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.

Wednesday, May 31, 2006

One Night with Badlands

This past month has been "Metal Month" on VH1. Usually, when I'm watching the Kansas City Royals at night (yes, I know they are bad, but cut me some slack for sticking with my team), I'll flip through the stations during commercials. I've stopped on VH1 several times lately to watch whatever show they are broadcasting about heavy metal. I was quite the headbanger in my day – complete with long hair and bleached out tips.

A couple of nights ago, I saw a segment on Robbin Crosby, the lead guitarist from Ratt. Crosby is believed to have contracted AIDS by sharing needles with someone while doing heroine. He died in 2002. I was a big fan of Ratt, but seeing that segment reminded me of another group that I was into even more – Badlands, and how their lead singer, Ray Gillen, also died (in 1993) of AIDS.

Badlands only released two studio albums (a third was released after Gillen's death) and they were both full of great, hook-laden, bluesy rock songs that were nearly impossible to not get caught up in. I only saw the band live one time. I think it was 1991. They played in a bar in a bowling alley in Omaha, Nebraska that held probably no more than 350 people. The place was full that night, but not so much that you couldn't move. My friend and I were about 10 feet from the stage and from the opening song everybody seemed to be enamored with them.

About a third of the way through their set, I turned to my friend and said, "I've never heard a band sound so much like their albums." They nailed Show Me the Way, Love Don't Mean a Thing, and Dancing on the Edge. From the passion in Gillen's voice, to the perfect guitar licks laid down by Jake E. Lee, to the incredible bass playing of Greg Chaisson, they were so in sync that I had goose bumps. This was how music was supposed to sound live.

Toward the end of the show, they performed their big hit, Dreams in the Dark, and it too was incredible. I hated to see the show end. In fact, before the night was through, I knew that I'd just witnessed the best live show I'd ever seen – and I've seen a lot of them – many hundreds in fact. Something else struck me that night. I was in the process of figuring out what I believed spiritually at the time and so many of the band's lyrics spoke directly to me in a new way that night – even though I knew most of them by heart.

During Shine On, Gillen sang: "Oh my Lord, I've been a sinner / In my time I've seen my ways / And if I beg down on my knees / Would you hear these words I say / 'Cause in the dark I need your vision / Don't let this poor soul fade away." And during Streets Cry Freedom, Gillen sang: "There is no reason / For livin' in sin / I don't believe when they say hey boy, you better give in / You know I'll fight for what I know / Till the day that I die / 'Cause I'm better off dead / Then buried along with my pride."

They also covered the famous James Taylor tune, Fire and Rain. The hair on the back of my neck stood on end as Gillen sang the following lyrics with more passion than I've heard before or since from any performer, "Won't look down upon me Jesus / You've got to help me make a stand / I just can't make it through another day…" Standing in the middle of a bar, listening to a band that most Christians have never heard of, I felt closer to God than I'd ever felt before.

I don't know how that one night fits into the big scheme of things regarding my eventual spiritual walk towards Christianity, but it definitely fits into the mix. (I wrote an article for Light & Life magazine a couple of years ago about my journey if you are really interested in reading more.) I also don't know what Ray Gillen was thinking as he helped to pen lyrics that touched my soul. But I do know that Bassist Greg Chaisson went on to record music in the Christian music industry, so something spiritual was happening in the band.

I think most of us tend to shake our heads and wonder how rock stars (and various other famous people) who die as a result of bad choices, can make such poor decisions. The older I get, the more I tend to look at things the opposite way. I'm amazed that my own bad choices didn't come with a bigger cost to me.

Tuesday, May 30, 2006

Message in a Bottle

We're on to my eighth favorite movie of all time in our Top 10 Tuesdays series.

Disclaimer: Unfortunately, writing about why certain movies move me the way they do without actually giving away the ending is not an easy task. And since none of my favorite movies are currently in theaters, I plan to talk about endings when the situation warrants it. I'll experiment with using a green font when speaking about the ending though—so if you've never seen one of these movies, but would like to after reading one of these posts, you'll know to stop reading when you see green wording.

#8: Message in a Bottle starring Kevin Costner (as Garret), Robin Wright Penn (as Theresa), and Paul Newman (as Dodge). Released in 1999.

Here's a blurb about the movie from WarnerBrothers.com: "Grieving widower Garret Blake builds boats for a living. Rebuilding his life—that's another matter. But that's before Theresa Osborne comes to his North Carolina village. Theresa, a lonely divorcee and researcher for the Chicago Tribune, knows that Garret is the author of the message she found inside a bottle on a Cape Code beach. And she knows the message spoke to her in away that profoundly touched her heart."

Yes, I have two movies in a row on my list that are based on Nichols Sparks' novels. I picked up the novel version of this particular story in a grocery store at the end of 1999. It was my first exposure to Nicholas Sparks. I've since bought every novel he's ever written—and I've read them all. Yes, he overuses adverbs. And yes, he tells sappy love stories. But his stories are so much more than that. They are anything but typical cookie-cutter chick-flicks.

Message in a Bottle (the movie) starts out with a shot of the sea carrying a message in a bottle that a man named Garret wrote to his now deceased wife. A woman named Theresa finds it while jogging on the beach. She opens the bottle and reads this:

Dear Catherine,

I'm sorry I haven't talked to you in a so long. I feel like I've been lost, no bearings, a little crazy, I guess. I've never been lost before. You were my true north. I could always steer for home when you were my home.

Forgive me for being so angry when you left. I still think some mistake's been made and I'm waiting for God to take it back. But I'm doing better now. The work helps me. Most of all, you help me. You came into my dream last night with that smile of yours that always held me like a lover, rocked me like a child. All I remember from the dream is a feeling of peace. I woke up with that feeling and tried to keep it alive as long as I could. I'm writing to tell you that I'm a journey towards the peace…

The letter goes on, but you get the gist of it. Theresa is enamored with the letter right away. And why wouldn't she be? She's divorced. Her ex-husband is remarried with a child. And she feels like she may never taste love again. And certainly not in the way the writer of this particular letter describes his love for his wife.

Theresa works in research for a newspaper and the newspaper decides to run the letter, and that causes other people to come forward with similar letters—several of which are signed by the same mysterious "G." With each new letter, Theresa becomes more intrigued by the man who wrote them. She starts to trace the letters (via the typewriter, the stationary, and the type of bottle) and she knows that she must go meet the author of such letters.

So, she jumps on a plane in Chicago and travels to the Outer Banks of North Carolina. She finds Garret working on a boat and he offers to take her sailing. After some rather stilted conversation, they begin to laugh at their awkwardness and thus begins their relationship. But, he still can't let go of his deceased wife (who's been dead for two years) and Theresa is she not all that sure she wants to uproot her life in Chicago—especially since she has a son.

They start to visit each other in the respective environments and they are headed for marriage—even though they had to deal with some very difficult issues (one of which is—Theresa didn't tell Garret about the letters—he found out on his own). After Garret finally decides that he can forgive her, he gets in his boat to do a little sailing, but tragically, his boat capsizes in a storm and he dies. (The book version is a little different, but he still dies in the end.)

When Theresa, visits Garret's house after his death, she discovers various artifacts from their relationship and she finds a letter Garret wrote to Catherine telling her that he'd found somebody to love as much as he'd loved her.

I found the ending to be both heartbreaking and satisfying—even though I think I'm in the minority. Yes, I would have loved to have seen them get together. But life is often about picking up the pieces and moving on after bad things happen. Garret had finally reached that point. So had Theresa. And as difficult as it was to watch her cry over the realization that she would indeed have ended up with Garret if he'd lived, she made this great point in the end…

"If some lives form a perfect circle, others take shape in ways we cannot predict or always understand. Loss has been a part of my journey, but it has always shown me what is precious. So has a love for which I can only be grateful."

Loss is part of everybody's journey and indeed loss shows us what is precious. Love is precious. People are precious. Letting go when the time has come is precious. And so is taking a risk. As a single guy, I love to live vicariously through other single characters on the big screen as they find love and ultimately "happiness." But that's not always realistic. So, I find great comfort and strength in watching other single characters who press on in spite of their setbacks.

Previous posts in this series:

#9, A Walk to Remember
#10, In Love and War

Friday, May 26, 2006

Thanks Mom

When I made a turkey sandwich for lunch yesterday, I had no idea how many memories it would evoke. I did what I always do after I'm done making a sandwich. I took a knife out of the drawer and I cut the sandwich from corner to corner to make two triangles side-by-side. Then I separated them and put a few chips in between. That's how my mom always did it when I was growing up—and cutting sandwiches that way now just seems natural to me.

I can't imagine cutting a sandwich any other way—or not cutting it at all. I don't even think it would taste right. Mostly because the taste has a lot to do with the memories of a person who lovingly made huge sacrifices for her children. My mom had a little help from my grandparents and a neighbor when she raised my sister and I after my parents divorced when I was eight years-old, but she made more sacrifices than my sister and I ever realized. I don't know that because she told me. I know it because she kept us clothed, and fed, and in a nice house, and somehow she still gave us a little spending money—all on the wages of a secretary.

I rarely saw Mom do anything for herself. Instead, I remember her doing the dishes or trying to keep up with the laundry, or cleaning the bathroom. She was always doing something—usually for my sister and I. She'd read the paper at night and then the three of us would settle in to watch various television sitcoms or the "movie of the week." We laughed. We shared popcorn (the kind where you actually had to cook on the stove—I think it was called Jiffy Pop). We laughed some more. And more than anything, I felt secure—the way a kid is supposed to feel.

Mom waited until my sister and I were adults before she remarried. On the day of her wedding, my mind was flooded with the many sacrifices she'd made for us. She took her lunch to work every day—cup-o-noodles—while at the same time giving my sister and I money to buy our lunches at school. She gave me money for baseball cards. She bought me a tennis racquet. She bought me Steelers and Royals clothing. I didn't need any of those things, but she did it because she knew I wanted them. She was willing to forgo things she surely wanted, and probably needed, just because she loved me.

This weekend, as we remember our fallen soldiers who died so we could be free, and as we remember relatives who have preceded us in death, let's not forget to remember the living and the sacrifices they've made for us as well. We don't say thank you often enough while we still have the opportunity to do so. But this weekend, I'm going to tell my mom thanks. And then I'm going to tell her that I won't forget the sacrifices she made for my sister and I. And then, we're going to share some steaks or burgers at a family picnic and just enjoy ourselves—just like the old days.

Thursday, May 25, 2006


I just finished reading a novel called Crossroads by Nancy Moser. It's about a woman named Madeline who makes a decision as a little girl to always live in the small town of Weaver, Kansas. But as she grows up, and people to go war, and businesses start to move out of town to survive, and others start to move to be near family, she sees the only life she ever imagined slipping away from her—so she buys up the entire town and gives it away to people she thinks would be a good fit for the community. The plot goes deeper than that, but I want to talk about one specific scene in the book that made me think.

About a third of the way into the book, a 16 year-old character named Ryan, is struggling to gain perspective. His family has just moved to Weaver to start over after the tragic death (in a car accident) of his sister Lisa. Ryan is a Christian, but he's angry with God, and he's not so sure that he wants the people of Weaver to even know that he's a Christian. In this particular scene, Ryan is staring out his bedroom window and contemplating what to do next.

Here are his thoughts: "This life in Weaver was a blank, empty page. Yet, maybe blank was better than the past pages that were full of scrawls, scribbles, and cross outs. Pages ripped and bent. Yellowed. Water stained. Blank was better than that. The trouble was, he had no idea how to fill the page…"

Blank pages have always appealed to me too. And the thought of filling them with imperfections has always bugged me. I've always been the type of person who only records ideas, and concepts, and plans once I've thought them all the way through. No need for cross outs. In fact, they are ugly and somehow I've always considered them to be the evidence of a cluttered mind. Ironically, in a different context, earlier in the book, Madeline says the same thing, "Strikeouts and messiness on the page indicate strikeouts and messiness in a life."

I'm not sure what changed my mind lately—maybe it's been my willingness to accept the fact that life is messy—but I find myself writing lists, and thoughts, and brainstorming work projects (all in my trusty moleskine notebook) with little regard for perfection or even completion. In a sense, I've given myself permission to record my jumbled thoughts and in the process I'm recording a history of my decision-making process—cross outs and all—which is quite satisfying to look back upon to see how they eventually all came together.

Wednesday, May 24, 2006

Tennis Anyone?

I went to see a tennis match last weekend and I had a great time watching it. A friend's 17 year-old son was playing in a tournament and I wanted to show a little support. If you've read this blog for any length of time, then you know how much I loved playing tennis as I grew up and how I wanted to play at a higher level some day. It never happened for me, but I still love the game.

When I got to the courts to watch my friend's son, I felt at home—even on the sidelines. Hearing the ball brushing off the racket strings. Watching players get into position for the next shot. Seeing them both trying different strategies. It all felt so natural to me. And the nice thing was—I didn't have to do any of the work myself.

I'm not one to let go of the past easily. Especially when it comes to elements of my past that I truly loved. Tennis has been one of those loves. But it's the next generation's turn to pick up the racket and pursue their tennis dreams. It's their turn to work hard, or not. It's their turn to learn the game, or not. It's their turn to shine, or not.

It's my turn to watch and simply enjoy the game for what it is—a beautiful tapestry of skill, athleticism, shot-making ability, strategy, and emotion. Yeah, I'll still talk about what might have been to anybody who will listen, but then I'll settle back and experience the game—because no matter whether I'm playing it or watching it, it's still holds a certain allure over me and I have no intentions of giving it up any time soon.

Tuesday, May 23, 2006

A Walk to Remember

Continuing on with Top 10 Tuesdays, we're up to my ninth favorite movie of all-time.

Disclaimer: Unfortunately, writing about why certain movies move me the way they do without actually giving away the ending is not an easy task. And since none of my favorite movies are currently in theaters, I plan to talk about endings when the situation warrants it. I'll experiment with using a green font when speaking about the ending though—so if you've never seen one of these movies, but would like to after reading one of these posts, you'll know to stop reading when you see green wording.

#9: A Walk to Remember, starring Mandy Moore and Shane West. Released in 2002.

Here's a blurb about the movie from MovieWeb.com: "Based on the 1999 novel by Nicholas Sparks, which was set in the 1950s, the story is about a modern-day small-town romance in North Carolina between two teenagers: the only son of a wealthy family and the town minister's quiet daughter. When they both join the town's Christmas pageant, the unlikely pair meet and fall in love."

The post that you are about to read is adapted from an article I wrote for a website called Crosshome.com when I was their culture columnist several years ago.

Pop singer Mandy Moore plays the part of Jamie Sullivan, a young Christian woman who is dying of Leukemia. She doesn't tell anybody about her illness because she just wants to be treated like everybody else, but ironically, her classmates reject her because of her plain appearance and her Christian faith.

Enter, Landon Carter, a senior who hangs out with the in-crowd who is only concerned about having fun. After his crowd pulls a prank on a schoolmate, Landon ends up in trouble and part of his punishment is tutoring children—the same children that Jamie willingly tutors. The other part of his punishment is to play a role in the school's upcoming play, of which Jamie is also a willing participant.

While studying lines together (in secret because Landon doesn't want anybody to know), Landon begins to fall for Jamie, but he falls head over heals for her during the play as Jamie, all gussied up to play the part, sings a song that takes his breath away.

As they spend more time together, she notices that Landon is more open to listening to things that excite her than she ever imagined. He takes an interest in astronomy with her, in long walks through nature, and when she tells him about a list that she keeps of things she wants to do before her life is over, he sees a girl who wants to live life to it's fullest—a completely different lifestyle than he'd ever known.

As Landon changes, they both realize how attracted they are to each other. The problem is, Jamie hasn't told him that she's dying of Leukemia. When she finally does, instead of running away, he learns to embrace every moment to its fullest. So much so that he now knows what he must do—marry her in the church her parents were married in, and in the process fulfill her most savored wish.

The scene at the church is quite moving—even more so in the Nicholas Sparks' novel version of the story. Here's how it is described in his book (from Landon's point of view):
"My mom was in the front row, dabbing her eyes with her handkerchief when the 'Wedding March' began. The doors opened and I saw Jamie, seated in her wheelchair, a nurse by her side. With all the strength she had left, Jamie stood shakily as her father supported her. Then Jamie and Hegbert [her father] slowly made their way down the aisle, while everyone in the church sat silently in wonder. Halfway down the aisle, Jamie suddenly seemed to tire, and they stopped while she caught her breath. Her eyes closed, and for a moment I didn't think she could go on. I know that no more than ten or twelve seconds elapsed, but it seemed much longer, and finally she nodded slightly. With that, Jamie and Hegbert started moving again, and I felt my heart surge with pride.

"It was, I remembered thinking, the most difficult walk anyone ever had to make.

"In every way, a walk to remember.

"The nurse had rolled the wheelchair up front as Jamie and her father made their way toward me. When she finally reached my side, there were gasps of joy and everyone spontaneously began to clap…"

They exchanged vows, and then Landon makes this observation:

"I kissed Jamie softly as my mother began to cry, then held Jamie's hand in mine. In front of God and everyone else, I'd promised my love and devotion, in sickness and health, and I'd never felt so good about anything.

"It was, I remember, the most wonderful moment of my life."

Jamie dies soon after they are married and Landon goes to visits Jamie's father after some time has passed [I'd queue the movie to see how long it actually took, but unfortunately I've loaned out the movie and it hasn't made its way back to me yet]. He's not sad that he only got to spend a brief amount of time with the woman he loved. Instead, he's extremely thankful that he got those brief moments.

We spend so much of our lives trying to minimize risk and pain that we miss out moments like this. When in reality, nobody is guaranteed tomorrow. Or this afternoon. Or our next breath. Seeing a movie like this makes me want to be a bigger risk-taker because the next risk I take might just lead to the most wonderful moment of my life.

Previous posts in this series:

#10, In Love and War

Monday, May 22, 2006

Busy Schedules

"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

During the week, I prefer to be a homebody at night. After work, I like to cook supper, and then kick back by watching a baseball game. Then I'll do a little blogging and if it's not too late, then I'll either read or watch a movie. I could exist in that pattern for longer than I'd like to admit. But I realized something a few years ago—none of those things matter if I'm not closely connected with people.

So, I joined a bowling team. I take my niece out to eat once a week. I meet friends for dinner fairly often or we go to see a movie. I started teaching a class at church. And all of it has been so much fun. Once in a while, as I'm looking over my social calendar for the coming week, I'll feel a little overwhelmed, but I always end up thinking about how much I enjoy myself when I'm with other people. And ultimately that causes me to look forward to a busy schedule rather than dreading it.

I'm pretty sure that as my life draws to a close one day that I won't remember many specific nights in which I sat at home by myself. But I bet I'll be able to recall many specific instances in which my life was enriched by spending time with people. I'll remember jokes amongst friends, ball games, church picnics, family gatherings, birthday parties, wedding receptions, and many great conversations spent over meals in restaurants.

Schedules can become too busy and when that happens, adjustments are necessary. But a change in perspective about our schedules might help us to see that the events on our schedules are the perfume of life rather than obstacles that keep us from enjoying life.

Friday, May 19, 2006

Crazy Beautiful

I watched Crazy Beautiful the other night on DVD. It's a movie about an out of control 17-year old girl who is struggling through life because her mother committed suicide. More than anything, she wants to feel as if she's good enough, or at least acceptable enough, to be loved by somebody. Her father, a busy congressman who doesn't seem to know how to reach Nicole, is preoccupied with work and his new wife and daughter. And all that's left for Nicole are the memories of a mother who checked out on life.

Then she meets Carlos—who is quite the opposite of Nicole. He's focused, good in school, and totally taken with Nicole. They become an item, and eventually come face to face with the realities that are necessary for any relationship to work: sacrifice, stability, and trust. As Nicole's world comes collapsing down around her because of her destructive choices, Carlos is there to pick her up. And in the process, he's willing to walk away from his dreams. Seeing such sacrifice causes Nicole to come to her senses and she begins to put her life back together—finally reaching the point of encouraging Carlos to pursue his dreams.

At the end of the movie, during the voice-over, Nicole says this: "I still panic sometimes. Forget to breathe. But I know there's something beautiful in all my imperfections. The beauty which he held up for me to see. A strength that can never be taken away."

I don't necessarily agree with her. I don't think her imperfections are beautiful. I think the way in which Carlos chooses to help her through them is beautiful.

Thursday, May 18, 2006

Gentlemen's Game

"Monuments are the grappling-irons that bind one generation to another." –Joseph Joubert, a French essayist who lived from 1754-1824

When I was little, my Dad opened two bars. One was called Everybody's Talkin' and the other was called Gentlemen's Game. Some afternoons he would take me to the Gentlemen's Game before it opened and he'd let me go behind the counter and grab a Snickers and a Pepsi to consume while he did paperwork in his office.

If I remember correctly, the logo he came up with for the sign had two golf clubs that crossed with a golf ball perched in the middle. He loved to play golf and since the sport is often called a "gentlemen's game," I suspect that he named his bar as such. I was too young to remember much else about the place. It was just a place that I hung out with my Dad, and consequently, it'll always have a special place in my heart.

I'm the type of person who loves subtle remembrances of days gone by. I own many songs on CD that tie my yesterdays to today. I've kept nearly every letter I've ever received—most of which I have filed. I have little knick-knacks scattered throughout my house from loved ones who have preceded me in death—one of which sits on my office desk. It's a group of three small bonded leather Bible promise books that my Dad gave to my Grandma on May 13, 1990 (Mother's Day).

A few years ago, I needed to come up with a league name for the fantasy baseball league I was running online. I thought of a bunch of lame names to begin with, but then it hit me—call it "Gentlemen's Game." I knew nobody would ever know the meaning behind it but me, but I didn't care. I liked looking at my lineup every day and seeing the name of the league. In a way, it became one of the "grappling irons" (or hooks) that Joubert spoke about that binds one generation to the next.

Every year since then, I've added another hook by calling the league, "Gentlemen's Game."

Wednesday, May 17, 2006


We are all the same it seems / Behind the eyes / Broken promises and dreams / Our good disguise –Amy Grant, from the song "Turn This World Around" on her "Behind the Eyes" album

You'll rarely catch me outside without my shades on during the daytime—especially when I'm driving. I have several pair of sunglasses (all of which I lose or a regular basis, but they sort of reappear in cycles). I prefer them to be extremely dark and I always buy the ones that curve all that way around your face—sort of the anti-John Lennon look.

The sun bothers my eyes to the point of me needing to squint if I'm not wearing sunglasses. But I've noticed something about wearing sunglasses. It's easy to look detached from society when wearing such dark sunglasses because people can't see your eyes. I don't know who the first person was to say that eyes are the window to the soul, but I think they were on to something.

The prophet Jeremiah is often referred to as the "weeping prophet." Jeremiah 13:16-17 says, "Give glory to the LORD your God before he brings darkness, before your feet stumble on the twilight mountains, and while you look for light he turns it into gloom and makes it deep darkness. But if you will not listen, my soul will weep in secret for your pride; my eyes will weep bitterly and run down with tears, because the LORD's flock has been taken captive."

Jeremiah said his soul would weep in secret, but did you notice the connection between his soul and his eyes? If his soul hurts, his eyes would manifest his pain. I don't know if Jeremiah was as good as most people are at hiding their pain (I suspect that he wasn't), but I do know that our eyes, no matter how much we try to hide pain, often reveal our soul's condition.

And—as Amy Grant's song that I quoted above says—behind the eyes, we're all the same. We've all experienced broken promises and dreams. We're all trying to push on, when at times, it hardly seems worth the fight. We're all overwhelmed sometimes. And in the process, we often try to hide our pain behind a poker stare, or sometimes even with a happy face—but our eyes eventually give us away.

Tuesday, May 16, 2006

In Love and War

I'm going to implement something new here at Little Nuances: Top 10 Tuesdays. For the next ten Tuesdays, I'll count down my favorite top ten movies of all-time and I'll tell you why I loved them so much. After this series, I'll probably move on to my top ten favorite books of all time. You won't agree with all of my choices and that's okay. Such lists are always subjective. Part of the fun about them though is finding out why a movie or book moved a particular person so deeply.

#10: In Love and War, starring Chris O'Donnell and Sandra Bullock. Released in 1997.

Here's a blurb about the movie from MovieWeb.com: "Caught in the crossfire of a world at war, love was the last thing on their mind. But for a Red Cross nurse and a heroic, young ambulance driver, an unlikely romance blossomed in the summer of 1918 that forever changed their lives. The film chronicles the clandestine romance between 18-year-old Ernest Hemingway and 26-year-old Agnes von Kurowsky, the medical aide who nurtured him to health following a devastating battlefield injury. Based on Kurowsky's recently discovered diaries, this extraordinary relationship inspired Hemingway to write the classic love story, A Farewell To Arms."

I love watching two people fall in love. Something about it seems so right. So natural. Especially during a war when life is seen as it truly is—temporal and fleeting. Such circumstances cause people to move quicker and be more decisive in an attempt to avoid missing what might have been.

Young Ernest wasn't about to miss his opportunity with Agnes. I think that this is Bullock's best performance. She plays Agnes is such a fashion that you ache as you watch her put distance between herself and Ernest early in the movie. She thinks he's too young and that he's going to be like so many other guys who she nurses back to health—quick to flirt, slow to really care. And she already has somebody back home who has been writing her lots of letters—she's just not sure that he's the one for her. Ernest seemed to sense that and he wouldn't go away. In fact, after he's on the mend, he directs his wheelchair toward Agnes' quarters and they have this conversation:

"Last night a bunch of us where talking about why we came here," Ernest said. "I said that I came here because I was looking for something. I'm not sure what it is, but I know I'll find it—somewhere about six miles from here in the trenches. That's where it is. It never occurred to me until now that it might be possible to come here looking to get away from something."

Agnes looks at him, smiles a little, then turns away—knowing that he's figured her out. Then she lightly says, "Touché." Then she begins to write another letter to the man back home.

Ernest sees what she's doing and says, "It's no use—him writing you, you know. Cause you're in love with me."

She keeps her gaze fixed on her letter, and after a brief laugh, she says, "I am, am I?"



"You just don't know it yet."

"Will you get out of here kid? Please," she says with soft eyes and a little smile.

Turns out he was right. Sort of.

An older doctor is also interested in her and he seems like a more practical choice. And she's not thrilled with some of Ernest's tactics in pursuing her so she turns away from him. But he eventually wins her heart—right before she gets sent to the front lines. He tracks her down the night before he is to return to the States and tells her that he'll love her forever.

After Ernest leaves, the doctor proposes to Agnes and she feels torn again. Real love versus a practical arrangement. She chooses practicality and writes Ernest a letter informing him of her decision. Everything changes for Ernest after that. He becomes a broken, bitter man who holes up in a cabin while he drinks and writes short stories.

Agnes returns to the States eight months later to tell Ernest that she made a big mistake. But she doesn't find the man she fell in love with. And even though she proclaims her love for him, his pride won't let him give her another chance. And like a fool, he watches her walk away.

Every time I watch her walk up the trail behind his cabin and out of his life, I feel like somebody punched me in the gut. I want to scream, "Get over yourself Ernie!" But he doesn't budge.

In the end, Agnes says this:

"I never saw Ernie again after Walloon Lake. I often wonder what might have happened if he had taken me in his arms, but I guess his pride meant he wasn't able to forgive me. Some say he lived with the pain of it all his life. The hurt boy became the angry man—a brilliant tough adventurer who was the most famous writer of his generation. And the kid he had been—eager, idealistic, and tender, lived on only in my heart."

I'm sure that I enjoy this movie so much because, as a single guy, I feel like I've let a few get away over the years. Sometimes I pushed too hard, sometimes I didn't do or say enough. And sometimes I didn't do anything. Finding somebody to give your heart to is not easy. And finding somebody who will do the same is even more difficult. But even when it does happen, it's not necessarily enough—as was the case with Ernest and Agnes.

This movie is a great reminder to shed all pride and to give of yourself completely when you find the "one." Because if you don't do it then, it may never happen.

Monday, May 15, 2006

Goodbye Radio Console

If you've been reading this blog for a few months, then you know that I blew an engine in my former car back in February and I picked up a used car that has served me well so far. The only drawback has been the lack of a CD player (or even a cassette player). It just had an AM/FM radio and not being able to listen to my CDs has been driving me crazy. I've already taken a couple of trips with my new (old) car and they just aren't the same.

I like to bring my "thinking" music when I travel. And I love to listen to sermons that I've acquired on CD. Something about being on the road, coupled with good thought-provoking material makes for wonderful mind and spirit food. I usually arrive at my destination thinking quite clearly and sometimes I even make important decisions while I'm behind the wheel. So, you can see why I like having complete control over what I listen to in my car.

On Friday, I broke down and picked up a cheap CD player for my car. I had it installed (for free!) and by Friday night, my tension was already beginning to ease. Over the weekend, I put my old AM/FM stereo up for sale on ebay. I started the bidding price at $4.95. So far, I don't have any takers. I guess I'm not alone in my quest to have complete control over what I listen to while driving.

I told a friend in a joking manner about putting my old stereo on ebay (thinking nobody would want it) and he said that need is relative in a case like this. For somebody whose radio died, he might be thrilled to find my stereo on ebay because listening to the radio is the only thing he has ever known. Maybe it's his way of unwinding after a long day. And who knows, he might be going crazy like I've been doing in recent months.

My friend is probably right. I can just imagine a guy who made the change from CD player to Satellite radio saying he'd go nuts without the new technology. So, maybe the point is to work within your budget to find the best setup possible and then enjoy it for all it's worth. I don't have any endeavors to go to the next level, although it would be nice. I'm just happy that I won't be hearing "You're Beautiful" by James Blunt in my car again any time soon.

Friday, May 12, 2006

May 2036

I have no idea why I've been thinking about this, but can you imagine what nursing homes are going to look like in 30 years? Not so much the buildings, but the people in them who are so into technology that they would not know what life would be like without Palm Pilots, video games, and Wi-Fi.

Can't you just see a group of 70 year-old men gathered around the television set in one of their rooms trying to remember which combination of buttons they have to hit on their PlayStation 16 controllers in order to have their player spike the ball in taunting-like fashion after scoring a touchdown on Madden 2036? After they try every combination imaginable, one of them whips out his laptop to pull up the website with all of the cheat codes. He sends the website to the printer at the front desk and a nurse delivers it the next time she brings him his medicine.

Or how about a guy whose Palm Pilot beeps at him during dinner to remind him that it's time for Thursday night bingo? And the funny thing is—every other nursing home resident knows exactly what the beeping noise is because by then nearly everybody will have either used a PDA or at the very least, they are aware of how they work.

I wonder if I'll still be playing fantasy baseball if I'm in a nursing home in 2036? I forget to check my team every day now. I can just imagine what it'll be like then. But how funny would it be for my niece (or hopefully kids if I ever get married and have them) to walk in to visit me only to see me hunkered down in front of my laptop bargaining with another fantasy baseball team owner about a trade I need to make so I can finally, finally, win the league?

Just a few scrambled thoughts for your amusement this fine Friday morning.

Thursday, May 11, 2006

Moleskine Notebooks

I just found one of the coolest blogs ever. Well, to me at least. If you are into moleskine notebooks, you need to check out: Moleskinerie.


I just started reading a novel by Nancy Moser called Crossroads. It's about a woman named Madeline who makes a decision as a little girl to always live in the small town of Weaver, Kansas. But as she grows up, and people to go war, and businesses start to move out of town to survive, and others start to move to be near family, she sees the only life she ever imagined slipping away from her—so she buys up the entire town and gives it away to people she thinks would be a good fit for the community. I love the premise and I'm interested to see how it plays out.

It got me to thinking about my own aspirations as a young boy. The first one I can remember is wanting to be a professional tennis player. I was never good enough, but I also didn't put in enough work to try to make it happen. Life gets in the way as you grow up. Work, college, the endless pursuit of girls, the desire to just hang out with friends, and yeah, just a lack of will to do what's necessary to play tennis on a higher level. In my defense, places like the Nick Bollettieri Tennis Academy in Bradenton, Florida weren't as prevalent as they are today and the idea never even crossed my mind to actually work, save my money, and invest in such a thing. It just didn't seem "normal" at the time.

But that's the thing about aspirations. They aren't normal. Instead they cause us to yearn to go beyond the ordinary and they demand discipline to the point of cutting out activities that many other people enjoy. I just didn't understand that at the time. I can remember telling my co-workers at my first real job that I would one day be a professional tennis player. I never even got close. And when I couldn't even compete at the college level, my aspirations morphed into something else. I wanted to play guitar in a rock band. But the same thing happened. I took a few lessons. I practiced hard. But I didn't immerse myself in the industry. Oh, and I wasn't good enough either.

I eventually settled into a nice comfortable life working in a bank. I made a few good friends and for the most part, I didn't mind the work. I could have stayed there and made a career and I would have been fine with that. It's good honest work—especially for somebody like me who likes to blend into the woodwork. But then I got the writing bug. I've always written, but for the first time, I actually followed through on an aspiration and I started attending writer's conferences, and meeting editors, and listening to the instructions of published writers. Before long, I was published and now I'm settling into a career that I never even thought about as a young boy.

But I wonder if that's what Madeline is going to conclude at the end of her journey in Crossroads. Aspirations are a good thing. Maybe even necessary to give us hope while in the midst of the mundane, but they aren't always practical, and they don't always turn out the way we hoped, and they always cost more than we ever imagined. I've adopted a new philosophy about aspirations—it's okay if they change as we go from one stage of life to another, but they need to be pursued with vigor when we do decide to go after them. Life is too short to do anything less.

Wednesday, May 10, 2006

A Good Life

Bloggers are often accused of being obsessed with ourselves. I'm sure that our accusers are partially right. But something beyond self-obsession drives me to blog. I love the permanency of the written word. Generations before us wrote letters and they journaled. Now we have e-mail, instant messaging, and blogging. While I'm concerned that we aren't doing enough to preserve the instant communication for generations who follow, blogging is one of the ways I choose to record my current thoughts.

I do wonder what will happen twenty or thirty or forty years from now after I'm either gone or incapacitated. Will my blog be pulled down by somebody? Will all my recorded thoughts, and feelings, and emotions be gone? I hope not…just the mere possibility of it is making me think that I need to take the time to print all of my posts and put them in a nice binder of some sort just so I can make sure a hard copy always exists. No matter how impractical hard copies are, something about their tangibility makes me feel better.

I just pulled down a hardcopy of a book that I bought my grandmother about ten years ago for Christmas. The book is called "The Heirloom Memories Book" and it simply asks a question and gives the person room to write his or her answer. It was meant to be read by future generations and that's exactly what I'm doing. My grandmother died in 2002 at the age of 87, but I have access to her thoughts because she took the time to record them. I just flipped a page open to this question: What was the most meaningful gift you ever received?

Here's her answer:
"I'll never forget my husband and my family—each one of them. My brother and sisters too. And my wonderful parents. My parents were good Christians. We were raised in a very good home. My Dad was a sharecropper all his life. We were very poor. But so was everyone else we knew, so we thought little about it until we got older. I really wanted to leave the farm. So did my two sisters and we finally did.

"My father was born in 1869 and died in 1936. My mother was born in 1872 and died in 1944. They met on a wagon train. One was from Kentucky. One was from Alabama.

"I had two brothers, Ed and John. My sisters were Edna, the oldest, then Mary Eva, and Modene (me).

"Yes, we were very poor. But the love we had from our parents made up for everything else. Every time the church doors opened, my parents saw that we were in church. My parents were hardshell Baptist. Soon that church moved to Little Rock, Arkansas because so many had passed away. Then we went to Center Point. Our Pastor for years was Brother George Johnson. Him and Dad were very good friends. Their beliefs were somewhat different.

"Our lives were like any family we knew. We worked hard in the field hoeing cotton and corn. We worked in the field when the temperature was 103. I started keeping the field when I was 6 years old. Mary and I did not do much work. But my parents taught me to work hard later. We loved each other very much.

"When we would fight among ourselves, Dad would look at us. We knew to stop. There was love in his eyes. He never had to say stop but once. There was always love in his eyes for everyone. I got by with much more than my brothers and sisters. I came along late in my parents' life. My parents said my brothers and sisters helped to [undecipherable word] me. I had a good life."

And now, even though my grandma never spent a second of her life on the internet, and she'd certainly never heard of a blog—her words are preserved online for all to see.

Tuesday, May 09, 2006


I just finished reading a book called The Last Nine Innings by Charles Euchner. Toward the end of the book, Euchner hits a little close too close to home for me. He talks about the pitching mechanics of Randy Johnson—one of the most dominating pitchers to ever play the game. Johnson usually contains a scowl on his face as he stares down opposing hitters. Throw in the fact that he's 6' 10" and 225 pounds and you have the makings of a monster. The temptation is to believe that he's always been that way, but he hasn't.

Here's a brief blurb from Euchner's book about Johnson:

"As he was growing up in California, Johnson endured endless taunts about his height and strange looks. Johnson burned, and often lost himself in confusion and anger, when opponents openly gawked and laughed and called him Big Bird. For years, the ridicule worked against Johnson. But once he gained physical control of his body, he turned the anger to his advantage."

Euchner then goes on to quote Johnson:

"Being six-seven or six-eight [feet tall] when I was growing up, I felt different," he recalls. "Everybody kind of looked at me. I felt really skinny and out of place, always different. I was shy and very quiet...It was something that was hard growing up. I'll be walking down a mall and people stare like I'm some kind of freak."

Then Euchner recounts what Johnson's old college coach Rod Dedeaux at USC said:

"Dedeaux says Johnson's later decision to wear long, stringy hair and a nasty glare gave him a way to overcome the taunts by confirming them: You think I'm strange looking? A freak? Look at this."

Euchner says that Johnson's hurt and anger never went away. Instead, Euchner says that Johnson "summons" it "when he needs to refocus his attention and gather his energy" during a game.

I never endured endless taunts about my weight like Johnson did about his height, but I endured enough of them to understand the confusion and anger that Johnson felt. I'm sure that most people thought that their intentions were good, or at the very least, politefully funny. I never saw it that way.

They called me all sorts things: Big Guy, Big Beefy Guy, Slow-mo ("because it looks like you are in slow motion when you run"), and a few others. And like Johnson, I turned inward; focusing my anger on things I could control—like writing songs and poems.

Pain always manifests itself somehow. It's impossible to squelch, although we try. Some try to escape it with alcohol or drugs. Some try to escape via less dangerous means. Some chose even more inconspicuous means like writing just so they can hide it. The last thing they want to do is to draw even more attention to themselves. That was me.

I became a Christian in the early 90's and slowly, the opinions that other people had about me seemed to begin to matter less. Not so much because my mindset was automatically changed, but rather because I became more concerned with living the life that I felt God called me to live. And in the course of my pursuit, I met some wonderful people who embraced me for who I was.

The funny thing is, people who don't consider themselves to be Christians often believe that Christians are judgmental. While that is partially true—in some Christian circles, you'll find people who are ready and willing to pounce at a moments notice; I haven't found that to be the case in most of my experiences. Something about seeing ourselves as being equally in need of a Savior levels the playing field and makes people more accepting of one another.

Monday, May 08, 2006

NASCAR Spotters

As a relatively new fan of NASCAR, I'm starting to learn some of the little intricacies of the sport. When I first started watching NASCAR, I had no idea who all those voices belonged to that instructs each driver over his headset. I always figured it was his crew chief and maybe some people in his pits, but that was a little confusing because I've actually been in the pits at a local race track for a newspaper story I did last year and a person doesn't even have full few of the cars from the pits as the cars make their way around the track.

Recently, I learned that sometimes the drivers are communicating with their crew chief, but all drivers also communicate with their "spotter." Spotters are guys who climb the bleachers in the grandstands and they go as high as they need to so they can get the best view of the entire track. As the race progresses, the spotters inform their drivers when they have a car breathing down their neck, when one is about to pass—and where that car is located (high or low), which direction to go when a wreck occurs in front of them, and many other useful tidbits of information—including the track position of rivals, and maybe which line is working best for the fastest cars.

In a way, spotters remind me of friends. They have a better view on our lives than do. They don't always know our motivations, but they can see our actions, and if they are good friends, they can see when we need a little pep talk to get back on track or they can warn us of impending danger. And when we appear to be on the right track, they can simply celebrate with us. But I'm not all that sure that we enjoy having people that close to us. It can be unnerving.

I've admitted that to a couple of my friends in the past, but at the same time, it's a wonderful thing to have people watching out for you. Not because they want to judge you, but because they love you and they truly want what's best for you—even when, and maybe even especially when, we aren't as concerned about what's best, but rather, what's easiest.

At times, exchanges between NASCAR drivers and their spotters can be a little heated. A spotter might see that his driver isn't running on a line that is most beneficial, but in the driver's stubbornness, he ignores his spotter's advice, and he stays with the line that he wants to run. Invariably, his pride costs him positions later in the race.

How much better off would all of us be if we listened to friends a little more closely?

UPDATE: I received a nice e-mail from Clance over at The Church of the Great Oval letting me that I made an error in this post and I want to correct it. Here's what he said: "Your comparison of a spotter and driver, and dependence on our friends (though obviously a perspective of a new NASCAR fan... Spotter's views keep the driver's alive. Not just running a line. Drivers don't choose to ignore their spotters ever. Ignoring a spotter would mean death. (Mistakes… timing… reflexes… not ignoring… ) was a nice analogy."

Friday, May 05, 2006


I watched an episode of Love Monkey a couple of nights ago that really made me think. Tom, the main character who is an A & R rep for True Vinyl Records, discovers an unbelievably talented singer named Ray while Ray is singing at his father's funeral. Ray always wanted to be discovered. But after trying, and failing, he's settled into his life as a pizza maker in his father's well known restaurant in Brooklyn. He feels responsible for continuing the shop after his father dies, and he's quite content in doing so. And he's also just about to get married to a woman who has a little girl that he adores.

Along comes Tom who offers Ray the chance of a lifetime—a shot at a record deal. Ray reaches under the counter at the restaurant and pulls out a lock box that contains a rejection letter Tom sent to him six years ago. Of course, Tom doesn't remember it, but Ray sure did. And it seems to have made him bitter. In reality, I'm guessing that it was a culmination of rejections that made him bitter, but when a person who has rejected you in the past is looking you straight in the eye and says he's interested now, it's not all that easy to forget.

Eventually, when Tom gets Ray into the recording studio, Ray catches the spirit again but then he's faced with a difficult decision. Sign a recording contract, record and album, and then go out on the road for three months or pass it all up because he'd rather continue to run the restaurant and be available for his new wife and child. In the end, Tom realizes that Ray's heart isn't in the music (on a professional level), so he works out a deal for Ray's music to be performed by other artists while Ray lives the life he's really interested in.

It was a quite moving episode and I still can't believe that the show didn't make it on CBS. The writing is unbelievable and the characters seemed to be perfectly cast. Sadly though, its run on VH1 is about to end. I'm finding out that I'm not the only one who enjoyed the show. I found this petition that is currently signed by almost 8,000 people asking for it to remain on the air. But enough of my lamenting about the demise of the show. Oh wait…did I mention that Love Monkey already has its own Wikipedia page? Okay, now I'm done.

But seriously, rather than talking about Ray's impressive decision to walk away from the music career he always thought he wanted, I want to talk about his rejection letter. The letter that he was able to pull out on a moments notice and thrust at Tom. I wonder how many of us could do the same thing? Maybe we couldn't do it with such a tangible object (or maybe we could), but most of us have at least one such instance locked away deep inside that we never talk about but we can access immediately if necessary.

If you are anything like me, you probably even derive some motivation from such pain. Sort of an "I"ll show you" sort of thing. But motivation shouldn't be rooted in revenge—even if the revenge isn't totally spiteful. (Most revenge is more subtle, in that, we like to make people squirm—sort of like Ray did to Tom). Instead, motivation ought to be rooted in the satisfaction that comes from pursuing the right thing. We'll never be able to right every perceived wrong that has been committed against us. And attempting to do so will only keep us from living life to its fullest right now.

Thursday, May 04, 2006

The Experience of Christmas

I know it's a little early to be talking about Christmas, but some of you know that I've been working hard on a book called The Experience of Christmas that is set for release by Barbour Publishing in September. I finished the book recently and I thought I'd give you a sneak-peek at the book cover. Amazon.com is already taking advance orders. And here's a little blurb about the book from Barbour's website:

"This Christmas season, slow down the whirling merry-go-round and really enjoy the reason for the season. The Experience of Christmas helps families focus on the birth of Christ, through unique, two-stage devotionals-the first part, brief and simple, is for families with young children, while the balance of the reading goes into greater detail for older kids. With enough readings for every day in December—covering topics like Fulfilled Prophecies, Family Service, Christmas Symbols and Traditions, Names of the Messiah, and Christmas Worship—The Experience of Christmas provides food for thought, prayer starters, and ideas for meaningful family activities."

Wednesday, May 03, 2006

Wheelchair Adventures

I've been close to my niece since the day she was born with cerebral palsy in her lower extremities 16 years ago. I've been to all of her birthday parties. I cheered, and then cried, and then cheered again the first time she walked a few steps at the age of four. I traveled with my sister and my niece to Shriners Hospital in Minnesota when my niece had to undergo one surgery after another. I babysat her. I watched Blue's Clues with her. I went to her school plays and musicals. In recent years, I've attempted to scare all the boys away. And I've watched her struggle to do common things that you and I take for granted.

And now, my baby is growing up, and I suspect that Uncle Lee is becoming an embarrassment to her when she's around friends. Thankfully though, we still hang out often. I take her to church whenever I can convince her to go and I take her out to eat at least once a week. We usually go to the same Buffalo Wild Wings and we order the same thing. I'm kind of an order-the-same-thing kind of guy. I think she's wired that way too. But one thing I really like about this particular restaurant is its accessibility for my niece. She can get her wheelchair in and out of the handicap bathroom easily—assuming some able-bodied person isn't using it. The waitresses are always looking out for us and they put us at an end table so she doesn't have to maneuver her way through a lot of people. But often, getting into the restaurant is a different story.

Sometimes people park in the spot that is designated as the wheelchair ramp that leads to the sidewalk. It's not even a parking spot, but since it's directly in front of a Dollar General store (that is next to Buffalo Wild Wings), people seem to park there anyway and then I have to struggle to get my niece up onto the sidewalk so we can enter the restaurant. The process isn't as simple as just getting her over a curb. This particular parking lot uses bumpers, so I can't possibly get her over the bumpers and then the curb. So I have to use the ramp. In such instances, I'm forced to squeeze my niece by the offending car…and sometimes people leave so little room that I have to lift up the left or right side wheels just to get her over the bumper on the side of the ramp.

Yes, I should probably confront the offenders more often, or call the police. But one gets battle weary because it's never just about parking lots. Not all places of business are as considerate as Buffalo Wild Wings. The aforementioned Dollar General that my niece likes to frequent after we are done eating contains aisles so narrow and packed with displays that she can't even get down many of them. I've complained to management, but to no avail. Another restaurant that my niece likes doesn't even contain handicap bathrooms…which means the door is so narrow that she can't even get into the bathroom. The restaurant was built before the ADA became law and they haven't seen fit to make any changes, even though I've complained to management.

The point is, complaining gets old. And it interferes with the time I want to spend with my niece, so more times than not, I don't complain. I just figure out how to maneuver her so we can have a good time together. But that rarely stops me from getting angry with people who are clueless and insensitive.

Monday, May 01, 2006

Filler Songs

I'm probably one of those rare people who likes to listen to "filler" songs on CDs. In fact, filler songs are the only drawback for me now that I'm using my MP3 player more than ever. I've started to purchase new songs that I like in MP3 format rather than buying the whole CD, and while it is a lot cheaper, I sort of feel like I'm not getting the complete picture the artist intended.

When Amy Grant's released her "Behind the Eyes" CD in 1997, I bought it because I loved the first hit song from it called "Takes a Little Time." As I listened to the rest of the CD, I discovered so many other great songs that never got played on the radio.

One such song was "Cry a River"—a haunting song played on acoustic guitar about lost love. Toward the end of the song, Amy sings, "Some things you live with / And you never let it show / Like the pain I felt / The day I watched you leave." Who can't identify with such private pain? Couple such lyrics with music that reeks of reminiscence and you've got a song I'm going to listen to over and over again.

On the same album, she had a song called "Missing You" that she also played on acoustic guitar and it has a similar musical and lyrical vibe to "Cry a River." The part in the song that gets me is: "Missing you is just a part of living / Missing you feels like a way of life / I'm living out the life that I've been given / But baby I still wish you were mine." Maybe I'm attracted to this song as well because of the private pain aspect. I don't know. But, I love the raw honesty in these lyrics. Indeed, missing a former love is a just a part of living.

CDs are often a snapshot of an artist's current trials, triumphs, understandings, and misunderstandings. And not all such observations will lead to hit songs, so purchasing just the hit song is almost like saying that context doesn't exist—that every song stands alone. To some degree they do. But in reality, nothing ever stands alone. Every word, every action, and every thought is a byproduct of a previous word, a previous action, and a previous thought.

This is why I always listen to CDs from beginning to end—including the songs I don't really like. It helps me to feel more connected to the artist and I somehow feel like I have a better understanding of the songs I do like. So, I'm thinking that I may have to start purchasing full albums in MP3 format in the future so I don't feel cheated.


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