Tuesday, May 6, 2014

Spring Into Life

March: In like a lion, out like a lamb. 
April: April Showers, bring May Flowers.
And at some point in April or May, things begin to grow and come to life.

Farmers seem to be a much better predictor of Spring because their livelihoods depend upon their ability to predict their planting and their animal production.  Without this ability, their farms or ranches don’t make it.

Me?  I can’t predict much and have given up trying.  Growing up in Wisconsin, we’ve had snow storms in April and cold weather in May, and I can even remember a year or two when we had better, warmer weather in April than we did in May.

The thing I like best, and there are actually many things I like about Spring, is that life begins again.  There is energy and optimism and growth and hope that occurs in Spring that doesn’t seem to happen in the other three seasons. 

In Fall, things begin to die out, to wind down.  A chill, a cold seeps into the air.  We change from shorts to pants, and from t-shirts to sweatshirts and jackets.  Instead of planting, we rake leaves.  It is nature’s way, nature’s timing, and while we might complain here and there, nature seems to know what to do and when to do it.  And in Winter, we’re all bundled up because of the cold.  People tend to stay indoors more often than not unless they are those hardy souls who venture out and take part in all the Winter activities.  Animals tend to hibernate and aren’t necessarily as visible as they are at other times of the year.  Nature’s colors change into drab gray and white.

But in Spring, that changes.  Literally, the world around us seems to Spring Into Life.  There is an anticipation of Summer, of vacation, of rest and relaxation.  In Spring, colors change from the drab gray and white into green.  As flowers bloom and trees bud and flower, there is more color.

I notice that in Spring, in our neighborhood, there are more joggers and walkers and bike riders about.  Pants are changed into shorts.  Sweatshirts are changed into t-shirts.  Sunglasses appear, as does suntan lotion.  More folks are pruning trees, planting flowers, and there is the ever present hum from a lawnmower and weed whacker. 

Life comes to Life.

So it caused me to think about, to consider . . .

Perhaps Spring is a time for me . . . for each of us . . . to begin anew.  In our daily life.  In our thinking.  In our energy.  It seems to be a perfect time to change course, to change direction.  As the world around us Springs Into Life, so might we . . . each of us.  Spring gives us an opportunity to reexamine our life and our lifestyle, our habits in our thinking and in our action.  Might we do so productively, positively, in helping us grow and become, as well as helping those around us grow and become.  Something to think about . . .

Live Your Life, and Make A Difference!

Friday, May 2, 2014

A Benefit Of Persistence

I’ve written about not giving up, about finishing strong, running the good race, and taking care of yourself and others, especially kids.  Today, I want to tackle not giving up from a different angle and providing you with a reason why persistence makes sense.  There really is A Benefit Of Persistence.

Some of you know, and many of you don’t know, that I’m a writer.  My particular interest, besides this blog is thriller fiction.  My particular slant is that many of my characters are kids and the adults who want to help them, rescue them, and protect them from other adults who aren’t so nice.  Not so nice is being very polite.  I’ve been working on a storyline with this slant for over two years and it has developed into a series.

After a lot of revision and edits and more revision and even more edits, it came time to seek an agent.  I did my research.  I crafted and honed a query letter.  I sent it to those agents who worked with the thriller, suspense, crime genre, following their guidelines.

And . . .

One rejection after another.  Lots of rejections.  Tons of rejections.  Enough rejections to wallpaper a small room in my house.  There were many agents who never answered, stating ahead of time that they would only respond if interested.  I get that, because they are busy.  Very busy.  One agent in particular, was really rude and nasty in his response and I have to admit it hurt a little.  Okay, it hurt a lot.

The whole process of trying to find an agent took a little over a year.  And then, thankfully, Stacey Donaghy, of the Donaghy Literary Group, took me on.  She has been more than patient, more than supportive, and has worked tirelessly on my behalf.  At times, she has been a mentor, a friend, a confidante, and a shoulder to lean on.  So thankful for her.

But even with Stacey’s efforts, with her due diligence, her persistence, I received more rejections.  If I added the publisher rejections to the pile of agent rejections, I think we could paper two small rooms in my house.

As time went on, I saw that a writer received a deal with a publishing company, and another writer received a deal, and even multiple writers received deals for multiple books.  I asked myself over and over, “How come them and not me?” 

There were times I felt that it wasn’t supposed to be for me.  There were times I felt that nothing was going happen with my story.  There were times I felt so down and so discouraged.  There were times I felt like giving up, calling it a day, placing my story so high up on my shelf that no one would find it and that I would, hopefully, forget about it in time.

But . . .

I didn’t give up.  I still had a belief in myself that I could write.  There was something about it all that I felt that I had spent so much time, put in so many nights, and so many days, that surely someone, somewhere would find a ‘home’ for it, and that at some point and at some time, it would all pay off.

And it did!

True Visions Publications contacted me and they really liked my trilogy: Stolen Lives, Shattered Lives, and Splintered Lives.  But they had a suggestion.  A really good suggestion. 

Their suggestion was that I should write a prequel to introduce myself to readers and to introduce my readers to my trilogy.  I liked that suggestion and began immediately.  So as I write this, the prequel, Taking Lives, is taking shape.  I like it.  I really like it a lot.

And early this week, I signed a contract with them for a four book deal.  My first book, the prequel, Taking Lives, comes out this summer.  Of course I want tons of people, millions of people to read it and the trilogy.  But honestly, yes really honestly?  I’m happy, really happy that I didn’t give up.  That I stayed true to myself, believed in myself.  That my belief in myself paid off. 

I’m one example . . . just one example out of many . . . of A Benefit Of Persistence.  I do believe that if it’s meant to be, it will be.  If it’s meant to happen, it will happen.  So if this helps you to stay on your path, great.  If this helps you to stay the course, excellent.  If this helps you to get back up on your feet after being knocked down for the zillionth time, wonderful. Because in the end, there is a benefit to believing in yourself.  There is a benefit to listening to those who gently, and even not so gently, correct you and caution you and provide wonderful words of wisdom and guidance.  And more importantly, there is a benefit to picking yourself up one more time . . . ten more times . . . a hundred more times . . . a thousand more times.  There is A Benefit Of Persistence.  Something to think 
about . . .

Monday, April 28, 2014

It's How You Finish

There was this kid I went to high school with . . .


My very first encounter with him, we almost got in a fight.  I didn’t like the fact that he made fun of my roommate in front of his friends and his girlfriend.  I didn’t like the fact that he pushed him around.  I didn’t like it at all.


So, I went up to him, grabbed him by the front of his shirt walked him backwards off the dance floor, and threatened him with something like, “If you ever come near him or talk to him like that again, I’ll kick  . . .”  I think you can pretty much finish my little soliloquy.  It was one-sided.  When I finished, I even turned my back on him and walked away.


I found out later that the kid was a junior, was considered a “tough guy” and back then, what most would call a “hood.”  I was a freshman.  I can tell you that from the time I walked away from my encounter with him, through my graduation, people viewed me differently.  Not sure I liked that, but that’s what happened.


Not the end of the story, however . . .


I don’t know what happened with this guy, what changed him, what made him change, but he ended up a whole lot differently than how I first met him.  From “tough guy” and a “hood” to someone who smiled, worked in the classroom, and became the Student Council President.  He ended up what we might call back then or even now as “preppy.”  He was a leader- a positive one at that.


It’s not how you start, but rather, It’s How You Finish.


There are a lot of stories that come to mind from my childhood, my youth, my adult life, my professional life.


Along the way during my counseling days, there was a young Latino boy who dressed, acted, and talked the part of what we described back then as a “gang banger.”  He strutted.  He stared.  He flexed.  He threatened.  But a year or so later, I saw the young man working in a clothing store and he worked with my wife and me.  He actually apologized for “who he was before” as he put it.  I told him then, and I mean it even now (and not just for him, but for you and for me), “It’s not who you were that’s important.  It’s who you are now”


Because it really is How You Finish.


Think of a foot race, a sprint.


I have a friend, Tim.  Quick, fast, small but strong, “Mr. Track” in both high school and in college.  He earned himself a track scholarship because he was so good.  He told a story about a race against a big-name talent from a Big Ten School in the 100 meter race.  As he tells it, “For the first ten yards, I was even with him.  For the last 90, he smoked me.”  Knowing Tim, he was being a bit modest.


Some of us start out strong.  We burst from the starting block.  We explode with the biggest and best of intentions.  We have dreams and goals and ideas.  We have energy and life and spirit.  We plan how we’re going to attack them, conquer them, and achieve success.  And then . . . we fade.  We tire out.  We give up.  We convince ourselves that we can’t, that we shouldn’t, that it somehow wasn’t possible.  We blame it on our youth, our inexperience, other people.  We give up and perhaps convince ourselves as a way to explain it away, that we’ve “matured” that we’ve “grown up.”


Others of us have a bit of trouble at the start.  We might stumble out of the gate.  We might get lost somewhere between the starting block and the finish line.  But, we finish.


There is a commercial that is one of my favorites playing on TV every now and then.  There is a race.  There are folks cleaning up the finish line, picking up trash, taking down the sign that says, ‘Finish.’  And long after all the other runners have crossed the finish line and are long gone, along comes an overweight man in running attire with a number on his chest, and he crosses the line and falls down exhausted.  The clean-up crew applauds.  The one taking down the sign puts it back up.  Two others help the man to his feet and pat him on the back.


It’s How You Finish.  It’s always in How You Finish, not in how you start.  Not in how you begin.  Something to think about . . .

Live Your Life, and Make A Difference!

Thursday, April 24, 2014

The Voice We Listen To (reposted)

When I drive, I listen to music.  I have my car tuned to about ten stations and push the buttons until there is a song I like.  When a commercial comes on, I switch stations.  Not interested in what someone is pitching.  I might listen to the traffic report, maybe the weather, but I seek music.


I have friends and family who listen to talk radio.  Personally, I think they’re crazy.  Why would I want to listen to some guy’s, some lady’s opinion on  . . . ?  It’s even worse during an election year.  And it doesn’t even have to be a big election at that.  Even just a local election with a few national spots thrown in.


They harangue.  They nag.  They distort.  They color the facts.  They knock down, belittle, denigrate.


They lie!  (I know . . . that comes as a shock to many of you.  Didn’t mean to burst your bubble.  Sorry about that.)


There are times I marvel at those who tune into hatred, to disrespect, to intolerance.  Stations even pay a salary to those who purport these sentiments, these attitudes, these feelings.  There are those companies who sponsor these individuals who spout these beliefs.


Sort of sad, really.  Okay.  Maybe a lot sad, really.


I think of the Bible story about John The Baptist.  Tough guy to listen to.  Not necessarily likeable.  Not a guy many would gravitate to.  Legend has it he wore the skin of an animal and ate locusts dipped in honey.  Hmmm . . . not necessarily my kind of guy.  Don’t know that I’d tune my radio to his station.


Then we have that Other Guy.  The Guy who talked about loving your neighbor as yourself.  The Guy who talked about peacemakers, the humble, the poor.  The Guy who wanted the children to come to Him.


I think we have a tendency to seek out those who speak on our behalf, who give credence to our beliefs, be them right or wrong, good or bad or evil, tolerant or intolerant, accepting or rejecting.


My dad had a saying: “Garbage in, garbage out!”  A lot of truth in that, I think.


I think if we seek out those who preach intolerance, who preach indifference, who preach hatred and distortion, we become those same individuals.  How can we not?  “Garbage in, garbage out!”


And, if we seek those who preach acceptance, who preach kindness, who preach tolerance and belonging, isn’t there the possibility . . . the probability  . . . of becoming those same individuals?  Perhaps, “Goodness in, goodness out!”

If we surround ourselves with those who preach negativity, don’t we become like them?  Don’t we become them?  Wouldn’t it be better . . . wouldn’t it make the world better . . . our lives better . . . if we surrounded ourselves with positive people?


So . . .


I’m wondering what you’re listening to today.  Tomorrow.  Next week.  What is your station set to?  What is The Voice You Listen To?  What is it you wish to become?  What is it you wish your children to become?  Garbage?  Goodness?  What is The Voice You Listen To?  Something to think about . . .

Live Your Life, and Make A Difference!

Tuesday, April 22, 2014

Nothing Like A Song

I have been around music in one form or another for all of my sixty years.  I’ve written before about growing up in a large family that, because of a broken radio in our green Plymouth station wagon, we used to sing in three and four part harmony.  That was my introduction to music and I’m so thankful for it.


As a kid, I can remember sitting in front of our record player for hours listening to my sisters’ records.  Yes, records made of vinyl.  The Everly Brothers; The Chad Mitchell Trio; Harry Belafonte; Peter, Paul and Mary; Duane Eddie, and so many more.  Later, I discovered Rock ‘n Roll and fell in love with The Beatles; Bee Gees; Aerosmith; Bob Seger; Bruce Springsteen; Bon Jovi; Tom Petty; Journey; Tom Cochrane; Eagles.  Even some of the lesser known, but equally good groups, like Cheap Trick; The BoDeans; Foreigner; and .38 Special.


I listen to country music because of the lyrics and stories, the melodies and harmonies.  Seldom do I take a trip without a Kip Moore or Sugarland CD, and a Seger or Springsteen or Petty CD.   


When Kim and I lived in California, we went to concerts more so than we do now, and honestly, I miss it.  Once upon a time, we saw Gordon Lightfoot, Kenny Loggins, Mary Chapin Carpenter, Springsteen, James Taylor, and a host of others.  On the country side, we saw Alabama, Brooks and Dunn, Martina McBride, Keith Urban, and Tim McGraw.


There is a movie Kim and I and the girls like titled, “Music And Lyrics” with Hugh Grant and Drew Barrymore, and in it, the Hugh Grant character, Alex Fletcher, says something to the effect that – and I’m paraphrasing rather badly – “there is nothing like a pop song to brighten your day and make you smile.”  I know it was something like that, and the meaning is the same.  I promise!


Kim taped a special a couple of weeks ago and this past Sunday, we watched it.  It was James Taylor sharing the stage with Carole King.  Songs Kim and I grew together with and dated to.  As we watched, both of us hummed or sang along. 


It was a show of beauty.  Two artists doing what they loved doing.  Lyrics that meant something, with melodies and harmonies that lifted and uplifted.  From their expressions, they love doing what they do.  It was their life and their gift to us.  I can’t explain why, but watching and listening to them, there were times I had tears in my eyes and a lump in my throat.


There are songs that, when I hear the first couple of notes, the first lyrics, I associate with my kids.  Martina McBride’s “Wild Angels” and Faith Hill’s “This Kiss” with my daughter Hannah.  Zak Brown’s “Chicken Fried” and Rodney Atkins’ “Watching You” with Emily.  Just about anything of Aerosmith with my son, Wil.  Eagles’ “Easy Feeling” with Kim. 


I hear one of those songs and I picture Em, or Hannah, or Wil, or Kim.  I see their face, hear their voice.  I picture them thinking.  I see them smiling.  I see them day dreaming.


There really is Nothing Like A Song.


James Taylor and Carole King sang and told stories.  They lifted me . . . us . . . up.  Made our spirits soar.  A song does that.  Nothing Like A Song. 


The song doesn’t have to break eardrums.  The lyrics don’t have to be screamed. 


Taylor and King sang in such a gentle way, like a mom or dad saying, “You can do it!  Really, you can!”  Like best friends saying, “I’ll be with you, right by your side.”  They smiled.  At times their eyes were closed.  They told stories in between their songs that brought a smile, a laugh.


I realize this is a bit of a departure from what I typically write, and I realize my writing is a bit clumsier than it usually is, but I just wanted to pay a bit of tribute to them.  Real artists.  Real musicians.  Storytellers and Dream weavers.  Thank you for sharing your gift with us.  Thank you for sharing your hopes and your dreams with us.  Thank you for sharing your stories of failure and sadness with us.  Because in your songs, your stories, you gave up a piece of your heart and shared it with us.  Perhaps, showed us what we were thinking and feeling and hoping.  Thank you.  Something to think about . . .

Live Your Life, and Make A Difference!  (Perhaps in a song or a story of your own to share?)

Friday, April 18, 2014

And Then Some

I remember as an eighth grader preparing my science project for the school science fair.  The summer before, my dad, my mom, my little brother and I had visited Yellowstone National Park and of course, Old Faithful.  So, I brought back that interest back with me, and my dad and I worked together on building a reasonable facsimile for my project.  I had to do all the research and my dad and I came up with a percolating coffee pot that would serve as the geyser.  It was housed in a wooden case he and I built together.  On top of the case in order to simulate the geyser, we used a putty concoction.  From a picture of the real geyser, we molded it and shaped it and eventually, I painted it.  It was pretty cool.  I won second place and I was one of three students to take their projects to the Marquette University Science Fair for display.

My dad had always told me to do my best.  Settling for something was never an option.  Never!  Okay wasn’t good enough.  All right wasn’t good enough.  I had to do my best.  Each time, every time.  It was something that has been ingrained in me since the time I was born.  For me, there isn’t any other option.  No way!

This week, our school district had an Excellence Awards Reception for various employees.  The Assistant Superintendent, a friend of mine, congratulated each of the honorees and in the course of her speech, talked about “And Then Some.”

It was in relation to not only doing their job, but in going above and beyond what was expected of them.  Hence the idea of, And Then Some.

The custodian who not only cleans the building and fixes the AC or the leaky faucet, but befriends a boy who looks up to him.  The teacher who buys stickers for her kids or candy for awards out of her own money, on her own, out of the goodness of her heart.  The nurse who counsels a parent who is worried about her young daughter’s choices after her work day is done.

I think of the volunteers in the aftermath of the Boston Marathon Bombing who helped those in need.  I think of the special education para who, in the Sandy Hook Elementary School, comforted a little boy as they both died in that horrific shooting.  I think of the passing motorist who stopped his car and ran to help children in a car, while their mother tried to drown them and her.

All examples of And Then Some.

Because it is a daily, sometimes an hourly, choice to do one’s best, to not let things slide, to not settle for just getting it done, getting it over with.  To rise above average, to rise above mediocrity, to give it your very, very best.

And sometimes, it just isn’t easy to do.  Sometimes one gets tired, angry.  Sometimes, one gets one more task on a plate that is already overloaded.  Sometimes, one gets asked to do something by someone that is disagreeable, nasty, bossy, and who is recognized as a slacker.  No, it isn’t easy.

But . . .

We can’t shy away from doing our best, from giving our best effort.  And sometimes, that involves And Then Some.  Because there is the satisfaction of knowing deep down in the recesses of our being, our soul, that we can look at a task, a job, a person- perhaps a child- and believe that we can and will make a difference by doing our best, going above And Then Some.  And by our effort, our action, and the example of who we are and what we’ve done, we might create that same belief and action and effort in others. And if that happens, look out world.  Our world.  Something to think about . . .

Live Your Life, and Make A Difference!