Out Of Thin Air…

Out Of Thin Air…

Creation, creating, you know, creativity. It begins with an inclination, the proverbial spark. For some it’s a only a one-time proposition, a wish fulfilled. For others it’s the intellectual equivalent of breathing.

Many creatives don’t ponder the why, they just “do” because it’s what they do, what they must do. I enjoy various creative ventures, but on occasion, I also have to explore the “why”, so after witnessing one particular creative experience almost a year ago, I instantly felt compelled to reduce it to writing (almost a year after the fact).


The following details the creation of an original country pop song, beginning with disjointed scrawls in a notebook, progressing to a pair of iPhones and an acoustic guitar, and ending in a Nashville recording studio with world class musicians. If that doesn’t sound like your brand of creativity you might consider reading anyway, because it was a hell of a lot of fun.


Creating something takes a fair amount of courage and I think this speaks to my earlier point that creatives do what they do because they must.

I know a woman who happens to be an accomplished, versatile singer. She gets paid to sing on a fairly regular basis. I’ve seen her move people to tears singing solos in a church and I’ve seen her move a group of bikers to render colorful comments during a growling, rendition of blues phenom, Shemekia Copeland’s 2 A.M. The point is, she knows what she’s doing behind a microphone. And like most creatives I know, real life hasn’t afforded her the circumstances to do full-time, what she’s truly called to do.

Last year as a birthday gift, she received a session at the Beaird Music Group, Nashville recording studios.


After the initial surprise wore off, she realized that she actually had to write an original song. Cue the courageous act theme music…My wife is more singer than songwriter, but fortunately, she hails from a musically inclined family; her mother once opened for The Beach Boys and still conducts a choir and teaches music…her brother possesses savant-like musical ability to arrange entire songs in his head, is reported to have perfect pitch, has previously toured parts of Europe with his own band, and on occasion has still been known to make spot appearances playing in various San Diego venues. He willingly agreed to co-write the original song with her and thus it began. They literally began creating something out of nothing…out of thin air as the saying goes. Both with busy lives and less than a month to pull it off.


In the limited time available, they talked through ideas; theme, melody, arrangement, and lyrics. (For the record, I think songwriting might be the most organic form of creativity and worthy of its own thorough analysis, but I’d be way out of my depth there, so I’ll leave it for someone who could do it justice.) I believe their “rough sketching” took place over the course of two separate evening sessions, after full-time jobs, dinners, and putting kids to bed. I think there were even a few eureka moments sprinkled in during the evening commute and while sitting inside her car in the garage, as potential lyrics floated loosely around the melody that had already been planted.

The rough cut of the track that had to be emailed to the studio prior to recording came about during their second work session. With dueling iPhones recording from opposite sides of the room, she sang and her brother played guitar and sang the harmony. After  a few takes, the two phone recordings were mixed down to one usable file that was sent to the studio.

Though I wasn’t present during the writing sessions, over the course of several conversations, I was made privy to the struggles of generating an idea, writing lyrics that made sense but weren’t too on-the-nose, and the oscillating self-doubt/need to forge ahead that I’ve come to believe is absolutely necessary to sustaining the creative process.


Fast forward to Beaird Music Studios, a small brick house in Nashville that’s been converted into a full-blown recording studio. From the moment we walked in, we were pleasantly greeted and engaged in conversation at the reception desk by owner Larry Beaird‘s wife, Paula. Unfortunately, Larry wasn’t available that day, but producing the session was left in excellent hands with his extremely qualified son, Eli.

The entire experience occurred in successive blocks of time, each one as fascinating as the last, beginning with the initial meeting with Eli. He accessed the iPhone version of the sontiwsff_nville-chartg on his computer and began making notes on a lined pad as the song played. After listening with only a few brief pauses,
he produced the numbered notation seen in the picture. (The Nashville Number system fascinated me, but it’s beyond the scope of this post. In the music business, time is literally money. If this isn’t second nature to a working Nashville session musician, they probably aren’t working much.)

After listening, Eli nonchalantly stated that “it was a nice little song” they’d put together, then he asked which current country artist she envisioned recording the song. Understand that while that’s the business he’s in, it was a bit surreal, sitting in an office with framed gold records and charts of demos produced in their studio that were eventually recorded by megastars such as Rascal Flatts, among others.

Definitely a long way from sitting in the car after work humming the melody and hoping to find the right lyrics.

After briefly discussing a few more creative choices we were on our own, off to lunch at the venerable Peg Leg Porker (worth the trip if you like BBQ and happen to be in Nashville).

Back from lunch we were ushered in to the recording studio as the musicians began filing in. My role was nothing more than observer, so I felt like a bit of an impostor sitting in their clubhouse. But this eclectic, unassuming group of professional musicians whom you’d never recognize on the street but who’ve probably played on many of the recordings you’ve heard on country radio, as well as having toured with some of the biggest names in music, welcomed us in as they exchanged banter about various artists and recent award nominations. Each of them received a copy of their numbered chart and the banter ceased as the iPhone recording played. They all followed along, a few toes tapping, some heads bobbing with the beat. When the track ended there were only a few questions as the sound engineer played back a requested portion. And just like that, they were ready to work.

“All right. Let’s do it.”

The musicians moved to their respective places inside the studio while my wife and I were each given a set of headphones. Somebody counted off to begin the song and in a brilliant flash, This Is What She’s Fighting For came to life. It was as if they’d been presented a musical slab of clay, someone snapped their fingers, and the slab instantly presented itself as a finished sculpture.

Boot Shopping On Broadway

My wife was singing what’s referred to as a “scratch” vocal, which is used as a placeholder for the band to reference during the initial recording–she recorded the final vocals after working directly with the band–and when the first notes of the intro sounded, we were both so surprised, it almost threw her timing off. She turned to me and I’m pretty sure we both had the same slack-jawed look of amazement on our faces. Out of thin air, these guys breathed life into the raw material and turned it into something I don’t know if either of us could have imagined. I sat there, instantly in awe and envious of the skills we’d been immersed in, but  she still had to manage to sing.

When the recording ended, the engineer polled the musicians and the producer to find out if anyone wanted to hear anything again. There were a few requests for specific sections of the song, followed by some cosmic keyboard sounds that at the time sounded completely out of context, but were later revealed during final mixing as the slightly haunting vibe heard during the song’s intro. The only thing I can liken the experience to was welcoming a new family member. The instant they arrive, it’s nearly impossible to remember life as it existed before their arrival. A full, fleshed out version of their original song, wasn’t…and then it just was. Things were exactly as they were supposed to be.

Part of me wishes I would’ve taken a video of the session, but I don’t know if that would’ve been as good as the souvenir I do have…Every time I hear the polished recording that was born inside the minds of two fantastic musicians, it feels like looking at an old photo of your child in a given moment–you were there, you know, it’s that simple–and with the song, I’m instantly transported back inside the studio; watching the bass player and drummer through the glass wall, all business, but full of passion, hearing the keyboard stylings, almost jumping out of my seat at the first forlorn ring of the steel guitar (rivaled only by good piano in its capacity to bring a tear to my eye), listening to an 8 measure guitar solo that didn’t exist until it was born in that studio, and seeing the sheer joy and excitement of someone who loves to sing, as she was moved by the ingenuity of skilled musicians the same way I’ve seen her move others with her own voice.

“This Is What She’s Fighting For”

Amazingly, all of this occurred in less than twenty five minutes. Time is money. But it wasn’t rushed or choppy, it was professional and polished. I don’t have studio experience, but I simply can’t imagine having enjoyed this particular experience anywhere other than the Beaird Music Studios. From the moment we arrived until we walked out later that evening, they were kind, professional, and treated us the same way I imagine they’d treat any named country artist. If you can write a song and you’re heading to Nashville to cut a demo, this is a must-stop destination.

So, What’s The Point? 

Why do we create, especially when there’s no immediate tangible benefit?

Again, I’m forced to conclude that creatives create simply because they must–Cooking, singing, crafting, arranging music, playing an instrument, writing, acting, woodworking, photography, tattooing, metal fabrication, [insert your creative bent here]–it’s in them and it’s got to come out (to paraphrase the late John Lee Hooker).

Does everyone have ability to create? I think so, but I don’t think everyone believes that they do. I believe that some level of ability exists whether it’s tapped into or not, and I know that while not everyone can be Michelangelo or one of my personal favorites, Bob Ross,  I also know that a blank sheet of paper, a box of crayons, and the slightest bit of imagination can put a priceless smile on a child’s face. Now, for those who make a living with their creativity, it certainly is about the quality, but for the majority of us it’s simply about the act; about sharing your efforts and having an outlet after you’ve paid your bills.

Is an expression of creativity the highest form of caring for our fellow human?

Isn’t it possible that the guy or girl standing alone on a stage in a coffee shop in front of an audience of six, pouring out their soul in song, working a new standup comedy routine, or channeling their inner beatnik at an open mic night, could unwittingly be moving at least one of those audience members to create something of their own, to repair something broken, to reach out to someone, to take a chance?

If so, shouldn’t this possibility be incentive enough to at least make us good stewards of our own creative ability? To never stifle it out of a fear of rejection or ridicule…

I like to counter-argue myself, so during an internal sidebar, I pondered whether my own appreciation of creativity is a bit skewed. What about those who create tech devices, weapons, potato chip makers, and other utilitarian items? Do they rate the same level of appreciation?

You can decide for yourself, but the distinguishing ideal for me was that genuine creation doesn’t serve impulses of malice, greed, and especially not of convenience. It’s organic, pure, and requires emotional equity. While we certainly live in an era of impressive gadgetry and enjoy many created conveniences, these to me are still just manipulation of existing conventions; inorganic at best. Apologies, Siri, no offense intended, and though I’ll always have a weakness for potato chips, they just don’t move me the way the bass line from The Trammps, Disco Inferno, does.

Eventually, I suppose someone will attempt to generate an “experience” that could rival this feeling, but the joke will be on them: There is no rival, maybe a cheap replication, but no true rival. Ask yourself, what’s worth more? The autographed item that you waited and hoped for and obtained by yourself, or that same autographed item purchased from Ebay?

http://www.canstockphoto.com (c) Can Stock Photo / Hobie

Go get the autograph for yourself.

Create something out of thin air.

Struggle with the process – it leaves an indelible imprint.

AUTHOR’S NOTE: I would’ve inserted an emoji here, but I still prefer to let actual words invoke (or not) the intended emojion **smile**


All photos either belong to the author or were purchased at Canstock Photo.com with standard licensing rights: Opry Band: ©canstockphoto.com/Hobie, Nashville Skyline: ©canstockphoto.com/SeanPavonePhoto, Nashville Map (Header & Body): ©canstockphoto.com/Marcosci

It’ll Only Be a Moment…

I have a fascination with moments and it’s been my experience that the significance of even our biggest moments in life dwindles greatly with the passage of time. And in the context of moments, I recently found myself contemplating whether last days are really that much different than first days.

My eleven year-old son started middle school last month. An unnerving proposition at best. He didn’t know anybody at the new school and he’d already heard countless times how much more intense middle school would be than elementary school. For the first time, he’d be leaving the confines of a single classroom and learning to navigate a much larger campus as he moved from class to class.

I couldn’t shoulder the anxiety for him so I did the only other thing I could; I wrote him a letter. Go figure. My sole intent was to give him one final blast from his dad, trying to impart that everything would work out fine, despite the alone-ness of Day 1. I told him he’d make new friends and that they’ll be lucky to find one in him, too. I even shared a few anecdotes of my own, from a few of my unnerving “first days.” I wasn’t trying to bore the poor kid to death, I just wanted him to know that some monsters aren’t nearly as big as they seem.

Mostly though, I wanted him to realize that despite the nerves, it was his first day and he needed to experience it for himself or else it wouldn’t be worth much, and in an effort to quell his nerves, I joked that if there were no such things as “first days,” then they’d all just be called days. I don’t remember which, but I think the attempt at humor was met with an eye roll or a pursed-lip polite smile. Mission accomplished. Fast-forward to the present, he’s survived, made new friends, enjoys the freedom of moving between classes on his own, and is now able to focus on the day-to-day, mundane chores of schoolwork…until the next big first day comes along.

At the outset I mentioned last days because I also know a guy who’s lately been contemplating his last day. I’ve known him for a while so I think it’ll be a bit of a challenge for him, but in the end, I’m sure he’ll adapt. After all, some monsters aren’t as big as they seem. As I thought back to my son’s recent experience, I started wondering if last days are any less stressful than first days. A bit abstract, maybe, but I can’t help myself.

Nowadays, it’s a fairly common sight among retiring professional athletes; a bank of microphones sitting atop a podium, a few of the management staff, and the lone retiree possibly accompanied by family members, addressing a gaggle of media types. There are often tears, I’ve noticed, but that seems natural when the day finally comes to bid a formal farewell to something that they’re so passionate about, something in which a significant piece of their identity has been rooted for so long.

This guy who I know, the one who’s hanging it up, so to speak, began his business with an anchor client, on a shoestring budget, then proceeded to outgrow his office space on more than one occasion. I spent a little time around his office back in those early days, watching him gain traction. Over the years, he’s also been a mentor and a friend to me, so I’ve picked his brain often about business and about life, and I can safely say, it was never about the money for him. He loved the work and probably more importantly, truly enjoyed providing a service to people who saw value in that work. He’s just a guy who showed up every day and tended to his business like any true professional would. As a result, the business grew successfully over a span of thirty years. Pretty simple theory I suppose: Offering good service at a fair price, which creates additional work, which provides jobs. Not nearly as simple to execute, though. Reminds me a little of hitting a baseball. Seems simple enough, but the best in the world only do it successfully three out of every ten times.

Granted, none of these things I’ve mentioned carry the notoriety of a 9th inning homerun to win the World Series or a game winning touchdown in the Super Bowl, so of course there wouldn’t be any outside interest in run-of-the-mill retirements. What’s the common thread, then? Why keep up with the analogy? Because notoriety isn’t the key. Even the greatest athletic feats are simply milestones along the way to that individual reaching their last day. As great as they may be, each accomplishment inadvertently ensures that the transition from one’s passion to, well…something else, will be made that much more difficult. I’m not sure if that’s irony or just self-fulfilling prophecy, but it seems that the more success one achieves as a result of persistent efforts, the longer they want to stick around to achieve more.

Clearly, passion that results in success over a sustained period of time, becomes part of one’s identity. Notice I didn’t say it becomes one’s entire identity. Only a part. So maybe it’s possible that there hasn’t been enough free time to uncover (or discover) the lesser known parts. After all, life happens in such a big arena that I have to think hitting the refresh button now and then leads to fulfillment in places we haven’t yet considered.

My friend and mentor who officially punched out today, wouldn’t want any fanfare over his transition. In fact, my writing about it may be pushing the envelope, by his minimalist horn-tooting standards. But I’ll risk it anyway. He’s worked hard, done things the right way, taken care of those who trusted him, and all along the way, provided for his family in countless ways. It’s been insightful to watch him conduct himself in a manner that I often fall short of. I know last days can be difficult, but by definition, it means a first day at something else.

If we existed in some alternate universe where last day press conferences were the norm, and he was standing behind a microphone-filled podium addressing my commentary, I’m guessing he’d probably just shrug and say, “Yeah, I suppose I did that. No different than most people.”

In a roundabout way, I guess I’ve proved my own hypothesis: First and last days are pretty similar; uncertainty, nerves, finding a place to fit in, wishing we could maintain the status quo for just a while longer. As I said earlier, my experience is that the significance of most major events wanes over time, and that has forced me to conclude that whether you’re dealing with first or last is irrelevant. They’re all just moments on whatever timeline we’ve been dealt. We choose to participate in, perhaps even embrace them, or we don’t. As big as a lot of moments seem, the world isn’t watching to see how we handle them or waiting around to provide moral support.

Having said that, I’m completely incapable of not attaching a bit of sentimentality to these so-called moments. And if we don’t acknowledge them for one another, aren’t we just occupying space? So, in recognition of my friend and mentor who’s retired today, I say with immeasurable pride, “Job well done, Dad. Thank you for all the hard work, late nights, bland cheese sandwiches eaten at your desk, and the lessons you probably didn’t know you were teaching me. Now, go enjoy your first day of something new and completely different – after you fill out your time sheet, of course.”

Could Mary Poppins be a Navy SEAL?

Of course the answer is NO.


During the past two weeks, I’ve seen two movies in the theater. Saving Mr. Banks and Lone Survivor. The first, a story of British author P.L. Travers and how she finally allowed Walt Disney to adapt Mary Poppins, her popular children’s book, into a film. The second, a gut-wrenching, inspiring survival account of U.S. Navy SEAL (Ret.) Marcus Luttrell and those members of his team who tragically lost their lives during a massive firefight in Afghanistan.


Travers was extremely protective of the intellectual property and absolutely against the idea of turning her novel into an animated film. So much so, that it took Walt Disney nearly twenty years to convince her that his company’s film version would do her story justice.

I should confess that I’ve never seen Mary Poppins, nor have I read the book, but the fact that Travers’ book was produced into a film, led me to believe that it might be a story worth watching. Initially, I was a bit bored and found P.L. Travers completely unlikeable (credit to actress Emma Thompson). She was insulting, brusque, and inflexible and the numerous flashbacks felt disruptive of any momentum otherwise developed by the story.

As the film progressed, it became apparent that two stories were unfolding: 1) P.L. Travers’ childhood; and 2) Disney’s pursuit of Mary Poppins, the first being the catalyst for the second. And so it went, one scene, one flashback at a time, P.L. Travers concoction of Mary Poppins coming to life on screen.

…a lesson learned

My musings are based solely on what was presented in the screenplay (you can troll the internet to find omissions from the story), but I have to admit that the way the story was told on screen slowly won me over and it also provided a terrific reminder of the value in not cutting off from relationships or tasks; seeing something through, despite outward signs that might justify walking away–Travers certainly gave Disney every reason to scrap the project and move on–but persistence and patience resulted in a collaboration that brought her story to presumably millions of people who hadn’t read her book.

The fact that the adaption occurred was not some tale of redemption, though. The real story was in Travers’ imaginary construct of Mary Poppins and what she represented and how she fought to tell that story. No doubt a conflicted woman, Travers was the child of an alcoholic father whom she loved dearly but was unable to save from his own vices. So why would I dare ask if Mary Poppins had what it takes to become a Navy SEAL? It’s rhetorical and the answer is still no, but she wasn’t some fanciful housekeeper toting an umbrella and singing show tunes, she was a figment of Travers’ imagination, borne of her

 own creativity, self-preservation, and will to survive…

Which brings me to the second film, Lone Survivor. It’s the story of Navy SEAL (Ret.) Marcus Luttrell and his teammates and their involvement in a 2005 firefight in Afghanistan while conducting reconnaissance on a high-level Al-Qaeda operative. His three teammates were killed during the firefight against a numerically superior enemy force but Luttrell, battered and literally broken himself, went on to survive against incalculable odds before ultimately being rescued five days later. In addition to the loss of his teammates, an entire flight crew and a Quick React Force of SEAL’s were also killed when an RPG hit their helicopter during an attempt to support Luttrell and his team. This film was based on his own account of what took place in the Hindu Kush region of Afghanistan during Operation Redwing.

I lack the ability, or more importantly, the bona fides do it justice here so I won’t make the attempt, but do yourself a favor and purchase the book Lone Survivor. I read it when it was first released and found it to be equal parts heroic grit and tear-jerker, but appropriately blunt and honest.

The film has managed to bring the story to life and does a remarkable job of portraying the professionalism, courage, and selflessness that cannot be described with the written word. The maxim of any good film: show don’t tell, was achieved in spades. Envy, awe, respect, heartbreak, pride…these were only a few of the things I felt while watching this story and if you feel like you’ve had a rough day, go spend the money and time to watch it.

Incidentally, I saw it inside a packed theater with my son and at its conclusion, actual photographs and videos of fallen warriors were shown on screen. Slowly, hauntingly, one after another, they appeared and I’ve never heard that kind of quiet inside a theater in my entire life. Nobody moved.

Why ask the question?

The only, allow me to repeat, only parallel I’m drawing here is that of the courage to look within and operate on one’s survival instinct; Travers, her childhood, and Luttrell, his harrowing experience after a compromised mission. My son is nine and he hasn’t seen Mary Poppins either. I’m not sure it would appeal to his sensibilities, but as a calculated decision, I took him to see Lone Survivor. We talked beforehand about the language he’d hear and I explained that that’s part of reality in the military. He’s a good kid who never swears and in the end, any curse words were overshadowed by the action on screen and the courage displayed by the SEALs. I guarantee it.

Back in the old days, we had neighbors who were Navy SEALs. Early twenties, reserved but direct in their manner, and aside from being really nice guys in general, extremely cool customers. Their bearing would have led you to believe they were much older than they were and you never would have known what they did for a living if you passed them on the street. These were guys we knew and who were always polite to this out-of-shape former Marine and his military buff son. They patiently answered all of his questions about equipment, often left him gifts of extra gear on our porch, and even showed him how to apply spray-painted camouflage to his NERF guns.

After the movie, we talked about how it could have just as easily been their story. We were thankful it wasn’t but that’s a pretty powerful connection that couldn’t be learned from a video game or an athlete referring to a football game as “going to war.” I’ve never met Marcus Luttrell, but I’ve encountered the spirit that embodies the warriors depicted in the film.

Mary Poppins is only an imaginary character, her creation based on a strong self-preservation instinct borne of Travers’ reality. Ironically, the heroes of Lone Survivor are all quite real, but their instincts and the actions they displayed are truly the stuff of legend.

San Diego: America’s Finest Toy Story

I’m a fan of movies that tell a good story. The Disney Pixar Toy Story films are no exception and have been a source of shared humor with my 9 year-old son over the past several years. In particular, Toy Story 3, the most recent installment, was my favorite rendering of the lovable collection of toys and their triumphs, cooperation, in-fighting, and conflict resolution.

I am also a resident of San Diego, California, USA, currently the 8th largest city in the United States. It affectionately bills itself as “America’s Finest City”. I know this because it’s painted on the doors of San Diego Police cruisers. The individual currently posing as Mayor of the finest city, Bob Filner, was recently asked to resign by a majority of city council members and is the subject of a recall effort. He’s being sued (as is the city itself) by a former employee for sexual harassment and has been accused by several other women of similar untoward activity. The 70 year-old caricature formerly peddled his wares in the United States Congress before making city-level politics his pet project.

Granted, nothing has been proven in a court of law yet, but it’s certainly worth noting that Filner himself has publicly admitted to disrespecting women, having a problem, and acknowledging his need for help; that there is a monster inside him. Yet he’s stated emphatically that he will not resign. With whiplash-inducing speed, the old timer cited his rights as a citizen of the United States and invoked due process, a constitutional right that in today’s climate, has almost been reduced to an empty bromide. San Diego’s city charter does not allow for summary removal by the city council, so like all “great” politicians Filner has bunkered down and dared everyone to oust him.

Details of the accusations are consistent. Isolation, inappropriate physical touching, unsolicited attempts to kiss, and awkward, declarative statements expressing lustful desires that range from the benign to the utterly pathetic:

Your eyes are bewitching…
Anyone missing their copy of Cary Grant’s Favorite Pick-up Lines?

You’d work better if you weren’t wearing any panties
Egotistical, dangerously out of touch with reality, fill in the blank for yourself.

The detailed accusations–there are currently eight—illustrate the old timer’s inflated sense of importance and repulsive arrogance. However, the impetus for this post wasn’t even the salacious content of the accusations leveled; it was Filner’s own corny response following the first accusation:

“I’m a hugger…”

Really? So am I, but I do not think it means what he thinks it means. As a hugger, I’m offended that he so cavalierly included himself among the ranks of well-meaning huggers. When I first read his remark, I immediately recalled a line from Toy Story 3 uttered by Lotso, the large, stuffed, purple bear with a walking stick and a genteel, southern accent (nicely affected by Ned Beatty), upon first meeting Woody, the cowboy.

Lotso once belonged to a child and enjoyed a home, but as often happens with toys, he was left behind, abandoned on the side of the road along with Big Baby, a stubble-haired, disproportionately tall, creepy acrylic-eyed doll. Eventually, Lotso and Big Baby ended up in a daycare center where he established a caste system. The new uninitiated toys were subject to the abuses of the youngest children in the daycare while those inside Lotso’s circle remained protected. He micro-managed with an iron fist and enlisted Big Baby, a gang of robots, and a cymbal-clanging monkey, among others, to enforce the rules of his regime.

Of course, when he first met new toys, he’d smile, offer a warm greeting, and put his arm around them. Perhaps similar to the way a mayor might introduce himself to a new constituent or a new city employee. In Cowboy Woody’s case, he was treated to a massive bear hug and when Lotso safely returned him to the ground, he explained himself by saying

“If there’s one thing you should know about me, Woody…I’m a huggah.”

But the facade of a warm, friendly persona quickly gave way to Lotso’s true character and the lives of all toys who opposed him were made uncomfortable. With help from other like-minded toys, Woody eventually devised a plan to escape from the daycare and while most of the toys readily assisted the effort, there were those who were too entrenched to oppose Lotso. Perhaps not unlike a city council where, some, but not all of the members acknowledge their mayor has abused his power and proven he’s incapable of respecting other’s dignity. Some might be too afraid to oppose the mayor, so they remain silent. Some might even find it sufficiently courageous to simply admit a weakness. How did the oppressor become the victim?

In the film, Lotso refused to relinquish power. Even after the liberated toys saved his life and despite a clear opportunity to do what was best for all toys, he was still consumed by an unforeseen force. Played out, he might have blamed some sort of “monster” inside him, a sort of “toys will be toys” dismissal, but as the reasonable toys learned all too painfully, some stuffed, purple bears just don’t change. Evil really does exist.

It’s irrelevant which faction of toys Lotso and his enablers originated from. His unbridled selfishness and lack of respect for the other toys should have been unacceptable from the outset. Ultimately, some of the toys went down with him, but others (even Big Baby) discovered how delusional Lotso was and they jumped ship, eventually identifying with a constructive approach; mutual respect for all toys, no matter how long they’d been a resident of the daycare.

But in the end, Lotso was incapable of change and he ended up swallowing bugs as a grille ornament on the front of a garbage truck. I believe the character currently posing as Mayor of San Diego will eventually eat bugs too, but not before he mounts a protracted defense that will only embarrass the city and serve to demean the women who were courageous enough to speak out against him. Whatever his future course of action, he’s made it clear that he’s not really interested in serving the best interests of America’s so-called finest city”.

By the way, I hope Pixar produces a Toy Story 4. The characters are fantastic.

To construe as partisan the language woven throughout this post, would be a misreading. Politicians, irrespective of their stripe, are too often blinded by their own virtue to appreciate the fleeting nature of the worldly power entrusted to them. Unfortunately that power is perpetuated by an overabundance of forums for these self-servants to continually act out the lowest form of reality television. San Diego’s old man Filner just happens to be the flavor of the month.

Mother’s Day: Lumber, Pepsi, and a Peachtree

Where did it come from? No, it wasn’t in a lumberyard, but I’ll get to that shortly.

Its origins stem from so-called “peace meetings” between mothers of sons who fought on opposing sides of the American Civil War. Very motherly, don’t you think? That made me wonder if any of the conflicts throughout history could have been avoided by allowing the mothers of tyrants, leaders, et al, to plead with their sons to find alternate solutions. Although I can be a bit too cynical at times, the sappy idealist in me tends to think that a mother’s connection to her child(ren) could transcend such worldly concerns as borders, power, and money. At the very least, it has the power to help heal. Ann Jarvis certainly thought so.

She began her work in 1868 to help families reunite after the Civil War. After her death in 1905, those efforts were continued by others over the next several decades, but her daughter, Anna, is recognized for championing Mother’s Day into its present status as an American national holiday honoring the spirit of motherhood. Hailing from Grafton, West Virginia, Miss Jarvis campaigned for recognition as a holiday and in 1910, West Virginia became the first state to officially declare it as such. Several states followed and on May 8, 1914, the United States Congress did too. It was written into law and each year, the sitting President signs a proclamation reaffirming the tradition observed on the second Sunday of May.

Like many young boys growing up, I loved trucks, construction, and all types of machinery. The array of tools in our garage consisted of a handsaw, a hammer, a drill, the “bike” wrench, and a socket set. Probably some assorted screw drivers and a vise-grip too. I filled in the gaps with several large-scale (in my mind anyway) construction projects using toy construction equipment. As any observant mother would, my mom noticed and did what she could to help me embrace it.

When there was an occasion to visit S&S Lumber, the local forerunner to Home Depot and Lowe’s, she’d toss a few cardboard boxes in the back of our Chevy Blazer and off we went. As I recall, she’d handle whatever real business she had, then ask on my behalf if they had any scrap lumber laying around that I might have. There weren’t a lot of women perusing the aisles of hardware stores back then, mostly contractors and do-it-yourselfer types, but she fit right in and I thought nothing of it. She was just being my mom, trying to help further my interest. On one of those occasions, I returned home and used my spoils to build her a bench. The finished product was unsightly and barely big enough for a small child to sit on, but it occupied space in our garage for several years.

As I grew older, I became capable of handling more complex machinery (see: lawnmowers and rakes). Properly mowing and raking our yard in Nebraska was an all-day event and not a summertime activity I begged to participate in. Looking back, I wonder if my Mom might’ve had bionic ears. Don’t most of them? From inside the house she could usually hear us “quietly” grabbing our bicycles from the garage and more than once, my brother and I, mere pedal strokes away from the daily summer freedom ride to the neighbor’s house, were stopped. The door would open as my mom nonchalantly asked us where we thought we were going. In our world, that was a precursor to getting recalled for lawn mowing duty. She had certain specifications as to how the work was done, but to her credit, she worked alongside us. I probably wasted the first few hours complaining about being robbed of a perfect summer day, but a strange thing would eventually happen. Once enough time working had passed, a sense of pride started to creep in. I doubt I shared that with my mom at the time. Along with the life-long lesson of taking pride in a hard day’s work, my fondest memory was sharing an ice-cold Pepsi with her. Usually when the mower ran out of gas or at the end of the evening to admire a freshly manicured lawn.

Nested within that lawn were several bushes and trees. My version of the story would have me planting all of them. In her own spirited manner, she reminds me that my memory might be a bit cloudy on that score. Formerly among them was a peach tree that I purchased long ago as a Mother’s Day gift. Peach trees don’t tend to thrive in Nebraska’s climate if you’re wondering. I believe it died sometime during it’s first strong midwest winter. My mom never let on though and she kept it in the yard for many years after.

I imagine most people have their own version of a cobbled together scrapwood bench, a long gone peach tree, or an ice-cold Pepsi. At least I hope they do. These only represent a small sample of my motherly anecdotes. I suspect that the nurturing gestures children are aware of is vastly outnumbered by the ones they know nothing about. If my suspicion were confirmed, it would be ironic, but not surprising, that the majority of motherly acts might actually go unnoticed. Wouldn’t that just fit a mother’s M.O.

Like any relationship, mother-child isn’t perfect. Besides, I’m of the opinion that a “perfect” relationship shares its chief characteristic with a unicorn. Real relationships are built with scraps, selflessness, and a willingness to care beyond the strong winters in life. To me, this is the true spirit of a mother and although I struggle to mask my distaste for the commercialism of holidays, Mother’s Day included, I’ll be the first to celebrate wholeheartedly, the spirit of mothers everywhere.

In thinking about this post, I wanted to write something non-commercial to honor my mother and the spirit of all mothers. Its not a role I was put on earth to experience personally but that certainly doesn’t lessen my appreciation for it.

Ironically, Anna Jarvis was arrested in 1948, protesting the commercialism of the holiday she campaigned for (that made me smile). She thought it lazy that one couldn’t take the time to handwrite a card to the one who’d done the most for them. That alone is worth a bouquet of carnations, although she probably would’ve been appalled by a whole bouquet. As I was typing this, I realized I was sipping a cold Pepsi (diet) and like most people, I called my Mom today. The conversation happened to turn to the mowing of her lawn and how she liked it done a certain way. Don’t I know it. I couldn’t help but chuckle. Love you, Mom.

To all those who fill the role of Mother in someone’s life, Happy Mother’s Day!

Merry Christmas (blog hopping)!!!

I haven’t posted in a while, not for lack of meaningful observations, but rather a lack of hours in the day. I recently participated in (but did not win) the 2012 NaNoWriMo challenge. An annual event in which you “win” by creating a minimum 50,000 word novel in thirty days. I ended at around 45,000 and wasn’t thrilled about it, but  I reminded myself that the story didn’t disappear, I just couldn’t articulate it in thirty days.

I’ve narrowed it down to two reasons for coming up short. First, was a five-day trip to my home state of Nebraska. I just didn’t feel like turning on the computer while I was on vacation and I wouldn’t trade the experience of that trip for an extra hundred days of writing.

The second reason; I was in the editing process for my first novel, The Greatest Gift. I constantly wrestled with editing to finish it sooner vs. continuing toward the aforementioned 50,000 word goal. My pride was the only thing that won. I completed neither task.

At the invitation of my editor, Steph Dagg, I am writing today about said first novel. She is conducting a Christmas Blog Hop (please see all links below) and was kind enough to invite me along. We first connected via Twitter and have been able to conduct the editing process via email (mostly – I may have some unresolved file size limitations on my side – sorry, Steph).

The Story

The Greatest Gift…some journeys are priceless, is a fictional tale involving three characters, each on their own separate journey to answer something for themselves. Their lives become intertwined in ways predictable and in one way none of them could have imagined.

Its rooted in the familiar concepts of faith, hope, and love, but told with what I believe is more of a soft brush than a message-heavy hammer.  If you’re interested in relationships, coffee, soccer, some mildly nefarious plot hurdles, and/or finding things where you’re least likely to look, then you might enjoy The Greatest Gift.

The cover design is currently undergoing a slight revision, but the photo within the design, taken in my hometown by my father, remains. I asked if he could capture some nature shots for me and the bridge was among several he took. I liked it immediately as all three of my characters were pondering some sort of metaphorical bridge crossing.

The Journey

My original hope for this blog was to encourage others to join a conversation to recognize moments that matter. I read other blogs myself, so I realize now it might have been a bit ambitious to hope people would have time to comment on my posts. That said, I see another route to the same destination. The journey to writing, editing, and publishing has already brought me in contact with individuals I might not have otherwise encountered; a high-school classmate and fellow writer, a book editor living in France on a llama farm, a gentleman from the East Coast of the United States, who operates an online Christian gift store, and the countless others I hope to meet as the ride continues. There’s no way of knowing if people will enjoy reading what you’ve written, but so far, my journey has been priceless. I’ll keep writing.

Merry Christmas!

Now, since this is a Christmas Blog Hop, in the spirit of the forthcoming holiday, I’m giving away two books: One to the first US reader who emails me the character name of the father from the 1983 Christmas classic, A Christmas Story.

And one more to the first UK (or non-US) friend who emails the fictional character cited by Hugh Grant during his press conference scene as Prime Minister in another holiday classic, Love Actually.

Note:Winners, please be patient as the paperbacks won’t be available until after the e-book release. In exchange for your patience, I’ll send your copy of the novel in a cigar box of my choosing (one of the novel’s characters enjoys cigars).

Please send your answer along with your full mailing address to me at: author@stevencsobotka.com

I’ve lined up some guest-posters for this blog, including Steph Dagg, so look for her adventures from France soon. Please feel free to scroll down to see who else participated in the hop. Merry Christmas!

Blog in France Bloghop

A Flamingo in Utrecht
Expat Christmas
Word By Word
Vive Trianon
Fifty Shades of Greg
Books Are Cool
Perpignan Post
Jive Turkish
Very Bored in Catalunya
Life on La Lune
Scribbler in Seville
Blog in France Christmas
Les Fragnes Christmas
ReadEng. Didi’s Press
Steve Bichard .com
Edit My Book
Zombie Christmas
Christmas in Cordoba
The best Christmas blog ever
The Christmas Surprise.
Sci-fi Writer Jeno Marz
The best Christmas quilting blog ever
Painting in Tuscany
The Business of Life…
Funny tweets
we’ve got a new house but no stuff and it’s Christmas
Paris Cheapskate
What about your saucepans?
When I Wasn’t Home for Christmas or Celebrating
ShockWaves Launch Party
The French Village Diaries
Melanged Magic
Heads Above Water: Staying Afloat in France
Piccavey.com – An English Girl in Granada
Bordeaux Bumpkin
French immersion
Callaloo Soup
Grigory Ryzhakov
Piglet in Portugal
Beyond MÃnana
Chronicles of M Blog

Nebraska football and the tunnel walk…

Ask most kids who grow up in Nebraska and you’ll find that college football is just a part of life. As a child, I lived and died with the Cornhuskers like most others did, though I didn’t refrain entirely from testing out my contrarian bent. I once wanted to play for Texas because I liked their orange (really?) and there was the time I informed my dad that I wanted to play for Ohio State because I liked the fact that they were wearing red shoes. If uniform color choices were the yardstick today, there’d be a new school every week.

When I was a kid, televised sports weren’t nearly as prolific as they are today and depending on which side of the line you fall, plus or minus fifteen years or so from the thirty-eight that I’ve survived, you’re either laughing or rolling your eyes at my “backwhenIwasakid” intro, but its somewhat essential to the anecdote.

Not counting the annual spring scrimmage, I was treated to my first live Nebraska game in 1983 when I was 9. My dad made a point of taking each of his kids individually to a game. Back then, the gold standard for a fall Saturday was a trip to Gas ‘N Shop for a newspaper, an attempt to guess Harry Husker’s predicted game score, and tuning in on the radio to hear Kent Pavelka’s homer-friendly play-by-play call. To actually walk into Memorial Stadium felt surreal. It was massive, it was RED, and it was loud. I remember vividly, before the game, my father taking me to the area beneath the endzone seats (the tunnel), where the players exited the locker room before taking the field. I don’t get starstruck now, not even a little bit, I only try to respect people for their God-given talents, but I was only nine then. It was magic, those guys really existed and they were giants.

We played Syracuse and I was concerned because I didn’t know much about them. If memory serves me, Nebraska dispatched them 63-7. I’m sure there’s a game program with ticket stubs taped to the front cover still sitting in my parent’s basement. Later that season, Nebraska would lose the National Championship game to Miami. I cried myself to sleep that night, but I was only nine.

…Fast forward from 1983 to 2005. I was still guilty of letting the outcome of an occasional sporting event get under my skin. In July of that year though, I was walking through the parking lot of the Scripps Green Hospital in San Diego on my way into surgery for removal of a cancerous tumor. My parents were there and I just happened to be walking next to my dad. In a thinly-veiled effort to be brave/funny, I quipped to him that “this is the longest tunnel walk I’ve ever had to make.” Without missing a beat, he simply replied that he “…would trade places with me in a heartbeat,” if it were possible. [Sidebar: I’m certain my mom would’ve challenged him for that spot, if we actually lived in a world where frightening moments can be allocated according to our own desires.] I’m blessed to still be around today and the outcomes of sporting events no longer affect my emotions. I still follow various teams, but the results are nothing more than that, “results” of a game.

…and into 2012. I was recently listening to The Jim Rome Show at my desk one morning when he interviewed Rex Burkhead, current running back for the University of Nebraska football team. He was on to discuss the season but also a courageous young boy named Jack Hoffman, 7, a child with pediatric brain cancer. In a now well-documented story, Jack Hoffman along with another young boy, Isaiah Casillas, 6, was able to lead the Nebraska football team down the tunnel and out onto the field before a Nebraska home game. Burkhead is responsible for initiating a chapter of Uplifting Athletes, a non-profit that affiliates college football teams with rare diseases. Young Msrs. Hoffman and Casillas were an inspiration to the 80,000+ fans present, in helping to launch the Nebraska chapter of Uplifting Athletes. Although I’ve never met either of them, I’ll humbly offer a prayer for their well-being and for both of them to have more brighter days than dark ones as they continue making a long, unenviable walk down the tunnel.

Football won’t cure any rare diseases. Of course it won’t, it’s “just a game”. But maybe, just maybe there’s a little magic in the tunnel. I’m sure it’s different for everybody…a first experience, a shared moment that keeps people connected over the years, a thrilling moment…It doesn’t cure anything but maybe its meant to offer a small bright spot that can be filed away for a time when its needed most. Have you ever made a “tunnel walk”? What was it about? Who was there? Nebraska’s memorial stadium and football in general just happen to be the setting for this particular post, but I’d be curious to hear about “tunnel walks” from wherever they’re taken. I know they exist in all shapes, sizes, times, and places. Please feel free to post your own experiences or share this with someone who might care to share.

Thanks for reading and…GO BIG RED!

October: It’s Not About Pink…

If you go out in public, then you know October is breast cancer awareness month and it’s all about pink. It’s become the beacon for a worthwhile cause and it’s found its way onto everything from football cleats to hair ribbons and everything in between. But I think pink is just the packaging for something much bigger, much more meaningful.

This morning, I attended the annual Making Strides Against Breast Cancer walk in San Diego’s picturesque (despite the uncharacteristic drizzle) Balboa Park . It’s the third time I’ve attended and for the third time, I’ve left feeling the same way.

This snapshot of walkers crossing the Balboa Park bridge was the view from my vantage point for over a half-hour after the walk began.

Outlandish outfits bearing creative anatomical slogans, all manner of costume decoration, pink-dyed goatees, and believe it or not, even plain pink t-shirts. But its not about pink.

What I saw and what I left with (again) was something other than pink; Teams of corporate employees marching together, a lone husband and wife, volunteers leading cheers at the start of the route, pink-costumed groups of walkers, a mother with her young daughter, a self-conscious woman who I imagined might be walking for the first time, individuals quietly walking alone holding “In Memory Of” signs bearing the picture of a lost loved one.  Each of those “snapshots” probably has a story behind it, along with the 24,000+ other walkers there.

After the walk, through a personal connection I was privileged to meet a family who lost their wife/mother/daughter/sister/friend earlier this year. They wore white t-shirts with the team name of their loved one. There were probably hundreds of similar groups there, but when you’re privileged enough to know part of their story, its indescribably more than a t-shirt. In a word, its humbling and while I spoke briefly with the woman’s husband and parents, anything I said was inadequate. When they walked away, I had a tear in my eye as I marveled at their courage to show up and voluntarily subject themselves to such a vivid reminder of an ugly disease.

No doubt, scenes like this play out all over and for any number of worthy causes. Do you have any “snapshots” that put the meaning behind pink?