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, October 31, 2006

All-Star Game Memories

Continuing in our Top Ten Tuesday series, today I'm going to tell you about another one of my favorite moments ever. In 1979, when I was 12 years old, I worked with my dad for the entire summer (my parents had been divorced for four years by this point). He painted new buildings before they were inhabited--places like nursing homes, apartment buildings, etc.

This particular summer was a blast for me. My Dad was painting a building that was about 60 miles away, so he hauled a trailer onto the job site and that became our home base during the week (we went home on the weekends). We ate there, slept there, played cards there, and bonded there. We had so much fun together. 

We didn't have a television or really anything else to entertain us, except for a radio and the aforementioned playing cards. That's all we needed. One night, after we'd played cards, and talked and laughed, I found the radio station that was carrying the baseball All-Star game. I've always been an American League guy--even way back then, since my beloved Kansas City Royals are in the AL. So, I was doing my best from a small trailer in an empty parking lot in Lincoln, Nebraska to root the American League on to victory.

I laid down in my creaky bed that night with the radio pressed against my ear as the game went into the eighth inning. The American League was up 6-5 when Lee Mazzilli hit a solo home run to tie the game. Unfortunately, the National League went on to win the game, but I'll never forget the feeling of closeness I had with my dad as I switched the radio off. I think he was in the other "room" in the trailer doing paperwork at that point, but I knew he was there.  

And even though my family dynamics were far from perfect, he'd found a way to invite me into his world, and in a way, I invited him into mine (I don't think he ever really liked baseball). I couldn't have described it that way back then. I just knew that I felt a sense of security and happiness as I drifted off to sleep that night.

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Monday, October 30, 2006

Saving Ticket Stubs

I love this article currently running on MSNBC.com by woman named Dawn Keable who has saved her ticket stubs over the past sixteen years to every major event she's gone to. Rather than all of these events just being a blur--as is often the case for those who don't find a way to preserve such memories--she can tell you stories about each event.

Here's what she says about her collection: "Each stub has the potential to bring me to a place long ago forgotten, sometimes uncovering hints of how and why I've become the person I am today."

I have a friend who saved many of her ticket stubs in a similar fashion, but she's gone one step further by putting them in a scrapbook. She also cut out reviews from the newspaper and/or promotion flyers for the event and put those right next to the tickets.

I love this idea and I wish I had done it. I have a lot ticket stubs from events I've attended, but I haven't put them in any sort of order like these two woman have. Makes me want to go back and do it now though. Actually, that might be sort of fun to do on this blog once in a while. I could scan a ticket, and write everything I remember from the event. What do you think? Have you kept your ticket stubs?

Sunday, October 29, 2006

NaNoWriMo Tips, Part 2

I learned how to craft a scene from a great book called "Techniques of the Selling Writer" written by Dwight Swain. He wrote the book in the 1960's so his examples are a little dated (I haven't heard of most of the movies or novels he references), but the book is so comprehensive when it comes to writing fiction, and specifically about how to craft a scene, that I'd highly recommend picking it up if you really want to write a novel.

In recent years, I've sat under the teaching of a number of novelists who also either teach Swain's scene structure directly or in some variation. (One such novelist is Randy Ingermanson who has some great writing resources available on his website--including his original "Snowflake" method that he uses to design his novels, and a deeper discussion of what I'm about to lay out for you regarding scene structure.) Swain breaks scenes down into two types of scenes. He calls them "scenes" and "sequels." 

According to Swain, scenes depict action and are laid out in this fashion:

  • Goal: Early on in each scene, your POV character needs a goal. It can be small, medium, or large, but the reader needs to sense that your POV character wants something.
  • Conflict: Your POV character must experience obstacles as he or she sets out to pursue his or her goal.
  • Disaster: Can be large or small, but you can't give your character his or her goal. If you are writing a love story, the woman your male protagonist is pursuing needs to give him the cold shoulder, or mention an old boyfriend, or notice a man she doesn't know as she walks by.

The next time you write a scene with that same POV character, you'll be writing what Swain calls a "sequel" scene. View sequel scenes as breathers that your characters take. Here's how sequels should look according to Swain:

  • Reaction: This is a time for sulking, contemplation, etc. after your character has just experienced the disaster at the end of the last scene in which he or she was the POV character.
  • Dilemma: After some time for reflection, your POV character needs to be faced with a choice between two seemingly bad scenarios.
  • Decision: Your POV character chooses the "least bad" choice, which leads to his or her goal the next time you write a scene in his or her POV.

So, it's a cycle that continues throughout your novel. If you use Swain's scene structure, you'll notice that your scenes will seem to come to life with an element of realism because these are the cycles we all run through during our daily lives--maybe not so cleanly and orderly, but we still go through them.

NaNoWriMo Tips

I taught a class at my church earlier this year about how to write a novel. I've been reviewing my notes in preparation for NaNoWriMo and I thought I'd share a few tips with you if you've never written a novel but are planning to participate in the event.

After you have your characters and basic plot in mind, you either need some sort of outline or at least an idea of where you are going--otherwise you are going to include scenes that aren't pertinent to the plot. And the only reason for including a scene is to advance the plot.

Once you are ready to begin writing, you need to decide which point of view (POV) you are going to write in. Each particular scene is told in one of the following POVs:

First person (I): Told from one particular character's point of view and includes only what that particular character thinks, sees, hears, tastes, touches, and feels. In other words, you as the author can't jump inside of another character's skin to show what he or she is thinking, seeing, hearing, etc. You can show what another character is experiencing by the way he or she acts, but that's it.

You can switch from one character's POV to another in a different scene, but never in the same scene when in the first person. First person POV is very intimate, but difficult to advance in your story since you sometimes have to put your characters in awkward situations (e.g. overhearing hear a conversation or seeing something he or she wouldn't normally see). 

Second person (you): Author addresses the protagonist as "you" as if the protagonist were having a conversation with himself. This is extremely difficult to pull off and not really used unless the protagonist is speaking to a younger version of himself--maybe in letter or journal form.

Third person limited (we): Author speaks for what one character per scene thinks, sees, hears, tastes, touches, and feels. As the author you can switch from one character's POV to the next in third person limited, but never in the same scene. So, for example, the reader can only know about one particular character's thoughts, sights, etc. in each scene. The reader might be able to tell what another character thinks, sees, hears, etc. by that character's actions, but not because the reader is in his or her head. If you've never written a novel before, third person limited might be the way to go. 

Third person objective (we): Author narrates the story and writes about what can be heard or seen from outside of the characters (we). In other words, the narrator doesn't know the thoughts, sights, tastes, etc. of the characters except by their actions. The narrator sees everything that is going on, but he or she can't tell you what is going on inside of a character. Third person objective is hard to pull off. 

Third person omniscient (we): Author narrates the story from various characters' perspectives and the narrator knows everything--including the thoughts and feelings of any character…and the author often intrudes with subjective thoughts. This is convenient, but impersonal and hard to follow unless it's done extremely well.

If I get a chance, I'll post more later about scene structure.

Friday, October 27, 2006

Whatchya Reading? Friday

A friend of mine gave me a book recently by Donald Miller called To Own a Dragon. I've already read Miller's breakout book, Blue Like Jazz, and I blogged about it here. Miller and I come from different camps when it comes to politics, but I flat out love the guy's honesty and willingness to just tell us who he really is. I suspect that his books are doing so well for this very reason.

To Own a Dragon had a special appeal to me. The subtitle is "Reflections of Growing Up Without a Father." I can relate. My parents divorced when I was eight. Thankfully, I can never remember a time when my Dad wasn't in my life, although if he were alive today, he could probably painfully point to many such instances, but at the same time when you grow up without a father in the house, you still miss out on a lot between visits every other Sunday. And you never really find a good substitute during the other 13 days. But my Mom tried.

She put me in Cub Scouts, but that wasn't my thing. She tried to bring me around adult male relatives hoping that one of them would be able to offer some valuable insight into manhood, but I never really got close to any of them. So, when it came to girls, and sports, and many other things, I sort of had to figure them out on my own. Since I didn't really know what I was missing by not having a father in my household, I just did the best I could, but this passage from Miler's book really got me: 

"For me a father is nothing more than a character in a fairy tale. And I know fathers are not like dragons in that fathers actually exist, but I don't remember feeling that a father existed for me...I don't say this out of self-pity, because in a way I don't miss having a father any more than I miss having a dragon. But in another way, I find myself wondering if I missed out on something important."

Miller is adamant that a person can never really find an earthly substitute for a father, but he did find the next best thing. A couple from his church asked him to move into an apartment over their garage. He lived there for four years and he got to see healthy interactions between the man and wife, and between the man and wife and their children. He wasn't always appreciative of it, but eventually he saw the light.

In a chapter called "Spirituality: God is Fathering Us" he noted that the "Our Father" prayer starts out with two intimate words that address the Father to the fatherless and that he was only now beginning to know such intimacy. Here's the way he described it:

"There is a part of me, and I think it is a growing part, that believes if I submit to God, read the Bible and obey His commands, and also talk to Him about stuff going on in my life, in His own way, He is fathering me toward maturity."

If you know somebody who grew up without a father--especially a man, think about picking him up a copy of this book.

What are you reading this week? Care to share with the rest of us?

Thursday, October 26, 2006


Nanowrimo is almost here again. Every November, budding novelists sign up for National Novel Write Month (or Nanowrimo) hoping to write 50,000 words before the month is over. People register at the Nanowrimo website, and then update their word count every time they write. I signed up last year and didn't come anywhere near hitting 50,000 words. Too many other deadlines got in the way.

I signed up again this year even though I have even lower expectations than I had last year. Certainly doesn't hurt to sign up though. My problem is, it's hard to focus on fiction when nonfiction pays the bills. But baseball season is over (except for the World Series), so maybe I can find some time at night to work on my novel. I've had an idea for a novel in my head for over a year and I haven't spent much time working on it.

The novel I want to write will be around 80,000 words, but even if I could write 25,000 (about 1,000 words a day) in November, I'd be thrilled because I'd be about a third of the way done. So, that's my goal. We'll see if I can do it.

How about you? Have you been wanting to write a novel for a long time, but just haven't made the time to do it? Now might be the perfect time to give it a shot.

Wednesday, October 25, 2006

Ordinary Average Guy

I heard a song on the radio the other day that I haven't heard in probably a decade: "Ordinary Average Guy" by Joe Walsh. The song originally came out in 1991. My life looked a lot different then. I was 25, had long hair with bleached out tips, and I was nowhere near being mature. I remember thinking how crazy the lyrics of this song were because nobody really just wants to be an ordinary average guy. Why settle for ordinary?

Since then my perspective about life has changed a great deal. I'm fifteen years older, I have short hair that isn't bleached out, and I'm a tad more mature than I was way back then. And I no longer think that a person is "settling" for ordinary. In fact, I think ordinary is beautiful. 

Here are a few of the lyrics from the song: 

We all live ordinary average lives / With average kids / And average wives / We all go bowling at the bowling lanes / Drink a few beers / Bowl a few frames / We're just ordinary average guys

The song goes on to talk about working in the yard, picking up the "dog do," taking out the garbage, cleaning out the garage, and owning certain types of cars--all quite ordinary things, but beautiful nonetheless.

The way an ordinary man is supposed to interact with his ordinary wife and ordinary kids gives us a faint glimpse into the way God interacts with people. And the way ordinary friends interact while bowling and drinking a few beers unites people the way that ordinary acts often do. Working in the yard, cleaning up after pets, taking out the garbage, cleaning the garage, and driving ordinary cars make up the essence of many of our days and in their own ways, each ordinary task adds meaning to our lives.

Imagine what life would be like without the ordinary. Extraordinary events would be the ordinary, and then what would we look forward to?

Tuesday, October 24, 2006

A Servant's Heart

A number of you requested that I cover my favorite moments in life for the next Top Ten Tuesday series. Today, I'll begin doing just that. But like many of you said, numbering such moments in order is almost impossible. So, I won't even attempt to do so. Instead, I'll just write about ten of my favorite moments in no particular order.

The first one I want to write about occurred in 1997 after I ruptured my Achilles tendon in my right leg while playing softball. I had surgery and was in a cast and was told to try to keep my leg propped up and to keep it as still as possible for several weeks so that the tendon would have a chance to heal. I was glued to my recliner. I ate my meals there. I slept there. I read and watched television there. It was a long, trying time.

If I even put my leg down for a few seconds, the pain was quite intense. My grandmother, who lived in the house above my apartment, came down and helped me often. And my sister often dropped off my niece, who was seven at the time, to visit my grandmother and me. My niece has Cerebral Palsy in her lower extremities, but she didn't let the stop her from slowly making her way down the stairs to hang out with her Uncle Lee.

On this particular day, we'd watched all her favorites television programs on Nickelodeon--Blues Clues, Gulla Gulla Island, and another show that had something to do with Bears. She asked me if I wanted anything from the refrigerator.

"Yeah, I'll take a pop if you don't mind."

She crawled to the refrigerator, made a comment about finding some disgusting leftovers that had apparently been a little too leftover and was starting to change colors, and I couldn't stop laughing. She sighed about my maleness, and as she started to crawl back to me with my pop in hand, something inside me was touched beyond words.

Here was a girl who'd been through more surgeries than I have, who was struggling with more physical problems that I've ever known, bringing me a pop. We'd always been extremely close and I've been there for her after her many surgeries, but seeing her serve me moved me to the brink of tears. She apparently saw that I was moved, so she asked me what was wrong.

"Nothing. Everything is perfect."

Monday, October 23, 2006

Restaurant Banter

I love working at home, but every once in a while, I just have to get out of the house to be around people. Sometimes I take my laptop with me to work at Panera Bread for an entire afternoon. Sometimes, I leave my laptop behind and just grab lunch somewhere before heading back to my office. I usually catch small slices of humanity is both cases and that's what I'm after.

Last Thursday, I had the urge to get out, so I went to an area Arbys. I took my food to a table and sat down with my moleskine notebook to jot down a few thoughts. Just a few tables away, a group of five elderly men and one teenage boy were chatting about the upcoming Nebraska vs. Texas game. Well, actually they were still talking about the Nebraska vs. Kansas State game from the week before, but they eventually transitioned to the upcoming game against Texas.

A woman about their age who works at Arbys came by to check on them, and they knew her by name, which I thought was pretty cool. Turns out, she had some bad news for them--a man they all knew had a heart attack recently. That sort of bummed everybody out. She quickly transitioned into another story about a newlywed couple they all knew who were "still acting like its their honeymoon." They all got a kick out of that.

"Honey do this. Honey do that," one of them said and they all laughed.

Then they turned to church matters and a slight argument broke out about the budget.

"You mean to tell me Norm that when your electric bill goes up by 6% that you don't budget 6% more?"

"When the well is dry, the well is dry. That's what I'm saying."

Back and forth they went. Turns out they all go to the same church and they were about to have a congregational meeting that night to discuss such matters.

The one who was in favor of raising the budget (and apparently had the authority to do it) said, "If you have a problem with something in the meeting, I expect you to stand up and say something."

"When everybody sticks their tongues out at me when I do stand up, how come you don't know anything about that? And you always end up saying that I elected you guys. I might have elected you, but I don't always agree with you. Is your grandson coming tonight? Call him. I want a back up."

I started laughing so hard that I was afraid they were going to notice me and figure out that I could hear everything they'd been saying. Thankfully, they didn't. They kept at it, and I returned to my office feeling like I got exactly what I'd been hoping for when I decided to venture out for lunch. 

Friday, October 20, 2006

Whatcha Reading? Friday

I read A Grief Observed by C. S. Lewis this week. I've read it before (during Christmas a couple of years ago—I wouldn't advise such a thing). I reread it because I led a discussion about the book last night in my  "Prose and Parnassus" club I told you about earlier this month.

If you aren't familiar with the book, it's a combination of four journals Lewis kept after his wife, Joy Greshem, died from cancer in 1960. He started the first journal one month after her death and he worked through the gamut of emotions, from grieving, to being inconsolable, to questioning his faith, to picking up the pieces, to finally finding resolution as he closed the fourth and final notebook.

Toward the end of the story, he said this:

“This is the fourth—and the last—empty MS. Book I can find in the house; at least nearly empty, for there are some pages of very ancient arithmetic at the end by J. I resolve to let this limit my jottings. I will not start buying books for the purpose. In so far as this record was a defense against total collapse, a safety valve, it has done some good.”

Writing was therapy that he couldn't find anywhere else. This is the value of journaling. I don't think he ever intended to publish these journals, but by the time he finished them, he apparently realized that they had inherent value to others who were also experiencing grief, so he allowed strangers to see his pain. This is not an easy book to read. In fact, it's brutal. It's like spending time in the heart of a man who truly feels like he has lost his better half. But such honesty gives it magnificent power.

I love something he said in the final few pages of the book: 

“And now that I come to think of it, there’s no practical problem before me at all. I know the two great commandments, and I’d better get on with them.”

He'd worked all the way through the grieving process and was ready to get back to loving God and others. Good stuff.

So what are you reading this week? Care to share a little about it?

Thursday, October 19, 2006

Writing by Hand

I shared a rental car with a friend last week at the writers' conference I attended. His flight home was quite a bit earlier than mine, so when I got to the airport, I knew I was going to have at least four hours of downtime, which was perfect. I had a writing assignment due the next day and this was a great opportunity to work on it.

I bought a pop, fired up my computer, and pulled out my folder containing my writing assignment. I glanced down at the battery on my computer, which should have been fully charged, but for some reason it only had about 45 minutes of life left. I started hunting for an outlet, but I couldn't find one. Anywhere. Finally I discovered that the Albuquerque airport has several computer stations set up throughout the airport, so I headed for one of them. Then I remembered something...I packed my laptop charger in the suitcase I checked at the front desk because my battery normally lasts around three hours and I thought I wouldn't need the charger.

Then another thought came to mind...you have one of your trusty moleskine notebooks and you know your assignment, so why not write it by hand? I never do that. And I wasn't thrilled about doing it then either, but I had little choice. So, for the next few hours I handwrote my assignment. I read through everything I'd written before boarding the plane and frankly I wasn't all that impressed. I was missing transitions, I spotted several grammatical mistakes, and I forgot to include a few things. But I knew I had enough material to reshape the next day and that's what I did. I got my assignment in on time and it all worked out. 

But afterward I thought a little more about the process of handwriting the assignment. Something about handwriting something I'm writing for publication freaks me out. It reveals so many flaws. It screams, "This isn't organized." It whispers, "You aren't a good writer." And in patronizing fashion, it sort of slaps me on the back and says, "But it's the best you could do under these circumstances."

I love recording things in my moleskine notebooks when I'm not writing for other eyeballs. I don't worry about any of those other things. It doesn't have to be organized. I don't care if it is grammatically correct or makes perfect sense. And I certainly don't care if it is my best writing or not. But going through this gave me a new appreciation for all the writers who came before typewriters, word processors, and computers. All they had was pen and paper, but that was all they needed. I suspect that manuscripts took much longer to produce because of the multiple rewrites, but they did it anyway--probably while hearing all of the same intimidating voices in their head that I heard the other day in the airport. They pushed on, and the world is better for it.

Wednesday, October 18, 2006

Glorieta Pictures

Here are a few pictures I snapped while at the Glorieta conference center in Glorieta, New Mexico last week. I've also included a few shots of the mountains close to the conference center:

Get Real

Toward the end of the writers' conference I attended last week, a friend of mine, John Thurman, spoke during the closing ceremonies. He made two points that really hit home with me. His remarks were made in the context of writing, but I think they have universal application for anything in our lives that we feel like we must do, but for some reason, keep putting it off.

First, he told us that we need to "get real." Our clock is ticking and we aren't in a dress rehearsal. That sounds pretty obvious, but I'm amazed at how often I think about "someday"--as if all the good stuff in life will just magically happen as I get older. Sometimes the routines of life do indeed feel like a dress rehearsal. I find comfort in routines. In fact, I blogged about it here. But comfort can quickly lull a person to sleep if he or she isn't careful.

Second, he told us that we need to get a vision or a plan because a vision without a plan is just a daydream. I think I do a pretty good job of planning in my business life, but not such a great job in my personal life. I often feel like I'm passive in my personal life--as if I need to wait for things to happen. I wouldn't dare be passive in my business life, so maybe it's time to make a few changes and take a few chances in my personal life. 

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Tuesday, October 17, 2006

Different Genres

As an author of four nonfiction books on four different topics, and as a freelance writer of hundreds of articles about topics such as sports, politics, singles, and many others, I'm intrigued by John Grisham. Here's an author who could easily crank out legal thrillers for the rest of his life and not have a financial concern ever again. But he doesn't do that.

A few years ago, he wrote A Painted House--a novel about migrant workers on a farm in the 1950's. More recently, he wrote Bleachers--a novel about football. Neither novel did all that well in comparison to his other work, but he didn't seem to mind. He scratched a creative itch and that made him happy. He just released his first nonfiction book called The Innocent Man: Murder and Injustice in a Small Town. Grisham is against the death penalty and he's hoping that this book influences those on the other side of the issue.

While I totally disagree with him regarding the death penalty, I admire his willingness to write outside of his "niche." At writers' conferences, industry experts are continually telling writers to find their niche (or "brand") and stick with it because it is better to be known for one thing and then to build upon it. I suspect that such advice is true. I just know it doesn't work for me. I no more want to make a writing career out of my marital status than I do by writing for any other niche audience I write for.

The funny thing is, industry experts also often tell writers to "write what they know." I follow politics, sports, and pop culture at large--that's what I know. I'm not opposed to a publisher throwing money at me to write for their publication if they think I'd be a good fit for their sports page, feature page, or op-ed page about any given topic, but I doubt that I'll ever stop writing about the various other things that interest in me.

Writing about different topics helps me to crystallize my thought process. Before I write about a topic, I already know what I believe about it, but the actual process of writing about it forces me to differentiate between the small variables in my mind that often run together.

For example, I wrote an opinion article for a magazine many months ago about the steroid scandal in baseball. Going in to the article, I knew I was "against" the use of steroids in baseball (isn't everybody except for the violators?), but I didn't understand the difference between human growth hormone, androstenedione, creatine, and several other terms used in the debate. I didn't write about each of these products in the article, but as I wrote, I was able to use clearer terms because the process forced me to understand the difference (something I'm not sure I could remember now).

I like what Grisham said about the writing process: "I'm not a crusader. I don't stick to just one issue, I tend to write about it, then leave it."

I can relate.

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Monday, October 16, 2006


Just got home from the writers conference. I'll resume regular posting on Tuesday.

Friday, October 13, 2006

Whatcya Reading? Friday

Today is day three of the Glorieta Christian Writers Conference. My voice is a little scratchy from teaching and talking so much. My bad leg is giving me a few problems, but nothing I haven't experienced before. I'm on the run from early in the morning until late at night. But I find it all to be quite invigorating to be around so many people in the industry in which I work.

With all of that said, I haven't had much time to read this week. I'm still working my way through Wuthering Heights and I did read a little while at the airport on Tuesday morning. Here's my favorite line from the book this week, as spoken by Mrs. Dean, "I have undergone sharp discipline, which has taught me wisdom; and then, I have read more than you would fancy, Mr. Lockwood. You could not open a book in this library that I have not looked into, and got something out of also..."

I can't say that I've opened every book in my library, but I have opened many of them as they call out to me, asking to be explored, and considered, and gleaned from.

So, what are you reading this week? Don't be shy. Tell us about the book that is enriching your life.

Monday, October 09, 2006

Time Flies

I broke a string on my tennis racquet the other day. So, while I was out doing other errands, I pulled into the strip mall where the tennis pro shop I've used since I was a teenager is located. It's a dentist's office now. I called the pro shop and the owner informed me of the new location. I got there and it was a clothing store for women. The owner apparently bought out the rights to the name of the pro shop and she has somebody on staff who strings racquets.

I asked her how long ago she bought the business.

"Ten years ago."


"Yeah, it was ten years ago. And I've moved once since I bought it."

Wow, does time fly or what?

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Any Suggestions?

I'm busy finishing up with my preparations to teach at the Glorieta Christian Writers Conference this week. Posting will be extremely light this week, and depending upon my access to the internet and the amount of free time I have, I might not post again until next week.

I would like your feedback though on my next top ten series. What topic would you like to see me address? Here are a few possibilities:

  • Favorite non-fiction authors
  • Favorite novelists
  • Favorite non-fiction books
  • Favorite novels
  • Favorite musical artists
  • Favorite albums/CDs
  • Favorite songs
  • Favorite television shows
  • Favorite moments in life

Oh, by the way, the comments section on this blog is set up sort of weird. If you want to leave a comment, you have to click on "no comment" at the end of a post, and you will be taken to a page that contains the post you want to comment on. Then you'll need to click on "Post a comment." Sorry about that. That may be a result of a coding change I made when I disabled comments over a year ago and I have no idea how to fix it. When I get back from my trip, I'll give it a shot.

Friday, October 06, 2006

Whatcha Reading? Friday

Recently, a group of us at my church started a literature class called "Prose and Parnassus." We intend to study short stories, poems, and novels. I'm really looking forward to this because I'm not the most well read when it comes to classic literature. I've read tons of contemporary novels--partially because I prefer them, and partially because I want to eventually have a few published, and if you aren't reading the genre that you want to be published in, it probably won't happen.

Long before we started "Prose and Parnassus," I started buying the classics. I just haven't chosen to read any of them yet. Until yesterday. I started "Wuthering Heights" by Emily Bronte. According to the introduction, Emily died in 1848 at the age of 30, not long after "Wuthering Heights" had been released (in 1847). Apparently the reviewers hated the book and Emily died before her novel became a huge success. That seems like a shame to me. But then again, most writers could only dream about their works being read more than a century later.

I'm only thirty-five pages into the book, so I can't tell you whether I'm going to like it or not, but something about holding a book in my hands that somebody wrote more than 150 years ago just feels right. I suspect that I'll find humanity mirrored in Emily's characters as she observed it in her own life. Emily never strayed far from the Bronte family home in Haworth in the Yorkshire moors, but according to her sister Charlotte (who wrote Jane Eyre), Emily wrote from impulse, intuition, and observation. All three are great sources from which to write.

As I dug into this book I thought it might be kind of fun if we had a "Whatcha Reading? Friday" every week. Now that comments are enabled, you can write a paragraph or two (or longer if you wish) about the book you are currently reading and tell us why you either like it or don't like it. If you are interested, feel free to start today.

Thursday, October 05, 2006

Comments Enabled

After not having comments enabled for over a year, I've decided to enable them. I still don't have a lot of time to check them very often, so it may take me a while to respond sometimes. And comments are on moderate, so they won't appear until I've had a chance to approve them.

But unless you are a comment spammer, feel free to comment away.

Private Grief

I've experienced times in my life, as I'm sure you have, when I was experiencing heartache or grief and I just didn't feel close enough to anybody to tell him or her about it. Such times can make a person feel isolated even though he's surrounded by people. Yesterday, I read a couple of verses in the book of Proverbs that do a great job of explaining the depths of private grief. I often wonder if God doesn't orchestrate such times so that we'll seek him for healing instead of others. 

Proverb 14:10 says, "The heart knows its own bitterness, and no stranger shares its joy." In reality, no person can ever truly taste our bitterness or experience our joy to the degree we can. Ideally, a spouse or a best friend, can and often will hurt with us, but neither is present in the heart to really know the depths of such emotions.

Proverb 14:13 says, "Even in laughter the heart may ache, and the end of joy may be grief." Some people use laughter as a mask for pain. I'm not one of those people. I'm sort of known for having a steely demeanor and I've never been thrilled about that because showing little emotion often makes people believe that emotion isn't present. That's a post for another day. 

But does God really use all of this private grief? I like what C.S. Lewis said about this in his book, A Grief Observed (a book created from his journal after his wife died): "But suppose that what you are up against is a surgeon whose intentions are wholly good. The kinder and more conscientious he is, the more inexorably he will go on cutting. If he yielded to your entreaties, if he stopped before the operation was complete, all the pain up to that point would have been useless."

Wednesday, October 04, 2006


My niece's homecoming dance was this past Saturday. During such events, she knows that I'm going to show up beforehand to take pictures. A lot of pictures. She called me when she started getting ready and asked me if I could bring some super glue. I told her I thought I might have some. I checked, but couldn't find any (that wasn't older than she is) and figured I'd just stop at the gas station by her house and pay the $42.50 it would surely cost to pick some up. I needed gas anyway and I was in a bit of a hurry because I had planned to meet friends after I was done taking pictures.

I got to the gas station and I couldn't find any super glue. I asked a store clerk if they carried it and another clerk told me that a woman bought their final three tubes the day before. I couldn't imagine what would lead to such a run on super glue. A man and a woman overheard me talking to the clerk and told me that they just bought two tubes at Walmart and that I could have one of them. 

As I walked to their car with them, I told them that it was for my niece. She needed it for homecoming for some reason. The woman immediately said, "She needs it for her nails." Ah, that made sense. I offered to pay them for the super glue, but they wouldn't take any money for it. They were just glad to help.

When I got to my niece's house, I handed her the super glue and told her about the two nice people I met at the gas station. (The woman was right--the glue was for my niece's nails.) I snapped a few pictures, told her she looked nice, and then left the camera with her to take more pictures while she was at the dance. As I drove home, I was surprised by how moved I was by two strangers who were willing to help another stranger with a small need.

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Tuesday, October 03, 2006

Top Ten Favorite Athletes of All-Time

1. John McEnroe
2. George Brett
3. Andre Agassi
4. Mike Sweeney
5. Jimmy Connors
6. Terry Bradshaw
7. Martina Hingis
8. Julius Erving
9. Mark Martin
10. Jack Nicklaus

John McEnroe

And finally, my favorite all-time athlete is...

#1: John McEnroe

John McEnroe will always be remembered as the guy who shouted at chair umpires and linesmen too much. Everybody who is a tennis fan, and many who are not, remember his trademark, "You cannot be serious! That ball landed right on the line. Chalk dust flew everywhere!" speech he gave to an official.

Temper aside, he was one of the greatest tennis players who ever lived. He won 77 singles titles, 78 doubles titles, and one mixed doubles title. He won 849 matches in his career. He won seven Grand Slams. And he spent 170 weeks as the number one singles player in the world over the course of his career.

By his own admission, his temper got the best of him way too often. Here's a few rather honest and insightful paragraphs from his book, "You Cannot be Serious" that was published in 2002:

"The way I was brought up, you were supposed to be very serious, totally concentrated. To put humor into a big tennis match felt like being a phoney, I guess. It would mean I wasn't a true competitor, a real athlete. It smacked of professional wrestling.

"Meanwhile, the irony is that you can joke in tight competitive situations (not to mention the fact that pro wrestling is huge--those guys are laughing all the way to the bank).

"I'm deeply envious of that. In fact, my biggest regret, by far--even more than losing the '84 French Open--is never having been able to turn the other cheek, throw a one-liner, to keep things loose. I should have had more fun doing what I was doing..."

He was so caught up in the competition that he never learned to enjoy himself, and that's a shame. But at the same time, his competitiveness was attractive to me--especially as a young budding tennis player. I remember watching the Wimbledon final between Bjorn Borg and McEnroe in 1980 at my best friend's house. It's one of the best matches I've ever seen. And I remember watching the 1981 Wimbledon final when McEnroe beat Borg. That was a great day. And I remember the 1990 U.S. Open, when he was at the end of his career. He made it all the way to the semifinals before losing to eventual winner Pete Sampras. (I never liked Pete Sampras after that.)

I loved many things about John McEnroe, the tennis player. I loved his willingness to show his insecurities, and to say what was on his mind, and to challenge people when he thought it was appropriate. I loved to see him battle. I loved knowing that I wasn't investing my time watching his matches for a guy who didn't care.

After he retired in 1992, I became an even bigger fan. He became the voice of the U.S. Open on the USA Network each September. His love for the game was infectious. And since my days of playing in local tournaments was coming to an end, I felt like he kept me close to the game that I've loved since the first day I picked up a racket. In fact, I initially picked up that racket after seeing him play on television.

In recent years, McEnroe has exhibited all of the same qualities that I've always loved about him. He's unafraid to try anything. He tried to be a talk show host on television, and failed miserably. (I might have been the only person to watch it.) He tried to be a game show host for a show called "The Chair," and it too failed. I, of course, watched it. He played his guitar (a hobby he picked up during his playing days) and he didn't seem to care a bit what people thought about his playing ability.

When Hurricane Katrina hit during the 2005 U.S. Open, he was the first celebrity I saw who came forward with a cash donation. I think it was $25,000.00. Then he challenged one of the other commentators to match his gift. When the crowd in the upper deck at Arthur Ashe Stadium was in a frenzy and started doing the wave during the 2006 U.S. Open during the Andre Agassi vs. Marcos Baghdatis match, the chair umpire wanted the crowd to stop so play could continue. McEnroe said something like this on the air, "C'mon. Let them go. It's 1:00 in the morning and these people are still here. And the people in the upper deck are blue collar people. They've given up a lot to be here."

I'm on the opposite side of the spectrum politically from McEnroe, but that doesn't matter a bit to me. He was the type of competitor that I always admired. He is the perfect advocate for the game I've always loved. And now he's the type of humanitarian that I admire.

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Monday, October 02, 2006

Book Giveaway

Andrew D. won the October 1 drawing for my new book, The Experience of Christmas. Congrats Andrew!

I'll be doing another drawing for the same book between now and the next scheduled drawing on December 1. If you want to be eligible to win, then subscribe to the Little Nuances e-mail update list by providing your e-mail address in the box in the upper right hand corner of the page.


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