Monthly Archives: July 2011

My Private Hours with Yitzhak Rabin

This is how I remember Rabin

In January 1969, I served as host and aide to the Israeli Ambassador to the United States Yitzhak Rabin during his visit to Norfolk, Virginia to address the World Affairs Council of Greater Hampton Roads.  I was its founding Executive Secretary, and I had also served as the manager of a 1968 U.S. State Department Regional Foreign Policy Conference. I was 27 years old at the time, a U.S. Army veteran, and the father of a baby daughter.

 As I made the Norfolk arrangements, I was amazed that Rabin traveled unescorted on a commercial airline from Washington.  As the three-star general who was the mastermind of the Six Day War, he was a potential terrorist target.  Thus my arrangements included a limousine and two security details of Norfolk Police detectives and Secret Service agents.

 Rabin’s appearance at the World Affairs Council was well received.  The three-car caravan then returned the Ambassador to the Norfolk airport for a scheduled flight back to Washington.  We parked inside the tarmac, posted guards, and I went into the terminal to get the Ambassador’s boarding pass.  Imagine my horror when I was told that his flight had been canceled.  Given the options of having us drive him to Washington, or waiting more than two hours for the next available flight, Rabin generously chose to wait.

 So there I was with Rabin in the back seat of the limousine for two uninterrupted hours.  There were no cell phones or laptops in those days.  A member of our security team passed in cups of coffee as Rabin and I began a conversation about Allied commanders of the Second World War.  We “evaluated” them; me a former enlisted man and amateur historian, and he a general and famed military tactician. 

 The most significant memory and impression I carry from that encounter was that Rabin was a man of great character and sensitivity, a man I would trust with important decisions affecting our world.  Rabin told me that he had planned a career in agricultural economics, but that war had altered his path.  I sensed a longing for peace rather than power.  Since that evening, I followed Rabin’s career with a feeling of personal involvement.  And although I am not Jewish, I realized that none of us will be at peace until all of us are at peace.

 In 1994, I began having persistent dreams about the Middle East peace process.  These dreams carried over into wakeful contemplation, and I felt a strong impulse to convey them to Rabin who was then Prime Minister of Israel.   The “message” was really in the form of a question.  What would occur if the official government policy of Israel toward the Palestinians were FORGIVENESS?  There are theological grounds in both Judaism and Islam for forgiveness between individuals and between nations.

 How can there be peace without forgiveness?  Forgiveness for all that has been done and forgiveness for all that has been imagined?  Revenge has been a policy.  Hate has been a policy. These policies have resulted only in death and chaos.  We can only be forgiven as we forgive.  This is where peace truly occurs.  Offer forgiveness.  Seek forgiveness.  That was the essential message of my letter to Rabin dated June 23, 1994.

 The assassination of Yitzhak Rabin took place on November 4, 1995 at 21:30 at the end of a rally in support of the Oslo Peace Accords at the Kings of Israel Square in Tel Aviv. The assassin, Yigal Amir, a far-right-wing religious Zionist, fatally opposed Rabin’s peace initiative and particularly his signing of the Oslo Accords.   Perhaps any real chance of peace in the Middle East died that day as Rabin’s enlightened view was silenced.

 I wept bitter tears when I heard the news.

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Keeping Faith with William Faulkner

Monty writes longhand at the dining room table

When I sat with William Faulkner at UVA in the last year of his life, he still believed that his literature had been about the human heart.  What other purpose could there be for a serious writer?  What higher goal worthy of a lifetime of creative devotion?  I trust that I have kept faith with Mr. Faulkner and revealed to the extent of my talent the heart of the human experience in my every novel and screenplay.

While actors, directors, and producers networked in the pursuit of film careers, I devoted my creative life to the writing of novels suitable for filmmaking far removed from their working environments but not removed from how films could be adapted from my stories.

 I am of a generation raised on weekly movie going; and as an elementary school child, I kept a daily 4 p.m. television appointment to see the MGM film catalog where, at the age of ten, I became a fan of Wallace Beery.  It was little wonder that my first professional credit after college was the writing and directing of a movie in Europe and that all my subsequent short stories, novellas, and novels were written from a visual perspective easily adaptable to screenplays.

 The reason that I did not enter the mainstream of writers and filmmakers was that my purpose in writing was to attempt to produce an enduring, hopefully important, literature.  It was not that I wanted to write literary novels for academic or critical praise, because I judged that milieu as limited as the popular culture of irrelevant books and films.  My audience, as I still view it, is the great middle ground of individuals in search of a meaningful literature that will inspire awareness of the American experience in the last hundred years and provide a conscious alternative for philosophical and psychological change in the future.  That’s what important literature and films do—they elevate the human dialog across the social spectrum, and ultimately, they inspire ideas whose historic time has come.

While other creators have built careers on appealing to the age 15 to 24 film-going audience, I have prepared a body of work that speaks to adults; and as the baby boomers come into their own as the greatest U.S. market force, I hope that they will dictate a revolution of taste in books and films.  They will require more than scary thrills, adventure escapes, and adolescent comedies.  They will want more mature expressions of passion, drama, and humor.  And for those adult generations just behind them, the word-of-mouth recommended books and films will be the ones that serve their interests and concerns, too.

If I have seemed out of commercial play for most of my writing life, it is only because the devotion to the work itself was always paramount.  Now, in 2011, the precise cultural moment has arrived to roll out the products conceived and created for this emerging era and the substantial audience that is waiting to absorb them.  I realize that I am not the only agent of this creative and sociological change, but I am certainly one of the most prodigious of its progenitors with more than fifty major works.

 Don’t fear that the message will override the storytelling, because there is no art in that form; and I am, if nothing else, a craftsman.  My characters are real within the creative moment, and they act and speak in ways that always amaze me.  And as I laugh and cry with them, so will the reader and the theater audience because of the common dilemmas that we share.  But real art is universal, and the portrayal of the contemporary human condition is relevant in the UK, in France, and in Japan, China, and India as well.

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Walk With the Burros

One of the greatest pleasures about being a writer is that you make lasting friendships with some of your readers.  Out in Chino Valley, Arizona, a man named Wynne Zaugg read the four novels of my Booker Series that are set in the Southwest, and he began to recommend them as “reading for the soul” in his Hacienda de los Milagros (Home of Miracles) newsletter.  When I saw my first copy of the newsletter, Wynne was offering a money-back guarantee if people read any of the Booker novels and were not moved by them.  What support from a stranger!  We had to find out more about him.

 Hacienda de los Milagros is a non-profit teaching and healing animal sanctuary accredited by the American Sanctuary Association.  Basically, Wynne and his board members rescue burros, horses, mules, and hinnies from desperate circumstances and provide lifetime care for them that includes veterinary medical needs, feeding, grooming, and deep affection.  A list of current residents will include about 100 burros, around 25 horses, and a handful of mules and hinnies. 

 When wild burros were dying during a severe drought in Death Valley, Wynne organized a caravan of equine trailers to rescue them.  Some were so stressed that they did not survive, but many were relocated to Chino Valley and nursed back to health.  Some of those burros were pregnant.  Wynne asks each animal to “tell” him their name and their “story,” and when you walk with him in a large corral among a hundred burros, he can name each one.

 Although my wife Pat and I live in North Carolina, our keen interest in Hacienda de los Milagros caused us to travel in December 2006 to Arizona to meet Wynne Zaugg and the animals at the sanctuary.  Every day that we were there, we entered without fear a large corral where nearly 100 burros roamed.  Soon we were surrounded by animals who wanted nothing more than to give and receive affection.  The emotional impact of those primal gifts is never to be forgotten.

 Wynne Zaugg and his supporters are honoring and preserving life itself one beautiful creature at a time.  These are acts worthy of St. Francis in the serving of our common soul.  But at Hacienda de los Milagros the heart’s generosity has sometimes exceeded the limits of stables and corrals.  The cycle of life there demands pure dedication for the feeding, grooming, and the veterinary care that is required.  All this necessitates dawn to dusk service to the rescued animals.

 If you can visit Hacienda de los Milagros and are nuzzled by the burros and horses, the animals themselves will affirm the wonder of their keeping.  If you wish to affirm your own humanity and your respect for the four leggeds who co-habit our planet, your volunteer efforts and your financial support of the House of Miracles will be fulfilling.  Some people who interact with the burros and horses at HDLM have profound communications with them.  Over the last 12 years these “messages” have been collected in a book soon to be available.  For more about HDLM, visit their website http://www.hdlmsanctuary.org/.

 A great Sufi master and poet, Hafiz, who lived in the 14th century, wrote I Have Learned So Much (translated by Daniel Ladinsky).  The words seem to resonate with our experience at the sanctuary.

 I

Have Learned

So much from God

That I can no longer

Call

Myself

A Christian, a Hindu, a Muslim,

A Buddhist, a Jew

The Truth has shared so much of Itself

With Me

That I can no longer call myself

A man, a woman, an angel

Or even pure

Soul

 Love has

Befriended Hafiz so completely

It has turned to ash

And freed

Me

Of every concept and image

My mind has ever known.

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Remembering Betty Ford

Monty (with a moustache and sunglasses) is on the right side second row behind the lady with the big white collar.

The person who invents a gender neutral third-person singular pronoun  will probably win the Nobel Peace Prize.  I remember when Equal Rights for Women was a political debate, and I damn sure wanted equal pay for my daughters’ equal work. 

 Which brings me to Betty Ford, a champion of Equal Rights for Women, who recently died at 93.  On May 4, 1976, First Lady Betty Ford came to the Weir Cook Municipal Airport (now Indianapolis International) to christen the Boeing 747SP, a shorter version of the Boeing 747 that was to take off that day and set a speed record to the Far East.  My boss at Curtis Publishing was a Republican stalwart who had made the China trip with Nixon.  He needed a stand-in for the Betty Ford airport event; and since I could be quickly cleared by the Secret Service because of my military service and work with the State Department, he asked me to do it.  It gave him great pleasure to send me, the Associate Publisher of Holiday, the national travel magazine, since I was probably the only registered Democrat in the whole Curtis building.

 A blogger’s response to my gender sensitivity sent me on a search for my connection to Betty Ford.  Published in the Indianapolis Star, I found it in a photo of her at the podium in front of the huge jetliner.   And there I am sitting in the second row!  My moments with Betty Ford were few—an introduction, a brief greeting on behalf of my boss, and then we went right to the business of christening.

 Being politically correct once traveled as courtesy and good manners, the please and thank-you’s of past generations.  I won’t debate the politics of gender, race, and profiling with my blogger, but I will offer him my sincere thanks for sending me on the path to remembering Betty Ford.  I ordered the christening event photo today!

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What every lover should know about the creative artist. Part Three

The lover in Monty's case is Pat

What can lovers and friends do when they recognize a creative artist in their midst?

The young person struggling with artistic impulses is vulnerable in the formative years.  Without the maturity of craft and experience, the need for lessons, coaching, and educational support is essential.

In fact, the artist’s need to learn and explore never ends.  The creative person remains an avaricious student their entire life.  Formal education is often too structured and limiting for the impatient potential artist so guidance is important at this stage of development to assure a good background.  A painter who does not understand the history of his art form will always be limited by what he or she does not know.  A novelist who has no critical perspective of his genre is destined to mediocrity.  Many localities offer special programs for the gifted and talented.  Acceptance in their educational program should be the goal of the creative aspirant.

By the late teens and early twenties, the creative personality will do well to find a mentor, an older person in her artistic field who can serve as teacher and advisor.  Mentors open the door on the real life of what it means to pursue art.  The struggle and the compromises of adult life become evident as art as a profession is revealed.  Most acolytes of art never progress beyond this stage.  Although they do not choose the sacrifices of the artist’s life, they can become an especially qualified audience for appreciation of the art form.

Beyond the early stages of recognition of talent and the acquisitions of basic education and skills, the creative artist needs an opportunity for growth and refinement.  Since it is usually impossible to earn a livelihood from purely artistic productivity, practical compromises must be made.  The natural urge toward marriage and children further complicates the equation.  Families are required to make significant financial and lifestyle sacrifices if they are to support a creative artist member.  It is a difficult role to play because it is easy to see the artist as a selfish, willfully exploitive human being whose personal interests outweigh the comforts and concerns of the family.  If dedication is a prerequisite of the artist, it is also a necessary quality of his or her enduring family.

If the goal of the lover can be the same as the artist—the consistent completion of artistic work—then the lover and the artist can take joy in the productivity.

You may have noticed in this blog that entries will try not to become gender specific because the blogger is male.  In a general commentary, the pronouns will often alternate between paragraphs.  As a man with three daughters and five granddaughters, the blogger intends to be as gender inclusive as possible.

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What every lover should know about the creative artist. Part Two

Author Monty Joynes at the dining room table writing longhand the old fashioned way

Many people have passions.  The passions may have a multitude of focal points, but the goals are always fame, money, and power.  A part of the creative artist also wants materialistic rewards; however, she finds herself unable to position herself for them.  She cannot be at peace doing commercial work or by repeating past efforts as a sop to critics and the buying public.  Repetition is artistic death.  No matter how economically and socially comfortable success can be, creative energy is lost in the seduction, and the artist can become impotent if she cannot deny the circumstance and retreat into the truth of her own reality.

The creative artist hopes for recognition, but he must deny it emotionally if he is to grow and fulfill his potential.

The creative artist believes in her own work although she is unrecognized or severely criticized.  Her worst fear is that her talent and craftsmanship are not equal to her passion.  What if nature has given her the drive but not the talent to create something of value?  What if her environment, and her own weaknesses, allow her only to produce mediocrity?  Many, many are given the will to art so that the few might achieve.  Countless sperm struggle toward a goal so that one might succeed and procreate.  That is nature’s way.  All artists must face this reality and conquer self-doubt every day of their creative life.

The creative artist believes in his product although self-doubt can torment him and keep him off balance and depressed much of his life.

It is the emotional dichotomy of unavoidable passion for creative work and self-doubt exacerbated by an unsupportive marketplace that makes artists seem eccentric, strange, or even ill.

Many occupations are means to an end.  But the creative product is the end for the artist.  Financial security is the means, not the end to the creative personality.  The value and fame that the society places on the work is a consequence of the work and not the goal of the work.  History demonstrates that much of artistic value was created by people who died in poverty and struggled during their lifetime for the opportunity to be creative.

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What every lover should know about the creative artist. Part 1

If you have ever lived with one or loved one, you know that the creative artist is a complex character seemingly devoted to emotional contradictions.  For hundreds of years, writers, painters, sculptors, composers, and musicians have made self-defenses of their passions and life styles.  The efforts extend pity to paradox, and the divorces and estrangements continue from age to age.

 There are many common elements of the creative personality that form a syndrome of their peculiar malady.  If the disease can be identified and isolated, perhaps there can be an understanding of the behavior of the patient.

 First of all, let’s define what we mean by a creative artist.  The creative artist creates a body of work.  The definition is not dependent on whether the work is published, produced, or performed.  Each piece, long or short, must be completed, however, and a compilation of past and planned projects must demonstrate that serious work is being done on a continual basis over a period of years.

 An individual who writes one novel, one play, or one symphony and then quits because the work was not accepted is not a creative artist.  The creative artist cannot quit no matter what his circumstance.  If the society condemns his work, he will become furtive, go underground, but he will nevertheless be productive.

 You can identify the creative artist by his persistence to produce work in spite of poverty and rejection.  There may be very productive periods and very unproductive periods depending on circumstances, but the creative artist is always working at his art.

 Pretenders at being creative artists can talk for hours about their plans and ideas, but they will have no continuum of finished work to show for all their talk and emotion.

The creative artist has finished work to show.

The creative artist creates in spite of all financial and interpersonal obstacles.

 The creative artist may perform other occupations.  She may even do commercial work within her discipline, but no work outside of her creative production satisfies her.  If happiness can be defined as inner peace and tranquility, the creative process is her only real, unqualified joy.  No matter what emotions were involved in the arrival at the creative moment, beyond the anger and the tears.  The moment of creation is pure delight.

 If your artistic friend seems moody and distant at times, it is because he is in the creative process.  He is experiencing the withdrawal symptoms between bursts of creative energy.  He is a creative junkie waiting for the next fix of creative juices.

The creative artist can experience unqualified happiness only in the solitary moments of the creative act.  She is often inept emotionally outside of that experience.  When she is concentrating on a large work, she has little or no energy left for other activities.  That’s why she flops into bed and sleeps for ten hours at a time.  That’s why she watches too much television and ignores the household chores.

 The creative artist has an innate drive and passion for his art that is genetic.  A long evolution has produced him.  He is programmed by nature to express himself in literature, or marble, or with musical instruments.  Often in his lifetime, he will wish that he could cast off the impractical yoke of this insatiable desire, and some fight it to their own mental and physical destruction.  The will to art is not always a welcome passion.  It often seems to the individual a cruel joke that denies choice and free will.

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