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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A Lecturer Learns a Lesson

As a guest speaker at one of the nation’s top MBA schools, I was once invited to develop a series of four or five lectures to an advanced marketing class. These young men (happens they were all males) would be future corporate decision makers. All had been steeped in leading edge analytical management systems and theory. But many would be hiring, evaluating, and directing right-brain talent, so the department head spoke to the Dean about an idea, and one fall afternoon, there I was.

My topic: The Creative Process in Marketing Communications. Continue reading