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, February 28, 2007

Living Passionately

Most of us are willing to shell out good money to see a movie, read a book, attend a sporting event, or watch a concert for reasons that go far beyond mere entertainment. Deep inside, all of us want to live passionate lives. We want to work hard, play hard, and love hard. We want to jump for joy when good news comes and we want to weep when bad news comes. We want to be able to show our true emotions, but oftentimes we don't, for any number of reasons.

We are afraid of what people will think or we fear that it might be inappropriate or it just doesn't "feel" right. So we go to movies and read books and attend sporting events and watch concerts and we let ourselves go. We watch people live passionate lives and instinctively we think, "That's living!" Society seems more accepting of emotions in any of the above circumstances, but if a guy lets out "Wahoooo!" in the office after getting a promotion or if a writer does a literal "happy dance" after getting a book contract, people think they are crazy.

I was drawn to writing and music in my late teens. I'd always been known as the shy guy. But writing and music gave me an outlet to express myself. I felt alive while in those venues and I knew that I had to have both in my life. Sometimes I even chose them over people. Those aren't some of my proudest moments, but it's the truth. Unfortunately, it shows the extent that some of us are willing to go to in order to feel alive.

Recognizing this has helped me to show more emotion when the situation warrants it. Nobody is ever going to accuse me of being Mr. Outgoing, but I'm guessing I won't be compared to the Tin Man anytime soon either.

Tuesday, February 27, 2007

Ode to the Cardboard Box

If you've ever changed jobs, you used one of them to bring your personal belongings home. If you've ever moved, you've probably used lots of them. We use them to store stuff, to mail stuff, and to hide stuff. And cats seem to prefer them over soft cushiony beds made specifically for cats. At least my cat does.
I wonder if Robert Gair, a printer from Brooklyn, had any idea how much society would come to depend upon cardboard boxes when he invented them in the 1800s? They are remarkably flimsy, but unless they are flooded or abused in some fashion, they stand the test of time. And boy can they evoke strong emotions in me.
I have vivid memories of cleaning out my Dad's things shortly after he died and placing them in cardboard boxes. Same goes for my grandmother's things. I still have a couple of cardboard boxes that contain the contents of my desk at various different places of employment. I have another cardboard box full of stuff from college. Another full of audio tapes. Another filled to the brim with cards and letters.
I know where most of them are and every time I open one of them, it's like opening a time capsule. Old memories come flooding back. Sometimes it's a little more than I can take. Other times, it's a perfect way to complement a day.

Monday, February 26, 2007

Favorite Poet

Once a month, I've been attending a literature group. I've been exposed to all sorts of writing that I don't normally read--including prose, short stories, and poetry. I'm not the best at figuring out symbolism in this type of writing, but I'm enjoying the process. In fact, as I frequent bookstores, I'm even finding myself drawn to the poetry section. And that makes me wish I had a favorite poet.

I've leafed through several anthologies and several complete works of specific poets, but so far, nothing grabs me. Well, that's not true. I love a poem called, "If," by Rudyard Kipling. But I've looked at some of his other poems and they don't seem to appeal to me as much. I've glanced at poems by Whitman, Frost, Yeats, Wilde, and others. But I still haven't found a favorite.

How about you? Do you have a favorite poet? If so, why do you like him or her so much? Judging from the movies and books that I talk about on this blog, do you have any suggestions for me? The poet I'm looking for isn't afraid to talk about love (and all its glorious extremes), and he or she observes and thinks about things that most people miss. And finally, my favorite poet understands humanity so well that I'll know myself better after reading his or her work.

A tall order? Yeah, probably so. But do you know any such poets?

Friday, February 23, 2007

The Greatest American Hero

In the early 80's, I loved a television show called "The Greatest American Hero." Do you remember it? It was about a teacher who receives a super hero suit from aliens while on a class field trip in the desert. He's instructed to do good with it, but he loses the instruction book before he even gets home, so he has no idea how the suit works. It's a great premise for a show and I used to laugh my head off as he flew into buildings and had various other problems with the suit.

When I saw that the show was available on DVD recently, I hedged a bit. I'm not into crime shows. I know they are really popular right now, but they just aren't my thing. And I was afraid that maybe the show wasn't as good as I remembered it being. So, instead of buying season one on DVD, I rented it through Netflix. I didn't get very far into the first season though before I turned it off. The show wasn't bad. In fact, I was surprised that it wasn't more cheesy, but it just didn't appeal to me like it used to. Of course, I was 15 when the show first started, so I'm sure that has something to do with it.

I chalked it up as an experience that is better left in the past--even though I have access to it in the present. I used to live more in the past than in the present, but now I love the concept of the here and now. And I love time. The past provides great memories. The present is an opportunity to live life to the fullest. And the future is full of the wonderful unknown.

Thursday, February 22, 2007

Sign up for New E-newsletter

If you'd like to begin receiving my new e-newsletter that will highlight my latest speaking engagements, book signings, and latest publishing news, then enter your e-mail address in the box below. I'll send you a free MP3 of my "So, You Want to Start a Blog?" audio presentation for signing up.

I'm starting this list from scratch to comply with anti-SPAM laws, so even if you are already signed up to receive posts from Little Nuances, you'll need to sign up separately for this e-newsletter if you'd like to receive it. In addition to providing my latest publication news, I'll be offering free downloads, book excerpts, writing tips, and other information that you won't be able to find here or on any of my other blogs.

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Wednesday, February 21, 2007

Good Grief

I’m reading a novel that a friend recommended to me several years ago called Good Grief by Lolly Winston. It’s about a 36-year old widow named Sophie who is coping with the loss of her husband to cancer. She often uses humor to get through the day, but as is the case with all good humor, it’s cloaked in truth. I’m only about a third of the way into the book, but I can already tell it’s going to stick with me long after I read it.

I’ve been thinking about one specific passage from the book: “I remember that when I got home from Ethan’s memorial service I couldn’t believe the house was still there. How could the clocks tick? How could the air-conditioning run? How could there be mail in the box? The relentless soldiering on of the world hurt my feelings.”

I can understand why the relentless soldiering on of the world hurt her feelings. She wanted the world to stop, if only for a brief moment, and acknowledge her loss. The fact that it didn’t even seem to notice, let alone stop, got to her. But imagine how she would have felt if nobody had shown up for the memorial service?

Some people consider rituals like anniversary parties, funerals, birthday parties, graduations and the like to be just another thing to check off the to-do list on a busy Saturday afternoon. They are so much more than that. Rituals are but a reminder of a specific truth—not the truth itself. But having loved ones around for the reminders makes truth easier to bear when it involves difficulty and it sweeter when it involves celebration.

Tuesday, February 20, 2007

The Process of Change

I view myself as somebody who doesn’t really like change, but recently, as I was going over my 100 Preferences list that I wrote in December 2005, I was surprised by how many of my preferences have changed in such a short period of time. Here are a few areas where I’m either on the fence or I’ve changed my mind; small cars over big cars, talk radio over music stations, paperback books over hardback, and waterbeds over regular beds. I could have listed seven or eight more things from the list as well.

So, what does all this mean? I’m not really sure. Such changes in my life come in small, almost unrecognizable segments—usually after I’ve heard somebody say something I’ve never thought about before. I can sense when a change is underway, but I don’t really acknowledge it at first. When I finally do, I know where I’m headed, but I still don’t really spend a lot of time thinking about it. I might ask people in the know a few questions about it. I might do a quick google search. But mostly I just let the process of change have its way until I can see it more clearly. As soon as the fog lifts, I embrace it.

I’m not just talking about preferences. This is how all change usually works in my life—no matter how big or small. When circumstances or people attempt to rush me, it short circuits the process and I get irritable and cold and I sort of shut down. I need ample time to process—not so much on a conscious level, but more so on an unconscious level. When given the right amount of time, change feels natural. When not given the right amount of time, change feels forced, and consequently, not real.

Anybody care to share how the process of change occurs in your own life?

Monday, February 19, 2007

The Daytona 500

If a movie is ever made about Mark Martin’s life, you won’t see him winning the Daytona 500 in what may have been his final shot (in 23 attempts) at it, but instead you’ll see a guy of character who that will make you think about your own. I need to back up a little.

I took advantage of NASCAR.com’s new TrackPass feature for the Daytona 500. I clicked on Mark Martin’s car as the race started and was able to watch a computer animation of the entire race from his car’s perspective (while watching the race simultaneously on television) and I was able to listen to the communication between Mark and his crew chief and Mark and his spotter for the entire race.

Martin started the race in the 26th position. I watched as he slowly made his way through the field and I listened as his guys debated about whether they should take two tires or four tires during his last pit stop with about 40 laps remaining. They chose to go with two and when he left the pits he was in first place. He just had to figure out how to hold off most of the guys behind him who took four tires. Somehow he did until a caution flag flew toward the end of the race which put the race into a two lap overtime. All of the cars were stopped on the track as debris was cleaned up.

The conversation between Martin and his crew chief was fascinating at this point. Mark knew that he would need help (meaning, he needed to find somebody to draft with for the final two laps), otherwise the guys behind him would form an alliance and go right by him. His crew chief told him that he was trying to work a deal with some of the teams behind him and he thought that maybe Jeff Burton might help if he could get close enough. Martin knew he was in trouble and his voice cracked with nervous emotion as he said something like, “They’re going to have to pry it from my hands to take it from me.”

I was so nervous as the cars started up again to complete the final two laps that I could hardly stand it. Martin is my favorite driver and he’s won 35 races in his career, but I haven’t been a NASCAR fan long enough to see any of them. And his career is winding down, so his chances of doing so aren’t high—especially at the biggest race of the season. I stood for the final two laps. I shouted “Come on Mark!” about twenty times and just as they headed into turn four of the final lap I was jumping up and down, “You got it Mark! You got it!”

Then, out of nowhere, Kevin Harvick came screaming toward the front in the outside lane. “Oh NOOOOO! Go Mark Go!” Martin was barely leading with about 200 yards left to go in the race, when a massive pile up occurred behind the two lead cars. For some reason, NASCAR didn’t wave a yellow flag (which on the last lap would have ended the race immediately and frozen the field where they were—giving Martin the victory) and Harvick got by Martin at the end—winning by .02 seconds.

Meanwhile, with the green flag still out, guys continued racing for the finish line attempting to finish as well as possible. One guy after another smashed into each other. Clint Bowyer flipped upside down and crossed the finish line on the roof of his car—on fire. I can’t believe somebody wasn’t killed, and I can’t believe NASCAR didn’t drop the yellow flag. I screamed at the television. “How could you not wave the yellow flag? HOW?”

Martin held out hope as officials tried to sort out the mess. Finally the ruling came down—Harvick was the winner. Martin could have screamed at officials. He could have thrown up his hands in disgust. He could have pounded the roof of his car. He could have done a lot of things. Instead, here’s what he said, with a smile on his face: “I didn't ask for that trophy,” Martin said. “I asked for a chance at it. And those guys [his crew] gave me exactly what I asked for and I let it slip away.”

Strange things happen in the heat of battle. Normal people become crazy. Crazy people become even crazier—especially if a seeming injustice has occurred. Mark Martin chooses those moments to allow his character to shine and in the process he makes me think about my own.

Friday, February 16, 2007

Radio Interview

On Saturday morning from 8:00 am to 9:00 am (Central), I’m going to be a guest on Linda Goldfarb's “Not Just Talkin’ the Talk” radio show on KSLR 630 AM in San Antonio. We’ll be discussing blogs—specifically we’ll talk about the benefits of blogging, the dangers of blogging (including My Space), how to get started blogging, and how to increase your traffic if you already have a blog. You can listen even if you don't live in the San Antonio area. Just go to the KSLR website and click on the “Listen Live” button at the top of the page.

I'm offering special prices on blogging resources this weekend (only), starting today. To get the special prices, please click on the links in this post (not the Buy Now buttons in the right hand column of this page). All orders will be sent out by Monday. Check out these deals!


I’m lowering the price of my e-book, So, You Want to Start a Blog?, from $4.95 to $3.95. The 11-page e-book (in .pdf format) includes "10 Reasons to Blog," 6 questions to ask yourself before you begin a blog, a list of free and fee based blog hosting services, 6 things to consider before you write your first post, and more.

If you’d like to order a copy, please click here.


I'm also lowering the price of my audio presentation on CD of So, You Want to Start a Blog? from $8.00 to $6.00 (includes shipping and handling). This presentation is from a class I taught at a writer's conference. If you order the CD, I'll include a hard copy of my e-book with it. If you'd like to order a copy, please click here.


Finally, for the first time, I'm offering an audio presentation on CD of a class I taught at a writers' conference last fall called "Advanced Blogging." In this class I covered "11 Ways to Increase Your Traffic," "7 Ways to Improve Search Engine Optimization," "How to Handle Comment Spam," "How to Tweak Your Template," and more. You can purchase a copy of the CD for $6.00 (including shipping and handling). I'll include a hard copy of the handout I gave to the class. If you'd like to order a copy, please click here.


UPDATE (02-19-07): Links in this post for discounted products have been disabled. If you are still interested in them, most of them are available in the right hand column. I'll make the "Advanced Blogging" CD available again soon. Thanks!

Thursday, February 15, 2007

Music and Lyrics

Music and Lyrics opened in theaters across the country yesterday and I so wanted to be there to see it. Unfortunately, I worked late and didn’t have anybody to see it with, but neither scenario is going to stop me from seeing it for long. It’s the ultimate chick-flick—complete with 80’s music and Hugh Grant and Drew Barrymore.

Grant plays a washed up 80’s pop star who has been given one last shot to prove himself. To do so, he just needs to write a hit song by Friday. When he finds out that his plant lady (played by Barrymore) has more lyrical talent than he does, he convinces her to help him write the song. They appear to have unbelievable chemistry and that ignites a romantic spark between them.

I love the interaction in the trailer between them, especially when he says, “The best time I’ve had in the past fifteen years was sitting at that piano with you.”

“That’s wonderfully sensitive—especially from a man who wears such tight pants,” she said.

“It forces all the blood to my heart.”

Check out the trailer:

Wednesday, February 14, 2007


I saw Max Wright in an episode of Friends recently and it pulled me right out of the story. Max Wright is Willie Tanner (from the television show ALF). He can never player another role. Much like Bob Denver was, and always will be, Gilligan to me—even though he appeared in dozens of other roles in various television programs and movies. According to this Vanity Fair article, Ryan Gosling will always be Noah from The Notebook, no matter how hard he tries to break out of that role.

Sometimes life feels that way, doesn’t it? We grew up being shy, or in trouble, or smart, or fat, or ugly, or a drama queen, or one of dozens of other roles that follow us around—way up into adulthood, and we can’t seem to shake them. Humans love stereotypes. He fits here, she fits there, and that’s the way it will always be…or so it seems.

But surely that’s not always that case. Actors like Will Smith aren’t defined by any one role. He started out as a teenager rapper, then he became a television star, and then he went on save the earth from aliens, and now he’s making us cry in The Pursuit of Happyness. And Tom Hanks has played the loved interest of a mermaid in one movie, a gangster in another, and a castaway in another. We seem to accept him in any role he chooses.

Maybe we accept the roles that Smith and Hanks play simply because they wouldn’t have it any other way. They did such a good job of playing so many different roles that we can’t pigeonhole them. I have no idea whether this translates to real life, but it seems to me that everybody has a chance to shake our roles (whether assigned or pursued) by simply choosing new roles with the same vigor we invested in our “original” role—to do it so well that we can’t be categorized so easily. What do you think?

Tuesday, February 13, 2007

More ALF Quotes

I picked up season four of ALF on DVD recently. Here are some of the things he said during the season that had me laughing me head off.


“What? I’m going to be read in one of America’s most highly respected sleaze tabloids. If only Mom were here to see this.”

“Whoa. That’ll teach me to eat film before going to bed.”

“I’m so excited I could leave a spot right here on the carpet.”

“Why is it I get along with everybody else in this family, but you and I never seem to click?” ALF said to Kate. “My guess is, it’s you.”

“Willie, if you must pace, can you do it in one direction? Call me when you get to Fresno?”

“Willie, honey, baby, sweetheart. I can’t make you a rich man if you keep second-guessing every senseless choice I make.”

“Are you going to throw a hissy-fit every time I squander a few thousand bucks?”

Monday, February 12, 2007

Elizabethtown, Part 4

We're up to part four of the series I wrote about Elizabethtown last year. If you didn't get a chance to read these posts originally, I hope you are enjoying them now:

"You and I have a special talent," Claire says to Drew. "And I saw it immediately. We're the substitute people. I've been the substitute person my whole life. I'm not an Ellen [a co-worker Drew was into]. I never wanted to be an Ellen. And I'm not a Cindy either…I like being alone too much. I mean, I'm with a guy who is married to his academic career. I rarely see him and I'm the substitute person there. I like it that way. It's a lot less pressure."

I really don't believe Claire when she implies that she likes being a substitute person. She tries to convince Drew, and I'm sure herself, that she likes not feeling needed or in demand all the time during a relationship. But if that were really true, she wouldn't have spent the entire night on the phone with him. She wouldn't have switched her work schedule so she could be with him as he dealt with his father's death. She wouldn't have shared her dreams, and fears, and insecurities with him. She wouldn't have made him the travel kit. And she wouldn't have been willing to let him go—hoping that he'd choose to be with her at the end of his journey.

Nobody wants to be a substitute person. We just claim that the position is acceptable because we're afraid that nobody will ever consider us an original. But along with way, most will consider us substitute people and that's not a knock against them or us. They have an original in mind and for whatever reason—justified or not, we don't live up to it.

The problem comes when we embrace substitute person status, like Claire did, because embracing it means that we'll never get to see wonder in the other person's eyes as we tell him or her about our theories, our beliefs, our hopes, and our dreams. It means we'll never get that all-knowing, all-understanding hand-squeeze, or look that says, "I know exactly what you are thinking or feeling and I want you to know that it means just as much to me as it does to you."

No matter how much we try to convince ourselves that being a substitute person is better than not being in the game, the indifference we receive from someone who doesn't consider us an original slowly crushes our will to live a vibrant life. I'd much rather be out living the life I choose right now because it allows me to save my experiences in an emotional place where one day I hope to invite a person who considers me to be her original.

Sunday, February 11, 2007

Elizabethtown, Part 3

Continuing with my series about the movie, Elizabethtown, here are a couple of random quotes from the movie that I think they're worth noting:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Saturday, February 10, 2007

Elizabethtown, Part 2

A continuation of my observations about Elizabethtown:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Friday, February 09, 2007

Elizabethtown, Part 1

A year ago, I wrote a series of posts about the movie Elizabethtown. They've turned out to be some of my favorite posts. Unfortunately, I didn't have comments turned on when I posted them originally. Over the next few days, I'm going to repost the series. I thought it would be neat to post them on successive days so you can catch the entire flow.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Thursday, February 08, 2007

Winning Ugly

I found a gem in the bargain bin at Borders last weekend called Winning Ugly by Brad Gilbert and Steve Jamison. It’s a classic book about how to play winning tennis even if you don’t have the best or prettiest strokes.

If anybody was ever qualified to write such a book, it’s Brad Gilbert. In fact, the opening lines of the preface (written by Jamison) capture who Brad Gilbert was during his playing days: “How in the hell does this guy win? He hits like a caveman who found a tennis racket!”

How funny is that? Certainly creates a mental picture doesn’t it? The irony is, these lines were uttered about Gilbert during the finals of a professional tennis tournament. In fact, he won it, and many other matches because he was a master strategist and he found a way to implement his strategy within his given limitations.

I’m sure Gilbert wishes that he would have been born with more physical talent, but the guy did reach number four in the world at one point. And given some of the top names in the game at the time, it’s doubtful that he would have went any higher no matter how much more physical talent he would have had. He just found a way to make the most out of his opportunities.

Most of us are like Gilbert, in that we have limited abilities in many areas of our lives, but we aren’t content to look like a caveman who found a tennis racket. And we aren’t content to try to figure out how to maximize the talent we do have. We’d rather look like Roger Federer. But then a crisis hits and we handle it with caveman-like tendencies and our vanity shows. We pretend that our missteps didn’t happen. Or we get angry because we aren’t good under pressure. Or we try to pull off the impossible—fixing every thing and every body.

In reality, most situations just require us to get the ball back over the net. I like what Gilbert said in a section of his book called “Don’t Ask a Skinny Dog to Fly.” Most recreational players have pitiful backhands. Here’s his advice for such players: “When your backhand starts to hurt you more than it usually does, lower your expectations. Stop trying to do more with it than you can reasonably expect. Get it over the net. Keep the ball in play. Go for placement instead of power. Keep your head when your backhand is under attack. Make your shot and force your opponent to at least make a play on it.”

I’m never going to be a great speaker. I have knowledge about some topics that others want to learn about, so I’ve found a way to speak that doesn’t bore people to death. I’m never going to be a fix-it guy, but I’ve figured out how to change locks on doors and how to change the tank on my propane grill and a few other small things. I still do these things to the best of my ability, but I’m learning to do them with caveman-like tendencies. Some have laughed at my attempts over the years, and I’m not always crazy about that, but it’s getting easier to take. It’s taught me that I’m too sensitive about such things.

Besides, it seems to me that we have two options regarding most things in life—either look like a caveman or try to pretend we are something we are not and end up looking like a phony. I haven’t always made the best choices in this regard, but I’m learning that looking like a caveman isn’t all bad.

Wednesday, February 07, 2007


I installed Microsoft Outlook on my laptop recently so I could sync it with my Blackberry. Outlook is a memory hog, so it was causing my computer to run super slow. I decided that I needed to double my RAM, so I packed up my laptop on Saturday and jumped into my car. I knew where I was going to go—a little computer fix-it shop called Computers To Go. Late in my Dad’s life, he got involved in computers and more than once we’d hit Computers To Go on a lazy Saturday afternoon just to see what they had to offer. He liked the place and trusted the guys who ran it.

I haven’t been to that store since Dad died nearly seven years ago. As I pulled into the parking lot of the strip mall where the store is located, I remembered another place we used to hang out on occasion. Once a month, a bunch of local computer retailers would hold a computer show in a community center and Dad and I attended it three or four times. Sometimes we’d come home with floppy disks (remember those?) or some software program that we’d been eyeballing for a while. But mostly we just looked and talked, both to each other and to various vendors.

During one computer show (probably in 1999), shortly after I started writing for publication, I was thinking about purchasing my first laptop computer. I didn’t know much about laptops at the time. I just knew that I wanted it to come with Microsoft Word since that’s what most publishers expected writers to use. As you probably remember, laptops were extremely expensive back then and I figured I wouldn’t be able to afford one for quite a while. My PC worked just fine, but Dad was thinking long term.

We saw a table with laptops on it and we both stopped there to toy around with them. Dad started asking the vendor about the specifications. The laptops were refurbished and weren’t anywhere near the latest in technology. Dad and the vendor went back and forth on a price for one of the machines and before I knew it, Dad pulled me aside and put three hundred dollars into my hands and told me that I should buy the laptop he’d been talking to the vendor about.

I went back and asked the vendor some more questions. The laptop didn’t come with much software and it didn’t come with Microsoft Word (which was several hundred dollars at the time if you bought it new). I talked to Dad about it a little more and he agreed that it might be best if we didn’t get the machine because it was so old and didn’t have what I needed. I thanked him profusely though because I know that he didn’t have much money at the time. Looking back now, I realize that he might have been offering me everything he had.

With that in mind, you can imagine how difficult it was for me to walk into the Computers To Go store this past weekend without him. They were busy, but I bought some RAM and as one of the guys was installing it, I asked him if he remembered my Dad. He didn’t, but said he might if he saw him. I thanked him for their service (which was excellent—Dad was right) and drove home, thankful for the gift of memories.

Tuesday, February 06, 2007

Top Ten Favorite Authors

1. Nicholas Sparks
2. Pat Buchanan
3. Jan Karon
4. C. S. Lewis
5. Joshua Harris
6. Ray Blackston
7. Elisabeth Elliot
8. Richard Ford
9. Nancy Moser
10. Donald Miller

Nicholas Sparks

We’ve reached the end of our Top Ten Series featuring my favorite authors:

#1: Nicholas Sparks

Considering that three of my favorite movies of all-time are based on novels written by Nicholas Sparks, you probably aren’t surprised to see that he’s also my favorite author.

But you might be surprised to hear me say that I don’t think he’s a great writer. I can’t tell you how many times he’s used the phrase “and all was right with the world” (or some variation of it) in his ten novels, but he does it so often that I just had to keep track in his latest effort, Dear John. For the record, he used it four times. And on more than one occasion, I’ve noticed inconsistencies in his use of point of view.

But Sparks makes up for all of this with his story-telling ability. He tells love stories—usually set on the coast of North Carolina. They aren’t hokey love stories about perfect people. In fact, most of them are beautiful tragedies about realistic characters—from all ages and stages of life—that most of us can relate to. I don’t know many people who haven’t fought back tears (or just let them flow) while reading The Notebook, Message in a Bottle, or A Walk to Remember.

His other, lesser-known novels are also relatable. Nights in Rodanthe is about a middle-age woman named Adrienne who is trying to pick up the pieces after her husband left her for a younger woman. The Guardian is about a 29 year-old woman named Julie who is dealing with life after her husband died at a young age. True Believer is about a man named Jeremy, a writer who meets a woman named Lexi while working on assignment in North Carolina—far from his New York lifestyle and he has to decide whether or not love is worth the risk of leaving the familiar behind. A Bend in the Road is about a man named Miles who loses his wife in a hit-and-run accident.

I’m a sucker for a good love story, but that’s not why I love Sparks’ novels so much. I love them because they are about real people dealing with real problems. And Sparks doesn’t allow those problems to be solved by having his characters fall in love. In fact, in most of his novels, at least one of the major characters dies prematurely and the other person is left trying to figure out how to cope with such a huge loss.

That’s what Theresa Osborne learned in Message in a Bottle. A year after Garrett dies, Theresa writes a letter to him that includes these words: “Even though I miss you greatly, it’s because of you that I don’t dread the future. Because you were able to fall in love with me, you have given me hope, my darling. You taught me that it’s possible to move forward in life, no matter how terrible your grief.” She finishes her letter, rolls it up, sticks it into a bottle, and casts it into the sea. And as she walks back to her car, she actually has a smile on her face.

I usually do too after I turn the last page of one of Sparks’ books.

Monday, February 05, 2007

Mourning and Weeping

A friend sent me an e-mail last week telling me that my former associate pastor’s father had passed away. So, I went to the store to pick up a sympathy card and something really bugged me as I combed my hand through the cards that were available. Every “religious” card had a positive, upbeat message about a loved one entering heaven. Death, the readers of the cards are assured, is just the door that leads to heaven.

I’m a Christian who has no doubts about the existence of heaven, but it seems to me that these sympathy cards were lacking sympathy. King Solomon said that there is a time for mourning (Ecclesiastes 3:4). The Apostle Paul said that we are to weep with those who weep (Romans 12:15). I can’t help but wonder—have we lost the willingness, desire, and courage to weep with others?

When I lost my own father, I called a friend as I left work to tell him what had happened. I honestly can’t remember a word he said. But I remember his voice cracking with emotion as my own tears flowed. Later that night, three of my single guy friends (one of whom was the person I called on my way home from work) showed up at my sister’s house (the place my family gathered) with a cake. I can’t remember anything they said. I just remember them sitting in the living room and, in a sense, mourning with me and my family over our loss.

After the funeral, as people passed by the immediate family for the last time before the long and solemn ride to the cemetery, I looked up and one of my male cousins was reaching out to hug me. He had tears in his eyes and he’s not the type to show a lot of emotion. A couple of months later, I was on the golf course with some friends and in the middle of the round I lost it after seeing one of my Dad’s clubs in my golf bag. One of my friends recognized what was going on and he came over and put his arm around my shoulder. I pointed to the club and whispered, “It was my Dad’s.” He didn’t try to fix me or to get me to stop showing emotion. He simply mourned with me. (I wrote about it here.)

With all of this in mind as I was choosing a card for my former associate pastor, I bypassed the religious cards and found one that captured the essence of what I wanted to tell him. On the front it simply said, “In Sympathy.” Inside, it said, “Extending deep and heartfelt sympathy to you and your family.” I added my own personal message and then I mailed it to him (several states away). Hopefully, my small voice will just be one of many who join with him as he mourns the loss of his father.

Friday, February 02, 2007

We Have a Winner

We have a winner for the February 1 drawing for a free autographed copy of my singles book, Single Servings. The next scheduled giveaway is April 1, but you never know when I'll do a random drawing.

If you’d like a chance to win, then subscribe to Little Nuances by providing your e-mail address in the box in the upper right hand corner of the page. Your e-mail address will never be sold. To be eligible to win, you’ll need to be willing to provide a mailing address if/when your e-mail address is chosen. I won’t ask for a mailing address before then. And just like with your e-mail address, your mailing address will be kept completely private.

If you already subscribe to Little Nuances, then you don’t need to do anything. You are already eligible for the prizes.

Here’s a schedule of planned giveaways:

October 1—The Experience of Christmas
December 1—The Experience of Christmas
February 1—Single Servings
April 1—Single Servings
June 1—So You Want to Start a Blog? (audio CD)
August 1—So You Want to Start a Blog? (audio CD)
October 1—The Experience of Christmas
December 1—The Experience of Christmas

Thursday, February 01, 2007

Days of Thunder

As a fairly new NASCAR fan, I've been renting old NASCAR movies in recent months. I watched Days of Thunder a couple of nights ago. It was a little dated (it came out in 1990), but that’s okay with me. One thing that wasn’t dated though was the relationship between Cole Trickle (the driver, played by Tom Cruise) and Dr. Claire Lewicki (his physician, played by Nicole Kidman). After Cole gets into a wreck that nearly costs him his life, he’s gun-shy about getting back on the track—and his fear manifests itself as anger. Claire, who by this portion of this movie has become his love interest, doesn’t like it and she isn’t afraid to call him on it. Here’s what she says:

“You want to control something that’s out of control. That’s what you said to me wasn’t it? Well, I’m going to let you in on a little secret that almost every else in this world automatically knows. Control is an illusion you infantile egomaniac. Nobody knows what’s going to happen next—not on a freeway, not on an airplane, not inside our own bodies, and certainly not on a racetrack with forty other infantile egomaniacs. Nobody knows and nobody controls anything. Now you’ve gotten a glimpse of that and you are scared. You might not have the courage to race any more. You might never have had it.”

She said these words with the utmost confidence in her voice. In fact, she even shoved Cole a couple of times for good measure. But beyond all that, I took note of what she didn’t do. This scene took place in a parking lot. The wind was blowing hard and her long blonde frizzy hair was blowing in her face. She never once stopped to brush it away. She seemed to be saying that “I’m going to make my point and nothing is going to distract me.” Her words and actions hit home. Cole didn’t say a word. He just exhaled. And he didn’t seem to be able to inhale. The truth was finally out and he was going to have to deal with it.

At the end of the movie, Cole gets one more shot to race and it turns out to be at the same track in which he wrecked. He’s still afraid, but he climbs into the car anyway. Claire is in the pits cheering him on. With eight laps to go, Cole is running in second place. The camera pans to Claire and she gently pushes her hair out of her face. I had a feeling that everything was going to be okay after that. Gone was the tough exterior Claire put on in the parking lot when Cole needed to be challenged and in its place was a soft, gentle woman who simply wanted to see somebody she loved conquer his demons.


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