Practice, Man.

Opinion: By L.E. Taylor 

There’s an old joke that has an out-of-towner stopping a fellow carrying a fiddle case on 6th Avenue, and asking, “Uh, pardon me. Can you tell me, how do I get to Carnegie Hall?”

The guy answers, “Practice, man. Practice.”

The advice is not merely colloquial. Nor even artistic. It is universal for all of us – professional, amateur, and plebeian. If we seek to enjoy life in full, we must expose ourselves relentlessly to what’s been accomplished by the doers – to standards of excellence, and ultimately, courageously, to our own flawed selves as works-in-progress.

The point is not only to humbly acknowledge our momentary limitations, but also to reveal our unexplored potential.

Decades ago, I read an autobiography by Charlton Heston, An Actor’s Life. It was based upon a diary he’d kept over his first twenty years in Hollywood. Among many lessons I took from the book was a simple truism, “The more we do a thing, the better we get at it.” Heston also remarked upon how “easy” he had been on himself in his shortcomings, and how he would change that, given the chance.

About the same time in my young manhood, I was preparing to travel to New York City to consider moving into a life of what would be called, these many years later, the “Mad Men.” Translation: 1960s Madison Avenue and all the sin-and-sizzle it implied. Before leaving the Midwest, I was given words of advice by an experienced advertising CEO from my home state. He said: “Don’t sell yourself short; you are better than most of the people they see; remember, talent recognizes talent.”

Then he said, almost to himself, “What’s ‘good’ may be subjective, but there’s a common thread: Taste is educated perception.”

I can’t remember the man’s name, but I didn’t have to look up his admonition; it was seared into my brain before the waiter brought the luncheon check.

I’ve poured thousands of hours into feeding my ‘perception’. Now four decades later, my worldview is seasoned by experience in combat. Bloodless corporate combat, certainly, not the heroic D-Day kind. But in its time-and-place, it was urgent mundane struggle, nonetheless. We who strive know about exposing oneself to failure. Whether it’s playing the piano, or playing rugby; or hitting a curve ball, or raising a heifer and a crop of corn to feed her, you won’t fully appreciate it unless you’ve tried to do it.

The same is true of writing. Except for one caveat: when you sound a sour piano chord or fan on a fastball, the evidence is there for all to see and you’re the goat. But with a lousy page of writing, you can get away with it unless someone who knows better is there to read it and to tell you it stinks.

So practice, kid. Practice. And don’t take it easy on yourself, just work.

Onward.

ltaylor_signature

LETsBlog

 

Who That Masked Man Was

Commentary by L.E. Taylor

Did we really need another Lone Ranger? A post-modern Tonto?

Well, in 2013, some of the smartest and most talented people in Hollywood thought so. The franchise goes back to its first radio broadcast in 1933, and at its best, over the next 20 years, it was very good indeed. In every sense of the word: good drama; good character development; good theme music; and goodness itself.

The Lone Ranger was a morality play. Good defeated evil three times a week in the limitless imaginations of thousands of youngsters across America. (Don’t argue with me. I was there. You weren’t even born yet. So just sit still and learn something.) Continue reading

In Your Face

Observation: By L.E. Taylor

A hippie hottie once told me, “You have a very old soul.” She said it soulfully of course.

I knew the Seventies argot, so I took it as a compliment. She was saying I was not superficial. Or something. I don’t recall a clever reposte. In fact I don’t remember anything except how it added to another languid day at the Art Fair. I think.

The remark came back to me last week as I riffled through my archive of family photographs. Many of them go back to the nineteenth century (18 hunnerds, y’all). There’s my wonderfully tough-minded maternal Grandma, Helena, ramrod straight in her impossibly starched Victorian getup and penz-nez specs. And that’s her husband Fred (my mother’s Papa), in Sunday finery and a handlebar moustache, looking nothing like the circa 1915 Detroit shop mechanic who’d been taught to read by Grandma. Advancing through the folders and envelopes, I mused over the changes in my own mother and father over the years, years that I’d been witness to. Decades of hard work and risk and success… of losses, too, and of searing pain. Still, the images were benign, reassuring.

My own photos are more jarring. Not merely the usual transformation from plump undistinguished babyhood to early teen goofiness and then to another character altogether. In those maturing years, something else showed up. I’m not going to tell you what I saw, except to say it was unsettling. I may write a book on it. (No, not the Dorian Grey thing.)

But for now I suggest to you, fellow blogger – as we grow to know each other, that on some rainy afternoon, when you have nothing to do but watch idiocy on The Box, you take out your old photos, all of them. Take your time. Try to hear your Mom speak to you again. Jostle again, in the byways of your mind, with your kid brother or big sister. Be small again peering upward to a tall world. Listen to your young thoughts. Smell the fragrances of the kitchen, of the fresh mown lawn, of the lilac or musk scent you first slapped on when you were thirteen. Relive that instant with the family all together by the Christmas tree… or be surprised by a long-lens grab-shot a lifetime ago at the Art Fair.

Then behold that photograph of yourself. The young one. Not a class portrait, but a snapshot of an instant of gaiety, of innocent, dumb, existential mindlessness. I did. I was way more handsome than I remember. And am probably way more ugly now than I think.

What happened? Life.

ltaylor_signature

LETsBlog

 

To be continued… next time.

 

The Kindest Cuts

They call us “story tellers”, tellers of tales.

But what’s a story? For some of us, telling a story well is a daily struggle against that old Puritan demon, self-indulgence. Left to our sinful ways, we’d bang out lyrical riffs of purple prose, redundant stretches of turgid dialog, and run-on sentences that may parse, but are not worth the trouble. (Like this one?)

By training and through serious reading, writers get to know a lot of words. And by temperament we fall in love with many of them. The French language has about 43,000 conversational words. English, our magnificent hybrid tongue, currently books about 1.02 million. It’s not easy sitting here and avoiding that ol’ shibboleth of ‘painting word pictures’.

We face the risk of assembling two or three inspired words, or even a couple of good sentences in a row, and surprising ourselves in ways that seduce us. But if the verbiage doesn’t advance the reader’s journey, we can save it in a file somewhere if we must, but it’s our job to cut it ruthlessly out of the narrative.

Okay, I’m a purist.

Like all writers, my blind spot is leaving in stuff I love for its cleverness or its beauty just because I wrote it. Continue reading