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VINSON: Remember to hit the streets with open eyes

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Many years ago, at Vanderbilt University’s Sarratt Center in Nashville, a symposium featured renowned Hollywood director and producer Robert Wise as the guest speaker.

Wise, who died in 2005, was a driving force behind timelessly iconic films such as “Citizen Kane,” “The Day the Earth Stood Still,” “West Side Story,” “The Sound of Music,” “Sand Pebbles,” “Star Trek: the Motion Picture,” and many others.

I was fortunate enough to attend that symposium.

During the course of the symposium, Wise shared with listeners several rounds of well-aged wisdom regarding what it takes to write a good movie script and screenplay. Toward the end of his presentation, Wise held a question and answer session with the audience. I distinctly recall one gentleman asking, “Where do you get the ideas for stories on which to base these scripts?”

Smiling rather wryly, but in a respectful tone, Wise astutely answered something along the lines of: Just go out, walk up and down the streets, and open your ears and eyes.

With that said, I am going to implement some of Wise’s wisdom in bringing about this week’s column.

In all honesty, I was having difficulty coming up with something for my first column of 2013. The past year is gone and the new year has not had the time to reveal enough of itself about which to comment.

So, I was sitting inside this local restaurant having some coffee. It was early in the morning, and there were only a few customers. In walked a white-haired fellow, and the hostess proceeded to seat him in a booth directly across from me.

He looked over at me and, smiling, said he was glad to get out of the bad weather and sit down in a nice, warm booth. I agreed with him and added that I had been battling a cold for the past couple days.

We both agreed that we should be thankful to be inside a clean, warm environment and could freely converse minus fear of censorship or bodily threat.

My newfound friend – still don’t know his name – went on to tell me that he was 71 years old and had worked for 30-plus years in Indiana before retiring and moving to Tennessee.

A whole lot had changed since he was a younger man, he said, because when he was making his way from the rank of adolescence to adulthood it was “mostly beer, cigarettes, trying to kiss a pretty girl, and an occasional fistfight.”

With a genuinely serious expression and tone while shaking his head, he went on to say that he just couldn’t understand why “all these kids are shooting all these other kids.” He placed a great deal of the blame on “all this dope s*** that’s infected us way worse than the flu bug going around.”

And those bunch up in Washington, D.C., with their fancy suits and forked tongues, want to primp up and go on TV and talk about “going over the fiscal cliff,” he said, as his face turned red in anger.

“What don’t they try to get along and tell us something we don’t already know?,” he said. “Hell, we went over the fiscal cliff a long time ago, and I’m sick-and-tired of them lying to us like we’re a bunch of (dummies) and don’t know the difference.”

I admit my conversation with this stranger produced nothing I hadn’t already heard. However, the environment in which I heard it caused me to pause and ponder, rendering a different effect than ever before.

Wise’s wisdom worked for me: If you’re looking for a worthy subject matter about which to write, just hit the streets and open your ears and eyes.

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