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.

Friday, August 31, 2007


Little Nuances turns two years old today. To be honest, it's taken me nearly this long to figure out what type of blog this is supposed to be. I knew it wasn't going to be political, since I'd already done one of those, but I did reserve the right to delve into politics, something I've rarely done. I figured this blog would be cultural to some degree and it has been, but not if the way I imagined. Instead, I'd like to think that this blog has become cultured rather than cultural, but that might just be the snob in me coming out. I knew that I wanted to talk about things I'm passionate about with the hopes that you might share my passions and quite a few of you have.

So I began to write about books that I love, and more specifically, about sections of books that I love. And I began to tell you about movies that I watch over and over, including commentary about my favorite scenes. My post about "substitute people" from the movie Elizabethtown is still one of my favorites. Sometimes I write about what I see in the routines of life. I've told you about how I was moved one day at the grocery store by an elderly couple who seemed to be in perfect sync. And yes, I've even written about sports, but not so much for sports sake, but because of the human interest stories inherent in sports.

That might just be the essence of this blog--the common human experience. I love dissecting real life, to pull it apart and see what it looks like from the inside out. I like to highlight the little guy, like Fabrice Santoro, or the guy who overcame the odds, or the guy who just wouldn't quit when everybody thought he should. An editor for a newspaper I write for once pointed out that I am drawn to blue collar people and I think he's right. In my opinion, people in the trenches tend to lead deeper lives. They aren't as concerned about things that don't matter. They are too busy caring for each other and their neighbors.

So, after two years, I'm settling in here at Little Nuances. And I'm thankful that so many of you have taken the time to leave comments, send email, or sign up to receive the updates in your email inbox. I value each one of you. And I'm looking forward to year number three.

Thursday, August 30, 2007

What a Match!

Wow, what a match between Blake and Santoro, huh? Five sets with Blake prevailing. And much like I said in my last post, Santoro never gives up. For those who are really into the tournament now, here's a link to a blog devoted to the Open from the New York Times. And here's another link to a blog about the Open over at The New York Observer.

Blake vs. Santoro

For those of you following the US Open tennis tournament, there's a second round match on tonight that I just can't wait to see. James Blake, the guy I'm hoping can find a way to win the tournament is going to play Fabrice Santoro, one of my favorite guys on the tour. I've written quite a bit about Blake lately, but I haven't written about Santoro for a while. He hits a two-handed forehand and a two-handed backhand. He plays all sorts of slices and angles. And while he's not anywhere close to being the most talented player on the tour, he never, ever gives up. I love that about him.

Okay, if you aren't into tennis, you won't have to skip past many other tennis posts for much longer. Indulge me for one more week and then I'll get back out into the real world and begin writing about it.

Little Nuisances

Sometimes people call this blog "Little Nuisances" by mistake, which is both funny and maybe a little prophetic. But for today, we'll go with little nuisances in honor of what happened to me yesterday.

I have big feet. Size 13 or 14, depending up on the shoe. Which means I have big slippers and the first thing I do when I get out of bed in the morning is to slide my feet into those slippers because I don't walk anywhere barefooted. I don't even like to take two steps to get into the shower in my bare feet, but I haven't figured out a better way to do it yet. Anyway, one of my worst nightmares was realized when I got up yesterday and slid my feet into my slippers. The one on my left foot didn't quite fit right. And then I felt it. Something moved inside my slipper and it wasn't one of my toes.

You know that moment in between realization and action--how it seems to last for eternity? Double it and you'll have an idea about the way I felt at the time. I couldn't get my slipper off fast enough. When I did, a cricket crawled out, seeming to be none the worse for the wear, although I have no idea how that was possible. Grossed out before I even had my eyes fully open, I walked into the bathroom and pulled back the shower curtain to turn on the water. A spider fell from the curtain and I couldn't find him. I'm not one who is normally freaked out over bugs, but I also don't want them on me--certainly not a spider. I finally found him and squished him and then I was on alert the rest of the day. Thankfully I had no more runs ins with nature.

We're headed for fall and it can't happen quickly enough for me. I can't wait to see the temperatures drop into the 50's and 60's. I can't wait for the first freeze so that I can stop sneezing my head off from all the pollen in the air. And I can't wait for all of these bugs to disappear.

Wednesday, August 29, 2007

A Fan of Over the Rhine

I've written before about a group called Over the Rhine, but they are hardly in danger of over-exposure. They are one of those obscure bands that seems to be destined to stay that way but at the same time you can't figure out why. They just had a new CD come out called The Trumpet Child. I downloaded it (legally of course) and have been listening to it on my iPod ever since.

As with their other efforts, I'm drawn to their music for multiple reasons; the beautifully melancholy music, the thought-provoking lyrics that make you want to share a bottle of wine with a loved one next to a fire, and the overall sense that the routines of life are what make it so beautiful. But if you tried to put a label on their music, you'd fail. They are a little bit folk, a little bit jazz, a little bit country, a little bit big band, and a little bit of nearly every other style of music imaginable.

The Cincinnati-based group is made up of a husband and wife team (Linford Detweiler and Karin Bergquist) who recorded one of their albums ("Drunkard's Prayer") right in their own living room. Much of their music seems to be a celebration of their love for each other. But it's not the sappy sort of music you might expect if you haven't heard them. They sing about the difficulties of relationships, the importance of listening, and the many (forgive the expression) little nuances of relationships; the give and take, the gain and loss, the heartache and the joy. 

Here's an example of what I'm talking about from a song called "Let's Spend the Day In Bed":

We’ll read Shel Silverstein
Where The Sidewalk Ends
Smile about old friends
Try to comprehend
One single day
No work and only play
Kick off your shoes
I’m gonna spend the day in bed with you

Tuesday, August 28, 2007

Gilles Muller

A couple of weeks ago, I wrote a post about a book called Breaking Back: How I Lost Everything and Won Back My Life by James Blake. I finished the book last week and it was an excellent read. Definitely worth the purchase price. I feel like I know more about the man behind the tennis player now. I cringed when I read about Blake's panic after he broke his neck on a clay court in Rome. I grieved with him as I read about his father's death shortly thereafter. And I felt for him as he battled through zoster and wondered if he'd ever play tennis as a professional again. The great news is, Blake is back and playing better than he ever has.

But I saw a video clip today of the 2005 US Open first round match between Andy Roddick and Gilles Muller and I heard something that inspired me even more. More on that in a minute. For those of you who aren't tennis fans, stick with me because this post is about more than just tennis. Muller, an unknown player from Luxembourg, was ranked number 68 when he met Roddick, but his ranking might as well have been 968. Roddick was expected to breeze through him, but Muller played the match of his life and knocked off Roddick in three straight sets on national television. At the time, Muller was expected to go on and do great things on the court.

By the end of the 2005 season though, his ranking dropped to 76. By the end of 2006 his ranking fell to 105. Going into the 2007 US Open, he was ranked 143--too low to even make it into the tournament without playing and winning three qualifying matches. Turns out that he lost his first round qualifying match and didn't even make the tournament this year. John McEnroe, who is back with the USA Network again covering the tournament, said that Muller has been playing challengers (the minor leagues of professional tennis) just to get his ranking up high enough to play ATP events again.

As much as I admire James Blake and the way he's fought his way back, I think I'm even more impressed by Gilles Muller. Here's a guy who has a career 56-64 professional record, who has tasted success briefly, but now finds himself playing matches that nobody watches. And surely he knows that he might not ever get another chance to play in the spotlight. But he plays anyway.

Do you ever wonder what happens to all of the people who try to succeed in something they love to do but ultimately have to come to terms with the fact that it just isn't going to happen? I wonder about that all the time. Probably because I can relate so well. Well, Muller is one of those people, and you can still find him hacking away on the outer courts of major tennis tournaments and on courts in places like Tunisia and Croatia simply because he's doing what loves to do.

How cool is that?

Monday, August 27, 2007

The 2007 US Open

Today is the first day of the US Open tennis tournament. I have no idea how I'm going to find time to watch it, but I'm going to do it. I've been watching this tournament faithfully for about the last 15 years. It's a fun way to live vicariously through much younger, much fitter, and much more talented players than I am.

Tennis was always sort of "my sport." I played it in high school. Then I played a few tournaments around the Midwest. Then life sort of got in the way, and it became more of a hobby. I was never good enough for it to have been anything else but a hobby, but I wish I had given it a more serious shot anyway. Do you ever feel that way about a dream that you allowed to die?

I look at all of the tennis academies around the country now and wish that I would have had the wherewithal to attend one of them when I was young. Or I wish I would have hired a coach who could have helped me overcome my weaknesses and helped me to stay on track. But tennis is often called "the sport for life" and I agree with that motto. So I still enjoy getting out on the court on occasion and even writing about the sport once in a while--like I did for this website.

But today, I'm going to sit back and enjoy the opening round of US Open. I'm rooting for Martina Hingis on the women's side and James Blake on the men's side. I don't think Hingis has much of a shot, but I think Blake could make it all the way to the semi-finals against Roger Federer. Unfortunately, I can't see him winning that match.

Anyone else planning to watch a little tennis this week? Who are you rooting for?

Wednesday, August 22, 2007

Lay of the Land

Have you ever felt drawn to a book? That's how I felt when I heard that Richard Ford's final book in the Frank Bascombe series was coming out. It's called Lay of the Land and it chronicles the final stage of Bascombe's life (his "Permanent Period"), much life The Sportswriter chronicled his younger years (his mid-twenties), and Independence Day chronicled his middle age years (his "Existence Period").

I don't find this series easy to read. It's full of deep introspective narrative, from Bascombe's point of view, and I often have to pause for a moment to understand the character and his observations about life. Ford wrote this series over twenty five years and he said something that nailed what I think about when I read these novels regarding the progression of the Bascombe character:

"But when I went back later and read parts of The Sportswriter, I found that the sentences Frank 'spoke' and that filled that second book were longer, more complex, and actually contained more nitty experience than the first book. This has also been true of The Lay of the Land: longer sentences, more experience to reconcile and transact, more words required to make lived life seem accessible."

I love the fact that fiction can be that deep. At times, I feel more like I'm reading a social commentary through the eyes of a common man--one who has experienced many of the heartaches that is common to us all; death of loved ones, the crumbling of a marriage, dreams that died hard, children who don't fully understand us, multiple job changes, and loneliness.

The funny thing is, Bascombe has a considerably different worldview than I do, but I identify with his humanity in a way that is hard to describe. I just know that as I cracked open the final book in this series a couple of days ago, I did so with a sense of dread. I feel like I learn more about myself as I enter Bascombe's head, so when this volume is done, I won't have that exact same opportunity again.

Of course, I could always re-read the series, and I might do that at some point in my life, but I already have so many other books that I want to read that I don't see it happening for quite some time. Instead, I think I'll just savor this last morsel of literary genius.

Thursday, August 16, 2007

The New McDonalds

Many years ago I clipped a quote from a guitar magazine and pasted it on my refrigerator door. It said, "Never change, never adapt, never improve--die naked, cold, and alone." A friend of mine saw it one day and thought it was one of the darkest sayings he'd ever heard. It does sound a bit gloomy, but I think it does contain a lot of truth.

While running errands the other day I pulled into a McDonald's for a couple of breakfast burritos and a cup of coffee. As I waited in line I saw signs for products I've never even heard of. To me, McDonalds has always been geared towards kids. But in recent years they've began to go after parents and other adults. A quick scan of their menu shows "Premier Coffee," all sorts of salads, and lots of roll up things for those who are watching their weight.

Even their designs are more modern and gone are the McDonald's colors of old (orange and yellow). I haven't seen a likeness of Ronald McDonald in a store in a long time. They've somehow managed to change their look to be more adult-friendly, while at the same time not losing their kid appeal.

McDonalds has not only found a way to adapt, but they've found a way to thrive even though everything in our culture seems to be changing. They are still just a cheap hamburger place, but they've become so much more and in the process they've changed enough to stay relevant.

As I waited for my food I wondered if I have done the same. People aren't companies and I'm not all that sure that we're supposed to adapt to every little trend that comes along, but maybe for people the adaptation process is similar to the way we relate to others as we mature. When we are young, we tend to be selfish. As we grow older, we begin to appreciate the help that parents, friends, teachers, and loved ones gave us along the way and we want to be like them. So we begin to give back. Then it seems like we hit a certain age and begin to get set in our ways. Maybe it's because we've been wounded or burned, I don't know. But we revert back to our youth and become selfish again.

That's the point in which we have to decide whether we're going to be focused on others (our "customers") or ourselves. Businesses that don't meet the needs of their customers tend to die. People who live for themselves tend to die inside. They stop finding a reason to get out of bed because self-indulgence doesn't seem all that appealing when taken to its logical end.

That's not somebody I ever want to become--even though I'm sure I've been close to it at times in my life. So, I'll continue to try to adapt, and to change, and to improve without giving much thought to the dying naked, cold, and alone part of the equation.

Wednesday, August 15, 2007

Becoming Jane

I went to see Becoming Jane last weekend with a couple of guy friends. Convincing two guys to go see a movie about Jane Austen isn't an easy thing, but since my birthday was approaching (it was yesterday), I played the birthday "card" and said that it was what I wanted to do. The movie theater was packed beyond belief. Apparently, it's a limited release because only one theater in my home town is showing it.

I was intrigued by the movie because I wanted to see how a well-known and well-respected author incorporated her own experiences into her work. According to a downloadable book club guide that is available on the movie's official website, "The film spins the few known facts surrounding Austen's real-life flirtation with Irish lawyer, Tom Lefroy, into a tale of personal passion and social complications that could have inspired Jane to become the ingenious and timeless observer of human relationships and romances that she soon did."

So, we don't really know for sure whether or not the movie accurately depicts her romantic life or not, but if it does, it's easy to see why Austen's six novels have been so successful. She would have been able to tap into the emotions she felt for Lefroy in real life and translate them into her characters' emotions. But still, in Pride and Prejudice the boy gets the girl. In real life, Austen was never married. I'm guessing it wasn't a huge leap for Austen to take though. If she knew love, she could easily imagine what that love might look like in the context of marriage.

Some novelists use fiction to make sense of their own lives. If they've struggled to find love, they often create two characters who find each other against all odds--almost in an attempt to give themselves hope. And since they are writing out of a wellspring of lack, they understand the emotions and turmoil that someone in their characters' position might feel because they've spent so much time feeling the same way.

I don't have any novels published, but I'm a novelist at heart. In the two novels I have written I've explored topics in my own life. I have an idea for a third novel, and it comes from a different place than the other two did. I'm not going to say it's more advanced thinking...it's just further down the road on my journey--a more realistic view of life.

But none of this means that a novelist must write from his or her own specific set of experiences or wants. I know several novelists who cover a myriad of topics in their work. They are so good at analyzing and understanding human behavior that they are able to write about nearly anything and make it seem realistic. I admire them for that. I hope to be there some day. Or maybe not. I think I could be quite content exploring exploring my own experiences.

Tuesday, August 14, 2007

James Blake: Breaking Back

With the U.S. Open tennis tournament just a couple of weeks a way, I decided to begin reading a new book called Breaking Back: How I Lost Everything and Won Back My Life by James Blake. If you aren't familiar with Blake, he has an incredible story.

He started his professional tennis career in 1999 and just four years later he was ranked number 28 in the world. He had a bad season in 2003, but 2004 was much worse. Blake broke his neck on the court in a freak accident. Then his father died from stomach cancer. And with nerves getting the best of him, Blake came down with zoster, which paralyzed half of his face and made him unsteady on his feet. And obviously, it rendered him unable to play tennis.

Doctors told him that he might not be able to return to the court for several years, but after playing in some challenger events (the tennis equivalent of playing in the minor leagues) he came roaring back in 2005 and played one of the best tennis matches I've ever seen against Andre Agassi at the U.S. Open. It lasted until past 1:00 am on the east coast, but nobody in the crowd left early. They both played at such a high level that even novice fans couldn't take their eyes off the match.

Blake was influenced heavily by his father, who he describes in his book as a man who pushed James to do his best, no matter what he was involved in. "You cant control your level of talent," Blake's father used to tell him. "But you can control your level of effort." If only more professional athletes embraced such a motto.

I suspect that you'll hear a lot of Blake's father in this quote from the book as well: "Personally, I wasn't afraid of slipping into oblivion. Like most people, I happen to come from oblivion, and I was always pretty happy there, so the thought of going back didn't bother me too much." Blake was talking about his poor 2003 season, but you get the feeling that it applies to 2004 every bit as much.

James Blake appears to be one of those guys who you could hang out with on a Saturday night and he'd be the same person you'd see playing at Flushing Meadows, the biggest stage in tennis.

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Saturday, August 11, 2007

Old Language

This post will probably sound like something that comes out of a Jane Austen novel and I may lose the few remaining male readers I have left, but I heard a word the other day while watching The English Patient that I haven't heard in years and it made me wonder why we stopped using such language.

The word was "swoon." It's a fun-sounding word that simply means to faint, but it's more than that. I've never heard the word used in the context of a man fainting. Instead, there's something feminine about the word and I love the distinction it makes.

Another word that I wished we used more often is "courtship." Now it's called "dating." Courtship sounds so much more formal and serious and commitment-oriented. Dating just sounds so casual and so "whatever"--which is fitting I guess for the type of culture in which we live.

I also like the old usage of the word "plain" when it comes to physical appearance rather than some of the more crude ways of saying "ugly" today. To be sure, if someone is "plain," he or she is probably unattractive, but why insult someone over such a thing?

And how about the word "bewitched?" In Pride and Prejudice, Mr. Darcy is said to "have never been so bewitched by any woman as he was by her (Elizabeth)." Isn't that beautiful? Today I fear that most people hear the word and think of the television show instead.

"Hither" is another cool world. Other than a few sleazy (and/or cheesy) modern day novels that use the phrase "come-hither look," it's a word that seems to have died. I can just imagine the response I'd get if I was having a phone conversation with a guy friend to discuss where we are going to watch the big game if I said, "Come hither."

When is the last time you heard the word "vexed" used in a sentence? It's probably been a while, but doesn't it just perfectly capture the way a person feels when she says, "I'm vexed in my spirit"? Can't you just feel the anguish and struggle?

Can you think of more words that we've stop using that you'd like to see make a comeback? If so, comment away.

Friday, August 10, 2007

Respecting Our Elders

Back when I was a kid, an elderly man used to yell at me and the rest of the neighborhood kids whenever we touched a blade of his grass--sometimes he yelled at us if he thought we were even thinking about it. We'd be walking on the sidewalk in front of his house and he'd storm out onto his porch and yell at us. And if one of us tossed a ball that landed in his yard, we were guaranteed a good tongue-lashing.

I still live in that neighborhood. And in fact, that man is still alive. I didn't see him for a long time, but in the past couple of years, I've seen him sitting on his front porch all alone. I heard that his wife died many years ago and I suspect that he was just too mean to attract many friends, but that's being presumptuous.

A couple of weeks ago I drove by his house and saw him sitting on his front porch. I waved to him and to my surprise, he waved back. I saw him again a few days ago on his front porch and we waved at each other again. I've been thinking about walking over to his house and telling him that if he ever needs anything that he can call me.

I don't know why I've been thinking about him or why I have the sudden urge to reach out to him. I just get the feeling that he could use a little help. While I've been thinking about all of this, my pastor used Leviticus 19:32 as his main text for his sermon last week and it made me think about all of this even more.

Here's what it says: "Rise in the presence of the aged, show respect for the elderly and revere your God. I am the LORD." (Leviticus 19:32)

Whatever happened to rising in the presence of our elders? I remember seeing it some as a young boy, but I haven't seen it in years. I also haven't done it. And maybe that's where it starts...with me rising up and walking over to the man's house and showing him respect, and ultimately love. I'll keep you posted.

Wednesday, August 08, 2007

Notting Hill, Part 2

I watched Notting Hill again recently with a friend. It's one of my top ten favorite movies of all time and I am always moved when I watch it, but usually for different reasons. This time I was blown away by how much Anna longed for normalcy. She was a famous actress who was more than willing to be Will's date to his sister's birthday party where many of his friends were gathered.

Will seems to be stunned by this. Why in the world would someone who has dined in upscale restaurants with famous people want to spend time in a "normal" person's home while eating a bad home-cooked meal peppered with seeming mundane conversation about things like the stock market and personal failures?

The simple answer is because she doesn't know or understand normal. She doesn't know how it feels to have people to eat with who love her, not her image. She doesn't know how it feels to be one of the crowd rather than the focus of it. She doesn't know what it means to have friends you can laugh and cry with. The funny thing about this dinner party is that it is full of quirky people.

Will's sister Honey is convinced that she is destined be Anna's best friend even though they've never met until her birthday party. Bernie is a struggling stock-broker who seems to have made peace with the fact that he may never really reach his full potential. Max is the chef for the evening who burns everything he cooks, including the ginny fowl, the main course for the evening. Then there's Bella, Will's former girlfriend and maybe the least-quirky person in the group, who is now married to Max and wheelchair bound due to an accident.

The group eats, jokes, chit-chats, laughs, and touches each other while Anna looks on. Julia Roberts, who plays Anna, is fully convincing in the role as she stares longingly at the group. She feels herself being drawn into normalcy as she begins to laugh and take part in the jokes.

The DVD is worth the price just for the brownie scene that takes place around the dinner table, during which Anna gives an incredible speech about why her life isn't nearly as enjoyable as people might think. Here's how she ends it: "One day, not long from now, my looks will go, they will discover I can't act, and I will become some sad middle-aged woman who looks a bit like someone who was famous for a while."

As Anna becomes just one of the group, maybe for the first time since she became famous, a certain irony creeps in. In real life, nearly everybody seems to be searching for a similar sense of normalcy, but we seem to think it's not achievable because the people we know are quirky and fully of problems. But in reality, quirky, problem-filled people are the norm. And the idea that you and I believe that we aren't just as quirky and problem-filled shows how easily humans deceive ourselves.

Thursday, August 02, 2007

It's All About Perspective

So, the time came this week to drain my beloved waterbed to make room for my new bed. I needed a waterbed pump to make that happen and I've bought six or seven of these things over the years so I was sure I still had a couple lying around. I opened the junk drawer in my kitchen and found several of them, with the exception of one small piece--an adaptor that goes on the faucet. I searched and searched and couldn't find that one piece.

It was blue. That much I knew. I checked my tool box, which should probably be in quotes because I don't really own that many tools and my tool box looks more like a lunch box than a tool box, but that's a story for another day. I eventually gave up trying to find the blue adapter and I called a furniture store I've purchased several other waterbed pumps from in the past and the sales associate who answered the phone said that they don't carry them any longer.

Wow, I really am out of date.

So, that led to more searching. I looked in my toolbox again and there it was. Except it was white. It wasn't blue like I remembered. I attached it to the faucet (where it still remains because it's stuck) and drained my waterbed. But it really made me think about perspective. I missed what I was looking for because it didn't look like I thought it should. How often do I do that in everyday life? How often do you do it?


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