Love, Hate and Half-baked Writing

Observation & Opinion By L.E.Taylor

The opposite of love is not hate.

The opposite of love is indifference. I heard that somewhere and after a lot of thought – and a lot of living, it made sense. Indifference means not caring. Hate is something else. Hate cares.

Hate is focused. It has a purpose, a target. Just like love. Passionate, sensual love (eros); brotherly, congenial love (philos); spiritual, selfless love (agape). All are bred into us. The Bible tells us, and I’ve had an inspired moment or two that assured me: God is Love.

Well, if you acknowledge that hate is also focused, and has an objective, then you may come to understand the problem good people have when confronted with evil. They are looking into the mirror. Darkly.

Tricky stuff when you’re trying to write truthfully and you want to keep it positive and sunny.

I found myself down this rabbit hole a couple of weeks ago when I was organizing some old books on my shelf and came upon the 1950s classic The True Believer by the magnificent Eric Hoffer.

I always play a trick on myself with a “new” book – I flip the pages without looking and let it stop at random. (Try this with your Bible some night instead of staring at X-Factor.) The True Believer is a slim little paperback, a mere 168 pages and deeply footnoted. The book fell open to a passage on page 95:  Chapter XIV, Unifying Agents. Subtopic, “Hatred.”

Hoffer was no sissy academic; he was a tough, lifelong drifter, for 25 years a San Francisco stevedore (longshoreman) of rough Middle European peasant stock, and he looked it. By 1953, his cerebral musings had brought him fame as a learned, articulate mid-century commentator on the times. Eric Hoffer wrote four treatises “in his spare time, while living in the railroad yards.”

The premise of True Believer, his most famous book, is that there is a common thread that runs through all obsessed advocates of causes, political, religious, humanitarian, revolutionary. He explores what attracts ready followers to such monsters as Hitler, Lenin, Stalin, Mao, and their great predecessor, Napoleon. Common people are persuaded to surrender their freedom to the will of an angry sociopath who has provided them with something to hate.

So? What’s the point?

Lately, I’ve found myself leading a series of workshops for people who’ve stored up a lot of life and are motivated to write about it. Call it “memoir writing” or “family history”. I keep the topic simple: Great Storytelling.

Because these seasoned veterans of life are mining their own memories for stories, the product is by nature, subjective. Lots of judgments, revelations, emotions, and conclusions. No study. Just honest “remembrance(s) of things past.”

Before long, though, an honest writer finds him/herself staring at a sentence that is true, but troubling. An answer is needed. A moral resolution. As promised five months ago, this series of anecdotes and essays will not be a soapbox. But it is a forum. You are expected to comment. But…

To help make sense of what we writers are moved to send out for others to read, I believe our wits are sharpened by reading what others have written – not merely for the craftsmanship, but also to observe the spiritual wrestling match that informs quality thinking.

Eric Hoffer is one of those clear thinkers. There are countless others.

Also, please consider C. S. Lewis; among his finest contributions (beyond The Chronicles of Narnia) are Mere Christianity, The Screwtape Letters, The Four Loves. Two anthologies gathered by Bill Bennett are Our Sacred Honor (verbatim letters and notes by America’s Founders); and The Book of Virtues (stories, myth, cultural lore about our moral and intellectual past).

These are not dry tomes. They are full of the juice of life. Their content  used to be taught, not only in colleges, but also in high schools, and – read it and weep – elementary home rooms across these prairies.

Look around you. Do you see a vibrant world of bravely energetic seekers? Or somewhere along the line, has the nourishment of wisdom and virtue been scrubbed from the cultural memory and replaced with tasty junk food with lots of calories and no nutrition?

Loving to read is one thing. Hating to think is part of human nature that must be defeated in order to produce writing that’s worth reading. The consequences are all around us: half-baked conclusions, drift, and indifference.

Onward.

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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.

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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