Most people have teachers important to their lives. In the Jewish culture, a teacher is called Rabbi. People like this are also called mentors. And some cultures call these teachers Grandfather or Grandmother. That is who I would like to write about today.
As stated, I have no family. That is, none that I am aware of. I did have a teacher, mentor, Rabbi, a Grandfather when I first began my career. After two years in the loony bin, I was classified sane. A relative term but one that allowed me to leave. At an estimate age of thirty-two with no training the reality of what was I to do in the world struck home.
Again, my Cherokee friend pointed the way. All that time in the hospital, I had been researching. Looking for clues to who I might have been was my first demonstrable skill. My second skill was logging that research and journalizing it. Rough though it was, I could write. How I acquired this skill I have no idea but it was mine. My friend’s mother had divorced and remarried a white man. That marriage produced his half-brother who later grew up, moved to New York and became a television producer.
He worked on television documentaries dealing with the bizarre; Big Foot, UFOs, Ghosts and the Bermuda Triangle. Because of my “beginnings” and the research I followed looking for answers, my friend thought his brother might be a good starting place for me.
And so he was. Got me my start. I worked hard willing to learn anything because I had nothing to lose and everything to gain. His brother, though, is not who I wish to tell you about. No, as illustrated by my prose, I tend towards the poetic and the rhythmically challenged. Writing documentary narration is straight forward. I was sent to Jules Morrow.
Jules was in his seventies when I first met him. A dapper man, he never left the house without a smile or coat and tie. He grew up in the age of radio and knew how to pull the nuance from every word committed to paper in the most economic of fashions. A skill I never truly became proficient in but tools that helped me craft succinct descriptions of Flying Saucers appearing near British Airbases, large hairy creatures seen in the wilds of America and Nepal or a long dead child refusing to leave their light house home off Groton, Connecticut.
I did learn discipline from Jules. Since our first meeting until recently, he wrote every day. He would get his coffee and newspaper from the deli below his apartment, say hello to friends on the street and then go back to an office immaculately maintained and write for a minimum of two hours. What did he write? Stories, essays, journals, poems and letters, format was unimportant. Sitting in the chair was important.
“So many people, Moses, say they write. I ask them about their work and more times than naught, they’re between projects. Or researching. I like research, too, but craft is not about getting ready. It’s doing. Imagine a great tenor who never practices. His ability, one of nature, no more.”
I read very little of his work. Publishing wasn’t his interest. Writing was. Once he spent a week working on word precision and specificity. The essay on world peace began as a ten page draft. By week’s end, he had everything he needed to say wrapped in three paragraphs.
He taught me timing, valuable for television writing because time is a box each project of image and word is assigned. The story must be told in 47 minutes.
“Tell me about yourself?” was his first lesson.
“Well …” and fifteen minutes later I had finished.
He looked at me before speaking. “Now, tell me the same thing in ten seconds.”
I tried, but could never squeeze the pertinent information in under five minutes.
“You are Moses, from the desert with no memory and after two years in the hospital, you want to find out who you are, where you came from and why.”
“Yes, but I also …”
“Moses. What else is there to say?”
What else indeed but the log line of my life.
Jules passed away yesterday. Had he written this it would have been condensed into a paragraph with all the necessary but unwritten passion and fact. I am no Jules Morrow. But I will always love the who, where and why that was Jules Morrow.
M. Haygood in memory of a friend.