Wake Up! Wake Up, You Sleepyhead…

It was pointed out to me last spring that my experience with written storytelling might benefit others if I cared to go on the road with a how-to show-and-tell. My novel Elgan and Grace was in fact, a collection of such stories, albeit with editorial massaging and continuity. Did I want to share my “secrets?”

Several Dallas area retirement communities wanted their folks to hear about it, and now, in August, at the Senior Center in Richardson Texas, I would walk before a classroom of budding writers with lots of life in the rearview mirror, and plenty of free time.

It was about noon-thirty when I arrived at the Center on Arapaho Avenue. As a writer, my mind never stops, so I’ve become a functioning insomniac. My brain writes twenty-five hours a day whether I’m at my desk or shopping or cooking or restlessly pillowed in search of a few hours of REM. I’m often getting to sleep just before sunup. So, dopey with a sleep deficit, I began setting up my white board, arranging my notes for the podium, squirting Visine into my puffy, blood-shot peepers, and slapping myself across the face.

People began to arrive in some numbers. Every performer knows a good audience will feed you all the energy you need. All you need to do is know your stuff. Continue reading

Water the Flowers, Not the Weeds.

A couple of years ago, a friend of mine was hurting. Younger than I by a dozen years, he appeared to be older. “Davey” (not his real name) was nearly crippled by diabetes and its side effects. I made it a point to visit him at least five days a week to go for a drive or to get groceries, to sit in the park and talk about baseball, politics, or nothing. I would call Davey around noon to ask if his afternoon was free. Deeply depressed by his infirmities and by his loneliness and by his apparent failure to ‘get a break,’ Davey would reply with the same lament, “I’ve got no place to go and no way to get there.”

He was also broke.

One day he told me he’d made a list of all his damages as a way of determining the size of the mountain he must climb.

That seemed a poor investment of time and effort. But I’ve learned that sermonizing from a lofty position of apparent stability serves little benefit for one afflicted with misfortune, nor does it help a friendship. So I’d just listen and nod. Continue reading

Movies for Boys Who Would Be Men

Part One:  Curriculum 101 – Eleven Good Ones

Recently, after seeing trailers for the post-modern re-boot of The Lone Ranger, I had to reflect on my personal experience with the 1930s radio origins of that classic American myth.

More than a few followers of LETs Blog responded, not all on this blog site (more on that later*), but all voiced strong opinions about the moral and intellectual sludge that passes for quality entertainment in this Age of Corruption. (If you think I’m just a grouchy old man, you’re only half right; I was also a grouchy young man.)

As I visited with these cultural compadres I recalled a list of movies I’d cobbled together a few years ago for my very young grandsons (who ignored it). They are older now, but the list has remained largely intact (and still ignored). A few titles have been removed, because they were redundant or didn’t age well. Others have been added or shifted about, because I’m smarter than I was.

These are not what I call “Bambi” movies. (No offence to baby deer lovers, but you get my meaning.) They represent the types of stories that informed my understanding of virtues which define a civilized person. These films feature no zombies, no vampires, no robots.

There is also no P.C. And no B.S.

Because reality is harsh for many youngsters in any era, the messages that resonate with them are not dry sermons or syrupy treacle. The images and ideas that stick in the mind are rooted in ages-old experience of risk, failure, loss, cruelty, and sometimes victory in spite of it all. But none of it comes without a price.

This article offers only a partial list for beginners. I call it Curriculum 101. It is for boys at least 12-14, depending upon their ability to sit still. For perspective and without reservation, though, be assured that each of these gems will deliver satisfaction for men and women of any age. As they have for me. And still do.

Now… Ready projection! Lights out please… And… ROLL ‘em!

LET’s Curriculum 101 (age12+)

1. The Shootist; (Manliness, pain, boy/man conflict. John Wayne)

2. Twelve O’Clock High (Valor in real wartime. Gregory Peck)

3. The Cowboys (Under stress, boys become men. John Wayne)

4. Chariots of Fire (Moral conviction, perseverance, Olympics.)

5. Rudy (boy’s perseverance, collegiate football.)

6. Red Badge of Courage (Cowardice, heroism, Civil War. Audie Murphy)

7. Black Beauty (Heroism – boy and valiant horse)

8. Jeremiah Johnson (Mountain men, 19th century. Robert Redford)

9. Field Of Dreams (Baseball fantasy, father/son. Kevin Costner)

10. Bad Day at Black Rock (Loner battles bad men. Spencer Tracy)

11. Wind and the Lion (Powerful adventure. East vs West. Sean Connery)

 

This is just a taste. Any suggestions? I’m open. *Speak up – talk to each other!

 

Onward.

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References.

All the movies on this list are available on DVD, for purchase or for rent.

  1. Amazon www.Amazon.com
  2. Turner Classic Movies www.TCM.com
  3. Blockbuster www.blockbuster.com
  4. Netflix www.netflix.com

In Your Face: Part Two

Observation: By L.E. Taylor

It’s been said that we end up with the face we’ve earned.  It’s also true that too many people not only deny the notion, but are so obsessed about it that they pay huge sums to have surgeons remove the evidence.

Be that as it may (or may not be), there are some excellent old kissers around that reflect wisdom, honesty, kindness, and hard-won battles with sorrow. And so much of it is beautiful. No, not the same skin-deep ‘beautiful’ that wowed ‘em forty years ago, but a refinement that says, ‘a life has been lived, and a price paid.’

Toward the end of his life, the movie star John Wayne made overtures to all kinds of people who’d disapproved of his Red-White-and-Blue politics, and of himself personally.  He was invited, sarcastically, to come to Harvard University to receive an “honor.” He accepted. When he arrived on campus, the sponsoring leftist student group supplied the vehicle in which he was to enter The Yard: A WWII vintage Sherman tank. Wayne laughed and climbed aboard. Moments later, having run the gauntlet of taunts, the sick and haggard “Duke” arrived in the lecture hall and mounted the stage where he took questions.  He handled the first pointed political thrusts with grace and intelligence, then the floor-mic was handed to a young fellow who asked bluntly, “Do you look at yourself as a great American hero?” A twinkle came into the old man’s eye and he replied, “Son, I don’t look at myself any more than I have to.”

The map inscribed upon The Duke’s face was beyond help from any lighting expert or makeup genius. But the sparkle in his eye won the day even in the camp of a hardened foe.

Going through my family archives for photos to use in these blogs, I came upon one of myself, at least forty years ago.  I was a Midwestern version, then, of what came to be known in this next century, as a Mad-Man. (Madison Avenue “ad man”). Hmm. So later I sidled up to a mirror and was jolted. Who’s that?

I remembered the John Wayne story. Life has done its job on me. We don’t stay the same, but guess what:  We do keep our souls. Maybe you’re still movie star handsome, and maybe it’ll survive. But trust me, you will ripen. Or you’re well along the way right now. Good for you. Good for us.

Go have a look at the old photos. And the looking glass, too. And don’t be sad. Don’t regret. Return to the moments that still live. And be thankful.

Onward.

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A Boyhood in Detroit

Remembrance; Commentary – by L.E.Taylor, author of Elgan and Grace

In the Eastside neighborhood where I grew up there was an understanding among families: When the streetlights come on, the boys go home. Enforcement was the job of parents; no-nonsense reminders by adults on street corners were not uncommon.

Within a couple of generations after the new century dawned, Detroit had drawn a flood of laborers from farms and mines in the South, from Canada across the river, and from afflicted peoples beyond our shores. Quickly, the town became a city of homeowners. (By mid-century, at well over 70%, it had far and away the highest per capita home ownership of American cities.) For most, the homes were their first, mortgaged on the strength of dependable employment in the planet’s greatest industrial metropolis.

Inside the homes that comprised each neighborhood lived a family. A tiny nuclear corporation, headed by a father and a mother. Their property was precious beyond its financial worth. Continue reading