Love in Longhand ©2015

Remembering the important things by L.E.Taylor

MICHAEL KAZINSKI HAD ONLY a half semester to go before high school commencement. But that old demon, procrastination, had him facing the final semester two credit hours short. Back in his sophomore year, he’d drifted into an “Incomplete” for one semester of English Grammar. Then he had to choose between a six week make-up class in summer school and playing American Legion sandlot ball. No contest.

Mike was attentive enough in English Lit and History, but abstract rules and numbers set his mind wandering. So, he’d made up only a couple of hours along the way, and now he was a Class of 1942 senior peering at stark, by-the-numbers, reality.

Mr. Walsh, the boy’s counsellor, a grizzled old-time catcher himself, was sympathetic. He searched for a way that Michael might pay his deficit with the least effort. He found it in an obscure Tuesday and Thursday drill designed for pre-business underclassmen: Penmanship.

Mike was ill at ease and self-conscious among this class of mostly girls. The subject was so simple, it embarrassed him. Supplies were rudimentary. An enameled wooden pen with a cork grip at the business end, a tiny matchbox of silver teardrop shaped nibs, and a thick pack of three-holed lined writing paper in a plain loose leaf binder completed the kit. A built-in inkwell was kept full at each desk courtesy of the Detroit Board of Education. (The nibs were to be dipped into ink only up to the tiny eyelet and must not be pressed so hard while writing as to splay the point, ruining it.)

This is nuts, Mike thought. I know how to write! But two hours a week was what it would take, and that is what he was going to give. The textbook was The Palmer Method. Its purpose seemed to assure that all students would end the term with exactly the same handwriting style, none distinct from any other. Not very American, if you asked Mike.

After the second day of class, Mike was hungry and thirsty and grumpy as he collected his gear at the end of the long, long hour. He stretched out his back muscles and growled the big sigh of a caged beast.

“You don’t seem to be enjoying yourself,” came a soft sympathetic voice from somewhere.

Mike looked around. The girl across the aisle hugged some books and a pale blue loose leaf binder to her soft gray-sweatered bosom. The hint of a smile came to her lips and a fetching sparkle to her eyes.

“No. I guess not,” Mike blurted in someone else’s high, husky voice. “I, I just…”

“You already know how to write, eh?” She smiled, though not unkindly. Her dark auburn hair was straight and long down her back. It framed a comely oval face. The eyes were crystal blue.

“Yeah.”

“So…?” the girl breathed. The classroom was nearly empty.

A pause. Mike gathered up his stuff and jammed it awkwardly into his own binder, and his pockets, and behind his ears. A beat (an instant – maybe an hour), something amazing happened. Amazing and new “So, uh, I… I, I’m Mike,” he grinned

“Karen,” she laughed. “See-ya, Mike.”

They drifted their own ways, until next Tuesday.

Over the next three weeks, Michael Kazinski’s penmanship improved remarkably. He could hardly wait for two-o’clock on Tuesdays and Thursdays. He focused on his capitalization and keeping his lower case vowels open. He always arranged two sheets of paper, perfectly aligned, onto his desk at the prescribed exact 45 degree angle. Holding the left-top edge with his left hand, he wrote his name and the date top-right, and carefully inscribed the day’s exercises with well-rounded form but no fancy flourishes, within the pale blue lines of each top sheet. The exercise accomplished, he would blot the page, slip it into his binder, and replace it with a fresh virgin page.

One day, he passed a note to Karen.

They began to meet at the Alger Theater on Friday evenings, have a chocolate soda at the corner drug store, and Mike would walk Karen home.

In June, they double-dated to the prom. Commencement went by in a blur, then Mike was on his way to the Marine Corps. For three months, Mike wrote every day, mailed the letters once a week.

Dear Kar,
I’ll be done with boot camp in August. Will be back in Detroit about the 17th. Then it’s out to the action. Can’t say where. Need to speak with you and your folks before I ship out. Sorry about the penmanship – I’m in a hurry to make the mail grab.
All my love,
M.

Karen’s mom and dad said yes, and Godspeed. The wedding was a family thing at the parish chapel. The honeymoon was two days in a clapboard cottage on the beach at Saugatuck.

In the Second War postal service between the armed forces and the home front carried a high priority. It was called “V-Mail.” With millions of Americans sending and receiving on both ends worldwide, the sheer weight had to be reduced. Standard letters were to be written on flimsy pale blue self-envelopes, one side. The service personnel “outgoing” was all vetted and censored by the brass, then sealed and posted via APO.

Mike and Karen used a lot of V-Mail.

Well into 1944, Corporal Michael Kazinski trudged wearily to the shady side of a palm tree and flopped to the sand. In a hubbub all about him, the Seabees bulldozed iron-black earth while work details buried bodies. The stench of diesel fuel and smoldering death-rot got into the nostrils and the pores. Tanks churned the volcanic sand on their way right and left, to nowhere, while non-coms shouted angry orders to no one.

Mike removed his helmet and plunked it into the black sand between his feet, dome side up. He found his V-Mail folder in the knapsack and pulled out a clean sheet of GI stationery. He wiped sweaty grime off calloused fingertips onto his olive drab t-shirt, held the flimsy paper to the steel helmet at a 45 degree angle, and began to write.

My dearest Karen, The landing went as expected, no better but no worse. I’m sweating in the shade of a coconut palm, filthy and with 3 days beard. Suddenly I’m reminded of our last day together on the white sands of Lake Michigan. Writing to you now, my dear love, I am there again. How beautiful you are! In fact writing to you is my only escape from the unholy madness of war. I am delighted to know that little Anthony is healthy and in the safe keeping of your Mom & Dad, and of his amazing beautiful mother. Excuse the sloppy handwriting. I’m tired and in a hurry. Will write again soon – maybe tomorrow. All my love forever, with a big un-Palmer flourish…ha ha.

Your Mike

Mike never felt the sniper bullet. Anthony never knew his father, except, years later, by what he could read into his ghost-hero’s handsome, forever-young, penmanship.

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.