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, April 29, 2010

Red Clay Halo

My family roots – the ones I’m familiar with – reach back through the generations to country living and all that entails. I think that’s why the song “Red Clay Halo” by Gillian Welch means so much to me. Well, that, and my own struggle to be accepted for who I am.

If you aren’t familiar with the song, here are the first couple of stanzas:

All the girls all dance with the boys from the city,
And they don't care to dance with me.
Now it ain't my fault that the fields are muddy,
And the red clay stains my feet.

And it's under my nails and it's under my collar,
And it shows on my Sunday clothes.
Though I do my best with the soap and the water,
But the damned old dirt won't go.

I love Welch’s willingness to sing a song about dirt and its effects. And I also love the fact that she’s holding on to hope for the future. Check out out what I mean in this video version of the song:

Wednesday, April 28, 2010

All I Want

All I WantIn the movie All I Want, a teen named Jones (played by Elijah Wood) drops out of college and rents an apartment in a building with several eccentric characters with the hope of focusing on his writing.

Throughout the first part of movie, Jones drags a huge, brown, beat up chest around with him. He says it contains all of his stuff. But once he gets settled into his apartment, we see him type a letter to his father in which he tells his dad about his plan to quit college to pursue writing. Then he opens the chest, drops the letter into it, and we learn that it is full of such letters. In fact, there's nothing else in the chest. It's wall to wall letters -- strewn about in haphazard fashion.

The fact that they aren't in an sort of order made me think that Jones never intended for his father to see the letters, and maybe he never intended to read them again himself, either. I'm only half way through the movie (it was just too late last night to finish it), so I don't really know the story about the father he's no longer in touch with, but I've been thinking about the visual of Jones dragging the chest around. He obviously feels a deep need to connect with his father and he's willing to haul the chest of letters up flights of stairs and across streets just to hang on to the connection.

The only odd thing to me is, the setting of the movie seems wildly inconsistent. There are modern looking cordless phones, but there are also old fashioned, corded phones. One character has a fairly modern looking camera, but Jones uses a typewriter. I think it would have been less distracting if the movie had been set in the 80s, but that's just my opinion.

But the thing that struck me about the chest of letters that Jones drags around is that is tangible. If/when someone gets close enough to him, that person will learn a lot about him just by seeing the contents of the chest. If he had written those letters on a laptop, there would be no tangible evidence that they even exist.

I love modern day gadgets, and I use a ton of them, but sometimes I think they allow us to hide evidence of pain, or, at the very least, they can make it harder to make someone aware of it. When I was about Jones' age (17), I was busy writing poetry, prose and songs that expressed the way I felt about my circumstances. I passed them around to trusted friends and as they read them I felt like it drew us closer. Especially when they returned the favor.

I'm not so sure we do that anymore.

We do it to a lesser degree on blogs, Facebook and other social media. But we really only show just a sliver of who we really are and what is going on in our life. And we do a form of it in face to face communication, but we are easily swayed away from saying what we really want or need to say for a variety of reasons -- the enormity of the moment, the other person's body language, the other person steering the conversation elsewhere, etc.

We probably don't need to be dragging a big chest behind us all the time either. But a smaller version of some sort might not be a bad thing.

Tuesday, April 27, 2010

The Unwritten Rules of Life

The Unwritten Rules of Baseball: The Etiquette, Conventional Wisdom, and Axiomatic Codes of Our National PastimeLast week, Alex Rodriguez supposedly broke yet another unwritten rule in baseball (it wouldn't be the first time he's done it) -- he crossed the pitcher's mound as a baserunner as he was returning to first base after a foul ball.

Actually, I've followed baseball a long time and I've never heard about this unwritten rule, but it sort of makes sense. Baserunners could quickly run a foot over the pitcher's landing point on the mound with the intent to mess with him.

Baseball, as well as life, is full of unwritten rules.

From the baseball perspective, you can find all sorts of lists of unwritten rules. You can even find books about the unwritten rules of baseball.

From the rest of life perspective, you can find lists of unwritten rules for men, the unwritten rules for cell phone etiquette, the unwritten rules of moving watching, the unwritten rules of social networking, the unwritten rules of elevator etiquette, the unwritten rules of Scottish country dancing, and you'll even find an entire blogs dedicated to the unwritten rules of relationships and the unwritten laws of life. Not surprisingly, you'll have a harder time finding a list of unwritten rules for women -- probably because nobody understands them well enough to come up with such a list.

When it comes to creating lists of unwritten rules, one might say that the list-maker is violating an unwritten rule that doesn't allow for unwritten rules to be written. But I don't think that's what "unwritten" really means. I think it means that nearly everything in life has a set of standards that do not need to be in an official rule book. They are just the accepted norm and most people are quite willing to police that norm.

For example:

Friends are not allowed to date the ex of a friend. If you try it, a complete stranger might even shout you down.

Everybody needs to wait his or her turn in line during a traffic jam. If one person tries to squeeze his way into the line in front of people who were waiting longer, horns will blare and gestures will fly.

Nobody is to speak or even look at one another when in an elevator. If you do, get ready for an icy stare.

Unwritten rules fascinate me. They tell us so much about accepted social norms. You know what would be even more interesting? If each generation were to find a writer to pull together all of the unwritten rules of that generation and publish it in a book. It might even help historians point to specific instances in which culture shifted one way or another.

Wednesday, April 21, 2010

The Tender Bar

The Tender Bar: A Memoir I've never really been one much for memoirs. I think it's because it feels too National Enquirer-ish like I'm being too nosy. But after reading Andre Agassi's book Open, written by J. R. Moehringer, I knew I had to read Moehringer's memoir The Tender Bar.

He grew up without a father which led him on a quest to find a man he could look up to and respect. I'm only 50 pages into the book, but apparently he finds such a man in his uncle who works at a bar called Dickens. And then he finds it the bar's patrons.

Sounds a lot like a Cheers spin-off.

It also feels a lot like my own life.

My father was certainly more active in my life than in Moehringer's case. I saw him most Saturdays after my parents divorced and we did a lot of fun things. And he always took the time to buy me books about things that interested me. But none of those things can take the place of having a dad around on a Tuesday evening when all you really want to do as a 10-year-old boy is to play catch with him.

Early in Moehringer's memoir, he tells a story about his dad calling him out of the blue one day after his mother prompted him to. Moehringer had never met his dad, but his dad offered to come and pick him up to take him to a Mets game the next evening at 6:30 pm.

"I was ready at four-thirty," Moehringer says in the book. "Sitting on the stoop, wearing my Mats cap, slugging my fist into the pocket of my new Dave Cash mitt, I peered at every car that approached the house."

Thirty minutes later, Moehringer's grandmother comes to the door and says, "I thought he was coming at six-thirty."

"I want to be ready," Moehringer said. "In case he's early."

To pass the time, Moehringer begins to bounce a rubber ball on the front stoop as he concentrates on the good things he knows about his father.

My mind drifts back to the mid 1970s at this point. My own grandmother pokes her head out of her front door asking me if I want anything to drink. I tell her not yet. I'm in the middle of game.

With sweat dripping down the sides of my face, I tap the tennis ball into my baseball glove in my grandparent’s front yard and throw my next pitch toward the steps leading up to the side door their garage. When you don’t have anybody to play baseball with, you make up your own players and you make up your own rules. In this case, the steps served as hitters. After throwing a pitch, the steps would shoot the ball back in my direction – sometimes on the ground, sometimes over the front porch awning.

If I fielded the ball cleanly and could throw and hit a nearby tree, the runner was out. If I caught the ball on the fly, the runner was out. If the ball got past me on the ground, it was a hit. If it got away from me it was a double or triple. If it went over the awning, it was a home run. I was always aware of how many ghost-runners were on base and my goal was to keep as many of them as possible from scoring.

I didn't feel sorry for myself. I was having the time of my life. But negative thoughts can creep up on you when you play baseball by yourself. Was I good enough to play against other kids without them making fun of me? I was athletic, but overweight. Would Dad be proud of the way I could throw and catch the ball if he could see me? Was I missing out on something by not having my dad out there with me?

I had no idea.

Back to Moehringer's memoir, "A terrifying thought made me stop throwing the ball against the stoop. What if my father, knowing how the whole family felt about him, didn't want to pull into the driveway? What if he slowed down on Plandome Road, checked to see if I was there, then sped away? I sprinted to the sidewalk. Now I could jump through his window as he slowed down and away we'd go."

Adapting, modifying, being hyper-aware they are common reactions for a boy from a broken home who simply wants the attention and approval of his father.

Moehringer waited until 11:00 pm that night. After the game ended, he finally gave up and went inside, pretending that it didn't matter that his father never showed up, but then he burst into tears as he and his mother hugged each other.

Thankfully, my dad was not like Moehringer's dad. At least I always had Saturday to look forward to. I can't imagine what would have happened if I hadn't had that.

Monday, April 12, 2010

Fun at the Ballpark

Caught another fun moment at the ballpark the other night – this time from the camera well when a mascot named Rally “hypnotized” an “umpire” between innings. I was down there to shoot photos to run with the story I was writing that day (click here for my Omaha Royals coverage at Examiner.com), but part of the fun of being at the ballpark is the atmosphere created by mascots.

Thursday, April 08, 2010

Better than a Hallelujah

Somewhere Down the RoadHas it really been seven years since Amy Grant’s last CD (not including specialty albums)? Checking my iTunes library confirms that she released “Simple Things” in 2003. Wow.

I downloaded her new album, “Somewhere Down the Road” on Tuesday morning before I took a walk. Within seconds, she had me teary-eyed with these lyrics from the first song on the CD, “Better than a Hallelujah”:

God loves a lullaby
In a mothers tears in the dead of night
Better than a Hallelujah sometimes.
God loves the drunkards cry,
The soldiers plea not to let him die
Better than a Hallelujah sometimes.

I’m not a mother, a drunkard or a soldier, but I’m an uncle, a son, and a work in progress. So, I can relate.

As I mentioned in the comments at Sherry Meneley’s blog this morning, so much modern Christianity seems to be focused on the formal worship experience. Amy’s song is about the in-between, informal worship moments — and they look much different. They come in the middle of pain, and longing, and struggle. Sometimes they have words; sometimes they don’t. Either way, God knows and he hears.

Sherry Meneley put together a video for Grant’s song and I think it makes the song even better. The video was gaining quite a bit of attention on YouTube before EMI stepped in and had the video removed. Well, there’s good news, EMI has agreed to allow the video to go back up (read the whole story here).

And now, here is Sherry’s soul-stirring video:

Wednesday, April 07, 2010

A Perfect Reaction

I cover the Omaha Royals for a website called Examiner.com. Today I covered an event at Rosenblatt Stadium called Family Fest! It was supposed to be give fans a chance to bring their families out to the ballpark one day before Omaha’s first game to get a few autographs, to watch the team work out and to enjoy some free food.

When I got to the stadium the temperature was in the 40s, the breeze was steady, tornado sirens were going off (the county was doing a test), and we had a brief snow shower. If you’ve ever lived in Nebraska, then you know that any combination of these weather patterns can take place at this time of year.

While I was waiting in the Royals’ dugout to interview a couple of players, one player, named Bruce Chen – a pitcher on the team – walked out of the clubhouse and he had what I thought was a perfect reaction to weather. Thankfully I caught it on video:

Tuesday, April 06, 2010

The Way of the Swan

Early this morning, I pulled my car into the parking lot at a nearby park. I plopped my headphones on, dialed my iPod to Amy Grant’s newest CD “Somewhere Down the Road,” and then descended the steps toward the pond and the walking trail.

One of the first things I saw was graffiti plastered on a small pavilion. As I took my first steps around the pond, it was hard not to miss the trash the pond was expelling among its banks. As I made the second turn, more graffiti – this time it was spray painted on the walking trail.

The unpleasantries were abrasive and irritating. But at the same time, I understand that people who are broken and hurting on the inside tend to break and hurt on the outside.

IMG00130 As I turned the third corner (can you tell I’m a NASCAR fan?) I encountered three swans (at least I think they were swans – could’ve been ducks for all I know – correct me if I’m wrong). One of them seemed to prefer the pavement to the grass.

IMG00135He stayed on the walking path until I was just a few feet away from him; then he joined his family or friends down in water. They sailed peacefully to the other side and then got out. By the time I got there they were gone. I was hoping to get one last glance at them, but I got more than that.

IMG00142I spotted them again on my final lap. One of them led me back up the trail toward the parking lot as if to say, “I’m in charge here, follow me.”

I followed.

When I reached the parking lot, all three swans were there. I stopped for a minute to shoot a few more pictures of them with my Blackberry.

Then they started squawking. Were they saying good-bye? Or good riddance? Or were they talking about me in swan-eese? I have no idea, but I did shoot a video of their conversation with my Blackberry. The quality isn’t the greatest, so you can't really see them, but you can definitely hear them.

video

As I drove away, I couldn't help but think redemption was at work in the park in the form of the swans. Even the water itself was dislodging the trash.

I came home and googled the word "swan." I found this on Wikipedia, "Perhaps the best known story about a swan is 'The Ugly Duckling' fable. The story centres around a duckling that is mistreated until it becomes evident he is a swan and is accepted into the habitat. He was mistreated because real ducklings are, according to many, more attractive than a cygnet, yet cygnets become swans, which are very attractive creatures. Swans are often a symbol of love or fidelity because of their long-lasting monogamous relationships."

Ironically, the park is being mistreated by people who do not have any sense of the redemption happening right in front of their eyes. Here's to hoping the swans continue to walk and swim and squawk as constant reminders.

Thursday, April 01, 2010

The Joys of a Root Canal

Dentist's Chair

When my dentist first scheduled my root canal for April 1 it gave me hope. Maybe I would show up and she would say, “April Fools! You don’t really need a root canal. You just need a quick filling.”

When I showed up early this morning, I pointed out that it was April 1 and she said she doesn’t do April Fools Day.

Uh oh. Root canal, here I come.

I’ve never had one before, but they are often used as an example of something awful, so that can’t be good. My dentist when through all of the possible problems that could arise during the procedure and I wanted to head for the hills. But I didn’t.

She gave me more shots than I ever imagined needing because once she got to the nerve, I could still feel her digging around. I have no idea how many shots she gave me, but I’m guessing it was a couple dozen or more. Thankfully, you only feel the first one.

My dentist offered to talk me through the procedure – telling me what she was doing each step of the way, but that didn’t sound all that appealing. The idea of hearing that she was touching a raw nerve made my knees go weak. Call me a wuss if you want to.

So, I sat there relatively oblivious to what was going on. She checked on me every once in a while. She finally told me she was irrigating the canals and then she’d begin the filling process.

I couldn’t imagine hearing anything sweeter.

Several hours later, the numbing effect is just about worn off and my tooth has a dull throb thing going on – pretty much what my dentist told me to expect. I took some Ibuprofen. Now I think I’m going to climb into my recliner and get some sleep. Maybe the pain will be gone when I wake up.

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