Icing the Iron Horse

“For the past two weeks you have been reading about the bad break I got. Yet today I consider myself the luckiest man on the face of this earth. When you look around, wouldn’t you consider it a privilege to associate yourself with such fine looking men as are standing in uniform in this ballpark today? That I may have been given a bad break, but I have an awful lot to live for. Thank you.”

~Lou Gehrig~

Photo Credit: Willie Zhang via Compfight cc
Photo Credit: Willie Zhang via Compfight cc

Lou Gehrig was a gentle soul with a wicked sense of humor and was also a humble man. He was taken too young by a disease called amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS). As Lou died pre-“me,” I never had the opportunity to meet the baseball legend. However my father did when he was with the Yankees during Spring Training in 1936 and 1937.

Pops was a pretty good player, but never actually played a game as a first baseman. The problem? Lou Gehrig, the “Iron Horse” himself.  Gehrig played 2,130 consecutive games – games where he was ejected (after receiving credit because he was already up to bat), injured (including being knocked unconscious), and ill.  But dad was in training with Lou (and Joe DiMaggio, Kemp Wicker, Frank Crosetti, Bill Dickie, Red Rolfe and other great Yanks) for two seasons before transferring to the minors.

Lou Gehrig impacted dad’s life quietly. He wanted to emulate the legend in many ways and Pops told me how Lou and Joe helped change his life not only on the diamond, but on the train rides to St. Petersburg, FL. Pops was a smoker on and off during his life. Trying to be “cool” like some of the other ball players, he was lighting a cigarette up on the train. Lou leaned over to my dad and instead of reading him the riot act, he softly explained to him, “If you keep that up, you’ll lose your wind.”

Dad kept in contact with Gehrig after leaving the Yankee organization and there is a letter tucked safely away written in 1938 or early 1939 (I can’t remember) to pops explaining Lou’s illness and that Eleanor, his wife, was taking care of him.

75 years after his death, Lou Gehrig seems to be finding himself in the spotlight again, not for his baseball prowess, but for the disease that took his life.  I’ve been watching the ice bucket challenges on social media to raise money and awareness for ALS. ALS is also known as Lou Gehrig’s Disease or just plain Gehrig’s disease.  ALS is a neurodegenerative ailment that is as debilitating as they come to the human body and someone with ALS does NOT have a good quality of life.  Gehrig died when he was just 37 years old. You don’t have to do the challenge to help a really worthy cause. To make a donation today:  http://www.alsa.org/

If you want a weekend in, check out a movie called “Pride of the Yankees” starring Gary Cooper as Gehrig as well as real members of the Yankee organization: Babe Ruth, Bob Meusel, Mark Koenig and Bill Dickey. This was my father’s all-time favorite movie – most likely because of the representation of Lou’s character. To find out more about my father’s friend, Lou Gehrig: http://www.lougehrig.com/about/bio.html

Neither dad nor Lou are here today to witness the ice bucket challenge. I personally think both are probably sitting in a dugout in Heaven looking down and wondering what we’re all doing. However, I just know that as silly as dad would think the concept is, he’d agree it’s a brilliant piece of marketing in bringing awareness and funding to ALS research.

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The Old Man and Me

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Photo Credit: Chaval Brasil via Compfight cc

I saw this picture earlier today and remembered my dad, the old man.  Pop’s spirit never waivered. Age never diminished his sense of humor nor did it take away his mind as it does many old men and women. As his youth faded, his back stooped and his steps became slower, shorter. Weight fell off of him in a way my fluffy frame could only envy. His eyes faded from blue to gray and time bleached his hair so that as he took his last breaths, it was as white as freshly fallen snow.

My father was born in 1918. I used to tell him he was born when dinosaurs roamed Earth and mentioned more than once I believed he must have had a pet stegosaurus named Clive.  Occasionally I’d regale him with tales of “Clive’s Amazing Adventures” which included WWI and WWII, a trip with Amelia Earhart, Clive’s Moonwalk, standing outside the Dakota with John Lennon and listening to Lou Gehrig say “goodbye” to name a few.

Pops was a story-teller and while some of these tales were outlandish, I think he enjoyed them and came right back with his tales steeped in historical truth.  He lived the events and his emotion brought those memories to life.

There’s a couple of reasons I wanted to speak about this today.

First, I got to thinking about all of the “old” characters in the movies, on television and in books. Frankly, there aren’t that many. I find they are few and far between. There is something that can be said about having an elderly character in a story – no matter what medium that character is in.  I would like to see more “old” characters in books, movies and on television and ones that are not the butt of the joke (which I’m truly afraid would happen on TV.)

Second is the “why” I would like to see them.  There are two reasons. One is because older characters bring a “wisdom” that generally does come with age. They have truly been there / done that and especially in books, sage advice is always a good thing. The other reason is for electronic media I think there is a lack of “aging actors.” Rene Russo said something along the lines when shooting Thor that when she came back to acting she was used to being the leading lady kissing all the gorgeous guys (Mel Gibson) and now she was playing Thor’s mother. What was wrong with that? Ageism exists in Hollywood and I would personally like to see the industry embrace older actors instead of shipping them out to pasture or limiting roles and scripts to what I consider are mundane or demeaning positions. There are exceptions, but seriously I must ask – how many actors over 65 (or 45 or 55) do you see on TV or in the movies?

My challenge to you today is when writing your piece, consider adding someone who is more advanced in years. You just might find they add something to your story that’s missing… color, wisdom and maybe my dad’s dinosaur, Clive, too.

What I Learned About Writing from America’s Next Top Model

“I’ve always seen modeling as a stepping stone.”

~Tyra Banks~

Photo Credit: Coralie Bilasimo (slowly catching up) via Compfight cc
Photo Credit: Coralie Bilasimo (slowly catching up) via Compfight cc

Lately I’ve been binging on Hulu episodes of America’s Next Top Model. For some this may sound a bit bizarre. However, there is method behind the madness. I’ve been studying women and their personalities, interactions, expressions and movement for my characters. Not so bizarre now, eh?

So here’s some of what I’ve learned.

1) Even the most beautiful woman has flaws. In fact, her flaws are what give her depth and help the reader (viewer) connect to her. Without imperfections, the female character is flat and lifeless and has no opportunity to learn, change and grow.  Who wants that?  ANTMs need to learn how to do the job. They aren’t good at what they do. This means my characters don’t need to be “Miss Perfect.”  In making mistakes, an inner character is built.

2) There can be only one.  The show generally starts out with thirteen girls and through the process of competition and elimination there is a final winner. At some point it becomes pretty clear who the front-runners are and who the finalists/winner will be. If you have a female lead character, you must do the same thing. Other characters shouldn’t over-shadow your protagonist / antagonist. If they do, you need to beef up her/their presence.

3) ANTM points out with the model’s pictures there is a fine line between couture / sexy and “hootchie/ghetto.”  Sex may sell, but unless you are writing erotica, your female main character shouldn’t always be in situations that have to deal with sex. Other characters shouldn’t always be talking about her body, the way her clothes fit her body or the way she uses her body.

4) A woman has more emotional range than a gnat. They aren’t “always” crying, bitchy or what have you. I love Tyra Bank’s expression “smize” – smiling with the eyes. I love this photo because it shows this “emotion” beautifully. Your character can do this many different ways. What does your characters’ eyes say about them?  Can you portray body language on the page to “show don’t tell?” It’s a valuable tool.

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Photo Credit: kinojam via Compfight cc

5)  Men are from Mars. Women are from Venus. Women handle relationships MUCH differently than men. We catch nuances in conversation and read into situations that most men wouldn’t catch if it were handed to them on a silver platter. If you aren’t a “people watcher,” go to a restaurant and eavesdrop on a group of women having lunch / dinner. Watch the body language and facial expression while listening to how they speak with and to each other. Then, do the same thing with a group of men. Night and day.  Mars and Venus.

I’m sure there is more valuable information that may be gleaned from America’s Next Top Model. After all I’ve only watched the first 10 seasons. I believe there are at least 10 more to go.

Interviews & Dialogue

I’ve done my fair share of job hunting during my lifetime (and currently at it again.)  I’ve also done my fair share of being a hiring manager and writer. Today I thought I would share four things I have learned about what not to say during interviews that also apply to authors as well.

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1) “You know” or “Ya know.”   This one may be pretty obvious and it tops the list for me. No. I don’t know. That’s why I asked. These are generally filler words and don’t articulate anything in a meaningful way to a hiring manager or a character in a story.

The fix: Simplify. Visualize what you are going to say before you say it and try to cut out unnecessary words that do not best illustrate your point.  As a writer I find word economy is paramount and these are words that are completely unnecessary unless writing a character who speaks like that all the time. Those are rare indeed.

2). Curses. Oh my. Even on the best day with the most laid back HR representative, this is a bad idea.  Here’s the skinny. You don’t ever, ever have to curse in a job interview to get your point across. EVER. If you really think that you need to accentuate and punctuate a point with an expletive, then be creative and utilize those mad skills that would make Walt Disney proud. Yes, G-Rated options are best. There’s no need to drop an F-Bomb in an interview.  If it’s dialogue in a book or other printed piece, my advice is to use curse words sparingly – otherwise the punch is lost in translation.

A prime example of this is in a wonderful book called, “The Help” by Kathryn Stockett. The classic line, “Eat my shit” wouldn’t have had such impact if Minny or other characters had dropped curse words throughout the book and its subsequent movie.

If your normal vocabulary resembles a pirate’s, take some time BEFORE an interview to practice your responses to questions and figure out how to answer them without dropping one of Carlin’s “Seven Dirty Words” or other slang that would make a hiring manager cringe.

3) Acronyms. There are a lot of acronyms out there people just may not understand. Don’t just assume people understand industry jargon actually spell it out as it were.

For writers, you may use the acronyms after you have spelled out what it stands for once or twice so the reader understands exactly what it is the abbreviation stands for. However, try to keep the number of acronyms down to a minimum, unless you are a technical writer working on a specific piece.

4) Stereotypes. An interview setting is no place to refer to people of other genders, sexual orientations, nationalities, ethnicities, races, handicaps, religions, or any other diversity by using any slang, negative terms, slurs, or other denigrating language. Ever.

For writers, the piece you are creating and the character must directly relate to the nature of the stereotype, lest you alienate your audience. You must use caution writing stereotypes.

5) Jokes.A good friend pointed out, all jokes aside, there is a time and place for humor. Someone just may not “get” you. Beyond that, the “joke” may actually border on sarcastic, racist, inappropriate on another level or just plain crass. Avoid it if you can and certainly don’t lead your opening line with,” A lady walks into a bar…”

There are many inappropriate responses that may be given during a job interview. However, with a little forethought and practice, you can avoid some of the most common mistakes that will leave a bad taste in the hiring manager’s mouth and you without a job.

A Simple Verse

 
“Oh captain, my captain…”  ~Robin Williams~
 
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It’s been a few days since the startling news Robin Williams, actor and comedic genius, took his own life. I debated writing about this as so many other people have shared their thoughts and feelings on this subject and my thoughts align with many. However, I wanted to focus on something about Robin that left an everlasting impression – “Dead Poets Society.”
 
 
Robin Williams made many movies throughout his career. From “Good Morning Vietnam” to “Good Will Hunting” to “Mrs. Doubtfire” and others, but DPS was bar none the one to make me think, to stretch my limits and to make me seize the day.
 
 
There are many lines in the movie that speak to me, but this scene is brilliant beyond description. It is absolutely, positively brilliant.
 
 
“We don’t read and write poetry because it’s cute. We read and write poetry because we are members of the human race. And the human race is filled with passion. And medicine, law, business, engineering, these are noble pursuits and necessary to sustain life. But poetry, beauty, romance, love, these are what we stay alive for. To quote from Whitman, “O me! O life!… of the questions of these recurring; of the endless trains of the faithless… of cities filled with the foolish; what good amid these, O me, O life?” Answer. That you are here – that life exists, and identity; that the powerful play goes on and you may contribute a verse. That the powerful play *goes on* and you may contribute a verse. What will your verse be?”
 
 
I know what Robin’s verse was for me and now I find myself wondering how I shall answer that question. I pray it’s with a shout and echoes across generations, but if it falls with a subtle whisper, I just pray it’s heard.

Drowning in Change

“There’s a ship arriving too late to save a drowning witch…” Frank Zappa

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Frank Zappa released the album “Ship Arriving Too Late to Save a Drowning Witch in the early 1980’s. It’s most notable song was “Valley Girl” which was a parody of a stereotype during that time period.  “Like totally” as well as “Gag me with a spoon” were heard so frequently it was almost nauseating.  I’m pretty sure my parental units were grateful when those phrases went out of vogue.  But on the album’s flip-side was the title track “Drowning Witch” which the past six months has felt on and off like my theme song.

The lyrics that especially speak to me are: “As the light goes dim and she’s trying to swim… will she make it? (Boy we sure hope so.)”

The upside of life: I’ve finally settled in to my Metroplex apartment and have been working on getting a routine settled into place. I can actually drive around the area (thanks to the GPS on my phone and in the vehicle) and I am learning to be more independent as it’s just me and Yoda here. I’m still learning about the area and it doesn’t yet feel like home, but I’m homesick for my peeps, not so much the city where I used to live.

But a few things have happened over the past two months that have really started putting life into perspective. I took a writing hiatus to clear the head and really start thinking about what I’m writing, how I’m writing it and most importantly, WHY I am doing it.  I’m doing it because I love the written word and the power behind language. When I am writing, I create entire universes on a blank page and while I’m not yet in league with the best of the best, I feel I can take you to another place. Writing is the air I breathe and the time off has given me a much needed perspective on taking those deep, deep breaths.

I also realized that the job I got when I moved down here is not the stellar expectation I built up in my mind. (Haven’t we all done that a time or two?)  I had plenty of time to contemplate this fact after an on-the-job injury and spending time in bed at home.  I figured out while recovering when you get up out of bed each day and dread going to work and then come home too exhausted to even be human, there is a problem. Seriously, some days I felt like the anti-christ as my mood and behavior changed so dramatically.

What was I doing?  Why was I doing it?  Who was I doing it for?

Since the accident these little life questions have been haunting me and it all came to a head one day when someone at work called into question my character and integrity with such venom it took me aback. This person doesn’t know me and what little interaction we have had has been tense even prior to this.  It brought out feelings of anger, resentment and frankly, despair. (Basically my middle school years all wrapped up into a couple of days.)

WHAT was I doing? I’m a grown woman and I don’t need or deserve to be treated like I’m worthless by someone who doesn’t know me or want to know me.  WHY was I still working there after a couple of months of progressive misery? The grass was literally greener on the other side, but laying underneath the grass was a cold, dark place.  I was working there for the wrong reasons and there are no right ones to really keep me there.  WHO was I doing this for?  The epic question of the day wore on my heart and I realized I was doing it JUST for the money and not for anyone.

Money is an evil task-master.  The Beatles were right. It can’t buy you love and at the end of the day, it only buys a fleeting happiness.

So as I write this, I’m a little more than 24 hours out of the epic showdown that will occur on Monday.  I can’t look back on this time with regret like those who consistently say, “if I knew then what I know now.” I have learned a lot about me, what I believe in and where I’m going in the future.

The ship is arriving and I’m swimming to shore, but it’s not too late. Not too late at all.