I am no longer blogging here at Little Nuances, but I would love for you to join me on my author website www.leewarren.info.

Tuesday, September 30, 2008

Loosely Connected Thoughts

I have several loosely connected thoughts running through my head this morning. I'm not going to try to connect the dots though; I'll just put them out there and see if you can make sense out of them.

--As I was trading text messages with a friend last night, we got into a conversation about how sometimes life gives us good distractions during difficult times. For me, those good distractions often entail a sporting event, a short trip with a friend, or a movie. Real life is always waiting around the corner, but it's nice to not have to think about it for a while.

--I know it isn't practical, but as a male I tend to compartmentalize life. When I'm working, I'm not thinking about anything else. When I'm watching a movie, I'm totally involved in the movie. When I go to a baseball game, I'm all in. Of course, that causes all sorts of problems--like not writing a check for a bill that needs to paid, forgetting to return a phone call, etc.

--Life beautifully overlaps. As much as I tend to compartmentalize, I love to see the way life can overlap. It can be as simple as being moved by a phrase in a poem or a certain line from a book, and then finding the perfect opportunity during a conversation to bring that phrase or line into the mix. Or it can be hearing about something you don't have any interest in, but later it helps you to connect with someone you love because he or she is interested in it.

Wednesday, September 24, 2008

When Harry Met Sally

I watched When Harry Met Sally for the first time in many, many years the other night. I saw the movie when it first came out (1989) and ever since then I thought it was about the age-old question of whether or not men and women can be friends. But after seeing it again with fresh eyes, I saw something different. I'm probably late to the party on this, but that's okay. It won't be the last time.

It seems to me that the movie is more about the way in which men and women interact with each other, and on a deeper level, it's about the way men and women view each other.

In Harry's case, he sees Sally as someone who doesn't take risks, who is obsessive about things she shouldn't be obsessive about, and he seems to think that she is a bit naive about men. Sally sees Harry as being a tad bit arrogant while at the same time being a lost soul who is only interested in sex.

As the years pass, they stick with each other through tough times, and eventually they both come to the same conclusion: they have a tremendous amount of respect for the other person and that respect is beginning to morph into love.

It all comes to head at the end of the movie when Harry is out walking the streets alone on New Year's Eve. He realizes that he needs to go to Sally, who is attending a New Year's Eve party alone, and tell her how he feels about her. The problem is, she's ticked at him because he hasn't seen it sooner.

Here is a portion of their conversation:

"I love that you get cold when it is 71 degrees out," Harry says. "I love that it takes you an hour and a half to order a sandwich. I love that you get a little crinkle above your nose when you are looking at me like I'm nuts. I love that after I spend a day with you I can still smell your perfume on my clothes. And I love that you are the last person I want to talk to before I go to sleep at night.

"And it's not because I'm lonely. And it's not because it's New Year's Eve. I came here tonight because when you realize you want to spent the rest of your life with somebody you want the rest of your life to start as soon as possible."

"You see, that is just like you Harry," Sally says with tears and love in her eyes. "You say things like that and you make it impossible for me to hate you. And I hate you Harry. I really hate you."

Then in a whisper, she says it one more time. "I hate you."

Then they kiss.

The scene is a perfect example of the complexity and the beauty of relationships between men and women.

Tuesday, September 23, 2008

The Speed of Life

When I have my druthers, I try to find a certain rhythm to life that I can sustain. It's the only way I can seem to go slow enough to enjoy certain moments while going fast enough to get everything done. Sometimes life goes on hyper-overdrive and you just have to go with the flow. But there comes a point when you just have to say "Come on. There's no reason to go that fast."

Sports highlights is one such point. Recently I've been noticing that ESPN and other networks are running highlights in hyper-speed. When showing football highlights, they show a running back breaking through the line, making a great move to get to the open field, and then the network hits hyper-speed as the running back literally races toward the end zone. Then it's on to the next highlight and more hyper-speed. I know they are doing it to squeeze in more highlights from other games, but it has the opposite effect on me than they intend. By the end of the show, I can hardly remember anything I've seen. I end up trying to remember who the running back was and who he plays for and what team his team was playing. It's just too much information too fast.

Ironically, I have the TV on in the background as I write this post and this very moment there is a commercial on for a local college. I guess the college doesn't have a huge marketing budget because the woman doing the voiceover had to get every word in in ten seconds when it probably should have been a thirty second commercial. Again, I can't tell you one thing she said. Too much information, too fast.

Friday, September 19, 2008

If the Walls Could Talk

I just heard that the county I live in has a website in which you can check your home's evaluation. So, I did a search for the home I live in. I wasn't as interested in the evaluation as much as I was to find out when the house was built. The website says it was built in 1915, so the house is 93 years old.

Knowing that fact made me wonder how many families have lived in my home over the years. What did the first family who lived in the house do for entertainment? Television hadn't been invented yet. I wonder if families sat around in the living I now call my own and listened to radio theater? Or maybe they gathered around the radio and listened to news about WWI that was about to begin.

I wonder if the first family who lived in my house built it to their specifications? If so, did they have two children (since there are three bedrooms in the house)? Did they spend quiet evenings on the back porch? Was it enclosed like it is now? How many other houses surrounded mine? How long did the first owners stay in the house? What made them leave? Did someone die? Did someone get a better job in a different city? Did they strike it rich and buy a bigger house?

And who moved in after them? Were they happy to move into the house or was it a step down? What changes did they make? What nuances of the house had settled in by that point? Did the floorboard creak by my bedroom door like it does now? What color did they paint the walls? And what exactly are those flaws in the living room ceiling? Are those the result of a poor repair job of some sort?

How many other families have come and gone from my house since it was built? Ninety three years is a long, long time. Woodrow Wilson was president in 1915. According to this website, the population of the United States was 100,546,000. Federal spending that year was $0.75 billion. And postage stamps were two cents. Yeah, it was that long ago.

This old house has outlived its first owner and probably its second. It has lived through two world wars (and several others), the Great Depression, and so much more. It really does make me wish that the walls could talk.

Wednesday, September 17, 2008

Starting a Journal

I'm still reading Starting Out in the Evening by Brian Morton and I've come to a passage that really makes me think. Seventy-one-year-old writer Leonard Schiller is out to dinner with Heather Wolfe, the young woman who is writing her college thesis about Schiller's work. It's actually Heather's 25th birthday and that causes Schiller to wonder what he was doing on his own 25th birthday.

He could only guess. He'd never kept a diary, so he couldn't check. His parents were dead, Molly [the woman he was dating at the time] was unfindable; so Schiller was alone. And since he couldn't remember that day, the day was gone, as if everyone who'd been alive in it, including himself, was dead.

I don't know about you, but I tend to think about the passage of time the same way--if I can't account for it, it's gone, but if I can account for it, it feels like it counted for something. Of course, I know that this isn't always true since it would be impossible to remember and account for every day of our lives, but I would like to be able to account for more of them.

During high school, one of my teachers made us keep a journal. We wrote in it during class. I still have it and every few years, I flip through it and re-live a brief period of high school. It helps me to remember that the good ole' days weren't always good, as Billy Joel once sang. But more than anything, it helps me to remember specifics that would otherwise be gone forever.

A couple of years ago I started a journal, but I was hit and miss with it at best. I sort of see this blog as a journal. But it doesn't chronicle what I do as much as it captures what I was thinking about at the time. But, of course, blogs have limitations. So, I'm toying with the idea of starting a journal again. I doubt if I'll keep it up, but I'd also hate to feel the way Schiller did one day in the distant future.

Monday, September 15, 2008

Movie Theater Closings

Over the weekend, I went to see The Dark Knight with a couple of friends at a movie theater that used to be one of the most popular ones in town. That's not the case anymore. It's aging. The popcorn is always stale. And you can walk down the corridors without ever seeing another person.

When I was growing up, the theater was one of the first theaters in town that could probably have been considered a mega-plex, so I guess that made it the "in" thing. At the time, it was located on what was considered the west site of town. Now, it's close to being mid-town.

But like I said, nobody goes there much anymore. Reasons abound--beyond the bad popcorn. The city has much nicer theaters now, located all over the city. And I imagine that all of the competition led to the recent announcement that the theater would close it's doors either late this year or early next.

I mentioned that to my friends as we were walking in and it caused all of us to reminisce about the many hours all of us spent in the place as we were growing up.

The funny thing is, I don't have many specific memories of movies I've seen there. My memories focus more on the layout of the place itself. It's the theater I see in my mind every time I read a novel and a character walks into a theater.

I can be in another theater as the advertisement for that particular brand of theater starts up to convince the movie-going public that it has created the best movie-going experience because because their pop fizzes more than any other theater and because their sound system is superior, and my mind automatically goes back to the theater that is about to close.

It has sort of become the reference point in my mind for all movie theaters. And that won't change once they close the place and/or tear it down.

Friday, September 12, 2008

Starting Out in the Evening

I just started reading a novel by one of my favorite writers, Brian Morton, called Starting Out in the Evening. It's about three characters who are in very different places in their lives.

Leonard Schiller is a 70-something year old writer who has written four novels and tends to live in the world of literature. Heather Wolfe is a 24-year-old graduate student who is writing her thesis about Schiller's work. And Ariel is Schiller's 39-year-old daughter who is still trying to find her place in the world.

As you might imagine, their outlook on life, and each other, is quite different and I'm fascinated by the way Morton uses this in the book. Early on, when Heather meets Leonard for the first time in a coffee shop to discuss her thesis, here's the way Morton describes it:

"She felt as if she were in the middle of an earthquake. The furniture in her mind was sliding around. Reading his work, she had always thought of him as a contemporary. In fact--as she'd known, of course, with her rational mind--he was closer to her grandparents' age. And though she'd entertained many imaginary pictures of him over the years, it had never occurred to her that he might be fat. To her mind, genius was gaunt."

Here was a guy whose writing helped her to understand herself better--the guy she'd chosen to write her thesis about--who didn't look at all the way she thought he should. Of course, she always knew that he was much, much older that she was, but she'd never come face to face with that fact. And it didn't really seem possible in her mind because he'd been able to speak directly to her personal situations through his writing, so much so that he had to be a contemporary.

Later in the book, we get a glimpse into the way Ariel sees her father, and it's quite different, but equally intriguing:

"Her father had been hiding out for thirty years in his writing room, thinking that the war of high culture versus low was still raging away. He hadn't gotten the news that the war was over: that high culture, which he had cherished, fought for, given his life for, had been crushed."

I haven't read far enough yet to know this for certain, but I bet he knows that high culture has been crushed. But rather than living in the low culture, which he doesn't really understand, he simply chose to creature a tiny environment in which he could enter high culture, so he could experience it any time he wants to.

For those who are middle-age, like I am, I think we tend to hang on to the familiar when everything around us is screaming "things are changing." We know they are changing; we even accept the fact that they are changing; but that doesn't mean we are going to give up everything we know. Instead, we create our own versions of Schiller's writing room and we hang out there once in a while, and everything seems right for a while.

Thursday, September 11, 2008

Big Plastic Combs in the '80s

I was flipping through old photographs the other day with a friend and I ran across a photo of myself that another friend took of me back in the late '80s when I had long hair, a cheesy Prince-like mustache and a huge plastic comb in my hand.

As you can see, I did everything I could to make sure she didn't get a great photo of me.

Do you remember when everybody had one of these combs sticking out of their back pocket? What in the world were we thinking?

Wednesday, September 10, 2008

How I Became Interested in Writing

Photo: Alex Kerhead
Nearly every major interest we have in our lives can be traced back to one moment--a spark of inspiration that caused us to take the next step and before we knew it, we were immersed in it.

The other day, somebody asked me how I became interested in writing. I instantly thought back to a particular Saturday afternoon when I was probably twelve years old and sitting at my dad's desk in his paint shop. He painted for a living for many years and at the time, he had his own business.

I loved going to his shop on Saturdays. I got to drink as much pop as I wanted. We listened to Nebraska football games together on the radio. And I got to use his typewriter; an old manual typewriter with keys that you practically had to use a hammer on.

I was always drawn to that machine, but I remember one particular Saturday afternoon when I grabbed the liner notes from an Elvis album and began to type them word for word. I loved the sound of the keys, even though I was mostly a two-fingered typist at the time. And I loved putting words on a blank piece of paper, even though the words weren't mine. I finished typing the liner notes and I grabbed a newspaper. I flipped to the sports page and began typing an article word for word.

Something inside me just clicked. Have you ever experienced a moment in your life that you knew you better remember because it was going to change you somehow? That's what happened to me that day. I knew that words were part of my future. I had no idea what role they would play, but that didn't matter.

I wish I could remember more about that day, like the color of Dad's desk, or the knickknacks he had on his desk, or the brand of the typewriter, or how high his inbox was stacked. I remember the strong smell of coffee and I can see the shape of the office in my mind. Nearly everything else has faded from memory. But I have that one memory of myself sitting at the typewriter, and somehow that seems like enough.

Lots of other things happened along the way: a strong desire to read books; an encouraging English teacher; and a writer's conference in 1998 all played a huge role. But it all started when I allowed myself to get lost one Saturday afternoon many years ago in an activity that I was drawn to.

Tuesday, September 09, 2008

US Open Women's Final

The women's side of the US Open tennis tournament didn't turn out the way I'd hoped. Serena Williams defeated Jelena Jankovic in the finals 6-4, 7-5.

I really wanted Ana Ivanovic to win, but she lost in the second round. Then I started rooting for Lindsay Davenport, but she lost in the third round. Noticing a pattern? Then I rooted for Patty Schnyder, but she lost in the quarterfinals. Then I rooted for Elena Dementieva. She lost in the semifinals. By the time the finals rolled around, I didn't care who won.

I'm not a fan of Jelena Jankovic. She complains constantly about her injuries and you want to ask her why she simply doesn't pull back from a few tournaments and get healthy. The thought never seems to occur to her. I'm also not a fan of Serena Williams. She can be quite gracious in victory, but in defeat, she tends to downplay her opponents. Remember her comments last year at Wimbledon after a tough three set loss to Justine Henin? Here's what she said:

"Definitely not 100 per cent at all," Williams said. "It was probably at 40 or 50 — max. If I had been healthy I think I would have won, 100 per cent."

So, we were supposed to believe that she pushed the number one player in the world at the time to three sets, but that she was only playing at 40 or 50 percent. Yeah, right.

All tournament long this year, we heard about how open the women's game is and it is that, but it's only open because Henin retired while she as at the top of her game. And because Kim Clijsters did the same thing a couple of years ago. Now we have six or seven players who can win majors, and that's not a bad position to be in, but we don't seem to have the total package at the top--the player who can do it all and still be gracious.

Monday, September 08, 2008

I Love the Fall

As I drove to church yesterday morning, signs of fall were in the air. I saw several joggers who were bundled up in sweatshirts and jackets. The air was crisp. And I actually didn't have the air conditioner running in my car. That's probably the surest sign that fall is near.

I love this time of year--except for the repeated sneezing when the pollen count is high. Baseball heads for the post season during the fall; the US Open tennis tournament comes and goes; football season starts; the weather is nice enough that you can get out and do anything you want to; and this is the time of year when people seem to really enjoy just hanging out with each over outdoors over a glass of wine simply for the sake of it.

My reading capacity seems to increase in the fall. I have so many books on my to be read pile and I can't wait to get to several of them in the coming weeks. I have two novels from Nancy Moser, once of my favorite novelists, that I haven't read yet. Nicholas Sparks has a new book coming out, called The Lucky One, on September 30. I purchased several out of print Anne Lamott novels at a used bookstore a while back that I'm hoping to get to as well.

I usually make an annual pilgrimage to a small town in mid-Nebraska to watch a friend's son play high school football around this time of year. His son graduated from high school in May, but we might go watch his son's former team play anyway. It's hard to beat a high school football game on a brisk Friday night.

What are you looking forward to this fall?

Friday, September 05, 2008

Back to Normal

After watching tons of tennis the past couple of weeks, life will return to normal next week. I'm already looking at the pile of work sitting on my desk and in my email inbox and thinking I need to get a head start on it this weekend. With that said, I'm really feeling the need to get lost in a great novel. Which side of me will win out?

Maybe a little bit of both.

Wednesday, September 03, 2008

Broken Dreams

Photo: Sukh Chander
Aleksander "Sasha" Bajin had a dream. He wanted to be a professional tennis player. But when Bajin, a Serb who grew up in Munich, was making his way up the rankings in the 16s in Europe, his father died in a car accident and he lost his desire to practice. He took a shot at the ATP tour, but his career fizzled and his dream died.

Or so it seemed.

He hung around the game anyway. In May of 2007, he was working for a tennis organization in Munich when he heard that Serena Williams was in town and she needed a hitting partner. He responded and got the gig. And now you can read about him in the New York Times because he travels everywhere with Serena, doing anything he can to help her take her game to the next level.

He finds that his dreams have changed. "The priority No. 1 was always to be a pro player," Bajin said. "But if not as a pro player to be a hitting partner or a coach." And he says he's the happiest guy in the world now.

Real life can be brutal when it comes to dreams. That doesn't mean we shouldn't have dreams or pursue them. But the reality is, many of us aren't talented enough, or beautiful enough, or any number of other adjectives. So what should we do when we come face to face with that reality? Maybe we should do what Bajin did--participate in our dreams on a smaller scale simply for the love of the endeavor. Shattered dreams can morph into opportunities for new dreams.

When I was a child, I had aspirations of becoming a pro football player, and then I wanted to be a pro tennis player. I was never talented enough for either profession and my body size and shape certainly didn't help matters. But like Bajin, I found ways to stay involved with sports and today I interview professional athletes and write their stories. I get to go into locker rooms and talk to athletes on their cell phones and it feels like the greatest job in the world. But the cool thing is, I know there's more.

I'm still waiting for my big break, like Bajin got, and I know that the only way it'll ever come is if I put myself in position for it. But as I do so, I'm having a great time.

Tuesday, September 02, 2008

Blogging Advice for Newbies

Susan asked an interesting question when she left a comment in my blogoversary post. She asked, "Do you have any words of advice for all the newbie bloggers out there (me included)?"

Since you’ve asked for it Susan, here are three bits of advice:

1. Write about the topics that interest you. People who read blogs are attracted to our favorite blogs because they are written by people who are passionate about the topics they cover. The funny thing is, sometimes we are even attracted to bloggers who are passionate about topics we don't know much about.

I know don't a lot about old movies, but I love Sheila O'Malley's blog--much of which is about old movies. She has this way of writing about certain scenes within a movie that gets to me. She'll notice the smallest thing, and then point it out to the reader, and then tell you why it matters. She did that when she wrote about Rocky (a movie that I happen to know a lot about). Here's what she said:

I love the moment when Rocky goes to his locker, takes the lock - does the combination - but it won't open. He tries the combination again. No luck. So what does he do? He takes off his hat - takes a slip of paper out of the lining - which obviously has the combination on it for safekeeping - checks it, and tries the lock again. I just LOVE that detail. That was Stallone's idea - nobody told him to do that. He knew that Rocky was enough of a realist, and enough of a ... well, Rocky knew that the possibility of him forgetting his combination was pretty high ... so he put the combination in a place where he could get to it, where it would always be on him if he needed it. It is tiny details like this - that make up a great character. A 3-dimensional character. It's not just all the big things - his heart, his soul, his drive, his kindness, his struggle - The character itself is revealed in the fact that he is the kind of guy who keeps his locker combination on a slip of paper in the lining of his hat. Gorgeous.

By writing about the things she cares about, she makes me want to care. By writing about a movie that I already love and by pointing out a tidbit I'd never thought twice about, she makes me want to dig deeper into one of my already all-time favorite characters. When you can do that for a reader, he or she will keep coming back.

Sometimes I’m hesitant to write detailed posts about tennis. I love the game, but worry that I’m going to bore my regular readers to death. But the thing is, they are regular readers for a reason. Maybe they are tennis fans, maybe they aren’t. But they are regular readers because they like my take on life. So I feel like I owe it to them to approach the topic of tennis that same way I do every other topic I blog about—in detail.

2. Don't underestimate a small audience. It is generally believed that the vast majority of all blogs get fifty visitors or less per day. When you have one of those blogs, it can be disheartening. So often, new bloggers are given a list of things they can do to build traffic, and they follow through but never see huge gains. To be honest, that's probably the norm. Don't let that discourage you. Do what you can to increase traffic, but be happy that you have regular readers.

When you have fifty people reading your material on a regular basis, you impact their lives, and the people in their lives. I can't tell you how many times I've been sitting in a coffee shop on a Friday night with a couple of friends and sharing stories, insight, or quotes from blogs I've read throughout the week. My friends may never go to those blogs, but the blogger still reached them even though their hit counter doesn't show it.

And this might sound ridiculous, but visitors are people, not statistics. When fifty people visit your blog throughout the day, they've taken time from their busy schedule to read what you have to say. How many other venues in life do you have in which people regularly come to you asking you what you think about any given topic?

3. Be your own blogger. You will never be able to write like the blogger you most admire because you have your own unique experiences, style, passions, and voice. I won’t tell you not to try it because you will probably do it anyway, but after you’ve got it out of your system, experiment. It’s okay to start a blog and then kill it a few months later if you don’t like the direction it’s going. I’ve killed more than one blog in my day. But none of it was wasted time. I needed to write all of those posts to figure out what I was and wasn’t supposed to blog about.

Don’t be afraid to be who you are. I am a Christian, but this isn’t a “Christian” blog. It’s a blog about the little things of life through the eyes of someone who happens to be a Christian. But if you are a Christian who wants to write a blog about the truths you find during your Bible study time, then go for it. You have something to say. If you are a single mom who wants to write about the arts, please do it. Your perspective will be unique. If you are a grandfather who wants to share his war stories, I beg of you to do it. Don’t let those stories die when you do.

Monday, September 01, 2008

Labor Day Randomness

I've been watching coverage of Hurricane Gustav this morning. I can't help but think of the first post I ever wrote for this blog about Hurricane Katrina. Thoughts and prayers go out to those in the path of Gustav.

The US Open coverage on CBS is pre-empted today in Omaha for the Jerry Lewis MDA Telethon. So, I'm listening to coverage of the tournament on the US Open website. But I've also checked in on the telethon a bit. It brings back memories of watching it as a kid. I can remember donating a portion of my allowance on more than one occasion and then staying up all night watching it, knowing that it was the last time I could stay up before school started. In my day, school started the day after Labor Day. Yeah, I know. I'm old.

Speaking of the US Open, things haven't exactly gone the way I had hoped. Ana Ivanovic lost in the second round. She's still not sharp after missing so much time with a thumb injury after Wimbledon. On the women's side, I guess I'm rooting for Patty Schnyder, although I don't think she has a chance in the world. If she loses to Elena Dementieva, I'll probably root for her.

On the men's side, James Blake lost in the third round to Mardy Fish, but I like Fish too, and he just beat Gael Monfils this afternoon to get to the quarterfinals. Sam Querrey is still in it, but he goes up against Rafael Nadal next. And Andy Roddick is playing well. I'd be happy to see Fish, Querrey, or Roddick win it. Fish has a remote chance. Querrey probably isn't in good enough shape. And Roddick still has a tough road that includes Fernando Gonzalez, and the possibility of Novak Djokovic, and maybe Roger Federer. But I think he's playing well enough to make it through.

Still working with and trying to understand how to get the most out of Twitter (here's a link to my page). So far, I really like keeping up with people I know this way--especially since not all of them have blogs.

Well, I'm off to enjoy the day. Hope you do too.


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