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, February 28, 2006

Politics Matter, But...

As the latest political scandals are being discussed, people who know me might be surprised to find out how little I actually know about them. In fact, I've followed politics less in the last year than at any time during the last fifteen years of my life.

Politics matter. Politicians make law, develop foreign policy, declare war, and set tax rates. And they represent us—both here and abroad. So, for all of these reasons, and more, all of us have a vested interest in what our leaders do.

So, why do I am showing less of an interest now? Part of the reason has to do with my political persuasion. I'm galaxies away from the Democratic Party and I'm planets away from the Republican Party, so I don't have a political home. Another reason is the rise of neoconservatism, which I despise. And my work is keeping me busier than ever. Factor in all of these things, plus a need for downtime and a need for a social life, and you have a person who is becoming less informed by the day.

That doesn't thrill me because I think an informed citizenry is a must to keep any government accountable and because I believe being informed is a God-ordained responsibility. But with governing bodies being in session for a large portion of each year, rather than occasionally gathering like they should, a person almost has to consider it a part time job just to keep up with it all.

A couple of years ago, during my political blogging days, I ran across a blog that I really enjoyed called The Boileryard. It's anchored by a guy who takes on the persona of a dead-ball era baseball player named Boileryard Clarke. We've traded e-mails over the past couple of years and while we come at politics from different angles, we hold many of the same views and I've come to highly respect his ability to articulate his positions.

The Boileryard is still up and running. In fact, Clarke has a whole team of people who write from different political points of view. But he wrote a post this past December that nailed the way I was feeling about politics at the time. Here's part of what he said: "I think my political viewpoint, characterized largely by a bothersome echo from the pre-WWII days of the America First Committee, a complete mistrust of even a whisper of a hint of marginal socialism, and a total revulsion of what the New Left has done to make Classical Liberalism into Ultimate Statism, is sufficiently obscure to warrant an endless rehashing of the points of contention to every new face I meet."

Eventually, that led him to ask this: "And so what is important to a person?"

Here's his conclusion: "In the last two years netpilot [another writer on the site] and I have found what is important, really. The faces of our grandchildren are important. Their hugs are important. Friends are important. Our wives. Our own children. Music in the morning. Making other people smile is important. Life, minus the fist-shaking and anger and suspicion of others we don't understand, is important."

I doubt if Boileryard Clarke will ever really stop following politics or engaging in friendly political debate, but I think he's on to something regarding the importance of children, spouses, friends, music, and smiles. I started Little Nuances for all of the same reasons. Neither of us knew what the other person was thinking when we both started new blogs (his latest endeavor is called Chasing Vincenzo), but we are both paying a little more attention to other important things, besides politics, and I'm guessing that he is just as happy as I am with the decision.

Monday, February 27, 2006

Jason McElwain

I wrote a book for Barbour Publishing last summer called A Big Book of Sports Inspiration that hasn't been released yet. In the book, I chronicled dozens of inspirational sports stories. The recent events at Greece Athena High School in Rochester , N.Y. would have fit nicely in the book.

Jason McElwain, a 17 year-old, 5-foot-6 autistic senior, never had a chance to play basketball for Greece Athena. So, he became the team manager so he could be around the game he loves. He handed out water, wrote down stats, and became the team's biggest cheerleader.

As their final game approached, Coach Jim Johnson decided to let McElwain suit up but he didn't have any intensions of putting McElwain in the game. But with Greece Athena up big with four minutes to go, Coach Johnson decided to put McElwain in and the crowd went nuts. He missed his first two shots, and then he hit a three pointer. I don't know which is more moving, seeing him make the basket or the reaction of the crowd. They went ballistic.

Then McElwain hit another three pointer. After that, he couldn't be stopped. He scored 20 points in the final four minutes of the game and the crowd carried him off the court on their shoulders. I've seen the video several times and I get tears in my eyes every time. Watch it if you get a chance, but make sure you've got the sound turned up on your computer so you can hear the crowd's reaction.

[Hat tip to Sheila at The Sheila Variations for the video link]

Friday, February 24, 2006

Running on Empty

A few weeks ago, I wrote a post about the wonderful experience of silence among two people who don't necessarily feel the need to say a word in each other's presence. Now I want to talk about the opposite side of the equation—when it's appropriate, or necessary, to speak, but you don't have any words. Ever been there? I sure have.

Sometimes it's because I'm tired. Sometimes it's because I'm thinking. Sometimes it's because I'm afraid to say what needs to be said. And sometimes, I just feel empty. Like I've given all I have to give to my work, or family, or friends, and I just have nothing left.

A couple of months ago, I read a book about writing called bird by bird by Anne Lamott. I've never really experienced major writer's block before, but I learned something about myself when I read her chapter about the subject. This one sentence she wrote has been running through my head ever since I read it: "The word block suggests that you are constipated or stuck, when the truth is that you're empty."

I don't think I've ever connected the dots between input and output when I've run out of things to say during conversations. I think I've always just assumed that if I were empty during a conversation that I could just tap into the reserves of information I've stored up over the years and everything would be just fine. But, that hasn't always been the case.

If Lamott's principle of emptiness applies to conversations as well as writing, and after thinking about it for a while, I think it does—then it's okay to be empty sometimes. It's just an indication that I need to get involved in experiences that spark the creative flow. And knowing this somehow gives me permission to do so.

Thursday, February 23, 2006

Journey 2001

A few nights before my computer crashed last week (if I owe you an e-mail and you haven't heard from me, that's why), and a couple of nights before I blew an engine on my car, I needed a little down time, but I didn't want to be up too late, so I popped the Journey 2001 DVD into my computer to watch a live performance of a few of my favorite Journey songs.  

I've seen the DVD several times, and each time I've amazed at how good the band still sounds with new singer Steve Augeri—maybe even because of Steve Augeri. His voice is so similar to former lead singer Steve Perry's voice that it's hard to tell them apart, but it seems like Augeri felt like he had something to prove on the particular evening when this DVD was shot. He nailed the old crowd favorites, while at the same time adding a touch of himself to each song.

Music is powerful. It can stir up old emotions and transport a person back in time. That's what happened when I watched this particular DVD. I went to see Journey in concert in the late 1980's with the woman I was just beginning to date and another couple. I was more interested in the woman than she was in me, but we were extremely close friends, and we were both interested in seeing if something could develop beyond friendship. I can't remember for sure, but I think this might have been our first official attempt at a date.

Journey played one hit after another: Who's Crying Now?, Don't Stop Believin', Separate Ways, Wheel in the Sky, and many others. As the concert neared the end, I heard the familiar opening notes of Open Arms. I love that song, but I was a little distracted by the age-old question that every guy who's ever been in my situation has faced—do I take a chance and put my arm around the girl I'm with or not? I took the chance. Right in the middle of Open Arms, my right arm found it's way around her back and it stayed there for the rest of the concert—which wasn't long.

For the encore, Journey played Faithfully. It's one of my all-time favorite songs. At the time, the band was rumored to be breaking up, and before they began the song, Steve Perry went backstage, donned a Husker uniform, and when he came back onstage he dedicated Faithfully to the fans who had stuck with the band for so many years. The reality of the band possibly splitting resonated throughout the auditorium when he said those words and it was hard not to get caught up in the moment.

But as much as I was into it, I was still a little distracted by the arm-thing. She hadn't brushed me away, or voiced her displeasure, but she also didn't seem to be responding as well as I'd hoped. A simple lean-in would have sufficed, but after working up enough courage to put my arm around her, I certainly wasn't going to retreat without a reason.

A few dates later, she told me that she just wasn't comfortable with us going beyond the friendship level. I wasn't surprised, but hey, I'll always have Journey, and I'll always have the memories.

Wednesday, February 22, 2006

Small Town Life

I finally made it home—minus my beloved Dodge Neon, plus a Saturn SL. As you might imagine, my little excursion can and will be used as blog fodder.

A couple of days ago, while staying with a good friend and his wife who live close to the city in which my car broke down in, my friend's wife let me borrow her car so I could go retrieve all of my personal belongings out of my Neon before it was carted away. My friend and his wife live in a town of about 300 people in central Nebraska. As I headed out of it, I ended up having to wait quite a while for a train. The train couldn't have been going faster than 5 or 10 mph, and it seemed like the longest train in history.

As I waited, and continued to glance down at my watch, a man in a truck pulled up behind me. Then another man in a truck pulled up behind him. Before long, the one in back pulled up along side the other man. They rolled down their windows and began to converse. Then they began to throw their heads back in laughter. I don't even think they looked up to see if the train was ever going to come to an end. They were completely content in the moment (or block of many moments). I thought that was so cool.

As a single guy, I think I'd go crazy in a small town since I'm so used to going out on the weekends, but small town life definitely appeals to me. I like the way everybody waves at each other, how everybody looks out for each other, and the slower pace. And I really like the way everybody knows everybody—in a way, it validates each individual rather than everybody just blending into a mass of humanity.

I'm sure small town life has its draw backs (gossip and nosiness being near the top), but I didn't see many the past few days.

Sunday, February 19, 2006

Out of Commission

My access to the internet may be limited over the next couple of days. I blew an engine in my car on the way to a bowling tournament on Saturday morning. So, I'm staying with a friend right now who lives close to the bowling center. Once I find a new car, I'll head home and resume regular posting. I'm thinking it may be Wednesday before that happens.

Friday, February 17, 2006

Elizabethtown, Part 3

We're at the end of the Elizabethtown posts—at least for now. Here are a couple of random quotes from the movie that I'm not going to spend a lot of time on, but I think they're worth noting:

"Sadness is easier because it's surrender. I say, make time to dance alone with one hand waving free." –Claire

"Trust me. Everybody's less mysterious than they think they are." –Claire, at the beginning of her all night phone call with Drew.

Here's the quote I want to talk about. It comes in the middle of "the call" between Claire and Drew. Without offering much context, Claire said this: "I think I've been asleep most of my life." I suspect that she feels this way because she's been operating as what she calls a "substitute person" for a long time. Her boyfriend is married to his career and she seems to be on auto-pilot when she meets Drew.

Auto-pilot isn't always a bad thing. It can get a person from Point A to Point B in life without much thought or emotion. But life often happens during mundane circumstances, and if a person sleeps through too many of them, he or she will eventually wake up and wonder what's happened to all the time that has passed.

I think people go into auto-pilot for different reasons, but the main one is to avoid even the possibility of pain. Many years ago, I took a chance with a woman who interested me, and she responded affirmatively. Prior to that, I'd been on auto-pilot after enduring one failed attempt at a relationship after another. So, taking a chance for me at the time was a pretty big deal. And it was even nicer to see that once in a while it pays to take a chance.

One night, as I walked through a nightclub hand in hand with this woman, I heard a guy say, "What is she doing with that fat ass?" I allowed that one voice to push me back into auto-pilot. Why pursue? Why feel? Why stay awake when people are going to make such remarks and validate my suspicion that I really was out of my league?

Sleeping is much easier, but it's hardly fulfilling. Sleeping is about existing from one day to the next. Living is about experiencing each moment as it was intended—sometimes in heartache and sometimes in triumph, and often, somewhere in between. But without the highs and without the lows, the middles don't mean nearly as much.

Thursday, February 16, 2006

Elizabethtown, Part 2

A continuation of my observations about Elizabethtown:

The day before Mitch's (Drew's dad) memorial service, Drew is talking to Claire about how bad he failed with his shoe design fiasco. He seems to believe that his failure is too much to overcome—that somehow it's so big that when other people look at him, all they see is his disaster.

Claire says this to him: "So you failed. Alright. You really failed. You failed, you failed, you failed, you failed, you failed, you failed, you failed, you failed, you failed, you failed, you failed, you failed. You think I care about that? I do understand. You're an artist. Your job is to break through barriers, not accept blame and bow and say 'Thank you, I'm a loser, I'll go away now.' Oh, Phil's [Drew's boss] mean to me. Wah, wah, wah. You want to be really great? Then have the courage to fail big and stick around. Make 'em wonder why you're still smiling. That's true greatness to me."

I think it's at this point when Drew knows that Claire isn't a substitute person. She's the real deal. But they have a problem. Drew is planning to drive home the next day after his father's memorial service and they both seem to know that he needs to take this trip—even if they are supposed to be together. So Claire insists that he goes on the trip and Drew doesn't try to stay.

Love is delicate and fragile at a moment like this. If one person clings too hard, he or she drowns the seed of opportunity with too much water before it's even had a chance to plant roots. But at the same time, if one person seems indifferent, the indifference crushes the seed. An unwritten, unspoken balance between the two positions allows both people the necessary freedom to process and when that happens, oftentimes the seed takes root and eventually leads to a beautiful plant in full bloom.

The next day, as Mitch's memorial service draws to a close, Claire delivers a road trip kit to Drew. Then Claire says one of the most stirring lines I've ever heard: "I want you to get into the deep, beautiful, melancholy of everything that's happened."

I'm not sure why that line strikes me so deeply. I think it's because she's willing to let him go—to experience the road without her, to get in touch with the loss of his father, to think about all that he's lost, and maybe all that he's gained.

According to Claire's kit, Drew's road trip would take him 42 hours and 11 minutes. The kit includes maps, pictures of road side attractions, and mix CDs with music and Claire's voice—all of which are perfectly timed as he rolls into each city. Drew straps the urn containing the remains of his dad into the front seat and starts his journey from Kentucky to Oregon.

Claire anticipated one of his first stops…the newsstand where he picks up the magazine carrying the story about his professional demise. After he reads the article, Claire said this to him via CD: "You have five minutes to wallow in the delicious misery. Enjoy it. Embrace it. Discard it. And proceed."

He travels into Memphis, at Claire's direction, where he finds what Claire calls the "greatest chili in the world." Then she sends him on a journey through Arkansas, then Oklahoma, and then Kansas. And finally, the tears come—the tears he hadn't yet cried over the death of his father. I'm guessing that this is the deep, beautiful, melancholy that Claire was talking about.

Toward the end of his journey, Claire sends him to a farmer's market and tells him to look inside a certain book. There he finds a note that directs him to another area. Finally, he finds one more note that tells him he can either get back into his car and make his way home, or look for a girl in a red hat who is waiting for him with an alternate plan.

He goes looking for her and when he finds her, neither of them are substitute people any longer.

Wednesday, February 15, 2006


I'm feeling a series of posts coming on—all about one movie: Elizabethtown. I can't possibly cover everything I want to say about this movie in one post. If you haven't seen it yet and if you are planning to, you might want to skip these posts and come back to them.

Elizabethtown is the story about how Drew Baylor (Orlando Bloom) loses his job in a shoe manufacturing company after his failed shoe design, that he's been working on for eight years, costs his company close to a billion dollars. He knows that he's about to be fired, but to make matters worse, before it happens, his boss makes him face public humiliation as a spokesperson for the failure to reporter who is working on a cover story for a major magazine.

As Drew heads to his final meeting with his boss, he makes an insightful observation: "I have recently become a secret connoisseur of last looks. You know the way people look at you when they believe it's for the last time? I started collecting these looks."

On the brink of suicide, Drew comes home to a phone call informing him that his father just died. So, he numbly boards a plane in Oregon bound for Elizabethtown, Kentucky to handle his father's affairs and that's when he meets Claire (Kirsten Dunst)—a bubbly, quirky, flight attendant who is instantly infatuated with Drew. She draws him a map of where he needs to go in Elizabethtown and just so Drew gets the message, she gives him all of her phone numbers.

After Drew checks into a hotel, he tries to call a couple of people, but when he can't reach them, he calls Claire. He opens up to her and they begin to talk about everything: road trips, crazy families, how his parents met, how people perceive each other, how people deal with death, and before they knew it, they'd been on the phone until the early morning hours. So, only a couple of hours before Claire has to be awake, they decide to forgo sleep so they can meet to watch the sunrise together.

The next day, after neither of them had a wink of sleep the night before, Claire helps Drew with his dad's arrangements. That night, as they are walking through Elizabethtown, she turns to him and says: "You and I have a special talent. And I saw it immediately. We're the substitute people. I've been the substitute person my whole life. I'm not an Ellen [a co-worker Drew was into]. I never wanted to be an Ellen. And I'm not a Cindy either. Although Chuck's love me [Chuck and Cindy are the couple next to Drew in the hotel who are getting married…as for the "Chuck's love me" line…you'll just have to see the movie to get it]. I like being alone too much. I mean, I'm with a guy who is married to his academic career. I rarely see him and I'm the substitute person there. I like it that way. It's a lot less pressure."

Who hasn't felt like a substitute person at some point? While being a substitute person does mean that you had to be close enough to the real thing to earn the title of substitute, it also means that you weren't quite good enough, or funny enough, or smart enough, or good-looking enough. And the worst thing about it is—you know it, but since being a substitute person is better than not being in the game, you accept the position.

But when two people, like Drew and Claire are drawn together, neither has the look or feel of a substitute to one another. Instead, each person becomes the new standard for originality. But originality often leads to an internal struggle between grasping it while one still can and freedom—without which, originals quickly move into the past tense.

That brings us to part two of this post—which you'll find here tomorrow.http://www.amazon.com/gp/product/B000CNESJO/ref=as_li_tf_il?ie=UTF8&tag=leewarren-20&linkCode=as2&camp=217145&creative=399373&creativeASIN=B000CNESJO"

Tuesday, February 14, 2006

Goodbye Love Monkey

I have a little advice for television actors and actresses. If you want to know whether your show is going to be renewed next season, read my blog to see if I like it. If I do, look out, you are about to be cancelled—maybe even in mid-season.

The latest show I watched that just bit the dust is "Love Monkey," which I blogged about last month. Love Monkey only made it three episodes before being yanked off the air. That's a new record for a show that I enjoy. Usually it lasts at least one season.

Maybe I should have waited until after season one before actually admitting that I liked it. Now I'm going to have to read the novel to find out if Tom and Bran ever get together. I just ordered a copy of the book—just in case the publisher was thinking about taking it out of print.

100 Life-enriching Little Nuances

1. Friendships
2. Wildlife
3. Babies
4. Favorite songs
5. People who "get" us
6. Coffee shops
7. Restaurants
8. Books
9. Laughter
10. Weddings
11. Movies
12. Road trips
13. Bike/walking trails
14. Colors
15. Pets
16. Sunglasses
17. Family meals
18. Concerts
19. Sports
20. Ice cream parlors
21. Notebooks
22. Wine
23. Photo albums
24. Deep conversations
25. Not-so-deep conversations
26. Pens
27. Bookstores
28. Parks
29. Newspapers & Magazines
30. First cars
31. The internet
32. Nicknames
33. Sleeping in
34. Smart phones
35. Hunting/Fishing
36. Candles
37. Flowers
38. Memories
39. First kisses
40. Hats
41. Instant communication
42. Movie popcorn
43. Family heirlooms
44. Time alone
45. Handwritten cards/letters
46. Home decor
47. Hard work
48. Vacation days
49. Religious ceremonies
50. Hearing "thank you"
51. Saying "thank you"
52. White noise
53. A well worn piece of furniture
54. Journals
55. Wind
56. Art museums
57. Good service
58. Smiles
59. A favorite television show
60. Family stories
61. Cologne/perfume
62. Social groups
63. Background music
64. Family traditions
65. Graduations
66. Seasons
67. Co-workers
68. History museums
69. Thunderstorms
70. Jokes
71. Routines
72. Comfortable clothing
73. Writing for the sake of it
74. Neighbors
75. Home cooked meals
76. Dance, dance, dance
77. Friendly customer service representatives
78. Helping someone
79. Receiving help
80. Weather
81. Completed goals
82. Radio
83. Teachers who inspire us
84. Maps
85. Windows
86. Fireplaces
87. Garage sales
88. Wall art
89. Online shopping
90. Rainbows
91. Calendars
93. Finding a new author
94. Going away parties
95. Hobbies
96. Dessert
97. Family videos
98. Gifts
99. School plays and concerts
100. Lakes, ponds and rivers

Monday, February 13, 2006

Working Library

Last year, I visited the office of a newspaper editor who I write for on occasion. I was there to talk business, but as I glanced around at all the books on the shelves in his office, we couldn't help but get off track a little. He and I hold relatively similar worldviews, so he felt free to suggest a number of books to me. While I browsed through his copies of the books he suggested, I noticed that he underlined passages and made quite a few notes.

I haven't always marked up my own books, but in recent years I've made notes in every book I've read—even fiction, because it helps me to find passages at a later date and somehow just underlining passages seems to lock information into my mind better. I've event started jotting down notes when I watch DVDs. Movies contain so many good quotes that it seems like a shame to me to let them go unrecorded.

When I asked the editor about the markings in his books he said that he has a "working library." I like that because it implies that his books aren't just decorations, but instead, they become part of who he is. And that's exactly why I started recording quotes, underlining sections of books, and making notes several years ago. I don't think the arts are meant to be consumed only once. Instead, they are to be explored, and pondered, and savored.

And it's in the savoring that they enrich our lives.

Saturday, February 11, 2006

Happy Birthday Dad

Tomorrow would have been my dad's 70th birthday. I can hardly believe that he's been gone for almost six years now, but at the same time, I really can't imagine my dad ever being 70. He was always so active. He didn't watch a lot of television, except for golf. He read quite a bit, but I think he did that to fill in the gaps—when he had nothing else going on.

He was a fixer-up kind of guy, always piddling around with something—much like his dad was. (I'm not sure what happened, but that gene skipped my generation.) And he was just as likely to help others with projects as he was to be working on his own. I can't tell you how many family members he helped by installing shelving on their walls, or fixing broken door hinges, or various other things. He drew energy from helping people.

When I ruptured my Achilles tendon in 1997 and was confined to a recliner for several weeks after the surgery, he brought his laptop over to me so I could write. He didn't have a PC or another laptop that he could use and he loved surfing the net and keeping in touch with people via e-mail. But he gave that up for me for a brief period as I began my writing career as a singles columnist.

And then a couple of years later, as my writing career entered the walking stage, I needed a laptop to take with me on the road, but I didn't have a lot of money to spare. Dad and I attended a computer show and he offered to give me several hundred dollars to purchase a laptop. I suspect that it was every penny he had. The transaction didn't work out because the computer didn't have the software I needed, but I never forgot his willingness to make such a huge sacrifice.

He was the type of father who figured out what his kids were interested in, and then he did all he could to enter their world. I've already told you about how he purchased a top of the line tennis racket for me in high school when all I thought about was tennis (well, okay, maybe girls and tennis). That type of thing was common for him. After I became a Christian, he went into a Christian bookstore, bought me an expensive leather-bound Bible, and had my name embossed on the cover. When I became interested in fishing as an adult, he bought me a fancy tackle box. I could go on and on, and I suspect that my siblings could tell you many similar stories as well.

In 1990, my niece was born with cerebral palsy. Whenever something like that happens, it tends to change people in the affected family. In my case, it made me infinitely more aware of how difficult some people have to struggle just to do the most common routines. It made me value life more. And it made me appreciate those organizations that help people like my niece. One day, as Dad and I walked toward the front doors of a Kmart during the Christmas season, I told my dad that seeing what various charities had done to help my niece made me never want to pass up the chance to drop money into the red kettle, or any other kettle.

I'll never forget what he said to me. "You don't pass up the opportunities son. You just don't." That was a speech as far as my dad was concerned, and frankly, it's just about the right length in my mind. I remember every word of it and it became part of who I am.

Dad was an introverted man who felt life deeply, but you had to know him quite well before he'd ever let you see who he really was—meaning, the things he struggled with or the things he enjoyed—and even then, I'm not sure anybody ever really could say they knew him. At times, he seemed to be looking for his place in a world that never really seemed to notice him. That was always a sad thing for me to see.

Dad had his faults. Some of them were quite glaring, and if the truth be told, one of them claimed his life. But for me, his birthday isn't about remembering his faults. It's about remembering the man who attempted to conquer them, and in spite of his human struggles, he left a legacy of concern for others that I'll never forget.

Friday, February 10, 2006

Private Victory

I'm probably a lot like most other people who love to read or watch movies. I find characters I can identify with and for a brief period, I live vicariously through them. These characters are often willing to act, rather than sitting around waiting for life to come to them. They are willing to say things that need to be said, rather than holding their tongue and hoping things work out. They pursue their own dreams, rather than the dreams that other try to impose upon them.

Real life isn't always that easy, and it requires more tact than fiction, but fiction draws us because we see the raw, unadulterated, realness of the characters and we long to live that way. In a way, fiction allows us to entire a private world in which we are freer to feel the exhilarating triumphs, and the gut-wrenching pains, and thrills of living life they way we'd really like to.

With all of this in mind, I came across a passage recently in a book called Techniques of the Selling Writer by Dwight Swain that really spoke to me. The book is about how to write and sell novels. It was published in 1965, so most of the anecdotal information is so outdated that I'm not even familiar with the movies and books that Swain references, but his instruction is the best I've ever read or heard—part of which advises readers about how to make characters seem more real.

Swain makes the case that novelists must be observers of people if they expect to portray humanity properly. In his mind, novelists must understand what motivates humans and their subsequent actions. In one particular section, under the sub-heading How do you give a character direction? Swain says this:


"Each of us wants to feel adequate to his world…in control of his situation and, thus, of his destiny.

"Anything that endangers a character's sense of control indicates a lack in him…an inadequacy. If my wife nags, or my jokes fall flat, or the promotions I seek go to other men, I may eventually come to doubt myself.

"When a man becomes aware of such a lack, and even if he can't figure out precisely what disturbs him, he grows tense and restless: unhappy, discontented, ill at ease.

"To relieve this tension, he takes some sort of action…escapes from the nagging wife in work, abandons humor for books, eases the sting of disappointment at failure to get ahead by taking refuge in gossip or sullenness or hobbies. Defeated, emotionally speaking, he substitutes one kind of behavior for another, in order to achieve a private victory. He pays for what he lacks, his inadequacies, with conduct designed to make up for them."


I love his phrase, "a private victory" because it captures the essence of what we long for—even, and maybe especially, in public defeat. All of us have places we retreat to in search of our own private victory when public victory is elusive. And I don't think that's necessarily a bad thing. Private victory can give us courage to attempt public victory and it can infuse us with hope when our circumstances in real life look bleak, but private victory ought to never become a substitute for real life. That's the struggle that we face, but for me, just being aware of the battle, gives me more courage to fight.

Thursday, February 09, 2006

A Lot Like Love

I watched A Lot Like Love on DVD again the other night. This is the second time I've seen the movie. When I see a movie I like, I watch it several times to pick up all the little things I missed the first time or two. This particular movie intrigued me because of the male/female interaction. For seven years Oliver (Ashton Kutcher) and Emily (Amanda Peet) have been on again off again. They obviously love each other but they are in different places in their lives and never can seem to get on the same path. So, in an odd sort of way, they remain friends.

Up until recent years, I've always had a lot more female friends than male friends. But the inevitable problem always came up—either I fell for her or she fell for me and the friendship line became blurred. Back and forth we'd go, and eventually one of us would "move on" and the other person would be hurt (usually me). Not a great cycle to keep falling into—but I really didn't fall into it. I chose it for a number of reasons, which I'll save for another post. But I was interested to see how Oliver and Emily worked things out because they were certainly more than friends for brief periods, but then they'd realize they needed to separate and go their own ways.

That leads me to the thing that really intrigued me about them—they didn't try to force the relationship. When Emily first meets Oliver, he's living with his mother and sister—which, as you might imagine, is a bit embarrassing for Oliver. He tells Emily that he has a six year plan to success. At first, it seems like Oliver is just making it up to show Emily that he really does have an idea about where he is heading. But, then he sets out to implement his plan—which includes opening an online diaper service.

He either came up with his plan on the fly, or he really had one all along. But three years pass and Emily, fresh out of a relationship, decides to call Oliver to see if he'll go to a New Year's Eve party with her. They hit it off again and their affections deepen. They go back to Oliver's place (at that point, he finally has a place) and Oliver tells Emily that he's moving to another city the next day to start up his diaper business. Emily falls asleep (or passes out) and when she wakes up, Oliver is gone.

He could have stayed. Maybe he should have, but their pattern has been such that they're never on the same page and he has no intention of waiting around for something that doesn't look like it's going to happen. He has a plan and he's going to stick to it. In fact, his plan becomes his identify and I'm sure in his mind, it was the thing that made him attractive to Emily. I was torn at this point in the movie. I was hoping he'd take a chance, but at the same time, I sort of saw his point.

Back and forth it goes for the rest of the movie. Each time, their love seems to grow deeper for one another. Finally, Oliver takes a chance (after his company has gone under) and serenades Emily—after which he says, "Emily. I'm flat broke. I don't have a job. I don't have a plan. And I know I'm probably six years too late. But will you give me strike one back?" (Strike one was that she had to make the first move.) Turns out that Emily is engaged.

As Oliver turns to leave he says: "Well, I guess when I'm an old man I'll never have to wonder 'what if?'"

I'm thinking, "OH yes you will…your question will be altered a little, but it will still include the 'what if' clause. The question will be: 'What if I hadn't waited six years?'"

Emily responds by reaching for his hand, and then embracing him. No words. But her actions, specifically her eyes that follow him as he walks away, tell you all you need to know. Six months later, and much closer to marriage, she looks at her fiancé as somebody is talking to him about their future and again, her eyes give her away. Her eyes, and heart, belong to somebody else.

She finds a roll of undeveloped film taken by Oliver and after the pictures are developed, she realizes that he took photos of her (in a non-creepy, non-stalker sort of way) a few minutes before they even met and she realizes that in a way, he did make the first move. And finally, finally, they get together.

Love is about taking risks. In fact during one portion of the movie Emily says this to Oliver: "Honestly, if you're not willing to sound stupid, you don't deserve to be in love." I think she's right. And I think it's that desire to not sound or look stupid that holds a lot of us back from taking a risk—either in love or anything else. But if the worst thing that can happen is that we look foolish, then who cares? Really? The people who laugh are usually the people who don't take risks. Endure the laughter and take a chance.

Wednesday, February 08, 2006

Midweek Quotes

"Don’t let your journey be defined by history, let your journey make history." –Bill Cowher

"We make a living by what we get, we make a life by what we give." –Winston Churchill

"By perseverance the snail reached the ark." –Charles Haddon Spurgeon

"We are made to persist. That's how we find out who we are." –Tobias Wolff

"Under all speech that is good for anything there lies a silence that is better. Silence is deep as Eternity; speech is shallow as Time."  –Thomas Carlyle

"The great French Marshall Lyautey once asked his gardener to plant a tree. The gardener objected that the tree was slow growing and would not reach maturity for 100 years. The Marshall replied, 'In that case, there is no time to lose; plant it this afternoon!'" –John F. Kennedy

Tuesday, February 07, 2006

End of the Spear

I went to see End of the Spear this past weekend with a group of friends. If you've listened to Christian radio, then you know the basis for the story—in 1956, five American missionaries named Nate Saint, Jim Elliot, Roger Youderian, Ed McCully, and Pete Fleming were killed in Ecuador by the Auca (or sometimes called Waodani) Indian Tribe—the same people group they were trying to reach with the gospel.

The missionaries refused to shoot their aggressors, even though they had guns, because they wanted the Aucas to hear about the saving power of Christ. While I don't think the decision they made to not defend themselves is the only biblically allowable one in such a circumstance, it's hard to miss the heart of their decision. As courageous as these missionaries were, their families were every bit as courageous. They chose to attempt to make peace with the same tribe who killed their loved ones and in the end the gospel conquered the entire tribe.

Elisabeth Elliot, Jim's wife, wrote a book called Through Gates of Splendor that chronicled the story and it has been inspiring people for nearly fifty years. Now the story is on the big screen and it is incredibly powerful. Watching the five men die for people they didn't know, with the hope that those same people would embrace Christ is indescribable and moving beyond words. And watching their families press on in spite of their loss shows us what real love and sacrifice looks like.

After I got home from the movie, I flipped through the photos in Through the Gates of Splendor and the movie production team did a fantastic job of capturing the scenery, but much more importantly, the movie reminds us of the sacrifices that five men made so long ago. They would have never dreamed that fifty years later, people would be sitting in theatres all across America watching their story. But if they had known, they probably wouldn't have wanted to be the center of attention. Instead, they would have wanted us to realize the simple, yet profound truth that Jim Elliot wrote in his diary: "He is no fool who gives what he cannot keep to gain what he cannot lose."

Monday, February 06, 2006

Steelers Win!

Well, it's a good thing that I don't do podcasting because my voice is completely fried after yelling and screaming for my Steelers for several straight hours last night. Super Bowl XL wasn't the prettiest game you'll ever see, but victory is the goal, and it's all that matters.

Steelers 21, Seahawks 10.

The last time the Steelers won a Super Bowl was in January of 1980. I was 13 years old, but I still remember their 31-19 victory over the Los Angeles Rams. Shortly thereafter, Mean Joe Greene began talking about "One for the thumb in 81." Remember that? The Steelers had already won four Super Bowls (more than any other team at the time) and everybody thought they'd keep winning them. But it didn't happen…until now.

The Jerome Bettis storyline was the neatest aspect of the game last night. This was thought to be his last year after rushing for more than 13,000 years in his career. He's a lock for the Hall of Fame, but he'd never been on a team that won the Super Bowl. In recent years his body has been breaking down and he decided to play this one final season to see if he could finally get his championship. The Steelers made a remarkable run to the Super Bowl—winning their final six games to get to there. And it just so happens that the Super Bowl was played in Bettis' home town of Detroit this year.

The past couple of seasons he's been a back up and he's been completely fine with it. This season, Willie Parker was named the new starter at halfback and Bettis helped him all season. Bettis wore a microphone during the Super Bowl last night and at the beginning of the third quarter he sat down next to Parker on the bench and reminded him that the Seahawk's cornerbacks were quick and they were cutting off the corners of the field—so he advised Parker to fake outside and cut back inside. Shortly thereafter, Parker took a handoff, faked outside, cut back inside, and took it to the house—a 75 yard touchdown run—the longest in Super Bowl history. Bettis was the first to meet Parker to celebrate.

Bettis is everything that a superstar is supposed to be. His only concern is victory. He's a teacher. He understands and relishes his role. And now we'll speak about Jerome Bettis, the football player, in the past tense because he announced his retirement after the game. But people will be talking about him and this incredible season for a long time.

Friday, February 03, 2006

There Goes the Neighborhood, Part 2

Wow. It keeps happening. I drove by Pete's Automotive yesterday and it was empty. Pete finally closed his shop. Or worse—but I don't want to think about that. My family has been taking cars to him for repair for generations. My grandparents knew him and took their cars to him. My parents did the same. And my sister and I followed suit. I don't think any of us were convinced that he was the best mechanic in town, but he always seemed to have more work than he could handle, he was likable, on time, usually stayed within the estimate, and he was located in our neighborhood.

In fact, his entire shop had a neighborhood feel to it. It was an old-style gas station with two garage stalls and two gas pump islands that he stopped using many years ago. The pumps weren't even digital. They were the kind that had numbers that rolled—sort of like a slot machine. Once inside his extremely small customer service area, you were sure to see his basset hound lying in the corner. The dog was ancient even when I was a child, but somehow he continued to find life. And soon after spotting the dog, you'd see the old vending machine full of candy from who knows what decade. Yes, my sister and I ate it anyway. Pete's desk was always full of paperwork and somehow he always knew how to find what he was looking for. And he had two chairs for his customers to sit in—this was before the days when you waited while your car was fixed.

You could always count on Pete to liven things up a bit. He was a joke-telling chain-smoker with grease embedded so far down into his finger nails that no amount of cleaner could ever help and he always had a smile on his face. He even sympathized with his customers when he gave us the "bad news" by telling us that he knew how much of a bite it would take out of our wallet, but that the car was "ready to go" and we shouldn't have to worry about it for a while. And the thing that probably made him most likable was that he never forgot a face—and he rarely forgot a name.

My dad moved from the area in which we live many many years ago after he and my mother divorced. Dad moved back in 1997 and Pete was the person he turned to the first time he hard car problems. Pete remembered him. He asked about the family and they stood reminiscing for a while. That's the way Pete did business. He related with his customers. He cared about us. Now his shop is closed and it's one more reminder that we better fully enjoy the things we often take for granted, because tomorrow they might be gone.

Thursday, February 02, 2006


I probably like silence more than the average person. I don't know why exactly, but something about it is relaxing. I even like it when I'm around somebody else. It's not that I dislike conversation, but all conversations eventually come to a pause and people often seem quick to want to fill the silence.

A few weeks ago, I read a book called A Window Across the River by Brian Morton. In the first couple of chapters, a woman named Nora contemplates whether or not she should call her former boyfriend, Isaac, at 3:00 am—like she always used to when they were together. Five years have passed and she's not sure if he's married or not, but she feels like her life is off-track and she just wants to hear his voice again, so she decides to call him. Here's what happened:


After three rings, he picked up the phone. She could tell from his thick hello that he'd been sleeping.

She didn't say anything. Maybe this was all she'd wanted. To hear his voice was enough.

She didn't hang up, though.

"Hello?" he said again.

She just kept breathing.

"Nora?" he said.

After five years.

"How did you know it was me?"

She heard him laughing softly. "I recognized your silence. It's different from anyone else's."


Doesn't that last line just take your breath away? To be so close to somebody to recognize her silence almost sounds ridiculous. But it also sounds quite appealing, doesn't it? Nora and Isaac had obviously spent a lot of time with each other in silence. In fact, just a couple of pages later, we find out that they used to fall asleep with each other on the phone on a regular basis and Nora considered it to be "one of the most intimate things she knew."

In a culture that screams for our attention at every turn—from internet pop-up and banner ads, to television and radio commercials, to cell phones with built in instant messaging—we seem to be afraid of silence or at the very least, we want to avoid it. But I think we are missing an opportunity to grow closer to people by simply remaining silent sometimes.

Wednesday, February 01, 2006

Midweek Quotes

"Middle age is the time when a man is always thinking that in a week or two he will feel as good as ever." –Don Marquis

"The great art of life is sensation, to feel that we exist, even in pain." –Lord Byron

"It is foolish to pretend that one is fully recovered from a disappointed passion. Such wounds always leave a scar." –Henry Wadsworth Longfellow

"Even if I knew that tomorrow the world would go to pieces, I would still plant my apple tree." –Martin Luther

"The best minds are not in government. If any were, business would hire them away." –Ronald Reagan


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