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.

Thursday, May 31, 2007

Inappropriate Humor

Humor can make a difficult situation easier to bear. It can also be one of the most inappropriate ways to handle a difficult situation. I saw an example of each recently.

I went to see the movie “Waitress” on Monday night. It’s about a woman named Jenna who feels trapped in her marriage and in her life. She married the wrong guy, she’s pregnant by him, and she desperately wants out. He abuses her—sometimes right in front of us and she ends up having an affair. The topic is heavy and one that could have been handled so much better. But for some reason, the writer and producer made the movie into a comedy that for brief moments turns into a drama (instead of the other way around as it should have been).

A few strategically placed jokes would have worked wonderfully. But instead, the movie includes three characters who could best be described as spoofs. They are quirky beyond reality, with phony sounding southern accents, and they seem more like caricatures than they do real people. I kept wanting the inappropriate humor to end so I could care about Jenna, but I never got to that point. And that’s too bad.

A couple of days ago I read an article about a woman named Robin who was attending her mother’s funeral. A man walked into the funeral late and sat down next to Robin. She didn’t recognize him. Eventually he asked her why they kept referring to the deceased as Margaret instead of Mary. Robin was confused and said, “Because that was her name.”

They went back and forth before realizing that the man was supposed to be at the funeral across the street. Here’s how Robin described their realization: “The solemnness of the occasion mixed with the realization of the man's mistake bubbled up inside me and came out as laughter. I cupped my hands over my face, hoping it would be interpreted as sobs.

“The creaking pew gave me away. Sharp looks from other mourners only made the situation seem more hilarious. I peeked at the bewildered, misguided man seated beside me. He was laughing, too, as he glanced around, deciding it was too late for an uneventful exit. I imagined Mother laughing.”

This momentarily relief in an otherwise somber situation gave Robin a chance to breathe and it gave her a small reprieve from her pain.

The line between appropriate and inappropriate humor is small and hard to find sometimes. And sometimes the use of humor in difficult circumstances might be different things to different people. That’s why I respect people who know how to use it.

Wednesday, May 30, 2007

Shared Memories

I've always known that memories have power. And, as I've mentioned before, when people don't remember an event, it's almost like saying it never happened. It's not true, but it feels like it is. I'm not coming down on people for having a bad memory. More than one friend has asked me if I remember something and oftentimes I don't. What I'm getting at though is this--all of us want people to remember because somehow it validates the experience.

Yesterday, I read an article called, "It's Okay to Talk about Joan." It's written by Kenneth Haugk. His wife, Joan, died in 2002 after 33 years of marriage. He desperately wanted people to talk about Joan in his presence after she died. A couple of month's after her death, he was having dinner in a restaurant with his daughters, his son-in-law, and his grandson. One of his daughters asked the server if she could sample the soup before she decided whether to order it or not. Her husband said, "You must have gotten that from your mother. I remember her doing that a lot."

Haugk said that a warm glow washed all over him and he saw the remark as a kind gesture. Elsewhere in the article Haugk made a powerful point about memories: "To have memories, you must have remembering. One saying goes: 'A problem shared is a problem halved.' The arithmetic works differently with memories: 'A memory shared is a memory doubled.' I can certainly remember alone, and I do, but when someone else remembers with me, it is much better."

That's exactly how I feel about memories. I just didn't have such a clear understanding of how I felt as Haugk does. Indeed, a memory shared is a memory doubled and it magically connects two people for a brief moment. Think about the opportunities we have to touch each other. Rather than shying away from talking about somebody's deceased loved one(s) in his or her presence, we might just end up touching someone the way Haugk's son-in-law did if we're willing to share our memories.

Tuesday, May 29, 2007

Crazy Eight

One day, when I was in the second grade and Mrs. Schneider had us practicing our handwriting, I looked over at a friend’s paper and saw him write an eight the same way you might draw the two bottom sections of a snowman. I though it was the coolest thing, so I copied it. I felt like a bit of a daredevil. I was never one to go against a teacher’s wishes, but this time, I took the risk.

Many years later, I wrote a check to one of my sisters and it included the number eight. She saw me draw my snowman eight and laughed.

“That’s not how you’re supposed to make an eight,” she said.

“It’s the way I make it.”

“It looks like a snow man.”

“I know.”

I’d been doing it for so long that I hadn’t even realized how much my second grade habit just became part of my natural handwriting. I wondered if I could make the change back to a normally shaped eight. It wasn’t easy, but over the next few days, I made the transition. Mrs. Schneider would have been proud.

I started liking my new way of doing it better. Once in a while, when I did it the old way, my eight would look like to disconnected circles. But sometimes, when I did it the new way, the top or bottom half would look like it got squeezed in a vice (see the picture for a good example). So, I did what I usually do, I reverted back to my old way.

Recently, as I was writing in my trusty moleskine notebook, I noticed lots of misshaped eights, so I tried to change back again to the correct way of writing them. Now my brain is so confused that I never write an eight the same way. Years from now, somebody might find my moleskines tucked away in a box in an attic somewhere and if they are observant he or she will wonder why the writer’s eights changed so often.

But, a little mystery never hurt anybody.

Monday, May 28, 2007

Memorial Day

A big thanks to all of the armed forces for all that you do. Your efforts and sacrifices are appreciated. And to all of the military families who have lost loved ones in service to our country, I'm not sure that anybody can really put strong enough sentiments into words, but we are infinitely grateful for the liberties we have as a result of their sacrifice.

Today, I want to pay tribute to my father, who died in 2000. He was in the Army in the 1950's. My mom gave me this picture of him a few years ago. He was probably 18 or 19 at the time. If you look in the right hand corner of the photo, you'll see that he wrote a small inscription to my mom that says:

To Sally
with all my love

Friday, May 25, 2007

Freak Flag

I read a quote by Drew Barrymore in my local newspaper recently that made me nod my head in agreement. She was talking about dating when she said this, but I think it applies to other relationships as well: “The only fundamental rule for me is to just be yourself. Let your freak-flag fly, and if someone doesn’t get you, move on.”

Everybody has a freak-flag. We're just cautious about waving it around too many people for fear of criticism. One of the ways I fly my freak-flag is by playing a word game with my oldest niece. I made it up when she was small and we've been playing it ever since. We'll drive by a Taco Bell and call it Burrito Flute. Or we'll see a Hardees and call it Soft-C's. Over the years, I came up with dozens of these.

Applebees = Orange-C's.

Hy-Vee = Low-W

Walgreens = Ceiling Blues

Burger King = Steak Queen

Outback = In Front

Buffalo Wild Wings = Chicken Tame Legs

Wendys = Breezies

Village Inn = City Out

On and on it goes. We have so many of these that my niece and I have our own lingo now. We'll use this lingo around our friends or family sometimes and they think we're crazy. Maybe we are. But we have a blast doing it. And we're always trying to come up with more.

I can't help but think about a time far into the future when I'm no longer here. Maybe my niece will be driving down the street one day with the burdens of life troubling her, and she'll drive by an Outback Steakhouse and smile to herself as she whispers "In Front."

Nobody else will understand it, but it won't matter because she will have made a connection to the past and drawn a slight bit of comfort in remembering a time when her crazy uncle let his freak flag fly. 

Thursday, May 24, 2007


During lunch yesterday, I stared out the window for a while and watched the rain fall. It bounced hard off the street and began to pool rather quickly. I glanced at the tree in my front yard and the leaves danced as huge raindrops hit them. I could have watched it for quite some time, but duty called and I got back to work.

But I thought about the rain all afternoon. Generally speaking, I like storms. Snowstorms are peaceful. Rainstorms aren't peaceful in and of themselves, but there's something about them that brings peace--maybe it's the slower pace that comes naturally as we watch the rain fall. Or maybe the peace is a result of the equalizing notion that other people are also staring out the window at the same time I am as they contemplate life. Or maybe it's the romantic notion that many of us have of walking through the rain hand in hand with somebody we love.

Maybe it's a combination of all of those things. I don't know. But I read something in the Bible recently that made me think it might even be deeper than that. Before Israel headed into Canaan (the promised land), God said this to them:

"For the land that you are entering to take possession of it is not like the land of Egypt, from which you have come, where you sowed your seed and irrigated it, like a garden of vegetables. But the land that you are going over to possess is a land of hills and valleys, which drinks water by the rain from heaven, a land that the LORD your God cares for." (Deuteronomy 11:10-12)

As I look out my window right now, all of the plant life is damp and green and vibrant with life. Maybe the calming effect of rain somehow nurtures us and makes us feel more alive because its ultimate origin is heaven.

Tuesday, May 22, 2007

Memorial Day Thoughts

I had a conversation with somebody recently about Memorial Day and it really made me think. The woman I was speaking with told me that she wasn’t going to be able to travel to the cemetery this year to decorate the grave sites of loved ones. Sadly, she said that the generation behind her has never made it a habit of doing so, so she suspected that the grave sites would remain undecorated this year.

Everybody handles death in a different way and everybody has different thoughts about the importance of visiting a cemetery during Memorial Day, but for me the day is a chance to leave a visual reminder that the previous generations are not forgotten by the current generations. The ritual isn’t so much for the dead as it is for the living.

That’s what got me to thinking. Each Memorial Day I usually visit and decorate the graves of loved ones I knew, but I can’t remember the last time I visited and decorated the grave of a family member who died before I was born. I know what cemetery many of them are buried in,
and I have some general idea about where they are buried, but I haven’t visited their graves.

So this year, I’m going to call a relative or two to find out exactly where the graves are located and I’m going to do my part to pay tribute to the generations in my family who died before I was born.

Monday, May 21, 2007

Exclamation Points

The older I get, the less I trust exclamation points. That might sound sort of crazy, but it’s true. Being a writer probably has something to do with it. But something about adding emphasis to a sentence with an exclamation point makes me suspicious.

I’m always wondering—did the writer think I really wouldn’t get his emphasis based on his tone? Or did the writer use the wrong words and then try to cover it up with strong punctuation? Or did the writer use an exclamation point because his argument was weak and he therefore had to do the writer’s equivalent of pounding the pulpit in an attempt to scare his reader into submission?

Exclamation points have their place. They can be used after commands or for true exclamations, but on a number of occasions, I’ve heard editors say that a book shouldn’t contain more than three or four exclamation points throughout the entire manuscript. I’m not so sure I’d put an exact number on it, but the less I see of them when I’m reading, the better.

Thursday, May 17, 2007

The Local Five and Dime

When I was a young kid, we had a drugstore in our neighborhood called Biga's (Bee-ga's) that was ran by a husband and wife. I can't really remember the husband. I think he died when I was young. But Mrs. Biga carried on the family business and I'm so glad she did.

I loved that store. It had a little of everything. An L-shaped wooden display case in one corner housed all of the candy. On the opposite wall, you could find a rack full of magazines and books. I can't tell you how many comic books I bought from Biga's over the years. Next to the reading material you could find various board games and toys. In the middle of the store, you could find a freezer full of ice cream treats. And clothing was in the back. I can't remember ever going back there. I just sort of knew it was there, but a 10 or 12 year-old boy doesn't care about such things.

Every Friday, after my mom got paid, she'd give me two dollars and I'd walk to Biga's--just three blocks away from our house, and I'd buy six packs of baseball cards. At fifteen cents a pack, I still had more than a dollar left for candy or anything else that caught my fancy. Or if I really wanted to go all out, I'd buy twelve packs of baseball cards and use the left over change for "penny candy."

The display case holding the candy had a sliding door (on small rollers) that she moved back and forth as I'd point out what I wanted. I can still hear the door sliding back and forth. It made a distinct, memorable sound. And somehow it symbolized how close I was to savoring my treats while slowing going through each pack of baseball cards to see if I got the cards I needed to complete the set. If I was cutting it close on cash, Mrs. Biga would keep a running total for me.

"Six cents left."

"Okay, I'll take two more pieces of that hard candy," I said pointing to it.

She'd place it in the bag and say, "Two cents left."

My eyes roved back and forth looking for anything else that hit the magical two cent level.

"I'll take a grape pixy stick."

The store had one of those huge cash registers with gigantic buttons. Mrs. Biga would hammer the buttons and I could hear the internal parts whirring to life as it reached the grand total. The drawer would fly open, making all sorts of racket. Mrs. Biga would tell me the total, which by then we'd usually figured out manually and I'd gladly hand over my two dollars.

She thanked me and asked how my mom was doing. I was so distracted by the contents of my bag that I found it difficult to hold a lengthy conversation. I told her that mom was good and then I'd head for the door. All the way home, I'd be opening packs of baseball cards. Sometimes I was elated to finally get that all illusive card. Sometimes I was bummed out that I got mostly "doubles." But either way, by the time I got home, I was already thinking about my next visit to Biga's.

P.S. Mrs. Biga retired and sold her store many years ago. I don't think I've ever been in another store like it since.

Tuesday, May 15, 2007

Finding Hope

I’m near the end of Home to Harmony. I just read a chapter in which Deena Morrison, a single woman whom one resident of Harmony describes as “very… womanly,” has just decided to move to Harmony from “the city.” She’d spent time there with her grandparents when she was a little girl and she wanted to get back to a simpler life. And she has hopes of finding a husband to share her new life in Harmony.

After starting a legal practice, she decides that she’d rather start a new coffee shop—one that is cultured, complete with poetry reading. So, she does just that. She calls it “Legal Grounds” and it’s a big hit right away—especially with a man named Wayne. His wife had run off and left him and his kids and he’s smitten with Deena.

Here’s a little taste:

“Wayne sits there amid the civility and for a moment, while gazing at Deena, is transported beyond his tired trailer and broken life. He wonders what it would be like to marry Deena. She’d be such a fine mother to my children, he thinks. He imagines she is drawn to him. When he walks to the counter to pay for the coffee, she waves him away with a small brush of her hand. She smiles, he smiles. Such a decent woman, he thinks.” Then a few paragraphs later, “Love even love that is imagined, is sometimes all we have to get us through.”

I’m a lot like Wayne. I dream about marriage. In fact, I always have this odd sense of possibility as I head out the door on Saturday nights. I don’t do anything spectacular. I just like to hang out with friends in coffee shops or baseball parks or in movie theaters. But I am always conscious of the fact that by simply living my life, my dream of finding a wife and “settling down” could be realized. And for me, that’s often enough to get me from one Saturday night to the next night.

Sometimes we find hope in the smallest of things. It happens to me all the time. Every time I go to a writer’s conference and talk to an editor about my novel, hope is present. Every time I walk on the tennis court, I hope it will be the day when my game will return to what it once was. Every time I start reading a new book, I hope it will be the type of book that makes me see something about myself that I’ve never seen before.

I love hope. And I love the small packages it often comes in.

Thursday, May 10, 2007

The Harmony Series

Oh wow. I’ve discovered a series of novels that I’ve never read before and I can already tell that I’m going to enjoy them immensely. I don’t know whether the series has an official name or not, but I’ll call it the Harmony Series. Best I can tell, the series includes seven novels so far and I just started reading the first one this week. I’m loving every minute of it.

The series is written by Phillip Gulley. He’s a Quaker minister from Indiana and the series is about a Quaker minister named Sam Gardner from Harmony, Indiana. I’m only 90 pages into the first book and the small community is already starting to feel like home. Sort of reminds me of Mitford, the fictional town that Jan Karon created for her Mitford Series, but Harmony is distinct for a number of reasons. It has a Quaker feel to it. It’s set in the Midwest instead of the South. And the characters are different.

One character, named Bob Miles Sr. founded the “Live Free or Die” Sunday school class. Here’s how he’s described in the first book: “Concerned about the impending Communist threat and how President Kennedy was put into office by the pope, he began the class as a watchdog group to guard against foreign infiltration at Harmony Friends Meeting.” How funny is that? And can’t you just see a class like that?

One of Gardner’s parishioners, named Bill Muldock, is notorious for “sneaking in church announcements during prayer time.” He prays prayers like this, “Lord, we just ask Your blessings on our men’s softball practice this Tuesday night at seven o’clock at the park.” Hilarious! And again, can’t you just see this happening?

And then there’s this gem from Pastor Gardner himself about elder meetings at Harmony Friends Meeting: “Then we discussed several other matters, none of which had any bearing on the kingdom of God. This is what happens when you have elders who fancy themselves great philosophers. They can wax eloquent about eternal truths as long as it doesn’t get personal. Everyone is an expert. Everyone has a firm opinion about what we ought to do and no one gives an inch. If we accidentally appoint a saint to the elder’s committee, by midyear we have broken them of all Christlike tendencies.” How’s that for brute honesty?

I can’t wait to read more. I love when I find a new series to read!

Wednesday, May 09, 2007

The Good Nearby

I just finished reading a novel called The Good Nearby by Nancy Moser. Fantastic read if you’re looking for a novel that addresses contemporary issues like organ donation, child neglect, and the way God uses “the good nearby” to help people in a fallen world.

I don’t really do book reviews here, as much as I find little snippets from books that make me think and then I share them here with you—expanding upon them with my own thoughts. In this particular book, I found something in the note from the author at the end of the book that I’d like to highlight. Moser said the she marvels at how much interest movie stars generate. That’s something I’ve been thinking about recently as well.

We live in a culture that is fascinated with the lives of celebrities. I guess we care about them because we’d like to have their money, or fame, or talent, or looks, or toys. While I understand all of that to a degree, when you get right down to it, they can’t offer us a lot more. Beyond enjoying their talent on the big screen, or little screen, or wherever they put their talent on display, they aren’t really supposed to offer us any more than that.

It makes me wonder what we are missing as we read the tabloids and watch the entertainment television programs and visit the celebrity blogs. With all of this in mind, here are some insightful questions that Moser asks:

“But what about the lady at the bus stop who makes a point of asking about our kids? Or the jolly elderly man in the drive-through window of the burger joint who makes us forget the line was long? Or the stock boy who helps us find our favorite brand of kitty litter at the grocery store and even asks the name of our cat? How do they spend their time? What do they care about? What do they worry about? What is God’s plan for their lives?”

If we all thought a little more about these questions, and then followed through and engaged such people in conversation, I wonder how much richer our lives would be? I admit I’m not very good at small talk, but I’m consciously trying to improve.

A while back I got into a long conversation with a college-age woman who sold me a pair of shoes at a Dick’s Sporting Goods store. We got into a long conversation about sports and which teams we liked and which ones we didn’t. Then I mentioned an athlete who was near the end of his career and she said something like, “Yeah, but he’s old.”

The funny thing is, he was younger than me. I chuckled, thanked her for her help, paid for my shoes, and left the store. The experience wasn’t life-changing, but it was life. And I’m glad I stopped long enough to experience it.

Thursday, May 03, 2007

A Shining Light in a Small Community

A few days ago, a friend sent me an e-mail to let me know that a newspaper in Oakland, Nebraska (a small town of 1,400 people located 60 miles north of Omaha—where I live) is for sale and he wondered if I’d ever considered getting into the newspaper business. I write for newspapers frequently, but I’ve never thought about running a newspaper. I told him it seemed like a pipedream to even consider such a thing because of financial reasons.

I opened my local newspaper the next day and read an article on the front page entitled: Cancer fight can't dim publisher's optimism. It’s about a man named Dewaine Gahan who was told by his doctor in January that he only had a few months to live. Gahan owns and writes for the Oakland Independent—the same newspaper my friend was telling me about.

I was moved for so many reasons as I read the article about Gahan. Here’s a guy who returned to his hometown for his dream job—running the newspaper. And listen to the way he’s been running it. In addition to covering high school sports for the paper, he’s revived the Swedish Festival in the town. He attempts to publish the pictures of all 200 elementary students each year. He says that he wants to give everyone a shot in the sunshine. And each week, he runs a picture on the front page of someone who is smiling.

Gahan’s oldest son is moving back home to handle the newspaper for now and while Gahan says that he’s hoping for a miracle, he also knows his life here on earth could be over quite soon.

I see two things in Gahan that all of us should hope to attain. First, I see a rock-solid faith that gives him peace. Second, I see a man who has lived well and consequently doesn’t have many regrets. He’s been living that way for a long time—long before he was ever diagnosed with cancer.

Gahan is a shining light in a world that sometimes seems so dark. And he’s a great example of how to live life to its fullest. He’s chased his dreams. He’s made a difference. And no matter what happens now, he feels like he’s ready for it.

How many of us can say that?


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