I am no longer blogging here at Little Nuances, but I would love for you to join me on my author website www.leewarren.info.

Tuesday, January 31, 2006

Super Bowl XL

My mom claims that I pointed to a Pittsburgh Steelers coat in a store when I was a little boy and told her that I wanted it. I don't remember that incident, but I do remember rooting for them in Super Bowl IX in January of 1975. I was nine years old at the time and all through my childhood I rooted for many of the same players: Terry Bradshaw, Franco Harris, Rocky Bleier, Lynn Swann, Joe Greene, Jack Lambert, Andy Russell, Mike Wagner, John Stallworth and many others.

As they got older and began to retire one by one, I was really bummed out. In a way, it marked the end of one season of my life and began a new one. The same can be said for all of the tennis players I followed, and Kansas City Royals players I grew up watching and listening to on the radio. As one wave of players retired, new ones always took their place and eventually I accepted them and rooted for them too. That's the way it is supposed to be, but every time it happens, I feel older.

This coming weekend, my beloved Steelers play the Seahawks in Super Bow XL. Jerome Bettis, the great running back for the Steelers will probably play his last game this weekend and once again, it'll feel like the changing of the guard is in full swing. Especially as I look around at other athletes, like Andre Agassi, I've been following for years who are nearing retirement. It's probably a little odd to mark the passage of time this way, but not seeing somebody on the field or court that I'm used to seeing there makes it more real somehow.

Oddly, I don't follow sports nearly as much as I used to. I follow my favorite teams and athletes, but I don't have time to sit and watch other teams or athletes merely for entertainment. So, I've reached a good compromise. Maybe that's one of the benefits of getting older—you learn to compromise and you learn to appreciate what you have because you know that tomorrow, it might very well be gone.

Monday, January 30, 2006


When I first got my cat Midnight in 1990, she purred so loud at times that she could be heard by people I spoke to over the phone. I always thought it was innocently comical and yet soothing at the same time. I could certainly understand her contentment. She was born in barn and all of a sudden, she was living the good life—complete with her choice of her favorite wet food and dry food (not to mention a lot of people food) and a comfy spot in my waterbed each night.

All these years later, she still purrs often. Not quite as loud as she once did, but loud enough to be heard. On Saturday night/Sunday morning, I got up at 2:30 am to watch the men's finals of the Australian Open. Midnight was sleeping on top of me when I decided to drag myself out of bed. She begrudgingly followed me to the recliner and plopped down in my lap. Not long after that, I could hear her slow, steady purr—at least for a couple of minutes. Then she zonked out.

After she fell asleep, I started to wonder if humans have an equivalent to purring—some outward indicator that we are perfectly content in the moment. Maybe a genuine laugh or a smile could be one form of purring. Maybe being totally engaged in a movie or television program without trying, or feeling the need, to do 14 other things at the same time is another form. Or how about losing track of time while reading a favorite book, or talking on the phone with a friend, or participating in a favorite hobby? Surely that's another form of purring.

Contentment, as an abstract concept, often feels elusive. But I don't think it's all that difficult to find. It's just hard to recognize. Maybe it's because we have grand visions of bliss rather than simply looking for contentment in the small things of life.

Saturday, January 28, 2006

Henin-Hardenne's No Mas Moment

I had plans last night, so I taped the women's finals of the Australian Open tennis tournament between Justine Henin-Hardenne and Amelie Mauresmo. When I got home, I popped a bowl of popcorn and put my feet up in my favorite recliner hoping to watch a good match. I'm not a fan of either player—in fact, I don't really even like either player, but I am a fan of good tennis, so that's what I was hoping for. I was sorely disappointed.

Mauresmo steamrolled Henin-Hardenne in the first set 6-1 without doing much except keeping the ball in play. Early in the second set, Henin-Hardenne called for a trainer, because she had an upset stomach. After falling behind 2 games to 0, and 0-30, she quit, bringing back memories of a night in 1980 when Roberto Duran held up his hands and said "no mas, no mas" (no more, no more) as Sugar Ray Leonard proved to be too much for him that night.  

I imagine Duran's quitting was worse since he apparently just gave up for no other reason than he knew he was about to lose and he was tired of being hit, but for Henin-Hardenne to quit simply because she had an upset stomach—well, that's the sort of thing she'll always be remembered for.

Quitting isn't an option.

Ask Pete Sampras who was so spent and so sick (mostly because he was out of shape) during a 1996 match against Alex Corretja at the U.S. Open that he walked to the back of the court during the fifth set and puked. And somehow, he went on to win the match. Even if he hadn't, he proved that he was willing to leave it all on the court—literally.

Listen to the contrast between Sampras and Henin-Hardenne. Here's what she said after the match: "I knew at the beginning of the match I couldn't win it. I had no legs today, couldn't move. I really tried to stay in the match, but there was no chance for me. If I would have kept playing maybe I would injure something else, so that was the best decision, even if it was very, very hard for me."

She quit because she might "injure something else." Any time an athlete steps on the court, he or she might injure something—much like Kim Clijsters did during the semi-finals against Amelie Mauresmo a couple of days ago when she rolled one of her ankles and did major damage to tendons. You retire after you get hurt to the point that you literally cannot play another point. Not before. And certainly not in a championship.

Now listen to Mauresmo's comments after the match when she was asked about Henin-Hardenne's actions: "Well, I don't want to really comment on that. [But] I was ready to die on the court today."

Those are the comments of which champions are made.

Mauresmo had never won a major before. Unfortunately, Henin-Hardenne robbed her of the chance to close out the match in celebration and remarkably, in a classy move a few minutes later, Mauresmo she sat down next to Henin-Hardenne before the trophy presentation to apparently console her. To me, it seems it should have been the other way around.

Friday, January 27, 2006

Martina Hingis

For the past two weeks, I've been staying up way too late so I could watch the Australian Open tennis tournament. You may have noticed that I posted once recently at 4:30 am. Yes, I was actually watching tennis at the time. Every major tennis tournament contains many little stories that fascinate me. This year was no exception.

Martina Hingis retired almost four years ago at the ripe old age of 21. She'd been battling foot and ankle injuries and I'm also guessing that she felt like the game had passed her by. She's always been a finesse player and her style took her to number one in the rankings when she was just 16 years old. Before she bowed out of the game in 2002, she'd won 40 tournaments, including five majors. But that was before the power game took over women's tennis. The question everybody was wondering when she decided to come back a few weeks ago was—could she compete with the big hitters?

She entered the Australian Open as a wildcard (somebody who doesn't have enough accumulated points or a high enough ranking to qualify, but the host country decides to allow to play anyway), even though she'd won the tournament three times in the past. She played Vera Zvonareva, the 30-seed, in the opening round and beat her. Then, she played Emma Laine in the second round and demolished her. Next was Iveta Benesova, the woman who knocked out the number 5-seed Mary Pierce—and Martina beat her too. And that's when people started buzzing. She was fit, striking the ball well, smiling, and for the first time, she appeared to be at peace on the court.

In the fourth round, she faced Samantha Stosur, an Australian hometown favorite, and Martina beat her in straight sets. She went from being unranked to earning a spot in the quarterfinals. Unfortunately, she faced Kim Clijsters, the number 2-seed and new number one player in the world, and Martina lost an epic battle in three sets. I don't know how far Martina Hingis will go in her comeback and I don't know how long she will last, but it is so much fun watching a player who seems to appreciate the opportunity to play the game that she loves.  

Thursday, January 26, 2006

Little Sayings

I woke up a couple of days ago with one of my grandma's phrases running through my mind. "I have to go to the bathroom so bad I can taste it." It might take a minute for that to sink in, but once it does, you'll say "ewwwwwww," just like everybody else who ever heard her say it, and in the next moment you'll start laughing because you'll know exactly what she meant.

That's the thing about sayings that get passed on from one generation to the next. Sometimes they are funny. Sometimes they are a little tacky. But they almost always have an element of truth embedded in them or they wouldn't stand the test of time. Okay, well, a few of them get passed on because they are so hilarious that they must be passed on whether or not they contain any truth, but you get the idea.

Grandma was more than just a one hit wonder. Every time drivers (especially motorcyclists) would pass her, or drive faster than she thought they ought to, she would say, "Keep it up buddy! The graveyard's not full yet." I can remember her saying this when I was a young boy and thinking that it was a little harsh, but she certainly made her point.

I love keeping sayings like this alive. I can just envision the next generation in my family breaking out one of my grandma's sayings at a family reunion and cracking everybody up. Followed by the question that must be asked, "Where in the world did you come up with that line?"—which of course opens the door to tell people about a woman they've never met, but will feel a little closer to, in an odd way, as they leave.

Wednesday, January 25, 2006

Midweek Quotes

"Small events and choices determine the direction of our lives just as small helms determine the directions of great ships." –M. Russell Ballard

"It has long been an axiom of mine that the little things are infinitely the more important." –Arthur Conan Doyle

"If the going is real easy, beware, you may be headed down hill." –unknown

"A real friend is one who walks in when the rest of the world walks out." –Walter Winchell

"Don't cry because it's over. Smile because it happened." –Dr. Seuss

Tuesday, January 24, 2006

Fancy Coffee & Too Much Blood

Here's another repost from my last blog. I have a handful of posts from that blog that I want to repost here—not so much because they were good, but because they meant something to me.


I like to think of myself as a person who follows trends in culture. I watch the news. I listen to talk radio. I read magazines, newspapers, websites, and books. I do the coffee shop thing. I hang out in bookstores. I interview people from all walks of life for newspaper and magazine articles I write. But sometimes I see the most insignificant event and wonder, how did that one sneak by me?

I dropped my niece off at her high school this morning. As I pulled out of the parking lot, two students walked by with gourmet coffee cups—as if it were the most natural thing in the world to them. It probably is and there's nothing wrong with it. But I'm 38, so it's been a long time since I've been in high school. Twenty years in fact. When I was in high school, coffee was something my parents drank. I can't imagine one student ever showing up for class when I was in high school with a cup of Joe from Starbucks, can you? And I can't imagine students in my day having the $3.25 to plop down for it either. But disposable income is probably higher than it once was.

This coffee incident made me think about something deeper than just kids drinking coffee. I might be reading too much into this, but doesn't it seem to you that children today are attempting to enter adulthood faster than they used to? High school students have always wanted to grow up and make their own decisions. Who among us couldn’t wait for our first job, our first car, and our first taste of freedom?

We wanted all those things, but most of us weren't really forced to deal with real life until at least the college years. Even if our parents didn't have it all together when we were in high school, they tried to make it look like they did. Sometimes their baggage became more public than they preferred, but it was dealt with quickly and not spoken about again—at least until the next time.

I wonder if we have bled too much in front the next generation. Shouting matches with our spouses, too much information about financial or personal struggles, and too much yearning for the good ol' days. I'm not advocating a return to the days when parents were so emotionally distant from their children that their kids never really knew them. But maybe we've gone too far the other way. We bleed so much in front of the next generation that we force them to deal with things they shouldn't need to.

I know. This is a big stretch after simply observing two high school students drinking fancy coffee. But I'm always trying to figure out what makes people tick. And when I see something that looks different than my own experiences, I feel like I've got to figure out why. Funny thing is, I very seldom do. I just file the experience in my mind as something new I need to remember so I can find a way to relate to people I know very little about.

Monday, January 23, 2006

Johnny Carson

Johnny Carson died one year ago today. I wrote the following post the day after he died for my previous blog and I thought today would be a good time to revive the post as a way to remember him:


January 24, 2005

My Mom often recounts a story from my early years—the days when I was just learning how to talk. Dad worked nights, and when Mom tucked me into bed each night, I asked her if she would turn on Johnny Car-Car.

My parents divorced when I was eight. So, I'm guessing that during my early years, things weren't the greatest between them. I don't really remember butchering Johnny Carson's name, but I do remember Mom flipping the television on, sitting down on my bed, and gently rocking me to sleep while she laughed. During what had to be an extremely difficult time in Mom's life, she did what good mothers do. She took care of my younger sister and I and she pressed on.

One of the ways she found to press on was through laughter. And she laughed a lot while watching Johnny Carson. While I'm sure that I was too young to understand Johnny's jokes, listening to my Mom laugh created a sense of safety and brought warmth to my soul.

We watched less of Johnny Carson after I started going to school, but we still watched him on Friday nights and the older I got, the more I understood why Mom laughed while watching him. He looked at life through the lens of humor—even and especially the serious aspects of life. He got away with it because he didn't gloss over his personal failures. Instead he used them as a backdrop for telling his jokes.

When he told a joke about the difficulties of marriage, he gave us one of those "believe-me-I've-been-there-before" looks and we knew that he had. His willingness to be genuine created an inseparable bond between us.

We saw his humbleness as he gave unknown comics, actors, writers, and many other people a shot at entertaining the nation for a night. We saw his connection with us when he invited non-celebrities to talk about the real things of life. We saw his tears as he said good-bye on that night in May of 1992.

Johnny Carson's show wasn't an escape from reality for a generation, like too much of entertainment is today in our generation. Instead it was about enduring reality by laughing, talking, and sometimes crying about it.

Carson didn't stop there though. I live in Nebraska, not far from where he grew up. Over the years since he walked away from television and faded out of public view, he sent millions of dollars into Nebraska for education, cancer facilities, and probably many other things. Even though he no longer appeared on television every night, he still believed that if you give the average Joe a chance to shine, he just might.

For all of these reasons, and countless more, there's a small tear in my eye this morning knowing that Carson has told his last joke. But, as is the case with all of us, his legacy will speak about who he was for generations to come. And even his legacy will help us endure the rough spots of life.

Friday, January 20, 2006


Hope is a funny thing. We look for the slightest bit of it anywhere we can find it, and when we think we've found it, we cling to it—counting on it to give us that one shot of adrenaline we need to stay positive, because we know how quickly dreams fade, or worse, are crushed.

After I had been writing for a year or so, I started to dream about writing full time, but I never seriously considered it. I didn't think I had the talent and it seemed a little unrealistic. I've always been a punch-the-time-clock kind of guy who took very few chances in work or in life. Then a friend started telling me that I ought to pursue a full time writing career. I voiced my concerns to her and she said that she believed in me. That stunned me. It still does. I grasped on to that piece of hope and nurtured it until it sprang to life within me.

I decided to attend my first writer's conference shortly after that in 1998. I wanted to learn how to write a novel, so I took a continuing workshop taught by novelist Nancy Moser. She taught us how to structure novels, how to construct dialogue, how to stay in point of view during each scene, and many other tips—almost all of which I still use today.

As the final class was coming to an end, she told us that she struggled to get published for many years and then one day she received two calls from two different publishers who offered her contracts for nonfiction books. And she did eventually receive a contract for a novel. (Her 13th novel is just about to be published). She encouraged us to persevere in our writing because wannabes can—and do—get published. I clung to that hope as I left the classroom that day. I bought the audio tapes of the class and I've listened to them two or three dozen times since then.

I still don't have a novel published. I've written two and I'm slowly working on a third, but Nancy was right. Wannabes can get published if the persevere. I attended writer's conferences. I studied the craft. And I started sending out magazine articles. After I had a few published, I developed an idea for a nonfiction book (Single Servings) and it too was published. Since then, I've written two more nonfiction books (actually one was co-written) and I just signed a contract for another. I've also had close to 300 articles published since then.

None of that would have happened if two people hadn't offered me a little hope. So, I'm extremely mindful of how powerful hope can be. We're all looking for it. Some desperately want to be married but are close to giving up. Some have been dreaming about starting their own business, but see no feasible way for that to happen. Some are battling addictions and are just about to surrender. Whatever you are battling or dreaming about, hold on. Don't give up. Take the next step towards freedom and you might be surprised to find it around the next corner. But even if you don't, you might fight it around the next block, the next mile, or in the next city.  

And maybe in the process of looking for hope, we could listen a little closer to those whom we love as they gingerly tell us about their struggles or dreams. A well-timed comment, e-mail, or phone call might be all the hope they need to motivate them to take action—or to hold on to hope until they can.

Thursday, January 19, 2006

Love Monkey

The number of television shows that I follow on a weekly basis has dwindled over the years to just a couple—and I don't mind it one bit. I'm not anti-television. I just prefer reading. So, the last thing I'm doing right now is looking for a new show to follow.

But the previews for "Love Monkey" intrigued me—partially because this is the first serial drama that interests me in a long time that revolves around characters who are past their college years, partially because I love music, and partially because the main character is a middle-aged A&R executive who cares more about music than money.

Here's a brief description of the show, taken from the CBS.com:

"LOVE MONKEY, based on the best-selling book by Kyle Smith, revolves around Tom Farrell (Tom Cavanagh), a 30-something up and coming single record executive who is navigating the tumultuous and highly amusing waters of work and dating in New York City. Tom's got it all until he gets fired from his job and is dumped by his girlfriend, all in the same day. Fortunately, Tom's friends help him keep his life in full swing...With their help and support, Tom finds a new record company to call home and a new woman, Julia Hixon (Ivana Milicevic), to fixate on. It's a brand new Tom—which is to say, it's the same old Tom."

I watched the first episode on Tuesday night and I liked it. The show already has generated a little controversy though. You can read more about it here. But, here's the gist of it—the show is produced by Sony Television, which is affiliated with the Sony Record Company. During the pilot episode, a 17-year old singer named Teddy Geiger is sought after by Tom Cavanagh. Geiger is a Sony artist in real life. So, at first glance, this show appears to be a clever form of marketing. The executive producer says that they are going to shine the spotlight on singers from many other labels in the future and even on those without a label.

I really don't have a problem either way. Every serial television show seems to thrust products upon us in some fashion, whether it be expertly placed product, or soundtracks, or websites that get mentioned during the show. In a way, I see it as similar to what Amazon.com does. They know what we've bought from them before, so they pitch products that they know we'll like.

In the case of this particular show though, I think that the clever marketing is a tad bit ironic since the main character on this show is supposed to "all about the music." He lost his job with a big label because he spoke out in a meeting against their policy of only being concerned about the money and he took a position with a much smaller label that shared his philosophy.

But with that said, I'm planning to watch the program. I'm interested to see if Tom finds his place in the music world and I want to see if he ever finds the right woman. I'm already rooting for him to get together with his long time platonic friend named Bran (Judy Greer). She's not afraid to tell him when he's drifting and they obviously care about each other. Of course, that doesn't mean the romantic sparks are ever going to fly, but I'm hoping they do.

Wednesday, January 18, 2006

Midweek Quotes

"For a long time it had seemed to me that life was about to begin--real life. But there was always some obstacle in the way, something to be gotten through first, some unfinished business, time still to be served, a debt to be paid. Then life would begin. At last it dawned on me that these obstacles were my life." –Alfred D. Souza

"Twenty years from now you will be more disappointed by the things you didn't do than by the ones you did do. So throw off the bowlines. Sail away from the safe harbor. Catch the trade winds in your sails. Explore. Dream. Discover." –Mark Twain

"How we spend our days is, of course, how we spend our lives." –Annie Dillard

"The best things in life are nearest: Breath in your nostrils, light in your eyes, flowers at your feet, duties at your hand, the path of right just before you. Then do not grasp at the stars, but do life's plain, common work as it comes, certain that daily duties and daily bread are the sweetest things in life." –Robert Louis Stevenson

"Love the moment. Flowers grow out of dark moments. Therefore, each moment is vital. It affects the whole. Life is a succession of such moments and to live each, is to succeed." –Corita Kent

Tuesday, January 17, 2006

The Memory of Running

Penguin recently released the paperback version of a novel called The Memory of Running by Ron McLarty. I haven't read it yet, but I picked up a copy recently and I plan to get to it soon. It's about a 40-something year old alcoholic named Smithy who loses his parents in a car accident and then finds out that his long lost sister is also dead. In his grief, he goes out to his parent's garage, sees his boyhood bicycle, rides it to the end of his driveway and keeps going. He travels all the way from Rhode Island to Los Angeles to claim his sister's remains. On his way he meets people, some good—some not so good, and in the process he gets his life back on track.

Besides the fact that this is a great story, the book itself has a story. McLarty wrote the book in 1988, sent it to publishers and it was never picked up by any of them. Memory was McLarty's third novel. His first two weren't published either. In fact, he wrote nine novels, 44 plays, and a number of poems that were never published. He stopped trying to get his novels published after he wrote Memory. But he continued to write.

He supported himself by doing voice-overs and ad work. But he didn't use the time he spent supporting himself as an excuse to stop writing. For the past 35 years, he has gotten up early and written from 4:00 AM until 10:00 AM before going off into the New York world of auditions the rest of the day. Listen to what he had to say about his routine: "By the time I went to New York in the morning to do auditions, I already felt successful."

In the midst of his day job, he found a friend in the audio-book publishing industry and gave her the Memory manuscript. She arranged for him to record the book in audio format—which is odd since the book hadn't been published in the traditional sense—but he took advantage of the opportunity and recorded the book.

During that same time, he auditioned without success for a part on a made for television miniseries called "Kingdom Hospital," a Stephen King creation. Even though he didn't get the part, he was stunned when King approached him on the set and asked him if he was the same Ron McLarty who wrote The Memory of Running. King had listened to it on audiotape while recuperating after being hit by a car.

King thought so much of the audio-book that he wrote an article for Entertainment Weekly in which he said this: "'The Memory of Running' is the best novel you won't read this year. So why can't you read it? Because—so far, at least—no publisher will touch it with a 10-foot pole." After the article was published, many publishers wanted it and within two weeks, McLarty had a contract.

If you can't get inspired by McLarty's story, then you can't get inspired. I am encouraged by his story, not because of who he has become or because he has finally tasted success, but because of who he has always been. McLarty had nothing and everything to do with Stephen King reading his manuscript. McLarty had no control over what Stephen King would do with his manuscript, but if McLarty hadn't written it, King would've never found out about it. You've got to admire a guy who spends six hours a day writing for 35 years when his chance of publication seems slim.

In a sense, we are all Ron McLarty. We all have passions. And for many of us, those passions will never materialize into worldly success. But so what? McLarty wasn't driven by whether he would "succeed" or not. He was driven by his passion to write and he simply enjoyed the journey. Everybody who has ever allowed a dream to die could learn something from him.

Monday, January 16, 2006

Above the Clouds

"Every room is about memory. Every room gives us layers of information about our past and present and who we are, our shrines and quirks and hopes and sorrows, our attempts to prove that we exist and are more or less Okay." –Anne Lamott, bird by bird

As a guy, I've never thought much about décor. I don't care what color the furniture is, or what color the carpet is, or what color the walls are, or whether my end tables are the latest design. But as I was reading Anne Lamott's book bird by bird last week, she made me realize that I care more about décor than I thought. My rooms and walls are full of memories. I have three framed photos on my living rooms walls—all three of the photos were taken by my dad.

He was a photographer who took thousands of photos over the course of his lifetime. I loved looking through his photos with him. I always felt like he was allowing me to vicariously view the things in life that he found most intriguing or important. Now that he's deceased, I have a permanent record of the way he saw life and those three photos mean more to me than I can express in words.

He took one of those photos from above the clouds in an airplane. It's one of the most beautiful pictures I've ever seen. I originally ran across it as I was going through a huge stack of his photos with him one day. It was either 3 x 5 or 4 x 7 originally and after he found out that I loved it so much, he had it blown up. I bought a frame for it, and then included the words from Psalm 19:1 underneath it: "The heavens declare the glory of God; the skies proclaim the work of his hands."

I just snapped a picture of it with my digital camera and it really doesn't do the original photo justice, but this will give you an idea about what I'm talking about:

I often wonder what my dad was thinking about when he took this photo. He probably wouldn't have remembered, but I wish I would have asked him when I still had the chance. I often envision him sitting in a window seat on the plane as it makes its way to another obscure town that he's traveling to for business. I can just see him jotting down a to-do list in his little spiral bound notebook wondering how he's going to get it all done. Then all of a sudden, he glances out the window and sees the sunlight poking its way through dark, thick clouds and in the midst of the routine he finds hope, so he captures that hope with his trusty 35MM camera.

And now, I get to view that hope any time I choose.

Friday, January 13, 2006

Living Deep

My friends will tell you that I've never been on the adventurous side. If I find a particular type of coffee that I like or a certain brand of clothing that fits perfectly, I hardly see the point in trying something new. Yeah, I know I'm probably missing out on all sorts of good stuff, but I'm already happy with the stuff I'm partaking in.

I can remember being in a car once with my dad in my early twenties. He liked to listen to jazz and one day he popped in a jazz tape. It was okay and I thought it might be kind of fun to pursue, but pursuing something that might be fun or enriching only to find out that it was neither didn't make any sense to me. I already knew what type of music I liked.

At the time, I was a head-banging, heavy-metal guy with the long hair and a fake leather coat to prove it. To spend time listening to anything else made me feel like I was missing out on the complete heavy-metal experience. I had more bands to discover and more obscure cassettes (yes, this was pre-CD days) to track down.

As limiting as it sounds, I do eventually branch out. When I hear another type of music that moves me on the radio, or when I hear people talking about a book in a genre I wouldn't normally read, but for some reason it seems to be calling my name, then I'll try something new. And that's the key for me—I must be drawn to something rather than thinking that it might be interesting.

I am already intrigued in many different areas of life. And if I am going to experience them in a deeper fashion—something I feel is a must if I'm going to enjoy them and grow from them—then I have to limit myself. I recently referenced a quote from Jan Karon's book A Light from Heaven that seems to fit here. One of the main characters in the book, Cynthia, turns to Father Tim at one point and quotes Henry Canby: "Live deep instead of fast."

Thankfully, my friends haven't written me off as a lost cause yet. They seem to understand my way of thinking, but they aren't afraid to push me a little once in a while. A few weeks ago, a friend bought me something she called "chocolate pop." The thought of such a thing grossed me out, and I would have never tried such a thing on my own, but I drank it anyway. It tasted sort of like chocolate milk with a hint of something else I couldn't identify.

That "something else" did two things for me—it made me take a mental note to never buy chocolate pop and it reminded me of the fact that I like my way of doing things.

Thursday, January 12, 2006

Small Spheres of Influence

I received an e-mail a couple of days ago from a relative informing me that someone in our extended family passed away this week. My family has certainly had our share of deaths in recent years. My dad passed away in 2000. My grandma passed away in 2002. My aunt died last year. And now another relative is gone.

As death often does, it has made my family more contemplative than normal. I traded e-mails with one relative this week and I signed off by saying, "Ever get the feeling that life is stuck on fast forward? Our family dynamics seem to change with each passing month and I keep looking for the 'stop' button, but I pretty sure there isn't one."

I asked for and received permission to post her response. I thought it was perfect: "The dynamics of our family and life in general do keep changing. I find national and global issues of great interest—but find I have less and less a grasp on them. Over the last year, I have been trying more to focus on my small sphere where my actions may have an impact on those around me—rather like a pebble tossed into a lake. My intention is that the impact is a good one."

Isn't that good? Here was my response to her: "You know what's funny? I've come to the same conclusions you have over the past year. You and I come from different sides of the political debate, and I believe that the debates are important and need to occur (in as civil a manner as possible), but the older I get, the more I have a desire to focus on my own small sphere. It seems like most of life is lived there anyway, or at the very least, it ought to be. This is the reason I started my blog called Little Nuances last year—a big change considering I was writing a political blog before that…but living life with a smaller perspective tends to soften the edges a little—at least I hope that's the case for me."

Wednesday, January 11, 2006

Midweek Quotes

"The heights by great men reached and kept were not obtained by sudden flight. But they, while their companions slept, were toiling upward in the night. –Thomas S. Monson       

"Too often we underestimate the power of a touch, a smile, a kind word, a listening ear, an honest compliment, or the smallest act of caring, all of which have the potential to turn a life around." –Leo Buscaglia

"The greatest use of life is to spend it for something that will outlast it." –William James

"Vision is the art of seeing things invisible to others." –Jonathon Swift

"Every now and again take a good look at something not made with hands—a mountain, a star, the turn of a stream. There will come to you wisdom and patience and solace and, above all, the assurance that you are not alone in the world." –Sidney Lovett

Tuesday, January 10, 2006

Tennis Lessons

I started playing tennis when I was 12. I loved the strategy, I loved the feel of the ball when it hit the sweet spot (when it actually happened), and for some unknown reason, I felt like I was supposed to live a portion of my life on a tennis court. I spent many hot summer afternoons and evenings trading shots with my best friend. We'd watch the professionals on television, and then go out and mimic their shots and mannerisms. Not very well, mind you, but we tried.

As I've mentioned before, I was extremely shy as a child, and with the exception of writing, I had precious few other places in which I felt comfortable. The tennis court was one of those places, and after smacking the ball around for several summers, I felt like I had progressed enough to try playing on the high school level. Of course, I had no idea whether that was true or not, but I wanted to find out.

So, during my final summer before high school, I practically lived on the tennis court. My friend and I practiced in a park by his house. I can still see the two courts in my mind. They were dark green, with a chain link fence disguised as a net. A basketball hoop hung on one of the fences that bordered the courts and often weeds sprouted through the cracks on the courts. One of the courts was set in the side of a hill, so it was surrounded by a cement wall. We preferred that court for some reason. I think it was because the ball made a cool echoing sound every time we struck it.

I attended my first high school tennis practice at the beginning of my sophomore year (I know I'll sound old when I say this, but back then, high school started in 10th grade—not 9th). I was immediately enamored with two players. Both were seniors. Both had the latest in tennis racket design (one graphite and the other aluminum—most of the rest of us, myself included, were still using wooden rackets). And both were named Jeff. They played tennis on a level I'd never seen before. They took full cuts at the ball and somehow kept the ball from flying over the fence and into traffic—a skill that I certainly hadn't mastered at that point. They were doubles partners and each of the remaining members of the team were paired up to practice with them. I learned more during that year from them than in all my other previous years on the court combined.

They worked together as a team—complete with hand-signals that indicated when one player was going to poach or stay put. And they were quick to teach the rest of us what to look for and how to position ourselves. Their teaching didn't pay immediate dividends, but it did provide for some comedy.

I remember garnering up the courage to poach during one particular practice session against them. I probably should have abandoned ship when I saw that the serve my partner hit resembled a helium balloon, but I didn't know any better at the time. One of the Jeffs—the one who typically crushed balls from the baseline—stepped into a forehand while I was poaching and the ball was on me quicker than anything I'd ever seen. As I attempted to bail out (I must have looked like a guy who was desperately trying to avoid getting shot) the ball found a nice cushy spot just under the ribs on the left side of my body and I went down in a heap. The ball however bounced off my body and found its way over the net for a winner. After everybody saw that I was okay, laughter filled the courts—including from my own mouth—even though it hurt to laugh.

I watched the two Jeffs play matches all season and my game progressed. As I headed into practice the following summer to prepare for my junior year, my Mom did something that still touches me. She was a single parent, and I know that she didn't have any extra money, but somehow, she found a way to buy me an aluminum tennis racket. I still have it. It's a brown Wilson Triumph (here's a picture). I have no idea what she gave up to buy that racket for me, but looking back, her sacrifice means more to me with each passing year.

I didn't set the world on fire during my junior season. After losing the two Jeffs, our team wasn't good enough to compete against the other major high schools, and I ended up being ranked higher on our team than I should have—which meant that during singles matches I played other highly ranked players from opposing teams. I think I won one match that season, but I teamed up with a new guy on the team in doubles and we were pretty good.

Going into my senior season, somebody else made another sacrifice for me. My dad found out that I had my eye on a Head Graphite Director racket. He bought one and gave it to me shortly before the season started. I still have that racket too (here's a picture). I used that racket for a number of years until the frame snapped one day when I hit a serve.

By then, I had developed a good serve, and my doubles partner and I were playing at a high level. I was still ranked higher than I should have been in singles events, but I ended up focusing on doubles because I knew that my partner and I were onto something. We ended up losing in the quarterfinals of the state tournament that year.

I never became a great tennis player, but I learned some incredibly important things during my high school tennis years—lessons that are worth remembering all these years later. I learned that love leads to sacrifice, and that a good work ethic includes teaching others how to perform to the best of their ability.

Monday, January 09, 2006

First Drafts

I've always dreaded starting new jobs because I hate not knowing what I'm supposed to be doing. I find comfort in routine. I trust routine and I feel that I function at my best when I find one. My writing is no exception.

Many professional writers give budding writers permission to write bad first drafts—to just get all of their observations and thoughts about a topic on paper and worry about shaping them into a marketable piece later. I've never been one of those writers. I have no idea why. My brain just doesn't work that way. I have a theme in mind as I sit down to craft an article or chapter and I try not to stray too far from the theme. If something within me wants to explore the topic on a deeper level, I usually give it permission, to a degree, but then I usually remind it that I need it to hurry up and get to the point because I'm on deadline.

By the time I've reached the end of my first draft I usually have a good idea of what the finished article or chapter is going to look like. Sometimes I find that I've buried the lead two or three paragraphs into the body of the text. Sometimes I realize that the rabbit trail I allowed myself to chase might really be worth exploring—in which case, I do the necessary research to find out whether I need to restructure the article. And sometimes, I have to move paragraphs around or flesh them out a little better. But I've learned to trust my process of formulating a good first draft and then making the necessary changes the second and third times through.

I just started reading Anne Lamott's classic book bird by bird: Some instructions on Writing and Life. In one chapter, in which she advocates writing bad first drafts if that's what it takes to get everything down on paper, she describes a process she used to go through when she was writing food reviews on assignment for a magazine. She'd write detailed descriptions of food that would go on for pages. Her internal critics told her to stop, but she did it anyway. Listen to her reasoning: "because by then I had been writing for so long, I would eventually let myself trust the process—sort of, more or less."

Even though she crafts articles in a completely different way than I do, we've both learned to trust the process. That only happens after a writer has written enough material to actually discover a process. I think that's where many newer writers get stuck. They are looking for a formula that works for every writer, but I don't think one exists. Process exists. My process will never work for some writers. But that's okay because the process doesn't matter. The end result matters and however a writer reaches it is fine. The key is to fight through the infancy stages until a process is discovered. Then, trust it.

Friday, January 06, 2006

Life-altering Moments

Many of the most life-altering decisions I've made have occurred during mundane circumstances. I decided to quit college in 1985 while talking on the phone with a friend one day. I decided to move one time while I was at a church picnic. I came up with a new book idea in the shower a couple of mornings ago. I've even made decisions in mid-sentence while talking to somebody.

Of course, decisions or realizations rarely happen quickly. They are the culmination of a bunch of little facts and observations that all snowball toward that one minute when the last piece of information locks itself into your mind, and then you just know.

Yesterday, I read a scene from a novel called A Window Across the River by Brian Morton that captured this process beautifully. The novel is about a photographer named Isaac who feels that life and the photography industry is passing him by and there's not much he can do to stop either one. In this particular scene, Isaac is talking to one of his former photography students named Renee. She's just landed a deal with The New Yorker to publish three of her photos—the same magazine that Isaac has wanted to be published in for a long time. Listen to his thought process:

"When he was in his late twenties, two of his photographs were acquired by the Boston Museum of Fine Arts, and when he told one of his former teachers the good news, the old man had said, 'Yes, they've been after me to send them some things, but I've been too busy.' At the time Isaac hadn't understood that the old man had no class, that his response had emerged from a stew of peevish envy. He understood it now. And he understood that if he gave Renee anything less than a generous response, it would condemn him, condemn him as a small-souled man, and that a generous response, even if it wasn't sincere, would be enough."

A couple of lines later, right in the middle of their conversation, Isaac came to this realization: "The next generation was making its claim, and he hadn't tried to obstruct it. He felt obscurely that this was one of the defining moments of his life."

And he was right.

Thursday, January 05, 2006

Squirrel Watching

I love how some of the smallest things in life can evoke great memories. I was working in my home office a couple of days ago, which sits near the front of my house, and I heard all sorts of racket outside my window. I looked out and saw a squirrel latched onto the rod iron of my porch. He was looking straight in at me. I tried to get a picture of him, but he was already running away by the time I snapped this photo through my living room window.

This incident reminded me of days long since past. When I was a little boy, my grandparents lived on a big acreage that had a wooded area with a creek that ran through it, so it was always a magnet for deer, squirrels, and a few animals that I still have no idea what they were called. My grandpa used to sit at a picnic table in the backyard and read the newspaper while watching wild life. He spent many evenings back there while he was still in good health.

When he got sick toward the end of his life, he often sat on the front porch instead. He still got to see squirrels chasing each other around the yard and up one of the five trees in the front yard. He'd laugh and point and tell his grandchildren to watch certain squirrels because of their unique characteristics. Some might have a funny looking tail, some were different colors, some were skinny, and some were fat, but all of them were playful. I can't help but wonder if their friskiness didn't remind my grandpa of the days when he used to putter around in his workshop without any physical ailments.

The older I get, the more I understand what it feels like to desire the exuberance of youth while at the same time knowing my body doesn't care about what my heart desires. And the older I get, the more I hope that I'll become like my grandpa—someone who finds joy in the small things of life even when I can no longer physically chase after them myself.

Wednesday, January 04, 2006

Midweek Quotes

"It is the dim haze of mystery that adds enchantment to pursuit." –Antoine Rivarol

"Mystery is a resource, like coal or gold, and its preservation is a fine thing." –Tim Cahill

"She sometimes thought that even if what she wrote every day was doomed to disappear during the night, she would keep writing stories, just to make a daily pilgrimage to the realm of mystery and reverence and play." –Brian Morton, from the point of view of a character named Nora, from his novel A Window Across the River

Mystery creates wonder and wonder is the basis of man's desire to understand. –Neil Armstrong

"A child kicks his legs rhythmically through excess, not absence, of life. Because children have abounding vitality, because they are in spirit fierce and free, therefore they want things repeated and unchanged. They always say, "Do it again"; and the grown-up person does it again until he is nearly dead. For grown-up people are not strong enough to exult in monotony. But perhaps God is strong enough to exult in monotony. It is possible that God says every morning, "Do it again" to the sun; and every evening, "Do it again" to the moon. It may not be automatic necessity that makes all daisies alike; it may be that God makes every daisy separately, but has never got tired of making them. It may be that He has the eternal appetite of infancy; for we have sinned and grown old, and our Father is younger than we." –G. K. Chesterton, from the book Orthodoxy

"The universe is full of magical things patiently waiting for our wits to grow sharper." –Eden Phillpotts

Tuesday, January 03, 2006


I picked up a couple of CDs out of the bargain bin a couple of weeks ago—one of which is called Thinkin' About You by Trisha Yearwood, originally released in 1994. I popped it into my CD player on my way to a social event last night and I heard a beautiful ballad called On a Bus to St. Cloud. The song is a about thinking that you've seen somebody you used to be in a relationship with. But that's not what intrigued me.

Here are a couple of ambiguous lines that made me think: In a church in downtown New Orleans / I got down on my knees and prayed / And I wept in the arms of Jesus / For the choice you made / We were just gettin' to the good part / Just gettin' past the mystery…

The lyrics don't provide any more insight into the choice the man made, although I'm guessing it was to leave her. But the saddest part of the song to me is where the lyricist (not Tricia Yearwood) believed that getting past the mystery was the good part of the relationship. I don't think that's ever a good place to be in—no matter whether we are talking about relationships, writing, reading, or anything else. Mystery is the great muse, and very necessary.

I had a conversation with a friend a couple of weeks ago about the marvelous mysteries of Christianity. The Trinity is a mystery. So is the virgin birth of the Messiah. And his deep love for people—even to the point of being willing to die for sins he didn't commit. The Apostle Paul refers to the gospel as being a mystery on more than one occasion. But in that mystery we find wonder and we are awed by it. Or at least we should be.

Romance, by its very nature, is mysterious. It takes our breath away. It pulls us, invites us, intoxicates us, but in the end, nobody can really define it. We just know it when we see it, or better yet, when we experience it. The last thing we want to do is to get past the mystery. At the same time, I don't think that we are to seek mystery as a means to an end, but rather to just draw inspiration from it and to appreciate the power it contains.

Cat Calls 911

My cat, Midnight, can do a lot of things. She lets me know when she's hungry, when she wants ruvin' (loving), when it's time to quit working each day, and a bunch of other things. But I guess I should be teaching her even more—like how to dial 911.

Check out this unbelievable AP story: Cat Calls 911 to Help Owner, Police Say.  

Monday, January 02, 2006


"The ability to simplify means to eliminate the unnecessary so that the necessary may speak." –Hans Hofmann

I've been trying to get a grasp on the simple life for a long time. It sounds appealing, and it sounds right, doesn't it? But simplicity is hard. It means saying no more often—even to "good" projects. And then it means not frittering away newfound time after saying no. As Hofmann said above, simplicity is paring down in order to have more time in which to appreciate that which remains.

I don't know if it's harder now than ever to embrace a more simple life, but I suspect it is. Any topic we're interested in has more than enough coverage. Even if a cable channel isn't already dedicated to it, then dozens of websites, magazines, newspapers, e-newsletters, blogs, and internet communities are.

Henry David Thoreau (1817-1862) didn't have nearly as much noise to contend with in his day, but he still took two years out of his life to build a cabin on Walden Pond outside of Concord, Massachusetts to "live deliberately, to front only the essential facts of life, and…learn what it had to teach." He wrote a book about his experience that was published in 1854 called Walden; Or, Life in the Woods.

I don't think pulling away from real life for two years should be the norm, but I can certainly understand why Thoreau did it. People and things beg for our attention and it's quite easy to oblige. So easy in fact, that sometimes it's hard to know when we're indulging and when we're not. We just participate. I sure do.

So, every year about this time, I start unsubscribing to many of the e-newsletters that I signed up for throughout the previous year. I let subscriptions to magazines and newspapers lapse if I don't read them. And I pull out of projects, classes, groups, or studies that are taking up time that might be better spent elsewhere.

I don't think I'll ever really find the ideal simple life, but I'd be thrilled to find a simpler life.


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