The Whittler

Allegory: Dedicated to my student story writers, by L.E. Taylor

The forest floor welcomes its seedlings each spring. Most are consumed by animals or smothered in decay and added to the loam. A sprout will reach for the light above and, though rarely, if enough sunlight flickers through the great-grandfather’s greening canopy to its wee place, it will become a sapling. It will continue, season by season to strive for the sun. Fewer and fewer of the saplings live to full tree-ness. As great-great grandfathers go the way of the Great Plan, the rare chosen sapling still drinks at the earth’s breast, gains height and grows closer to the nourishing golden Source of Life. In time men arrive and select which of the trees would serve them. The sapling had grown to grand-fatherness when the men chose him. Before they could take him a great storm came, the season was spent, and they left.

Many years before, a young man had built a house high on a hillock at the edge of the forest. He’d built a plain little house for his bride. They farmed the land down near the stream and then built more rooms as their family grew. A barn and a corral, a shed, and a good, deep well made life nearly complete. One year, the not so young man built a railed porch across the front of the house. With the forest behind and the whole valley spread out beyond the stream as far as he could see, the place had become a good home. At day’s end, with work done, the family would gather on the porch for supper. Sometimes they would read aloud, the children would play. Sometimes they would retreat into themselves and watch the sun set across the river, beyond the valley.

The change did not come all at once. It never does. A baby died. The daughters grew discontent; one married young, the other wanted college and got her way. The eldest son was a strong worker and loved the farm, but modern times required proper education even for a farmer and one summer he left for the state college. Soon after, the youngest boy went off to war. When the man’s wife took ill, it was the first time in forty years, and it became the last. Each day the man walked his hillside in loneliness and grief. One morning, strolling a path through the woods, his way was blocked by a heavy branch, thick and fully leafed, split from its parent-bole in the night’s violent storm. It emitted a freshness of life. For no reason known to the grieving man, he headed for home, dragging the massive branch behind.

And so it was, he found himself at the side of his sturdy porch, with an over-size tree branch. And a jackknife.

The old man dreamed of his bittersweet past and he puzzled over the terror of his destiny, and aimlessly he began to winnow down the leafy father branch he’d drug home with such effort and so little reason. Next day, he walked around the great twisted limb and he began to whittle.

Hour upon hour, at first uncertainly, then with sinew, he pared away. As a Renaissance sculptor divining some mystic masterpiece within a  block of dead granite, he carved images. Alone and in the company of only his honed knife blade and the oaken tree limb, he whittled. Days gentled into nights, and again into days. Weeks became a seamless, restful eternity as the dead branch became what God had made it for.

And the old man became young again.

Onward.

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LetsBlog

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

Book Learning

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