The spirituality of goats, and Elmore Leonard

I love goats. It’s entirely abstract, this love of mine, because I’ve never owned or had to care for an actual goat. I’ve met a few, scratched their funny goat ears, and been slightly unnerved by their spooky goat eyes. I love that they can bring to mind the devil and unchecked lust, or they can defeat trolls with their cleverness in fairy tales.  I finally watched the film The Men Who Stare at Goats (2009). This story raises so many existential questions it’s difficult to pick just one. (The plot, about ex-soldiers from the New Earth Army, a psychic ops unit started after Viet Nam, who meet again as the war in Iraq unfolds in 2003, is too wonderfully goofy and complex to summarize. Suffice to say Jeff Bridges, George Clooney, Kevin Spacey, and Ewan McGregor make it worth watching.) The goats in the story represent both succumbing to the dark side, and reclaiming the light. When one character treats a goat as expendable, he realizes he’s lost his own humanity. And when he finds his center again, he makes sure to set a whole herd of goats free.

And I love Elmore Leonard. I must confess I haven’t read that many of his books, so my love of his work is a bit abstract, too. But I cherish his rules for good writing, his dedication to keeping it simple. “Leave out the parts people won’t read,” he reminded us.  I’m thinking about this a lot as I do one last edit of my own on the You, Jane, manuscript before submitting to Champagne’s editor.

Never treat even a goat as expendable. And don’t let a single word stay in the manuscript that doesn’t belong. That seems like a good spiritual lesson to me.

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