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.

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.


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