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, November 30, 2011

A Long Pit Stop

Photo: U.S. Army
It was supposed to be the equivalent of an average NASCAR pit stop – 14 seconds. My plan this morning was to be in and out of Dollar Tree in a minute or less with a box of the pink stuff for my coffee and a three litter bottle of pop.

The round trip should take 12 minutes or less. I would be at my desk with a steaming cup of coffee, complete with the pink stuff, in 15 minutes.

Knowing exactly where both items were located in the store, I found them easily and got in the check out line behind a woman and her little boy.

Uh oh, this doesn’t look good. The clerk looks confused.

“Ma’am, this table cloth is ringing up as one cent and it should be a dollar. I’m going to have to get my manager.”

He walks toward her office, but she can’t be bothered. “Ring it up as a $1.00 miscellaneous item,” she says through the door.

He tries it. This time it rings up as a quarter.

Another clerk comes over to try to help him. And then another. And another. And another. And another. And another. Seven people are now trying to figure out what to do. Nobody thinks to open another register to check me out. I ask one of them to do so and he says he’s not open.

Okay, I might as well settle in. This is going to be a while.

The seven people discuss the possible problem. Maybe he hit the wrong key? Maybe it was entered in the computer incorrectly? Another clerk says it happened to her yesterday too. Finally the manager leaves her office and tells all the other clerks that the item must be on recall and they can’t sell it.

“Maybe you can choose another color,” the manager says to the woman.

“But I don’t want another color. I want this color.”

At this point I don’t want this store. I want another one.

“But I can’t sell you this color. It has been recalled.”

Funny how definitive she is about the recall at this point.

“Well, what are you going to do with them? Throw them out? If so, I’ll take them.”

This is one determined customer. How could I not laugh? My one minute pit stop has now turned into ten minutes and there appears to be no end in sight. I now know what Greg Biffle feels like when the gas man cannot get the can lined up with the car and his stop takes much longer than anticipated.

“Ma’am, we have to return the table cloths to the manufacturer. It’s a recall.”

She sighs and then decides she wants the red table cloths that are not on recall. And the clerk plans to wait for her to return before ringing me up. Thankfully, the manager intervenes.

“Ring up your customer,” the manager says to him.

“That’ll be $2.00.”

I can’t tell you how happy I was that he didn’t say two cents.

Friday, November 18, 2011

The Ones Nobody Else Wants

I’ve been reading The Hiding Place by Corrie ten Boom. It’s rich with courage, faith and heartache – here’s one such scene.

Eusie was a man who had obvious Jewish features, according to ten Boom. So, for him, finding a hiding place wasn’t all that easy. The razzia (German police) would easily identify and arrest him if they saw him. Nobody wanted to take a chance with him in their home. But the ten Boom’s took him into their Holland home, the Beje. And when it came time to find a hiding place for another hard to place person, Eusie was the first one to come to her defense.

Mary Itallie, a 76-year-old woman with a severe case of asthma, showed up at the Beje one day. She couldn’t find a place to hide because her wheezing would give her away if the razzia showed up. That meant trouble for everyone in the house. The nine people who were already staying in the Beje gathered to consider taking Mary in.

Here’s what happened next:
“There is no sense in pretending,” [Corrie] began. “Mary has a difficulty – especially after climbing stairs – that could put you all in danger.”

In the silence that followed, Mary’s labored breathing seemed especially loud.

“Can I speak?” Eusie asked.

“Of course.”

“It seems to me that we’re all here in your house because of some difficulty or other. We’re the orphan children– the ones nobody else wanted. Any one of us is jeopardizing all the others. I vote that Mary stay.”
They put it to a secret ballot.

All nine people voted in favor of Mary staying.

Most of us will never have to endure the type of pressure these ten people (including Mary) were under. In a free and open society, we can choose to be a host family to orphan children without fear of repercussion. I don’t just mean in the literal sense, although adoption is a beautiful thing.

Instead I’m talking about a lifestyle – inviting the lonely to dinner, approaching the loner at church, putting a hand on an elderly man’s shoulder who may not remember the last time someone touched him, really listening to that eccentric aunt everyone else avoids during Christmas dinner.

All of us could be more intentional this way, couldn’t we?

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

#73 Writing for the Sake of It

Photo: H. Michael Karshis
Continuing with the 100 life-enriching little nuances series …

Personality blogs don’t make a lot of sense for professional writers. Exceptions do exist, but topical blogs are far more popular. A quick look at the Technorati Top 100 blogs list will confirm that. Only Dooce.com cracks that list on any given day. This is why I tell professional writers who are just jumping into the blogosphere to write a topical blog, or, if they insist writing a personality blog, then limit the topics to one theme.

Little Nuances is a personality blog. I didn’t know that when I started it in 2005, but that’s what it is. And I’m okay with that. This has become my place to write about things I care about for the mere sake of it. It allows me to scratch an itch I wouldn’t otherwise be able to reach. And no matter how many books or articles I write, I’m always going to want the freedom to write about topics I cover here. I don’t know if this will always be the right medium, but it’s a good fit right now.

Ever since I was old enough to write, I have written for the sake of it. When I was young, I used my dad’s typewriter in his office to type newspaper columns and liner notes from albums. In my teen years I wrote poems and songs. In my twenties, I journaled. In my thirties, I began writing personal experience articles for publication. Now I have Little Nuances.

Little Nuances isn’t a consolation prize. It’s a labor of love. I’m always amazed and privileged when someone tells me they’ve read something here that means something to them.

Thursday, November 10, 2011

Random Acts of Culture

A friend told me to go to YouTube and type in, "Random Acts of Culture." Here's what I found:

Friday, October 28, 2011

Misguided Notions and the Death of Dreams

Photo: Marcin Wichary
I enjoy watching TV shows like American Idol and The X Factor. Music is medicine for the soul and seeing an obscure artist get his or her big shot on shows like these is satisfying. It’s the perfect mixture of talent, hard work and opportunity – much like any other successful endeavor in life. But sometimes contestants lose perspective.

Tim Cifers is the perfect example. He’s a 30-year-old sales manager who loves to sing country music. He made it to the final 32 on The X Factor USA recently and before he performed for the chance to move to the final 16 (and a shot to perform live), he made these comments:

“I’m just your everyday country guy. I live the same life every day – just in and out – working at my job, but my dream is not to sell beer every day for a living. My dream is to perform in front of huge audiences and give my family the life they deserve. I don’t want to give music up. I don’t want to fail at having my dream come true.

“My family at home is just so supportive. You know, I want to make them proud too. So, this is a big step. If I got a no today, it would just mean going back home and going back to work and it would almost be like everything’s gone out the window. This is my one shot. I can’t quit my job because I’ve got to put food on that table and I’ve got to support my family. This decision determines the rest of my life.”



Cifers’ perspective is off in so many areas.

First, his dream to perform in front of huge audiences so he can give his family the life they deserve sounds noble. But true artists have something to say and when their talent and hard work meet opportunity, sometimes they get to share their message with huge crowds – not the other way around.

Second, he’s 30 years old. He doesn’t have to give up music. If he loves it, he can continue to pursue it while he’s earning a living selling beer to support his family.

Third, receiving a no – which did happen, by the way – is not failure. Failure in this case would be quitting an activity he loves.

Fourth, healthy families are not proud of one another based on success, but rather, they are proud of one another when they do the right thing. Cifers is providing for his family. That’s something to be proud of. The fact that he chased a dream on The X Factor is something to be cheered by his family, but receiving a no in the round of 32 shouldn’t, and presumably, won’t change how proud they are of him.

Fifth, going back home and going back to work isn’t a death sentence. Work is noble. And it’s almost as if he believes being a recording artist isn’t going to be “work,” or even monotonous at times.

Sixth, he can’t definitively say this is his one shot. It may indeed have been his biggest and best shot. But there’s another contestant in the competition who is 60. He understands what one (last) shot means.

As contestant after contestant on these shows say similar things, it makes me wonder what our kids are thinking as they watch. Are their parents correcting these misguided notions? I hope so. But I can’t help but wonder about the kids whose idea of success is being shaped by these contestants. Are they going to miss the fact that sometimes the death of a dream provides fertile ground for a new dream to be born?

Thursday, October 27, 2011

Couple Dies Holding Hands

Photo: Through My Eyes
Have you heard about Gordon and Norma Yeager – the couple from Iowa that died last week while holding hands? If not, watch this three minute video (unfortunately, embedding has been disabled). Get ready for tears.

Gordon died an hour before Norma did and their children say they are blessed that it worked out this way because neither one of them would have wanted to go on without the other one. One of their children, Dennis, describes his parent’s final moments with such beauty in the video.

“It was really strange,” he said. “They were holding hands. Dad stopped breathing. I couldn’t figure out what was going on because the heart monitor was still going. And we were like, ‘But he isn’t breathing. How could he still have a heartbeat?’ She [a nurse] checked and everything and said, ‘That’s because they’re still holding hands and it’s going through them. Her heart was beating through him and [the monitor was] picking it up.”

On the KCCI website, they have posted the video along with a poll, asking: “After reading this story … do you believe in true love?” More than 86,000 favorable votes have been cast, equaling 93% of the respondents, saying either, “Yes, I have found it,” or “Yes, I’m still looking.”

Count me among the, “Yes, I’m still looking.”

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

As Strong as Reeds Tied in a Bundle

Tama Westman writes about the notion of love extending beyond the realms of time and how connections exist between generations on her blog, The Touchstones. Tama recently posted something her mother wrote about a teacup that has been passed down through the generations of her family. Here’s how it starts:

It’s just a simple cuppa,
(That hardly seems like much)
But served in Granny’s teacup
It lends a tranquil touch.


Check out the rest of the post when you get a chance.

As I read the words penned by Tama’s mom this morning, I glanced up on the wall in my office to a greeting card my dad (who has been gone for 11 years) sent me many years ago. Inspired by Jewish writings, it says, “Separately, we are as fragile as reeds and as easily broken. But together, we are as strong as reeds tied in a bundle.”

Those words were certainly true of our relationship while Dad was still alive. They may be even more true now.

Many of our conversations were about things that matter. I wonder how many sons can say that? The topics progressed as I got older from grades to girls to family history, and finally to mistakes. Dad made many mistakes, and while he didn’t always own them the right way, he owned them in his soul. I know, because we often spoke about them.

While he was alive, he, like all of us, was free to alter his advice, thoughts, beliefs and confessions. Now that he is gone, everything he passed on to me is frozen. And while it’s never good to give too much credence to such things, because the living need room to make their own mistakes, it’s daresome to give too little.

Together, we are as strong as reeds tied in a bundle.

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

The Dodge Journey

Anytime you can advertise a product and make somebody want to blog about it, even going so far as to embed the commercial, you probably need to give your marketing team a raise. The Dodge Journey is one of those products.

I've never driven one. Probably never will. But I could watch the commercial over and over. I think there are several variations of it, but the one below works because it contains these lines, "People don't make a list of websites they want to see before they die. They don't fill photo albums with pictures from an online search. Like being there, is not like being there. It's okay, the Internet will be just fine without you."



The ironic thing about this commercial is, Dodge is using the Internet to sell the Journey. Dodge uploaded the commercial you see above to YouTube and it has been viewed by more than 300,000 people. According to the video's description, Dodge left three Journeys somewhere out there for us to find. If we find one, it is ours. And the commercial says the Internet "might help you figure out where they might be."

Irony aside, this campaign is brilliant because it taps into something we know to be true. Life isn't nearly as memorable when there is a lack of adventure. All of us might define adventure differently, but I'm guessing we can all agree that as fun as Angry Birds might be to play, nobody will look back while on his deathbed and wish he had played it even more.

But visiting a pumpkin patch once a year, going to an Apple festival, taking in an art exhibit, joining a tennis league or book club, spending a Saturday at the lake with friends, traveling down Route 66 with a loved one, with stops in small cafes and gift shops, these are the moments we will, as the commercial says, fill our photo albums with -- even if they are digital photo albums.

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

Learning to Drive

The local writer's group I attend each month met last Thursday night. We were supposed to bring a 250 word story about driving, in a voice that could not be traced back to us. That was more difficult than I imagined, but in the end, I don't think anybody guessed that I wrote this about how I learned to drive (which includes mostly facts and an embellishment or two -- well, nearly all of the lingo is an embellishment since most of it didn't even exist when I was 15, and it wouldn't have been possible for somebody to "hit me up" while I was driving back then). 

Photo: Alamosbasement
I was 15 when Grandpa offered to teach me how to drive. 

Driving any vehicle was the grip – even if it was a beat up old pickup truck. When it was time for us to bounce, he drove to an old dirt road by the house, stopped the truck and handed me the keys.

I was crunked. My first step toward freedom.

We got out of the truck to switch sides. All I saw was mile after mile of corn fields. I stepped into the driver’s seat, started the truck and slid the shifter into “drive,” nearly missing a gear.

“My bad, Grandpa,” I said.

“That’s okay,” he said. “Now, just focus on the road. You’ve read the manual. Stay on the right side and keep both hands on the wheel. And obey the speed limit!”

“This is tight!”

Gravel crunched under the wheels as I hit the gas pedal.

“How does it feel?” he said after a couple of minutes.

I smiled at him.

“Eyes on the road.”

I drove for a couple of miles before handling a left turn without any problems. I wished one of my friends would hit me up, but I knew Grandpa wouldn’t approve. Still, this was crescent fresh – an experience I would never forget. But I’d have to keep it on the down low around my friends.

Nobody likes a tool.

“Okay, that’s enough for your first time out,” Grandpa said. “Pull over and I’ll take it from here.”

Monday, October 10, 2011

The John Adams HBO Mini-Series, Part 2

When John Adams (portrayed by Paul Giamatti in the HBO mini-series) arrived in Paris to ask the French for naval support of the American cause, he found a culture he’s unfamiliar with – one much slower and engaged in the arts. Over a meal, he is asked about music and his response, as always, is thought-provoking (if you are reading this post via email, you’ll need to click through to the blog to see the video).



“I must study politics and war, you see, so that my sons will have the liberty to study mathematics and philosophy. [I love the reaction by Benjamin Franklin at this point of the quote – he knows he’s hearing something profound even before Adams finishes.] My sons must study navigation, commerce and agriculture so that their children will have the right to study painting and poetry and music.”

Obviously, Adams has thought this out. His generation is responsible for educating itself in politics and war so the next generation has the liberty to study topics such as mathematics and philosophy to enrich their lives, but he says they also have a duty to study navigation, commerce and agriculture to lay the groundwork for a new society so that the next generation can study the arts.

Adams was forward thinking, and in so being, he was duty-bound to the next generation. Some 230 years have passed since then. Should we still study and master topics knowing they will benefit the next generation while also taking full advantage of what the previous generation studied for us? Or are the collective sacrifices of generations past enough?

It seems to me that when a generation stops thinking about, appreciating and building on the sacrifices of the previous generation, we become self absorbed. But when we build on the sacrifices of previous generations, it gives us a chance to live beyond ourselves.

It’s a little more tricky in our day though. We aren’t starting from ground zero, like Adams. If we were to live according to his philosophy in our modern culture, each family in each generation would need to consider where it has come from and where it is going, and act accordingly.

As I think about my own family, my grandparent’s generation comes to mind. One of my grandfathers was the go-to guy for my family. He worked hard, saved money, educated himself about the basics of survival (he grew up in the Great Depression) and he always had an answer for family members in need, whether it was how to fix a car, how to build a nest egg or how to fix a marriage. Looking back, the way he spent his leisure time had more to do with the helping the next generation than it did with satisfying his own wants.

As I’ve discussed my grandfather’s life (he died in 1985) with my own father (who died in 2000), I’ve learned that, like everyone else, my grandfather had his own dreams. He dreamed of developing the land he lived on into apartments, which, now that I think about it, even that probably had something to do with offering the generations to follow an established business if they so desired it, but the timing was never right, and maybe the finances weren’t either, I don’t know.

But I do know he was a satisfied man.

And I’m challenged by that.

Friday, October 07, 2011

The John Adams HBO Mini-Series

I'm three years late, but I'm finally getting around to watching John Adams, the mini-series based on David McCullough's biography.

It's powerful and something I wish everybody who was running for public office would watch. Check out this scene in which Adams (portrayed by Paul Giamatti) speaks before the Continental Congress about the notion of declaring independence from England.

I especially love this line, "I see a new nation, ready to take its place in the world. Not an empire, but a republic -- and a republic of laws, not men." We've strayed so far from this principle in our day.



In addition to being inspired by Adams, the leader, I've also been inspired by the love story between John and Abigail Adams. And it really makes me want to read The Letters of John and Abigail Adams. In his biography about Adams, McCullough includes this bit of information about Abigail's letters to John:
From Abigail came long letters filled with news from home -- of family, of politics, of her day-to-day struggle to manage expenses, cope with shortages, and keep the farm going, a responsibility for which little in her background had prepared her. 
From what I can tell, their love story is warm, practical and sacrificial. It's the sacrificial portion that intrigues and inspires me most.

Tuesday, October 04, 2011

Embracing the Editor Within

Photo: Matt Hampel
A month ago, a business associate called me out of the blue. We haven’t spoken in probably five years. I used to do some ghostwriting for him. He’s an independent financial planner. As we worked together, we would often trade small business tips.

He was calling to catch up and to trade more tips. After he asked me about my freelancing writing business, and then listened to my answer, he had a question for me.

He said he is licensed to sell health and life insurance as well as health savings accounts, cancer policies, etc., but that he quit selling health and life policies because they aren’t in his wheelhouse – meaning they are more difficult for him to sell. They aren’t his thing. Whereas the other products he is selling are his thing. A more focused vision allows him to work quicker and sell more. He asked me if I might benefit from doing the same.

No doubt about it, I told him.

After we hung up, I continued to think about what he said. Over the past few years, I’ve worked as a freelance editor for a Christian publishing house and a Christian manuscript critique service. And with the e-book revolution happening right now, making it easier than ever for authors who want to self-publish to do so, I came to the conclusion rather quickly that I need to focus more on editing, than writing. My experience will allow me to help prospective authors.

That doesn’t mean I’ll give up writing. It just means I’ll be more selective when taking on writing projects, while focusing on editing.

So, last week I opened shop as Christian Manuscript Editing Services where I will offer copy editing, substantive editing, proofreading and critiquing services, as well as helping authors publish straight to the Kindle. Drop by if I can help you take your writing to the next level.

I’ll be blogging over there about the publishing industry as well and would love to dialogue with you about it. I’ve already written about how the e-book revolution might be impacting your writing, three questions to ask before you start writing your book or book proposal and understanding point of view.

Thursday, September 29, 2011

Things That Make Me Go Hmm

Photo: Sam Howzit
For years, the most popular posts here at Little Nuances were related to the movie Elizabethtown – specifically the post I wrote about the phrase, “substitute people,” from that movie. But there’s a new sheriff in town. It’s a post I wrote called Baseball Dartboard, and if Blogger’s statistics are correct (I’m pretty sure they are inflated), then some 3,384 people have googled or found that post – far more than my “substitute people” post has drawn (2,147). What it is about a baseball dartboard that is drawing so much interest?

While in various waiting rooms the past few weeks, I’ve heard the song “Easy” by the Commodores a couple of times. I love the line, “I’m easy like Sunday morning,” but I have no idea what it means. From what I can tell, it’s a song about a man who is leaving a woman after knowing he’s done all he can do to make the relationship work. And now that he’s come to terms with that, the pressure is off. What do you think?

While sitting in yet another waiting room this morning – this time at my car dealership, waiting for some routine maintenance to be completed – an elderly gentlemen sees me pull out my laptop and says, “A laptop, huh? Do those damn things work?” I had no idea how to answer him. I didn’t really have to though. Without missing a beat, he glanced down at the USA Today on the table between us and started complaining about something President Obama did. I’m thinking he just needed somebody to talk to.

Same car dealership waiting room, one hour later. A woman sits down at the PC provided by the dealership for customers to use while waiting for their vehicles to be fixed. She brings up a website and begins playing a pinball game. It’s so loud that it wakes up the the guy who was questioning the validity of laptops, but has since fallen asleep. And it causes me to do a double take. I’m thinking, “Surely, she won’t keep playing it, given how loud it is.” And I was wrong.

How about those recent changes to Facebook? They seem to have generated a lot of complaints. I’m not really complaining. I just no longer understand what I’m looking at when I sign in. Little info bubbles pop up, informing me about the changes and all I can think is, “Why in the world would I want to do that?” In fact, the more I look at the news feed, messages, events, pages, lists and apps, the more I want to hit the X button and sign back into Twitter. But I’ll stick around anyway. Too many people I know and love are on Facebook.

My bowling season started a few weeks ago. I entered the season with a 180 average. I just never found a rhythm last season – couldn’t make the proper adjustments. I didn’t touch a bowling ball all summer, but three weeks into the new season, I have a 202 average. The adjustments I’m making are working. I have no idea why, but I’m not complaining.

Yeah, it’s a random list, but it’s what is floating around in my head right now.

Wednesday, September 28, 2011

The Best Writing Advice I've Received

Photo: Laszlo Ilyes
“Allen, I just don’t feel like I know this topic as deeply as I should to be able to write an article about it by tomorrow.”

Surely my editor would understand.

“You’re over-thinking this,” he said. “You are swimming in facts and figures on a deeper level than you need to. Come a little closer to the surface. You only have 600-800 words. Write the article in such a way that the average reader can become informed about what is going on right now without getting lost in all the backstory.”

Relief swept over me as I came to the realization that I couldn’t possibly cover this topic comprehensively in a short news story. That’s what books are for. I certainly had enough information to write a solid, informative article that gave readers a snapshot of what was going at that particular moment with the issue I was writing about. So, I wrote the story, submitted it on time and learned a lesson, or so I thought.

Last month, an editor asked me to write an article. I didn’t have a deadline, which probably made things worse. I started by interviewing a few people who were knowledgeable about the topic. After finishing the interviews, I considered the historical, biblical and contemporary viewpoints of the topic. I found statistics from a reputable source to include in the article and wondered how to incorporate them with the various perspectives I’d been considering.

Weeks went by and I got busy with other projects. But I kept thinking about all the information I had gathered for the article that still needed to be written. I didn’t know it until yesterday, but then it hit me – I was swimming too deep. So, I pushed a little closer to the surface and the direction of the article became clear. I wrote 1,300+ words in about three hours and was happy with the way it turned out.

I slept on it, edited it this morning and then hit the send button, thankful for the best writing advice I’ve ever received that still pays off every time I incorporate it.

If you are a writer, what is the best writing advice you’ve received?

Monday, September 26, 2011

Gold Dollar Coins Trigger Childhood Memories

The dollar coins are similar in size to a quarter
“I’m sorry to do this to you.” She handed me three gold dollar coins through the drive-through window instead of three dollar bills. “US Bank won’t give us any ones and this is all we have to make change with.”

I didn’t even know dollar coins were still in circulation. I looked down at them – barely bigger than a quarter – and remembered why Susan B. Anthony dollar coins didn’t go over all that well in the late 70s and early 80s. They looked and felt like a quarter. At least the new dollar coins are gold, which makes them a little easier to distinguish.

“You’ve gotta do what you’ve gotta do, right?” Obviously, she felt bad for pawning these coins off on me. I bobbed my head from side to side as if to say, “I guess.”

As I drove home, I remembered collecting a few real dollar coins (I say “real” because only things from the past can be considered so – of course, I’m kidding, sort of) as a kid in the early 70s. They had President Eisenhower on the front and an eagle on the back, which I think changed to the Liberty Bell in 1976 for the bicentennial.

There was no mistaking these coins for a quarter. They were huge. They could have doubled as a pirate’s eye patch. And they were heavy. At one point, I saved eight or ten of them in a box in which I also stored Kennedy half dollar coins, Indian head pennies, silver pennies from 1943, wheat pennies, a Canadian coin or two, and a few other odds and ends coins.

I think I still have most of those coins stored somewhere (although, I may have spent the Eisenhower dollars and Kennedy half dollars on baseball cards). I hung on to most of the collection because the coins were oddities and therefore, collectable. It never dawned on me that any of these might actually be worth something someday. My guess is, most of them aren’t – at least monetarily.

The new gold coins won’t make the collection, but receiving them did trigger a memory and they helped me realize my small coin collection from yesteryear is a nice snapshot of my childhood – assuming I can ever find the collection.

Even if I can’t, it’s still a nice memory.

Saturday, September 24, 2011

Coping with Surrender

I've been thinking about a scene from the TV show Parenthood. It's from the episode, "Hey, If You're Not Using that Baby" that aired this past week. Kristina, the mother of a child named Max who has Asperger's syndrome, is meeting with his teacher after she and her husband have decided to "mainstream" him by putting him in a regular school.

Kristina is concerned that Max isn't going to fit it. Her fears are confirmed the first time she sees Max sitting by himself on the playground, so she begins emailing Max's teacher about her concerns. When the teacher doesn't respond quickly, Kristina decides to visit the school. That's the scene you will see below.



"You're just going to have to get a little more comfortable with having less control," Max's teacher says. That's the line that sticks in my head. It seems to be an "aha" moment for Kristina who has understandably spent most of Max's life trying to control his environment. But the truth is, she's not always going to be there for Max. He's eventually going to finish his education, get a job, maybe get married and have kids of his own.

Along that journey, he's going to be ostracized sometimes. He's not always going to fit in. But in reality, how many of us fit in in all social settings? Certainly Max is going to face bigger social challenges than many of us, but he's going to be better prepared for them if Kristina can get a little more comfortable with having less control now.

Max's teacher wasn't advocating being at ease with having no control. Instead, she spoke about increments -- about getting "a little more comfortable" with having "less control."

Life is about adjusting in increments. I think that's what Kristina heard from Max's teacher. She doesn't have to stop trying to protect her son. She just needs to loosen the reigns a little to see what happens next.

Thursday, September 22, 2011

The X Factor Series Premiere

Photo: Ethan Hickerson
Did you watch the premiere of X Factor USA on Wednesday night? It certainly had some moving moments. It had some bizarre ones too. I like the fact that nearly all ages can compete, and having live auditions in front of such a huge audience was a nice twist.

The only real negative for me was a lack of diverse musical styles. Nearly every contestant who got on the air was either into pop or R&B. Hopefully we’ll get to hear some rock and country mixed in as the auditions continue.

Here are a few thoughts about the contestants:

Rachel Crow: Loved her. Loved her personality. At 13, she brought down the house with her rendition of “Mercy.”

Terrell Carter: Dude can sing. I think he’ll go far in the competition.

John Lindahl: Plenty of personality. Great stage presence. Not sure he has the voice, but time will tell.

Siameze Floyd: If this were a celebrity impersonation competition, he would win. He’s Prince, minus the voice. He can dance and move, but that’s where it ends. Can’t believe they put him through.

Dan and Venita: He is 70. She is 83. They are married and make a beautiful couple. I loved the way Dan kept reaching out to touch Venita’s hand during “Unchained Melody.” Unfortunately, they just couldn’t sing.

You Only Live Once: My cat nearly jumped off my lap when one of the girls started doing her death metal scream. And the stunned look on Simon’s face was hysterical. “It was like you were singing,” he said to one of them, “and she swallowed poison,” he said to the death metal girl. I was hoping they would put them through just to see how they would follow that performance.

Linda Ostrofsky: A 61-year old screaming “I Touch Myself”? Come on. There is no way in the world this was a legitimate audition. This had to be a gag, a dare or a hoax.

Miranda Singleton: She said she wants to be the next Madonna. She sort of had Madonna’s look down, but the voice … not so much.

Simone Battle: She likes the word, “fierce,” which to her means confidence and exhibiting fearlessness. She had plenty of that, but she relied mostly on tight red shorts. My problem with her was her voice, which wasn’t all that hot in my opinion. She just seemed more concerned with her dream of “becoming a pop icon,” than with actually wanting a platform to say something of substance through her music. But she’s through to the next round. So, we’ll see. The one thing that resulted from her audition is – Simon and L.A. Reid aren’t afraid to disagree and they did so often.

Stacy Francis: A 42-year-old, single mother of two who says she doesn’t want to die with the music in her. Even before I heard her sing, I was rooting for her. She killed it during her audition, singing “Natural Woman,” bringing everybody to their feet, including the judges. I loved her “Wooooo” at the end.

Geo Godley: A 43-year-old “internet blogger,” as if there were another kind. I’m not even going to get into this guy’s audition. Let’s just say he disrobed. Another farce. There’s no way this was a legit audition. He’s just a guy looking for his 15 minutes, and he got it thanks to the show’s bad decision to air his audition.

Marcus Canty: A 20-year old guy who loves life and watching kids at his church. His mom told him he has two years to make a go of his singing career. He was at the end of his two years when he took the stage. I wasn’t as blown away with him as the judges were, but he can certainly sing. He’ll be fun to watch.

The Answer: Not my kind of music, but they are good.

Nici Collins: Can’t sing a lick and she made weird screeching noises. And again, I just can’t imagine this was legit.

T for Two: No. No. No.

Darren Michaels: Attempted to sing “Like a Virgin,” but didn’t come anywhere close to singing.

Chris Rene: Another contestant with a compelling story. He got into drugs and alcohol at an early age, has a two-year old son, hauls trash for a living and he has a dream. He sang an original hip-hop song called “Young Homie,” which was filled with hope. He says he’s been clean for 70 days and knowing his backstory made the song even better. Loved what Simon told him: “Maybe you need the show, maybe we need you.”

What do you think about the premiere?

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

Rebecca St. James and the Power of Encouragement

I’ve been a fan of Rebecca St. James’ music since the release of her “God” album in 1996. It’s still one of my favorite CDs. She’s also made quite an impact on my life spiritually. I wrote about that last year after having a chance to interview her for a newspaper article. She read that post and sent me an email telling me my story encouraged her.

As the body of Christ, we need each other, and St. James gets that.

Yesterday I had a chance to interview her again for another newspaper article – this one about her latest book, “What is He Thinking: What Guys Want Us to Know About Dating, Love, and Marriage,” set to be released next week. [I’ll provide a link on my website once the article has been published on the newspaper’s website.]

Throughout the interview we discussed points she makes in her book about femininity, modesty, and what Christian men want in a potential spouse. After the interview, she asked me, “Did you find the book encouraging, as a man?”

Do you see the give and take dynamic at work again? She wasn’t fishing for a compliment. Instead, she knows the power of two believers speaking encouragement into each others’ lives. And this morning, she re-tweeted what I tweeted about our interview yesterday. And the encouragement cycle continues.

The truth is, I’m nobody special. I haven’t sold millions of albums (or, in my case, books). But I get a chance to encourage people who do read my books and articles in various newspapers or magazines and I don’t take that for granted.

As I said in the post I wrote last year about St. James, shortly after reading something she wrote, I attended my first writer’s conference (in 1998) and that’s where the writing bug bit me.

Are you where I was in 1998 – somebody who has a sense of urgency to write, but you aren’t sure where to begin? If so, come and join me November 2-6 in Abiquiu, New Mexico for the CLASSeminars Christian Writers Conference.

If you are a little squeamish about jumping into an environment where professional writers, agents and editors for publications such as Focus on the Family, Tyndale and AMG Publishing will be present, Ron Benson and I will be teaching a workshop before the conference starts called “On Ramp” designed to help you get up to speed. We will go over writers conference etiquette, teach you how to approach an editor and you’ll have time to ask us questions, which hopefully will put your mind at ease as the conference begins.

I’ll be teaching a class called “Article Writing 101” in which we’ll talk about eight different types of articles, eight different types of leads, how to construct the body of an article and nine ways to end an article, in addition to discussing themes, subheadings and the importance of a good nut graph.

Finally, I’ll be teaching a hands-on blogging workshop as well as meeting with writers one-on-one to hear about your passions, to answer your questions and yes, offer a little encouragement.

Thursday, September 08, 2011

Live from Daryl's House

Daryl Hall & John Oates
Photo: Gary Harris
Live from Daryl’s House, the free monthly web show in which singer Daryl Hall invites other performers to come to his house so they can jam together, is genius on so many levels. The sessions combine the best of multiple artists, often from multiple generations, and gives music lovers the passionate, believable performances they crave.

The current episode (#45) with Grace Potter is one of those – especially their rendition of “Low Road.” [If you are reading this post via email, you’ll need to click through to the blog to see the video since video doesn’t show up in email.]



The song opens with layers of guitars, every note having a purpose. And as Potter sings the first line, “I lost everything / I fell out of a daydream / At the door of a long lost friend,” she sings with her hands as much as her voice.

As she sings the second line, “And I cried aloud / Without an inch of pride / I knew I had reached the end,” the camera dips down low, capturing Potter, who is lost in the moment, and a photo of T-Bone Wolk, who played based with Hall and Oates. He died of a heart attack in 2010 at the age of 58. He appears in many of the previous episodes and it seems fitting to see him in this one because something magical is taking place – a blend of young and old, singing about loss and hope. And as they hit the chorus that contains wisdom from an “old and lonely man,” you can feel the hope.

But it’s a low low road
You’ve gotta roll down
Before you find your way, my friend
And it’s a high, high hill
You’ve gotta climb up
Before you get to the top again


In the next verse, Hall sings about making wrong choices and then he comes to the line, “But now I see so clearly,” and the way he sings the word “so,” will remind you of a dozen other Hall & Oates songs – in the most nostalgic of ways. Meanwhile, Potter dances and makes you feel like you are watching a performance from the early 70s. But somehow, the performance feels 2011ish at the same time.

Hall is 64 years old. Potter is 28. But the music erases those lines and you get lost in the moment. That’s the beauty of it.

Wednesday, September 07, 2011

Bombarded

Photo: Danny Sullivan
I favor Twitter over Facebook. It’s just personal preference, but it sort of matches my personality because I have just one column of information to read. Simultaneous reference points usually means overload for me.

My brain just doesn’t process and then properly prioritize multiple calls to action or requests for information. And between the news feed, messages, marketplace, groups, and invitations, Facebook comes at me in so many directions that I just can’t keep up.

When I signed onto Facebook this morning, I noticed something I’ve never seen before. The “Messages” section (which I don’t view often enough) contains an “Other” section.

What in the world is that?

After clicking on it, I saw several messages from people dating back to June. One was from a woman thanking me for editing her book and another was from an author who read an article I wrote and she was writing to say she liked the way I handled a sensitive topic.

I have Facebook set up to send me an email when I receive a message, but I don’t always receive them (or maybe I do and they fall into that “simultaneous reference points usually means overload for me” category) and I don’t think I have ever received one for a message in the “Other” section.

Apologies were in order to those who had sent messages, so I did so. One of the women responded by saying, “Nice to hear back from you, Lee! No worries on the delay. We are all bombarded with too much anyway.”

I couldn’t agree more. I once heard somebody say that an email inbox is largely a storehouse for other people’s demands or desires. That is a profound statement. Keeping up with my own demands and desires is usually all I can handle.

That doesn't mean I don’t want to engage with other people. I really do. I just have to do so in a way that makes sense to and for me.

We are bombarded with so many messages now that we send text messages to schedule phone calls. And to be honest, I prefer it that way. The world is a different place than it used to be. Everybody is accessible at all times, and 9:00-5:00 work schedules are no longer the norm. So many of us work from home now and our work schedules easily blur with our life schedules.

What we don’t tell each other though is, all of us have a small circle of people we respond to quicker and there isn’t anything wrong with that.

I don’t take many personal phone calls during my work hours (thank you caller id), but when my mom, my siblings or my niece is calling, I always pick up. When a close friend sends me a text, I always try to respond during my next mini-break. The other, non-work related requests, have to wait until later.

What do you do to filter the messages you receive each day?

Monday, August 29, 2011

All Your Life

This is my new favorite song.



I especially love these words:

I don't want the whole world
The sun, the moon and all their light
I just want to be the only girl
You love all your life

Wednesday, August 17, 2011

Third was the Fence

A friend posted a video on my Facebook wall on my birthday a few days ago, knowing I would like it since I’m a baseball fan. She was right.



This video reminds me of when neighborhood kids used to gather in front of my house to play baseball in the street (it’s a side street). I don’t know how it happened, but at some point, a bit of tar or rubber embedded itself into the street and we used it as home plate. We used the tree on the side of my yard as first base. We used a Frisbee, a shirt, or an unused baseball glove for second base. And we used another tree on the other side of the street for third base.

Ah, those were the days.

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

The Demise of Borders

Photo: Ruthanne Reid
It became a ritual.

Every Friday night during the fall, several of my friends and I would gather at Borders to spend 45 minutes browsing the bookshelves before meeting in the coffee shop to chat. I rarely left without buying a book. I also rarely bought a CD or DVD because I had already made the change to iTunes and Netflix. But I wasn’t convinced about e-readers yet. I still had a romantic view of bundled paper held together by glue.

That was just two short years ago. 

Since then, I’ve purchased two Kindles and have been talking to a publisher about writing a book for them that would go straight to e-readers and then come out on paper and glue. After reading a couple of books on my first Kindle, I realized that books are words that inform and entertain and take us to new worlds. They aren’t paper and glue. Those are just the medium. 

Borders wasn’t convinced of this on any level (books, CDs or DVDs).

In fact, not only weren’t they convinced, but they continued to charge ridiculous prices for old mediums. One of the last times I walked into a Borders, I picked up a copy of the movie SALT to see how much they were charging for the non-Blu-ray DVD. The answer: $28.99! I was stunned to the point of snapping a photo with my cell phone, thinking nobody would believe me:


As of this writing, Amazon.com is offering SALT on Blu-ray for $15.44 and on non-Blu-ray for $12.60.

Rather than adapting, Borders either showed complete contempt for the new ways of delivering entertainment or they were oblivious to them. I’m not sure which is worse. But when the news came down that the chain was planning to liquidate its assets and close its stores by September, I wasn’t surprised. I was a little bummed though. 

Not everybody wants to read e-books. And that’s fine, as long as a retailer offers both choices (please don’t tell me the Kobo e-reader was a choice if you don’t know a single person who owns one), I think there’s a chance they could survive in this economy and publishing environment. But since Borders didn’t, people who like to read paper and glue just lost a huge retailer.

As for meeting in Borders for coffee, well, there are multiple other coffee shop options for my friends and I to hang out in. But losing a book retailer the size of Borders is never good for the industry.

Tuesday, July 19, 2011

Spoiler-Alert Police

This is how I felt when I saw a score I didn't want to see
(Photo: Casey Fleser)
Mary McNamara, a Los Angeles Times television critic, wrote a column recently about spoiler alerts. In it, she says endings are just as important as beginnings and as such are fair game for commentary and opinion without the critic being slapped around by the spoiler-alert police. I found myself agreeing and disagreeing with her throughout the column.

Here's an example:
The Internet has created a new genre of re-cap commentary, in which every episode of a show is parsed for later-that-night consumption and season finales are regularly reviewed while the end credits are still rolling. Twitter is even more insidious — people don't even have to take the time to think of a catchy lead or transitional phrase before they blast off crucial "Can you believe???" information. Meanwhile, the DVR, Netflix and other forms of delayed content delivery gave birth to a generation people who are not about to schedule their lives around some TV show. Not even a Really Important episode that they don't want spoiled. 
The irony is, many of these do-it-yourself programmers are also heavy Internet and Twitter users who don't appreciate having to forgo their high-speed pleasures to preserve the mysteries of their TV dawdling.
I'm one of those people who are not about to schedule my life around a TV show so I use my DVR and Netflix to catch up on programs I want to see, when I want to see them. But I'm also a "heavy Internet and Twitter" user and that definitely creates problems. But I know when to go dark and when not to so I can usually avoid spoilers.

But this past weekend, I watched a NASCAR race at a friend's house and then we engaged in a little one-on-one NCAA 2012 football battle on PS3. The game uses ESPN's brand, complete with the scrolling scoreboard at the bottom – and the scores are real-time. You know what happened next, the video game scrolled the score of one of the sporting events I recorded. I'm not a fan of the scrolling scoreboard on my TV. I'm even less of a fan of it on a video game.

I guess I'm advocating for even more personal control. If I want to hide a scrolling scoreboard, I should be able to. If I want to hide someone I follow on Twitter for a few hours, I should be able to.
Anyway, I understand her point, but I think it's possible, or at least it should be possible, to both determine my own TV watching schedule while also being engaged on social media.

Back to the column …
One critic of my acquaintance (OK, it's me) was recently chided on two occasions for, among many other things, writing about season finales that had aired several days and, in one case, several weeks previously. 

Weeks.
I wouldn't complain about either instance. Several days is ample time. But I really take issue with this statement: 
Or, more recently, over the hectic response to the "Lost" finale? No, they did not. Because the people who cared about the shows watched the shows in real time, and the ones who didn't were too embarrassed to admit it.
Saying a person who cares about a show watches it in real time (implying a person who chooses to record a program and watch it later doesn't really care) is a bizarre statement to make. It implies that I will forgo meeting a friend at a coffee shop on a Monday night because "Men of a Certain Age" is on TV. Is she really saying, "If you really care about 'Men of a Certain Age' you will forget about your real life friends so you can watch a TV show about friendship?" 

And if her statement is true, why would anybody have a DVR box? Why would Netflix carry TV series? Why are TV series even offered on DVD?

Monday, July 18, 2011

Photographing Old Church Buildings

Do you ever drive by old barns or church buildings on road trips and wish you had time to stop and snap a photo or two? Nearly every road trip I take, that thought goes through my mind. But there is always a schedule to keep. In my case, it's often a schedule I predetermined that could be changed if I really wanted to.

A couple of weekends ago, a couple of my friends and I took a trip to Kansas City. Our normal route isn't passable due to flooding, so we had to travel two-lane highways, mostly of the way. On the way down to Kansas City, we passed the church building you see to the right while traveling south on Highway 71 in Iowa.

It looked like something out of a movie. It had an old fashioned chruch bell with an old stone stairway that leads inside. One of my friends pointed out that there was a cable across both doors, maybe indicating that the building was no longer in use. That made me wonder about the building's story. Who started the church? How long ago did they start it? How many pastors preached sermons there? How many lives where changed as the gospel was preached? If the building was no longer in use, why not?

As we zoomed past it, I made a mental note to snap a photo of it when we returned. Unfortunately, I didn't bring my camera on the tripo so my cell phone camera would have to do. On our way back, I pulled off the road and snapped three photos. Unfortunately, the one I shot of the church sign containing the name of the church turned out too small, so I cannot read it, which sort of adds to the intrigue.

But if I find myself on that stretch of Highway 71 again, you can be sure I'll have my camera and a notebook with me. In fact, I might even stop at a nearby business to see if I can get the full story behind the place.

Wednesday, June 29, 2011

Men of a Certain Age – Whatever Gets You Through the Night

Photo: Danny Feld
TNT sent me an advance copy of the final six episodes of season two of “Men of a Certain Age” and I’m blogging my way through them. 

As I expected, Manfro finally finds out Joe has been cutting in on his bookie business and he’s not happy. I don’t know if it’ll cost Joe Manfro’s friendship, but it cost him a tooth. Terry takes him to a dentist, where Joe bumps into an old flame named Dory – yet another failure in Joe’s life that he tries to ignore.

After the dentist reinserts Joe’s tooth, Dory tracks Joe down by the elevator.

“I should’ve at least given you an explanation,” Dory says. She looks at the elevator button because she can’t look him in the eye. She’s struggling. You get the feeling she cares more about Joe than he realizes. “It’s just, when you told me about that big bet you made …”

“Hey, you saw what you saw,” Joe says. He’s still clueless. “It was scary.”

“No … I had to break it off, but I just want you to know,” she says, “it wasn’t some little thing … meeting you.”

He finally gets it – by it, I don’t just mean Dory’s feelings for him, though, that’s part of it. But he finally understands what a mess he’s made of his life – often at the expense of others.

Now it’s his turn to look down.

“Ah, I screwed up so many things,” he says.

Dory lets five seconds pass. She seems to be debating whether she should pile on or offer him an olive branch.

She makes a decision, and it’s a beautiful one.

“Hey,” she says, “don’t let bad Joe win, okay? Cuz good Joe’s kinda awesome.”

Monday, June 27, 2011

Sugar Substitute and ELO

Photo: Alan Levine
Experienced a couple of funny anecdotes over the weekend and what’s a blog for if not to share such moments?

*****

Friday night, a couple of my friends and I hit a coffee shop we’ve only been to a few times. It’s small, but has good coffee, so it’s always worth stopping there.

After we ordered our coffee, one of my friends saw a new sweetner – one I’ve never heard of, nor can I remember the name of it. But he opened a small package of it, poured a little on his pointer finger and gave it a taste. My other friend asked for some too, so friend #1 pours a neat line of the white stuff onto friend #2’s pointer finger just as a baurista looks over at us.

I knew what she was thinking – we were doing drugs, which is pretty comical given that we are three 40-something Christian dudes whose notion of going crazy includes trying the latest blend of frou-frou coffee at Borders, before closing the place down at 9:00 pm.

“Oh!” the baurista said, realizing we were dabbling in sugar substitute. She placed her hand over her heart. “I thought you guys were doing drugs!” She laughed. “Not that I would judge or anything, but you cannot do drugs in my store.”

“We don’t do drugs,” we said collectively – as if we actually did do them, we would admit to it in a situation like this.

“I’m just saying, if you did, you couldn’t do it in my store,” she said.

Okay, we got it. No drugs in her store.

*****

All Over The World: The Very Best Of ELOSaturday, I walked into a Radio Shack to trade cell phone plans. The salesman who helped me was knowledgable and we were able to get through the process fairly quickly. Toward the end, we started talking about music.

“What was your first concert?” he asked.

“ELO,” I said, thinking about the band for the first time in years. I think I owned one of their singles, “Don’t Bring Me Down,” when I was a kid. The only thing I can remember about the concert was a robot that came out and introduced the band.

“Ah, I’m about ten years before you then,” he said. “ELP for me.”

ELO, ELP – what are the chances of the two names being so similar?

“Emerson, Lake & Powell?” I said, apparently thinking Colin Powell was part of the group at one time.

“Emerson, Lake & Palmer.”

“Ah, okay. I was close.”

Wednesday, June 22, 2011

Men of a Certain Age – Can’t Let That Slide

TNT sent me an advance copy of the final six episodes of season two of “Men of a Certain Age” and I’m blogging my way through them. I’ve been attempting to do summaries of episodes and to be honest, that’s not my thing. I’m more of a pick a scene that moves me kind of guy and write about that. So, from here on out, that’s the plan with this series.

Ray Romano plays Joe in
"Men of a Certain Age"
Photo: Danny Feld
Over the past couple of episodes, Joe’s bookie, Manfro, has been going through chemotherapy. He asked Joe to pick up money from a bettor and that plunged Joe back into his old gambling habit – but this time, he’s cutting in on Manfro’s action while he’s sick.

Joe gets in even deeper during this episode, which airs tonight on TNT at 10:00 pm Eastern, 9:00 pm Central. He takes a large bet from a man named Marty who can’t afford to pay after he loses. Joe walks into Marty’s place of employment, an electronics store, and applies the heat, hoping the man will crack and somehow come up with the money.

“Listen George,” Marty says to Joe, who is using a pseudonym, “I’m kind of going through a whole thing right now, okay?” He’s unshaven, fidgety, desperate. “So, I don’t know ... I guess it all kind of got away from me.”

Joe stares at Marty as he pleads his case, seeing himself and not liking what he sees.

“Look I just needed to hit this one time,” Marty says, “Just one more stupid time and I would be out of this stupid hole that I’m in now.”

Joe continues to stare.

“My wife left and she took the kids and I’m staying in this piece of s**t apartment,” Marty continues. “My kids are seven and eight. I feel like a total a**hole. I’m sorry. I’m sorry. I don’t have it. I don’t have it. I’m sorry. I don’t know what to say man ... I’m sorry... I don’t have ...”

And there it is – Marty has just described the exact same situation Joe went through as a result of his own gambling problems.

“It’s okay,” Joe says. “Yeah, it’s okay ...” He turns around and walks out.

Self deception isn’t all that difficult, but when somebody else we know demonstrates the same faults or poor decisions we’ve made, then it becomes much more difficult. As I watched it unfold, I felt for both men and I felt for their families who were torn apart.

The damage won’t end there. When Manfro finds out Joe has been taking advantage of him while he’s been going through chemo, that friendship is bound to end. Although, if Manfro was really thinking the way a friend should, he would have never put Joe in the position he did to begin with.

Brokenness tends to breed brokenness though. One bad decision leads to another one, and so it goes, until someone or something wakes a person up. Maybe this will be the wakeup call Joe needs. I hope so. But the fallout is still going to be ugly.

Monday, June 13, 2011

The Lovely Bones – Heroes

The Lovely BonesThe Lovely Bones is one of many books I picked up a couple of years ago intending to read soon, but then put it aside when other books caught my eye. I ended up seeing the movie version first, which was probably best because I generally don’t like the movie after I’ve read the book. But when I see the movie first, I’m usually neutral on which one is better.

The Lovely Bones is the first novel I’ve picked up by Alice Sebold, so I had no frame of reference when I started reading it recently. As you probably know, the novel is told from the point of view of a 14-year-old girl named Susie who is brutally murdered. She can see and hear her family, friends and killer from heaven. It's an interesting concept, but the author looses me at times because Susie’s observations seem more like an adult’s than those of a 14-year-old girl. So it doesn't really work for me. For example:
Late at night the air above hospitals and senior citizen homes was often thick and fast with souls. Holly and I watched sometimes on the nights when sleep was lost to us. We came to realize how these deaths seemed choreographed from somewhere far away. Not our heaven. And so we began to suspect that there was a place more all-encompassing than we were.
To me, this sounds more like the point of view of a 38-year-old.

But one scene gets it right, even though it has a couple of awkwardly worded sentences, and it’s the one I want to focus on in this post. Susie is watching from heaven as her dad tries to carry her brother, Buckley, piggyback in their yard – the way he used to before Susie’s death and before he had knee surgery. And in the most ordinary of circumstances, she ends up seeing her dad as a hero for his effort.
So, awkwardly, in the beautiful isolation of the yard, where if my father fell only a boy and a dog who loved him would see, the two of them worked together to make what they both wanted – this return to father/son normalcy – happen. When Buckley stood on the iron chair – “Now scoot up my back,” my father said, stooping forward, “and grab on to my shoulders,” not knowing if he’d have the strength to lift him up from there – I crossed my fingers hard in heaven and held my breath. In the cornfield, yes, [that’s where she was murdered – and I guess Susie is saying her dad’s head is still there in the cornfield?] but, in this moment, repairing the most basic fabric of their previous day-to-day lives, challenging his injury to take a moment like this back, my father became my hero.
Heroes come in a lot of varieties – from people who risk their lives for people they don’t know to people who choose professions or volunteer positions to better their communities. And sometimes a hero can be found in the smallest of actions – like a father running the risk of embarrassment, or worse, just to make his son feel the special bond they used to share during piggyback sessions in the backyard.

Friday, June 10, 2011

5 Movies with Jennifer Aniston

It’s been a while since I’ve written a post for the Name 5 series. If you are new to the blog, I got the idea from the board game called Name 5. The premise is pretty simple – players advance on a by naming 5 items on a list from a card they draw. In this particular case, one of the cards says, “5 Movies with Jennifer Aniston.”

Marley and Me (Single-Disc Edition)In my opinion, Aniston has been in a couple of great movies as well as a number of duds. Now that I look of my list of her five best movies, I would only watch two of them over and over – the first two I’ve listed below.
  1. Marley & Me. By far my favorite Aniston movie. Loved her role as Jennifer Grogan. I particularly loved the scene where she thumbs through her husband’s (John) former columns near the end of the movie and suggests he put them in book. She reminisces about the role Marley played in their lives and you can feel the passage of time as she flips through the columns John wrote about the bad and funny deeds the dog committed over the years.
  2. Management. I wrote quite a bit about this movie last July. Aniston plays a woman named Sue, a traveling art saleswoman who is trying to cut ties with a motel manager named Mike. Sue is aloof, unsure of what she wants, and going through the motions in life. She needs Mike, but she just doesn’t know it. Mike is immature, unsettled, and a bit of a wreck. But he’s in love with Sue and it makes him want to be a better man. What’s not to love about that?
  3. Bounty Hunter. This is more of a comedy than anything, which is fine, but usually not my thing. Aniston plays a reporter named Nicole. I thought the chemistry between Nicole and her ex-husband Milo (played by Gerard Butler) was believable. I saw this one twice at the movie theater, but I doubt if I’ll watch it again.
  4. Rock Star. The music reminded me of the 80s – when my hair was long and my socks were too. Aniston plays the girlfriend of a guy, Chris, who gets a shot to sing for his favorite band. They get caught up in a crazy lifestyle and it takes a toll on their relationship. You really feel for Aniston’s character, Emily, as their relationship dies.
  5. The Good Girl. Aniston plays a store clerk named Justine in a small Texas town and she feels stuck. I’m a total sucker for a story like this one. But this one never quite did it for me.

Thursday, June 09, 2011

Capturing Reaction

Photo: Lee Warren
I’m a sportswriter who often has to take photos at sporting events. Not being a photographer puts me in some awkward situations.

Last year I covered a professional tennis event for a local magazine. The media relations representative led the photographers courtside where she told us to find a spot on the ground to shoot our photos. She said we had five minutes and then we had to leave our cushy spots on the ground. I looked down the row of long lenses pointed toward the court and knew I had little or no shot of getting a decent action photo with my non-SLR camera with a rather short lens. I was right. Every time I tried to get an action shot, all I got was a blur.

As I was browsing a friend’s Flickr account one day recently though, I had a revelation. She has an eye for sports photography. What I failed to really see until recently though was, many of her photos aren’t action shots – even though she has an SLR camera.

Instead, she does a fantastic job of capturing players, mascots and fans laughing, grimacing and in funny poses. Earlier this year, she took an adorable photo of a smiling little boy at a ballpark. Last year, she shot a photo of a member of the Powerade Power Team tying the mascot’s shoe. It was the epitome of minor league baseball. In fact, it was so good it would have made a great cover shot for the team’s media guide.

Photo: Minda Haas / Royal Blues

Photo: Minda Haas / Royal Blues
Her photos helped me realize I don’t need to worry about action shots. In fact, I’m not an action-shot sort of guy. I’m more of a capture-the-moment-between-action sort of guy. That fits my writing style much better anyway. I’m not an Xs and Os sort of sportswriter. I’m a feature writer who loves to dig for a great story from an athlete or fan.

I love talking to the journeyman athlete who can walk into Walmart unnoticed, and the truth is, he’ll never be noticed because he sees very little playing time, and therefore, nobody knows who he is, but he sticks with the game anyway. I love talking to a father who is sitting next to his 4-year-old son the first time he takes him to a game. And I love hearing how his dad did the same thing 30 years prior.

Now I’m finding I love to capture moments with my camera I otherwise ignored. The other day I was working at a minor league game and a player who recently had been sent down from the major league team was chatting with his minor league manger before the game. The player put his hand on his manager’s shoulder, making it look as if were offering some sort of consolation to his manager, rather than the other way around. I pointed my camera and snapped the photo you see above.

I still have a lot to learn about photography, but with a new philosophy, I think it can become something I really enjoy.

Wednesday, June 08, 2011

Men of a Certain Age: The Pickup

Terry's life is a mess
(Photo: Danny Feld)
TNT sent me an advance copy of the final six episodes of season two and I’m blogging my way through them. This is the second in a series of six posts. This episode, The Pickup, airs tonight on TNT at 10:00 pm (Eastern) / 9:00 pm (Central).

“I don’t know what’s happening,” Joe says to his teaching pro after a shot goes astray off his club. “Last week, I was hitting it really solid.”

The golf pro looks at him with his eyebrows arched and left hand covering his chin. It’s a look that says, “Joe, you’ve given this a good shot, but you just don’t have it.” The pro closes his eyes and searches for the right thing to say. Instead, he tells Joe to try his 8-iron, which Joe shanks way left of his target. The pro continues to say nothing with his mouth, but everything with his eyes.

Joe’s dream of making the Senior Golf Tour is slipping away. He has responsibilities that keep him from practicing and he feels like his dream may be over when his teaching pro tells him he might need somebody else to coach him. It’s enough to drive Joe back into an old pattern, which is heartbreaking to see, but also understandable given that most of us look for an escape when life gets difficult. Unfortunately for Joe, some forms of escape are more harmful than others.

Terry is a mess in this episode. Since Erin broke up with him, he can’t find the motivation to get to work on time or do anything else he is supposed to. Like Joe, he too falls back into old patterns. Owen has it all together though and he has one of his finest moments since the show began as he pulls Terry into his office and calls him on his lack of maturity.

“Do you think you’re the only one here with problems – other s**t to worry about?” Owen says. “We all got problems and you just created a damn big one for me. I have the opportunity here to actually do something with this place – to bring it back from the dead – and you just chased my best salesman out the door, along with 25 sales. So you’re not going anywhere. You dug this big a** hole and you’re going to fill it up.

“Go clean yourself up and be back in here, at 7:00 [am] with a tie. And ah … grow up.”

How’s that for drama?

*****

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