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, October 28, 2009

The Diary of Anne Frank

PictureOver the past few months, I’ve been working my way through The Diary of Anne Frank. With each turn of the page, the knots in my stomach grew tighter because I knew that the Gestapo’s knock on the door was coming. As long as I didn’t get to the last page of the dairy, Anne and her family were safe in their secret annex in Holland. I liked it that way. But yesterday, with a heavy heart, I finished the diary. I put the Afterward off until today.

Many years ago, I had a friend who used the word “crunchy” to describe her emotions when she felt like something was out of sorts. I felt that way this morning. I took The Diary of Anne Frank with me as I got my oil changed, but reading it in the waiting room made me feel so crunchy that I put it down so I could finish it at home.

When I got there, I read that Anne’s mother died in January of 1945 at Auschwitz in her infirmary barracks. Anne’s father survived and ultimately kept Anne’s diary alive. Her sister, Margot, died in March of 1945 at Belsen. Anne (who was 15 years old) was in the same camp as Margot and here’s what the Afterward quotes a survivor as saying, “Anne, who was already sick at the time was not informed of her sister’s death, but after a few days she sensed it, and soon afterwards she died, peacefully, feeling that nothing bad was happening to her.”

Of course, she had no way of knowing that her diary would soon be an instrumental testament against the damnable actions of the Nazis while also powerfully testifying against those who did nothing to stop the atrocities. But the Afterward of the book explains one of the ways it accomplished both:
“On October 1, 1956, The Diary of Anny Frank opened [as a play] simultaneously in seven German cities. Audiences there greeted it in stunned silence. The play released a wave of emotion that finally broke through the silence with which Germans had treated the Nazi period. For the first time there were widespread expressions of guilt and shame for what Germans had done to the Jews only a few years before . . . In Amsterdam . . . the [play opened] on November 27 . . . ‘There were audible sobs,’ the New York Times correspondent reported, ‘and one strangled cry as the drama struck its climax and conclusion—the sound of the Germans hammering at the door of the hideout. The audience sat in silence for several minutes after the curtain went down. . . . There was no applause.”
Toward the end of Anne’s diary she revealed that she wanted to be a journalist, saying “I can shake off everything if I write; my sorrows disappear, my courage is reborn. But, and that is the great question, will I ever be able to write anything great, will I ever become a journalist or a writer?”

She had no idea she was in the middle of writing something great. According to the Anne Frank Center’s website, her diary has been translated into 67 languages and has sold more than 31 million copies.

The Afterward concludes with a quote from Ernst Schnabel, who wrote Anne Frank: A Portrait in Courage: “Her voice was preserved out of the millions that were silenced, this voice no louder than a child’s whisper. . . . It has outlasted the shouts of the murderers and has soared above the voices of time.”

Schnabel captures the reason I’m drawn to writing. I’ve never experienced anything like Anne Frank did, but as a writer I can give a voice to people whose stories might not get told otherwise and I can chronicle everyday events and observations that might give somebody insight. Writing is a lot of things—it’s therapeutic, cleansing, gut-wrenching, frustrating, and time consuming—just to name a few, but it’s also satisfying because it leaves a mark on the timeline of human history that outlives the writer, giving future generations a backward glimpse at their heritage.

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Newspaper Reading

Continuing in the 4,000 Questions series: In which order do you read the newspaper sections?

This question is intriguing because just watching the way a person reads the newspaper can be telling. Some start with a particular section because of their interests. Some start at the front and work their way back because of their personality type. Some only read certain portions of the paper because the news in those sections is all they care about. And some start from the back and work their way forward—I talked to a guy recently who does that.

I am definitely the type who starts from the front and works his way through each section in order until I’m finished. I don’t read the Sunday newspaper often, but when I do, for some reason, it usually arrives out of order. Before I can even start, I have to rearrange the sections into their proper order.

Obviously, I like order. But I find it difficult to live orderly in many other areas of my life because so many necessary tasks pop up throughout the day that are unplanned. Sometimes a situation forces me to read Section D when I’m still trying to make my way through Section A. What typically happens is, I read Section D and then forget where I was in Section A. Even when I remember where I was, I’ve lost focus by the time I return.

I’m better at this than I used to be, but I’m still not where I’d like to be. I’m interested in hearing from you. What order you do you read the newspaper in and what can you conclude from it regarding the way you live your life?

Monday, October 26, 2009

I Wasn't Born in a Small Town

PictureThe small group I’m in at church met on Saturday evening for a social event on a farm in a small town maybe twenty five minutes away from Omaha. We had a nice meal consisting of grilled bratwursts, tuna salad, and all sorts of other tasty munchies. As the sun went down, the temperature did too. Somebody started a bonfire and we gathered around each other, roasting marshmallows, making s’mores, and enjoying each other’s company.

On the drive to and from the farm, my friends and I got a small taste of Americana. We saw a huge silo with an American flag on top. The flag wasn’t made of material though. It looked more like someone made it on a Lite-Bright (remember those?). Whatever the case, it was an electric version of the flag and you could see it way into the distance. We saw too many deer on the side of the road for my comfort level. We saw a herd of cows. And at one point, a huge dog chased our car down a dirt road.

As we drove through the small town, I told my friends I could see myself living in a small town like this one. I’d miss having multiple chain bookstores to choose from on the weekends, having a coffee shop on every major corner, and all of the other limits that come with small town life. But I think I’d enjoy hanging out in the local cafe, or the town library, or going to the high school football game on Friday night. I’m thinking the lack of options would make social outings more of an event rather than just something to do.

Friday, October 23, 2009

Changing Interests

I picked up a copy of 4,000 Questions for Getting to Know Anyone and Everyone, by Barbara Ann Kipfer tonight. Several months ago, I saw a blogger who was using the book as blog prompts and thought it was a great idea. Wish I could give the blogger credit, but I can’t remember for sure which blogger it was. Sorry about that.

I’ll jump around in the book as I use it to blog. For this post, I’ll answer the following question(s):

List ten things you like to do for fun. Were they on your list five years ago?

1. Read
2. Watch the Kansas City Royals play
3. Watch NASCAR
4. Watch the Pittsburgh Steelers play
5. Go to movies
6. Meet friends for coffee in a coffee shop
7. Dine with family and/or friends
8. Write in my moleskine/piccadilly notebook
9. Watch tennis
10. Go to concerts

Were they on your list five years ago?

1. Yes
2. Yes
3. No
4. Yes
5. Yes
6. Yes
7. Yes
8. No
9. Yes
10. Yes

Monday, October 19, 2009

Being Old and Boring

My 19-year-old niece called me yesterday afternoon to see what my plans were for the evening.

“I don’t know. I might watch some Seinfeld.”

“How boring. It’s about a bunch of old people sitting around drinking coffee in a restaurant.”

“Hey! They are about my age and that is my life.”

It’s funny how when you are nineteen you have this idea in your head that “fun” involves activity and when you are in your 40s fun means slowing down long enough to enjoy the simple pleasures in life, like good coffee and good conversation.

I ended up taking my niece out to a movie, which, in a way, worked out for both of us. She got her activity and I got some conversation.

Sunday, October 18, 2009

A Friendly Environment

Recently, Borders announced that it was offering free Wi-Fi to its customers, prompting many of us who frequent the place to ask, “What in the world took you so long?” Borders has always had the feel of a place that should have free Wi-Fi service. You order a cup of your favorite poison, you grab a table or a nice comfy chair, and you hang out with friends while you discuss your week. All of that says, “Sit here a while, enjoy yourself.” The fact that they don’t have sockets to plug your laptop into says, “Stick around for about an hour and a half, and then move along.”

Panera Bread, on the other hand, has a similar atmosphere to Borders, but better. Not only do they have sockets for your laptop, but the place is always filled with the aroma of fresh bread that teases your nostrils. And it has a fake fireplace, which, even though it’s fake, adds something to the effect, especially during the fall and winter. The background music, usually jazz of some sort, is noticeable, but not too loud. Panera does everything it possibly can to create an environment you want to hang out it. It can’t do much about the loud talker on the cell phone next to you, but you can’t have everything you want.

I’ve been thinking that my house ought to be like Panera Bread. It ought to be an environment that friends and family want to hang out it. Instead, it’s mostly a scrapbook of the activities I’ve participated in over the past couple of weeks. I want to change that.

I have a friend who has a man cave. He keeps it colder than most caves, but I don’t mind that. It’s always nice a clean and usually decorated with NASCAR and football paraphernalia. In the fall, he has a fake fireplace prominently displayed by his TV. I love that thing. It sort of gives his man cave the feel of a cabin. At Christmas, he puts up a tree. I’m pretty sure it’s the most inviting man cave around because my friend takes the time to create a friendly, welcoming atmosphere.

So, I have some work to do.

Saturday, October 17, 2009

A Million Miles in a Thousand Years

Have you ever ran across a book by somebody and it touched you in ways you didn’t expect so you ended up buying and reading everything the author has ever written? It’s happened to me several times—Richard Ford, Nicholas Sparks, Jan Karon—just to name a few, but I’m finding that it’s happening less often.

I went to Borders last night and was stoked to find several new books—mostly novels—by authors who have written a book I love, only to be disappointed by the topic of their latest book. It’s not that their writing has changed, but they are writing about topics that just don’t interest me.

Donald Miller is not one of those writers. I’ve read nearly all of his books and last night I picked up his latest, A Million Miles in a Thousand Years. I love the way book opens:

“The saddest thing about life is you don’t remember half of it. You don’t even remember half of half of it. Not even a tiny percentage, if you want to know the truth. I have this friend Bob who writes down everything he remembers. If he remembers dropping an ice cream cone on his lap when he was seven, he’ll write it down. The last time I talked to Bob, he had written more than five hundred pages of memories. He’s the only guy I know who remembers his life. He said he captures memories, because if he forgets them, it’s as though they didn’t happen; it’s as though he hadn’t lived the parts he doesn’t remember.”

I feel the same way Bob does. I used to feel guilty about it—as if I was spending too much time navel gazing, but I came to the same conclusion Bob did. If I don’t capture memories, they are gone forever and before I know it, entire years are gone and it feels like they didn’t happen. It probably is vain to record details of our lives thinking that somebody else might care enough to actually read about them at some point in the future, but it isn’t vain to record details if it helps a person stay connected to his or her experiences.

Why stay connected?

Because if you don’t, it’s easy to forget who you are.

Monday, October 12, 2009

New Ways of Communicating about Common Experiences

I glanced up on one of my office walls the other day and saw an award I won for “Best Entry in Articles” at a writer’s conference on March 7, 2004. I thought back to the article I wrote that prompted the award. It was a basic list article about why a writer should consider starting a blog. Many of the people on staff at the conference had never even heard of a blog. That was just five and a half years ago. Now, nearly every writer, and everybody else, has one.

Keeping that in mind, I’m still reading “The Diary of Anne Frank” and I’m amazed at how similar the human experience is for a teenage Jewish girl in hiding in the 1940s to the human experience for us in 2009. She wanted the acceptance of her parents. She wanted to grow in her knowledge. She wanted to be entertained, saying at one point, “Ordinary people simply don’t know what books mean to us, shut up here. Reading, learning, and the radio are our amusements.” She felt insecure. She felt guilty for having a warm bed while other Jews were in captivity. She longed for the future while at the same time not knowing if she would have one.

Twitter, Facebook, blogs, cell phones and the like are just new ways of expressing the same longings, desires, expectations, and hopes that humans have always had. Some of us will always be more comfortable with a pen and a notebook because that’s what we used during our formative years to express ourselves. Some of us will stick with blogs or something else for the same reason. And in the future, whatever new ways of communicating come along, the next generation will latch onto them. It seems to me that it’s more important for each of us to continue to talk about the human experience in our own way than it is to be concerned about the medium of communication. After all, Anne Frank’s words were created with a pen and notebook and we’re still reading it nearly 70 years later.

Saturday, October 10, 2009

When Hamburgers were 15 Cents

Once in a while, I meet my mom for lunch at Don and Millie’s. It’s not the healthiest place to eat, but I can usually find something that isn’t going to drive up my blood sugar. She loves their cheeseburgers. I love their nostalgia. When we are able to, we usually grab a table way in the back of the place—in the corner, behind a wall that sets the table off from everything else. Hanging on the wall is a picture of an old hamburger drive-in restaurant that used to exist (maybe on the same land?).

The picture shows a sign advertising hamburgers for fifteen cents. And it has shows a few guys waiting in line for their food—with “floods” on (pants that are short enough to allow for flood waters). It also shows workers behind the counter wearing those rectangular pointy looking hats that all fast food restaurant workers used to wear.

I love the photo because I imagine my parents frequenting a place like that when they were dating in high school. And having my mom across from me while I look at the picture sort of brings things full circle. I don’t know why, but it’s satisfying.

Wednesday, October 07, 2009

Chili Time

As I was coming home from the dentist’s office yesterday, I stopped at the grocery store to pick up some much needed items. I was also trying to figure out what I could eat with a sore mouth. Then it hit me. Chili! I love chili and it’s actually something I know how to cook. Every fall, I make a huge batch of it and freeze the leftovers. It usually makes five or six meals and I think leftover chili tastes better than it does fresh off the stove.

I like thick chili so I usually buy three pounds of hamburger (93% lean), two cans of chili beans, one onion, a can of tomato sauce, and the chili mix stuff you can buy in packages. I really wasn’t feeling all that great when I got home (my mouth hurt and I had a headache), but I made the chili anyway and it turned out well. It went down easy and it tasted pretty good—so good that I’m planning to have another bowl of it this afternoon for lunch. The rest is frozen and I’ll bust out a bowl of it when I’m watching football this fall.

I love this time of year.

Tuesday, October 06, 2009

Preventative Medicine

I’m off the see the dentist in a few hours to get a couple of fillings and a crown. Not looking forward to it, but it’s one of those rare times when I’m actually going to the dentist when I don’t have a lot of pain in one tooth or another. Sounds like it’s a good thing I decided to do it now because my dentist said she should be able to save the tooth that needs a crown and the other two cavities aren’t bad. If I had waited longer, we probably would have been talking about a root canal. Yuck.

We know when our finances are going askew due to overspending or when our health is suffering because we aren’t eating properly, but we often wait until we are in dire straits before we do anything about it rather than facing a little bit of pain in the immediate to take corrective action. The truth is, life hurts sometimes. We might as well face that reality head on and save ourselves from having to endure unnecessary disasters.

Monday, October 05, 2009

A Busy Weekend

PictureThe past several days have been extremely busy, but fun. I taught a workshop on Friday morning at a history fare about how to write an essay and early Saturday morning headed for Kansas City to spend the weekend interviewing a couple of NASCAR drivers and a crew chief for a publication I work for (here’s a photo of me interviewing 2000 Sprint Cup champion Bobby Labonte on Saturday). By the time I got home last night, I was wiped out. I slept ten hours and don’t have any plans to do much today.

Everything you’ve probably ever heard about a sportswriter’s life is probably true. You are often the first people to arrive at an event and the last to leave. The food is generally subpar. You spend more time standing and waiting for the perfect interview than you do anything else. You never know for sure how much time you are going to get with the subject once you start the interview. And you always think of the perfect question ten minutes after the interview is done. After the day is over, it’s on to the hotel and you never know what you’re going to get when you walk in. My standards aren’t too high though—I’m usually quite happy when I find out that the clerk actually has my reservation.

This particular weekend had elements of all of those things, and that’s okay, because in the end I get to tell the stories of three guys who are living out their faith in pressure packed situations.


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