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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When Movies Didn’t Need Color

Personal B&W pix-picks by L. E. Taylor

Last month, I passed along a boyhood remembrance from decades ago. The narrative came to rest upon an old movie, The Enchanted Cottage.

Some readers have responded, both to the poignancy of the World War II phantasy, but also to the fact that it was in black and white. I’d already intended to set aside time soon to write about black-and-white movies, which comprised the majority of films enjoyed by people of an earlier generation.

As a painter in my youth, I was branded a “colorist” by my grad school critic. True enough, but the stark poetry of graphite on velum also conveys a color of another kind. Sketches in pencil or ink can jolt the sensibilities as in a dream. (We are told most of us dream in black and white. Maybe.)  Tones of black and gray strip our nature of obvious emotional triggers, and insist upon more form. And fewer flowers.

Without the flowers, here’s my tip: Do yourself a favor and start watching black-and-white movies – some are great classic cinema, some are merely good entertainment. Many are clumsy and banal (just like everything else.) But this list, though admittedly biased to my own Middle American sensibilities, is pretty safe if you want to sample the really good stuff of a younger Hollywood, in glorious black-and-white.

  • Casablanca (Bogey, Bergman, and Nazis, 1942)
  • Brief Encounter (As sensual as platonic love gets, 1945)
  • Roman Holiday (Greg Peck & magical Audrey Hepburn, 1953)
  • It Happened One Night (Clark Gable with no undershirt, 1934)
  • Stagecoach (Debut of “The Duke”, 1939)
  • How Green Was My Valley (Manly sentiments; literary, 1941)
  • The Maltese Falcon (Classic Bogart thriller, 1941)
  • DOA (Riveting cinema noir mystery, 1950)
  • All About Eve (Smart, classy show-biz drama, 1950)
  • They Died With Their Boots On (U.S. history on-the-hoof, 1941)
  • On the Waterfront (Best Brando until The Godfather, 1954)
  • Double Indemnity (Sexy cinema noir murder thriller, 1944)
  • The Third Man (Cold War thriller,1949)
  • Some Like It Hot (Best comedy for grownups, 1959)
  • Key Largo (Bogey & Bacall, gangsters in the Keys, 1948)
  • Twelve O’ Clock High (Great psychological war drama, 1949)
  • Mrs. Miniver (English family braves WWII Blitz, 1942)
  • The Sea Hawk (Best swashbuckler flick, 1940)
  • They Were Expendable (PT boats, lots of stars, 1945)
  • The Sea Wolf (Grim film of a great Jack London novel,1941)
  • The Ghost and Mrs. Muir (Supernatural, romantic, 1947)
  • Blithe Spirit (Witty, elegant, literary Noel Coward classic, 1945)
  • The Ox-Bow Incident (Tense tragedy. Classic symbolism, 1943)
  • Sergeant York (WWI heroism, Gary Cooper, 1941)
  •  Citizen Kane (Tops on all the “greatest” lists, 1941)
  • The Magnificent Ambersons (American family drama, 1942)
  • The Bank Dick (W.C. Fields’ best, 1940)
  • Top Hat (Fred & Ginger invent movie dancing, 1935)
  • The Apartment (Smarmy-sweet story; ‘60s irony, 1960)
  • Red River (Classic western, good character development, 1948)
  • Going My Way (Bing Crosby, the singing priest – Oscar, 1944)
  • The Bishop’s Wife (Great supernatural romantic comedy, 1947)
  • The Big Sleep (Classic cinema noir; Bogey & Bacall, sizzle, 1948)
  • The Keys of the Kingdom (Powerful challenges to faith, 1944)
  • Requiem for a Heavyweight (Tough neo-realism, 1959)
  • Bad and the Beautiful (‘Inside Hollywood’ drama; big stars, 1952)
  • To Have and Have Not (Bogey meets Bacall, Hemingway, 1944)
  • From Here to Eternity (Five-Star military drama with five real “stars”, 1954)

Once you’ve acquired a taste for the better B&W vintages, you might be liberated for good from twenty-first century vulgarity.

Your comments and suggestions are welcome, of course. Leave them at the candy counter, and bring me a tub of popcorn, will you? Salt, extra butter.

Onward.

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One More Time

Observations on cashing in or cashing out, by L.E. Taylor

Every accomplished writer knows the principle of re-writing. No work of art is born whole. Classical painters were, first of all, draftsmen; all the greats are admired as much for their notebooks and folios of sketches that preceded their grand-scale works as they are for the murals and canvases that adorn, centuries later, the walls of time.

Refinements come with each iteration of an idea. So do fresh insights buried dormant in the preliminary noodling that passes for first drafts. Early in life, we are impatient with the notion that our first attempt at anything is nowhere near its potential. Only as the brain matures, and we continue to work, are our skills honed to mastery.

Practice, man, practice.

Today, it seems that anyone who can make an angry mess on a cheap canvas board or spout puerile obscenities on a stage or movie screen is an “artist.” (For reference please consider recording artists, then go to your Webster’s and look up “travesty”.) Generations ago, artists devoted themselves to apprenticeship for years of their often short, sometimes hungry, lives. Mentored by master practitioners, they learned their craft. Talent is God’s gift for each of us to develop. It cannot be taught. Craft is the language of talent, without craft talent is stillborn. However, un-accompanied by talent, the mastered craft is still a craft, a valuable set of skills and acquired taste that can carry a person far.

As a mentor to novice writers, both young and old, one encounters as many diversions of personality and aptitude as there are pupils. Varying degrees of student talent and readiness to work frame the teacher’s challenge. And lure the teacher’s hope.

In my own experience as a self-taught artist, as an athlete, and as an ever-maturing writer, all of this has been borne out. So my view of the process is neither a selfish bias nor an observation worth arguing about with tyros. In recent years, I’ve also seen the model played out among people who’ve enrolled in my workshops.

Some students, with meager writing in their past, or brief attempts abandoned for want of craft, have made remarkable gains in both fluency and content. They arrived eager to learn and with an appetite for enjoyment. In a matter of one or two sessions these diverse women and men began to take charge of their gifts and use them to enrich their own minds.

Others, with the same potential – in some cases, even more in the way of life-adventures and searing experience – arrived doubting. Not doubting the instructor or the drill, but doubting themselves. Pity. I am reminded of an old quote: If you think you can, or if you think you can’t, either way, you’re right.

Does it come down to an unwillingness to edit and refine one’s writing? Hardly ever. Yes, it’s work, but the fuel for all toil is the belief in a worthy goal, and the rejection of doubts about yourself.

Have you ever said, “Oh, I’ve read Huckleberry Finn – in high school,” and used that as reason never to go back to it? Think about it; you were a kid. Go read it again. After decades of maturing, you may appreciate Mark Twain’s insights as an adult writer and commenter on America. The same is true of beloved music or drama. How many times can you enjoy My Fair Lady, or La Boheme, or Macbeth, or your Frank Sinatra collection? Just once?

Consider your Bible. After long respites of time and troubles of the flesh, many adults return to Scripture. One may discover a depth and a new spiritual banquet un-savored years before by the fidgety teen you were in catechism or in Sunday school.

“Review” is a good, solid English word that factors into the intellectual growth equation. When we re-view (that is, “see again”), we change. Our perceptions gradually modify with experience. But a youth of any era cannot grasp the notion that it may be in our very nature to evolve into another person.

A few years ago the drug-stoned Hollywood actor and notorious sixties rebel Dennis Hopper was interviewed by Rolling Stone (or Mother Jones or somebody). The interviewer mused that Hopper was once the epitome of drop-out anti-establishment anarchy. He asked the middle aged actor how he’d emerged now, in the 1980s, from years of wild excesses as its opposite: a TV spokesman for American Express, and a registered Republican. Hair neatly slicked back, clad in a trim dark suit, with white shirt and striped silk tie, Mr. Hopper replied, “Hey, man, I grew up.”

Onward.

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The Youthening Brain

Our “choose life!” option – an observation, by L.E. Taylor 

“I don’t have any stories,” Brenda insisted. “Certainly not any happy ones.”

Brenda had been badgered by her Red Hatter friends for months about joining them in a memoir-writing workshop that they’d been attending since last year. Red Hatters is a national association of women, 55-and-over. Their mission is to enrich the lives of their members through myriad activities, cultural adventures, and supportive sisterhood.

Brenda’s two ‘Sisters-in-the-Hat’ had derived pleasure from their writing sessions and assignments, and more, they had begun to enjoy their storytelling adventures in fellowship with others. Finally, tired of the good-natured hassle from her pals, Brenda had given in and attended a class.

The class turned out to be more than wistful gabbing (and complaining) about old times and a little half-baked noodling on note paper. The classes were disciplined and literary. The very term “memoirs” is daunting to any writer; for sixty-to-ninety-year olds, it ranks in appeal up there with pole vaulting. But this class was not about fancy book-writing; it required nothing short of – or for that matter, beyond – skilled storytelling. And it started, no-nonsense, with the Truth.

What is it about aging that seems to dope men and women into a stupor of passive audience-mode? It wasn’t always so. A century ago men worked until they couldn’t; what else was there to do? After all, we were not born to loaf, but to till God’s garden. And women beyond child-bearing age, were finally seasoned to wisely shepherd the responsible rearing of grandchildren.

Old fashioned? Male chauvinism? Fine; show the soul-satisfaction that accrues from a steady regimen of The View, The Ellen Show, and bunko games. Or for that matter, non-stop billiards or geriatric duffing about in electric carts.

It came to light in the first class that Brenda was not only a self-reliant seasoned woman who’d grown from childhood poverty to determined accomplishment as a seamstress, but she was also an attractive, youngish seventy-year old with a wonderful sense of humor. And, by the way, she was defying mid-stage cancer.

When Brenda had learned of her affliction, well before she joined the class, she’d consulted with herself and decided what she would do to save her life and what she would not do. For a time, she endured the rigors of aggressive chemo, survived it, and now with medical supervision, has put her mind and her spirit to wellness.

Brenda has been in that storytelling workshop with her Red Hatter sisters for a couple of months. Her writing, from day one, has been excellent. It has never even touched upon her health issues. On her fourth active week in the workshop, she strode to the podium and read her remembrance of childhood on the family’s hard-scrabble farm in Minnesota. The title was “The Wood Workers”. It began:

Maude and Charlie took up more than their share of the barn, or so it seemed to me as a child. They were a team of huge work horses. Bred to pull heavy loads…

The simple prose, through the eyes of a nine-year-old farm girl, progressed through four finely crafted paragraphs and the essay concluded…

Like many other work horses, Maude and Charlie outlived their usefulness and were sold. They were replaced by tractors and other equipment and a way of life was gone.

God bless those among us who choose to use their brains and share their spirits until there is no more. It was His intent.

Onward.

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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

 

Good Words Ruined – Part One

What has ten letters and means both ‘sacred’ and ‘profane’?
Musings by L.E. Taylor

The road was icy and my attention to the radio was fragmented. The commentator was going on about the IRS Scandal (targeting political enemies with audits), the Benghazi Scandal (who-knew-what, and why did four Americans get murdered?), the NSA Scandal (spying on Americans), the Fast-and-Furious Scandal (guns smuggled to drug cartels), the ACA Scandal (lost health insurance coverage for Americans), and New Jersey’s “Bridge-Gate”.

The dangers of winter driving in Dallas notwithstanding, I became aware that a common qualifier ran through every report, a term that popped out like Whack-a-Mole, locating and defining the context of each outrage: Washington.

Within memory of some Americans the utterance, “Washington” once carried a positive, almost sacred, lustre. It was a proper noun derived from one of the most admired mortals to tread the earth. It bespoke virtue, strength, honor, selfless heroism, wisdom, grace under fire, and divine purpose. The man who bore the name is known to history as The Father of His Country. When the King of England got word that the Commander in Chief of the victorious infant nation had rejected his countrymen’s offer to make him king, George III said, “If he does that, he will be the greatest man in the world.”

In the first years of the new Republic people agreed: “Washington – First in war, first in peace, and first in the hearts of his countrymen.” So, when the marshy tidewater across the Potomac from Mount Vernon was chosen as the site for the new capitol, it followed that it should be called “City of Washington”, to honor the greatest American.

I was mulling all this as I coasted to a safe stop in my sleeted over driveway. Is the world’s good always doomed to be corrupted by man’s venial nature? Answer: What grows uncared for – flowers or weeds?

Since we cannot change the nature of men, for the sake of decency we might consider re-naming that tidewater swamp in the northwest quadrant of the District of Columbia. There is a place just upstream where the Potomac gets narrow and is so shallow that no commerce can navigate.

Seems apt. We could just go back to 1763 and retrieve its original name: Foggy Bottom.

Onward.

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References:

  1. Johnson, Paul; George Washington, the Founding Father; HarperCollins, Publishers, NYC, NY; 2005.
  2. William Bennett; Our Sacred Honor; Simon & Schuster; NYC, NY; 1997.
  3. L.E. Taylor; LETsBlog: http://blog.letaylortheauthor.com; Water the Flowers, Not the Weeds; August 20, 2013.

 

Lighthouses in the Ice

More musings about the weather in my brain, by L. E. Taylor

A couple of months ago, I was moved to write about the changing seasons in my native state and how it affected my worldview.

Born in February, in the first half of the last century, my first bundled exit from St. Mary’s Hospital in the arms of my Grandma Helena, was not into a warm sedan beneath some covered, radiant-heated portcullis, but through a snow squall down a long expanse of stone steps to the curb.

It was not a hardship. Not for Helena, nor for my mother Grace. Nor for my father Elgan, a native southerner. And certainly not for me, who was their principal object of care. In the northern maritime states, as in the prairies and mountains, Up North is not somewhere else, it is home. However the cold might register on the thermometer, it could always be colder, and would certainly in time, be much warmer.

No big deal. Just the cavalcade of life

I was reminded of this fact as I watched a couple of televised events last week: the National Hockey League Winter Classic with the Toronto Maple Leafs playing the Detroit Red Wings outdoors, and the Forty-Niners-Packers game played at Green Bay Wisconsin. Both games were played in sub-zero temperatures, before full stadiums of 105,000 (Michigan Stadium), and 80,000 (Lambeau Field) respectively. The Michigan venue provided a constant blizzard that required frequent shoveling by cadres of snowmen on skates.

The weather was a hindrance to the players and a source of acute discomfort to the spectators. Commentators kept talking about it. Everyone loved the adventure. People who cherished their warmth above all things, of course, were not there.

An hour or so ago, a friend of mine sent me a collection of photos of a lighthouse festooned with layers of wind-sculpted January ice.* You can see more of these images by clicking here.

frozen-lighthouse-st-joseph-north-pier-lake-michigan-9

The beacon stands at the end of a pier in southern Lake Michigan. It is one of one-hundred-fifteen on the coastline of the State of Michigan, home to the most coastal lighthouses of any U. S. state or Canadian province. (Click here to see more Michigan lighthouses.) 

Spring, summer, and fall, these lighthouses guide mariners through the inland seas that form our state. For a century and a half they have provided light in the shrieking green scud of angry storms and the foggy blackness of starless nights.

That’s how they got their name, they are houses of light.

Cloaked in ice, with no ships to warn… they sleep.

Stay warm. Stay alert. The lights will come on in the spring.

Happy New Year.

Onward.

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*The image above is credited to Tom Gill. For more of his images, you can visit his page here.

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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Green Kid Heroics

Veterans Day Reflections By L.E.Taylor

The historian, Stephen Ambrose, author of Band of Brothers, said in an interview, that on D-Day, June 6th 1944 the men who took the Normandy beachheads were mostly privates and corporals led by sergeants and other corporals, because within an hour of landing most of the officers were dead.

Those privates and corporals and sergeants were in their teens and early twenties. When I was a small boy, these men were my heroes.

A twenty-year old in 2013 may not think he’ll find common ground with men and women who occupied his place on our mortal stage a century or two ago. Regrettably, in too many respects, he’d be right. But this soul-stunting myopia is not a flaw in the DNA of today’s youth; it’s born of ignorance. Misconceptions about history can beget a hubris that childishly crows, “We are who we’ve been waiting for!”

History books are not about old, dead people. They are mostly about young people.

The green kids of 2013 have neither experienced, nor been educated about the heroics of green kids who came before. My regret is not that these young men have no wars to test them, certainly today’s troubled society has no shortage of need for creative energy and youthful valor.

Young people who’ve read my book, Elgan and Grace, A Twentieth Century Saga, have remarked (with maybe a tinge of doubt), how different from their own friends, these Americans of earlier generations seemed to be. Still, the anecdotes that comprise that carefully crafted book are true; otherwise, why bother?

The heroes of my childhood were not all conscripted warriors. They were mostly the tough-minded men and women in my life who held together the home front. But for all their virtues, neither those who went to war nor those who remained Stateside were perfect. They simply did their best in a time of peril.

As 2014 approaches, who are society’s heroes that will grace the pages of our history? What are their great accomplishments that reflect our American values and esteem our sacred virtues as a civilization?

We’ll see. Say your prayers.

Which brings us to your Veteran’s Day treat for having so patiently stayed with my ramble. Get comfortable now, good reader; turn on your speakers, and enjoy a few minutes with Spitfire 944, and a green kid who really was a hero. Click here –> American Spitfire Pilot in WWII .

Onward.

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References:

Ambrose, Stephen E.; Band of Brothers; Simon & Schuster; NYC.

Ambrose, Stephen E.; D-Day; Ibid.

Ambrose, Stephen E.; Citizen Soldiers; Ibid.

Taylor, L. E.; Elgan and Grace; Friesen Press; Victoria B.C., Canada

 

 

 

 

 

 

Living the Mulligan

A True Story – Reflection by L.E. Taylor
Don and I were late for our tee-time because we had to stop at his buddy’s house so I could borrow the fellow’s clubs and spikes.

I was only visiting my brother in Florida for a few days and he wanted to play some golf as we used to on the public links in Detroit, when we were kids. Don was a Delta pilot, working only three or four days a week by law, so when he wasn’t sailing or fishing he’d spend an afternoon at his club sharpening his game.

I hadn’t been on a golf course in fifteen years.

As I jammed my normal-sized tootsies into the size eight-and-a-half shoes, my kid brother, confident that this would be my only chance, said, “Your honors.” So I grabbed a driver.

It was a par-four with a slight dogleg-right and a wooded rough along the left. The flag was a wee dot, far, far away. With no time for a warm up at the range, I teed up, addressed the ball, shoulders square, overlapped grip, knees slightly bent, slow, deliberate backswing. The breeze from my whiff disturbed snoozing seagulls on the next fairway.

Don glanced at the pristine Acushnet still smartly on its yellow tee and chuckled. “That’s okay,” he said. “We didn’t have time at the range; let’s call it a Mulligan.”

Embarrassed and a little pissed off, I focused and went through the ritual again. The click was like music. The trajectory was straight and elevated before the ball came to rest on the left apron about two-hundred-twenty or so yards away.

“Nice shot,” Don said, and teed up. His drive was long but hooked into the rough at about a hundred-sixty yards. He drove the cart, stopping in the fairway near his lie. He waded well into the tangled rough, past a stand of big trees, found his ball and hacked impressively. The shot advanced the ball nicely past the trees and beyond my lie, but it remained in the rough. He grumbled, got in, and the cart hummed silently to a halt near my ball.

(The rest of this mundane tale holds the point of our conversation. So stop fidgeting.)

I went round to the borrowed old canvas bag of clubs and withdrew an iron. A five-, maybe a three-iron. My ball was slightly raised on the deep apron. It had been so long since my golfing days, I was very deliberate and I remember telling myself the drill: Line up the ball off your left heel… align thumbs… square shoulders… head down… fix eyes on the ball… bend knees… touch the club-head to grass one inch behind the lie. I turned my head just enough to see the flag, but it was gone, replaced by a foursome of Lilliputians who’d got to the green and were busy putting out. Good enough – I lined up my shoulders with the green. Slow backswing, swivel at waist. Keep left elbow stiff, cock the wrist. Fire!

Because dad taught me to keep my head down through the swing, I stared at my divot for a second or so before craning to search the fairway for my shot. The foursome was leaving the green. Suddenly they were animated, shouting nonsense in our direction and waving putters overhead.

In the cart, Don’s back stiffened. His eyebrows rose, his jaw dropped. “It went in the cup,” he said. “The ball went in the cup! You made an eagle!” I was stunned but don’t remember what I might have said. The four guys nearly two hundred yards away were yelling – I did make out, ‘great golf shot,’ but I just stood there. Don scowled at me. “Get in the cart!” As he pressed the pedal to take us to his ball (still in the rough), my wonderfully funny, albeit very competitive, young bub muttered, “I’ve never even seen an eagle.”

Question: Did I really make an eagle? Well, in a friendly round of golf, I guess so. But, these three decades later, it makes me think. (I told you to be patient.)

Now that I’m committed to the writer’s life, 24/7, I’m finding that my mind races from topic to topic faster than I can write it all down. And all this reading makes it even worse. Last week, deep into the night (my most fertile thinking time – a curse!) I mused, ‘If only I could just keep going hard, learn all that I can, write well, and teach and help others on their own journeys, and then, exhausted, follow in the way of all flesh to Heaven for a rest and some soul-work, and then come back, wiser and ready to go at it again.’  If only.

Then I asked in so many words, “I wonder if I could have a Mulligan.”

And without missing a beat, the Lord replied: “You’ve got one,” He said. “This is it.”

Onward.

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