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, 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


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?


Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...