I opened an email from a neighbor. It had a link. Suddenly, I was in the presence of one of my heroes of 1943. No, I didn’t know this fellow personally, or even by name. But I recognized him in a flash. He wore a crisply laundered and starched U.S. Air Force summer uniform, with big silver captain’s bars on the collar. His officer’s cap was as squared and as becoming to his handsome ninety-one-year old face as it had been the last time he wore it. Seventy years ago.

Please allow me to introduce you to P-51 Mustang fighter pilot, Captain Jerry Yellen:

https://www.dvidshub.net/video/395572/jerry-yellin-world-war-ii-veteran-interview#.VdJcIBRVhBc

When I grow up I want to be just like him.

Onward.

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Ah, To Be Jung Again. ©2015

Reconsidering my mid-life quest, by L.E. Taylor

A COUPLE OF DECADES AGO I found myself in a writer’s workshop on the high mesa outside Taos New Mexico. (I didn’t mean to start out with a pun, but there it is.) At the time, I wasn’t aware I was “finding myself,” but those five days did prompt an eventual change of course in my Middle American, middle-brow journey.

A whole series of coincidences led to that good moment. And to this one.

The class instructor was a remarkable soul by the name of Pierre Delattre (Deh-lot-truh). You probably don’t recognize the name, but that’s no reflection on you. Or Pierre. But once, it was different.

In the years I was struggling to make my way as a freelance ad man in the Midwest, Pierre was already established in the volatile bohemian neighborhoods of San Francisco. It was the 1960s and he was at the chaotic center of all the political and social drama. An ordained Presbyterian minister, Pierre was dubbed by Time Magazine, “The Beatnik Priest of San Francisco”. His notable autobiographical books are Walking On Air and Tales of a Dalai Lama.

My most admired of his works, however, is a collection called Episodes, a copy of which he inscribed to me.

But that came thirty years later when our paths would finally cross briefly, on the high table-land of the Sangre de Cristo Mountains.

Pierre’s one week writing-drill was rich in wisdom beyond tips on prose writing. Among his insights was the notion that our individual lives are patchworks of stories informed by experience – much of it ironic and improbable. He used a term I had heard, but never paid much attention to: Synchronicity. He gave examples in his own life of stunningly abrupt intersections of events, good fortune, and answered prayers.

As a young expatriate, Pierre was once marooned with his family in the impoverished backcountry of Mexico, flat broke with no way to get home. Contracted to write a novel, but battling a writer’s block, he finds himself absorbed with the abstract idea of “balance.” His fictional story is to be set in a circus, but he’s hit a wall. What does he know about the circus? At one critical moment of despair, a stranger arrives at his front door. Pierre writes this fragment in Episodes:

“Hi, I’m Carlos. I hear you’re writing a circus novel. I was a juggler in a circus for five years.” [Carlos] took me home; his whole family juggled for me. Carlos gave me a rare book on the mysticism of juggling.

Pierre quickly completes his manuscript and ships it off to his publisher. Soon, a check for his advance comes just in time to save the family. “We were down to our last peso,” he wrote.

THE BEGINNING OF MY OWN first novel came in the late nineties. Financially rewarded as a corporate marketing consultant, I was nonetheless, spiritually drained by the arid monotony of joyless striving. Also, the cash flow was waning. One chill gray morning I retreated into one of our vacant offices and, to excuse my need for solitude, I decided to learn how to use our strange new Apple word processor. I advised my assistant, and closed the door.

Averse to writing anything on my to-do list, I flashed on a morsel of family lore. Working from memory and embellishing as I went, I got caught up in the narrative. The next day I discovered I’d written not a short story; but “Chapter One.” For three years, amidst financial distress and personal sorrows, I journeyed every night into the past for hours, virtually taking dictation from an angel on my shoulder. The result was my 460 page novel, Elgan and Grace – A Twentieth Century Saga.

My occupation, since completing that book, has evolved into a special calling. Unexpectedly, I now find reward helping people of earlier generations reclaim their own rich nuggets of days past. My role is to share with them what I learned crafting my true stories. I coach them to capture their treasures with care, as a worthy legacy for others. The workshops are called Great Family Storytelling. Students are guided to not only remember, but also to write their tales in prose, as polished as they have the will to muster. I am not easy on them. The result for both student and family is the joy that comes with a strict labor of love, well done.

Synchronicity is not the fever-dream of some New Age yogi; it is the clinical inspiration of one of the great minds of psychiatry, Carl Jung. A Swiss disciple of the Viennese icon Sigmund Freud, Jung considered himself a scientist. His work has made a powerful impact on our notions of how the brain works. Much in the field that we take for granted originated with Carl Jung: the conscious and the unconscious, the phenomena of personality types, and how to explain synchronicity.

As he studied, Jung kept his mind open and did not dismiss the meaning of primal symbolism, or the possibility of multiple lives of one spirit (reincarnation). But, perhaps the most controversial of his obsessions was the bizarre coincidences in ordinary lives that are both timely and uncannily apt – the phenomenon he termed “synchronicity”.

Last week, I got an unexpected note from a former student on the topic of coincidence. She said she doesn’t believe in dumb coincidence; she thinks there’s an energy that surrounds us and influences us. Our life is full of opportunity and clues to light our Way; all we have to do is pay attention and respond. Some call it the Holy Spirit.

That’s when I remembered my old mentor Pierre, snoozing for decades in my subconscious. I went to the wall of books in my writer-cave. There, high-up, I found it, Episodes, by Pierre Delattre. I’d never read it all the way through, so riffled the pages for a moment. A word caught my eye, I backtracked. At the top of page 147, a one word title: “Synchronicity.”

OUR GIFT OF LIFE is designed to be more than a mindless slog from birth to death. It is a cavalcade of opportunities to conjure with and learn from, even as we wrestle with the earthly sojourn. Another pastor, this one half a lifetime ago at my home church in Ann Arbor, drummed the same mantra: Choose Life!

Consider this: You needn’t be a counter-culture rebel nor an arty mystic to grab your hold on the Truth, and then to share your joy with others. Just pay attention, trust what you see, and then follow; maybe the answers, after all, are hidden in the problems.

Onward.

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Resources.

  1. Delattre, Pierre; Episodes; Gray Wolf Press, Saint Paul, MN; 1993.
  2. Taylor, L. E.; Elgan and Grace – A Twentieth Century Saga; FreisenPress; Vancouver B.C., Canada; 2012.
  3. Carl Jung, www.wikipedia.com
  4. Synchonicity, www.wikipedia.com
  5. [Author]; The Power of Your Subconscious Mind; [pub. Info.]; 1973.
  6. Murphy, Dr. Joseph; The Power of Your Subconscious Mind; Prentice-Hall; Paramus, NJ; 1963.

Flunking Your Way to Success,
Part One ©2015

Thoughts on the perfection myth, by L.E. Taylor

ANOTHER EMAIL JUST ARRIVED from LinkedIn, the social network for career-bent strivers. This one carried an invitation to join with several of my “contacts” in a niche organization that many of them had found simpatico. In the margin was a conversation-starter question:

“What have you learned from failing?”

Notice the question did not refer to “failure.” The sponsoring group is Professional Women’s Network. The inference I was pleased to draw was that these are vocationally successful persons. They see failing as an incidental flashpoint. Otherwise, the term might well have been ‘failure,’ which connotes the act of failing not as an event, but as a habit, implying a chronic condition.

The time-worn axiom about penury comes to mind: Being broke is a temporary predicament; being poor is a frame of mind. Each signals a different impulse in given individuals: to take action or to curl up.

After one calamitous laboratory accident, a 30-ish Thomas Edison was asked by a reporter if he was discouraged having failed so many times. Edison replied cheerfully that he was, in fact, exhilarated; now he knew ninety-six things that didn’t work.

We all know at least one pet thing that doesn’t work. But in spite of the evidence, many of us stubbornly flail away at the old horse carcass without objectively adjusting assumptions. That isn’t perseverance, it’s knuckle-headedness.

But back to the business network question.

In the booming decade after World War II, peacetime spawned a quality of life previously undreamed of for most American households. Evidence of self-satisfaction soon appeared in the quaint form of an annual practice called the Christmas letter. It was usually a single typewritten page, neatly folded and inserted into each outgoing Christmas card. The narrative was a glowing report on the blessings of success, harmony, and fulfillment enjoyed by each haloed member of the extraordinary clan.

Big John’s new promotion got top billing. Mildred’s domestic talents and selfless volunteer work kept the four-bedroom dream house snug and perfect for the amazing, above average exploits of all – e.g., the State U. scholarship freshman Jack (Jr.), the baton twirling champion Susan, the adorably funny twins Lloyd and Floyd, spry forgetful Grandma Em, and even Rufus the aging sheepdog-Corgi mix who guarded the suburban model home though asleep..

Human nature being what it is, the impact upon mortal readers was predictable. No recipients who glance up from a letter of such glad tidings to view the chaos of their own domestic battleground were fooled.

In the real world there are no painless successes.

Facebook is something like that: Weekly close up snapshots of a chicken salad and a terse caption that once again Heather is having lunch with her doting, faithful hubby at TGI Friday’s becomes cloying. A quick e-blast that bachelor pal Randy is heading for yet another vacation on the beaches of Cancun seems to have no point (What, already?! Didn’t that just happen last month?).

Myriad variations on such pedestrian narcissism is summed up nicely in the neologism, “selfie”. Seldom are friends informed meaningfully by this stuff. Nor are fringe surfers rewarded with honest joy. And the robotic response of chirpy network chums is even more banal than the fluffed-up initial posting.

Scanning LinkedIn, however, I catch a whiff of substance. More than idle bragging, there resonates in these exchanges a sense of purpose. Self-promotion, sure. So what? (If not by you, then who?) Individuals are actually trying to accomplish things. They are living mobile business lives – upwardly, laterally, or maybe in a circle, but they aren’t just sitting there ‘liking’ each other. It’s about work.

So, I’m all for it. Yes, my capitalist sisters, if you’ll have me as a brother-in-arms auxiliary of the Professional Women’s Network, I’m in. Maybe we can do something to help each other, even if only by encouragement or offering grief-saving tips on what works and what is fool’s gold. Come, sit here by me – wise, harmless old Uncle Larry.

I don’t have to wear a red hat, do I?

Onward.

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Next time:
Part Two: 3 common failures and their lessons

Lou Gehrig Was Right

Reflection on being ‘the luckiest man on earth,’  by L. E. Taylor

Recently, there’s been a lot of publicity on the “ice bucket” craze. It’s a stunt that’s supposed to raise awareness of ALS, the incurable neural disorder that took down the New York Yankee great, Lou Gehrig, in 1941.

The fad has people of all stations in life (most notably celebrities) dump buckets of melted ice (i.e., water) over the heads of themselves and others in the fashion of ebullient football players dousing a coach in the last seconds of a victory.

The Ice Bucket Challenge is a social media phenomenon. It’s supposed to “raise awareness” of ALS just as affixing colored ribbons to one’s bosom is supposed to help cure cancers or show support for minority victims of, uh, everything. The challenge has purportedly raised millions in pledges for ALS research.

One thing is certain. It certainly makes the ribbon-wearers and the well-selfied elites feel good about themselves.

This ALS stunt is the latest symptom of preening exhibitionism, un-dreamed of in 1941. Lou Gehrig had a different take. Standing before a microphone at home plate on July 4th, 1939, he had this to say about his own plight:

Fans, for the past two weeks you have been reading about the bad break I got. Yet today I consider myself the luckiest man on the face of the earth. I have been in ballparks for seventeen years and have never received anything but kindness and encouragement from you fans.

When you look around, wouldn’t you consider it a privilege to associate yourself with such fine looking men as are standing in uniform in this ballpark today? Sure, I’m lucky…

Lou acknowledged, by name and role, individuals whose guidance, professionalism and loving-kindness he’d been privileged to know, from baseball men to hard working parents. Then he concluded,

When you have a wife who has been a tower of strength and shown more courage than you dreamed existed—that’s the finest [gift] I know.

So I close in saying that I might have been given a bad break, but I’ve got an awful lot to live for. Thank you.

So spoke the self-proclaimed “luckiest man on the face of the earth.” But this essay, written for you, is not about Lou Gehrig, or ALS, or modern narcissism. It’s about gratitude.

You may blow this off as just a sermon. Not so fast, Agnes.

In the small hours today before sunup, I received an unexpected email from an old friend. It carried a link to an “inspiring” video. I’m suspicious of maudlin sentimentality, but I clicked on it. It was a human interest news clip. About a girl abandoned as a baby, now a bright, accomplished young woman. The secrets of the story came, one, two, three. Each provoked in me an audible gasp.

In a few minutes, all the pain of my recent surgery disappeared. My mind sharpened and my post-op depression dissolved. My thoughts drifted to Lou Gehrig standing there seventy-five years ago, humble and grateful in the hopelessness of a death sentence.

I sat in wonder, first at the horror, then at this evidence of human fortitude and the genuine “luck” of our under-appreciated gift from our Creator. It’s just a news show filler. Human interest about a girl.

Uplifting, no tears. Well…

I had to send it to you.

https://docs.google.com/file/d/0ByFUzo9KwryWWkRwUEw4bmZNaVk/edit?pli=1

Once More, With Feeling

Thoughts on the art of reading, by L.E. Taylor ©2014

A reader of these essays, call her Carli, commented to me recently that she found herself uneasy as she read because it seemed she was reading pages of my diary. I take it as a compliment. I often write impulsively and when there’s really a flow, I guess it may drift into imprudence. Usually, this gets fixed in the second filter of editing but if I’m feeling bold I usually opt for letting it be – and just risk the consequences.

This came to mind today as I closed an anthology of short stories and began thinking into what I’d just read.

Over the months since I began mentoring adult students in storytelling workshops, I’ve found myself reading more short fiction by the great writers. Although reading for vicarious escape has been a passion since high school, I’m now reading with an eye to the subtleties, just as I teach my students to read: slowly and with expression. Good writers, classic or contemporary, don’t just bash this stuff out, you know. They worry it into shape… often, syllable by syllable.

A good writer’s words deserve to be savored. And you, as a reader, deserve to get the most from the time you invest reading what they leave for you.

So, a teachable moment just happened an hour ago as I closed that Bantam Classic of 50 Great Short Stories – reissued 2005. The writer in question is the 19th century master, Guy de Maupassant. (Now just sit still and stay with me for a minute; have I ever bored you?) The story is Looking Back. The reader was me. An elderly countess and the old village priest have finished their weekly dinner at the woman’s chateau. Her grandchildren, who live with her, have been trundled off to bed; the two aged companions sit before the glowing hearth, and the old woman brings their quiet conversation around to a question: “And now, M. le Curé, it’s time for you to make your confession to me.”

The story is a mere six pages and took me no time to read. I found its gentleness of voice and sparseness of detail compelling. Its denouement (coming together – look it up!) and conclusion were moving and satisfying. Then I realized I’d done just what I tell my students to avoid: I’d raced through it. Okay, self, I said, now that you know where it’s going, read it again – this time with care; slow down, it’s only a few pages.

Having devoured the story in a gulp, now I was able to linger over the old priest’s monologue which constituted most of the writer’s tale. Only a half-page into re-reading, I discovered a single “throw-away” sentence, almost an incidental author’s mumble that revealed a subtext that I’d missed in my hurry to see where the old man’s soliloquy was going.

It helped me discover in the priest’s “confession” that Maupassant was describing… me.

I went online to research the life of Guy de Maupassant. In no time, I learned that he had put into the words of the ancient curé a clinical description of his own journey. The saintly old fellow was laying bare his life, mind you, as seen from a moment in his eighth decade. But the author had written this story while in his own thirties!

One of the joys of my workshop teaching is the richness of the tales my students set down in writing. Some are painful, some lovely, many are inspirational, others can be very funny. Once in a while, a story of no more than a typewritten page can be all of these and more.

My students are all people with far more pages in their own Books of Life than there are yellowed pages left yet to skim. But for them, happily, there is much left to write – of summer days and winter nights gone by.

Which takes us back to my reader, Carli, who felt queasy reading what she perceived to be my private papers. Well, she was right. I was giving her a peek into what I care about – my values, my passions, and a small, pale sample of my visceral secrets.

Just today, I read an article by Greg Gutfeld who laments the loss of “mystery” in people’s rush to make themselves famous on Facebook, if only by doing a selfie snapshot with their seafood salad. Granted, there may be a hint of narcissism in one’s urge to write. But throughout history, for many seasoned veterans of life’s battle, the impulse has been to carve a message on a tree for anyone who may care enough to read it. In its loftiest presumption, the inscription might represent a sort of legacy. Done well, whatever the intent, the act of writing can enrich both the writer, as words hit the page, and countless unknown readers yet to be born.

So slow down. Read with care and with some feeling for the author’s voice.

As always, good reader, this one’s for you.

 

Onward.

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Hypocrisy or Hippocrates?

A 2016 conundrum examined by L. E. Taylor

“Fibs.” Small innocent sidesteps around The Truth.

Well, I’ve done it, oh yes. I’m a flawed human being. I’ve borne false witness. Didn’t mean to. Didn’t think about it as a lie. But over the years, getting into scrapes and cornered by my own fecklessness, it happened.

Notice that impersonal-tense: It happened. As though no one was really responsible. It just… happened. As when the government tells us that “mistakes were made.” Nobody really made the costly policy blunders. No one caused the unexpected consequences – egregious harm done to average families merely happened. No one planned the murders of Americans stranded in various hell holes around the globe. The “stuff” just made itself… happen.

Speaking not as a perfect human being, but as a contrite child of God placed here to witness and to advocate for what’s right, I’m fed up to here with lies. Hypocrisy is not droll or clever or forgivable just because “everyone does it.” We have a demanding system of instituted laws. Not fickle “regulations” imposed by partisan paper-pushers – hard Laws of State. Lying under oath is out.

In our system, men and women are elected to be stewards of our Republic. They hold a sacred trust. They must not enter the halls of government to advance themselves, but – at all cost to their own comforts – they are sworn to protect and defend the constitutional integrity of a sacredly conceived Nation. Unambiguously. No fibs allowed.

The Founders themselves were not without flaw, but they were inoculated with conscience. Whatever their failings, their worldview was informed by the Judeo-Christian ethic that underpinned their classical educations and resulted in the U.S. Constitution. When they sinned, they knew they were sinning. They held themselves, and each other, to account. Vociferously.

George Washington, our first and still our greatest president, knew he was setting precedent for the ages, so he monitored his own behavior. He declined the notion of “president for life”. He rejected any majestic reference to the Executive officeholder, preferring to be called simply “Mister President.” He insisted upon placing his hand upon a Bible for the Oath of Office and concluded his sacred promise with an ad lib: “So help me, God.”

A few weeks ago, along with about seven hundred other informed and thoroughly fed-up Americans of all faiths, races and political parties, I met a great man. Dr. Benjamin Carson may become our next president. If not, it will not be because he is feckless or unprincipled.

Raised by an impoverished mother in a blighted ghetto of a crumbling, graft-ridden City of Detroit, Dr. Carson’s salvation has been documented. He transformed from the worst tadpole in his fifth grade class to a fully-formed “prince.” A graduate of The University of Michigan Medical School, Yale University, and recently retired as director of pediatric neurosurgery at Johns Hopkins, Dr. Ben has exemplified the very epitome of an American Dream.

His journey is catalogued in six self-authored best-selling books and one made-for-TV movie, Gifted Hands. Ben Carson is cofounder of the Carson Scholars Fund, recipient of the Presidential Medal of Freedom – and at last year’s Prayer Breakfast he candidly spoke truth to power.

one-tourThat’s why I found myself one Friday afternoon, in a crush of good natured, highly motivated Middle Americans at a Barnes & Noble bookstore in Plano, Texas.

We’ve had it with corruption in high places. We’ve had it with the bullying of faceless partisan bureaucrats, elected by nobody. We’ve had it with scandal and deceit that riddles both parties for want of a moral compass. We’re disgusted and way past patient, waiting for a person of conscience and spine to grace the office so wisely engineered by our Founders and so carefully crafted by our First President.

We cannot be looking up the sleeve of everyone we deal with. So as Americans, we’ve bound ourselves, over more than two centuries, to a social compact: We shall not lie. In government, we honor the truth above all else. That settled, citizens ought to be free to move with confidence along our journey as a God-blessed Nation.

A couple of days after my excursion to the bookstore, I settled down to read my slim little purchase, One Nation, by Ben Carson. The principle of personal integrity and how to keep it healthy in Washington D.C. is in there. And running through it as unwritten subtext, is the Hippocratic dictum of care givers, “First, do no harm.”

I urge you to read One Nation.

Onward.

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References

Hunter, Derek; Progressives, and the Unnecessary Lie; June 6, 2014
http://townhall.com/columnists/derekhunter/2014/06/15/progressives-and-the-unnecessary-lie-n1851260

Carson M.D., Ben; One Nation; Sentinel – The Penguin Group; New York City, NY; 2014.

Carson M.D., Benjamin; America the Beautiful; Zondervan; Grand Rapids, MI; 2012.

Carson M.D., Benjamin; Think Big; Zondervan; Grand Rapids, MI; 1992.

Good Words Ruined – Part Two, P.C. or Not P.C.

Reflections on lingua franca claptrap by L. E. Taylor

I promised I would avoid politics. And gladly. But politics won’t avoid me. The already worn out cliché of political correctness won’t leave us old paleo-purists alone. If a fellow even tip-toes within a homonym of a verboten syllable of some protected utterance, it’s jail-time for them.

And there, gentle reader, you have one of the Top Ten on the Sacred Codex. One of the most pervasively proscribed references in 21st century English is: the masculine gender. See, lads and lassies, the last sentence of that first paragraph required the singular gender-neutral word “him”.

The Grand Inquisitor speaks:

Not so fast, my good man! That is no longer acceptable. It’s not inclusive, it’s a demeaning remnant of a culture we must obliterate; the musty old King James assumption of male dominance. If you want out of jail, Citizen, the very least correction you must make –is ‘him/her’.

Your humble Scribe replies:

Oh really? Well, your Eminence, tell that to The Bard of Stratford; tell it to Charles Dickens, to Papa Hemingway… to Walt Whitman! Too many males? Explore the works of Jane Austin, J.K. Rowling, Maya Angelou, Alice Walker, Joyce Carol Oates. Come on, man. Pull out your old Strunk and White!

Once upon a time in a universe not so far away, the term “Man” was a reference to humankind. A benign shorthand. Politically, it meant any person. (e.g., ‘All men are created equal’; ‘the times that try men’s souls’.)  “Men” referred to a team or a battalion or tokens on a chessboard. No offense meant, none taken. But now the Chicago Bears and the Green Bay Packers beat the daylights out of each other in the mud, deploying two smelly groups of eleven – people.

Nonsense.

A couple of weeks ago, a classic absurdity issued from my car radio. It was a commercial. Some brainwashed young copywriter had supplied the mindless voice with these soothing words, “… so if you know someone who’s suffering with their prostate…”

Never caught the name of the product. The radio was off.

Onward.

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References:

  1. Strunk, William Jr. and White, E.B.; The Elements of Style – Third Edition; Macmillan Publishing Co.; NYC, NY; 1979.
  2. L.E. Taylor; LETsBlog: http://blog.letaylortheauthor.comGood Words Ruined – Part One; February 12, 2014

 

Love, Hate and Half-baked Writing

Observation & Opinion By L.E.Taylor

The opposite of love is not hate.

The opposite of love is indifference. I heard that somewhere and after a lot of thought – and a lot of living, it made sense. Indifference means not caring. Hate is something else. Hate cares.

Hate is focused. It has a purpose, a target. Just like love. Passionate, sensual love (eros); brotherly, congenial love (philos); spiritual, selfless love (agape). All are bred into us. The Bible tells us, and I’ve had an inspired moment or two that assured me: God is Love.

Well, if you acknowledge that hate is also focused, and has an objective, then you may come to understand the problem good people have when confronted with evil. They are looking into the mirror. Darkly.

Tricky stuff when you’re trying to write truthfully and you want to keep it positive and sunny.

I found myself down this rabbit hole a couple of weeks ago when I was organizing some old books on my shelf and came upon the 1950s classic The True Believer by the magnificent Eric Hoffer.

I always play a trick on myself with a “new” book – I flip the pages without looking and let it stop at random. (Try this with your Bible some night instead of staring at X-Factor.) The True Believer is a slim little paperback, a mere 168 pages and deeply footnoted. The book fell open to a passage on page 95:  Chapter XIV, Unifying Agents. Subtopic, “Hatred.”

Hoffer was no sissy academic; he was a tough, lifelong drifter, for 25 years a San Francisco stevedore (longshoreman) of rough Middle European peasant stock, and he looked it. By 1953, his cerebral musings had brought him fame as a learned, articulate mid-century commentator on the times. Eric Hoffer wrote four treatises “in his spare time, while living in the railroad yards.”

The premise of True Believer, his most famous book, is that there is a common thread that runs through all obsessed advocates of causes, political, religious, humanitarian, revolutionary. He explores what attracts ready followers to such monsters as Hitler, Lenin, Stalin, Mao, and their great predecessor, Napoleon. Common people are persuaded to surrender their freedom to the will of an angry sociopath who has provided them with something to hate.

So? What’s the point?

Lately, I’ve found myself leading a series of workshops for people who’ve stored up a lot of life and are motivated to write about it. Call it “memoir writing” or “family history”. I keep the topic simple: Great Storytelling.

Because these seasoned veterans of life are mining their own memories for stories, the product is by nature, subjective. Lots of judgments, revelations, emotions, and conclusions. No study. Just honest “remembrance(s) of things past.”

Before long, though, an honest writer finds him/herself staring at a sentence that is true, but troubling. An answer is needed. A moral resolution. As promised five months ago, this series of anecdotes and essays will not be a soapbox. But it is a forum. You are expected to comment. But…

To help make sense of what we writers are moved to send out for others to read, I believe our wits are sharpened by reading what others have written – not merely for the craftsmanship, but also to observe the spiritual wrestling match that informs quality thinking.

Eric Hoffer is one of those clear thinkers. There are countless others.

Also, please consider C. S. Lewis; among his finest contributions (beyond The Chronicles of Narnia) are Mere Christianity, The Screwtape Letters, The Four Loves. Two anthologies gathered by Bill Bennett are Our Sacred Honor (verbatim letters and notes by America’s Founders); and The Book of Virtues (stories, myth, cultural lore about our moral and intellectual past).

These are not dry tomes. They are full of the juice of life. Their content  used to be taught, not only in colleges, but also in high schools, and – read it and weep – elementary home rooms across these prairies.

Look around you. Do you see a vibrant world of bravely energetic seekers? Or somewhere along the line, has the nourishment of wisdom and virtue been scrubbed from the cultural memory and replaced with tasty junk food with lots of calories and no nutrition?

Loving to read is one thing. Hating to think is part of human nature that must be defeated in order to produce writing that’s worth reading. The consequences are all around us: half-baked conclusions, drift, and indifference.

Onward.

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And Worth Every Penny

Shared opinion about “free advice”.
Observation & Opinion By  L.E.Taylor

When I first addressed the notion of writing a weekly article and then actually posting it for public consumption, I was daunted by the responsibility. And the risk. The whole idea, for me, was not for narcissistic exposure, but was simply an exercise in thinking and writing. In that order.

I finally decided it would be good practice, sort of like daily finger exercises for a pianist, so why not?

Of course, I’d be writing about things I care about subjectively, so as always, I drafted some guidelines in the form of a note to myself. Here are the top five:

  1. No partisan politics. There’s already a glut of more heat than light on that important, but often counter-productive, market.
  2. A forum. Encourage thoughtful conversation among readers. Some of these would be friends, or would become friends; some would appear as sojourners, moved to reach out in good will.
  3. Worthy content. Comment on cultural matters – e.g., the arts, especially writing and film; societal issues that would benefit from congenial banter; remembrances of my personal experiences; and random observations for amusement and stimulation.
  4. Keep it brief. I started out trying to limit my scribbling to four hundred words. Good luck with that.
  5. Humility. Respect the intelligence and perspectives of a universe of readers who arrive with whole treasuries of their own, derived from histories no less interesting or valid than mine.

And so on.

Regarding Point Five – this cautions against imposing free advice. I have learned the hard way that such a commodity is often worth every penny. But there’s another side to it.

Recently, I have been notified my two separate friends (actual “friends,” not the Facebook kind) that their households have been invaded by the terrifying specter of cancer. This is a delicate matter. And I do know a little about it. However, much of what I “know” is the result of personal experience and the digging I’ve done as a layman to learn about new  alternatives that might complement excellent mainline medical practice.

What should I say to tormented people I care about?

My first response is to offer prayer through my network of “Prayer Warriors.” These are believers of multiple Judeo-Christian denominations, as well as a number of good people with no formal religious traditions at all.

But I also have opinions. In particular, leanings that inform the age old question, “WWLD?” (Get it?) What Would Larry Do?

Well, there are certain things that I’ve already done. And others that I’ve witnessed; some that worked, others that have not – in traditional medical practice, and among the “alternative” regimes. Both.

So, just this morning, I came across an interesting essay by a gifted young investigative writer, Rebecca Furdek. She suggests that the matter of giving colloquial advice is a free speech consideration.

Understand, Ms Furdek is not in favor of muddying the waters with a lot of half-baked palaver; in fact, she points out it isn’t necessary – the professional options are out there for all seekers to access for informed decision-making.

No need to volunteer advice over the back fence about treating cancer, or investing in gold, or how to cure male pattern baldness. The issue, she says, is not whether conversation is in order or misguided. The worry is, instead, a pernicious regulatory “creep” that is placing quasi-legal constraints on even talking about such matters.

Have a look at her fascinating findings at Townhall.com. That is, if you want to. I’m just going to say my prayers and shut up about it.

Onward.

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If I Should Wake Before I Die

A Warning to the Zombie Nation
Observation & Opinion by L.E. Taylor

Yesterday, I met a remarkable woman. We’ll call her B’ushka.

B’ushka is one of sixty or so amazing men and women I’ve met over the past couple of months, all of them people who’ve found their way to one of my lectures in north Texas retirement communities. The topic of these talks was originally “Memoir Writing,” but it’s found its true branding under the simple moniker, “Great Storytelling.” This one-hour talk shares what I learned about mining one’s memories as I wrote down the stories that comprise my book, Elgan and Grace – A Twentieth Century Saga.

Well, sharing is part of it, yes, however the point of the one hour talk is not to brag about my book, but to assert that we all have stories to tell – and here’s how to do it.

These folks arrive, twenty-to-forty at each event, most in their seventies and eighties, writing materials in hand, to see if it’s true – that they really might reclaim a time and place where the first scenes of their own play were performed. That’s the hope: to grasp a tiny moment between thumb and forefinger, gently retrieve it from a dead past, and bring it back to life by writing about it.

They want to bring it back for many reasons.

B’ushka speaks with an English accent. But when she first spoke to me, I recognized the hint of a more exotic dialect. I will not divulge what she’s already confided in me, except to reveal that at the age of two, she was living with her parents in a Soviet gulag. The rest is a tale that must only be told by B’ushka. I’m willing to help her, if she wants me to.

These weekly blog essays are not merely some self-indulgent adventure in narcissism. They’re part of my own late-term commitment to choosing life. The storytelling lectures and workshops are another. They are all part of the process that began twenty-six years ago when I found myself disgorging a fragment of family lore onto a yellow pad. Soon I was transcribing it onto a tiny computer screen. I was hooked.

The mysterious process led to longer narrative, then in a couple of years it became a novel. It might even morph into a movie. But first, I had to set aside the reasons I couldn’t do it, and just… write.

How many among us go through life in a trance? Not doing the very things that can reveal a new life waiting to be lived. Look about you. A fog of mediocrity enervates a lot of people we know, and they opt for the easy cynicism of defeat.

Why is one’s potential rejected when the alternative is death?

Consider the evil plague that has snuffed out the great City of Detroit. Just a few decades ago my hometown was a world-class paradigm for industrial, financial, and cultural civilization. Today, we’ve seen the evidence of political corruption, lazy greed, and moral sloth. How many among us see this destruction and hideous waste, and just wring their hands? They aren’t angry, they are “sad.”

I have other words.

The amazing place once called Detroit is a main character in my book. But its historic truth bears no resemblance to the corpse that molders in its place. I am not sad; I’m furious. Old Detroit didn’t die; it was murdered. How do I know? Because I remember. I choose to remember.

Living a life of passive dissatisfaction cannot be the cosmic plan for anything with such astounding creative ability as the human mind. Consider the root of the word “inspiration” – spirit, the very breath of life.

But the stamina of our society seems to be slumbering away. Numb between the ears, slumped for decades staring at the TV or the Xbox, people remain mute members of a zombie audience. No ambition to mount the stage or take the field.

Or to get out of the gulag.

I remember the first little prayer I was taught by my German grandma:

Now I lay me down to sleep. I pray the Lord my soul to keep. If I should die before I wake, I pray the Lord my soul to take.

It was comforting, I guess, to an Old European world of fear and short lives. That always seemed to me kind of grim for a child’s last thought at bedtime. It still does. Too soon for that! Wake up! Whether you’re six or ninety-six, wouldn’t you rather choose life? Me too.

Just wait till you read B’ushka’s story!

Onward.

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